Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Fork in the Road

"Don't adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to continue on the story."   -Tolkien

You know that saying, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it!" Rather than take that as just a lame joke, I see it as a silly way of presenting the broader truth that sometimes life opens up doors to you, and forces you to confront yourself and your fears in a new way so that you can decide whether you are called to make a change. Rather than staying in the comfort zone, with what is familiar, known and loved, we are, if we are to grow, at times called say farewell to that which is dear to us. It can be terribly painful,  yet it comes with a conviction that things happen for a reason.

And this leads to me to what is, so far, the hardest post of all to write. I debated about whether I should even write one, and yet, in fairness to the story we have told here on this little blog, as a record of a dance partnership and everything it accomplished, I think it only right.

When we began this blog, Jeff and I had started dancing together only a few months before. We were excited about our dancing, talked a lot about everything we were going to accomplish as a competitive couple, examined the top pros together, critiqued dancing, went out social dancing, and schemed and plotted about how to be the best dancers we possibly could give our circumstances. We took lessons and learned about how our prep step was amazing and "so convincing," worked out in a stinky gym 5+ days a week, practiced for hours and days on end, and burnt up the floor a bit at some of the local social dances. Somehow, in the process, we ended up being instrumental in opening a new ballroom studio, of which Jeff is now part-owner, and enjoyed the process of introducing new dancers to that pastime we had come to love so much.

Somewhere along the line though, and I think more markedly in the past few months, our enthusiasm and orientation with our dancing started to diverge a bit. Largely and perhaps solely due to some personal circumstances, Jeff had not been able to put as much into our competitive training lately, to the point that we have not actually taken a lesson as a couple in over a year now. Recently too, we had taken a break from practice, since Jeff just needed some away time for a while and thought that it would be good for me too. All of this time, since December really, I have been waiting patiently for things to settle down again after the studio opened, for us to get back to where we were with our practice and training schedule. It was worth it to me, because I believed in our potential as a partnership and what we had accomplished so far. Yet recently, I began to sense that this was not going to happen anytime soon, if at all. Jeff is in far less of a "rush" than I am to make progress with our dancing, yet for my part I hear a carpe diem loud and clear. We had some talks about it, and it become more and more clear to me that we just don't have the same motivation anymore, at least right now. We want different things out of the dancing. While that was fine for a while, when we were both in a position where we could work hard and forge ahead, now that circumstances have changed, it's going to take a common goal and motivation to move us forward. That is what I felt we were missing.

So I was faced with a choice. Continue to practice sporadically and without direction with Jeff, in the hopes that at some point he will be able to take it to another level and pursue it more seriously as we had before, or to start taking lessons and practicing with another partner to prepare seriously for competition. You'd think it would be a simple choice, but it actually tore me apart. As I guess has become evident on this blog, I have something of an emotional attachment to dancing, and to the partnership that Jeff and I created surrounding it. Leaving all of that, my hopes and dreams for the future, most of what I associated with my joy in dancing, this, I felt, would hurt too much. Yet at the same time I had to remind myself that my decisions about my dancing should be made with regard to what will help my dancing the most, rather than what will make me feel comfortable right now. How could I live with myself later knowing that I had the chance to really go for it and never did? Naturally, I presented the choice that lay before me to Jeff, in the hopes that he was ready to take it to another level and continue on more seriously, because I so badly wanted to continue dancing with him and pursuing those goals we had shared. But unfortunately, it was not to be. Thus, I decided that my dancing should come first, and that I must not pass this opportunity by. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Perhaps it shouldn't have been, but it felt like I was taking an ax to something that meant a great deal to me and into which I had poured so much of myself.

So, all of this is to say that, since Jeff and I are no longer training together as dance partners, at least for the time being, the purpose of this blog has been fulfilled. Perhaps our paths will re-converge, in fact, that would be my hope, but I cannot know what the future will bring, and must only forge on ahead, working hard and taking every opportunity I can to become a better dancer. Maybe I will start a new blog in which to document my own musings as I go forward, but this blog was specific to Jeff and I, and so I want it to follow our story to the end.

Finally, I want to thank Jeff for the countless hours he dedicated to our partnership, for sharing his enthusiasm for dancing, for teaching me how to lift weights, for being a good driver, and for being such a good friend and not fighting all the time like everyone else does. I learned how to follow because of him, and for that I cannot ever thank him enough. He is an extraordinarily talented guy, and I am fully aware of just how lucky I was to call him my partner for the past year and half. Nobody dances Viennese Waltz quite like him. :)

And now for some photos from showcase:

Tango Promenade. Decently straight, and much less polite than it used to be! 
And let me just say that I am quite happy with how my red dress turned out.

This was Viennese Waltz. 
I think I was laughing because he had just finished inserting "patty cakes." 
That's Jeff for you.

The "Fascinating Dance Partners"


Friday, August 24, 2012

"All that we have to decide.... what to do with the time that is given to us."
                          ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, August 20, 2012


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

Saturday was Aria Ballroom's first student showcase, and also was Jeff and I's first performance as dance partners. Amazing, after a year and half, but it really was the first time. Indulge me for a second while I add that it was also the debut of my new red dress that has been hanging so patiently on a satin padded hanger. Of course, since I wanted to save something for competition, I wore long blue gloves instead of floats and didn't wear the rhinestone jewelry that goes with the dress. Still, it was quite effective, and I believe the skirt is a win; it covers my bad footwork and shows off the movement wonderfully.

As for the dances, I kicked off the show with a waltz and foxtrot with one of the students from Aria's youth program, a tall young gentleman with a true dancer's build and good standard frame. And I mean tall as in over six feet tall, so just about the textbook height for me at just over 5'8". One time he made the "mistake" of complimenting the fact that I was "long and lean" and therefore a good standard dancer, and after being reprimanded by an older and wiser gentleman for his choice of compliment, we now tease each other a bit about being long and lean and how that's all that really matters, because of course it isn't. But he's going to go far in the dance world if he keeps up with it, I think, since he is really an excellent dancer and very driven and dedicated for one so young. We kind of were afraid our dances would crash and burn since the balance between us was a little unsteady since we were both a bit unused to a new height match up, but it actually went about the same in the show as in practice the week before, so that's good, and I reveled in my throwaway oversway and hover with develope, oh, and extended reverse wave, even though I know they weren't as good as they could have been.

And then I danced a tango with the Jeff-partner, which went surprisingly well considering that we hadn't danced it in probably a month. We danced this particular dance because they needed more couples to fill in the heat, so we obliged even though it's probably our worst dance of the five. The same thing happened with Viennese, only they ended up playing a slow American style song, and so halfway through Jeff was inspired to drop frame and go unapologetically into full out "patty cakes." That was fun though, and I am pleased to report that I followed whatever odd shenanigins he threw at me after that.

Then we danced a nightclub 2-step, which also went well, but I can't think of time when our nightclub 2-step hasn't worked out. It just flows quite naturally, I think. I also wore a sparkly dress for that and got glitter all over Jeff's vest. I know because I heard about it later.

Overall, I'd say our dancing was a success, especially considering we really didn't practice for it at all. Jeff looked great too in his long black vest and dance shirt and pants, and a dark red tie that matched my dress. The only hitch was that Jeff kept trying to lead me out onto the floor arm in arm on the wrong side. I kept trying to correct him before we went out by placing my left hand in his right but he just didn't get what I meant until I explained later when we weren't on the spot. I also almost didn't let him lead me off the floor  once because it looked like he was leaving without me so I just walked over to the side myself. I guess we just need to review a few details about how to present the whole thing.

Maybe I'll post a photo here if one materializes. In the mean time, I'm so happy to be able to write about our first performance, and I do hope there will be more to come, competitive or not.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Road Goes Ever On

Part: Follow
Dances: TBD
Hovers: 0

It's been about 3 weeks since I last posted, so I figured that this blog at least deserves some small word by way of an update. Certain things, I believe, are beyond the scope of this blog, perhaps a bit too personal in nature to bring too much to the fore, but suffice it to say that our partnership here has experienced one of the most difficult phases so far. Changing goals and priorities not shared by both parties understandably produce strain, and those new priorities and lack of common motivation have definitely impeded our heretofore practice and training routine.

While I don't think it fair of me to make a lot of public judgments about where my partner is with all of this, except as it relates directly to me, I think I ought to add that I have been continuing to practice on my own almost daily (somewhat half-heartedly, I admit). I also have taken a few lessons solo, which is a good thing for me to do anyways since I have a lot of problem areas to work on in my dancing that Jeff really shouldn't have to bother with. In any case, I am really ready to get back to serious practice, and while our busy schedules and perhaps more balanced lives will not allow for the much more generous commitment to practice and training that we had in the beginning, I believe that if we wish to continue dancing together and pursuing a common goal, we must do something consistently. Since I communicated my feelings about this to Jeff, he agreed that we ought to resume our practice sessions soon in some form, so tentatively we are planning to practice at least weekly starting the week after the Aria Ballroom student showcase. Jeff is busy preparing his own students for the showcase, or recital, as it were, and meanwhile I'm practicing our gold waltz routine with another student who is in the youth program at Aria but also is old enough now to compete in the adult category. This particular student is a better dancer than I, and a perfect height match for me at 6'1" tall, so we're having fun putting this together, throwing in a couple of open level figures just for fun. Oversways and developes just make me happy, and Jeff hasn't wanted to touch them with a ten foot pole yet, so I'm having fun playing around and probably looking ridiculous. My bad balance is definitely becoming more apparent, as I don't have Jeff's solidity to counter-balance my craziness here. It's good practice for me though.

There was talk of Jeff and I performing a social style dance for the showcase, lead and follow style, but I haven't been able to nail that one down. Nightclub 2-step or bolero would probably be the dance, if it ends up happening. I guess you'll just have to come to the showcase this Saturday to find out!

Sunday, July 22, 2012


In case anyone actually still reads this blog, first, I am sorry for the cease fire on posts! The last post, cryptic and short as it was, really gets to the heart of the matter, but the down shot is that Jeff and I are taking a bit of a break from partnered practice. About a month ago I needed a week or two or so off to regroup, get sleep, and get myself back into a normal state of mental well-being, but after those two weeks Jeff himself felt like he needed a bit more time to sort some things out in his own personal life. So while I am, of course, dying to get back to practice, I have to make sure he has some space to work through everything. In the mean time, to keep myself from getting depressed and going crazy, I've taken a couple of lessons with Simeon (very helpful), practiced a bit on my own, and gone out social dancing. I also recently was offered and accepted a new job, and so will be starting a new position in downtown Seattle in the middle of next month, which I am very excited about. Part of my stress in the past month was related to the interview, application process, and general excitement surrounding it, so now that I have the position and I have a better sense of what my career is going to look like going forward, I am feeling much better about it all.

When we will resume is really up in the air at this point. While there is no doubt I miss it a great deal, I am trying very hard not to let anything get in the way of my enthusiasm and love for the dancing. It's actually been very tough for me lately, so I just keep stepping back, looking at the big picture, and refocusing on what it is that brings me joy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

In the words of Oscar Wilde...

"It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


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

After our bit of a breakdown last week, and then an actual break while I was out of town for a family wedding over the weekend, we got back to practice again last night. Based on everything that came out last week, I realized that while motivation in certain regards is wearing thin, we have to have a plan for what we're doing or we'll get nowhere and make no progress. I think, as with anything, you can reach a point where without pushing extra hard and getting more training, you aren't going to progress much, if at all. However, as with most things, I think that maintaining a certain level of performance requires regular practice and attention. I've certainly found that to be true with music, and as evidence, I can play piano no where near the level I used to when I was practicing daily, or even weekly. I think dance is no different, and I see Jeff and I at least trying to maintain our current skills, and, using our natural analytical abilities and the knowledge we do have, trying to make some progress, no matter how little. And to that purpose, I'm planning to be more assiduous about planning and thinking ahead about each practice, pinpointing areas we need to hammer out and to help us achieve some focus.

Monday, I suggested we work on foxtrot, in particular our CBM and especially on the reverse turns, where it is crucial to making the rotation work without knocking the partnership off balance. We had some really nice turns, some with turn amounts in a range of degrees, and it was nice to feel the entrance and exits being relatively consistent in terms of our frame and connection. That was good. Jeff also commented that our feather step is "not too bad." I think he's probably right; Kora did say during a lesson once that was one of the best parts of our foxtrot, which is quite a compliment given that it's the most critical and perhaps most difficult figure to execute properly in the dance. Jeff did mention, however, that he feels like he's being dragged along. I find that odd, because whenever he stops, I'm not ahead of him and stop in the same place, and I don't think I'm really back weighted. In fact, I feel very forward in foxtrot, almost to a fault, but I do swing my legs out a lot from the hip and push from the standing leg pretty strongly. I'll have to think about it some more to see what could be causing it. At the same time, I have to wonder if that's such a bad thing, that when he puts the foot on the gas I just go. Probably most of the other ladies he dances with don't...he pushes them around, which in some ways is a less scary and dangerous feeling for a lead, maybe more comfortable, even. But then it's not like I always know what steps he is going to dance either and he tests that often, so I don't think I'm back leading in that way. Hmm...

We ended with nightclub 2-step and the Beegie Adair Moon River waltz. I love those two dances very much. In fact, I love dancing in general so much, that, as I was telling Jeff recently, I truly look forward to it every day, no matter if we're just doing metronome quickstep practice or something kill-joy like that. That is why quitting practice for a while did not sound like a "logical solution" to my problems last week. Maybe I wouldn't enjoy it so much if I was doing it for a living, but right now I kind of envy those who do. Jeff is on the other side of the coin now though as a teacher and studio owner, so to some degree I realize that is hard for him to feel same way about it. Losing most of our relatively short practice time can be a much bigger let down for me because it's my one chance to do this thing I love all day, while for Jeff it's like, the tenth time he gets to do it in a day. I get that. So we just have to figure out how to work with each other on this; Jeff is mostly leaving it to me to figure out what I want us to get out of practice and have me plan that out, since at this point without the direction of lessons, he's hard put to it to muster up the motivation to get excited about working on the same old problems day in and day out. And that's where I come in; I get to be the slave driver. Yay. But I guess somebody has to do it. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Part: Follow
Dances: None
Hovers: 0

In the interests of keeping an accurate record of this whole experience, I ought to make a note of last night's non-practice since it has a lot to do with the partnership and dancing in general. Essentially, I just had a meltdown, the first one in the year in a half that we've been dancing.

I have a few exciting and somewhat stressful things coming up in extra-dance life right now, and that, combined with lack of sleep and a bit of general frustration with the aimlessness and lack of drive in our dance training right now was just a lethal combination. Jeff kept asking me why I looked sad/angry/annoyed, and eventually it all came out, tears and all. (I so did not want it to go there, but couldn't seem to hold it in anymore.) Sometimes when I've dedicated so much and sacrificed a lot for something I really care about, I am occasionally plagued by doubts that it has been worth everything I've put into it. Ultimately and deep down, I know it has in this case, but yesterday at the moment I felt like I'd hit a brick wall emotionally. Granted, Jeff's motivation with regard to our own training has been flagging a bit lately too, and my sense that he doesn't care so much about it anymore just augmented my own frustrations.

We had a long talk about it all though and agreed that we'll be taking the rest of this week off; I'll be busy this weekend anyway and Jeff is teaching all night tonight, so it's a good time to do that. I guess we'll see where we are next week and go from there. I still love practice just to practice because I love dancing so much, but I may begin to supplement that with some lessons on my own, just to give me some new ideas for what to work on. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What do you do without "Kora-ography"?

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Viennese Waltz (sort of)
Hovers: 3

Yesterday practice was a bit frustrating. Luckily I suggested that we warm up with something, so we ended up dancing through our waltz a bit and working on smoothing out the balance in a couple spots. Jeff also kept going into a wing for no apparent reason, basically anywhere he could, and I had to laugh at him because I know how much he hates that figure. He didn't mean to dance it either and kept getting really mad at himself whenever he did it because he was basically making the routine extra hard on himself.

As I was dancing, I was thinking a bit about how I use my rib cage, both to stay lifted and to maintain the different connection points. I envisioned each half of my rib cage needing to match up with certain fixed points so that no matter which way Jeff rotated or twisted my core would twist with it and complete the movement. I think what brought this to mind was a conversation with Kora and another friend during the dance party on Saturday, where Kora was sharing with us some of what she is working on in her recent lessons with the English coaches and her own practice. She was talking a lot about dancing with her sides, and commenting on how the top ladies are so extremely lifted in their ribs, but without sticking them out. Jeff kept commenting last night that I felt taller, and I don't know if it was my focus on staying lifted or the fact that I was wearing my normal practice shoes versus the slightly shorter heeled teaching/practice shoes that I bought recently to wear for social dancing, but my final verdict was that he had shrunk.

Then we decided to tackle our show piece choreography, but really came up empty. We just don't know enough figures to really put something like this together. I know next to nothing about American Smooth Viennese Waltz, and Jeff knows a bit more, but not enough to really choreograph a full show. So the question now becomes, do we put a lot of time and lessons (and therefore money) into getting choreography done for us (enter Kora!), or just not do it and put that time, effort, and resources into working on our dances and preparing for competition? Or do we just pick a different song and dance that we are more familiar with? I guess those are the questions we will be answering tonight. Jeff thinks that we won't have any better luck with the dances we really know, since we mostly just know our routines. I disagreed, however, because I am quite familiar with a lot of figures in standard, as is he, and I think we could come up with much more variety there. Goodness, he does a good enough job of that on the social floor! And yes, although we don't know much in the way of open choreography and all it's flashy figures, we aren't open level dancers, and shouldn't be expected to pull that out of a hat. So I guess we'll see what comes of this. Frankly, I'm getting a little discouraged, as I was so looking forward to it. We've been practicing the same things for so long, I was really excited to do something new with our dancing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Waltz, naturally.

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Viennese Waltz
Hovers: 3

Jeff and I met up for practice three times this week, but in the end we only danced about 10 minutes on Tuesday and a little more than that Wednesday because we spent a lot of the time brainstorming about our showcase dance, counting out beats, listening to the song over and over, and tossing around ideas about how we could choreograph it. We're planning to do a show primary composed of Smooth Viennese Waltz, so we'll be taking our best dance and developing it a bit by adding some of those fun and flamboyant figures from American style, which we're much less familiar with, but which make for a much more impressive show. The problem is, because we're not as experienced in this style, it's going to be a bit of a challenge to pull it all together in time and have it look polished. Still, we're going to give it a valiant effort.

One thing that became obvious pretty quickly is that Jeff and I translate music into imagery quite differently. Raised on hefty diet of fairy tales, literature, fine art, and music, songs like this always conjure up romantic imagery and sometimes exaggerated flourishes in my mind that to Jeff seem overly sentimental and melodramatic. I wanted one of the partners to stand alone in the room with the lights dim as the other approached slower from another entrance as the music began. He wanted us both to start point blank in the middle of the floor. I wanted the cello and the piano of the duet each to represent the man and woman, so that as one instrument came in, so would the partner. Jeff insisted that nobody would get that. I tried to explain that sometimes the imagery you have as an artist, especially as a musician or dancer, is not always the same as what the audience will get, but at least it gives you as the performer a direction as to how to express an emotion. It helps me tremendously though, and the same was true for me with playing music.

For example, some images I would commonly associate with the ballroom dances would include the kind of melancholy and nostalgic couple of lovers in waltz, happy to be together, but at the same time with a lingering sadness from the realization that they cannot be together forever. In tango, the romance plays out in my head as the girl who hates or wants to hate him, but despite herself finds herself irrisitibley drawn to him. Every once in a while her deeper emotions escape her disinterested front with sudden bursts of passion, while the man tries to wrest her into his arms and affections by a displays of dominance and a bit of aggression and then ignoring her by turns. Foxtrot is an elegant, sophisticated, and wealthy couple at a jazz club of some kind, showing off, looking suave and generally just enjoying themselves and the relaxing atmosphere. The lady is probably wearing feathers and smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder. The gentleman definitely smokes cigars and probably drinks port. Viennese is the young debutante on her sixteenth birthday, dancing with the young man she's crushing on at her first big ball. Quickstep is the county fair: a roller coaster, ferris wheel, cotton candy, screams of excitement, and as Jeff likes to call it, "a dog and pony show." Of course, I don't always think about these things and the story changes depending on the song and sometimes my mood, but that's the general idea.

Anyways, back to our choreography. We worked out a sort of compromise for the intro, but I think we'll be fine tuning it quite a bit more, and yes, I've got some new ideas that have a feeling will be outside of Jeff's comfort zone in the drama department. But I do love line figures so much! This is going to be a good exercise for us to work through and be able to put our different ideas together to make a cohesive finished product with which we are both happy.

Wednesday we worked on waltz to give ourselves a break from thinking about the show. I really wanted to work on the outside spin turn, because although Jeff thinks there's nothing wrong, I distinctly felt like we were fighting each other coming out of the turn, and that I couldn't for the life of me get my feet together on that second step as it had been hammered in to me that I must do. Since Simeon was there, we took the cop out method and just asked him to look at us and tell us what was wrong. Sure enough, something about the direction of the feet was screwy given the chasse we had going into the figure, and fixing that on Jeff's end made all the difference in the world for me. The turn was smooth and light, and I could maintain a consistent frame and connection throughout. It's funny how much of a difference the preceding figure can make, because when we tried it on it's own, the figure was rarely a problem, but preceded by the chasse, it felt dreadful. Though we didn't dance a lot, I'd say we had a successful practice since we figured out an issue that's been bothering me in our waltz for a long time. We ended practice with the Beegie Adair "Moon River" waltz. Our control is really not bad! We're so much more together when we dance than a year ago, so much so, that Jeff can usually stop on a dime and I stay right there, and we can usually maintain our balance. It's proved a bit lifesaving on the social floor, and I can imagine will be invaluable once we get out there on the competitive floor as well.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rain, rain, go away.

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: Many!

I am going to do kind of a catch up post since our practices have been rather scattered lately, and I haven't been keeping up with recording each one individually. In general, the past few weeks we've practiced formally about twice a week, mostly because our coaches were out of town competing in Blackpool and Jeff was teaching more help cover while they were gone. In honor of Blackpool (the world's most prestigious dance competition), I'm going to post a photo from this year's competition to illustrate each dance. I do love how most of the time you can tell which dance they are performing just from a snapshot. The character is so clear, even if some of the figures are the same.

Victor & Anastasia

We've worked a bit on waltz, but most of our practice has been on our "trouble-dances" tango and quickstep, which I think is a good thing. I am going to review each dance anyways since I am missing a lot of practices here. Our focus on waltz has mostly been control; making sure we can stop together when needed, stay on our toes for long enough, and come down without clunking. An over all observation I would make though is that I think we need to work more on collecting. We get very good movement and power down the floor, but we kind of rush through those collection points where you poise and ground everything and level off before going into the next figure. I think we kind of run everything together, so it means our balance is less predictable. I also at times find myself slipping into toe leads at the beginning of some figures because we haven't finished descending from the previous one, which is a huge no no. Something still feels very wrong to me about the outside spin too. Jeff likes it and thinks we're dancing it fine, but I feel like I pull way over to his right side to do it and it feels like we lose each other too much. My guess is that I need to isolate my lower body a lot more so that my upper body stays more connected while my hips do their thing. I saw in a video of the former champions dancing a slow motion waltz that Edita goes way outside Mirko on an outside spin of some kind, and because of the way they do the shaping, it works just fine and they get a lot of power out of that. I want to work on this more next time.

Arunas & Katusha

Overall, our tango is too polite. We've been thinking about making it sharper and working on that, and I think we're doing better. My downfall here is speed. My head isn't fast enough, my feet aren't fast enough, and I have a tendency to slide and swivel my feet uncertainly which is just bad in tango. Jeff's right arm keeps going back too, so we end up with me riding on his hip: the infamous barnacle. Also, something continues to bother me about the frame, though I think it's better than it was because Jeff has been conscious of putting his hand a bit lower on my back so I could get my left arm properly wrapped around and positioned. It's definitely a different feeling from the other dances. Lately I think we've improved most in keeping it grounded and sharper in the feet. The frame is still wonky, but at least we are stepping out confidently, even if without perfect form up top. Oh, and a final self-critique. We both need to get those hips underneath the body. We both like to leave them behind because it seems easier, but it throws the whole balance off. And then we had that awkward moment where Jeff thought he'd demonstrate what keeping the hips forward meant to him. Only it wasn't awkward because that kind of thing happens all the time, because he's Jeff.

Then we have Viennese Waltz. We don't really practice it, we just dance it at parties, and usually add in a few abysmal fleckrels. I have to say though, it feels pretty light and smooth, and I never feel like I'm fighting or straining when dancing it with Jeff. We fly around the floor and all I think about is swinging my  frame forward and pushing from the standing leg, holding back and letting him go through, then swinging again, and so on. The only thing that really gives me trouble is my neck sometimes if I haven't stretched sufficiently or if I've had some bad dances earlier on. Once it seizes up I'm done for. I usually try to think about supporting my neck with my right hip, which seems perhaps a bit far fetched, but works to help me  use other muscles than my neck muscles to keep it straight and in line with everything else.

Simeon Stoynov and Kora Stoynova

Foxtrot is still my favorite dance. I commented to Jeff at one of the recent dance party foxtrot mixers that it really threw me when we danced one lap around the floor as part of the mixer, because with every other lead we danced by stepping on the beat of the music (or no where near it), but with him we moved on the beat and stepped on the off beat or half beat, as we'd practiced so many times. It's just an odd feeling switch to make, but something about the way that works with the music is just really neat to feel. Instead of marching along in time, you're gliding in ripples down the floor, riding the waves of the rhythm that carries you along. For practice though, we've mostly been working on CBM (Contra-Body-Movement). Maybe because my torso is long and I've got a good amount of space between where my ribs end and my hips begin, for some reason I don't have too much trouble twisting my upper body, though isolating the ribs from the shoulder line is still a challenge. The CBM is a bit harder for Jeff as he is more broad in the chested and shoulders and tends to stay in a pretty straight line. Of course, the biggest challenge is dancing it together, because we've got to have the same amount, at the same time, in the right position with each other. It's one of those techniques though that makes impossible steps possible and hitherto almost painfully difficult steps seem like a breeze. It's a game changer for sure. Apparently Jeff has been working on it a lot with his students, since it is one of those simple corrections that makes such a difference in the feel of the dancing.

Edgars Gasjuns & Lesya Sinitsa

Quickstep is the problem child of this project. I think we're more comfortable with the routine at this point, but the speed is still an issue. Jeff still thinks we're lagging. I actually don't worry much about how fast or slow we are these days because I'm always really focused on what he's doing and whether I'm matching it well or not, so sometimes I don't notice if he's off or not. Our big bad short side at the end with all the quick open reverses and the double reverse is better though, but I will admit to getting a bit carried away on the hesitation that follows it. Especially when we're social dancing and really going for it to get out of the way for other couples on the floor, sometimes I have so much torque going into it that I do a pretty crazy backbend. I wonder how silly it looks. It's super fun though, and Jeff probably can't stand it. Oh, and I still hate rumba crosses.

On the side, we still dance nightclub 2-step at social dances as well as bolero. Apparently people really like our bolero even though we don't really know it. One woman at the dance told me last Saturday that she almost cried it was so beautiful; which is quite a compliment, if surprising. We had danced to the Eva Cassidy cover of "Fields of Gold." I really love that song, and that version of it specifically. It's so nostalgic and fits the mood of bolero so well. I think bolero is sadder than rumba; more nostalgic I guess, wishful, and passionate in kind of an intimate way. I have a tendency to fall on the slow steps because they are so long and require really good balance, which I don't have much of, plus, I really like shaping the figures and letting my head dip or my shoulders and upper body shape with the rotations of the steps. But that's okay; I'll keep working on it. I guess the general effect is good, because people always seem to really like it when we dance it.

So now we are planning out a couple of show dances for Aria Ballroom's upcoming showcase in August.  I may not publicize which dances we are doing because we may want that to be a surprise; I'll see what the Jeff-partner thinks. But for now, our plan is for something that will be a change of pace from what we've done so far, so it should be quite interesting. Putting together the choreography should be a good challenge for us.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tango Group Class into Waltz

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

Wednesday night we were practicing simultaneously with a tango silver level class, and since Jeff needed to review the routine, we interspersed our practice with bits of the tango routine from the class. We caught on pretty fast, but I kept messing up the four step change. It's a simple step but I didn't feel like it was obvious from the lead. Kora gave me the disapproving finger for that one. For practice though, we worked on waltz. Jeff's says we're ready with waltz, and I think it is our best dance. We worked primarily on getting in and out of wing position. It's awful. I can't feel where I'm supposed to be going out of there, and Jeff is trying is hardest to make it unmistakably obvious about whether we're going into a double-reverse or a fallaway-reverse-slip-pivot (also known in Jeffish as "fallaway-foot-finish"). He was doing a pretty good job of leading it, but it's just really hard for me to figure out what's going on when I'm over there on his left side. Our hovers are still vastly improved though. Jeff is so proud of them.

There was one funny exchange where something Jeff led felt really different, and I thought that maybe it was a double-reverse even though it didn't really feel like one at all, so I did one kind of at the last minute, and then exclaimed, "What was that?!!!" Pause. "It was like a double-reverse...but...not."
Jeff was incredulous: "But it WAS a double-reverse! Busted!" He thought it was hilarious that I first asked what it was, and then answered my own question, after having danced the right step, albeit a bit off time and late. His lead was clearly in the right. Simeon and his student nearby had to join in the laugh on that one.

We ended practice with nightclub 2-step...what else? Jeff usually humors me on that one; he's learned by now how much I dislike ending practice on a sour note, and it's usually after dancing one figure particularly badly that Jeff announces the end of practice. As a compromise, we usually end with something like nightclub 2-step to reset ourselves.

Harmonica Foxtrot

Part: Follow
Dances: Foxtrot
Hovers: 0

Tuesday we worked on foxtrot. Our foxtrot is feeling pretty good; we're more controlled than we used to be (due to slow practice, no doubt), but I think our CBM (counter-body-rotation) still needs work. We happened to be practicing during a foxtrot class, so they were playing this fun kind of cute foxtrot music that features a harmonica. Jeff wants to play the harmonica, and even took a break from practice at one point to look up where he could find harmonica lessons locally! Jeff did say that I wasn't following well that evening, which was probably true. I was really stiff from my workouts and hadn't stretched as much as I normally like, so I didn't feel as loose and pliable as usual, probably. 

Practice was a bit shorter, Jeff was tired and so was I, so we left it at foxtrot for the night. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quickstep: The Other Problem Child

Part: Follow
Dance: Quickstep
Hovers: 0

Since I last posted, we've had a couple of practices focused on quickstep, with the usual weekend parties in between. Quickstep, along with our tango, is a problem child. Jeff and I find that the smooth slower dances come more naturally to us. We have relatively good control at slow speeds and big shape that lends itself well to wide sweeping and slow figures, but we lack speed and the perfect alignment and balance that make a good tango and quickstep possible.

For quickstep though, unlike tango, it's not so much the general technique that is our problem; it's more the speed. It's tough to execute that much shape and that many steps with the correct footwork and body position in that short amount of time, and for Jeff, it requires some really quick thinking as he determines what needs to happen in a split second. For my part, I have to be able to respond immediately without making something up out of thin air...either feeling the lead late or just plain back-leading can be disastrous.

Mainly, we just ran through the tougher spots plenty of times to get really comfortable with the transitions and iron out the shaky parts. Sometimes, the problem with the speed is more a matter of confidence. It's those moments when you know you're going into a tough figure and you have that doubt about whether you'll make it or not that can make or break a figure, so we need to at least get that confidence that we can at least get the execution under control. I think with quickstep it's getting better though.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tippy Tango

Part: Follow
Dance: Tango
Hovers: 0

So tonight it was tango. As much as I didn't want to, yes, we really need to work on it. Jeff didn't complain this time; I think he knew it was true too. Now in tango, I feel that our big downfall is our position and frame. The tango frame is different, and I don't think we've mastered how that fits together. Our standard frame for the rest of the dances tends to be passable, and it doesn't look terrible from what we can tell, but the tango just doesn't work too well. For me, my left elbow always seems too high, for Jeff, it just breaks in promenade. Also, I think he's still of the mindset that his elbows both need to be parallel, which is normally the case, but in tango, my elbow should complete the line as it wraps around his, meaning that his elbow should be slightly lower. Then there's our issue with our hips kind of getting away from us as we dance, instead of keeping them under the body and forward towards the partner. We both have a problem with this, I think. 

For practice, we basically worked on our trouble spot area over and over, slowly. Those figures are awful to dance slow because so much of how they are accomplished is through momentum. At one point we ended up in fallaway and couldn't get out, we were just so locked into position and grounded that we couldn't figure out how to get into the pivot without rising or doing something illegal. But slow practice is still good; it's especially helpful for seeing where the balance is off. And for us, it's off in a number of places, a lot of them my fault. Today I was trying to get further out left in Jeff's arm because his lowering of the arm gave me more space and allowed me to kind of wrap myself around and Jeff. Normally I'm pretty upright in tango, and comparatively speaking (with the other dances), I don't think that's a huge problem, but I do think I need more stretch to the left. The trick is to do it without disturbing the hip alignment. No barnacle!

We ended with a run through of our tango routine to Jeff's "top secret" tango. It's a piece of music that you won't find anywhere else, at least anywhere dance related, and he's kept it off the party playlist as kind of a reserve weapon. Our buddy Peter (also a teacher at Aria Ballroom) was the only one left, so Jeff wanted him to hear it. That ended our practice for the night. More tomorrow!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nailing the Hover

Part: Follow
Dance: Waltz
Hovers: 25?

Yesterday evening, I picked waltz as our focus. I thought maybe we could work on our movement in relation to the downbeat and the music versus when the steps occur, as we had been doing in foxtrot, but Jeff had a better idea. He wanted to work on the hover, but of course didn't say as much, just started dancing it over and over. Like I was going to complain! Really though, I think he had some new ideas about how to make this figure virtually foolproof as far as balance is concerned, and he wanted to test it out.

After about five flawless hovers, Jeff was quite pleased with himself and told me he "nailed it." He wouldn't tell me what he was doing at first, but I had to agree that it felt worlds better. I could extend, stay balanced, and had space, all without that precarious teetering feeling and fear that if I moved the whole thing would crumple. Eventually the truth came out. This time, Jeff was making an effort to rotate me to my left as I went into the hover; this allowed my extension left to balance out the whole thing and kept his body out of my space as we sort of rotate around each other, providing the counter-balance that makes the figure work. We were quite happy. Of course, since it felt so good, we were concerned that we must be doing something wrong, so we had Simeon take a quite look at option A and B, a vision test, and Jeff described it. Option B, the new version, received Simeon's approval, and he said that Jeff should have been rotating that way the entire time. Yay! The only thing wanting for me was a right shape coming out of the outside change following the hover, because then I get to kind of check and turn my head, and it looks so pretty. Jeff didn't  think that was required, and then I actually said it. I can't remember having said this for maybe 8 months, but Jeff called me on it immediately. "But...Simeon doesn't do it like that!" But then my partner was quite proud when he realized that he hadn't elicited that response in a long time. Though from my point of view, I don't recall saying that often at all...I could probably count the instances on one hand. Still, it did come out, and then Simeon confirmed that I was correct, so I guess I called that one right in the end.

Our practice essentially consisted of dancing lots of hovers and then figuring out that we could now dance good hovers, or not "near death" hovers. I had nothing to complain about there. As Jeff was explaining to Kora, we went from maybe a 60/40 success ratio to 98 out of 100. That's a big leap, especially considering how in the beginning (in Jeff's estimation), we were at about a 25/75.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Return of Tick-Tock Timing

Part: Follow
Dance: Foxtrot
Hovers: 0

Practice tonight was pretty focused, once we got down to it. I chose foxtrot to work on, and Jeff said he had a feeling I would pick that. Well, we can't seem to work on quickstep and tango two days in a row without wanting to throw in the towel, so I thought foxtrot would be good since it always needs work and we usually end up with a good practice from it because we know some good practice techniques for this dance.

It just so happened that the foxtrot level 1 class was going on right next to us, so we ended up having music for a good part of practice. Oh, and we musn't forget the white construction worker hat that we found on a chair that Jeff had to try on for dancing Viennese, just because that seemed most appropriate. (!!!) Of course, that gave him the idea that I should wear a helmet when we dance Viennese because he's grazed me so close to the wall, mirror, or pillars so many times, as a safety mechanism. I declined, on the arguement that I trust him. See how I got out of that one?

For practice, we worked on our feather three step combination very very slowly. I'm not sure what Jeff was thinking about other than not falling, but besides that, I was thinking a lot about foot pressure and not transferring weight fully all at once too quickly, allowing my body to pass over my feet smoothly and really tracking the floor with a lot of foot pressure. This in turn gave me much better balance and also meant that I could stop more easily whenever Jeff did, and he did too, in a lot of strange scrunched up positions, so I was quite happy with how well I was able to keep the connection even at that crawling speed.

When the class was over, we turned on our old friend the metronome. This took some figuring and getting used to as we tried to figure out how the timing worked with the body movement and steps. If you recall, our breakthrough was realizing that the steps occur later in the beat and the movement on the down beat. Interestingly enough, I was just watching a clip of Marcus Hilton (many time world champion) lecturing on waltz and foxtrot, and he stressed this very thing "move in time with the not step in time with the music." He said that several times. It makes a lot of sense and looks much smoother when you do it, but it takes a lot of untraining when you're so used to marching along in time. The one hold up we ran into was (Jeff said it was just me...I thought it was both of us, but okay) moving on 1 and stepping on the "and" of 1, rather than on 2, but I realized that you really have to collect and gather energy on 1 by starting the CBM or whatever body rotation is coming up, then start to move the body across the feet and start tracking the floor on the "and" (NOT on 1), and then step on two, and repeat the process over again, though of course on the quicks you move the body on the 3 and 4 and step on the "ands" of 3 and 4. This will probably make sense to my choir friends and nobody else, but that's how I think about it. It feels awkward and tough when you dance it this broken down and slow, but after a while the motion starts to make sense you begin to feel how it will go at normal tempo. Gradually, I've noticed, I've begun to move more on the beat rather than rush to step on it, in both waltz and foxtrot more especially, and this gives it a much more refined and, well, silky feel. I think we should work on this a bit in waltz next.

Overall, a solid practice. We're getting smoother, making progress, and that's what counts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Epic Hand Slap

Part: Follow
Dances: Quickstep, Waltz, Nightclub 2-ste
Hovers: 1

I need to get back to posting something every night even if it's short. It's got to be a habit or it won't happen. Like practice. Anyhow, I'll start from tonight. Until now, we've been practicing about 3 nights per week plus social dancing on Saturdays. Jeff dances on Thursdays too and I'm usually there, but since that is the big student teacher dance night, we rarely dance together on Thursdays. This last Saturday Jeff apparently danced a ton and felt like he danced really well, which is great. I, on the other hand, probably danced the least I have so far...but gentlemen were quite scarce, so it's no surprise. The dances we did get in I think went pretty well.

Anyways, back to tonight. I told Jeff I thought we'd better tackle quickstep. Groan. I understood, but there's nothing for it but to beat it into submission. Jeff brought up this evening that whenever he sees me he sort of automatically starts yawning, he thinks because there is some kind of psychosomatic connection between him associating practice with being tired and associating me with practice. He's always saying flattering things like that. But the fact that I picked quickstep didn't help tonight.

We worked on a bit of our first long side, thinking about CBM and in particular our double reverse into the fishtail, because that double reverse always seems a little hairy and it always seems like we could easily not make it. For me, I found that a key was, obviously, keeping my left side stretched up, but also to use my head differently. This time, instead of whipping my head to the left and a bit down as I went into the double reverse, I instead kept it more stretched out and up and just rotated it on its axis. I thought about being a pole in the center of the turn and my head making the pole spin. That seemed to work a lot better, and I think my head movement was much more graceful and less abrupt.

Towards the end of practice, we nailed one of our movements, I think it was something balanced we were trying, and my partner gave me five, but somehow we both put a good amount of force into it and made quite a resounding crack. So then we thought it would be a good idea to see how hard we could slap hands...took a good wind up, and....BAM! My hand almost has all of it's feeling back now. The group class next to us looked around as if they had heard a gunshot. It really sounded like one! And it smarted pretty well too. We're weird.

We ended practice with a little waltz and some nightclub 2-step. I've been feeling a bit unmotivated lately, and Jeff keeps telling me I'm making sad faces. It's not because I'm bored with dance though. I think part of it as it relates to dance is that I need some new material to think about and work on. My dreams of competition also seem to be slipping farther and farther away... In a world dominated by youngsters in their late teens and early twenties, I hear the clock ticking more loudly in my ear every day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tango Seminar with Paul Holmes

Part: Follow
Dances: Tango
Hovers: 0

A little over a week ago Jeff and I took part in a seminar hosted at Aria Ballroom for visiting coach Paul Holmes. Mr. Holmes was himself a Blackpool finalist and champion dancer, so all of us students were eager to learn from the best some ideas for taking our tango to the next level. Before the seminar, Violetta led us through a basic tango routine to give us some steps to work on in the seminar and to avoid wasting Paul's time just learning steps. Luckily for Jeff and I, the routine was almost taken directly from our own tango routine, so we hoped that meant we'd get some specific pointers on how to improve this part of our routine, which, by the way, needs a lot of work.

The seminar itself ended up being more conceptual and was less focused on particular details of each step, but it sometimes those overall concepts are just what you need to shift the way you think about executing a certain figure. He talked a lot about what he called the "triangle," which is the shape one's legs form when evenly split weight. Rather than transferring all weight suddenly and completely from foot to foot, and therefore essentially falling into each step, a dancer should allow his body to pass across his feet with an even transfer of weight, just as we do when walking. Mr. Holme's demonstration of a tango walk was quite impressive to behold; it was lightening quick, yet incredibly smooth at the same time. That dichotomy between body flight and foot speed I believe is the real difference that makes this kind of quality of movement so difficult, yet look so good when executed. While the feet move quickly and confidently from step to step, the body must float across them, without pitching forward or back to try to keep up with the foot.

He also spoke a lot about leading the lady in front of the body, rather than letting her slip behind or to the side, or pitch over, likening her to a tray of drinks that the lead is carrying. The visual image must have been effective, because when Jeff picked me up to dance the figure in question, he kept me in a good position in front of him the entire time, and didn't let me slip to the outside as so often happens in our tango. Paul also demonstrated how the fallaway reverse slip pivot is actually danced in a straight line, and showed how the rotation should work to accomplish this. The change in the way it felt for us was dramatic...dramatically improved. Jeff had been attempting, per directions, to dance the figure in kind of a curved direction, and somehow the rotation was just not working like it should and always felt bumpy.

One point he brought up is that, as a dancer, you have only two people to whom who should listen and whom you should consider your best friends: you coach, and your partner. No one else can really give you valuable information about your dancing. Your partner will tell you things about what he or she is feeling, and while it may be easy to become defensive and think the problem is on the other side, it is important to realize that these comments are made for a reason, and whether or not the problem is identified by your partner, something is going on that you need to figure out. It's not about fault finding, it's about problem solving and figuring out what is causing the feeling. Listen, listen, listen. Compared to a lot of couples we've seen practicing and training together, I think Jeff and I do a pretty good job of this. It's frustrating sometimes when you don't know what the problem is but you think it's your partner, but oftentimes it's not what you think, so listening is really important.

After the seminar, we spent some time practicing our fallaway reverse slip pivots using the new concepts and direction. Lots of things to think about, and on into the next week we had some new food for thought going into practice.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Best Basics

I'm going to break the mold a bit and do a post on my favorite basic steps in each dance because I've wanted to list them out somewhere so that I can look back later and see if the list changes. Some of these (like the running finish in quickstep) used to be least favorite, so it's interesting to see how this changes as skill level improves. There are a few very simple figures that I just love, even though they are some of the most basic and fundamental. And sometimes, they are some of the hardest steps of all to execute properly, even if they're supposedly "newcomer" or "bronze" figures.

In case anyone is wondering, we've been having some really good practices lately, I think because we're keeping them shorter, frequent, and more focused, and a seminar with visiting coach Paul Holmes gave us some really good food for thought and ideas about what to work on. I'll post more about that soon. In the mean time...

So first we have Waltz. 

I'm going to link to basic demo videos here for each dance so you can see which steps I am talking about when I give the reference points. While I do really love a number of waltz figures, the following are some of the most basic that for some reason I especially like:

  • Natural spin turn, see 0:12-0:14. One of the most fundamental figures. You find it in quickstep too, but to me it is most characteristic of waltz. The amount of rotation, momentum, and shape you can get out of this figure is quite wonderful when you get the CBM (contra-body-movement) and balance right. 
  • The Hover, see 0:21-0:24. You knew I had to go there. Not the most basic step ever, but still, one of my all time favs. It's the place for a follow to show what she's got in terms of balance and extension.
  • Back Whisk, see 0:25-0:28. Also very basic, but when the whisk step is taken just right, under the body, in perfect time, there's something so smooth about this transition to promenade that makes me happy. 
  • Outside change. Not in the video, sadly, but so simple and so good. It gets you from closed to promenade position and has a nice shape.
And then there's Tango. Tango is not the best dance for me, but I still have some favorite basics.

  • Promenade link. 0:24-0:26. This is the characteristic tango step, and when done well, just says tango like nothing else. 
  • Natural twist turn. 1:16-1:18. I just love the way this feels when you get all wound up and then have enough torque to just snap out into the next position. I prefer it though when it ends in promenade position, which it doesn't in our routine, but does in the video.
  • Back corte. 0:35-0:36 (I think, that's what it is). Basic, but a good chance for the follow to extend, with a more comfortable position from which to really extend out using counter balance. I always get a good hip flexor stretch out of this figure!
Viennese Waltz. 

Not much to say here since there are basically four figures, except that I vastly prefer natural turns to reverse turns. (Natural turns are the ones that turn to the right). This dance is basic, and I like it very much over all. It's one of our best. Our fleckrels are quite dreadful though, but for now that's okay.

Foxtrot is quite possibly my favorite dance. 

Even at the open level, basic figures form the majority of the choreography because the challenge of this dance is more in the technique and flawless execution of them. 
  • Feather step! 0:10-0:11. The most basic and fundamental step in foxtrot, but so amazing. The smoothness, silkiness, body rotation and isolation, partner connection, it all feels so good. We've been told our feather step isn't half bad...which means there is hope for our foxtrot. 
  • Hover cross. 0:34-0:38. This one is sadly not in our routine, but I love it very much, I think because to me it represents a kind of "faux" hinge line or same foot lunge (one of my very favorite open line figures) because the line is the same, although you pass through it much quicker so there is less time for extension and shape.
  • Reverse Wave. 0:54-0:58 Feels so good when it goes well, kind of like rippling water. It's the reverse of a feather step three step combination, only with the man and lady switching parts.
  • Curved Feather. 1:16-1:18. So nice; it gives a nice place to settle and check and gather momentum to come out of the figure in one smooth motion. 
  • Hesitations. 0:24-0:26, and 1:29. Of any kind, I love these. It's a great chance to give the foxtrot that characteristic check and flow. Sigh...
And finally, Quickstep. 

Possibly my weakest of the standard dances, thought it's a toss up between this and tango. I do have some favorite basics though.
  • Running finish. 0:19-0:20. I used to hate this figure because I was terrible at following it and would crash into the guy's legs every time, without fail. Now that I've figured out how the body lead works and the transition from inside to outside partner, it's quite fun. It still does require a lead who knows what he's doing though, otherwise, crashes still happen. 
  • Natural spin turn. 0:21-0:23. Again, this is more characteristic of waltz to me, but it's lots of fun in quickstep too because of the speed, so it can really feel like you're flying around a corner if you get the rotation right. Wheee!
  • Quick open reverse. 0:51-0:52. Just a fun figure because of the momentum, and I like the way it shapes to the right when the lady is going outside, like a weave. I do not appreciate ending it in a reverse pivot as we do in our routine. My reverse pivots are sadly wanting. 
  • Hesitations. 1:10. Again. But hesitations in quickstep are like the oasis in the desert; it's the chance to settle everything back into place, look pretty, and then head off to the races again refreshed and restored in confidence. Besides, the momentum you get from the figures preceding is usually enough to really give me something to work with to get more extension that usual, and I like that. I remember one particular hesitation in a corner after Jeff took me through a whirlwind of open naturals down the social floor, and I ended up with huge sway as we banked into the check. It felt pretty amazing. 
And those are my current favorite basics. Perhaps I'll do one on my least favorites as well, though a big post complaining about zig-zags and reverse outside swivels may be a bit depressing to read. We'll see. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Still Practicing and Dancing...More to Come

Just a quick note in case anyone still reads our blog these days. Jeff and I are still practicing most evenings and then social dancing on the weekends, but due to otherwise very busy schedules, the practice plans and practices have not been as well documented as of late. Still, the practices have been going very well and the dancing at the parties too, and just last weekend we had the chance to participate in a seminar with a visiting coach from England who gave us some great ideas for how to practice some of our problem areas, specifically in tango. I'll be posting more as we get into the weekend and I have some time to get caught up. :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Surprise Practice

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

Saturday of last week we had kind of an unplanned practice. Between Tuesday and the weekend I had been busy every weekend with my church choir preparing and singing for the Easter weekend liturgies every evening, so we hadn't practiced in several days. I showed up for conditioning class on Saturday, but probably because it was a holiday weekend and such a gorgeous day, no one else had showed up, so they opted not to have the class. Since I had come all the way to studio, I felt I might as well get something out of it and decided to hang out and stretch since I had just worked out, and then put on my shoes and started practicing a bit on my own, working on heel turns, foxtrot movement, and extension. Since Jeff was there, he figured we might as well get some practice in, so he put his own shoes on and we ran through our dances. It ended up being a very good practice, probably because there was little distraction, we were fairly fresh since it was in the middle of the afternoon on a weekend, and we almost had the floor and the music to ourselves.

This practice, we ran through each dance and reviewed some of the problem areas a bit. Foxtrot was feeling good that day, and we were remembering how we had worked so hard on getting our movement versus our steps on the beat of the music, and how you actually step on the off beat. Jeff thinks we're doing it correctly now; I actually don't think about it so I didn't know for sure. When I'm dancing my best foxtrot, I'm usually totally focused on the lead and keeping myself with him, versus thinking about my own technique or not thinking at all. Lately, especially with foxtrot, I'm trying to think in terms of myself being a part or extension of that when this or that leg moves, mine goes too as if they were one unit, or if the body rotates or moves in a new directly, mine responds in kind. I know that's obvious, but when I think of what I'm doing in terms of what he's doing, it works much better than when I think about how I'm dancing as an independent thing. I find that my focus and the way I think as a follow has become more and more relative to the lead and less objective. I think that's good though. Anyhow, the natural turns seemed much improved and more on balance, which I attributed to our focused practice on that on Tuesday.

It was good to run through each of the dances and kind of figure out where we stood with each one. I think tango is actually the worst and probably waltz the best. Quickstep is still hard, but I think the polished look and technique in tango is still quite elusive, while I think we can fake it more convincingly in quickstep. What we really need at this point is more lessons. Hopefully, we'll be able to start up with those again in the near future.

Turning On the Heel

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Foxtrot
Hovers: 2

Tuesday last week I thought we should focus on our heel turns. Heel turns are always and issue and always need work, so we warmed up with waltz and then got to work on the heel turns in foxtrot, since there are so many of them. Most of the heel turns are for me as a follow, so for me it's about staying balanced, getting my heels together, and having my weight transfers occur at the right time in the right part of the foot (no heels coming down until feet are together!). Then for Jeff, leading them is always a challenge, because he has to aim his directional energy on exactly the right plane to get me back on my heel, but still get around me without knocking me over or pulling the partnership offline. It's tough to find that spot. Turns out that we were kind of dipping to the side at the end of all of my heel turns, which kind of caused us to fall out of them and messed up the alignment. I suggested that we try practicing them completely flat, with no shape, just to see how that felt. For myself, I thought about the concepts we had worked on in ballet class with keeping both sides of the rib cage extended and keeping a balance on either side. This seemed to really help the problem.

We also worked on Jeff's heel turns, usually in the closed impetus. I asked if he could feel anything that I was doing to pull the balance off or make the turn harder to execute, but he didn't seem to think there was much of an issue. One of my biggest issues there is driving forward on my first step, since I often feel there isn't enough room between the lead's legs since he tends to cross them as he goes into the turn.

This time, cool down was the super slow Beegie Adair "Moon River" saltz. I had forgotten how truly slow that piece is, but every time it's a great exercise in balance and control.

The Flailing Fishtail

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

Monday of last week was so long ago now, I need to be better at keeping track of what we worked on! I think that was the day we focused on quickstep, after warming up with waltz.

Basically, I wanted to work on any "trouble-spots" we tend to have in that dance, such as the rumba crosses, six-quick run (where the timing never seems quite right), and getting it comfortable up to to speed. Most of our practice was slow; this way we could really tell where the balance was off, where I rushing, and where the shaping was wonky and throwing things off. It turns out that the fishtail bit was more of a problem than we thought; I kept tipping over for some reason. I think I might have not been patient enough with the shape, so once I was aware of the issue I think we mostly fixed it. The rumba crosses are better but still feel strained to me, so I always want to work on them.

We ended, as usual with nightclub 2-step.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Could Have Danced All Night

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, Nightclub 2-step, Bolero, West Coast Swing
Hovers: 3...losing count these days!

Last week's parties, as in the last weekend of March through April 1st, were a bit of a mixed bag. Thursday and Sunday were a bit slow, but Saturday there was a great turn out. Thursday night I danced very little, may two or three times, and once was a foxtrot with Simeon because I had signed up as a student on the "dance with a teacher" list. I got to dance a few hover crosses, so I was happy about that. Again, that dance is more geared toward students in the classes who really need more opportunities and experience dancing with music and with someone who knows they're doing, and guess what? Most of these students tend to be women, so not as much opportunity for me to ask any unattached gentlemen in turn. I did, however, dance nightclub 2-step with one of them who was just learning it while Jeff was dancing with his wife, and I think he had fun giving it a whirl.

I ended up skipping salsa on Friday, but Saturday I was ready for the ballroom party! I really look forward to them each week now; there's always such a good crowd, and the music is great, and there are guys with whom to dance, and friends with whom to visit, and it's just a fun time. Jeff and I danced a lot that night, and pretty well too, I'd say. We decided that our nightclub 2-step would likely get us disqualified at a competition since Jeff has been incorporating more and more unorthodox but very cool moves from standard, American Smooth, and who knows what else. We're also getting to the point where we can attempt quickstep on the social floor, which is fun but scary. At least Aria is big enough for it! Anyhow, that night I believe we hit all of our dances except tango. Afterwards, the whole crew headed out for frozen yogurt and then happy hour afterwards because the frozen yogurt place closed first. It was a good night.

Sunday West Coast Swing didn't have much of a showing, but I took Jeff's class and then danced a little bit afterwards. I do like the dance and am enjoying the opportunity to learn more.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Inner Game of Following

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Quickstep, Foxtrot
Hovers: 4?

I'm going to cheat and post about last week's practices in one post since they are running together in my head. Normally I can look at the practice plans and it all comes back to me, but Jeff vetoed various parts of the plans, or we ended up working on other things, so I still get mixed up. We practiced on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday before the practice party though.

We did some more quickstep review and really tried to solidify that routine. It's definitely more comfortable, and we're now even brave enough to take it out on the social floor and give it a run, so that's an improvement. I think because of the speed, it's the hardest one to change and mix up on the fly from a floor-crafting standpoint, so getting to the point where the pieces are interchangeable is important.

We worked on a bit of foxtrot, mostly for warm up purposes. For some reason on Thursday Jeff felt that I was rushing him and falling into my steps, which I believe was probably true. I was very tired that day and due to both muscle tiredness and lack of mental focus, I was kind of just going through the motions, rather than being truly responsive. I've been realizing that, for all my efforts to turn off my thinking and thought processes while following, it still does require a lot of mental energy and concentration, just a different kind. Muscle memory is not always reliable, as it is less open to various options since it tends to stick with known patterns, but if I can mentally focus on where the lead is and what he's doing at any given time, almost in an observatory way, I find that I follow the best. I guess you could say it's like when you're ball player and you learn to think about nothing but watching the ball, be it tennis, baseball, basketball..etc. It's the same concept. You'll naturally react better to it if you focus your energies on the ball rather than on your reaction to it. It's more when practicing on my own or strictly running routines that I really work on the quality and technique of my reactions, but when I'm following, I'd better not be thinking too much about what I'm doing or everything goes awry. Anyhow, discovering how to concentrate my mental energies while dancing as a follow was a huge breakthrough for me, though when I get tired I get lazy and the muscle memory just takes over, and I go through the motions without really following, and that's what Jeff was feeling.

We also ended up working a lot on natural turns in waltz. Jeff discovered something about his footwork that apparently wasn't quite right, according to Kora and Simeon, so we spent a bit of time working on that. Natural turns are actually very difficult, even though they are one of the most basic figures, because of the way the partners must balance each other on the rotation without pulling each other's actually much harder than it looks or sounds. Whatever Jeff changed with the footwork made it much smoother though.

Tango was the only dance we didn't really work on. I think it's gotten to the point where we feel we can't make much progress without a lesson, or as Jeff put it "professional help." I added that perhaps some tango "counseling" was in order. In any case, tango does need help.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Frozen Yogurt and Nachos! And dancing, too, I guess...

Part: Follow
Dances: Most of them
Hovers: 2?

This is the dance party post for last week, which has to cover 3 parties! I missed the Thursday practice party since I was out of town at a wedding (which actually involved ballroom dancing!), but Friday was salsa. I didn't dance much at this one, and the party ended a bit earlier, though Jeff and I did get one salsa in. I had a good time trying to lead in the class prior. I'm not the best lead you ever saw, but I try to at least be confident about's one of the most important things for leads, I think.

Saturday night there was a great turnout. My younger sister came with me to check out the studio and test the waters with dancing, so we did the intro to tango class together, with me leading. Apparently my frame looked like a squiggle (according to Jeff), and I still had some kind of layout going on in my frame, but I thought I was doing okay. The ladies were going where I wanted and I was clear with my lead, so that's a start! Then came the dance party. Now that Jeff is connecting with more and more students and becoming established as a teacher and known for his skillz...he gets commandeered a lot more often and that means I get to dance with him less. It's to be expected though. In the end I think we danced a Viennese Waltz or two and a nightclub 2-step. My sister, as may be imagined, was a bit intimidated by the dancing because she really doesn't have any experience outside our living room at home when we used to mess around. She also didn't think she'd get asked to dance. Boy, was she wrong! I kept trying to get her to stop hiding in a corner and stand out where she'd be more likely to get asked onto the floor, but every time I came to get her, someone would be leading her out onto the floor. It was pretty funny. She may have danced more than I did! Afterwards a whole group of us went out for frozen yogurt, which is close to becoming a post ballroom party tradition at Aria now. It's just the best though, after dancing for three hours when you're hot, tired, and hungry.

Sunday night was West Coast swing. It was a pretty light turn out, but there were a number of students in the class, and I joined the class to learn a few more steps. I did get to dance a few dances though during the party itself. One thing that is tough for me with this dance is that the leads are so subtle; a tiny flick of the wrist can mean a lot more than I'm used to it meaning, and I'm not familiar enough with anything advanced to be able to just do it at a mere subtle suggestion. I like the feel of it though, especially the connection and the weight into the floor the looseness and tension at the same time. Jeff and I ended up dancing a nightclub 2-step too, since those are usually interspersed a bit with the West Coast swing. Afterwards, a group of four of us went out for happy hour and had some delicious nachos, which I kind of regretted the next day, but which were so good at the time.

The Slow Test

Part: Follow
Dances: Foxtrot
Hovers: 0

Practice on Wednesday (last week), was to focus on tango, and I had thought perhaps we should work on fleckrels too. Jeff vetoed both options, however, saying that the fleckrels for now are a lost cause, and tango needs "professional help," namely, let's-not-try-to-fix-anything-without-a-lesson-first. So since I put foxtrot down for our warm up, I suggested we go back to our old super slow foxtrot practice. It's always hard, but always good because we can tell where exactly we are with certain figures and how much control we have. Plus, the improvement after practicing this way is usually pretty obvious. This time we didn't have the metronome to give us tick-tock timing, so Jeff just set the speed. It's actually better practice for me without the metronome, because it forces me to follow his timing. It turns out that there were a couple of spots where hefelt I was rushing, so once I was conscious of it I really tried to hold back and wait for it, and he said it felt better. Then there was the section coming out of the zig-zag (for which we have a mutual loathing) where I always felt like I gapped terribly and mess up our frame, but after playing around with it I figured out that I just need to think about keeping my right hip forward and connected as I go into the telemark, and it works out great. I love it when I can actually find a solution to this conundrums. All in all, a good practice session. We did get a few looks from other students practicing and taking lessons, but maybe they'll catch on! It's one of our best practice techniques, for sure.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Quickstep and the Running Right Turn

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

Practice on Tuesday began with a waltz run through of sorts to get us moving, and then it was on to the dreaded quickstep. I thought we should work on the rumba cross and exit therefrom, but we ended up reviewing a lot of different parts of the routine, more for the sake of cementing it in the memory than working on a particular section. We did eventually get to the rumba crosses though, and the part that Jeff always complains about is the running right turn that follows them; he thinks I don't understand the timing or something. I understand it and try to dance it with him, but the issue for me is the heel turn there. For some reason I never feel like I should be doing a heel turn there, so I kind of have to force it because I know I'm supposed to, so Jeff was trying to figure out if he's not leading a heel turn the way he should. I even had a moment of self-doubt and consulted the grey book of wisdom to see if that figure actually did require a heel turn, but of course it did. By the end of practice though it seemed to be more in sync. Again, it does seem that our quickstep is not quite as bad as it used to be, so that is encouraging. Getting it to work on the social floor though is always the challenge, because it seems to be less conducive to mix and match than some of the other dances.

Fallaways and Contrachecks

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

Monday we started back in with the practice plans. After "warming up" with a slow foxtrot, we were set to tackle two figures that I perceived as problems; the fallaway-reverse-slip-pivot (aka fallaway foot finish), and the contra-check, both figures in tango and waltz. Jeff was laboring under the delusion that there is nothing at all wrong with the fallaway reverse in our waltz (or tango for that matter) and that it's feeling pretty good. While I admit that it is vastly improved since we started, I still feel like we fight each other a bit on this figure and that we don't quite align properly when moving through it. Also, doing a fallaway reverse as a lady out of the wing position is no picnic...I have a much longer distance to travel to stay with him that he does, being on the outside of the turn and starting out in wrong side position. Jeff did agree that wing does not help matters, because, as he said before, "Nothing good comes out of wing!" We also reviewed the figure in tango, which wasn't bad, although apparently Jeff still barnacles a lot, or let's me slip to far behind (according to Kora who happened to be watching).

We also worked briefly on the contra check. We needed more rotation and less dipping, and of course, balance. No dumping the lady! So we tried it a few times with Jeff putting me into that extended position and that leaving me there to see if we were both on our own balance. It seemed that we were, so that's good. I just need to work on slowing down and timing my extension so that I don't use it up all at once, but instead "save some of the best for last," so that it will look I just keep stretching out and out until we are ready to come out of the figure. Naturally, Jeff can facilitate that by also going into the figure gradually. Now in tango, of course, this is not how it works. We have to hit it fast, and hit it right the first time; there is really no time or room for adjustment.

We ended practice with a nightclub 2-step. (What else?) Given our new practice situation, we're finding ourselves working more on small sections of our dancing and dancing less through the whole dances to music. This is probably very good from a practice stand point, and then again, we do get to dance around the whole floor with music at dance parties, so we're not missing much.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Tale of Many Dance Parties

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Quickstep, Nightclub 2-step, Salsa, Bolero
Hovers: Lost count!

This post is going to have to cover four dance parties! Since they aren't technically practices, and some we dance very little, I'm going to combine them into one post.

Thursday was the Aria practice party. The first half of the dance Jeff is dedicated to dancing with students, as he should be, so I didn't dance at all until that first half was over as the students who stayed on for the dance ended up being primarily women, so grabbing one of the new guys was not really going to work for me. I think we ended up dancing a couple of the standard dances, but Jeff was more tired than last week since I think he danced a lot more dances at the beginning this time with the students.

Friday was the salsa/Latin party. Since the crowd who ended up staying wanted more variety in the music, I somehow ended up dancing a tango with Simeon, and a foxtrot and waltz with Jeff. The part with the most potential came when Jeff had the brilliant idea of a nightclub 2-step "Simon Says" game, in which he would dance a figure that Simeon had to copy...but then that turned into foxtrot "Simon Says" with the only two couples on the floor being Simeon and Kora and Jeff and I, and that was kind of a fail. Jeff said he couldn't see what they were doing because of our direction and the way we were facing, so we couldn't copy the figures. I laughed, "Sure. Of course it's just because you can't see them. Otherwise we'd be dancing telespins and tumble turns and who knows what else no problem." Jeff agreed. It was a fun idea anyway and we'll have to try it some other way, though Kora brought up the point that having a caller for the figures would essentially turn it into square dancing. Somehow that sounded less appealing.

Saturday night was the ballroom party. This is intended to be a much bigger party, and this past week it was a lot of fun! Even more dancers came than the week before, Jeff did a great job on the playlist, and everyone, including us, had a great time. Lots of dancers, lots of dancing happening, and plenty of good music. I think we hit all of our dances, and the craziest was when we dived into our quickstep (yes, dive is the right word), and by the end of our first long side could not continue with our routine due to floorcrafting constraints, so Jeff suddenly went into basically a whole side of open naturals, very fast with lots of rotation and shaping and it felt like a roller-coaster. Yay, Asian driver! Somehow I stayed with him though and we ended on balance, with me in the kind of huge hesitation oversway thing to halt the momentum, which was pretty fun. It was nothing like our routine, but I was proud of Jeff for pulling that out of his hat (because normally quickstep is the hardest for us to deviate in), and of me for following through with it. I think we're continuing to become a better team in the floor crafting department; Jeff has always had extra talent there, but now that I've become more flexible and also have the ability to move a lot when I have to without running away, I think he's able to do more with it. Viennese felt really good on Saturday too, and my neck didn't hurt this time. I've been trying to be more conscious of moving my head in Viennese as I should so it doesn't lock up by delaying the head a bit in the natural turns, and using it to assist in the reverses. It seems to help if I can keep it moving. We also danced a bolero, and apparently afterwards someone complimented us on it...which Jeff thought odd because we don't really know it. But as standard dancers, I guess we have the basic principles of the movement in place, so even the basic figures kind of work because we're using fundamental techniques of movement and posture that make it look like we know what we're doing. Actually, to be fair, Jeff does know a bit of bolero, but I knew nothing until he started leading me through some of it. I really like it though and would love to learn more. Our nightclub 2-step was also usually is these days. Now we're trying to think of new figures to add.

Sunday was the West Coast Swing dance. After the lesson (taught by Jeff), the turn out wasn't as great as some of the other dances, so I didn't dance much. A few random other dances besides West Coast were played, but I maybe danced 3 dances over all. I didn't really get the chance to see if I could apply anything from the classes, although I had one half of a WC dance where I tried. I feel pretty confident with the basics now though; I just need to get better with lead and follow of it and the many variants.

After the dance, Jeff and I and another instructor at Aria stayed a bit late talking about dancing, specifically dance partners, and our friend's rather unfortunate luck in that regard until just recently. It made me realize how lucky we are, to have been partners this long with still no fights, can communicate with each other like reasonable adults, give and take criticism, and actually enjoy dancing together after all that. It doesn't always work out so well for everyone, as we found out. Sure, we have our tough days, but overall I feel very fortunate. So many things have to come together for a dance partnership to work, and so often at least one of those pieces is missing. Anyhow, now that our friend has a new partner and it seems to be working out very well, we're hoping things will be looking up for him so that he can pursue his competitive goals and dreams too. Though now he is "threatening" to dance novice standard, and Jeff is being facetiously discouraging, because guess who wants to dominate that event? Uh huh.