Monday, October 31, 2011

When NOT to Bother a Man

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

Mondays are never easy as most people will tell you.  The whole cycle of work starts all over again.  That means arms and back at the gym followed by practice.  Today I had Sarah along for the workout.  She seems to like arms and back days.  For some reason those are the days she happens to workout with me.  Weird.

We warmed up with some Nightclub 2-Step.  It's probably our best dance, which is sad.  We've been joking that our first comp should be a Nightclub 2-Step heat and that's it.  I'm all for it.  After that we danced our round which was pretty good.  Rounds are easier at the beginning of the week.  I got through it with little trouble today.  Finally onto the meat of the practice.  Again with the Quickstep.  This time, the exit to the Rumba Cross section.  It involves a the second half of a Running Right Turn into a Closed Impetus.  For me, this section is pretty straightforward (other than the heel turn lead coming out of the Rumba Cross).  But for some reason, Sarah always feels lost to me.  It's almost as if she's guessing at what we're doing.  I'm not sure why.  I asked her and the answer didn't help.  I think it has to do with our positioning.  The Running Right Turn can be pretty brutal if you're off a little bit.  I found that out the hard way.  Sarah nailed me right where it counts for a man a few times today.

I had to explain to Sarah what NOT to do when you hit a guy's family jewels.  Don't ask what's wrong.  Don't ask if he's ok.  Don't try consoling him.  It's best just to leave him alone and NOT incessantly ask questions.  Though I have to say, it's really funny watching this all go down when it happens to someone else.  Luckily it doesn't happen often to us.  One of the many occupations hazards I guess.

Quickstep: Trying not to Die

Part: Follow
Dances: Nightclub 2-step, Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 1

After an arms and back workout, we headed back to the practice room for our warm up nightclub 2-step, a round, and more quickstep work. For some reason my lower back was kind of messed up tonight, and my bad knee hurting more than usual, so that didn't help my form any. Yesterday night I had gone out social dancing (Jeff didn't go this time) and danced with a lot of different leads, some more successfully than others, and I think it took more of a physical toll that usual. I'm getting better about dancing somewhat "defensively" and being more adaptable, but there are still times when the leads want to try out all of their line figures and crazy turns on me and the balance and frame leave something to be desired, and usually my back takes the hit. There was one particular one in tango that I like to call "promenade floor" because the promenade is aimed directly at the floor...that whisked me into an involuntary sort of tipping eros line just to keep my balance. I've gotten very used to dancing with Jeff and the way our frame and his lead feels, comparatively speaking, but I need to make sure I don't get locked into a certain position because I'm so used to it. It'll help my dancing with others and with him if I continue to work on that flexibility.

Anyways, after the round (which by the way is getting easier stamina wise), we went to work on the section of quickstep following the rumba crosses, with the running right turn. Jeff says it always feels like I don't know what the heck he's doing, and to me I just feel sloppy in this section...just because of the way the balance and partnership shift, I guess. I also gave Jeff an unfortunate knee or two in undesirable places as I was trying to align myself correctly for the exit from the rumba cross. After dancing through it a few times, sometimes very slow and balancing, we finally got through the section a few times in a row that were quite passable. Jeff figured that was the best time to end practice as he knows how I hate to end on a bad note.

Jeff brought up a rather depressing thought yesterday, and it was that when we get to open level, quickstep will likely be the most drastically changed of our routines, and therefore the one requiring the most work. We foresee much more quickstep practice in our future. Once we get really good at it though, I think it will actually be quite fun. Once we get to the point where we aren't merely hoping to survive... Quickstep really is the all or nothing, make it or break it dance.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Stressed Wrist

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

It's hard to ensure that your workout at the end of the week is equally intense as that of the beginning.  Usually by Friday I'm pretty torn up and ready for the weekend break.  Still, chest and shoulders are pretty important so I can't afford to skimp out.

Our round today was pretty average and not much to write about.  We not dying after them anymore which is progress.  My sadistic partner had decided of all the days in the week, Friday was the one to work on the Rumba Crosses in Quickstep.  For those of you who don't know, this step is intense (at least compared to the other ones in our routine).  Not only does it require absolute precision, but also a fair amount of energy each time.  Sarah has been having trouble getting her legs to naturally cross in this step.  For the man, crossing his legs is very awkward as well since you need to bring your right leg to cross behind the left.  On top of this, timing is an issue as well.  We're just not in sync enough here.  Sarah also kept running her knees into mine so an adjustment needed to be made.  We ran through it many times today and I think its slowly coming together.

One thing I've been telling Sarah is that my right wrist is really strained and quite sore by the end of our round.  I'm not sure what it is, but usually by the Viennese Waltz, that wrist is starting to die.  We really need to figure out what is causing this.  I'm sure one of our frames or positions is warped.  Sarah has this hypothesis that since our connection in the hips is getting better that means there will be less connection up top (since she can extend further out).  I can see how that might very well be the issue, but even then I think the follow needs to "follow" the guys frame.  If the hypothesis is true, my frame is tighter up top.  That means she won't be able to extend as much.  I'm not saying it's a good thing, but she shouldn't fight it.   It's like driving a Civic versus a Celica or Ferrari or BMW.  Each car has it's limits, and you can only push each one so far before you loose traction and spin out.  As the follow (in this example the driver of the car), you need to be aware of what those limitations are and drive only up to them, not past.  Hopefully in time, the car gets upgraded and the limits expanded.  For now, like Jerry Seinfeld says (in reference to medication):  Give me maximum strength.  Find out what will kill me, then back it off a little bit.

Stay in Motion Unless Directed Otherwise

Part: Follow
Dances: Nightclub 2-step, Waltz, Tango, Viennese, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 1

Jeff opened up the practice plan on Friday night, and his face fell. "Quickstep? Rumba crosses? On a Friday? &%*$, Sarah!" We had talked at the beginning of the week about how we needed to really focus on quickstep for a while, and as a consequence I had put down quickstep as our focused dance for 3 out of 5 days this week, and since we weren't going out for the usual social dancing this Friday, I had left the practice plan in standard format. Jeff was not amused.

All the same, after our competition round, we started to dance through them a few times. As a follow, I'm struggling with that tough balance in those fast moving and rotating figures between not initiating the movements but also pulling my own weight and helping the momentum. Either Jeff feels that I'm causing the movement or rotation, or else I'm at a dead stand still. I think I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board and remember the analogy I heard often when I was just starting to dance, how the woman is like something that has been set in motion, and she keeps going until she is clearly directed otherwise, so that once in motion, the lead is required to stop the motion, rather than to continue it. I think my problem was that because I've told I rush, I was trying to wait for each movement to be led...but that results in choppy dancing and much more work for the lead. I actually wasn't thinking about any of these things as I was dancing...just trying to be more patient, but I think it was backfiring, and now that I think about it I think that I at least know what the problem is. Actually, when we danced our round, I felt our tipsies came out pretty well, pretty well for us, anyhow, and I think it's a good example of a place where I just go with plenty of energy in one direction until he changes the trajectory, and then I do the same, and so on. That gives us plenty of momentum and can be a little hair raising at the same time, because if he doesn't redirect me in time...we're toast. Same is true if I try to lead the turn myself, but I don't think that's been a problem in the tipsies so much.

In any case, I also found myself crashing into Jeff's knee after the feet cross in the rumba cross, and I thought it might have to do with alignment, though Jeff thought it might be because I was too early or late. I changed something with the alignment, and it worked out much better. Actually, now that I think about it, I want to analyze that figure more closely next time to see why I'm supposed to cross my feet. It doesn't feel natural and like I'm being led to do it, and I wonder what it is about the ending body position that requires it. I often fail to cross them because if I did I'd lose my balance, so something about my positioning (or our positioning) is off, I think.

We were both tired since it was the end of the week practice, so after dancing a rumba cross that came out passably, it was time to call it a night.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The "Zig-Zag" of Tango

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

Sarah joined me for the workout today, and together we got a good one in.  I'm starting to push harder with her and making sure we keep a more spirited pace for our sets.  The result is us getting though everything quicker and also getting a more thorough workout in.

The rounds are getting a little easier now.  I suspect it'll be a few more weeks before they feel "normal".  I think dancing to the competition videos is working out well.  The ambient noises actually do throw me off from time to time so it's good to be able to get used to it without actually being in competition.  Also I've noticed the pacing for each comp is very different.  Most of the videos are cut as well, so there is little to no break in between each dance.  That's fine by me since it's more taxing that way.  We'll have to work our way up to dancing about three complete rounds in a row with no rest in between.  If we can pull that off, we'll be set for almost anything.

Today we worked on my least favorite step (so far) in Tango; the Reverse Outside Swivel.  Much like the well ranted Zig-Zag in Foxtrot, this step is arguably more awkward, however it does look better.  Our issue with this one is position.  I like to think of it like a retarded Wing.  While the woman is not on the wrong side, she might as well be.  Often times, Sarah complains that she is getting left behind.  It's fairly difficult not to though.  I need to make sure my hip isn't in her way when she swivels and comes back around.  On the other hand, my left leg is swiveling left, bringing my right leg that direction, which means my hip has to travel that way as well.  Awkward.  We've been just plowing through it up till now.  I'll step down on my left foot and just go for it.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.  Today I'd thought I'd stop right before the swivel and check on the overall status of the partnership before proceeding.  It took Sarah quite a few tries to get used to it.  Finally we were able to do it.  This is good for a few reasons.  One, we know we're balanced before all hell breaks loose again.  Two, we can play around with the different timings of that figure without just getting locked into one via muscle memory.

We ended practice with me telling Sarah which parts of each dance I can feel her tense up and poise ready to strike.  More accurately, she just strikes.  I don't blame her for doing so in those areas.  Usually they are the most difficult sections of our routines, though there are one or two that baffle me.  We had a pretty good laugh at it since most of the times it involves her launching herself on top of me while I just fall backward.  Fun stuff.

Spider in a Blender

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 0

Last night after our arms and back workout, Jeff picked a new comp for us to dance to, and we went into it cold. It was a challenge because there were essentially no breaks between the dances, but in the video they had also been cut short, so I don't think we finished any of routines, mercifully. I felt that we held up better today in terms of stamina though.

Then we got to work on our focused dance of the evening, tango this time. I can't remember at this point whether what we worked on specifically was what was on the practice program, but Jeff commented after our round, and I agreed, that our tango long-side, while now doable, still looks like we're struggling to make someone watching would wonder if we were going to survive, even though we almost always do now. That's not a good look. In particular, the reverse outside swivel of doom has never been a good figure for us. Now before I go into our practice, since Jeff talked about the "worm in the box," I must add that when he first made that comment and then demonstrated the guy's wriggling for me...I said..."No, you look like a spider." To which Jeff acknowledged, "Fine, whatever, spider-in-a-blender....worm-in-a-box, it still looks awful." So we now have two creative names for that awkward looking figure, and I like to call it "spider in a blender" now. In fact, we've generated some rather creative names for many of the ballroom figures. Most of them are due to Jeff's lack of syllabus book knowledge comparatively speaking (granted, I'm the nerd of the partnership in that regard), so he's been obliged to come up with ways of communicating about what we're dancing. Here's a sampling:
  • Worm-in-a-box or spider-in-a-blender
  • The Big Fish
  • Patty-cakes
  • Youtube special
  • My own tendency to add "of doom" or "of death" to the name of any particularly frustrating figure.
Anyways, we practiced the reverse-outside-swivel of doom. Now I've been used to dancing this in one motion, so that my step outside partner is also my swivel I kind of transfer the weight and swivel almost all at once. But for practice, Jeff was stopping after the step but before the swivel, which threw me off for a few iterations, because I kept swiveling automatically. After a lot of rather painful run throughs, it starting coming together a bit more. It's still an awful section though, and we didn't make a whole lot of progress as quickly as we would have liked, but it's kind of to be expected. At the end of practice, Jeff was talking about all of the sections of our dances where he feels me tense up or rush, and he brought up a certain hit that comes in tango after our natural twist turn where we end up in rocks. Apparently I hit too soon, before he leads it. I always had felt that I had to extend sharply at the same moment I transferred the weight onto my forward foot in order not to end up off time in my movement, but I tried a couple of times just stepping and then waiting for Jeff to lead the shape. I could feel that it was a more "shah-shing" type movement, rather than a simple "hit!", and then it made more sense too me. I'm going to keep this in mind going forward and try to be more patient there. I also found that when I waited for Jeff, his lead really brought my shape more that I ended up whipping my head right, which actually looks pretty cool, though quite different from how I was doing it before.

At the end of our round, Jeff was complaining that something about our frame is causing his wrist to hurt really badly, even after a short round, and that I keep getting heavy...but not in waltz. Oddly enough, when I demonstrated what I do when I'm told I'm getting heavy on the guy's arm (lift my left side forward and up and slight rotated towards him leaving my shoulder down and back), he said it felt worse. He also commented that we seem tense up top, and are so concerned with keeping our lower connection that we get locked up and tight, and it stresses the frame. I agree. But now I am wondering if the fact that we are maintaining a lower connection than before is going to necessitate a bit of adjustment to our frame up top. With the lower connection, I find my upper back extending much more, just naturally to counterbalance the shift in weight and the new lower center point, and I think that Jeff isn't necessarily giving me anymore space up there than before, but keeps trying to pull me in so that we have the same upper body connection as before. I wonder if that's really necessary...perhaps if he relaxes his arm a bit and doesn't worry about keeping me as close it would ease things a bit; I don't know though. We'll have to experiment. I do know that when I watch many of the top pros, their lower connection means that often their upper bodies aren't connected, and the lead usually gives the lady quite a bit of room to extend's her job to fill that space. Anyways, it's something we'll need to figure out.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Worm In A Box

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

Today's leg workout wasn't as bad as usual for some reason.  Practice seemed fairly tolerable after it.  One thing that really sucked though was the practice round.  We chose a video that had been professionally edited.  That meant no breaks in between the dances.  We got through the Waltz and Tango just fine, but my legs decided they were done halfway through the Viennese Waltz.  So we took a quick break and finished off the round.  It's getting slowly better.  Sometimes too slowly, but better than nothing I guess.

I wanted to bring up a specific Tango step or element (not sure which at this point) that many championship level competitors like to dance.  It involves the lead dragging to a halt (maybe a Spanish Drag) then starting to wiggle his frame in what appears to be random directions.  This translates to the lady wiggling her frame in an amplified version of the lead's.  Pretty soon she is convulsing randomly with her head flopping around, and frame just squirming like crazy, almost as if she's experiencing a bad seizure.  Then it all snaps back into a Promenade or Contra Check or whatever they are doing next.  To be honest I think it looks ugly.  I have yet to see any couple make that thing work.  We were watching a video of Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyeva performing the Tango and they went into this figure.  Still looked terrible in my opinion.  I'll have to ask Kora or Simeon what exactly it is and why people think it's cool to dance.  It's terrible.  Now I've been known for coming up with very random names for many of our figures and when I saw this I immediately blurted out "It's a Worm in a Box!".  I hope we never had to dance the Worm in a Box.

Tonight the focus was on the end of our second short side into our third long side in the Quickstep.  It all starts with a Closed Impetus.  Now I've ranted many times about the difficulties in leading a heel turn for the lady.  Dancing a heel turn is no picnic either.  First off, you have to be able to even dance the heel turn.  I think I'm mostly there.  The one thing that isn't in my control is Sarah.  She needs to be careful of not either landing on top of me or pulling me forward.  If she even veers slightly in either direction, it makes my job quite a bit tougher.  Then there's the exit from the heel turn.  I have a tendency to step back and side.  Tonight I focused hard on stepping straight back.  The first few times were interesting.  We fell forward, and backward, and pretty much every other way you can fall.  Finally we were getting the hang of it though.

Next was the Cross Chasse.  It's just pain awkward.  Not as bad as the Wing or Zig-Zag, but still.  One thing Sarah and I noticed was that we were falling into each of the next figures.  Every time we tried to stop in the middle, we'd fall over.  So we spent some time dancing through all of them slowly, making sure we were both on balance at the end of each one.  Other than that, the third long side is fairly simple.  I had to make a few adjustments to make sure Sarah knew exactly when and where she was supposed to be outside partner or closed.

We ended with Foxtrot lead and follow.  I thought I was being clever by dancing our Quickstep as a Foxtrot but Sarah didn't seem to amused since I had to make up A LOT of random timing to get it to work correctly.  Overall more good progress on our least sufficient dance.

Missing Collections

Part: Follow
Dances: Nightclub 2-step, Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 1

At this point I guess I should stop listing all of the dances since we're hitting all of the dances every night now during our round. It's still tough for us, but I think we'll get our endurance back up to speed. In my defense, I had mentioned to Jeff some time ago that we should start dancing rounds regularly to build endurance to comp length songs, and at that point he wasn't concerned about it, so we focused our practice more on solidifying our routines and getting major problems out of the way. We've both realized now though that we do need to work on that we're more comfortable dancing through our entire routines.

After the nightclub warm up, we danced a round to a competition video again, only this one didn't have any breaks between the songs, so Jeff's legs died almost at the end of the Viennese (it was leg day), and then we inserted quick breaks in between. I'm glad we're doing this, as it's good to know where we are endurance wise. We don't want to be the couple who dies come quickstep!

And speaking of quickstep, it was back to that dance for our focused practice. This time we worked on our closed impetus into cross chasse and quick open reverse V-6 part. That's a tough part for Jeff because it involves a heel turn for him (I know how bad those can be), and for me it's a matter of not pulling him other on either side and disturbing the balance. We realized as we practiced it slowly that we're not collecting sufficiently between the figures and were kind of falling into them, so we worked on stopping between each on to check balance. There was also some leveling off of the frame that had to happen to make this work, since the tilt was probably part of issue.

We ended with some lead and follow foxtrot; Jeff essentially tried to turn our quickstep into foxtrot, which was an interesting experiment and partially successful. I'm glad that we're finally taking the bull by the horns and really working hard at the quickstep. It's not the most fun right now, but it's what needs to happen to make us all around better dancers. Due to the practice plans, our practice sessions have been pretty focused and I'd say generally very productive lately, so it does seem that we are making some good progress.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Competition Simulation Strategy

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.
Temperature Outside at 12AM:  39 Degrees

I always write a little blurb about my workout and sometimes I feel that it gets fair repetitive.  But nevertheless, it's tradition now.  Workout today was pretty intense.  Without Sarah along for the ride, I tend to push myself MUCH harder with far less time in between sets.  Not sure if that's a good or bad thing.  Either way, I got a great workout in.

Sarah and I recently stumbled across an interesting technique/strategy while pursuing our quest for the physically untaxing round.  We usually put on some music for each dance and dance through each of our routines once through.  I had measured them all before and with the exception of Quickstep, they all are roughly the length of a competition heat if you dance them completely through.  A few nights ago, Sarah argued that our routines are actually a little bit under the standard heat time of 1:30.  To prove my measurements to her I played a video of the Professional Standard Competition at Seattle Star Ball this year (it was actually the video of Kora and Simeon in that competition) and we danced through the Waltz.  Turns out I was a little under but not by much (about half the first long side).  After dancing through it, we kind of looked at each other and came to the same realization at the same time.  What a great way to dance a practice round.  By playing videos of entire championship level competitions we not only wouldn't have to worry about changing the music for each dance and cutting them to the right length, but also would be able to simulate everything else.  Everything from the ambient sounds, to random fans screaming, to the roll out and bow at the end and prepping for the next dance.  After doing this for a few days the biggest gain for me is getting used to the pacing of these events.  Since I have never competed before I think this is a great way to simulate that environment, particularly the pacing, and in doing so give us an edge.  Anything helps at this point.

After our competition round, we started working on our Waltz.  The last part of our second long side ends with a Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot into a Drag Hesitation and finally to a Back Whisk.  While the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot will always require some work, its not too bad right now.  The entrance into the Drag Hesitation was a little clunky though when it comes to shape.  Oftentimes, it's really easy to dive into it in order to bring the partnership to halt.  So I made sure we were within normal limits there.  Next up was the real bear.  The Back Whisk.  Not exactly the hardest figure to learn, but in my opinion, a fairly difficult one to master.  You basically need to end up in Promenade Position with your left leg behind you.  Along with that is some shaping to the right which Sarah and I never quite get right.  Every time we try, we topple over backwards.  It's actually quite amusing.  In the end, I gave up on the shaping until we can get some further assistance with them from our coaches.  I'm pretty sure we're doing something wrong.  Other than that, things seem to be falling into place.

Upon Sarah's constant insistence, we ended with some Tango lead and follow.  It actually went very well.  I don't think floor crafting will be an issue at all for us once we get to competitions.  We practice that aspect of our dancing quite frequently.  Not to mention the crazy Asian driver at the helm.

See-Saw Shaping

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

Winter is finally here in the Northwest; my fingers are freezing as I type this, and even the gym is no longer overheated except when I'm in the middle of a workout, when any temperature feels too hot. Last night we began practice with a round, this time to competition footage audio. The breaks were shorter than we expected, and quickstep longer than I remember. We'll get used to it though. My thought is that we should eventually work up to dancing an entire song for each dance back to back, so about 5 minutes per dance. That way a regular round should be no problem.

The focused dance of the night was waltz, with a concentration on the hesitation into whisk following the fallaway reverse slip pivot section. We tend to lose connection here, and the shaping is wonky. Jeff experimented a bit with the shaping, since the idea is that you shape right (or left for the lead, I guess) for the hesitation, tilt left and back going into the whisk, and the then come back the other way as you end in promenade at the end of the whisk. It's awkward to do at first, but we did one that felt really good and I think the overall look is very elegant and adds some interest to an otherwise simple sequence. It looks and feels kind of like a smooth see-saw. After some more awkward fails, however, Jeff gave up on trying to do this different shaping since it's not what we're used to doing there and we'll probably want to get some professional guidance before implementing the new styling since we had a tough time getting it consistent. I noticed that the weave on that end of the floor is feeling much better...I'm more with Jeff in general and my head is more smooth with the transition, but best of all I can feel that our frame is much more level. It used to kind of dive into that part and it always felt like a strain to come back up, and even stay on balance. Jeff's been working extra hard on straightening the frame, and I can feel the difference for sure.

We ended with a short tango lead and follow only. Actually, I think that went off without a single hitch...I can't recall us losing our connection once throughout that dance, and I could tell Jeff was trying to throw me (or just playing around) by really mixing up our figures and throwing in stuff we never do. Like I said before though, tango is probably the easiest dance to follow for me. Not that I'm always perfect by a long shot, but because of the characteristics of that dance, the lead is usually pretty hard to argue with, and the frame and connection are more compact, giving you a better feel for where your partner is and where he's going. All the same, it's also not one of my better dances. I'm much better at looking long, flexible, flowing, slow, and graceful, than sharp, quick, snappy, and aggressive. Nevertheless, it continues to improve. I have high hopes for our tango.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mind + Body + Soul = Chemistry

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

Well it's the beginning of the week again.  Sarah had decided to workout with me today and I decided to really plow through it.  We took minimal amounts of break and in my opinion, really got a great workout in.  I managed to keep my heart rate fairly elevated throughout the entire duration.

We started out practice with a round.  Everything was normal except for the Foxtrot.  We danced it exceptionally well today.  It sort of felt like how it used to before it somehow got broken.  But we were very in tune with it today.  So that's good news.

Over the weekend Sarah and I had gotten together to watch a video of a seminar given in 2007 by William Pino and Alessandra Bucciarelli.  I've been collecting various videos of seminars recently since I think it's important when fighting any battle, in this case competitive ballroom dancing, to leverage any advantage you can get.  These videos are of the people who are and were the best in the field talking about various topics.  All very interesting and definitely filled with great information.  In this particular video William was talking about the chemistry between two people in a dance partnership.  How chemistry even by definition was the art of transformation.  As dancers we are the alchemists of motion, and we try to transform motions and emotions.  He went on to break down the components of good chemistry into three categories:  Mind, Body and Soul.  For mind, his main point was trust.  How the trust between the two people had to be no less than 100%.  So no matter what happens or how the other person is feeling, you just need to trust that they know what they are doing and their decisions are sound.  He brought up an example of one Blackpool Competition he had competed in.  For some reason he just didn't feel like dancing the Foxtrot that day.  So he told his partner Alessandra that he wasn't going to dance their routine that day, and instead only dance a Foxtrot based on the Reverse Wave.  She simply said "That's fine.".  It's a funny story, but thinking about it, that really takes a tremendous amount of trust (and guts) not only in your partner, but yourself, to pull off.  For Body, he talked about touch and the importance of genuine touch.  Just because you're dancing in body contact doesn't mean anything unless your touch conveys your intentions.  You're touch needs to mean exactly what you're trying to accomplish and it's characteristics will change depending on which dance or which figure you're dancing.  In a sense it's like acting.  You can't be afraid or shy to touch your partner.  You're there to do a job and get it done well.  William wrapped up the lecture with Soul.  Of course this meant the emotional side of dance.  How it's important to be able to recall any sort of emotion you need at any given time.  And make sure those emotions have been tested.  For example if you wanted to portray happiness you might think about a beautiful wedding you attended, or a concert you went to.  You then take that and apply it to your dance.  Overall a great lecture.  Sarah and I learned quite a bit from it.

Today's practice was to go over our last short side of our Quickstep.  Due to the size of the room we dance in, we usually either run out of space or another couple when we get to this last section.  As a result, we seldom dance it.  It's really not too difficult other than the two Quick Open Reverses (2 through 3 of it) and Reverse Pivots in a row.  Somehow Sarah likes to read a heel turn in between the two.  I didn't quite understand why that would even remotely feel like a heel turn lead, but either way she felt it.  We later discovered that her Silver Waltz routine with Simeon had a Reverse Pivot into a Double Reverse.  I'm willing to bet anything that's why she automatically pops up into a heel turn in our last Quickstep section.  Other than that we have a Change of Direction into a Chasse Reverse.  Not too hard considering anytime we have a Change of Direction in any other dance, something crazy and awkward follows it.  I'm not sure why Kora decided not to try and kill me in the Quickstep Change of Direction.  Maybe she forgot.

Undefeating the Quickstep

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

After the arms and back workout which we kept at a pretty good pace, we headed in for the beginning of the week practice. We warmed up and then danced a round. It's something we're trying to get back in the habit of doing, because, although it's tiring, we've simply got to get used to it and get that endurance built up. Today during our practice session we had a brilliant new idea for our rounds. We're going to start dancing them to the audio from competition video footage...then we'll get a really good feel for the length of the songs, the time between dances, and background noise that's always there. We were cracking up as we imagined ourselves waltzing around an empty room to the sounds of music mixed with applause and the ambient sounds of Blackpool or the City Lights Ball. We both came up with this idea at the same moment as Jeff turned on a competition video to prove to me how our waltz fit with a competition length song. We'll have to see how it goes, but it should be fun.

Today we decided to look at quickstep again as it continues to be the weakest link. Recently Jeff was going off on his take on the title "undefeated" and what it really means, and how you can't claim that if you've been beaten at a certain competition or level prior to becoming the steady winner. Somehow the word morphed into a verb as we discussed how we'd like to undefeat gold before going into the open levels. Our plan is not only to win a comp, but to undefeat it...a more challenging goal, don't you think? So right now, we need to undefeat quickstep, because as it stands now quickstep is winning against us.

Our focus yesterday was the last short side in our routine, mainly since we rarely dance it because of where it is in the circuit. Now last night I was having a problem with turning the second quick-open-reverse into a double reverse spin, and I was trying to explain to Jeff why they feel so similar to me going into them. Both require a long step back with the right leg going into heavy reverse rotation, and I'm drawing my free leg under the body in both, but in one I turn on the heel and stay in place, while in the other I pass my feet and move through outside partner. Granted, I think it was a problem with me rather than with Jeff's lead, but to me the entry to both figures is quite similar. After a bit of a discussion about it, and Jeff commenting that doing a double-reverse after a reverse pivot was a really awkward thing to do, and why would I ever want to do it...I remembered that my silver waltz routine and I believe also my quickstep dancing pro-am with Simeon both included this combination, which I danced and practiced over and over. That would explain why I feel that it's a natural progression and probably why my body keeps defaulting in that direction. Once we figured that out we ended up fact, the very end of the routine is quite blah. A change of direction all in slows, and then a chasse reverse, which is basically half of a box. I really want to shape right on the hesitation though, even though Simeon wanted me to stay left for some reason. Right shape gives it some interest and seems to bring some kind of finality to the section. Jeff doesn't care either way, it seems.

I forgot to mention that when we danced our round, the foxtrot felt quite good...unusually so for the past several weeks. It was a good feeling; I think perhaps some for my part was inspired by a video we had seen of William Pino and Alessandra in which they spoke about and demonstrated a very simple and gorgeous foxtrot that they danced lead and follow only for a Blackpool competition. The way those dancers move as a single unit is so, so beautiful, so I was thinking about what that must feel like, and maybe it helped. Anyways, we felt more together than sometimes.

We ended with some lead and follow waltz. We're getting pretty used to it by now, since that is the one dance we usually get to dance quite a bit in social situations. I enjoy it a lot when Jeff gets creative with the shaping...hesitations, etc. and I think we're continuing to improve in our connection and ability to give and take in those lead/follow only situations. Heck...I'm not surprised by anything in waltz anymore....reverse waves, patty cakes...rumba crosses even; I never know what's going to happen so I just do my best to stay totally in the moment and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oversway Exit Strategy

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.

Last night's workout was definitely showing it's ugly teeth today.  As a result, my workout today as well as practice was impacted greatly.

For months now, our Tango has slowly made improvement, particularly the first long side.  It is without a doubt the hardest part of the routine.  One aspect that also causes us problems is the exit to the Oversway.  I always feel like I'm literally pulling the two of us out of it.  During our last lesson with Simeon he assessed it and found that Sarah wasn't quite pulling her weight there.  Weeks after that lesson it still felt heavy and difficult to move.  So today I danced it a few times and realized something.  My shape going into it kind of continued out of it.  I more or less swing that shape out of the figure and level it out half way through.  The next time through I paid special attention to leveling myself out prior to moving out.  It helped tremendously.  Funny thing was, Sarah was also trying something new at the same time and we both thought our adjustments were the cause of the new found success.  So I'm not sure which one of us really fixed the issue (maybe it was a combination of both), but it felt A LOT better.  It's amazing what you can accomplish with a level frame.  Overall a short practice due to my destroyed legs and the round we danced at the beginning.  But it was definitely productive.

The Inner Game of Dancesport

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

Thursday night we both got a rather drawn out workout in, and then headed in to practice. After a rumba warm up (with American style box basic, no less), we got to work on our tango. In general, tango is not our best dance, but I had picked the oversway section for us to work because we often seem to struggle with getting a good shape and proper balance going in, and a bit more with the coming out because of the amount of rotation required, from a standstill. That's one of the toughest things about tango, is that you don't have that constant momentum that helps the figures flow together and makes rotation more effortless. In tango, you're always grinding to a halt and then having to come up with energy from almost nowhere to go into the next figure or rotation. I would say tango probably takes the most raw muscle strength of the dances for that reason.

One thing I decided to work on was keeping my right hip up a bit and forward, so as not to fall away into a V shape so often. Obviously I continue to need to work on keeping the left side up and forward, but I was thinking about it during this last practice in particular, and I kept in mind something I've often heard our coaches tell leads. They always tell them to imagine that their opposite side and hip are connected by a string or something that is pulling them together, so I used this visual, but in mirror image for the lady's position. I think it helped to stabilize our connection throughout the figure. When we danced through the section in question and it went much smoother than normally, I thought at first that perhaps this added focus had made a difference, but it turns out that Jeff had adjusted something too. I'm not sure what he did, but it felt better for both of us, and there was less strain and stress on the frame going through that exit.

We felt that this was another pretty successful practice; we recognized a problem in our dancing, set out to fix it, and made some progress.

As an added note, on the side I've been doing some studying to help me with the mental side of dancing, particularly as a follow, and have been reading a book called "The Inner Game of Tennis." It's about the mental side of playing competitive sports, and the principles it talks about don't apply to tennis specifically, and I'm finding them remarkably apt for dancesport. I'd say that the way a follow is supposed to respond and react to her lead is in many ways comparable to how a the tennis player reacts to the that it requires a quick and immediate response that corresponds precisely with what is served. So as I'm reading this book, I am starting to adopt some of the techniques suggested for enhanced focus, for allowing the body to respond naturally without the intervention of the mind, and I think it's actually helping. For example, when I'm social dancing lately, in order to focus and clear my mind, I choose only one thing to think about and observe in a mental sense (since it's essentially impossible to stop thinking altogether), and usually that will be something to do with the lead.

According to the philosophy outlined in the "Inner Game," it is better to simply observe and let the body respond, rather than to judge one's response positively or negatively. Rather, simply let the mind get interested in the ball and it's motions, or in this case, follow his center, hip, leg, frame, etc...and watch what it's doing (mentally, based on feel)...and I naturally find myself responding to that movement in a less intellectual and more immediate way. The focus is shifted from what I am doing right or wrong and how I am responding to the lead, to just focusing on the lead itself and seeing what it does. When I'm thinking this way, it also helps me avoid that pitfall of just responding with a natural reflex, which often leads me astray since my natural muscle memory tends to make me want to dance certain figures in a particular order because I'm used to dancing them that way. There's thinking too much, and then there's not thinking at all and letting the muscle memory take over, which is also bad. As a follow, I need to be actively focused on the lead and responding to that. It's all very interesting and there are more insights that I'm learning from this that I will share over time, but as a philosophically minded dancer, I think this new take on the whole lead-follow dynamic and the learning process in general is exactly what I needed. I know my dancing is not suddenly going to do a giant 180 because of this, but I have found that my following has noticeably improved since I've started applying some of these principles. I intend to keep building these habits and see where they take me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

25% Dress Reheasal w/ Red Ballgown - Alpha

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Legs at the gym.

My workout today was KILLER.  I really pushed it to the limit.  I'm not sure why I did it, but it happened.  The end result was me hobbling into practice.  Much to my surprise however, my legs managed to summon some extra strength and energy from god only knows where for our round.

Today's round was a little different.  Sarah had brought in the ballgown she had been working on these past few months so that she could see how it would flow and if the lengths were correct.  I gotta say, Sarah definitely knows her way around a sewing machine.  The gown (while only in the alpha stage) looked GREAT!  I didn't really get a chance to look at it in motion, for good reason, but I'm sure it looked amazing there as well.  Can't wait to see the finished product.  I will say though, that Sarah felt a little heavier and more solid with the gown on.  Maybe it was psychosomatic, but I don't think so.  That gown has got to weight in at about 6-7 pounds right now and when it's finished with all the stones and other pieces will probably come in at about 10-12.  That has got to make a noticeable difference not to mention the tail suit I'll be wearing.  I think it'd be wise to do a week or so worth of full dress rehearsals before our first competition to make sure we're used to everything.

After the ballgown test we started our practice.  With Tipsies yesterday that meant (you guessed it) Rumba Crosses today.  One of the consistent problems we face in all our dances is our shaping.  Not that either of our shaping is really that bad, but they don't match.  I'll shape one way and Sarah will shape another.  Kora pointed that out along with the fact that in this case Sarah needs to really make sure she follows whatever crazy shape I decide to lead no matter how crazy it is.  Otherwise we'll look really odd and broken.  It makes sense though.  Assuming I lead a REALLY bad and crappy shape, it would look better if we did the REALLY bad and crappy shape together and matching.  Luckily for her, I don't think any of my shapes are altogether that atrocious.  In the Rumba Cross, Sarah and I have discovered that this concept of matching shapes is EXTREMELY important.  Not that it isn't in any other figure, but then again you don't run the risk of seriously wiping out in any of our other ones.  Any inconsistency in how we're connected will result in something unbalancing itself in the Rumba Cross.  So today we focused on making sure we were in sync.  Half of the time taking it painstakingly slow and other times running it near full speed.  In the end it was getting better.  All the way up till the point when my legs had just had enough.  It'll be nice if we can finally kick Quickstep in the pants like we do the Waltz.  Until that day comes though, we'll keep at it.  Overall a great practice.

A Round as the Lady in Red

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

Another night with a round...though we did do a night-club warm up. We were both a little surprised that our quickstep did not crash and burn quite as expected. And we still felt out of shape. One thing that I think affected our dancing a little was the fact that I decided to dance this round en costume. I've been working away on my ballroom gown and recently finished the hem and skirts (all 5 layers, no less!), and I wanted to make sure the length (which is pretty long, comparatively) and weight were danceable. Still no floats or decorations...but for the first time in forever I must say that I am happy with this project so far. The skirt moves really well, and, by design, the dress does an excellent job of minimizing liabilities and maximizing assets, so I can't wait to make our open debut in it. Some of our latin dance buddies were there practicing, and the visual effect of the ensemble made one of them reconsider his vocation to Latin dancing rather than standard and start wondering aloud if he could grow another 5"! He also made me test its possibilities for Latin by leading me through a basic rumba. That was a bit of a stretch...but fun, nonetheless. Here is a photo of the progress to date...for those interested in such things:

So after the excitement over the dress subsided and I changed back into conventional practicewear, and when Jeff had finished playing Superman with my red float fabric in front of the fan, once again, we got to work on our quickstep. This time it was rumba crosses, another sticky area for us. We just seem to bump around in this section a lot, and our frames don't always match and neither does our timing. I don't know what Jeff was thinking about throughout practice, but as we worked on it, I could feel it getting better. For me, it was all about maintaining the same connection points throughout the motions, taking extra care not to lose the hip, or side, or drop anything independently, or rise or fall without him leading it first. Jeff mentioned in a couple of places that I was a little since I wasn't jumping the gun as I usually do and trying to be more patient with my movements, I'm sure it was noticeable and I did need a bit of calibration. One thing I was trying very hard to do was keep my left side up and forward...because I know I have a tendency to drop it during that figure. This in turn gave me better balance, so I felt more centered throughout the rotation. Overall, we felt this was quite a successful practice, and now I feel less scared of this figure when we get to it in the routine. You know it's bad when you actually fear certain parts of your routine, and as a follow anticipation is bad enough, but fearful anticipation is the worst!

We ended with the Beegie Adair very slow "Moon River" waltz. It was nice while it lasted, but Jeff's legs said that enough was enough. Wednesday is leg day, after all.

Staying In Shape

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

Today's practice started with the dancing of a round.  To both of our surprise, we were both gasping and wheezing at the end of it.  After recovering from that, Sarah and I realized we hadn't danced in a round in months.  We had been so busy focusing on little different parts of each of our routines that we overlooked rounds.  Because of that slightly embarrassing incident, Sarah and I have decided to start dancing round more frequently if not daily from here on out.  All that being said, the round went fairly well.  The Waltz is still our best.  The Tango was better than usual.  Other than a few parts where I'm certain I rose more than I should have, it was smooth.  Viennese Waltz was like the Waltz, very smooth except for the attempted Fleckerl where Sarah got wrapped up in either her or my legs and almost went down.  Don't worry, I caught her before she hit the floor.  Foxtrot was better than usual.  Surprisingly, our connection is getting much more consistent in all the dances and that seems to help out our Foxtrot quite a bit.  Our timing is also getting better there.  Last but not least, the Quickstep.  I was impressed by our performance in that dance.  We made it all the way through without any major issues other than being a little off time here and there.

After the round our mission for the day was the Tipsies in Quickstep.  Sarah left it to me to decide how to work on them.  So I experimented with a few strategies.  In previous practices we had employed our trusty metronome to help even out the Tipsies as well as slow them down with the end goal of slowly ramping them up to competition speed.  To be honest I'm not sure that did us any good.  Every time we try them at full speed they don't feel like they have improved at all.  So today I decided to focus more on our shape in the Tipsies.  Making sure to stretch down the floor rather than up or down (depending on where you are in the step) and ensuring my head is in the right place.  This worked out fairly well.  We traveled further down the floor and were mostly on time.  On the other hand we had trouble slowing down for the Lock Step at the end.  Sarah is matching my timing much better now and that helped a lot.  I think the next step will be to try and level out my frame coming out of the Tipsies so I can effectively slow them down.  For the time being we need to get back into good cardio shape!

Learning to Fly

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

We had decided that this week we really need to focus on the quickstep as it seems to be lagging behind our other dances. Before we got to work on quickstep, and our tippsies, no less, we danced a round. Our rounds aren't even really full rounds, it's more like a dry run of each of our routines set to music; we don't dance to a whole song or necessarily competition length. We were both surprised by how out of shape we are in this regard...I had forgotten what a sprint a round like that basically is. Maybe we both forgot to breathe a little bit too, but we realized that we need to do this a lot more often. I used to be fine, but since my injury I haven't been pushing myself on the cardio workouts like I usually do. Our foxtrot in the round, for once, actually went quite smoothly. We've both been very conscious about our issue with gaping a lot because of swinging the hips back, and I noticed that our connection is much more consistent in that dance, and hence, everything feels more together and controlled.

I had noted that we need to work on tipsies, and left it up to Jeff to figure out what and how since he's the one who's always complaining about them. He says that it's really tough for him to get it up to speed. He has also said in the past that I rush him the majority of the time I doubt that speed is my problem. Mine is more one of following his timing than anything else. I think during this practice I did a better job of that. I made my focus less the timing (at least that's not what I thought about) and more on swinging my sides forward strongly to assist the rotation and not get left behind. We actually had a couple that felt really good, very strong and smooth. Others...not so much. There were a lot where we just flew apart afterwards because we got a bit out of control, but I think that at this point we can actually do's just a matter of making it consistent and doing it right every time. Of course, that's always the challenge, isn't it? But at least now we know we can do it. Working on this section reminded me of how Simeon always says there are certain things in quickstep that are definitely make it or break it...if you really go for it and you nail it, it works and looks great, and if you die. Pretty much! I think it must be kind of like learning to fly; sometimes that's how it feels.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Closed Impetus

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

A Monday workout with Sarah!  It is quite rare.  Overall our workout went well.  Monday nights are always really busy at the gym.  That meant we were always waiting around for equipment.  But with some slight modifications we got through it fairly quickly and onto practice.

For a while now, Sarah and I have been putting off Quickstep.  It's easily our worse dance.  I really think it has to do with the speed at which that dance travels.  The funny thing is, I never thought speed would be an issue.  I'm not exactly the slowest or most uncoordinated guy there is.  Speed has never been an issue in anything else.  But apparently, Quickstep is giving me a run for my money.  Sarah's plan was for us to practice our second short side (which she though was our third long side).  I had to remind her NOT to argue with the driver about these things since you'll always be wrong.  The lead always knows which sides are what and where they end up.  :)  At least they should.  Otherwise you should find another lead.  This short side starts with the exit of the Rumba Cross to steps 5-11 of the Running Right Turn, into a Natural Turn, to a Closed Impetus, a Quarter Turn Left, and a Cross Chasse.  What a nightmare.  First off, coming out of the Rumba Cross into a heel turn for the lady that leads into the Running Right Turn is no cakewalk.  It's brutal.  I find that if I make sure I level out my frame completely right after the Rumba Cross, then I have a fight chance at getting Sarah onto her heels.  Otherwise it's game over.  Then comes the outside partner part.  I get the distinct feeling that Sarah has absolutely no idea what is going on in this part of our routine.  At least that's what it feels like.  It feels like she's just guessing as to what the time is as well as where she should be.  Of course that's my fault, but I'm not exactly sure where I'm going wrong.  It's not really that hard to lead other than the heel turn for her.  I'll have to pay more attention to what my upper body is doing next time.  Right now I'm just trying not to die.

After the Running Right Turn we have a Natural Turn.  That's pretty easy.  Then comes the Closed Impetus.  I HATE THEM.  Especially the ones to the right.  In this case, I have to rotate about 300 degrees then step back.  If Sarah isn't spot on, it's damn near impossible.  Plus sucking at that heel turn doesn't help things either.  I can do it on my own but just not with Sarah.  Think I'll have to dance it exactly like my Closed Impetus in Waltz.  Pretend like she's a tether ball and just wrap her around the pole (me) as tightly as possible.

By the end of practice I think that whole side had improved slightly.  It was certainly good for us to review it at the very least.  I think we'll be focusing on Quickstep quite a bit from here on out.  Time to finally kill this dance!

Staying Lifted

Part: Follow
Dances: Night-club 2-step, Quickstep, Waltz (sort of)
Hovers: 0

After a decent workout, we headed in to practice quickstep. Recently we decided that quickstep is quite behind our other dances and needs some serious work. I had made some rather unintelligible notes about what to work on because I couldn't remember the names of the figures in the particular section I was thinking of...or at least, I remembered some of the names but not some of the steps in the middle, so I kind of confused Jeff at first. Anyways, we figured out which part it was. After warming up with night club 2-step, we started working on that section. It wasn't going too smoothly; I find that coming out of certain figures I have a lot of momentum and energy which sometimes propels me into the next step before Jeff is ready, which is not helpful. There was also the problem of the closed impetus, which is a tough heel turn for Jeff, and I it's my job not to get in his way but also to help provide momentum for the turn. I found that as we were practicing these parts what helped the most on my part was if I focused on keeping my left side very lifted and forward, and basically made sure that my left side and shoulder stayed in the same position relative to Jeff no matter what the body position or rotation. Obvious stuff, but something I decided to focus my attention on. I think that sometimes when I'm not thinking about it my side and shoulder get pulled away when we have that strong rotation, or else I get pulled in front. Anyways, it seemed to help, and in our best run through of the section I felt I did a pretty good job of this.

Then it was time to cool down with some waltz...but we only got through the first long side. Jeff's knee was bothering him (the left one must be contagious!) and it wasn't the best it's been, so we ended practice for the night. I expect we'll be back at quickstep again in the next few sessions at least. Lots of work to do there still.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Like Fleas in a Jar

Dances:  Everything except Quickstep, Bachata, and Merengue.
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

Nothing really special about today's workout other than the fact that it seemed to be one of those days where all the machines you want to use are in use.  That gets annoying very quickly.  You really need to ask yourself what are the odds of that happening.  Even with the math it still happens quite frequently.

Practice today was also quite routine with the Viennese Waltz.  That dance still feels really good other than the Fleckerls (which are getting worse IMO).  We still can't figure out how to get into them.  More often than not I'll start them and Sarah won't.  That leads to her either tripping and the whole thing coming to a halt, or her needing to play catch up.  Either way, it's too risky to dance.

After that we headed to DanceWorks for the party, as usual.  We danced pretty well tonight.  Everything was well balanced and there was little error.  Only thing was when I miscalculated how much room I had in a corner for my Waltz.  That ended with me bashing my elbow into the wall.  The other close call was when I almost danced Sarah's head into the wall that sticks out on the side of the wall during the Viennese Waltz.  I think of my dancing much like the fleas in a jar experiment.  You put a bunch of fleas in a jar (I'm the flea and the jar is the ballroom).  At first the fleas just jump out of the jar so you put a lid on it.  After a short while you remove the lid and find that all the fleas will now only jump to the point where the lid was.  None of them jump out.  It seems like my dancing is much the same.  I get accustomed to a room and then just dance right to the edge.  I'm not sure if that's good or not.  Certainly, Sarah's head is a liability in that case.

The floor tonight was pretty fast.  I had to re-brush my shoes halfway though because it was starting to being quite treacherous.  On such a small floor I need to know I'll stop when I want to.

After the dance we stuck around talking to quite a few of the regulars.  It's nice to finally get to know them better.  Lots of great stories as well as comparisons between the different styles people compete in.  Overall a lot of laughing.  A good night!

Takes Two to Hover

Part: Follow
Dances: Viennese Waltz, Night club 2-step, Salsa, Cha-cha, Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Bolero
Hovers: 2-3

Friday night we tackled Viennese Waltz once again. This time I had made notes to work on our natural turns, working on more power in our movement by really swinging our sides strongly. We ended up mostly just dancing through it, and trying to get in and out of the fleckrels. We can do it sometimes, we're still just inconsistent. Mostly the problem comes in when I don't figure out that we're doing them until it's too late, or else if our position gets off half way through. That was happening a lot for some reason, I was getting pulled in front of Jeff so that we were in each other's space and crashing into each other. Because of the amount of rotation in this figure, it's hard to maintain our positions, and I am thinking it maybe worthwhile to experiment with the wrong side position since I was getting pulled that way anyways. It's just that half-way between place when we're square on that it really doesn't work. Anyways, we're getting more familiar with the figure, and at this point that is the most important thing. Luckily we won't have to worry about competing with it for quite some time.

Then it was off to social dancing. I thought we danced pretty well, lead and follow wise. There were a few close shaves though; one where Jeff crashed his elbow into the mirror as we keep pushing the boundaries of that small floor, and we came up just a hair short. He told me that I also almost got a concussion on the mirror during Viennese, but I didn't notice. What I don't know won't hurt me, right? I've noticed that my dancing has relaxed a lot in these social situations; I'm less tense and I'm learning to choose one simple thing to focus on as I dance to keep me from worrying about my technique or anything else...usually something to do with the lead. There was a particularly good hover which Jeff led beautifully...I didn't even realize I was dancing a hover until I felt my feet drawn together and up and my frame swung into position, and then I was like "Oh, yay! Hover!" and did my usual extension, only we were more on balance than usual so it felt great. When I commented on how good it was, Jeff got a little smug, "Hell yeah, that's what happens when I get my floor pressure back!" so I had to remind him that it takes two to hover. He's right though that it makes a huge difference; on the slippery floors it's much harder for him to stay grounded and keep the balance while I'm doing my thing, and he did do a good job on that one; I'll give him that. We even tried a tiny bit of bolero later in the evening, but my knees were pretty much toast for the night by that point since I still haven't fully rounded the bend from my injury, so I was falling into most of the steps and Jeff could feel my lack of control and made me stop. Bolero is much tougher on the knees than any of the dances, I think.

All in all, a good night of dancing for both of us. We also had a good time visiting with the other regulars at the studio afterwards, talking about competition experiences, plans, ideas, and other randomness. If some of Jeff's crazy schemes don't get us killed come competition, at least they were the subject of much laughter among the group. It was also interesting to hear about the west coast swing competitions and how they are different from the more formal ballroom style. Though personally I am more drawn to one style over the other, I can definitely understand the appeal of the other styles.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Boring Tango

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

I've recently been trying to get some of my other dancer friends to join me for leg day at the gym.  I know for a fact my dancing has improved tremendously because of the leg workouts.  Everything just seems much easier and more stable because of it.  Sadly no one has found the time to do it with me yet.  Not even Sarah.  Tonight was no exception.  Sarah was pretty late getting to practice because the seminar she was at ran long.  As a result we squeezed in a short sessions.

The boring long side of our Tango was once again the focus.  To be honest, I don't find that side boring.  I find it relieving.  After all the crazy stuff that comes before it, that side is a nice break.  It's slow progress though.  Our Contra Check still needs a lot of work.  It's pretty hard making sure all the moving parts are moving not only simultaneously, but also all at once a varying speeds.  I catch myself practicing this movement in between sets at the gym or even in line at the grocery store.  It's tough.  Still not getting it quite yet.  Right after the Contra Check is the Twist Turn.  I don't really find any real issues with this part, but Sarah thinks it's not quite right.  To me it feels like it's easy to lead and my footwork is correct.  I guess we'll have to wait and see what our coaches think.  The Rock Ending is pretty lame though.  Feels like I'm back to the basics again.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it just feels really stupid compared to everything else in our routine.  I do need to make sure my amount of rotation is right when executing the Twist Turn.  It'll greatly impact the start point of our routine when we go to repeat the whole thing.

We ended on a Waltz.  Due to Sarah's lack of proper nourishment, it was a little shaky but not bad.  I think our Waltz is ready for competition.  That's one out of four (no need to worry about Viennese Waltz until Championship level).  75% more to go.

Jack-in-the-Box Bobble Head Tango

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

Yesterday night was slated for tango, and after our night-club 2-step warm up and Jeff's customary laugh at my practice plan, we headed in to the basic reverse turn, contra check, and natural twist turn. Our contra-check needs to be much more rotary, and we both have a tendency to dip too deeply into it instead, causing the balance to get off kilter. Either Jeff's on top of me or I pull him over. There was one goofy one where we had good balance in the contra-check position, but then I bobbed up way too hard and too far, kind of like a jack-in-the-box, and knocked Jeff a bit off balance. I think my head sort of bobbed back and forth after I came up too...not sure, but I'm sure it looked pretty special. Sort of like my recent too violent promenade close. I guess now would be a good time to mention that one thing I like about dancing with Jeff is that he's actually pretty hard to knock over. There's little more awkward feeling for a follow than dancing with a guy you feel like you could crush if you took a figure a little too aggressively or send flying if you were to drive too hard.

I like natural twist turns. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of it in our tango, as I much prefer the variation ending in promenade. Still, it's a cool feeling figure because of the amount of condensed energy and torque you get from the step.

My body wasn't responding very well last night, but I hadn't had time to eat more dinner than a few nuts due to my crazy evening schedule running around, so it's likely low blood sugar was related. Jeff thought I was thinking about doing certain steps and therefore not following, but I really wasn't, I was just slow and felt a bit sluggish. Anyways, we ended with a waltz run through, perhaps not our best, but definitely not bad. Our first section in particular feels quite controlled now. That slow practice we did initially is starting to pay dividends.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Practicing the Perfect

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Bolero, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms, back, chest, & shoulders at the gym.

Today's workout was pretty brutal.  I had gotten sick over the weekend and apparently Sarah had as well.  So we decided to cancel Monday night's practice.  As a result I had to make up Monday's workout today.  Now when I say make up, I don't mean I just double the workout.  I just make sure I hit up all the parts that I missed.  So I pick the exercises I feel I benefit most from and do all those exercises.  In the end it's still pretty hard, but not as hard as just literally making up everything you skipped.

Practice today was interesting.  We started out dancing to a few new songs I had added to our collection.  Over the previous week I decided to start going through some of my audiophile recordings and see if there was anything worth dancing to in there.  Turns out there was plenty.  What I like about those recordings is the fact that the arrangements are designed to showcase the singer's voice.  Not to mention that since its an audiophile recording, it means the quality is superb.  What we ended up with is covers of famous songs in more or less an acoustic style.  To be honest I like them as much as their original counterparts.  While the originals might have been a Rumba, Cha Cha, or Hustle, the covers turn them into Boleros, Nightclub 2-Steps, and Foxtrots.  Needless to say, the music project is going well.

After our warm up we checked the calendar to find our mission was the Wing to Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot to a Double Reverse to yet another Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot in Waltz.  That section is easily the hardest section of that dance.  I've already ranted many times about the Wing so I won't get into too much here, but it SUCKS.   Going from a Wing to a Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot is just awkward.  So I grabbed Sarah and we danced through it once.  To our surprise it was damn near perfect.  Everything was dead on.  We looked at each other and decided to try it again.  Once again, we nailed it!  I started giving Sarah crap about planning to practice a section of our Waltz that was already perfect.  But it really was.  Throughout the rest of practice we really had no trouble dancing that section at all.  Everything was aligned properly and balanced.  Weird.  I guess I shouldn't complain about a perfect practice.  Hopefully these occurrences will become more and more frequent.

What was the problem, again?

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

Great practice last night! We ended up skipping on Monday because neither of us was feeling very well; something is going around. So last night we enetered practice fairly fresh, though Jeff had preceded it with a tough workout.

I think the practice program is part of why we felt so successful last night. But I am getting ahead of myself. First, we warmed up to some new songs Jeff had copied over to his laptop, Bolero in particular. I really want to learn Bolero now, because it seems to be a combination of my favorite Latin dance (Rumba) and Waltz, which is a favorite of mine in standard. It takes a lot of control though and strong knees. I like the way it flows and the music tends to be lovely. It seems to require a certain amount of power and floor pressure in the movement, and good connection. I think Jeff and I could do well if we worked on it.

So then it was on to our practice plan. Waltz was the order of the day, and specifically the fallaway-reverse-slip pivot section coming out of wing. This part is really tough, because it's the fallaway-reverse-slip-pivot into double reverse into another fallaway-reverse-slip-pivot, so lots of rotation, but the problem initially of getting into the right position for it out of the awkward wrong side business. Whenever we dance it, I have a really hard time getting just the right distance in my first steps so that I end up back in regular position for the fallaway...I either overshoot it or don't get far enough. Sometimes, in my concern to nail it right, I'm not quite in time with Jeff either and we bump around a bit and lose the connection. So I thought we needed to work on it.

Jeff took me into practice frame, and we danced through the section in question. We nailed it! I'm not sure why; he knows as well as I do that it never feels that smooth, so we both were pretty surprised. Of course, Jeff gave me a hard time about putting something down to work on that we're dancing just fine...but he knew as well as I did that this must have been a fluke. So we danced it again, and again, and again...still good. Huh? Once we got into full frame it was not quite as good, but still so much better than normal. Granted, I did try the figure a few times on my own warming up before practice and also I was thinking about isolating the rotation of my hips, shoulders, and foot, so maybe that made a difference. Either way, neither of us had made any major changes to anything and it was somehow going much smoother. We ended up dancing through the whole section, including the preceding contra check a bunch of times, and then decided to finish up with our lead and follow tango. Oh, and I also noticed that our hestitation at the end of that long side in waltz felt a lot better than normal too...often the balance is a little shaky, but my head and body shaping felt just right and we stayed together. Crazy, but I'll take it!

For tango we danced a bit of our routine, and then when I reminded Jeff that it was lead and follow he did some lovely T-A-N-G-O boxes and social style promenades, swivels, and rocks. And that concluded our practice. Not bad! If we didn't have the practice program, we might not have felt so good about our dancing, but since we knew what we wanted to work on and ended up dancing that section much better than normally, it felt like a very successfull practice.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In, In Out, In, In Out...

Dances:  Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Salsa, Cha Cha, 3x Swing, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.

The workout today was much better compared to last night's.  I'm getting very efficient at them.  They are starting to take less time and wear me out more.  As with any Friday night, I take it a bit easier both in the weights and at practice.

Tonight was Viennese Waltz.  Once again we worked on our Fleckerls.  I think in general we can get in and out of them with minimal effort now.  Sarah still complains that she can't really tell when I'm going to commence with a Fleckerl versus when I will just continue on down the floor.  I've tried various tactics but nothing has yielded concrete results yet.  In watching some more dance videos recently I noticed that many couples begin their Fleckerls with the Contra Check.  That accomplishes two things.  One, the Fleckerls are shorter (they usually do the back half them come out of them).  And two, the Contra Check is so obvious to the follow, they won't mistake it for anything else.  I'll have to experiment with that.  Though I am a little bit hesitant.  Viennese Waltz is a risky dance given how much momentum and velocity you have.  To stop it all at once like that could be interesting.

After practice, Sarah and I headed out to DanceWorks.  This time we had quite a few of our friends meet us there so it was lots of fun.  I'm starting to get to know the regulars there as well.  That always helps.  All the dances went really well.  I feel like I'm finally getting the hang of floor pressure and using it to my advantage.  I attribute this new upgrade to the leg workouts.  They really give me a better range of pressure to work with.  The result making our dances very stable and balanced.

During the Viennese Waltz that night I took our Fleckerls out for a test drive again.  Only this time I lost track of the "in, in, out" pattern.  So I just kept going round and round.  Finally I knew I had to make a decision and risk it.  Luckily I nailed the Contra Check and we came out of it just fine.  I really need to get the "in, in, out" down.  It's too risky otherwise.

One interesting point of the night was when our friends retreated to the tiny practice room DanceWorks has on the upper level.  I found them there practicing a part in their Waltz routine.  It's really quite awkward.  An Outside Spin into a Reverse Turn.  What kind of crap is that?!?!?  So I grabbed Sarah and gave it a shot.  It's doable, but feels so disjointed.  I can see doing something like that when you get to the open levels.  But in Silver?  Why risk it?  Going in to the Natural Turn is tough enough let alone having to change directions all of a sudden.  I do not envy their routine.  That being said there are many parts of our routines that are messed up as well.  *sigh*

Our night ended at The Matador for happy hour.  I hope more of our friends come out with us on Friday nights.  It's great fun!

Dancing at Week's End, and a Sneak Peak

Part: Follow
Dances: Night club 2-step, Viennese Waltz, Waltz, Foxtrot, Salsa
Hovers: 3

Our Friday night has begun to follow a bit of a routine; a short practice followed by social dancing. This Friday we worked a bit on Viennese Waltz. Viennese is a good dance for this because we can work on something very specific that we don't dance all the time, and that way we can make a little progress without feeling like we're going over the same old stuff we've been doing all week. That way we also have something to take out on that social floor when the Viennese comes on and the floor clears.

It was more work on the fleckerls this time, and I think Jeff has nailed what it takes to lead in and out of it. Sometimes the lead into them is still a bit fuzzy to me, as in, it feels too much like a regular half reverse turn for me to get the memo until it's too late, but I've figured out how to cheat until the contra-check where I can get back on. The exits are much better now though. I need to work more on staying in my space without dropping my side and making my steps as tiny and rotary as possible, and I think I could be getting more torque out of my step that crosses behind. Jeff was mentioning that at some points in each turn he feels like I'm giving him extra rotation, but I think that's the idea. Depending on where we are in the rotation one or the other is giving the power and momentum. Once we get better at these I'm going to have to experiment with using the wrong side position. I keep finding myself slipping over that way, so it might end up working better for me.

After that it was off to social dancing. Several of our friends and fellow students of our coaches were there this time, so we had fun visiting and dancing with them. A couple of them were showing us this crazy part of their silver waltz routine where they have to do a reverse turn coming out of an outside spin! Talk about awkward! Jeff and I have an outside spin into natural, which is pretty normal, but into a reverse is just weird. We experimented a bit with it and found that a very strong right shape makes it work, but still strange feeling.

Jeff and I danced a couple of good waltzes, foxtrot, Viennese waltz, night club, and salsa. Though foxtrot continues to be my favorite to dance, I have to say that I think waltz is currently our best dance. One of the waltzes they played was a great one to dance to, very slow, with a little variation in speed, I believe. I found the music relaxing and I think I followed a lot better than sometimes...we're both getting a better feel for floor pressure and really taking the necessary time to draw in the feet and slide along the floor. Our Viennese went pretty well too, except that Jeff got stuck in the fleckrels because I think he forgot which part he was on so we just kept going around and around and I was cheating like crazy because I got so confused, but we got out alive and well! Oddly enough, I also think our salsa is getting pretty passable...considering we're standard dancers and all, and think it's mainly due to our night club 2-step practice since that has helped us move decently together in that open social frame. Still, I'm no Latin dancer when it comes to spins. Jeff is a good lead though, and with more and more of our practice with them I'm getting a better feel for the dynamics of the social type dances. I kind of like that they leave more freedom of musical expression for the lady too, and I think I've become much less self-conscious about getting a little creative with it, styling, body movement, etc.

Overall I think we danced well; my knee is still not up to par, but I feel like I'm bouncing back from this injury much quicker than I have in the past, so I am very thankful for that.

This weekend, I'm working on a big dance related project; I'm sewing my own ballgown for competition. I've made one before (in the photo on my bio page), but it was more of a test run and not as carefully planned out as this one. Now that I know a whole bunch of mistakes not to make, my hope is that I will be successful with this one. Here is my progress to date. Envision this with the addition of about 40 gross of Swarovski crystals, navy blue satin binding on the top skirt ruffle, and heavily stoned blue lace motifs encircling part of the bodice and a shoulder strap, and floats.

Natural Turn = Reverse Turn

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

Today was fairly lethargic for both Sarah and I.  Not sure what it was but the workout took FOREVER to complete.  Maybe it was changing weather or we were just worn out in general, but it definitely wasn't one of our better days at weight lifting.  Practice however went pretty well.

I read our practice plan for the day today and it had us focusing on the Natural Turn in Foxtrot.  That seemed really strange to me since I didn't remember having any Natural Turns in our routine.  Quite honestly I didn't remember ever dancing a Natural Turn in Foxtrot (I'm sure I have before socially but I really don't remember).  What made everything more confusing was the fact that we were to focus on the heel turns in the Natural Turn.  But since Sarah is pretty book smart when it comes to the syllabus I just went along with it.  I began dancing Natural Turns and it was just awkward.  About 10 minutes in I figured out what she really meant.  It was the Reverse Turn.  That made soooo much more sense.

The Reverse Turn in Foxtrot is a pain in the ass.  Especially for the lead.  I've ranted about this before and I'm going to do it again.  Leading a heel turn for the lady SUCKS.  You pretty much need to be dead on.  Now I'm a fan of being dead on, especially since we're aiming to compete and that's kind of the point, but a tiny margin or error would be nice.  Especially on the social floor.  It's almost impossible.  I'm getting better at it, but still.  Everything from your rise to the velocity in which you attack the step has to be perfect.  Otherwise the follow will be forced to fabricate the heel turn on her own.  And we all know what happens when you let the follow fabricate things.  It's not pretty.  Not to mention it sets a precedent.  Today in particular I focused on my shape going into the Reverse Turn.  I have a tendency to over shape to the left.  I don't do it intentionally, so I need to be aware of it.  After making a few adjustments Sarah said it felt easier to accomplish.

Overall this was a pretty straight forward, average practice.  The practice plans are really working out well.  We haven't really spent much time working on our 20% project.  We'll need to kick that in gear again soon.

Heel Turns

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

After an unusually long and perhaps less rigorous workout than usual, we headed in to practice. One of our Latin dance buddies was already there, working on his jive and cha-cha. His dancing is looking really really good these days; we really do need to find him a good partner.

I had pegged Thursday night for foxtrot, and specifically for our heel turns. Since Jeff always complains about how hard they are to lead and I always complain about following them, I thought it would be a good thing to work on. Even though we usually get through them passably, it seems we often lose connection or bump along there, so they need a little TLC. I wanted to work on my stretch also coming out of the turns. It helps with the flow if the lady stretches out a bit as she rounds the corner, if you will, but it has be a stretch that doesn't affect the frame, so it requires a flexibility in the arms so that body connection is not lost. I've had a bad history with this, so that was one thing I was thinking about.

I was also trying to keep my knees softer going into the heel turn as it makes the whole thing more stable and smooth; for some reason I always have a tendency to rise and straighten my legs going into the heel turns. This was a little tough this particular day because of my still hurt knee. Another huge challenge is timing the draw in of the free leg; and the drop of the heel of the standing leg. It takes a lot of control to wait to drop until the heels are together, and though I've gotten much better at that, I still always want to draw in the leg a little quickly, though I think there is something about the timing of the heel turn that actually requires the follow to drop her heels a little earlier than normal, but don't quote me on that.

Other than our initial warm up, we didn't branch out too much on this practice. We focused on foxtrot heel turns and that was it. I did have an embarrassing moment when I realized that I had called our reverse turns (which are the heel turning figures for the follow in our routine) natural turns in our practice plan. Oops! And I'm supposedly the ballroom syllabus nerd of the partnership.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

From Boring to Exciting, From Polite to Rude - The Tango Story

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

My leg workouts continue to make good progress.  Last Friday, at the DanceWorks social dance, Sarah and I were dancing a Waltz to some fairly interpretive music when near the end it slowed down dramatically.  Now usually when this happens we break frame and get off the floor since the song is ending.  But tonight I slowed down and matched the decreasing tempo in stride.  Sarah did as well!  While doing this, I could feel the many muscles in my legs rushing to facilitate this new speed.  The result was a dance couple in perfect balance at relative ease, matching the slowing tempo of the song.  A great result.  Looks like the working out and practice is paying dividends.

Tonight's goal was a good yet strange one.  The last long side of our Tango has always been "boring".  It's a Promenade Link into a Reverse Turn (lady outside) into a Syncopated Reverse Turn (might have the name wrong here) into a Contra Check and ending on a Natural Twist Turn with Rock Ending.  Compared to the rest of our Tango this side feels incredibly simple and easy.  So Sarah and I were going to focus on making sure that side held up to the rest of the routine.  At first we experimented with different styles of Tango movement.  This lead to some really funny and strange ideas such as trying to come to a complete stop at the end of each step.  It's really hard, try it sometime.  Not to mention looking ridiculous.  In the end we came to the conclusion that our Tango style was pretty close to what it should be to begin with.  That has always been a constant battle for me.  My "polite" tango needs to be edgier and more rude.  Couple that with a fairly "boring" side and that could amplify the effect and thus spell disaster in a competition.  I think I going to have to rely on the Contra Check into the Twist Turn at the end to get some good attitude in.  Overall I've become far less polite in this dance so progress is being made.  Although practicing Tango on leg workout day is pretty killer.

The "Boring" Side

Part: Follow
Dances: Night Club, Tango, Foxtrot
Hovers: 0

Our latest practice program specified that we work on the "boring" side of our tango, and when he heard that, Jeff knew immediately what I was referring to. It's our second long side that begins with a promenade link, and then goes into a couple of reverse turns, lady outside, and a basic-but-not-basic reverse turn, contra-check, and natural twist turn with rock ending. We call it boring because for most of the flow we're just moving down the floor in essentially basic walking action sort of steps: "Quick, quick, slow...quick, quick, slow....quick, quick-and-quick, quick, slow..." So I thought we needed to work on making this part sharper and cleaner since it is so bare and doesn't look that exciting the way we dance it.

We tried dancing it stopping sharp on the slows and holding them as long as we could, but I just started giggling uncontrollably when we finished and Jeff didn't get what was so funny. I just thought it felt and looked silly, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. The tricky part was trying to figure out what part is isolated and stops short, and what part keeps the smoothness and continuity so we don't look jerky. I think the body has to keep moving somewhat, while the feet stay sharp. Anyways, a little after that Jeff also thought we looked ridiculous and said we'd better try something else. I agreed. It was a good test of balance though. I found that I have a tendency to get pretty backweighted on that section, so I worked straightening myself out.

In the end, we realized that we just need to be less sloppy with our technique, but essentially keep doing what we've been doing. The key will be delay the steps more rather than freeze longer on the slows. I guess I had been inspired when I saw this video clip of some of the top couples dancing basic tango steps like our "boring side" and still looking amazing. Check out Victor and Anastasia at 1:17 in this video. He makes the steps we're dancing look like open choreography...but duh...he's Victor Fung:

We ended with a little bit of foxtrot. Unfortunately a lot of the finesse is missing for me this week due to my injury, so things aren't as smooth. I am hoping that soon I will be back where I was so that we can start making more progress.