Saturday, July 30, 2011

Collapsible Frame...1930s Style

Part: Follow
Dances: Foxtrot, Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Salsa, Night-Club 2
Hovers: 0

Friday turned out to be a lesson day, this time with Kora. After squeezing in a workout I arrived for our lesson, ready to take on the foxtrot. I'm sure it's a recognized phenomenon for most dancers that you can go into a lesson thinking you're doing alright with a particular figure or dance, only to find out how terrible it actually is in so many ways, and then you start trying it the new way and it feels ever so much worse. Well, when that happens to one of our dances Jeff says that it's been "broken," and since Kora recently "broke" our Viennese Waltz, we decided we should risk breaking our foxtrot, even though we feel it is our best dance. Sure enough, I think she broke our foxtrot...unless we just decide to forget about that lesson every once in a while.

This was an odd lesson; it pretty much consisted of Kora harping on Jeff for not holding in his center and for creating connection by arching his back, and also physically driving the point home with a wooden beam she found lying around. I was happy not to be Jeff in that lesson. I also have a ten
dency to arch my lower back, so I tried to work on that too. When she got us into a good position, it was pretty crazy how the low and tight the connection is; I guess it will take some getting used to. I think in general I might usually be too far in front of his body, more in my hips and torso than in the upper part, since I'm usually pretty good (often to a fault) at staying left. After Kora explained anatomically where we're supposed to connect I realized that I might be a little off in general.

Apparently our feather-step goes in a weird direction, so we worked a little on straightening that out, both of us being guilty in this one. Kora also attacked Jeff's footwork in our bounce fallaway, and it seemed not to be an easy fix because when Jeff had been doing was either close or he thought he was doing what she was saying. The one bright spot in all of this was that Kora said that our feather step looked really good...and while one figure in any other dance wouldn't be as much to get excited about, the feather step is everything in foxtrot. Maybe it was our slow practice!

After the lesson our whole group headed out to Danceworks for the Friday night social dance. It was busier than last time and the floor was crowded, but the dances we did dance were fun and went pretty well, except that I'm terrible at salsa and totally fake it in West Coast swing, not always that convincingly. Lots of floor crafting and 1930's style frame happened. I think Jeff always had it, but now I think together we've developed a more collapsible frame. Note that I say "collapsible," not "collapsed." I'm less lost when it goes away now that Jeff is leading more from his center versus arms and I'm following through the body connection rather than the frame. As a competitively training standard dancer you focus so much on getting the frame perfect that it's hard not to feel lost without it.

One particular point I've been paying attention to that has helped me so much with both balance and following is being aware of where my left leg is in relation to my partner's. When I'm dancing with Jeff now, I find that I'm generally pretty safe if my left leg stays connected to his...I'm less likely to rush because I can feel when the weight transfers are happening, and I'm less likely to overshoot him on outside partner figures or lose my balance because my feet get left behind me, and finally, it gives me a good sense of direction. Again, I feel like this is kind of an obvious observation, but it's something that has been helping me a lot in these social dance crazy floor crafting situations. I also think that as often as I've heard that you're supposed to have that sternum down to mid-thigh connection, it's actually not at all easy to do unless you're very comfortable in your position and movement with your partner. If you aren't, it's a lot more treacherous because it makes banging knees and other things that much more of a risk. In general, a more open and sloppier frame and connection can feel a lot more comfortable, especially for the lead, I think, but it makes the lead a lot harder to pick up from the follow's end. Like Jeff mentioned in a recent post, I think it's true that I tend to tense up when the lead get's sloppy and the frame's because I feel uncertainty in the lead and therefore have to start guessing what he's doing because he isn't being obvious about it. What I've come to believe is that a lot social dance follows feel like great follows in many cases because they've become expert guessers...they've danced enough to be able to guess right just about every time, even when the lead is questionable to non-existent. In some cases, she may even guess wrong, but do it so well that the lead thinks, "Did I just lead that? Sweet!" *pats self on back* I can see this fooling the lead into thinking he did a great job leading a particular step. Not always! As much as I wish I had that kind of following skill at times, I think that right now the kind of training we're doing will make me a better follow and Jeff a better lead in the end, because it will force me to wait until certain signals are given to me before dancing anything, and Jeff will learn that certain things are required from him in order for me to execute a certain figure.

Lesson learned for the night; always eat enough before going social dancing. Having a quick snack for dinner earlier in the evening did not keep my blood sugar at an acceptable level, and I had to keep hitting up the sugary punch and pretzels that night to keep from wilting from all of that dancing. Quick sugar fixes don't last long enough though.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Recalibration Continues

Dances:  Tango
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.
Hours Salsa Dancing This Week:  4+

Lots of breaks this week for Sarah and I.  Wednesday was no exception.  Sarah had a fund raising event to attend and I had been coerced by Kora and Simeon to take Simeon's, dad's, friend's, daughter out for a night of salsa dancing.  She has never danced salsa before and was in town from Vancouver to learn it from Simeon.  Both Simeon and I found that really funny since our salsas are REALLY square being Standard dancers.  But everyone had a great time and it was fun seeing the salsa crowd again.  Thursday started with my usual workout, then we headed into practice.

Today we focused almost entirely on Tango.  We employed the bar again.  It was tough getting used to being in frame with it.  Sarah and I tried various arm positions to try and make it work.  Finally we got it down, but not before Sarah managed to nail me in my teeth with the bar.  It was pretty funny from there on out.  Every time she put the bar down on my frame, my head was positioned straight up.  It must've looked ridiculous to the outside observer.

So with my front teeth still in tact, we danced through the first short and long side of our routine.  All the while with me trying to keep that bar perfectly parallel to the floor.  It was a painstakingly slow process.  After a few runs, I would put down the bar and try it without, looking in the mirror to track my progress.  Then we'd pick up the bar again and step by step go through the figures again.  Then finally on one of our final runs without the bar, Sarah remarked that I actually felt like Simeon!  Now usually I give her hell over this kind of comment since she likes to compare my dancing to Simeon's, but it was more than welcome this time.  I guess the new practice technique is paying off.  We'll keep hammering away at it and sooner or later I'll get myself recalibrated.

One small concern worth noting is the fact that this exercise with the bar requires me to maintain constant visual of us in the mirrors on the wall.  Now since we're not the fairest one of all yet, I need to keep looking which means my head is definitely in the wrong place.  Hopefully it won't form a bad habit.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Tango

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, West-Coast Swing
Hovers: 2

Today I had some making up to do since I missed both practice and working out yesterday, so I did my cardio as well as weights today, but I think I ruined it all with a big bowl of Vietnamese noodles afterwards. I should be a little more careful about watching the carbs these days...don't want to overdo it.

It was back to the barbell again today with our tango, and after warming up with a west coast swing Jeff wanted to try and a waltz, we grabbed the iron bar and got to work. Jeff was trying to get it better situated on his frame, and this was hard to do since the bar is somewhat heavy and he needed to get his frame in a good place before setting the bar on top, so he asked me to assist. As I was trying to figure out how he wanted it and he was giving me instructions, I of course managed to bump him in the chin with it...and naturally that led to accusations of trying to incapacitate and otherwise simply take out my partner. In the end we got it figured out, and after we got the bar across Jeff's frame I got into position, but since the bar would have had my own left arm way too high, I instead put my right hand into his as usual, but just lifted my left arm and side up and forwards and just kept my arm up there. It was good practice for me at keeping my side lifted and the connection through the body, especially as we began to move through the figures. This way I really couldn't pull down on Jeff without feeling myself get heavy on the it made it obvious enough that I couldn't really do it. As difficult as is was, even with the bar, the fallaway-reverse-slip-pivots and reverse-outside-swivel felt worlds better to me, and so much more on balance. Then we tried without the bar, and it again felt so much better. I told Jeff afterward that, as much as he might hate me for saying it (he hates it when I make this comparison), he felt almost just like our coach when we danced that was so balanced and straight, with the weight over the feet. It made my job so much easier, now that I'm not just trying to stay over my own two feet. I also personally focused my concentration on keeping my left foot, thigh, and whole leg in a proper alignment with his throughout the fallaway-reverse-slip-pivots, and I believe this improved the timing of my steps in relation to his lead as well as the foot placement.

We ran through our other dances, foxtrot and quickstep, and ended for the night with a waltz. Jeff was good enough to start just before the hover and dance the whole routine through until after the hover a second time...unfortunately they weren't the best hovers we've ever danced, but at least we danced them! Jeff teased me to no end again about the imaginary journal he accuses me of keeping of how much of each dance we get through, and how many hovers we dance. In fact, Jeff gave me a hard time about just about everything tonight, always in good fun (I hope)...but if you know us, you know that's par for the course. Then he somehow ends up with an iron bar in his face... Joking aside, that was an unfortunate accident and I'm glad Jeff wasn't seriously hurt. It's not exactly the safest practice implement we've employed to date.

Cliché At Work

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms, back, chest, and shoulders at the gym.
Number of Dancers At 24 Hour Fitness Today:  6

After taking Monday off due to just getting old, we were back at it on Tuesday.  I'm not sure if I'm just getting old or what, but after my trip last week I've been off my game a little bit.  Constantly tired.  Though I really can't complain since recently my life has been a series of trips out of state as well as parties at friend's houses and social dances.  Not a bad life.  Having taken Monday off, I had some catching up to do with my workout routine and I managed to hit all body parts in one day.

When Sarah and I finally made it into the practice room, we found two other couples already in there.  Caroline and her new partner practicing Latin, and this other couple practicing a show piece Bachata.  It's nice to dance with other couples.  Somehow it seems to keep me more focused if I have a distraction.  I think the distraction keeps me from getting too serious during practice and as a result increases focus stamina.  This phenomena occurs in all aspects of my life.  As I'm writing this blog entry I have the TV on in the background.  I seem to write quicker in this kind of environment.  Weird, I know.

Tango was the main dance for us today.  I'm still battling the invisible problem of my frame tilting.  It's really hard when you can't see or feel the problem.  But in an attempt to prove Sarah wrong about something in the Reverse Outside Swivel (which did not end in my favor) I had grabbed a weight bar from the rack and placed it on top of my frame.  The famed cliché of the broomstick style practice had finally made an appearance in my dance career.  To our surprise, it seemed to solve A LOT of problems right away.  The main one being the fact that I could actually SEE when my frame was tilting!  This lead to us using this practice technique for the rest of the practice.  It also solved the issue Sarah was having during the Reverse Outside Swivel where she claimed she kept getting left behind.

So another successful practice for us.  I won't say we invented another practice technique since this one is quite famous and stereotypical.  But we did find a way to deal with major pain in our giant bag of bad dance habits.  I foresee a lot more work with the "broomstick".

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tango by the Iron Bar

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

After taking Monday night off due to Jeff getting old (jk, he wasn't feeling well, probably due to overexertion last week), we were back at it again last night. Personally, due to my recent move, I think that I'm going to start rebounding both physically and mentally, and this is going to be good for my dancing and just the rest of my life in general. Now that I live very close to where we practice, I have a chance to touch base at home before practicing and working out most nights, eat a more realistic dinner; plus, I also get home earlier and can consequentially go to bed sooner. I've also revised my workout plan so that now I'm not trying to do both my cardio based workout plus Jeff's weight training plus practice; now I'm doing one or the other and then dancing. I realized that it's unrealistic to expect my body to keep up with more than one hour of intense exercise in addition to our practice, with the amount of sleep I get and the amount of food I eat and my general physical condition. I expect this new regime will be much better for me, and for our partnership consequentially.

So after we finished our respective workouts yesterday, Jeff and I stretched and headed in to practice. We managed to run all of the dances yesterday, and tested out a new nightclub 2 step that I heard recently and thought we should try, "Never Saw Blue" by Hayley Westenra. It was a slow one, but I liked dancing to it. We were also joined by two other dance couples (or rather we joined them, as they were both there already); one Latin couple we know and who we turned on to practicing there, and the other a bachata couple preparing for a show. That meant taking turns with the music, but it was fine; everyone was really considerate about the others, and it was cool to have six dancers practicing hard all together, different styles on that floor.

Since our last lesson was on tango, we devoted most of our practice to the first half of the routine, particularly the long side of death and also the short side prior. I know that Jeff's been struggling with this tilting frame issue, but I finally had to mention to him after yet another frustrating reverse-outside-swivel (hate) that I always feel like his right elbow goes way behind his shoulder in that figure, and that as a consequence I get stuck behind him and can't swivel around into the right position because I'm stuck back there. He swore up and down that he did not do this, that he was only doing what he's supposed to to make me go outside. I wasn't convinced though, so he said he'd prove it to me and walked over towards the bar bell rack. I thought maybe he was upset and just wanted to walk away for a second to clear his head, but instead he grabbed one of the metal bars sans weight off the rack and came back, laid it over his frame, and proceeded to show me the figure with the bar as a guide. Unfortunately for him, it felt so much better with the bar that we both were surprised. I was so much more on balance, and it kept both of us from letting me slip too far behind, and his elbow definitely stayed forward more than it normally does. Tah dah! New practice technique! A torturous one at that, but effective nonetheless. We spent most of the remaining practice time going through the first half of our routine with the giant iron bar across our frame, and it became immediately evident whenever the frame started to tip because we not only could see the tilted bar in the mirror, it would start to slide off. One thing I noticed due to the bar as well was that, while Jeff's lead to promenade is really good through the hips, the upper body portion had been effected mostly through a kind of see-sawing action of the frame, and when the bar got rid of that, nothing really happened in the upper body. I guess getting the rib cage involved will be the next step. The bar was good for me too in that it forced me to maintain my connection through the body and not the frame, and also prevented me from pulling the partnership down on one side or the other, something I think I have a tendency to do when dancing pivots or swivels.

We ended with our favorite Beegie Adair jazz piano cover of the "Moon River" waltz. No practice tonight for us, since I'm volunteering at a benefit event this evening and Jeff is to be designated salsa man this evening for a visiting friend of friends. Thursday though, we plan to be back at it again with bar bells, slow metronome, and whatever other means of self-torture we can devise.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lesson #13

Dances:  Tango, Foxtrot, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  None.
Popsicles Consumed In 24 Hours:  8

If the stigma of the number "13" is true, our lesson number 13 definitely reflected that.  Ok, it wasn't THAT bad.  But it was interesting.  Tango was the subject of today's debate.  Simeon had us dance through it before beginning his dissection.

Again, not to any one's surprise, the first long side was the issue.  But before we even got to that Simeon wasn't too happy with how slanted my tango looked.  It's not new news to me that I'm "calibrated" wrong.  I naturally have a curvature to my spine so that leads to a slightly slanted frame that feels straight to me.  Add to this issue the problem I have of dipping into promenades and it amounts to a fun challenge for my coaches.  At least now I know where it's present and not correcting for itself.

Another interesting issue that showed up yesterday was the speed of Sarah's head.  I've never noticed it before but it was very apparent how slow it was yesterday.  Sarah had mentioned that her neck had been sore for the past few days so I'm sure it wasn't at peak performance levels, but it was slow even with that in mind.  Simeon was pretty funny, first he thought her head was too slow, then he thought that my head might be too fast.  In the end he settled on Sarah's head as the culprit.  I have to agree since it appears so when she's dancing with either Simeon or I.

We ended on our first long side with all the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivots and the cursed Reverse Outside Swivel.  I was told I needed to work on my timing on that section a bit.  I'm rushing certain parts of it and need to be more clear of each of the sections.  Another disturbing tidbit Simeon decided to share with me was and I quote: "This side will never feel easy.  Ever.  It never has to me (Simeon).".  Let me tell you how inspiring that was.  :)

One thing worth mentioning is Simeon's trademark Compliment Sandwich.  It's hilarious.  He always gives you a tiny (and I mean microscopic) compliment before body slamming you with his real thoughts.  This is then followed by another meaningless compliment.  He's tricky too.  His compliments aways make you think.  They are structured in a way that make you think you're really not doing too bad and actually making progress.  A good example of this was the time he told us we had a really "convincing preparation step".  He said it looked great!  So it took me a split second to realize that what that really meant was that the rest of the dance sucked.  I called him on this and of course he tried to explain himself.  Sarah and I don't even get the full sandwich anymore.  We get an open-faced sandwich.  The inconsequential compliment followed by the spirit crushing truth.  But we're onto his game now.

All joking aside, Simeon's a wonderful teacher.  We give him so much crap about the Compliment Sandwich because he's so blatantly obvious about it.  We all get a good laugh every time he attempts to bamboozle us.  I guess that's what it's all about:  Having fun with friends.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Intentional Whiplash

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

Yesterday Jeff and I took our 13th lesson together, this time with Simeon, and the dance in question was tango. Apparently the problem is still our tips too much and sometimes we aren't as lifted and forward as we should be with our outside sides. This is such a tough thing to work on, because as we said before, it doesn't feel wrong and you can't see or feel yourself doing it. The tipping is the hardest to pinpoint; I can feel when we're not as lifted towards each other as maybe we should be, but Jeff is "calibrated" (as Simeon said) to feel that a bit of tilt is straight, so we have to figure out a way to hammer at this. There were some alignment issues too that also had to do with amount of turn on certain steps, but in those cases I just had to focus on keeping my connection tight throughout the heavier rotation and less familiar body twist, less of an intellectual problem for me than for Jeff as I simply have to match the shape and turn, rather than create it.

It turns out, however, that my head is awfully slow in tango. It doesn't snap as sharply and aggressively as it should; but this is not news to me. I used to complain about it to Simeon when I danced pro-am, and he always said that tango was one of my better dances and felt pretty good, but now that he can see me he had to agree that my head just isn't making the cut. That is part of why I've always felt tango is one of my weaker dances, because try as I might, I just don't have that kind of speed with my head and neck. I have a somewhat longer than average neck and not a small head, so that probably isn't helping me any. I need to figure out a good way to practice this, without injuring myself, though I don't know if that's possible. I might just have to suck it up and resign myself to some whiplash for a while as I work at this. My neck and head, if you haven't picked up on it already, are really the worst part of my dancing. We also worked on the reverse-outside-swivel, which I can't stand because I never seem to end up in the right position or on balance. Our fallaway-reverse-slip-pivots are improving, however.

After the lesson was the usual Sunday night social dance, which was pretty much the same as ever, except with a lighter turn out due to the balmy summer evening, I'm sure. Jeff made ample use of the hover feather to floor craft in our foxtrot; I think he might have done 3-4 in a row in one corner! Whatever works! We were both pretty tired last night though, so our dancing was a little so-so, but I still maintain that our lead and follow has improved quit a bit. Jeff was already a good lead, but he's gotten more skilled with mixing up elements of our gold and silver choreography as the need arises and seems more controlled about the way he leads everything, including sudden changes of plans, plus...because of our practice we're both more on balance and over our own feet in general, so the message gets communicated a lot more clearly. I've gotten a lot better myself about feeling versus thinking, slowing myself down a lot, and relaxing more. As a result, I think I've become a better social dancer too.

The Prius of Dancing

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Nightclub 2-Step, Cha Cha
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.
Number of New Songs on List to Learn:  3

Please excuse the tardiness of this post:

Ahhhh!  Friday night!  What a relief.  I had quite a bit of catching up to do with my working out due to my recent trip to L.A. so tonight Sarah and I hit chest and shoulders pretty hard.  It's good to see her making progress on those two muscle groups.  I remember when we first started this whole routine she literally could not press any weight.  Only the weight of the bar and even then it was a stretch.  Now she is able to lift more weight and her form is getting better.  I on the other hand have continued to get stronger.  My max weight as increased and as Sarah has pointed out, we're both seeing physical improvement.  All good things.

Customary to Friday night practices, it was short.  We had both decided that our upcoming lesson on Sunday would be on Tango so it was time to run it and see what sticky spots we needed help with.  Not surprisingly it was the first long side.  It continues to be a GIANT thorn in our side.  To be honest though, I think it is getting better.  Slowly but surely.  But for all I know we could just be cheating more and more.  Slowly but surely.  I guess we'll find out in a few days.

After practice Sarah and I headed to DanceWorks for their Friday night social dance.  I'm beginning to like it there more and more.  Mostly because of the drastically different crowd and the different type of music they play.  Definitely completely social dancing based.  It's a good break from our normal competitive training.  The floor there is tiny though which forces me to be even more creative that I usually am with the floor crafting.  The crazy Asian driver strikes extra hard at DanceWorks.  And poor passenger Sarah is kept on her toes all night.  Other than some crazy new thing she was trying out in Viennese Waltz, the night was a success.  Our lead and follow is getting better.  I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I'm a pretty good social lead.  Almost all women are very comfortable dancing with me (at least so I've been told).  But I've come to an interesting conclusion.  I keep forgetting that Sarah was "raised" competitively.  Dancing Pro-Am with Simeon has bred her into a very strict set of parameters.  As a result, I've realized that the more relaxed I dance, the more tense she gets.  Always thinking, that one.  But she's has come a long ways and tonight was a testament to that.  I think we're both evolving into a hybrid of competitive and social dance entities.  Sarah giving into more social aspects and me firming up my dancing habits to conform to the more strict standards of competition.  The Prius of dancing.  All in all a good night!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Just go with the flow and have fun!

Part: Follow
Dances: Tango
Hovers: 1

I think I carried thousands of pounds today, carrying too many heavy boxes to and fro as I tried to finish up my move to a new apartment today, and I finished it all off with 2-3 hours of assembling an "all assembly required" chest of drawers from the boards up, trusty screw driver and hammer in hand. The highlight of the day was getting my precious little piano moved in to my new place; a costly maneuver...but worth it to me. Even if I don't play it as much as I'd like, it's like a sign and symbol of a part of me that I don't want to let go. Right now I feel just about as spent as can be, my neck and shoulders are really tight, and I'm worried about how I'm going to be feeling tomorrow, especially for our lesson. I guess I'll find out.

Yesterday I joined Jeff for the chest and shoulders workout, always the worst for me, and yesterday Jeff took it upon himself to give me a serious lesson in some of the techniques for doing the workouts properly, but also ended up needing to give me an "assist" to complete some of the sets. I can try as hard as I can, but when the muscles aren't there they aren't there, so there's only so much I can do. I'm sure I'll get there eventually.

Our practice yesterday was short, typical for an end of the week, and we both had decided to go social dancing afterwards anyways. After a brief stint working on the tango "trouble-spot," or rather "trouble side," we headed out to Danceworks in Redmond. This was only my second time there, and it's definitely a different sort of crowd from the usual Washington Dance Club scene that Jeff and I both frequent on the weekends. Here, the emphasis is strongly on West Coast Swing, along with a lot of the club dances, like Night Club 2-step, bachata, merengue, and others. Still, they always have a pretty good mix and tend to throw in a bit of Latin and standard, though the music is often a bit too fast for real standard and calls for more American style. Jeff and I danced quite a bit, and I have to say, it's feeling better for me than it did before our break. I'm relaxing a lot more in my following, I think, and Jeff's been getting pretty skilled with his even though we had a small and busy floor to navigate, it was pretty fun. With our fresh return to our dancing after the 10 days off, we're less in our heads with it and more just going with the flow, and generally that works out much better when you're social dancing; rather than freaking out about getting routines and technique perfect all the time. We even danced a cha-cha, and I had a first for me...someone asked me if I was a Latin dancer! I usually get pegged as a standard dancer first thing.

The only sad thing was that my neck seized up terribly in the Viennese waltz so that I had to stop a little before the end, probably a combination of my strained head position (even though I was trying to work on it) and the workout right before. I also had a momentary panic moment when Jeff decided that he could do a reverse wave in waltz and I just couldn't let myself not close my feet...but I learned my lesson and did a lovely reverse wave in waltz the next time around, as non-kosher as that may be. If Jeff decides to lead it I've got to go with it and I've got to stop being surprised by some of the craziness he comes up with and just go for it and see what happens. There was one moment that I noticed felt particularly awesome, and Jeff commented on that exact part afterwards, saying how great it was, where we did some kind of series of back checks and pivots to get out of a sticky floorcrafting jam in foxtrot...and although sometimes I lose my balance on these if they are super last minute decisions and thrown at me forcefully, we both nailed these and ended with the best feeling resolution with a hover telemark kind of thing, with both of us drawing our feet up underneath us with lots of foot pressure up onto the toes, staying up there, perfectly balanced in promenade until traffic cleared for us to make a graceful exit and descent. I don't mean to gush...but it was a great feeling.

Maybe 15-20 min. before the dance ended we changed into our regular shoes since we were going to leave soon, and of course as soon as we did they played a real waltz, one that wasn't too fast. We just couldn't miss that opportunity, so we danced anyway, Jeff in his Doc Martens and me in my little ballet flats with the leather soles and big bows. That changed our height ratio quite a bit! Jeff had an extra inch or so with his street shoes, and I had lost my 2 1/2" completely, so he was at least 3-4" taller than I, for once! Normally with dance shoes we're about even, and I kind of like that because it makes it easier for me to extend and keep my left side lifted and I have to work less hard to avoid being heavy. Driving forward on my heel didn't really work in my flats. I'm definitely to the point where I'm more comfortable in heels than without.

Jeff requested a tango part way through the evening, and they told us it would be a west-coast swing/argentine tango kind of cross. When it started playing however, I got all excited because it was the "Arunas Tango!" Jeff had to laugh at me, since I seem to have most of the top standard dancer's current show pieces memorized. It was a pretty cool show though, and Jeff and I both saw it live at City Lights Ball in San Jose this year. In fact, I remember sitting next to Jeff during that exact show and discussing what it would really take to be that good...sometimes you have to wonder if Arunas was just born like that. So just for fun, and since we plan to work on tango in our next lesson, here it is:

It was a very enjoyable evening; one of those ones where you just enjoy the dancing and don't care too much about getting everything perfect. I was too tired to care that much anyways, so I just enjoyed it. I think it's good to do that every once in a while; it puts everything in perspective and reminds us why we're doing this anyway. And, I got my cardio in without even noticing!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Here We Go Again...

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Viennese Waltz
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.
Current City:  Seattle, WA (Home at last!)

After almost two weeks on the road, I made it back to Seattle in one piece.  It's good to be home.  While the weather in L.A. is absolutely wonderful, it's a bit too hot for my taste.  So now that my brother is settled into his new apartment, it's time for me to settle back into my old routine.  On my travels, I actually got to visit the 24 Hour Fitness in San Mateo (the one I used to workout at) as well as another one in Glendale.  The San Mateo one is still the best by far, and as Sarah and I got started on our workout, it was painfully apparent how far behind the Bellevue facility is.  That aside, we got a good workout in.  It was then time to see if we both remembered how to dance.

We started out with Nightclub 2-Step to warm up then proceeded with a round.  I gotta say, parts of it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, but one thing was curious about the whole round.  As a lead it's amazing how quickly your memory lapses.  Ten days was enough to have me second guessing myself as to with figures came next in our routine.  This lead to a few brain farts and having to stop and start over.  But after the round things started to snap back into place.  In my entire dance life I've taken breaks before, the longest one being more than a year.  As a lead I'd advise on NEVER doing that.  Keep dancing just to stay on top of your investment (which I'm sure is considerable).  It never ceases to surprise me as how quickly you can rusty.  Amalgamations seem to have this knack of falling out of your head, not to mention just being a little less coordinated that you remember being.  On top of that, your frame seems to also suffer from non use leading to awkward situations with the opposite sex.  Dance requires a surprising amount of upkeep.  My advise, do it unless you're willing to give it all up.

After our round Sarah and I decided to work on the subject of our last lesson: Viennese Waltz.  It went really well taking into account the fact that we never had a chance to practice after that lesson.  I focused on not dipping into my Natural Turns and using my knees more in the Reverse Turns while Sarah focused on her head position as well as swinging through me.  All in all it feels awkward right now but we do have a lot more power to work with.  It's like climbing into your car after some major modifications have been done and you're not sure how to handle all the new found horsepower.  This can lead to some dangerous situations.  I'm sure if we keep it up it'll feel normal again.  Better than normal actually.  We'll travel more efficiently across the floor.  Though I brought to Sarah's attention that the new efficiency would probably hurt more than help at our usual social dances.  One negative side effect to this new way of moving in this dance is that Sarah's longer legs have become almost painfully apparent.  More than once tonight she's come DANGEROUSLY close to kneeing me where it counts.  I'm sure everyone has hilarious stories involving this type of tragic injury.  Comes with the sport I guess.

Practice Resumption with Jeff-partner

Part: Follow
Dance: A standard round, plus Viennese Waltz
Hovers: 1

Last night was our first practice in almost two weeks! We have both been very busy, but it still seems like it was such a long time ago. After hitting up the weights, we went into practice wondering how we'd fair after our longest break to date since initiating our partnership.

A quick note about the gym where we practice. Jeff was going on about the much nicer gyms (in the same club) he visited while in California. I'll be the first to admit that this one is not the cleanest or in best repair or in least need of air freshener...however...the room we practice in is great, and it's been kind of fun to have become regulars there and greeted familiarly by the staff with inquiries about how the dancing is going. At some point, they really should consider sponsoring us; we've already brought in some new members because of dancing there! I think this approach that we are taking of working out and dancing together all towards the same goal has done something for our dancing that I think may not be that common. We're training ourselves physically the same way (in general) for the same end...and I think that's going to give us an edge in our dancing. Speaking of which, after several months of working out pretty hard, I haven't lost any weight, as far as I can tell...but I do think my physique has changed a little bit; I'm definitely stronger and I think a bit leaner and toned now, so those are all good things. Jeff has also been making visible progress, I'd say more than I have. Go us!

As for the practice itself, we were both wondering how it would feel given the break. We started with a night club 2 warm up dance to a new song Jeff had found, which was good, and then we went in to our round. Personally, I thought it felt pretty smooth; better at least than the last few practices before our break. Tango especially was good, I thought, after Jeff forgot the first piece and I totally messed up the reverse outside swivel of doom on our first run. Foxtrot is still smooth as ever; our best dance for sure, though the songs we danced to this time were pretty fast and it was harder to gauge our control. Quickstep was a little scary on the tipsies, but the hairy section at the end with the quick open reverses into reverse pivots one after the other ending in double reverse felt the smoothest it's ever felt to me. It always feels out of control, and last night I felt like my head and body were listening to me during that section, instead of flying every which way because of the momentum and turn. Jeff always cuts us off on that piece just before the end though, so I didn't get the true test of control with the hesitation at the end.

While Jeff was gone I had attended a couple of standard technique classes our coaches teach and the focus was on fallaway-reverse-slip pivots, perfect for the issues I've been having, and I credit the in depth technical look at this figure in the class with my much better success with this figure in practice last night, especially in tango and waltz. As I suspected, I've been focusing too much on my foot position and not enough on body position in a relative sense, and after I realized that it's more about keeping my frame turning and in a consistent position with Jeff while my hips do the fun stuff underneath, it works out a lot better, and my feet just go under my body and do what they need to do to match it. If I focus too much on the bottom half, my frame tends to follow that and then our connection gets all wonky. In general too, I've been trying to work on feeling the lead and following from the hips and lower body connection rather than the frame, and to rely on the frame only for shaping rather than direction. I know that sounds kind of obvious, but I've realized that in attempting to stay in a good position with the frame I've focused so much on that connection at times that I take that as my lead, which can be a really bad idea sometimes when the frame and shape don't match the hips and direction. The unfortunate part is that a lot of guys do lead with their frames, so it's an easy habit for a beginner follow to slip into. Once again, it's all about isolation.

Speaking of a lower connection, we focused our practice session on our basic natural and reverse turns in Viennese waltz per our last lesson. It's more bumpy now than it used to be because we're not used to moving this way, but I found that my neck was much much less strained than normal as I tried to only turn it on its axis rather than stretch to the side and back. I think we also covered much more ground and it felt super powerful and a little scary too. In the reverses I was working on sending my sides up and forward much more aggressively and I could feel it giving us that momentum, but it didn't feel as smooth and controlled as it normally does. Jeff sarcastically commented that more power and length in our steps is exactly what we need at the social dances where we dance this (we're always almost dying in fatal crashes in this dance because we seem to move about twice as quickly around the floor as most of the couples). Because of the way we're moving now (lower in the legs) and also because of the lower connection it requires, apparently I came frightfully close to grievously insulting my partner's manhood on several occasions. These are the times when I wish I had shorter legs. I've got to make absolutely sure to drive forward with straighter legs and to lower at least as much as Jeff does, if not more. When you're the proportionately tall one in a partnership your legs get more of a workout, that's for sure. This is why I'm allowed to skip "leg day" at the gym!

All in all a good first day of practice, and I must admit I'm happy to have Jeff-partner back!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

City of Angels

Dance:  None
Part:  N/A
Workout:  Arms, back, chest, shoulders, and legs at the gym.
Current City:  Los Angeles, CA

I thought I'd post up an entry just to keep the balance in check on our blog.  Unfortunately Sarah and I haven't been able to practice this week.  I was coerced last minute to help my brother move to L.A. for school this upcoming fall.  As a result, I've been on the road, apartment hunting, and furniture gathering since Monday.  On the bright side, the weather down here is really nice.  Almost too nice.  The timing also couldn't have been better as Sarah needed the time off to pack for her upcoming move into a new apartment.  So all things considered, we've been really lucky with scheduling.  It's been tough keeping up a good workout schedule on this trip but so far I've managed.  Sarah and I hope to resume our normal practices next week.  Until then!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Introspection: The Element of Trust

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Cha-cha, Rumba, Samba, Jive, Night Club 2
Hovers: 0

Sunday night I went out solo to the social dance Jeff and I usually go to. Jeff wasn't able to make it this time due to some personal commitments, so this was my first time going social dancing without my partner in a really long time! Well, it seems like it anyway. I guess I've gotten a little spoiled. I used to go just as often if not more when I was dancing on my own as I figured it was a good way to practice, following especially. Now that I pratice with a partner regularly, I find that I approach the social dance situation a little differently.

When I first started dancing, I was kind of terrified of social dancing, at least with some leads. They were so good and I was ever so not...and I just knew I would make a fool of myself and make them feel awkward and it was kind of a painful time, but I stuck with it and got through it. I remember slow foxtrot in particular being one of the worst for me following wise, which seems funny now as it's easily my favorite. And all the time, even with that fear and embarrasement, I loved it just the same. I remember in college I used to go to the dances to dance, not really to socialize or hang out (you couldn't hear enough to do that anyways), and so my level of enjoyment always had a direct correlation to how many good dances I had that night.

Well, last night I kind of expected I wouldn't dance much, since in general Jeff and I seize most opportunities to practice our standard on the busy floor, which means I'm usually dancing with him for most waltzes, foxtrots, vienneses, tangos, and quicksteps, depending on the mutual energy level. We then tend to sit out a lot of the Latin dances to breathe, drink water, and prepare to do it all over again, though Jeff gets dragged out pretty mercilessly time and again if he's sitting even remotely close to the edge of the floor. Since a lot of the leads there aren't used to dancing much with me any more because of this, I had thought I'd be sitting out more; but no, I didn't sit down much at all (okay, yes, I didn't do salsa and merengue), and I ended up turning down a viennese (I rarely turn any dances down). Somehow I didn't dance tango, but that's fine. I felt like got to dance plenty, and it made me wonder if perhaps being seen so often on the floor (as Jeff and I have been) had something to do with it. Chalk another one up for partnered practice.

As I was dancing, I was noticing how much more relaxed I've become with following, in terms of waiting for the lead, moving less independently, and just taking my time on my weight transfers and sliding my feet along as long as I need to until I feel the commitement. I still have much to work on this regard, of course, as Jeff knows too well, but I can't deny that it is quite dramatically improved since when we started practicing. And that was only 3 months ago! The other thing I realized though, that I didn't expect, is that as the evening went on and I danced with certain leads, I found myself start to tense up again, not just physically, but mentally. I found myself starting to worry about what was coming next, about whether I could keep my balance if he did that again, about how to protect myself from some jerky movements that threatened to throw me across the room. And as I slipped back into this sort of "survival mode," I remembered that this is exacty what social and most partner dancing used to be for me, pretty much across the board. It was about getting through the dance without dying, and hopefully having fun while doing it. This mindset that I think social dancing had forced me into had caused me to put up kind of a wall between myself and my partner, whoever he was, since it was essentially a lack of trust in his ability to lead me well, as well as a lack of confidence in my own ability to respond to that lead. It's interesting that this would be the case in a situation where I felt I was getting good practice to make my following better. All of this I think was rather subconscious...I was just realizing last night that one of my big stumbling blocks in my inability to follow has been, simply put, a lack of trust.

Trust is something that really can only be built over time, and a habit of trust is formed by regular experience and practice. In a dance partnership, it is vitally imporant, and I think I could say that a dance partnership is necessary in order for both a lead and follow to build that habit of trusting one's partner, a habit that's so critical for dancing well. I think it is more important for a follow, because she has to be able to let everything go, her own ideas about what should be done, and just have that confidence that her partner will lead her through those stormy waters and not lead her astray. If she doesn't, if she feels an uncertainty in the leadership, a roughness that she fears will cause her to founder, an imbalance that pushes her off her feet, she will try to protect herself by mentally examining every signal...even closing herself off to them in distrust. When she trusts her partner, however, she will let it all go...she knows he has it under control and feels no need to question his lead. I realized last night that practicing regularly with one partner has helped me build a certain level of trust in leads that carries over no matter with whom I am dancing, but that most of all influences the way I respond to Jeff or our coach, for example, versus other leads. In the past three months I feel that a good beginning has been made in the building of this essential element of trust in my partner, in his lead, and in us as a partnership (and that includes a certain trust and confidence in myself). I'm less subliminally afraid of him knocking me off balance, hurling me into corners, and otherwise upsetting our equilibrium than I think I was at first, even if I didn't quite realize it in those terms at the time.

I can't speak for Jeff, but I think that a lead would also find it important to develop a certain trust that his follow will go where he directs her, will be where he needs her, and make him look awesome while doing it. I don't think I've earned that kind of trust yet, but that, I think, is a worthy goal.

So that was my lesson from social dancing last night. Social dancing doesn't necessarily make you a better follow, but practicing with a consistent partner regularly builds the trust in a dance partnership that is absolutely critical for following (and leading) in general, and to that extent makes better followers and leaders.

Jeff and I are taking a week long hiatus from our dance practice this week due to other developments going on in our respective lives. Until next week then...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Out of Control Merry-go-round

Part: Follow
Dance: Viennese Waltz
Hovers: 0

Yesterday was a lesson instead of practice, though Jeff and I still managed to hit up the gym for our respective workouts, though at different times. Since we made it every week day this week, I feel guiltless and free going into our two day weekend break, though I may have ruined the efforts by eating too much good food at a pool side party today. Jeff keeps trying to convince me that it won't make a difference if I eat unhealthy food or more than is optimal every so often, maybe once a week, but I'm skeptical. I definitely feel different when I do. Then again too, I haven't quite put on the muscle mass and probably never will (yes, I've been convinced) to burn calories at the rate that my partner seems capable of.

Jeff and I like to dance the Viennese waltz because it somehow just works out better for us than the other dances (maybe now with the exception of Foxtrot), with the added benefit of looking that much better by comparison because most social dance couples really struggle with this one. I think it's because we both like to move a lot, and have gotten a pretty good feel for the interplay between the partners on the drives and the swings, so at least we each can fulfill our respective parts and really cover some ground as we dance it. There's also the fact that following Viennese is a cinch; there are so few options that it's almost impossible to misunderstand the lead, plus, the lead has fewer options to think about himself, though that can make floorcrafting quite a dangerous undertaking. Given all this, I thought it might be good to find out if it is actually any good (I was guessing not), and hopefully learn how to do fleckrels for those frightening moments when your only recourse seems to be a retreat to the center of the floor.

Turns out our basic Viennese did need plenty of work. I was glad when Kora targeted my head first head is seriously the bane of my dancing. It's one of those things I have the toughest time calibrating; it's too forward, the it's too back, then it's too straight, then it's too curved, then it's too tilted...and always, I get neck pains and stiff neck. This time my head was too stationary and too far back. More recently my chin had not been high enough; now it was too high. Sigh. So the idea was that I needed to work on creating the shape with my head more by simply rotating and turning it on the axis of the neck rather than stretching back or to the side. Then I was suppoed to move it straight at the end of the second half of the natural turn, which feels really strange because it seems like I'm in Jeff's face, which has always been a no no. But really, it just feels that way because of where his head normally is in relation to his body; but in that figure our configuring is such that I can bring my head more in line with my own upright body because Jeff's head is off to the side, and then I can resume my left stretched position when I'm on the inside of the turn.

In the reverse turns, Kora had me work on swinging my sides up and forward. She didn't talk so much about my head on the reverses, but I noticed that her head shaping on the reverses is very smooth and quite beautiful and not like how I do them; it's like she's drawing a graceful curlyque to propel the rotation around. When I try to "assist" a reverse turning figure with my head, I tend to sort of just turn it in a more abrupt motion to help get the turn going, but hers looked so smooth. I guess the finesse just comes with time and practice. I thought it was odd that Kora said that in order for Jeff to swing his own sides more (which he apparently also needs to do), I need to do it first to allow him. So in that case, it seems like the lady leads how much swing is allowed? Sort of like how the lady determines stride length and the guy adapts to that? (Jeff still argues with me on that one though). It was kind of an odd thing, because while I felt I could swing more than I normally do, I had always tried to match my swing to Jeff's, and I think we usually do pretty well matching our swing and stride in Viennese, so it was odd to try to do more than he was on purpose. It did feel awkward, but it also felt a lot more active and powerful. Once we get it smoothed out I think our Viennese will be much more effecient; we'll work harder but cover more ground and have a better effect than before.

Fleckrels were hard. I'd learned the natural fleckrels before a long time ago, but we worked on the reverses this time, which I'd never done. Jeff spent the first while staring at his feet and holding on to me in practice hold, which I think is part of why my feet kept flailing out behind me. I also kept freaking out about being behind and rushing like crazy. Part of it is that I have this clear visual in my head of Anna Mikhed dancing these at a certain speed to certain music, besides having worked on the naturals before at full speed. I realized then that there's a certain rhythm you get into with them in terms of foot, head, body movement, and slowing it down as much as we did seemed to make it an entirely different step. So that just shows how insecure I was in it; I really didn't know fleckrels any better than Jeff. That was me being the out of control merry-go-round. We have a lot to practice with those, and will probalby employ the newly introduced "hug" practice hold that forces you to mainatin body position and contact while executing extreme rotation and swift steps. In any event, I expect that eventually these figures will be a valuable floorcrafting strategy on the social dance floor.

Just for fun and for reference, here's my favorite standard dancer follow, Anna Mikhed, dancing a Viennese Waltz show with her then partner Victor Fung (they were 3rd in the world). The fleckrels start at 1:02, but they only do the naturals in this show, no reverses. Look at her head though, you can definitely see how she uses it to facilitate the turns:

One thing I like about Viennese Waltz is that it's really all about technique, and the principles you work on here will apply to all of the swing dances in some way or other. It's as though you take a lot of the concepts you have to apply in Waltz and Foxtrot, for example, and exaggerate them, because you have to in order to make Viennese work. That means that these things Kora is telling me about my head position on the naturals is definitely going to apply in Waltz, and my swing in the reverses will help my Foxtrot, I am sure. That's why I suggested we work on it, even though we won't be competing at champ level for quite some time.

Lesson #12

Dance:  Viennese Waltz
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.
Random Life Event:  Haircut day today.

Yes you read the dance line correctly.  Today was Viennese Waltz day.  For some reason Sarah came up with the idea to focus on Viennese Waltz in our lesson today with Kora.  I had no objection since I've never really spent time working on that dance.  The most we ever work on it is at the Sunday night dances where Sarah and I just dance through it trying not to kill or be killed by anyone else in the process.  Now during these dances the Viennese Waltz generally feels fine.  Sarah and I seem to understand this particular dance naturally.  Though we were about to find out what we were doing wrong.

Kora started out by fixing my Prep Step.  Apparently I liked to dip into the Prep Step as a wind up into my natural turns.  Instead, Kora had me go straight back and wind up from the waist up.  From there I was to swing through Sarah and upward.  This would then prevent the dipping into each and every one of the natural turns.  Sarah was charged with the task of keeping track of her head.  There was a specific way it was suppose to move.  The first time we tried all of this together was a disaster.  Sarah's head was doing something weird and I wasn't swinging through.  But after a few more tries, things started to come together.  To be honest, it didn't feel altogether that different, however Kora said it looked much better.  Find by me if the changes come that easy.

The next part was to look at the Reverse Turns.  In this figure I was not lowering and pushing through my standing leg enough.  Sarah on the other hand wasn't swinging through me enough.  So Kora had me trying to lower and push up and through my standing leg and having Sarah swing her sides alternately.  The result was a somewhat uncontrollable Reverse Turn that traveled quite a bit down the floor.  After about 15 minutes we were starting to regain some control, but it's hard to do that and think of everything you're supposed to be focused on correcting.  I'm proud to say that for both the Natural and Reverse Turn we did well.  With a little practice we should be able to have the main principle down.

Last but not least was Fleckerls.  They are tough.  I spent half the time looking down at my feet before I noticed that's what was throwing a lot of it off.  Meanwhile, Sarah had decided to always dance to her own SUPER FAST tempo regardless of the pace I was traveling at.  It was an interesting and hilarious learning experience.  Fleckerls are going to require quite a bit of work, but it's to be expected as neither of us have done them before.  Apparently we get our choice of either doing them in wrong side or right side position.  I guess we'll have to practice and see which one fits us best.

To close out I wanted to bring some attention to the Random Life Event line.  I got a haircut today which isn't anything special since it grows like a weed.  But I actually asked my stylist to leave the top long this time.  Usually I go for short hair all around.  My hair only does one thing and that is stick straight up.  It's standard issue, Asian communist hair and doesn't like to conform to anything else.  So if you're looking for the spiky look, I've got it down cold.  What made me want to grow it out now is the fact that we might be looking into some competitions in the near future.  If that's the case I need to make sure my hair is long enough to slick back or do something other than spiky.  It's funny how your life starts to revolve around this sport which only seems to take and never gives.  :)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Only Thing Worse Than A Heel Turn Is Leading One

Dance:  Foxtrot
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.
Number of MR2's Owned in GT5:  5

Practice today was rough.  Not because Sarah and I were at odds or that the material was difficulty, but rather I was paying dearly for my leg workout the previous day.  It's been a while since I've been that sore.  I guess I really got a good workout in yesterday.  On the bright side at least I know my legs are getting stronger.

Today we worked on the Reverse Wave in Foxtrot.  I think the shaping issue is working itself out.  I'm not flipping the order anymore.  As a result there are no awkward moments going into the Closed Impetus after the Wave.  Sarah did comment on the Closed Impetus feeling over shaped so I made an effort to level it out and everything seemed back in balance.

We also worked a bit on the heel turn that starts off the Reverse Wave.  I had to explain to Sarah just how difficult leading a heel turn is in comparison to doing one.  It's one of the things I hate leading most.  Mainly because it's extremely vague.  And every woman seems to have their own calibration settings on the step.  Push too hard and she topples backward, too light and she doesn't get back on her heels.  Not to mention rising early but not too early, rising just the right amount and not over or under that, and getting around her.  I've given Sarah specific instructions on NOT doing a heel turn if I don't actually lead her to do so.  Otherwise I'll never learn what is necessary to do it right.  Often times, women just fake it and force out a heel turn.  I don't see how there are any positive outcomes to that behavior.  It always feels weird and the man never learns.  He just thinks:  WOW!  I did it!  I rock!

Last but not least I worked a little on my left side lead in the Feather Step and my right side lead on the Three Step.  Sarah said whatever I changed made it feel better.  I honestly couldn't tell you what it was I did differently.  But if it's better, I'll take it!

Focus on the Foxtrot and my Musical Dependency

Part: Follow
Dance: Foxtrot
Hovers: 0

Focus on the foxtrot was our theme last night. The hip-hop break dance kids were in the aerobics room in full force last night, and hijacked the music pretty successfully too. That meant no round, a night-club 2 warm up with no accompaniment, and then on to foxtrot.

I had suggested we work on the shaping of the reverse wave since Simeon had given us some pointers on that at our last lesson. A few times Jeff will get it backwards, or start it late, or I'll do it without him, or more than he we had a few kinks to work out. It was feeling good yesterday though, and I think Jeff really has a good feeling for it now, and I'm being more conscious about matching my shape too his...i.e. not getting overly excited by the right shape and going too far, etc. It's important that the shape not start too early too, since it can really screw up the heel turn into the wave pretty badly.

We also found that our frame sometimes tips down as we complete the closed impetus that follows the wave; we incorporate a right shape (left to Jeff) at the end of it and it's too easy to make that a dive into the floor. That's how it felt to me, anyways, and once I told Jeff what I was feeling I think he leveled us off a bit and it felt much more balanced. We also worked a bit on the beginning feather into bounce fallaway; Jeff wanted to figure out something with the side leads, and whatever he was doing was making a difference; it felt more balanced and the connection was better. The same concept then carried over into the promenades; when both of us keep our outside sides presented up and towards each other, we have much more control in our promenade position and probably look tons better. I know that's kind of a "duh" concept; but it's one apparently we need to hammer away at since we keep getting comments about it in lessons. While I can't always feel when it's wrong, I can definitely feel the positive difference when we do it right. We just have to get so used to doing it correctly that the sloppy and crooked way starts to feel bad. It's really about building the right habits, in the end.

We concluded practice with a quickstep run through. Jeff wanted to end without running through any dances, but I really wanted to at least cool down with one. Quickstep felt pretty good, I thought, though I think we took it a little slower than we have danced it with music. Speaking of music, I was explaining to Jeff how so often when I'm learning new dance figures, I really feel like I "get" the step once I dance it with the music. I think dancing with music is much easier for me than without; it kind of carries me along and it gives me directions about timing and rhythm...and when I dance with Jeff his lead and the music generally always match up; so it's like I'm getting the same directions via a few different channels, which makes following even easier. He was telling me yesterday that I should be able to dance just as well without music as I do with, and I guess that's true, but I also think that the music reminds me what the dancing is all about. To me, dancing is a further expression of the music, so without it you're missing part of the story. Anyways, I realize that I am very lucky to have a partner who hears music like I do; it is surprising how rare that is, at least on the social dance floor. There, I've had to learn how to completely tune it out, in many cases. I've just got to be careful that my relationship to the music doesn't become too much of a crutch in that I'm using it to cheat and not really follow my partner or not really know the steps outside of their relationship to a musical phrase.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ice Cream Shopping = Quality + Quantity

Dance:  Tango
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Legs at the gym.
Ice Cream of the Day:  Tillamook Marionberry Pie

After the usual rigorous leg workout (one which continues to increase in resistance), tango was on the docket for the evening.

Our second short side isn't particularly difficult, though is strangely awkward.  The first part involves a Fallaway Four-Step into a Fallaway Promenade.  While being relatively simple figures, they pose an interesting problem when it comes to alignment and movement down the floor.  The whole thing is done in promenade position and seems to just zig-zag along the same plane, almost moving back against line of dance on the first long side.  So it was a goal of mine to finally figure out how exactly these two figures travel the way I need them to.  After watching the video our coaches made for us it seems like Simeon angles each of the figures a lot less steeper than I have been.  Having that in mind I gave it a whirl and after a few tries Sarah and I were traveling further down the short side.

The next challenge was then to make sure I came completely back to closed position after those two figures.  Having been in promenade for so long, it's entirely too easy to just stay slightly angled out rather than parallel to your partner after it's done.  This is a constant issue Sarah and I face in the tango.  Not sure why but we've been told we never really come back to closed position after a certain point.  My first guess is that my frame is doing something it's not supposed to be.  We'll have to keep working on it and see where it goes.

All in all it was a short practice since Sarah had choir practice tonight.  Afterwards we went shopping for ice cream.  I'll never understand how Sarah can live with getting the tiny bite sized tub of Hagen Daas when you can get a nice GIANT tub of it.  When it comes to ice cream, quantity is everything.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chinese Cowboy Cha-cha

Part: Lead
Dance: Tango
Hovers: 1

I'm going to make up for my really long last two posts and write a short one tonight. It was a shorter practice, so it is entirely fair.

Tonight was tango, specifically our section with the fallaway promenades that do this kind of zig-zaggy thing across the short side of the floor. Jeff mostly wanted to figure out the alignment, so we worked on that and used our reference video to help figure it out. Alignment is really Jeff's department and frankly, I'd better not have anything to do with it. Especially given the recent conversations, my job when we're working on these sorts of issues is to follow only. That's fine by me since I never pay attention to alignments anyways; as a follow it doesn't affect me at all since the only alignment I care about is how I fit with the lead. For me it's completely relative. Jeff had this visualization of a reverse duck beak or some crazy thing, but since it didn't really apply to me I just focused on keeping my promenade position in good shape throughout the figures, and keeping my sides properly presented forwards and making my feet be patient and wait for him to go.

We did notice that we tend to bounce up a little and rise as we're doing the fallaways. When we think about it, we can keep it low and smoother, so right now we just need to be conscious of that until it's a habit. No bounce fallaways in tango!

I forgot to mention that before we started in on the tango, we convinced our two Latin dancer practice buddies to warm up to a Cowboy Cha-cha with us! You kind of have to know them to realize how funny that is, but it was great. Jeff loves that absurd dance for some inexplicable reason, but at least it got our practice started on a lighter note. You can't not laugh about dancing the Cowboy Cha-cha.

We finished up with a waltz run through with music, at my insistence. I couldn't believe we were going to end our practice session without dancing at least one dance to music, so I begged Jeff to let us just do one. It was in our practice program, after all. The waltz felt pretty good, actually, slow and controlled.

Practice ended with a quick jaunt to the store for ice cream. Jeff gets dangerously excited in the ice cream isle; I wouldn't want to send him there unattended. Now I love ice cream, but I don't whip out the gigantic tubs of fake vanilla Blue Bunny stuff and wave them at people, or audibly ponder the relative virtues of a plain Klondike bar versus Health flavored, or find the label of a frozen lemonade cup so intriguing. Then again, it was funny, and I did enjoy my little Hagen Daas rum raisin ice cream.

Digital Follow Vs. Analog Follow

Dances:  Waltz
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Chest and shoulders at the gym.
Happy Hour:  McCormick & Schmick's - Cheeseburger
Random Life Event:  Brother moved back from China today!

After running about an hour behind, I finally made it to the gym.  Luckily, today was chest and shoulders day which meant I could squeeze everything tightly together with short breaks in between each set to get the workout done quicker.  Sarah and I started practice only about 15 minutes late.

The plan on our calendar was the Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot section of our waltz.  It's a tricky part mainly because it starts following a Wing which puts us in wrong side position.  For some reason every time we dance it, it's different.  I found out today why that was the case.  Sarah and I got into a large discussion about leading and following, in which I learned that she likes to blame herself first for most everything that goes wrong.  That poses a big problem for us because she will then go and adjust things on her end to make it work.  Not only does that not allow us to fix the problem at the source (which is usually the lead at this stage) but it also explains all the following difficulty I experience when we dance.  Since every "problem area" feels different every time (due to Sarah trying to correct her end) it's virtually impossible for me to figure out what's going on or what I can do to stabilize the figure.  She brought a really good point about her Pro-Am dancing with Simeon.  At our level he's pretty much perfect so obviously the fault would be at her end.  After a year or two of training like that I could see why she's stuck in that mindset.  I've told her from now on to blame me first (politely of course) and let me make the first adjustments before having her look at things on her end.  I believe that if I make an adjustment and the figure miraculously looks and feels better then we're on the right track.  We can then fine tune it with details on her end.

Another following trait I've noticed about Sarah is that her range of possibilities are limited at this point.  This particular characteristic is really prevalent on the social floor.  A lot of the time I need to make split second changes and make up things as I go.  Now don't get me wrong, I think I'm fairly good at it and the changes are, for the most part, smoothly executed.  Not your garden variety crazy Asian driver.  But that kind of leading requires the follow to have an infinitely adjustable range.  At this point I can literally "feel" Sarah thinking about what's going on, come to a conclusion and execute whichever figure she's decided it is I'm doing.  Versus just ending up where I've put her which might be something completely random, ugly, rough, and nonsensical.  For all the nerds out there, she's a yes, no, if and then statement with definite predefined results.  A digital curve rather than an analog one.  Now I can honestly say the curve has smoothed out A LOT from when I first met her, but it'll be a while before she reaches analog status.  All this being said, I know following is EXTREMELY difficult.  She'll get there given time, and it's good we keep talking about things like this which keep us grounded to core issues.

During this whole discussion the common analogy of the lead being the gas and brake pedal along with the steering wheel in a car while the follow is the engine came up.  I really hate that analogy.  Not sure who came up with it, but it makes no sense.  It implies the lead has no power of his own.  He merely engages the follow who provides all the power and points them in the direction they want to go.  I think a better analogy would be a driver's education car.  The lead in is the driver's seat, and the follow in the instructor/passenger seat.  Both sides have gas and brake pedals, and only the driver's side has the steering wheel.  You are both in the same car and sharing the same engine as one.  The lead does all the driving while the follow is just along for the ride.  She will only use the pedals on her side when absolutely necessary and as a "passenger" she'll end up wherever the car ends up.  She'll get out and get back in as expected of her.  Followers weigh in here and tell me what you think.

At the end of our practice I think we had the Fallaway Reverse/Slip Pivot section feeling better.  I'm glad we take these chances to talk about the bigger issues and to look at the greater picture.  It'll help us in the long run.  As any recovery program will tell you, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Nothing Good Comes Out of Wing"

Or so says Jeff, the sage.

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz
Hovers: 1 shaky one

After a good work out and yet still tired from the festivities of the holiday yesterday, Jeff and I approached our practice session with a bit of grim resolve after last week and the weekend. We skipped the round, did a little lazy rumba, and went into our focused waltz practice. I suggested the fallaway-reverse-slip-pivot into double reverse into another fallaway reverse sandwich section. That part is really inconsistent for us, sometimes it's okay, and sometimes it's really out of sync, and sometimes I kick Jeff, so in general it's not reliable.

Jeff has this theory that he's been trying to express to me lately about how my mindset is entirely wrong as a follow. He said that essentially I should not be worrying about fixing things I'm doing to accommodate or fit to the lead, but instead should simply, well...follow. My frustration is that this is very easy to say, but it's kind of hard to work on your problems by just, well...following. It's not that simple. For me, learning to do the steps correctly means learning how to execute them most effectively within a given point of reference, namely, the lead. Obviously that reference point will change as the lead himself changes, or as his lead for a particular figure is inconsistent. However, I figure that I'm in good shape if I know that when I feel such and such, I should always respond in such and such way and to such and such an extent.

Now I think Jeff is right in that some ladies, due to personality or otherwise, just tend to naturally respond appropriately to a lead's movements. Then there's those of us that actually have to train ourselves to do this. Though I wouldn't go as far as Jeff and say that "strong willed women should not be allowed to follow" (and believe me, we must be really committed to this no fighting thing, because those are fightin' words!), I'd agree that some women perhaps have a personality that gives freer reign to the emotions and are much less intellectually and analytically dominant; they feel things out and respond emotionally rather than think about them first, which to a certain extent is great for following. I'm not that woman; I think a lot, and I think about my dancing, and though I try as hard as possible to let go and and not think while following, it's still a struggle. I'm trying to turn my dancing into a kind of reflex; doctors have always told me I have extra good muscle reflexes, so maybe that's something I can harness here. Basically, I feel this, my body naturally does this in response. That's a huge part of why regular practice helps me so much; it really habituates me to respond to certain signals in certain ways.

Jeff likes to talk about lead-follow as him "putting me where he wants me" and me "just letting myself be put there." That isn't active enough imagery for reminds me of a sack of potatoes being thrown in a corner. I like the reflexology concept better. Still, I agree absolutely with Jeff that it's bad when I think too hard or really think at all while following. Again though, it's something I'm constantly trying to stop doing and it's a tough habit to break because I'm the thinking type. Given this, however, I disagree entirely with the ultimate premise that strong-willed women can't be good follows. I told Jeff I'd bet almost anything that each of the top 6 ladies at Blackpool are most certainly strong-willed. You just can't get that good otherwise; it takes too much work. So while Jeff may have to grit it out for a while as his strong-willed overly intellectual and analytical partner figures out what it means for her to follow perfectly, he may in the end get a powerful, responsive, and feather-light "sports car" to drive around the floor at the end of all this. It's just that that kind of machine takes serious time, craftsmanship, and attention to detail to put together, as Jeff knows far better than I do.

Ultimately, I figured out that perhaps the biggest problem is that I tend to assume that problems in our dancing are my fault, due to something I'm not doing right, and as a result I'm always trying to figure out how I could do it better to make it work. I think this tendency is largely due to the much longer period of time I spent training on my own with my teacher and in my own private practice and preparations for pro-am competition, where everything was my fault, and I had plenty to work on myself. I'm so used to assuming that first, that I told Jeff that this often happens; I'll try to fix a problem myself before passing the blame on to him...which he said is exactly the wrong approach. He should be blamed first and if he is examined and found innocent, then, and only then, am I at fault. I think he's right that this would be be the most effective approach (thought maybe not the most reflective of reality), it's just not how I'm used to approaching the bumps in my dancing. Granted, there are times I can absolutely tell the issue is with the lead, but that has not been my first assumption when I feel off dancing a particular figure. We'll have to see how this works. It's probably going to involve me complaining a lot more out loud instead of mentally to myself. Jeff's going to love this...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Live Today, Fight Tomorrow

Dances:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Nightclub 2-Step
Part:  Lead
Workout:  None
iPhone/iPad Apps Purchased:  4

Holiday weekends are always a crap shoot as far as attendance goes.  Especially in dance sport.  Sometimes all the places are absolutely packed and other times it's a ghost town.  Seeing as the weather has been unusually good this weekend I was banking toward the place being empty.  Sarah thought the exact opposite.  Turns out she was right.

Washington Dance Club was really full tonight.  That meant that the normal issues we have with people not floor crafting was compounded this evening.  To top that all off, Sarah and I were just not dancing well.  She wasn't following, I wasn't leading, and the unpredictable crowd just accentuated that.  It almost felt like I was just dragging her around and I'm sure my leads just felt ambiguous.  Just to make sure it wasn't a fluke I stuck it out for about half the dance, after which I told Sarah I was done for the evening.

Now it would be easy to think that I was mad or annoyed.  In reality I was far from that.  I think it's important to know your limits and when to call it quits.  To cut your losses and move on.  Live today, fight tomorrow.  It's a good concept to stick to.  In my opinion I think if you both know your limits then you can jump out before things get ugly.  Before anyone gets frustrated at the other for a reason that you will realize later is completely unreasonable or just downright stupid.  It's a rare quality I'm proud to say Sarah and I both have.  So three months in our number of fights is still at zero.  Hopefully we can keep this record alive.

Leading requires a really specific frame of mind.  One which needs to align perfectly with everything else that the rest of you is doing.  Without this perfect match you can forget about leading yourself, let alone giving your follow good instructions and directions.  You have to keep this focused persona running in the background so the foreground can deal with all the random external factors such as other couples.  Tonight that wasn't happening.  I'm going to blame it on the relaxing three day weekend I've been enjoying.  I'm not worried though.  Everyone knows you'll have both good days and bad.  I'll be back to my regular form when we resume our practices next Tuesday.

Getting the Stride Right

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

Tonight Jeff and I ended up at the usual Sunday night social dance; I had told Jeff based on previous experience that the turn out would likely be good, probably more than usual, since he had been worried that no one would show up on a holiday weekend. Turns out that I was right this time; it was pretty packed, and that made floor crafting even more of a challenge.

We started out with a foxtrot that I think went well, but then again, foxtrot is our best dance. The first waltz we tried was really fast, and for some reason when we started down the first long side I got too excited and forgot about our "take Sundays easy" rule and really took off down the floor. Luckily I caught it once we rounded the bend at the corner and reigned myself in a bit, and happily when Jeff had to stop suddenly in a couple of places, I stayed right with fact, today I felt that I was much better than I have been about stopping cleanly with him; mainly I think because my body is getting better about listening to his movement versus my own muscle memory. So in that sense I think my following has improved. Nevertheless, there were a few places today where my feet just ended up in the wrong places, but it wasn't so much because I was rushing as because I just completely misread the lead...or it felt unclear or undecided to me, and so I just got the foot placement and alignment dead wrong. Those were those times when as a follow you feel like it could be one of two or several things, and you of course pick the wrong one. Obviously, I still have a lot to work on in terms of sensitivity and the ability to respond quickly to those signals. It's usually not a matter of thinking and deciding on an option when you feel you have several since there is not any time for that, it's a matter of having the right reflex. That just takes practice, and lots of it.

Jeff clearly was not feeling good about our dancing today. To me it really didn't feel better or much worse than normal; we had a couple of fumbles (usually me failing the recovery after a tricky floor crafting maneuver), but I didn't think it was necessarily more than usual. For some reason in Viennese, which is normally one of our best, I felt Jeff's hand keep shifting on my back, and I wondered if it was because he felt my frame shifting, but I couldn't feel that I was moving or shifting the connection at all. That was odd, because afterwards he asked why I kept shifting around, which I hadn't felt myself doing. The only thing was that I was trying to be conscious of my head stretch and using my head weight to aid the turns, and maybe I failed to isolate that properly from the rest of my frame. It's just odd because that's something I've been working on every time lately, and we haven't had this problem consistently. I guess I'll need to experiment later and see if it really was my head movement that was pulling me around; it's quite likely.

A random fun thing was getting to dance night club 2-step to "Proud to Be an American." Of course, I do like that song, and it worked pretty well for that dance. Now that I think about it, that was probably our best dance of the night. Sometimes that's just how it goes.

Jeff quit dancing entirely for the evening after our second tango. I guess he was just frustrated by how it was feeling and didn't want to continue the downward spiral. I danced a bit longer; and by dancing with a number of very different leads, had the opportunity to wrap my mind around why it is not always an easy thing for a follow to determine the proper length for her steps. You see, as a beginner, you're told to drive as much as you can, and that the lady is the one who determines the distance traveled, while the man provides the power and direction. I got pretty good at using my long legs to advantage, and I can drive pretty far comparatively speaking. The problem is, now that I am at a point where I can be more nuanced about it and actually try to match my stride to the lead's, I find that this can be very difficult for a couple of reasons. In general, I feel the power given to a step through the lead's center and our connection...and if executed properly that power will give me what I need to determine the length of my step. However, if the lead is tilted forward at all when he drives, or has a tendency to fall into his steps forward (and also fall into the lady), the weight of that falling feels like a lot of force going into the step, and so I tend to feel that as a lead for a longer step, also just to keep from ending up under the falling lead, but often in those cases the step is actually quite short for the lead, because he is really only catching himself as he falls forward across the floor. The other extreme is the lead who is back weighted, and doesn't project any power forward with his body as he moves, but instead sticks his legs out in front of him without real lead from the body, usually resulting in me taking a step that is much too small because I am feeling for how far his body is taking me, and when I feel very little power or momentum, I expect a small step, and that's usually when I get stepped on.

As I was trying to explain to Jeff this evening, it's really not about reading stride length per se for a's about reading power, momentum, or energy. If I can tell how much power I'm really being given and what the appropriate response is to that level of drive, then I'm in good shape, no pun intended of course. It really isn't a simple matter of stride length, since the same stride with various amounts of energy could also move more or less down the floor, depending on how well we're pushing and sliding, etc. My job is to match his energy, and that's no easy task, especially when dancing socially, where the energy levels can be so different and the way of communicating them coming from different parts of the body.

Overall, it was kind of an odd day dancing wise. I was a little disappointed we couldn't dance more, but I'd much rather have not danced those dances we missed than walk off the dance floor hearing my partner comment about how awful it was each time, so I wasn't upset when Jeff quit early for the night. I'd be the last to say our dancing is actually good, but it's all about what you focus on. I think we were in very different frames of mind approaching the dancing last night, and I understand that is going to happen sometimes. Hopefully practices this week will be better. Happy 4th of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Practice Reform Preliminary Results

Dances:  Quickstep
Part:  Lead
Workout:  Arms and back at the gym.
Happy Hour:  Matador - Chili and Steak Tacos
Random Events to Report Today:  0

After a week of practice session reform, Sarah and I got to test drive the new system over the last few days.  On Thursday we had a somewhat bumpy beginning, but things went into full swing today.  I have to say, so far it's working.  Of course we'll keep on testing it with the one true test anything has to withstand; time.

I was on my own today for the workout.  My solo workouts days move along very quickly.  I tend to push myself harder throughout the whole ordeal, mainly with much shorter breaks between each set.  I went into practice fairly spent.

Today quickstep was on our schedule.  Specifically the timing of the Tipsies and the Hover into Six Quick Run.  We hit the ground running by starting up the metronome and dancing the Tipsies slowly, then gradually speeding it up.  I'm still not confident about that section since our success rate is far less than perfect.  But it's getting better.  I am however, feeling much better about the Hover into the Six Quick Run.  As we've posted, the slight rise in the lock step has help tremendously.  Today I was focusing on the transition from the Hover into the Run.  If I give Sarah too much time and stretch that means I'll have trouble reeling her in, leading to bad balance and rushing into the Six Quick Run.  I think the Slow count right before the Run is key.  I need to nail that step EVERY TIME.  If I do that the Six Quick Run should fall right into place.  All in all a great practice.

After practice Sarah decided to go home to catch up on some sleep.  Since it was Friday night I decided to go check out DanceWorks.  Turns our they were having an open house for students.  The bad news was it was PACKED and that place has a small floor to begin with.  The good news was that there was no cover to get in and there were lots of new people to meet.  The dancing was ok.  Nothing special due to the large crowd, but I had a good time.  Sarah and I are going decide whether or not we're dancing at all this weekend.  If not, everyone have a great holiday weekend!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tipsy Turvy

Part: Follow
Dance: Quickstep
Hovers: 1

I thought we had a very productive practice today. The only less than desirable circumstance was the reprise of the punk kids with the loud speakers, rap to blast from them, and a few break dance and hip hop moves. Their music was quite loud and gave me rather a headache by the end of our session, so we skipped our beginning round and danced a warm up with no music, and then moved to our metronome, which could still be heard despite the racket. Our practice map, if you will, guided us well. We focused a good deal of time on the tipsies, starting with the slow metronome and working our way up in order get the timing even and correct. This strategy seemed to work pretty well, just as it used to in piano. I think our next step may be to start taking it up a couple of speeds from the speed we'll actually have to dance it; that way it will be easy when we have to dance regular comp speed. One thing we did find was that, naturally, when we took smaller steps and kept the shape smaller, we were more on balance and had an easier time making it time. Surprise! But I think we're going to have to make it a little bigger eventually; we did get comments in a lesson that we needed to give more to that particular section, making the shaping larger and the energy greater and so forth, but I think it's good for us to get a solid foundation first.

From there, we moved to the quickstep hover into six quick run piece, which we practiced with the metronome again. It really seemed to go pretty well; the six quick run has been greatly improved as we've mentioned by the restoration of the lock step rise, and Jeff didn't complain about me yanking him suddenly when I extended back on the hover, so that's good. I've really been trying to find that happy place where I'm getting out there far enough to look like I'm extending a bit more than usual, yet not pulling the partnership off kilter. Calibration again, I suppose.

We ended with a round, and the kids were considerate enough to turn off their music for that. They seemed pretty impressed that we played "Pink Panther" for foxtrot, so maybe one day they'll end up deciding that ballroom is cool too. There is still hope!

For those interested in seeing what these tipsies are that we keep talking about (and pretty much all of the other quickstep figures, actually), here is a demo video of former world champion and current 2nd place standard competitor Mirko and his former partner dancing a syllabus quickstep routine; the tipsies to the right and left are at 0:16-0:18:

P.S. The hover is at the very end.

This series of demo videos is a superb reference; in matters of technique on these syllabus figures, there is no question that you're pretty safe to copy these guys. This is also how we confirmed our theories about the timing of the weight transfer in foxtrot. If Mirko does it that way, we can't be so far off!