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.