Friday, September 30, 2011

What is a Telemark?

Dances:  Waltz, Foxtrot, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

I think I pushed myself a little too hard at the workouts this week.  Today I was just downright exhausted physically.  Sarah was lifting weights with me today and between the two of us the workout look a lot longer to complete.  But the important thing is we got through it.

Hover Telemarks in Foxtrot are evil.  I'm not sure exactly what it is about them, but they are evil.  It's almost as if you need to nail the figure completely or suffer consequences on either end.  I think it's the shaping that's getting us killed.  Over shape to the right and coming out of it is difficult.  Under shape it, and it barely qualifies as a Hover Telemark.  What is a Telemark anyways?  I'm sure I've asked this question before, but never got a straight answer.  It seems that all the figures with "Telemark" in the name don't have a common denominator other than the work "Telemark".  I'll have to ask Kora or Simeon about it when they get back.  Of course Simeon's answer will be along the lines of "I'm not sure", while Kora's will be a HUGE historical story.  I'll have to consider if I want to risk that.  :)  In the end our practice well went and the Hover Telemark continues in a positive direction.  American style Twinkles are so much easier.  We should trade the Hover Telemark for the Twinkle.

I think our practice calendar is helping tremendously.  It keeps us focused on a few things a day and surprisingly we do actually focus on them.  I wonder how long we'll be able to keep it up.

Telemarks and Stars of Shininess

Part: Follow
Dances: Night-club 2-step, Waltz, Foxtrot
Hovers: 0

After the usual Thursday arms and back workout, Jeff and I headed in to practice. There was some more new music to try, so we danced some night club 2-step to get things going. After that is was back to the practice plan.

Foxtrot was the focus, and in particular the hover telemark and just entering promenade in general. This particular figure gave us a lot of trouble last week; I was dropping my side and gaping very badly in the hips. Somehow it was much better this time; I figured out how to track my left side, hip, and leg with Jeff's throughout the rotation and shape, and it worked out so much better. That was really all I thought about, and as a result I think I rushed less. It also kept me behind him so I didn't tip the whole thing forward.

Jeff also pondered the meaning of the word telemark. I really don't know where it comes from in dance, but the first thing that comes to mind for me is Norway, because they have East Telemark and West Telemark counties. I just Googled the term and that's the first thing that comes up, so not bad! I still don't know how it related to ballroom, though. Perhaps it's related to the cross country ski turn of the same name, which I'm sure derived from the Norwegian name since skiing is practically Norway's national sport. I have Norwegian family heritage, by the way, so I should technically LOVE telemarks. Actually, I only like the hover version.

Here's a skier "telemarking" in Norway:

Jeff also coined a new moniker for rhinestones, though not intentionally, which I intend to use henceforward: "stars of shininess." I am planning to stone my new dress with at least three packages of "stars of shininess." So much more glamorous than simple "stones," for sure.

We didn't spend a whole lot of time on the foxtrot since it was going better than expected and Jeff was feeling pretty sore. Lead and follow in waltz followed, but for some reason Jeff kept deciding he was dancing foxtrot and starting doing back-feathers and curved feathers and feathers of all varieties in any number of places, and then bemoaned how hard foxtrot is on the quads. I reminded him that he didn't have to dance foxtrot to the waltz music if he didn't want to...we laughed and that was pretty much it for practice. In good news, I think I followed okay considering that it wasn't anywhere near our typical waltz routine, though our usual hip gaping problem evidenced itself again. Overall though, a shorter but positive practice.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Songs, Old Quickstep

Dances:  Cha-Cha. Quickstep, Tango
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Legs at the gym.
Songs Added This Week:  279

Ahhh.  Leg day again.  It's strange, but I think leg day is my favorite day or working out.  It's tough, but it seems like get the most use out of the results.  That being said, Wednesday night practices are always rough because of the preceding workout.  Today was no exception.

Our calendar today put Quickstep on the radar tonight.  Specifically the Hover Corte into the Six Quick Run.  The problems for us in this figure are the same as the problem in most every figure in Quickstep.  We're too slow.  I'm not sure what it is about the Six Quick Run, but we never seem to be able to dance it quick enough.  How hard can it be to run six steps?  Apparently pretty hard.  I think it's the change in directions that the run takes.  Going back then having to bounce forward right after that is tough.  I suspect it might have something to do with Sarah as well.  If she drives too hard when I'm going backward, I have to work that much harder to go forward.  That puts us behind.  The other issue is the Hover Corte.  I think our timing here could be a little better.  If I let her hover too long, I'm late going into the run.  Too short and we're ahead of the beat, not to mention the hover suffering.  Last but not least, I don't think Sarah and I are totally in sync during the Six Quick Run.  That will lead to balance issues and impact our final speed.  *sigh*  Quickstep always gets the better of us.

We finished up with Tango as lead and follow practice.  This dance is pretty easy to do that.  I think it's mainly because there are pretty clear start and stop points.  Whereas every other dance kind of flows together.  With Tango it's really pass or fail.  Not much in between.  I haven't really made up my mind if that's good or bad.

Quickstep on Sore Legs

Part: Follow
Dances: Cha-cha, Hustle, Quickstep, Tango
Hovers: 0 (quickstep ones don't count)

Since I got a little under 5 hours of sleep last night, I assumed I would be utterly dead by practice time. After some serious coffee during the day, including a Starbucks salted caramel mocha (a little sweet but still amazing), and a workout and choir rehearsal, I was tired, but not dead to the world, surprisingly. I have realized that working out, especially doing some kind of intense cardio, is remarkably reenergizing when I'm overtired. I'm always tempted to skip out on those days, but then afterwards I'm so glad I didn't, because I'm more awake and alert and ready to finish up the day. Tonight I ran a couple of miles, and was surprised by how well I did considering the lack of sleep etc. Perhaps eating a banana and nuts first was also a good idea. I've been trying to gradually get my body used to running again since I normally do the elliptical, and I've realized that it hasn't given me quite the cardio endurance that running did. Because running has a tendency to trash my knees for dancing and otherwise, I decided that I would work out extra hard on the elliptical on my normal schedule, maybe for a longer time, but definitely maintain a higher heart rate, and then run maybe once or twice a week, hoping that the elliptical help me boost endurance such that I could increase my running time and speed over time without overdoing it. After only a week, I think it's going pretty well, though my knees did hurt a bit tonight.

Our practice plans seem to be helping us a lot. Even though Jeff continues to tease about my detailed does seem to help us focus, and for me personally, I feel more like we accomplished something when we work on a specific issue and make some progress, even if it's a short practice and baby step that we make. It's not the duration of practice time that that matters to me so much as quality. Today Jeff was having fun with some new music and danced a cha-cha and some hustle with me to start things off, which was funny because he hadn't realized that I had put cha-cha down as our warm up dance. Perfect! We then moved on to the second corner of our quickstep, which is essentially the hover corte into 6 quick run bit. Jeff had been saying that we weren't together on the timing there and I felt the shaping was either off or non-existent, so we worked on that a bit slow. I was thinking about keeping my left hip connected with Jeff's throughout and following his leg line with mine so as not to be left behind or inhibit the movement, and also the left side up and forward on the hover extension and the back lock piece. It was feeling smoother when we finished with it.

Since Jeff also had sore legs due to his leg workout day, we ended practice with some tango lead and follow (also in the practice plan). That went really well, I thought, in terms of lead and follow, until my foot slid out from under me in the oversway and I almost pulled Jeff over. Until then, though, our connection was pretty good. I also had a particularly violent promenade close in which I pretty much body slammed my poor partner and sent him flying. What can I say; it was a strong and aggressive lead! In general, I think that tango is the easiest standard dance for me when it comes to lead and follow (except Viennese, of course). I look the worst in this dance, I think, but somehow it's always easier for me to feel what is going on, perhaps because the position is much more compact.

Overall a good practice; I think we're setting a good trend for the week, thankfully, as last week was definitely not our best.

The Practice Calendar is Back!

Dances:  Waltz, Salsa, Foxtrot
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

Our practice of late have been losing focus.  Sarah and I have both felt this so we thought it'd be a good idea to start up our dance calendar again.  Sarah this time volunteered to write out the schedule and upkeep it.  She's better at this than I am.  Not to mention more anal about it.  That works out well for me though and today was the first day we used the calendar.

On the schedule tonight was working on the Wing, both getting into and out of it.  The Wing is one of the worst figures ever.  Sarah and I have both ranted about it many previous posts.  It's just awkward.  Tonight however, we were determined to make it feel better.  After a few tries, I noticed that my frame was breaking horrifically when in Wrongside Position.  I do what everyone does.  My right arm pushed out and over to left to get her on the other side.  That will get us killed in competition.  So I started trying to move Sarah by rotating my entire frame.  It's a lot more work but definitely looks better and much smoother.  I compared to to the Contra Check.  To me it feels a lot like it at least.  Only this time you're using the rotation to move her over to the other side.  I might be completely wrong on this, but that's what it feels like to me.  We worked on entering the Wing for most of practice.  Near the end we got into exiting it with the various figures in our routine.  Sarah, again, is still calibrating her steps.  Sometimes she over steps and other times under.  Either way, it messes me up.  I wonder if she's paying attention to where my leg is there.  I'll have to ask her tomorrow about it.

After the cursed Wing practice we had lead and follow practice in Foxtrot.  This is where we just dance a Foxtrot and I lead whatever I feel like leading.  Basically a social dance.  Not bad practice though since it gives Sarah a chance to work on turning her brain off.  I on the other hand came up with an AWESOME idea.  I decided to try dancing the Reverse Wave in reverse.  Now it took me longer than I'm proud of to realize this (six bars to be exact), but a reverse Reverse Wave is just a Feather Step followed by a Three Step.  We broke down laughing at this.  Mainly because I was SO excited about my AWESOME idea, then the slow realization that it was just the most basic steps in Foxtrot.  We told Kora and Simeon about it later on at dinner and everyone was howling.  Too funny.  But in my defense, how the hell was I supposed to know.  We get into our Reverse Wave with a heel turn then I just start dancing backwards.  Doesn't feel at all like Feather and Three.  Bastards!

The Reverse Wave...In Reverse!

Part: Follow
Dances: Salsa, Waltz, Foxtrot
Hovers: 1

This week we decided to get back to our practice plans, so for this week I had volunteered to write them up. Our basic template involves selecting a warm up dance for each session, a focused dance (of our competitive dances), a figure to work on, the new addition of a lead-follow only dance, and usually work on our fun dance, currently night club 2-step. Jeff had fun giving me grief about the one or two sentences of detail I gave about the focused dance and figure; I had spelled out some of our known issues with the figure and what I though we and/or I needed to work on. Okay, I'll admit, I think things through a lot and I like specifics. He can say what he likes though, because guess who is up to date on blog posts? Thank you.

So anyways, last night we warmed up with salsa, for a change, not in the program, but we did because Jeff was so excited about his "Incredibles" theme salsa that he found. I'll admit that it's a pretty fun song, and I like how Jeff has gotten creative with the salsa by integrating all of our night club 2-step figures. After that, we looked at waltz. After dancing through the routine once (the floor was still dangerously sticky and painful to dance on), we got to work on the wing. I had noted that we needed to work on wing in both places it occurs in our routine, and specifically on getting out of that position with grace and aplomb. It turns out that Jeff felt that just getting into wing was an issue in and of itself, and I think he's right. For me the exit is more challenging than the entry, but for Jeff as a lead, obviously the entry is critical. We figured out that our frame often breaks as I swing around into wrong side, usually his arm dropping down below the rest of the frame, and the arms in general breaking away from the shoulder line. As a result, he focused on keeping the frame consistent and instead rotating me around by turning his spine on its axis, essentially, so that the shoulders and arms rotated as a unit. Once he got that motion down it felt really smooth for me....really really good. Jeff said that he just needs to thing of the rotation as being like that in the contra-check, where it's more rotation that accomplishes the shape rather than dipping. For me, I need to be extra careful not to drop my left side...and I also was thinking about my head position. It was better yesterday, I could tell in the mirror, and I've discovered some helpful stretches for my neck that I think are helping me. As for the exit, it still needs work, but essentially I need to get better about feeling the length and direction of his leg so that I can match it with my own as we exit.

The new element that I thought we should add to our practice was a lead-follow dance; basically one of our standard dances, but one for which we just turn on the music and Jeff leads what he likes, mixing up the figures from our routine or other ones. For me especially, this is going to be extra good practice. I'm obviously supposed to be following no matter what, while leading for Jeff isn't going to change too much from our routines to this, though one requires more memory and the other more quick decision making. Ideally, we want our lead and follow to be the same in both situations, so I think this will help. Last night, we practiced this with foxtrot. That was when one of our silliest moments to date happened.
Jeff got really excited and said, "Oh, Sarah...lemme try something!"
So we started dancing, feather step, three step, feather step, three step...and I'm still waiting for the exciting new figure to happen.
"Wait," said my partner, "did we just dance a feather-three-feather?"
"Of course," I answered.
"So a reverse wave backwards is really just a feather-three-feather?" The realization was just dawning on him.
I collapsed laughing. Obviously, as a follow, if I've heard it once I've heard it a million times that the reverse wave is simply the feather three step combination reversed so that the lady dances the man's part and visa versa.
"And you take two heel leads in a row in the reverse wave too?" Jeff persisted.
"Of course!"
Then Jeff realized how his incredible invention was actually just the most basic combination ever danced in international foxtrot, and we both broke down laughing again. So on that hilarious note, we ended practice for the evening.

Later that night we had another good laugh with our coaches about that one. The funniest bit was how excited Jeff was about his new creative discovery, only to come to the slow realization that he had just danced the most basic steps imaginable. The look on his face as he figured this out was priceless.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ballroom Spa of the Yucky Kind

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

Today's workout was great.  I really pushed the envelope and got a good one in.  Lately, I've felt how much stronger I've become over the past 6 months.  Finally getting closer to where I used to be.

After the workout I entered what apparently was a spa class.  The "ballroom" was completely fogged up and there were puddles of sweat all over the floor.  Sarah was there yet so I quickly turned on all the fans, pointed them at the door and propped it open.  When she got there she just as surprised as I was.  I have to say, it's really distracting practicing in those conditions.  For me, it's the fact that you know the humidity is human humidity.  You're essentially dancing around and breathing in everyone else's sweat.  Pretty disgusting.

To Sarah's credit, she suggested we worked on Tango since the floor was so sticky.  That worked out perfectly.  We focused on the Fallaway and Slip Pivot into Oversway with Pivot Ending.  Getting Sarah to do a heel turn there is very difficult, for both of us.  Sometimes she likes to rise up when she does it.  Not only is that big no-no in Tango, but it really stress my frame.  But the main issue is getting out of it.  Sarah is still getting used to powering herself more and thus helping me with all the rotation and travel we need to exit it.  It's slow progress, but progress nonetheless.  She's still in calibration mode.  Sometimes she over shoots the target and that pulls me off course and balance.  Other times, she doesn't quite push enough and that leaves us with very small movement.

We ended with some Foxtrot and Waltz.  It was honestly too difficult to dance those dances with the floor in that condition.  I hope the room doesn't end up like that often come winter.

Sticky Tango and Foggy Mirrors

Part: Follow
Dances: Night-club 2-step, Tango, Foxtrot, Waltz
Hovers: 1

Yesterday night I entered the practice room to find the fans running full blast, the door cracked open, the mirrors on the back wall completely fogged up, and little puddles of water on the floor, and Jeff groaning about the human humidity level. Apparently the spin class or whatever class preceded us really worked up a sweat and caused the elevated humidity when combined with a cold weather outside. I suggested we practice tango, and that turned out to be the perfect dance for the conditions, since in tango it's generally considered anathema to let the feet slide. I got startled by the stickiness when we went to dance our first figure; I normally cheat quite a bit apparently, and my feet were getting stuck and not allowing me to, so it was good to feel the difference.

Since the section following our two fallaway reverse slip pivots has been a chronic problem, at least for me, I suggested we work on that, basically entering the oversway and getting out of it with the proper drive and rotation, again, it's mostly a matter of me providing enough rotation of my own so that I don't feel heavy on Jeff. We also found that I was rising a bit on my heel turn, and when I fixed that Jeff said it felt much better. I hate the way heel turns feel in tango, since you're essentially just planting the feet one after the other with heels together and toes out...really awkward. Then I was trying to figure out the direction of my step coming out of the oversway into the natural turning figure; Simeon had told me I needed to drive back more, but Kora had told me I actually needed to pick up my foot and step around Jeff. What I found is that I think I just need to step just left of his foot and rotate my upper body a lot more than my hips and legs. I know that's an important component and I'm not sure if my footwork is fixed yet, but at least that is part of the picture. I was also getting behind and wonky in the chasse coming out of this section, but I think because I am not completing the rotation quickly and cleanly enough and so I'm still trying to get back normal alignment as the chasse starts. After a few runs it was coming together a bit more.

We ended practice with a foxtrot and waltz run through. The sticky floor was quite a problem in those dances, but we managed. It's rather sad, but I don't know exactly what happened to our foxtrot. I think it's been broken; it just doesn't feel as good as it used to. Maybe we just need a fresh approach. Last night I compiled some practice plans for the rest of this week, so maybe that will help us get more focus in our practices and approach things from a new angle.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Practice On A Social Night

Dances:  Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Cha Cha, Nightclub 2-Step, West Coast Swing, Hustle
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

We really need to either buckle down and focus on our Friday night practices or just ditch them altogether.  Since Sarah and I have been attending the DanceWorks parties on Friday nights, our practices have suffered.  I honestly could go either way here.  I think the social dancing is practice for sure.  Just a different type of practice.

That being said, our practice was really short tonight.  Sarah was running late and I was tired from a pretty crazy week.  We worked more on the Foxtrot.  Specifically the Hover Telemark.  We figured out that Sarah was dropping her left side during this figure.  That explains why she always feels heavy there and our balance has a tendency of falling over in that direction.  It's a pretty tough step to get right.  I never realized how much shaping there is in it.  It's very subtle, but there nonetheless.

After practice we headed out to DanceWorks.  The crowd was a little larger tonight.  We're getting to know more of the regular people there and it's fun to talk to them.  Many of them ask me where we're from and how long we've been dancing.  DanceWorks has very little to no competitive students so Sarah and I stick out.  I think it's great for both parties.  We are more relaxed by the people and atmosphere there and they have a good example to look up to.  A few times, some of them have asked me questions on how to "fix" their frame among other things.  The funny thing is, most of them think we're professional dancers.  Merely the fact that we are "dance partners" to them meant pro.  I had to explain to them that we're far from professional and that it's just a hobby we're very dedicated to.  It's like having a partner in tennis.  Doesn't mean you're pro.  Just means you can now play doubles and get better at it by getting to know your partner better and anticipate their decisions.  One thing I am focusing on in the social environment is dancing the standing figures (like Hovers in Waltz) more.  I have a tendency to just keep moving and never stopping for a hesitation or anything that involves staying in one place.  I'm getting better at it though, and I think the contrast to all the movement really benefits the overall look at feel of the dances.

After the dance we went out with Scott (owner of DanceWorks) and some of the students.  This is maybe the second time I've hung out with them outside of the studio.  Great people.  I love getting to know new groups.  It's one of the best parts of dancing.

Good Hovers and Bad Hovers

Part: Follow
Dances: Foxtrot, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Cha-cha, Salsa, Night Club 2-step, West Coast Swing
Hovers: 5 or more...I lost count!

Friday night wasn't much of a practice night for us. Part of that was my fault since I got there late, but since we were going social dancing afterwards I think the motivation was a little blah. Jeff decided to test my following with the first long side of our foxtrot by varying the beat in odd ways and stopping in unexpected places. I discovered that one of the problem in our hover telemark is that I keep dropping my left side when we have the strong left shape, a natural mistake to make, but it explains why Jeff kept saying I felt heavy. That steps is bothering me right now; I always feel like I ought to be keeping my hips, legs, and feet close to Jeff's so that I can feel when he comes out into promenade or whatever comes next, but then because of the rotation and left shape into the figure, my upper body get's too far away and my legs usuall come too because they have to stay under my own body if I'm not going to fall. Anyways, it was good to practice that way, and though very challenging, it helps us nail down the specific problem pieces.

Social dancing was fun and much the same as usual. This time I had hurting knees though since I started to try running again this week, and I'm beginning to remember why I stopped. We danced a cha-cha and salsa, kind of breaking the whole standard mold, and the fun thing about that was my swishy red skirt on the twists and spins. I should wear skirts for social dancing more often. Our night club also went pretty well, and then we danced some waltz, Viennese watlz, and foxtrot. A lot of their waltzes are very fast for your standard slow watlz, so Jeff gets creative and does lots of passing twinkles and some random foxtrot figures to make things run smoothly. Our Viennese felt pretty good comparatively too, and it was a long one. I think we felt more relaxed that sometimes, and I was trying not extend so much. I don't know if it was because we had a short practice and he felt he had something to make up to me, or whether he was just feeling generous, but in our last waltz Jeff led quite a lot of hovers. I was most appreciative, and for the last one, which was sort of drawn out, I felt like I had the space to really stretch out and maybe took it a bit too far. It would have been fine if my weight had been more forward in the legs, I think, but we survived. It was the end of the song and a group was watching us, and it seemed like a nice finale. Ah well. I also heard from Jeff that some people were asking if we were pros! That's hard to imagine, but a nice compliment all the same. For all we're going through to work on our many technical problems, it's comforting to know that the overall effect is still generally good...and that we look like we move well as a couple. Still a long ways to go though.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Rushing Follow

Dances:  Foxtrot, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

Tonight was rough for Sarah.  I think it is the closest we've been to the fight so far.  Though luckily we haven't fought yet.  I know, everyone is holding their breath.  :)  The good news is that we're pretty good at open communication and understanding that we're both trying our best.  That helps a lot in these situations.

It all started with the Foxtrot.  We decided to use the metronome again via bluetooth headphones so only I could hear it.  Now it could be that we're just having an off week seeing as our Waltz practice a few days back was pretty disastrous.  But it felt to me that Sarah was just dancing to the beat of her own drum.  I kept getting pulled into almost every step tonight.  I could tell that her leg extended and arrived before mine did.  The interesting thing here was that I actually did a little experimenting with my own tempo.  Sometimes I'd speed up then slow down.  But in each case, Sarah seemed to just do her own thing.  Even though should couldn't hear the metronome, it was almost like she interpolated the tempo from the few steps I take and lock into a value.  This issue has felt fairly prominent to me all week.  I told her this and we got into a pretty big discussion about it.  I could tell she was frustrated and I don't blame her.  It's one of those things that takes time to learn, especially if you're as independent minded as Sarah is.  Control is tough to relinquish.  But in the end I need to know that she'll go wherever I lead to her go, at whatever speed I set, and match whatever shaping I create.  The fine tuning is really difficult for us.

I explained to Sarah the difference between her and Natalia (my previous partner).  While Sarah knows our routines/syllabus and is really involved in making them happen, the downside is that she anticipates almost everything.  She has a set number or predetermined results, and based on the lead, she chooses the result that best fits it and dances it.  Natalia on the other hand had a very different approach.  Her range of results was almost infinite.  So you could get away with a large gray area.  Even the slightest change was matched it.  The downside there is cosmetic.  The lines won't look as defined and practiced.  So while Sarah looks better, she is much harder to control and predict.  Natalia is easier to dance with but won't look as sharp.

Being a lead I've danced with my fair share (and then some) of women.  Each one is very different from the next.  I think if Sarah can find the middle ground between her style and Natalia's, we'll be set.  But it's definitely not easy.  I am, however, still very proud of how we've handled these trying situations.  Hopefully we'll keep it up!

A Frustrated Follow

Part: Follow
Dances: Foxtrot, Night club 2-step
Hovers: 0

Thursday night is always a tough one. I think I'd have to say that this, for me, was the most frustrating practice for me personally since we started dancing together. I should mention as well that we did get a decent workout in beforehand. The positive thing there for me is that I actually pull enough weight now to get an actual workout out of it, meaning that my heart rate goes up and I can really feel my body working.

Jeff asked me to pick what we would practice today, so after the traditional night club warm up I suggested metronome practice on foxtrot, but this time with only him listening to the metronome on his head set. We started out, the same as usual, only now it was silent for me. With no beat to worry about, my concern was with balance, staying with my partner, and keeping our connection at a painfully slow tempo. So that is what I focused on, if anything at all. Now as usual it got a bit precarious in a couple of places, and I did lose my balance sometimes, and we definitely gaped as well. But then Jeff stopped at the end of the first side and told me that I was just flat out not following. He felt like I was pulling him into each step, and again, said this is a constant problem with me. While it's tough to deal with when I have no idea that I'm doing it or how to fix it, I'm still glad he at least tells me what he's feeling from me. I really didn't know what to say to that, however, because I was just so confused as to why this was suddenly a tremendous problem when it had before been sort of a chronic thing that tends to happen but that I've been working on. So when we tried it again, during a couple of the figures where we gaped pretty badly (like the hover telemark, where I think our body rotation is off, and I'm pretty sure both of our hips get behind us), Jeff stopped and again said I was rushing and making us lose the connection. And again in the zig-zag, and any other figure that we struggled with at that tempo. Even the basic feather...we were losing connection, and to him it was due to me rushing. (Whereas at a fairly recent lesson it was due to both of us, but Jeff especially, sticking our hips out behind while dancing it, hence the 2x4 prodding by Kora that has since become a little famous.) So essentially I felt that every problem that we encountered when dancing deathly slow foxtrot (and pretty much all problems we've run into most times we practice this way) was suddenly all my fault, or at least that's what it seemed Jeff was saying. That was just so discouraging, and I felt powerless to do anything about it because I couldn't even tell I was doing it; in fact, I felt like I was trying really hard to do the opposite.

So...we ended up having a long discussion about the whole issue, but ultimately I came out very frustrated and not sure where to go from here. I like to fix my problems or at least have a solution that I can implement, and right then I saw none. And apparently this is becoming a huge problem for Jeff when he's leading me...and, well, I began to be afraid that if I'm really that terrible of a follow at this point, is it worth continuing? Because if I can't feel or see the problem, I don't know how I'm going to fix it. Hence, my frustration. I'm sure I'll get out of this rut eventually, at least, I hope so; it did happen to me once before about a year ago, when I got really depressed about my dancing and questioned whether I had the ability and talent to eventually take it to the level I wanted...and I ended up overcoming that with my first competition experience.

That was essentially it for practice. We're going social dancing this weekend; so I intend to just have fun and not care about all of this. If Jeff has to drive around an out of control merry-go-round, so be it. At this point I think worrying too much about it will just make the problem worse, and make me forget why we're dancing in the first place. And that's the last thing I'd want to lose...that pure love of dancing.

Tick-Tock Tipsies

Dances:  Nightclub 2-Step, Quickstep, Waltz
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Legs at the gym.

Being leg day, Quickstep seemed an odd choice for the day, but that's what we focused on.  Again, it was back to the Tipsies and the timing of it.  After busting out the metronome, we ran through that section a few times at a much slower speed and true to form, we just couldn't sync up.  So I told Sarah that she doesn't seem to follow me there.  We always end up fumbling separately through the Tipsies then sync back up during the Lock Step that follows.  One thing we need to sort out is the rhythm that we want to dance that figure to.  Either straight eighth notes like the book states, or the syncopated version that Kora says is correct.  Once we figure that out, we need to bring the figure up to speed.  We're still lagging quite a bit.  In an attempt to have Sarah follow me better, I ran the metronome to my bluetooth headset so only I could hear the clicks.  That seemed to get a better response, but we're still pretty off sync.  One of these days we'll get it down.

Today we also looked into some of the various options regarding bowing and presenting your partner.  Good news.  Sarah and I are really in sync here.  I think the women needs to take on the thankful perspective.  She needs to tell the audience that she's thankful of their support and viewership.  Meanwhile, the man needs to command the audience.  He needs to tell them that he is THE man and at the same time make sure they know his partner is really the one who makes it all happen.  Confidence is key there.  Lots of our other friends run drills of walking on and off the floor.  I think it's pretty self explanatory.  Who knows, I'll probably mess it up at my first comp.

We ended on a Waltz.  Other than the whole following issue, we danced A LOT better than yesterday.  So I'm glad it was just an off day for us.  Hopefully those don't occur too often.

Racing the Beat

Part: Follow
Dances: Quickstep, Waltz, Night club 2
Hovers: 1

Wednesday night is usually a shorter night for us, and one of our Latin buddies was already there practicing. After warming up with the usual night club 2-step, we decided to work a bit on quickstep. It was back to tick-tock timing again for us, though this time we started at a bit faster speed than when we originally began this exercise, and were intending to click it up from there. Our tipsies are still a bit out of sync; I think I'm usually quicker than Jeff in my attempts to make sure I swing by him fast enough for us to get the rotation in, and as a results our lock step coming out is always a bit rocky, though we tend to get together again by the end of the lock step. After practicing it a few times, Jeff burst out with, "You're just not following...and you never do!" I was frustrated. Was he trying to tell me that these whole past 6 months I've never once followed his lead and I've been dragging him around this whole time? That didn't seem quite fair, given what we have accomplished so far, and if true...I frankly felt that I couldn't see a reason to keep dancing if I've gone this long and never once actually followed. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with this revelation. Jeff ended up qualifying it with saying that sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, it's just not consistent, and this week for some reason it has been worse. Hmm...I don't know why that would be, but at least now I could start thinking about it. I do know that I have a tendency to rush and my muscle memory gets the better of me fairly often, so I believe him when he tells me what he's feeling. I suggested that we try having Jeff listen to the metronome on his blue tooth headset while I get nothing, and see what happens (thanks, Sheila! Though Jeff says he's done this before). He said it felt really different, and I was more with him. To me, it felt quite a bit slower, so that means I was rushing. Maybe not rushing the metronome, or maybe I was, but rushing Jeff, at least. I also tried dancing with my eyes closed, which also felt a lot different for Jeff. It didn't for me, but he said my right arm tensed up a lot and I'm not sure what else. I guess it was because I am less sure of my balance without visual help; I'm not sure. But I didn't feel like being "blind" made any difference in my following/rushing.

We also danced through a waltz, and that pretty much concluded our practice, which also included a discussion of the preferred way to present oneself and bow following a dance. We both have similar theories on this and on what one is trying to present as the lead and follow individually, so I think it would be fun to practice this sometime soon. Jeff thinks that for the lead it's all about projecting confidence and a bit of an ego, and I think that for the follow it's about gratitude and being gracious. We'll have to see what we come up with.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inner Ear Problem

Dances:  Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Quickstep, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

Monday was a really interesting day for me and as a result, I had to cancel practice.  But today we were back on.  Working out was good but I was still really exhausted from the day before.  This lead to a really good practice in the bad way.  I know, weird.

Basically we had an off day.  We started with the Waltz which was completely off balance.  Right after the Natural Turn, everything was falling over.  It was almost as if we figured out where we needed to be to be on balance and then deliberately avoided that area.  This meant that all our rotations were off alignment and we almost died when we got to the Contra Check.  Normally Waltz is our strongest dance but not today.

After Waltz, Sarah made things worse by jinxing the Zig-Zag in our Foxtrot.  She informed me that she has never felt comfortable during that figure.  That was news to me because I actually thought we danced it well.  The initial learning curve was a little steeper than usual (I've ranted about it in a previous post), but we seemed to have learned to dance it consistently.  So we decided to spend some time on it.  Sure enough, the jinx kicked in and I couldn't dance it worth a damn.  All of a sudden I couldn't get our connection quite right and my frame buckled through it.  Hopefully I'll figure it out again soon.

Finally, we touched base with Tango a little.  This dance actually didn't bomb like the other two.  Overall it was average.  Our connection was still a little off but at least our balance was back.  I gotta say, the only good thing about this practice was the new Super Mario quickstep I got to try out.  But these days will happen every now and then.  The trick is to not let it get to you and get your head back into the game!

Develope Saves the Day

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Night-club 2-step
Hovers: 2 (one with an accidental develope)

Last night was our first practice since last Thursday. Jeff had effectively killed his legs and was generally exhausted from a day of serious cleaning, car washing, and running around like crazy, plus little sleep. As for me, I did some actual running (not just the elliptical) again during the past couple of days along with a pretty serious workout, so I was feeling it a bit, though not as much as I expected. After hitting the weights, we joined up with our Latin dance friends to tackle our problems once again.

We began with waltz. Something was really off about our balance and center of gravity last night; Jeff said at first that it felt like I was falling on top of him, which is usually the opposite of what happens, and I just felt like we were tipping over at every corner, and the rotations were wonky. Apparently I was rushing some parts too. Anyways, we weren't in our best form, but that is bound to happen sometimes. Another thing that was affecting things was that I had castor oil conditioned the suede soles of my shoes, and as a result I had a lot more traction than normal and my feet weren't gliding like they usually do. Jeff said sometimes it felt like we hit a sticky patch and he could definitely feel the difference. Hopefully they'll smooth out again soon; I've done this before and the shoes got a lot faster pretty quickly. They just need to be danced on for a bit.

Jeff was super excited about his new Mario Bros quickstep and said he just knew it would be a 5-star song even before we tried it. We got about half way through the routine before Jeff I think broke into our waltz routine, so we stopped. Before that it didn't feel too bad though. Maybe quickstep won't be so terrible after all.

We also touched a bit on foxtrot. I suggested we work on the zig-zag (horrid step) since I think it often feels bumpy in the transition from promenade to closed wrong side and back. Jeff disagreed and thought we've been doing fine with this figure, but we did practice it a little. It's sooo awkward, if I haven't mentioned that before.

Practiced concluded with a tango run through and a waltz. Tango was feeling pretty good, and I thought our natural twist turn is getting very together with the connection and the rotation feels centered. The waltz wasn't going so well for us last night, but we got through it, and at the hover my balance got tipped a little too far back, so instead of crashing and burning, I opted to seize the opportunity to throw in a develope since extending my leg was my only option other than falling due to where my balance was. So...I flexed my right knee and lowered slightly, drew my left leg up and in and extended it slowly and gracefully up and forward and came back down softly on my toe as normal. Jeff wanted to know what had just happened. I explained and was quite proud of myself for not biting the dust and executing a nice develope (even though it hadn't been led and I'm normally terrible with them when I'm supposed to do them). Of course, the hover with develope is technically not allowed in gold, so we'd probably get disqualified. Hopefully I'll only lose my balance in the hovers in the novice comps, from now on!

A develope, by Anna Mikhed (with Victor Fung):

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Social Dancing Friday

Dances:  Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Hustle, West Coast Swing, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  None

I skipped workout and practice today and spent it with some friends of mine who were visiting from CA.  However, Sarah and I did make it out to DanceWorks for social dancing.

The crowd tonight was just about right.  Not too many people but also not empty.  While we danced really well, I'm starting to notice somethings about Sarah in different situations.  For one thing, she seems to get this nervous energy when we go social dancing.  That usually leads to her reading some of my leads in really interesting ways.  She also tends to over exaggerate certain things such as shaping.  As her lead, I can definitely feel a difference in the way she dances in a social environment.  Those two things usually lead to her neck hurting.  I find it interesting that she doesn't complain that much about her neck hurting no matter how long or hard we practice.  But give it an hour and a half of social dancing and she almost has to quit because it hurts so much.  I think she needs to take it easy and not worry about the little things when we social dance.  I'm a little worried that when we finally do compete, she'll freak out and be unleadable while her neck snaps.

On the flip side, one thing I am good at is that I'm pretty even keeled in any situation.  Competitions, performances, etc. don't really seem to bother me.  It used to when I was young and had to do piano recitals and speak in front of classes for presentations.  But I guess somewhere along the way I figured out how to deal with it.  Mainly I just think:  Oh well, I'm here and there's nothing I can do about it.  It's no different that practice.  Let's just go for it.  Being in that mindset really helps with any nervous symptoms for me.  Now that I think about it, we should practice performing a few times to get the feel for it.  I need to know what I'm up against when Sarah gets nervous.  :)

Ronde to the Rescue

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese, Night-Club 2-step, Hustle, West Coast Swing
Hovers: 1

Friday we ended up skipping practice, but still made it out for some social dancing at Danceworks. Our dancing went fairly well; on Friday's I'm always exhausted and so sometimes I think it makes me very relaxed and my mind can't oddly enough I think I follow better in that state. In any case, waltz and foxtrot were good, though for some reason I kept failing to read cues on chasses versus feet passing in waltz, I don't know why, but was having a hard time feeling the difference for some odd reason. Otherwise, though, our lead and follow is getting pretty good. Jeff even did an extended reverse wave in foxtrot, which always makes me happy, especially after he told me once that he doesn't know that combination! Our Viennese waltz was pretty smooth, but that floor is definitely too small for that dance and it's a struggle to keep ourselves reigned in. My neck was hurting again, but it was stiff to begin with. That is one dance where, try as I might to keep my head up and not worry about extension, it still ends up happening, as I think the extension is essential for keeping the rotation flowing.

One thing I'm trying to find the balance for when we're social dancing is my extension and frame. I've gotten much better in that when I dance with other leads socially I will put my arms where their frame is and try to match theirs, no matter how low or broken, and then just keep my back straight and head up and left, without worrying about extra stretch. With Jeff though, because we practice with our full on competition style frame all the time, I generally do the same when we're social dancing, but sometimes I think it gets in the way of some of the things you have to do on the social floor. Maybe I just need to be more erect and less extended in these situations, since collapsing the frame is generally not helpful and doesn't look nice; it's just that Jeff's comparatively good frame feels comfortable to me now, and I like to match it with the best lines I can. Anyhow, it's something I was thinking about.

We also danced night club 2-step and hustle. I actually really like hustle, it's so fast but also pretty smooth. Jeff mixed it up with west coast swing too, just to make things interesting. Last night I also got asked to dance quite a lot for west coast swing by some of the other leads there, and I'm not sure why, because there are a lot of good west coast dancers there, and I am definitely not one of them. I try to fake it though, sometimes successfully and mostly not. As I was telling Jeff last night, if there's an awkward pause where I don't know what to do I can always do a sweeping ronde. I think I would really like west coast swing though, once I get the hang of the different rhythms and general movement. After night club 2-step, I think that's the social/club dance I'd like to learn most. Maybe that will be our next 20% project.

Overall, a good night of dancing. As time goes on and we continue to practice and social dance, I think our dynamic as a partnership continues to improve in terms of the lead and follow and just general flow and connection.

Friday, September 16, 2011

End of the Week Syndrome

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arm and back at the gym.

Lately our practices have a tendency of becoming less and less focused the further into the week we get.  I think we need to pace ourselves better in this regard.  Of course the workouts play a large role in this.  By Thursday I'm pretty trashed from the weight lifting.  While I'm getting stronger, my energy and focus level is suffering a bit.  I think another reason we have trouble focusing on practice is that we don't have a plan or goal in mind.  Sarah's been mentioning starting up our practice schedule plans again.  I think it's a good idea.  That should at least keep us on track.

Most of practice today involved working on Contra Checks and Promenade Position.  The Contra Check is still really tough.  I think I need to stretch more upward.  Sarah in the mean time is making sure her shape matches mine.  One thing we do have going for us is our balance.  95% of the time I can put us into the Check and let go Sarah without either of us falling over.  Promenade position suffers from the same problem.  I need to stretch more towards Sarah.  Also I need to make sure my frame doesn't break.  I can't wait till these two figures just become second nature.

Contra-checks and Promenade

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Viennese, Night Club
Hovers: 2

Last night was the usual Thursday night; we're getting tired from the week and things are starting to wind down, at least physically. Still, we did get some decent practice in, and ended up essentially running a round to start off with after our introductory night club. In general it seems that we're taking up more space than we used to; I'm not sure if it's because we're driving better or if Jeff is making the alignments more linear, but overall I'd say that's a good thing.

In terms of focused practice, we didn't do too much, but worked a bit on our contra-check. It started feeling awkward, doing contra-checks over and over, like a jack in the box, but I think we're figuring out the shaping, rotation, and alignment better. I'm working on keeping my hips forward and trying to extend only from my sternum back instead of from my waist and lower back. I can get a lot of stretch if I use my whole back, but that's when it starts to feel heavy for Jeff and is really just cheating. I still have a long way to go in terms of flexibility.

Other than that, we worked a little on our promenade position. It still needs work, but when we focus on it we can do pretty well. It's really the consistency with it that is our problem right now. At least we have a good sense of what we're aiming for, now it's mostly a matter of practicing over and over so that the proper technique becomes habit and feels normal.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Lagging Quickstep

Dances:  Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Legs at the gym.

Today's practice focused mostly on Quickstep.  It had been a while since our last Quickstep blitz and we thought it'd be a good idea not neglect it again.  I feel like the main problem with our Quickstep is timing.  We're always either rushing into things of lagging behind.  Mostly lagging.  And lately it seems like it's getting even slower.  I brought this to Sarah's attention.  In particular the Six Quick Run.  How hard can it be to take six steps all at the same speed?  Apparently for us, really hard.  Sarah thought about it for a bit then adjusted something with her hip and it felt better.  But even then it still always feels like I'm dragging her through it.  That means that we're going into our Natural Turn a bit late which in turn affects the pivot I do that feeds into the dreaded Rumba Crosses.

The Rumba Crosses are hard enough, so the added stress of making up time going into them is a really bad thing.  Lucky for us, the Rumba Cross section was what we worked on next.  Sarah wanted to dance through them REALLY slow and stop at our lowest point to see how our shaping matched.  Unfortunately they did not match at all.  On the bright side, we were pretty well balanced.  At least now we know what's causing the really awkward feeling every time we dance that figure.  *sigh*  We need A LOT more work here.

We followed the Quickstep with both Waltz and Foxtrot.  Nothing out of the ordinary here.  Our Foxtrot seems to be slipping a bit, but it might just be the fact that we're quite a bit more critical of it now.  Finally, we worked on our 20% project.  It's nice to end with something fun that we're good at.  I think if we can get our Quickstep under control we should have a good fighting chance of kicking gold level competitions in the butt.

Matching Frames

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Quickstep, Foxtrot, Night-club 2 step
Hovers: 1

Wednesday practice; this time we were joined by three Latin friends, and it was brought up that Latin outnumbered Standard, Asians outnumbered whites, and men outnumbered women. On the other hand, if we were to add up hours spent practicing in that room, I'll bet standard wins hands down! Still, it was fun to practice with other dancers around.

After warming up with the traditional night club, Jeff asked me what we should practice, and I suggested quickstep. We've been ignoring it a bit again, and I really wanted to work on the shaping in the rumba crosses because I never feel like we're together there and it's just really bumpy and choppy. We started at the beginning though, and Jeff mentioned that he feels me lagging behind in the six quick run bit after I come out of the hover on one corner. I figured out why; it's not that my steps aren't big enough, it's that the direction is off. I wasn't totally connected with the direction of his hips, leg, and body, and was kind of going off on my own in outside partner, so it felt to him like he had to drag me a little bit. Basically the alignment of my hips was off and thus throwing off the direction my steps. He noticed a huge improvement though, once I fixed this. I'll need to focus on making sure my alignment is perfect in relation to his, and not let my own steps stray too far just because I'm outside partner. Sending my left side well forward also helps me get the distance he needs to execute this figure smoothly.

Next, we did work on the rumba crosses. I suggested that we stop at the lowest point of the shape to see if we were lined up, as I suspected we often aren't together here. It's not by choice, but sometimes the shape Jeff has feels incredibly awkward and I feel like I can't match it and not fall over at the same time. Maybe I'm doing something wrong or maybe he is, but I wanted to see what it looked like. When we finally nailed the position and stopped, it actually looked pretty cool...kind of like a line figure. I'm noticing that I seem to be getting more extension (or look like I have more) without as much effort; I didn't feel too crazy stretched, but in the mirror we had a pretty big top line. I credit that to Jeff's hard work on his frame and my own increased flexibility. Next came the dreadful part where I have to cross in front and Jeff behind. Here, I always fall off balance. When we attempted to stop at the top, where we are crossed on our toes, we crashed...i.e. lost balance. But in our attempt to stop there, I realized what I was missing, something I can't usually tell when we're running through the whole piece. My shape was not being counter balanced, so I was trying to tilt from the waist up, but wasn't shifting my lower body weight to counter that, plus, I dropped my left side away from Jeff as part of that tilt. The next time, we nailed it! There we were, crossed, on our toes, balanced. This time, I formed more of an arc with my body, sending my hips right, while making sure to keep my left side lifted and forward. I'm not sure what Jeff did, if anything different, but it worked for me. Now the challenge will be see if we can do this at full speed and in transition.

The struggle for me in this figure is trying to figure out how to provide my own momentum and facilitate the heavy rotation, without creating my own. Seems like I'm either not following or I'm a dead weight. When we dance it slowly it's much better and I can feel where I come in to counter balance and rotate, etc, but when it's fast, it is of course much more of a challenge.

We also danced through our foxtrot, as well as waltz. This time in foxtrot I worked on trying to match my frame with Jeff's more precisely, because I could see in our videos and been told that this is a chronic problem for me. Usually it's a matter of timing the shapes or over shaping on my part. It's sometimes a hard thing to feel though.

I don't think I've mentioned it, but I've always enjoyed the turning lock in waltz, and now ours is going pretty smoothly. We're also taking up the entire floor and then some in waltz, so that has to be a good thing.

Finally, we ended with the 20% project, and more night club 2-step. If I haven't mentioned it, I am the worst at full weight drop dips; I either peddle myself around with my toes and cheat, or else just drop like a dead weight and can't be moved. Otherwise, it's going pretty well.

Since we focused mainly on quickstep yesterday, here is a video of perhaps the best quickstep couple I have ever seen. This is their basic demo video, so the basic routine has a lot of the figures that Jeff and I are working on, including the "Big Fish" (see 0:58). If you look up their show quickstep routines, however, prepare to be stunned. Jeff and I could hardly believe it when we first saw one of their videos; then we looked at their Blackpool marks, 1st place in quickstep. Sounds about right. The clarity of their movement, perfection of their lines, speed, and turning radius are truly impressive to watch. Due to these qualities, quickstep and tango are definitely their best dances.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Our Grand Entrance

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

Sarah and I crushed out workout today.  I think we're getting much better at completing them very efficiently while still getting a thorough workout.  We went into the "ballroom" to find not only our Latin dancing friends but also the baton twirling guy.  That meant it was going to be slippery day.

Since Simeon had been giving us so much crap about our awesome Prep Step, Sarah and I both thought we should work on it a bit just to make sure we get started perfectly.  That includes position, connection, posture, frame, etc.  One thing I've been making a point to do is to start dancing "properly".  By that I mean the stage right before she comes into your frame.  The invitation.  That overall look and feel is surprisingly important.  It kind of sets the tone for the whole dance.  Unfortunately it's too easy to just fall into the bad habit of grabbing the woman and start dancing.  So time to break that habit.  On top of just looking and feeling better, it's also more gentlemanly.

The Prep Step practice went well.  I think we really are quite good at it.  It's the steps that follow the prep that really mess us up.  With that in the bag, Sarah and I moved onto Tango.  Recently (aside from trying to level out my frame) I've been trying harder to travel more in our Tango.  It's the only dance where we don't have any issues fitting into that room.  That means we're not moving quite big enough.  Along with that, we played around with different parts to start our Tango at.  After some experimentation I think our first short side is still the best one to begin with.

Last but not least the 20% Project continued.  It seems like we're making the most progress with the Nightclub 2-Step.  Then again, it is quite a bit simpler.

The Convincing Prep Step

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Night-Club 2-step
Hovers: 2

Tuesday's practice followed a fairly efficient work out. The "twirly" guy had preceded us, and some of our Latin dance friends were there as well. We decided to work more on issues from the lesson, so mainly focused on waltz and tango, though we did dance through foxtrot at least once.

This time Jeff was really focused on getting into position correctly, because, if we're going to have an awesome prep step, we'd better have a truly awesome prep step. So we practiced walking out onto the floor together, Jeff extending his arm, bringing me in...the whole thing. He was trying to figure out at first which foot to put the weight on as he extends his arm to me, but we ended up agreeing that the forward foot (the left one) should have the weight as it looks more presented towards the partner. The order of events, we concluded, should be as follows:
  1. We walk out onto the floor confidently with Jeff holding my left hand in his right (no arm in arm business...that looked weird), and me with my right hand slightly out as though holding up my floats to keep them from dragging.
  2. Jeff leaves me in position and stands about 6 feet away. He may now do a Simeon chin shrug, adjust his collar, etc. Meanwhile I extend my right foot slightly in front of the left in a kind of hint at fourth position and look composed and ready to go when it is time.
  3. Jeff extends his left arm to me and I walk in a few steps (confident heel toe steps too, by the way) and take his hand with my right. That is the first connection point.
  4. I then give him my left side and make the body connection, shift weight to my left foot. This is connection point two.
  5. As I am presenting my side and creating the body connection, Jeff brings his right arm around my back and after I am in position, places it on my back. This is connection three.
  6. My left arm is lifted at this point. Jeff begins the prep step (assuming this is not tango), and as we shift our weight to the other side and start our shape and rotation, my hand slowly and gracefully comes down to rest lightly on his arm. This creates connection four.
  7. We dance. Our prep step turns out to be better than anything else we do. Go us.
Other than that, we worked a bit on our tango. I still have a lot of work to do in syncing up with Jeff better in certain figures, but again, we're much improved and happy to see the progress we've made in this dance. We also experimented with starting our routine with the toughest part, because it looks kind of impressive to start right away with that much movement and rotation. Jeff commented that we don't move enough in tango, and I think he's right. I think it's because our rotations aren't sharp enough so we end up diffusing them throughout the figures and then we get less movement down the floor.

In waltz, Jeff commented on my pathetic fallaway-reverse-outside-swivels coming out of wing. I know they're bad; it's really really tough for me to gauge how large of step to take, because it seems like it should be bigger because I have to get past Jeff and end up well left of him, but he says I keep over driving. I told him that I struggle with measuring this particular step because normally I feel where his leg is going and just follow that, but in the wrong side position my left leg is not anywhere close to his right leg. What I figured out yesterday was that I really just need to step just beneath or just past his right shoulder, because chances are his leg will be there. I tried this strategy a few times and Jeff said it felt a lot better. I still need to think about it for a while though, because this transition is definitely not natural to me yet.

We ended with more work on our 20% project, a.k.a night club 2-step. It's coming along; one of our friends thought we should do it for a show sometime. Maybe one day we will. Right now it's just for fun.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lesson Recount

Dances:  Tango, Waltz, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

I gotta say, I've been getting some really solid workouts in recently.  Not only am I making good progress in terms of shape, size, and strength, but also in efficiency.  Hopefully when the time comes to get a tail suit I'll be ready for it.

Today's practice was really just a big review of everything we had covered in our lesson on Sunday.  Sarah and I spent a good deal of time in front of the mirror practicing everything from Contra Checks to just adjusting our frame.

In Waltz we did a lot of promenade work.  Just making sure I wasn't in some sort of weird position and that my frame stayed parallel to Sarah's.  I can feel some of the places where I always break frame but not all of them so I need to pay close attention to detail now.  Our Promenade Position has definitely gotten A LOT better than when we first started.  It does really require a certain level of flexibility in the upper body to achieve though.  So I shall continue to stretch daily and hopefully become more limber.

Tango was more of the same.  Promenade Position and also my new hand position on Sarah's back.  She says it's quite a bit more comfortable for her so that's a good thing.  We also practiced our Contra Checks.  Still a long ways to go there but at least it looks like a Contra Check now, instead of some crazy hesitation.  Moreover, Sarah and I are making sure we're both on our own balance in that check.  Otherwise it could spell disaster in many ways down the road.

Throughout the entire practice I was also keeping a vigil eye on my right elbow.  I have to make sure it doesn't droop.  It's a sneaky little bastard though.  I'm not too concerned with this problem since I'm sure it's just a matter of getting used to it.  Should just fall right into place.  But we'll see.

Review Day

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Night Club 2-step
Hovers: 1

Poor quickstep is getting left out this week. In any case, Monday we decided we ought to review our lesson material, so that is what we did.

The focus in waltz was the promenade, making ample use of the mirrors (I'm so thankful we have such a conducive practice space), and stopping to check alignments at the usual problem areas. If we can't feel it, at least we can see when it is out of alignment, so Jeff especially is calling himself on it every time that elbow drops.

For some reason this week I've been having a lot of neck and upper back pain, tightness too. It's actually to the point that it really hurts to put pressure with a finger on certain parts of my neck and shoulders. Because of this, I'm trying to work on keeping my spine aligned and to support my neck from the shoulder blades, rather than trying to use my neck muscles to do the work. I don't do it consciously, but I think I actually use my neck more than I should. I think that perhaps some of the weights have been adding to the strain as well since I can feel those muscles seizing up when I do some of the exercises. I do think I should go back to the visualization I came up with some time ago that helped me a lot then, when I imaged a curve like the curve on a wooden bow pressed up against my legs, back, and neck, so that visually from behind they would form that perfect curve. When I first started dancing I visualized the curve as being internal, so that the body was evenly distributed on either side, but that caused my head to go too far, this way, it's a visual line that I'm going for and not an internal one. It helped my head position a lot at the time, and I think I need to get back to that, as it caused me to straighten out the back of my neck a lot.

In tango we worked on the same issue, fundamentally, and also Jeff has adjusted his arm position, which makes it so much more comfortable for me. We also reviewed the contra check, and spent a bit of time doing them, stopping, checking alignment and balance. One exercise I like for contra-checks is one we did during this practice; Jeff puts me in the contra-check, double checks to make sure everything is lined up right, and then he drops frame and leaves me where I am. If I'm on balance and in a good position, I should hold, and I generally do pretty well...until Jeff gets naughty and can't resist giving me a push to see if I'll topple. Not fair! I think it's better though; it definitely feels different, and doesn't look half bad in the mirror. Now I just need to work on that stretch...I know I could do more if I could just get more flexible! I'm working on it; I have a contra-check simulation stretch I do almost every day before working out, so we'll see if it pays off.

Just for fun, here is a sweet tango routine that ends with a contra-check. Victor then leaves his partner Anastasia in that contra-check position, exactly like Jeff and I have been doing in our practices, and of course she stays, solid, perfectly on balance and beautifully shaped. The contra-check is at 3:20 near the end, but the whole video is of course worth watching. Victor is a good man, however, and doesn't try to knock his partner over afterwards, unlike some people... Enjoy!

Lesson #15

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Nightclub 2-Step, Cha Cha, Rumba, 3x Swing, Merengue, Salsa
Part:  Lead
Workout:  None.

It has been quite a while since our last lesson.  Almost a month and a half.  Mostly due to scheduling conflicts and perhaps some laziness.  :)  But what's important is that Sarah and I arrived a little before 5PM for our lesson.

Today's lesson was a little different in that Sarah and I both had very clear ideas on what we wanted to work on with Simeon.  We also made it a point to make sure we got in all of our questions for both the Tango and the Waltz.  Usually Simeon (or Kora) will start us off with a dance, and then before you know it, we've spent the whole hour working on one section of just that one dance.  While that's fine, today we had too many questions over the two dances to just settle for one.  Poor Simeon had to work under an egg timer.  30 minutes per dance, no exceptions.

We started off with the Waltz, and not 2 minutes in, Simeon was already pulling his Compliment Sandwich crap.  Again focusing on how "good" or preparation step was.  The three of us broke down laughing because it's become so ridiculous.  The good news is that our Waltz is pretty consistent.  Nothing glaringly awful sticks out about it.  The only major issues we face right now is our Promenade Position, my tipping frame, and my creeping shoulder.  Simeon mentioned getting a posture brace to wear during practice since it makes sure my shoulders stay back and even no matter what I try to do.  It's not a bad idea so I'm going to look for one.  As far as the tipping is concerned, I'm going to keep practicing with our friend the bar as well as in front of a mirror to make sure I'm dead on.  I've mentioned before that my frame seems to be getting worse and today I found out for sure.  I seem to be dropping my right elbow a little.  It's interesting because neither Kora nor Simeon has pointed this out before, so I wonder what has caused me to get lazy there.  Oh well, just need to redouble my efforts in keep my elbows up and on the same level.  Sarah on the other had needs to make sure she stays with that elbow regardless of it being up, down, or level.

Next we worked on our main target issue, the Contra Check.  We got some great pointers here.  I think this is the most we've ever worked on this figure.  Simeon was great at giving me some very simple objectives to focus on.  I need to pull my left elbow as far back and up as I can while making sure my right elbow moves equally as much down and forward so as not to break frame.  Along with that I need to be looking past Sarah while making sure my head stays on my side and doesn't come parallel to hers.  Last but not least, timing.  All the separate parts need to move together as one.  So as I extend my left foot into CBM, my left elbow is pulling back and up, my right elbow doing the opposite, and my head turning to look past Sarah.  PHEW!!  That's a lot of stuff to think about all at the same time.

Sarah and I stay for the dance after our lesson.  Always the same people, same music, and same floor crafting.  But it had been a while since we've been to the party and it was nice to have large floor to move on again.  Overall a great time and lesson!

Demolishing the "House"

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango (socially, a lot more)
Hovers: 2

Sunday this week was a little out of the ordinary, at least lately. Jeff and I actually had a lesson! I think we haven't taken one in about six weeks due to various scheduling issues, etc., so it was good to get some feedback and new things to practice. This time we were with Simeon, and we told him prior to starting that we were going to give him a time limit so that we could be sure to get both waltz and tango in during this lesson, since we know how it typically goes; we start part of the routine and get about half way, and then we get stopped and work on one figure for the entire hour. This time we had some definite questions and knew we needed help with the contra-check, so we made sure that we covered those.

After commenting that our prep step looks really good (Simeon's notorious compliment that always precedes his critiques of our dancing), we started working on the usual problems. Apparently our waltz is pretty consistent; there are no parts that jump out as problem areas, at least to the professional eye, but the tipping frame is a consistent issue. Jeff's right elbow also has a tendency to droop, and I don't always match his frame with mine, giving us a broken appearance. So Jeff found that he is himself sometimes guilty of what he calls the "house" frame, where the lead's arms droop below his shoulder's, forming a traditional rooftop profile. After a few tweaks and different explanations, Simeon was happy with it. We will need to practice it plenty though to get it consistent. Then we worked on our contra-check. Here, Jeff needs to "dump" me less and rotate and lift more, while I need to give more with my hips and not pull away with my lower body as I extend on top. I think we got the general idea and it's looking better already.

Next we focused on a section of our tango. Simeon took a look at our frame, which had been somewhat uncomfortable for me lately, and told Jeff that he should lower his hand on my back a bit. This made it hugely more comfortable for me, since I can now more easily wrap my arm over and around without popping my shoulder out of place. I also needed to change the alignment of one of my steps in that figure where Jeff was having to drag me around, and also drive more so that I can provide more of my own momentum. Otherwise, it was pretty straightforward.

This was a good lesson for us; I think we both came away feeling that we had a clearer understanding of what we were trying to accomplish in some problem areas, and got new visualizations to help us fix the issues. Plus, we covered two dances! That's a rare thing.

We also ended up staying for the Sunday night social dance. I thought we danced pretty well; our Viennese especially felt good and though my neck did hurt (it was already though), I don't think I was pulling away on the naturals as Jeff has complained about, and I felt like I was more with him in the shaping and that my body was turning smoothly under my head instead of visa versa. Jeff did mention afterwards that ironically enough, he thought floorcrafting there was harder than at Danceworks, even though the floor was multiple times larger. I speculated that this could be because at WA Dance Club, you expect the couples to move more because the floor is larger, and then they don't, and you almost hit them, while at Danceworks, you don't expect them to move, and they don't, so it's just like weaving around poles. Jeff thought that sounded about right. I also had the opportunity to learn the lindy-hop basic since a friend of mine who is into the swing scene showed up to check out the venue. That was interesting; I think it looks really fun, and I was able to get the rhythms, but I had a hard time picking up sometimes which figures went back into 6 count from the 8 count swing. I'm also too erect with my posture, I think; my standard training has ingrained that in me and I don't think I can break it. In that style of swing; I felt that it pulled the balance off a little. Anyways, Jeff and I got a lot of good dances in, including night club 2-step, and even part of a polka! That was a first, I think.

It was good to see the old crowd again and dance on the familiar floor; this time it was much less slippery than usual, which was really nice. Large floors make my long legs happy; though I guess from a lead's perspective the type of traffic congestion one has to navigate is more of a concern. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to lead! For my part, I just keep trying to be a more sensitive follow; the kind whom he can trust will come with him when he needs to go somewhere unexpected. And I will say, Jeff's lead has consistently getting more and more controlled and clear. Maybe it's just that I'm becoming more and more familiar with and used to it, or maybe I just needed to be strong-armed before (quite possible and highly likely), but I know that I used to feel much more like I was being hurled around and tipped off that rarely happens. This is a good thing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The 20% Time Project

Dances:  Nightclub 2-Step, Waltz, Tango
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms, back, and legs at the gym.

Another great day of practice.  I hope this streak continues next week.  Since I bailed out on practice yesterday, I also had some making up on the workout side to do.  As a result, I added legs to the routine today.  I paced myself well and avoided going into practice dead.

Sarah and I decided to work on the two dances that we would be focusing on in our upcoming lesson; the Tango and Waltz.  Both of us keeping mental notes on the various questions and trouble spots we have.  The Waltz is doing well.  Other than a few trouble spots (usually involving that damn Wing), I'm pretty confident about it.  The Tango has definitely improved quite a bit since our last lesson, I'm still not totally comfortable with.  One issue that spans the two dances for us is the Contra Check.  Now I've only had a brief orientation on the Contra Check so I know I'm just faking it.  It'll be good to focus on that and at least get a more concrete idea of how they are done well.  Since it's a very commonly used figure, it'll help us greatly.  One other thing I've noticed is the fact that my frame seems different recently.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but it feels like it has gotten worse.  But like I told Sarah, there's nothing we can do about it now, so I'll wait and see what Simeon says.

We also worked on our Nightclub 2-Step tonight.  We're still piecing together the figures from that YouTube video.  It's actually kind of fun having to reverse engineer the videos.  One concept I introduced to Sarah tonight is one that I hope we adopt for good.  It's Google's famous 20% Time Projects.  Basically, Google engineers are encouraged to spend one day a week to work on projects outside of their job descriptions.  So for example, you could use the time to develop something new, or if you happen to notice something is broken or always wanted a feature in something, you can use the time to fix/add it.  This philosophy of theirs has yielded many great products.  Gmail, Google Talk, Google News, and Google Earth/Sky to name just a few of the really successful ones.  I'm hoping that we start subscribing to the same philosophy and either spend one day a week or maybe 10-15 minutes a day to work on dances outside of the five Standard dances.  Over time I'm sure that will pay really nice dividends not to mention keep us from burning out.  It works for Google, so in theory it should work for us.  :)

Straightening the Promenade

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Night-Club 2 step
Hovers: 3?

Thursday's practice was a good, focused one. This time we had the room pretty much to ourselves, so we got to work. We ran through our waltz and spent a good deal of time working on our promenades, not tipping them and making them less of a V shape and more together in the frame. We did this by essentially doing a hover telemark into promenade and then doing a few chasses in a row towards the mirror so that we could check our alignments. I was working on keeping my outside side (my right) up and forward and towards Jeff, and also trying to be better at keeping my head inside the frame. In my efforts to extend, often my head will kind of get out of the "picture frame" in waltz especially and kind of hang out instead of staying in a nice line with my spine.

Jeff was commenting after we went social dancing recently that it really seems that these frame issues (especially in promenade) are really our biggest issue in our dancing, and that once we fix these technicalities, we will probably do very very well since we both seemed to naturally have a good feel for the movement standard dancing requires and a lot of energy moving down the floor. That is something that is very difficult to learn, while the frame issues are definitely something that can be hammered out over time. Of course balance and control and technique are all important for movement too, but we feel that the foundation is there and already gives us kind of an edge, and once we fix the frame, we'll probably be in good shape to be competitive. We'll see though. The frame is pretty important!

After waltz, we focused on tango. We worked about on our reverse outside swivel...never a favorite step of mine...trying to figure out how the timing works. Jeff likes to lead it with the swivel in a more continuous action rather than a sharp sort of punctuated swivel as I was used to when dancing the same figure with Simeon. We realized that both are correct (after watching our demo video), so I think Jeff is going to keep doing what he was doing, and just be extra careful to make sure the timing fits. Again, Jeff was working on his frame issues, and I was trying to be conscious of my movement coming out of the oversway so as to provide my own rotation and not be heavy on Jeff's arm.

We ran through quickstep once; again, it doesn't feel like our best dance, but it's not bad. In any case, we got through it to music without any catastrophes. That's one dance that definitely feels worse than it looks. We also ran through foxtrot as well. Tango, on the other hand, feels okay and looks pretty sad, at least based on that one video we took.

Finally, we ended practice with more work on night club 2-step. We finally got to the ronde section, for which I was quite excited, and that's all we got through for the evening.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Cheap K-Mart Underwear Sound

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

Today was one of our more interesting practices.  It started of course with our workout which was typical.  But when we got in the "ballroom", our latin dancing friends were already there as well as who we call "Twirly Guy".  He is a guy that practices some sort of baton twirling routine and is actually quite good at it.  Sarah thinks he sprinkles the floor with baby powered to keep it slick for his socks but I think that's incorrect.  He's using it as talcum powder to keep his hands dry.  And as a result of his routine, he spreads it all over the floor.  Needless to say, this cause quite a problem when we start dancing there after him.  But believe it or not, that wasn't what made the practice so interesting today.

Sarah and I have been talking for some time about finding a way to tie ourselves together when dancing to make sure our connection stays where it's supposed to stay.  Today we made that dream come true in the most awkward way.  Sarah had brought in three resistance bands the whole process of tying them together and getting into them together was hilarious.  At first I tried to have Sarah climb in after me.  But then we realized she was wearing a skirt and that wouldn't work.  And when we finally both got into the giant rubber band it was either too tight or too loose.  While we were in the band I pulled it out and snapped it against my hips and compared the sound of that of the cheap tighty-whity underwear you get at places like K-Mart and the sound they make when you put them on.  We were laughing soooo hard.  I'm glad we were able to provide such entertainment for everyone in the room.  Finally we did get the band roughly where we wanted it and we tried dancing in it.  Not too bad, but the wing (or any wrong side position) caused problems.  Overall I think the concept works, but we'll have to refine it a bit before we can get something useful out of it.

After the wonderful fail of the resistance bands, I thought it'd be a good day to just practice our Promenade Position.  So Sarah and I spent the rest of the practice dancing almost entirely in Promenade Position straight at the mirror.  It was actually quite helpful.  I still need to stretch more, but we're getting there.

We ended practice with Nightclub 2-Step and more YouTube figures.  Overall a great and fun practice.

Rubber Bands and Baby Powder

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Night Club 2-Step
Hovers: 1

Tuesday's practice had me nearly crying with laughter, and here is why. We entered the practice room to find a couple of our friends already there practicing their Latin routines, plus, our friend the "twirly guy" was there twirling his baton to music. Now for some reason this gentlemen requires an extra slick and slippery floor to perform his routines, and hence sprinkles copious amounts of baby powder about the room, and then performs in socks. Well, as you may imagine, that has proved quite treacherous for Jeff and I since the floor is often plenty slick enough for our purposes, so we generally have to brush up our shoes extra carefully on days when we are preceded by the "twirly guy."

Our "brilliant" practice scheme of the day was to use one or two of those rubber resistance bands tied in a loop around ourselves to keep our connection low and tight, so that we could feel more easily the parts where we are pulling away. Well, Jeff thought that tying the weakest band in a loop would be plenty of room for both of us, and yet be the right tightness...but to give you just an idea, I could fit my waist inside and then pull it out from me just a little ways. I was convinced this wouldn't fit us both. Since Jeff insisted, he put on the loop and I somehow managed to get in. The twirling baton guy saw Jeff standing there with that relatively small elastic band around his waist, holding it out and saying, "Come on, Sarah!" He said something like "That looks like a really bad idea..." laughed, and quickly made his exit. It must have looked awfully strange from his perspective. Anyways, it was so tight that it wouldn't stay where we wanted it and rolled up to my waist, where it proceeded to cut off my circulation. Jeff said it was the right tightness, but I definitely didn't agree. We tried again with the two of the stronger bands tied together, and that worked out better, though when we tried to get into wing position it was really dreadful...and promenade was a challenge too. At one point Jeff just decided to turn around and walk away...except that I was inextricably attached and got dragged along behind, protesting and laughing. In any case, we provided some good entertainment for our friends who happened to be practicing there that night.

We tried the waltz with the bands, and that's where we ran into the awful business of getting in and out of pretty much didn't happen. Promenades were quite a struggle. Eventually we gave up and just ran through some more waltz, then worked on some tango a bit. Again, I'm working on keeping my left side more lifted and making sure to follow Jeff's shapes. Jeff is continuously working on straightening out his frame, especially on promenades, and I'm doing my very best to do my part to match his shapes and not drag him down on either side. Tango is getting more comfortable, but I'm not sure how good it looks yet. We'll probably have to video tape ourselves again sometime in the near future.

Practice concluded with more mastery of "YouTube special" figures in our night-club 2-step. Jeff tracked down some fun new figures online and we're trying to learn them and incorporate them so that we can give a great performance whenever it is that we enter this night club 2-step competition we keep talking about doing. Jeff keeps teasing me because I got so excited to do the rondes (since I always do them in our dances where I'm not supposed to), and the dip that I'm actually really bad at doing, and the partial splits. I think it's good that we're doing this because it gives us something fresh to work on that we don't have to worry about too much because it's just for fun, and we both really enjoy that dance in any case. It's a good balancer.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

Holidays are cool in the fact that we can practice early on in the day and the facility isn't busy.  I feel that as we continue this crazy journey, it's really a separate day from my real life.  So I work during the day on my projects, and then at night I have a completely separate day.  Over time, this can become exhausting so the change of pace every now and then is great.  Sarah and I took our time with the workout today and got a really good one in, after which we started practice.

Zumba girl was in the room today so music was off the table.  It always annoys me a bit when people don't even offer to share music.  I make the effort to make sure others feel like they are getting their chance when they are in the room but sadly this isn't reciprocated that often.  Since that was the case today I decided it'd be good to work on a little Nightclub 2-Step so Sarah and I watched a YouTube video and started to reverse engineer it.  I gotta say, our Nightclub 2-Step is getting better.  Aside from the new YouTube figures we've added to our repertoire, the lead and follow aspect is much smoother as well as the overall flow of the dance.  Sarah and I are seriously considering competing in the Nightclub 2-Step just freestyle and see how we do.

Other than the Nightclub 2-Step, Tango was our enemy today.  As usual the bar came into play as I continue the upward climb towards a completely level frame in this dance.  Although today the bar wasn't cooperating like it usually does.  It kept sliding around giving the appearance that my frame was tilted when in fact it was just sitting on two different parts of my arms.  Nevertheless, our Tango is definitely improving.  One other part we practiced today was the Overaway with Ending Pivots.  I haven't mentioned it before since we have so much else to worry about, but Sarah hasn't been pulling her weight here.  Quite literally.  But she asked me today and I told her.  Usually I have to power the two of us back around out of the Oversway.  That takes a tremendous amount of energy and probably looks quite labored.  Luckily Sarah has realized this and today we fixed it.  She is now operating under her own power and drive there.  MUCH lighter for me.

We ended on a Waltz like we normally do for the most part.  It continues to be our strongest dance.  Even the Hover is working out now.  Progress is good!