Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Attack of the Dust Bunnies

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

Monday night. Perhaps because of last week, perhaps because it followed the weekend, we both seemed a bit resolved to make something of this practice. This is going to be a light week for us practice-wise due to other personal plans and commitments we have, so we're making them count. Warm up was the usual, and then came our round. Our round was actually quite good, I thought, though we lost it in a couple of places more due to just forgetting where we were than the dancing itself falling apart. Tango is feeling less polite, and I think I've stopped rising in the fallaways, and even the reverse-outside-swivel-of-doom is actually working. I must say though, that Jeff's attempts avoid the dreaded "polite tango" almost made me giggle a few times, as a couple of our promenade closes sounded suspiciously paso-like. I also couldn't help myself in the waltz when we whisked into the corner and disturbed a large family of dust bunnies who flew up around us, protesting about our invasion of their sacred space. I missed it, but apparently Jeff almost impaled the both of us upon the handlebar of a bike in another corner, but of these kinds of dangers I am usually blissfully ignorant. A couple of times before he has tried to impress on me just how close I've come to splitting my head open on a post, or cracking my crown on a mirrored wall. In each case, he has averted the danger and steered us to safety, so that I've come to dance without fear in that regard, though I think sometimes he wishes I knew what perils he's saved me from. At least he can comfort himself with knowing that he's earned my trust to the point that I'm often unaware of these near occasions of death.

I hadn't updated our practice calendar in time for Jeff to sync it with his...so he asked me what we were practicing. I said quickstep, and then, with some trepidation, he asked, "You didn't put down the...not the...you DID..." as I nodded. Yes, the rumba crosses. After the obligatory groans (rumba crosses are my personal white whale of our quickstep; Jeff's are the tipsies), I explained my strategy. We can dance them fairly well and balanced slowly and at a moderate tempo, but once we get up to speed, I feel like we barely keep it together. My thought was that we should practice them at a moderate speed, and gradually increase our speed time after time by using a metronome until we had achieved a faster than comp tempo pace. This would make the performance of them at regular full speed feel easier. Such an exercise used to help my piano practice plenty; my teacher called it "clicking it up." Jeff felt we didn't need a metronome for this, so we went right into it. I think it helped. We got faster and faster, and while we didn't top comp speed, we got accustomed to dancing the piece at a faster pace.

After we'd had enough of the rumba crosses and Jeff's every other word was "pho time," we danced our final lead-follow dance...the Moon River waltz. I still love to dance to this piece; it's so classic, so simple, and so smooth. Just classy all around, like we want our dancing to be. One day it will be more than a dream.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Results of Overextension

Part: Follow
Dances: Cha-cha, Nightclub 2-step, Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Bachata (yes, I know)
Hovers: 1

Friday night we skipped practice altogether and just worked out prior to going social dancing. For some reason this week had really done us both in, and we knew we weren't going to get much out of a pre-social dance practice. For me, the dancing began with cha-cha, and from there on out it was the usual Friday night social dance party at Danceworks. It's always a floorcrafting challenge, but we seem to be doing fairly well in that department. Obviously that's almost entirely Jeff's job and so to his credit, but I'll add that it does take a certain flexibility in a follow that I am becoming better and better at achieving. Normally we dance one Viennese there, but the one they played was ridiculously fast, and for the amount Jeff and I like to move...it would have been deadly to attempt it at about a 50% increase in speed! I also got asked to dance a bachata, but was too out of it to realize it until I was out on the floor dancing. No!!! Not only do I dislike this dance very much, but I was just so not in "the spirit of the thing" that I was tensing up in all the wrong places and being very awkward to lead. Under usual circumstances I'd just laugh at myself and go with the flow and enjoy it anyways, but that night my heart was just not in it. I ended up leaving the dance a bit early because I felt so out of it that it seemed pointless for me to be there. I guess I was just very tired from the previous week and even dancing wasn't enough to cure me of that, as it often is.

One thing I did enjoy was dancing waltz and foxtrot to some traditional Christmas music. Greensleeves is quite a lovely waltz.

Resolution for next week: sleep more and don't over-extend. This applies to life as well as hovers. One pulls over your partner, the other your emotional equilibrium.

Back Open Promenade and 5,000 Hits

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

Thursday night's practice began with the usual warm up and round, which we had ended up skipping on Wednesday. We continue to improve stamina-wise. Not sure about how the dancing looks though...sometimes it doesn't feel pretty, so I guess we'll have to film ourselves again sometime soon to get an idea. Dancing was a little treacherous as well in a certain corner of the floor; it was sooo slippery that we've very nearly wiped out there on several occasions. I'm seriously tempted to take some castor oil directly to the floor.

Practice itself was fairly brief; we focused on tango, the back open promenade piece. I feel like we haven't been consistent about when the rotation happens versus when we keep it straight, and how that fits in with the step alignments. We went through it a few times slowly and had a better feel for it by the end. The key seems to be that Jeff rotates around me on the first half and checks, and then I rotate on the next step to complete the motion. As Jeff commented on this practice, it seemed like one of those figures that feels pretty bad most of the time when we dance through the routine, but then when we go to practice it, it isn't so bad after all. I suggested that it could be what precedes or follows the figure in the routine that is throwing us off, but he reminded me that they are the simplest figures, so that doesn't make a lot of sense. Perhaps it's just a matter of focus; the correct technique on these steps is not habitual yet, and when the focus is trying to get through the routine alive and with some semblance of togetherness, we forget the little things that make some of these pieces work. I'd say the rumba cross in quickstep is similar in that respect.

I think we ended with waltz; sadly, I don't remember for sure.

A quick note of thanks to our faithful readers: Our blog has now topped 5,000 page views and 222 posts! I don't think we realized when we came up with this idea back in May that we'd build this kind of connection with other dancers and enthusiasts here in our community and world beyond it. In the beginning we started this mostly just for ourselves, but thought it would be fun if others also wanted to share our journey, as it were. We've been happy that this has proved to be the case, and speaking for myself, the support has often provided me with that little extra kick of motivation that we all need sometimes. Thank you again; hopefully this is only the beginning!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Spiraling Feathers

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

Wednesday night was a tough one for me. I joined Jeff for the workout, which was fine, and good for me probably because I don't normally do leg day. It was confusing though because I don't have where I am on the weight stacks memorized for the leg machines. So I'd usually start way too light and work my way up. It's probably just as well though, because my knee is still holding me back substantially.

Instead of dancing a round, we went right into our focused practiced on foxtrot. Well, we didn't exactly go right into it, and it wasn't that focused, but that was the dance we worked on. I had thought we should look at our basics again, the feather three step combination and the extended reverse wave, as that exercise seemed quite helpful last time. We worked mostly on the CBM rotation, but I think we overdid it to the point of pulling off our direction so much that we sort of ended up making a spiral going down the floor. We weren't isolating the hips enough from the upper body, so the upper body rotations were affecting our alignment far too much.

I guess hindsight is always 20/20, right? This practice frustrated me because I felt I would have used the time much better by sleeping, and done my dancing more good as well. Sometimes we have great practices even when I'm tired and it's totally worth it, but some days it seems like we get no where and it feels like I made the sacrifice for nothing. I suppose that's bound to happen, as Jeff has commented before on this blog, "You win some, you lose some." Here's hoping we'll win some more soon.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Double Wide Long Side

Part: Follow
Dances: Nightclub 2-step, Waltz, Tango, Viennese, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 0

Last night after a focused and fairly efficient workout, we headed in to practice and warmed up with our usual nightclub 2-step, and followed that up with the round. After our salsa experience on Friday, Jeff had some ideas about carrying over some characteristic salsa moves into our nightclub, such as the lady's swivels (not sure what the official name is). Funny thing is, at Century, he was busy trying to incorporate our nightclub 2-step moves into salsa, though sometimes it was just a bit too fast to be entirely smooth. Still, it's fun to try.

The round was next. The video we danced this one to was paced just about perfectly; it had short breaks between each dance, and none of them were quite as long as our routines. The only downside? We didn't make it to the hover, of course.

The focus of practice was quickstep, and again I thought we should work more particularly on our last long side. It's a combination of a natural spin turn, back locks, quick open reverse, and the whole thing ends with a tipple chasse. It's not bad, really, but it could be a lot smooth and more in sync. Actually, this isn't a very hard section at all, but it's one where some basic fundamentals of shape and partnering can make a huge difference in how smooth or bumpy it feels and looks. There were a couple of steps that Jeff feels I rush, and there were some outside partner sections where I was pretty sure his elbow goes back behind his frame line, and then we get too "double wide" when we go outside. I also know I have a tendency to over-shape to the right especially on quick open reverse, for example, resulting in a mismatched frame, so I was trying to level that out and stay more consistent overall. I'm not sure what Jeff worked on, but whatever it was it felt a lot better to me after a few times. I think he ended up dipping less into the shapes and kept things more level, or at least that's what it felt like. Either way, it was good.

We ended practice with the favorite Beegie Adair Moon River waltz. I was freezing yesterday for some reason (maybe because it was cold?), and the only part of practice that warmed me up was the round! It really is winter now, and I think I'll have to start taking note and wearing long sleeves for practice, unless we plan to dance rounds all night.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Salsa 'Till you Drop

Part: Follow
Dances: Salsa, Cha-cha
Hovers: 0

Our normal Friday night practice schedule usually involves social dancing at a local dance party, and since the studio we normally go to was closed last night for showcase prep, I thought it might be a good opportunity to check out a new studio just to see what it was like. So I thought a bit and looked around to see who else had a Friday night dance party. It turns out that this studio up in Seattle did, one I've been wanting to check out at some point since I know a number of standard dancers who've come from there. Jeff was a bit hesitant but was game to give it a try. Because of the timing, we figured it best to skip practice so we could still have some time to dance.

So we showed up at the studio about a half hour into the dance party, and there were all of about six people there. We kind of looked at each other; it seemed hardly worth it. The studio was in a really sketchy area, the cover was $12, and as Jeff said when we walked outside, "Do you really want to pay $12 to dance rounds on a small floor?" I didn't particularly, but since we were already out and dressed up, it seemed lame to just go home. So I remembered that Century Ballroom has salsa on Friday nights, and since I'd never been there, why not go check it out? Jeff humored me and off we went.

Century Ballroom is the place everyone in the Seattle area knows about if they've danced at all. I can't say how many times I've been talking to people, and when they find out I dance, they ask if I go or have been to Century for swing or salsa. Nope! For some reason I just never made it out there, probably because I've been so focused on ballroom particularly. So we entered the dance hall, and the bouncer/greeter guy at the door quipped that he'd have to send us packing because we weren't dressed appropriately. Yeah, we kind of dress up a bit to go social dancing and I guess that's not always the norm there. Anyways, the dance was in full swing, and we got out on the floor and started dancing salsa with the rest. Floor crafting here was almost impossible, but Jeff was up to the challenge, as usual. Just keep it small when you have to and move when you have space, and it works. After dancing a couple of dances together, Jeff sat one out and I immediately got asked for the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and the next one...ad infinitum. Jeff sat out some, and danced a few with some other girls, and danced with me too, of course, but he paced himself well. My normal policy is that I never refuse a dance unless I have a really good reason, e.g. I don't know the dance at all, the guy is a total creep, I'm hurt, etc. But before long I realized that I couldn't keep it up forever, probably partly because I was dying for water, and they didn't have any available except at the bar.

Strangely enough, that night at least, we seemed to be the most confident dancers on the floor. I know there are some amazing salsa dancers out there who could put many ballroom dancers to shame, but they weren't there that night. Neither Jeff nor I are salsa dancers first by any means, but because of his ballroom training and natural posture and rhythmic movement, Jeff does very well and is always a strong lead. Also, we're quite used to dancing together at this point, so we look more in sync and confident about what we're doing just because of that, I think. I personally think I'm awful at salsa, but I have a pretty good sense of rhythm, a bit of flexibility, and was having a little fun with styling, so I guess that gave the impression that I knew what I was doing. We definitely got a good workout, and Jeff had some fun getting creative with mixing nightclub 2-step moves into the salsa.

As for the other guys I danced with, that was interesting. Quite a variety there. You have a few types. The younger shy type guy, who probably took some dance lessons because he thought it would help him meet some girls and get out more socially (and that it does, by the way!), who dances the moves he learned in class very deliberately, somewhat nervously, but precisely. Then you have the older guy who probably is newly single and decided to take dance lessons to try to get out more and meet people; he tends to think he's pretty good because he's taken lessons, but doesn't quite grasp some of the fundamentals of leading and rhythm and so can be very tough to read. Then the are the older gentleman of some foreign heritage, (there were a few of these), who always seem to really really enjoy dancing with you, sometimes smile at you rather adoringly, and sometimes sing softly to themselves, and have a fairly set routine. Sometimes...luckily not always, they'll get a little too happy about the fact that you're dancing with them, and their hands and eyes will start to make you feel that defensive dancing is in order. Luckily I only danced with one (maybe 2) that was anywhere close to creep #1 for the night, so a little defensive dancing and all was well. Just the fact that I was there with my partner helped a lot in this regard, I believe.

That's definitely not a complete list, but after about three hours of virtually non-stop dancing, I was done. I was super tired and also dehydrated. As we were leaving, we passed a tent encampment of the Occupy Seattle movement, a crazy guy who was riding a bike around and yelling as he went, and various sketch and unique characters who inhabit Seattle's hills on weekend nights. I am glad that we went though, and did have a good time. I just don't think I'll feel the need to go salsa dancing again for a good while. All the same, it was a nice change of pace.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Return of the Metronome

Part: Follow
Dances: Nightclub 2-step, Waltz, Tango, Viennese, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 0

Last night ended up being leg day since we had skipped practice and working out on Wednesday, and since I don't normally do that workout, it was good for me to test my strength a bit more in that area. My knee has still been giving me grief, but as long as I go easy and keep the weight pretty light, it's not too bad, and will probably end up helping my knee in the long run.

Practice began as usual, and I thought our round went better than our last, though Jeff had a memory slip at the end of the quickstep, and we both had a very literal slip when we passed over a particularly "icy" patch in the floor during Viennese. Both of Jeff's feet and one of mine hit it, and it was a dreadful feeling, like when you're in a parking lot walking fast and hit an ice patch and lose all traction. We didn't fall, though we came pretty close!

After that, I suggested that we work on foxtrot, and maybe bring back our old metronome practice to see if we could still do it and because it's just a good exercise. Of course, when I had thought up this plan I hadn't realized we'd be working out legs right beforehand, which makes this particular exercise more difficult, but since we'd skipped practice and workout the day before, I think we felt a little more up for the challenge than we would otherwise.

So, we turned on the metronome and got to work. My strategy for approaching this practice was quite different than before. This time, my total focus was going to be on matching Jeff's movement...in speed, alignment, whatever, as best I could. I was working on strong legs, eeking out the extra time by sliding my feet more slowly and with more pressure across the floor, using my knees more, and always focusing on keeping a consistent center. I thought about bolero and my discovery about the ramrod straight back. As for the metronome, I did my very best to ignore it, and because I was focusing so much on other things, I don't think it really bothered me. I left that part up to Jeff entirely.

We actually did surprisingly well, considering that we hadn't practiced this way in at least a couple of months, and it seemed we were both falling into steps less and had more control over our movement, even at those speeds. A few times Jeff felt that I was dragging him or falling, but I didn't feel that I was at all, and I usually know when I am, but there were a few times where I know I got back-weighted or had a bad curve in my spine, and that would certainly contribute to that feeling for him. With this exercise, it is guaranteed that you will lose your balance sometimes, and not have perfect posture for the entirety, at least for dancers our level. The point is that we try, and in the trying, we improve. I am quite happy with the fact that we got through some really large chucks of the routine at the crawling speed without falling over or having to stop.

One thing we'll have to work on is some of the more dramatic shapes. Jeff feels like I'm pulling us over and falling into the shape, while I feel like he's knocking me over and it's all I can do to keep from falling. Probably we are either breaking our frame or else just not counterbalancing the shapes well; we'll figure that out.

Overall though, I felt this was a very productive practice, and it's a good feeling to know that we hadn't taken any major steps back since we had practiced our tick-tock timing.

Warm down was a little bit of tango. Something I noticed about my promenade that I want to make a note to self to address. A lot of times when I end a figure in promenade, my weight pitches forward too much, so that I have a tendency to bounce off of my forward foot as my weight goes forward and then I pull back into correct position. Ick. I need to stay back the entire time without getting heavy on Jeff's arm.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Balance Rediscovered via Ballet

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

Tuesday night began as practice normally does, with a nightclub 2-step and round. I felt that my balance was much more under control for this practice, and I think that was due in large part to the ballet class I had taken prior to practice. This was only my second class, but at a different studio than before. I'm still a bit overwhelmed and have a lot to learn, but I think this will be a better class for me to attend consistently to get comfortable with it and will be good cross training.

Our rounds are mainly about stamina and consistency, and I think we're continuing to improve in the stamina department. Sometimes the dancing isn't so pretty, but we keep it together enough to make it with some semblance of ease.

Practice focused on quickstep: our last long side. While we don't usually have any problem getting through this section, it doesn't feel smooth and it's not always entirely together. There is a lot of shifting from inside to outside partner and some interesting footwork. Jeff says it doesn't feel like I know what the timing is. I do, but as Simeon was explaining to me in my last lesson, sometimes a mismatch in shape, connection, or stride length will feel like a mismatch of timing. Or, I could just to be late. Either way, I know I have a tendency to take steps that are too large when I go outside partner for weave type figures, and coupled with Jeff's tendency to let the right elbow go too far back, that makes for some difficulty exiting the position quickly and smoothly. We danced through the entire section very slow multiple times, to get a better feeling for where we were relatively speaking. This was where I noticed that my balance was much better than Sunday and Monday; I wasn't rushing Jeff's steps and wasn't falling into each step as it came.

We concluded practice for the evening with the Moon River waltz. I'm not sure why our waltz is so much better than our other dances, but that still continues to be the case. It takes a lot of control too, so I think that is something we've developed a lot through our practices. Our next hurdle will probably be the flexibility, which is going to help us make some big strides in foxtrot, I'm guessing. (No pun intended.)