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.