Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chin up!

Tonight, we had a lesson with Kora, our first since before Grand Ball over a month ago now. Since we've already worked on quickstep for the past two lessons and are saving up tango for a visiting coach coming into town next week, we decided it had to be foxtrot. We've worked on waltz a lot already.

This was a productive lesson. I, for one, was thrilled to have a lesson just focused on making our execution better, versus putting together choreography. It's a great feeling when you finish the lesson dancing better than when you started. We only made it through the first short side of our choreography, but it was enough to affect most of our routine since we repeat a lot of the same figures and movements throughout.

First off, Kora had us work on getting into frame in a good position in relation to each other. Essentially, we need to stop fighting over space. Anna Mikhed told us the same thing. So as we get into frame, Brandon needs to stop looking at me and keep his head and side left, while I need to do the same, though I need to focus my gaze more up, rather than more left, and risk pulling the partnership down on that side. This made a big difference right away. I don't know about Brandon, but I felt like I had a lot more space and breathing room.

Then Brandon worked with Kora on some directional issues, and finally, Kora reviewed some head turning issues with me. I either turn my head too late or too fast, and I need to think more about timing the head with the body. That sounds obvious and simple, but it's really not. What helped me the most today was to think about looking up and drawing peripheral circles with the top of my head. My tendency is rather to pull the chin in as I try to keep my back line straight, but as a result it looks strained and sometimes broken. One thing I'll need to practice more but which is a new way for me to think about what my head does is to think of it as tracking with my moving foot. I had never really thought of it in those terms before.

Finally, perhaps the greatest improvement on my side was the revelation that my nose/chin should be chasing my wrist as I dance natural turning figures going forward. It's very counter-intuitive, because as a lady you're always thinking about being left and out, rather than forward, which you would think would kill the extension. But no, I actually found myself making it around on some of those figures that I have been struggling with for quite some time. Yay for progress! At the end of our practice session following our lesson, we tried to dance a run-around in waltz using the new principle, and it felt ever so much easier. Brandon was quite impressed by how he didn't have to pull me back from the brink to get into promenade at the end. I'm looking forward to implementing this new concept more in all of my dancing.

After the lesson, we practiced quickstep a bit. I'm starting to enjoy it more, finally, perhaps because we have some fun choreography now and I'm more comfortable that we will be sticking with it for longer period. I also think I danced my best "pepper-pot" to date tonight. It was light, staccato, and fast...exactly what we want. I wish I could do that consistently though.

All in all, a good lesson and practice session. We're slated to dance rounds tomorrow, so we'll have to see how that goes. And tomorrow, I start physical therapy for my knee! I'm really looking forward to leaning what I can do to help myself get stronger again after my recent knee injury, since it continues to inhibit my dancing quite a bit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Questionable Quickstep

The other night was perhaps our fifth consecutive night of quickstep practice.  You might think that because we have been working on it so much, we harbor some fondness towards the dance.

But no.  At this point, our quickstep is highly questionable. 

I have my suspicions as to why quickstep inevitably falls apart.  Being tall, it can be difficult to maintain control over long limbs in such a bouncy dance.  More fundmentally, our general skepticism of quickstep is problematic.   I feel silly hopping around the floor, which compels me to either give into the cheesiness of quickstep, or dance through the routine like a tango.  I am not sure which is worse.

Both Sarah and I look for deeper meaning in the things we do (especially Sarah, the philosophy major and general skeptic).  If we were to simply accept quickstep for what it is, in all of its springy glory, then perhaps we would be onto something. 

The weirdest aspect to me personally is how, a couple of years ago, tango and quickstep were my strongest dances.  As a youth dancer, I despised foxtrot (although admittedly in large part due to how much all the “good” dancers enjoyed foxtrot).   Now, dancing with Sarah, foxtrot is one of my favorite dances. I can’t help but wonder if, in my growing up, I have “traded” my affinity for quickstep with foxtrot.  To those who understand these two dances, this might make sense.  Still, it is very puzzling to me.

Nonetheless, by the end of the practice, I felt optimistic for quickstep.  Once we can infuse the power, stronger frame, and better position we have been working on in the other dances into quickstep, we will have made leaps and bounds in our competitive goals (Unlike Sarah, I love puns, and most of mine will be intended).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quickstep, I know you're in there.

Tonight we worked on quickstep, first in a lesson with Simeon, and then just practice. Brandon and I basically share the same attitude about quickstep. It's just not our dance...yet. Part of it we like to blame on being tall, but there's not doubt that it doesn't come as naturally as waltz or foxtrot, for example. Unfortunately our marks tend to reflect that too, so we've been resolved to put some serious effort into it. I could tell that tonight might end up being a bit of a frustrating practice just given that it was dedicated to quickstep, but actually, now that it's over, I'm rather happy with what we got through today. We now have our choreography lined up (whether we can dance it is another matter), but I have a certain security in knowing that we have a whole routine to work on and won't be learning new choreo one week before our next competition. Yes, this has happened before. 

Since I began dancing I've always had this kind of tenuous relationship with quickstep. Back when I was in silver level and training for pro-am competition, one lesson I just stopped and blurted out to my teacher, "I just don't get quickstep!" When he asked what I meant, I tried to explain. All of the other dances I can feel inside me in a way, and I feel like I have a generally good sense of what the feel should be even if I don't always execute on it. But quickstep...syllabus quickstep seemed pointless to me. Why would anyone want to shuffle around a ballroom floor going sort of fast but not amazingly fast, and smooth, but not very smooth, all the while pretending like this is the most happy thing that ever happened? It made no sense. Now open quickstep I could kind of understand; you're running, leaping, hopping, skipping around the floor with a bubbly exuberance that I rarely feel but could maybe make myself feel if I was dancing it. So now, here I am, a newly minted open level dancer, trying to figure out  my relationship with this new beast that is open quickstep. And I'm still having trouble.

By the way, an interesting side note. I just realized that the four dances we have so far correspond rather well to the four temperaments. Not surprisingly, my best dance is currently waltz. So we have waltz as the melancholic, tango as the choleric (duh), foxtrot as the phlegmatic, and quickstep as the sanguine. It works remarkably well! Although it makes me wonder why I'm not better at tango these days.

Tonight though, I figured a few things out with quickstep. One is, the faces help. You probably want to know what the faces are. Brandon teases me about them all the time, but he shouldn't talk since I've seen him make his own rather ghastly faces on the competition floor. But then again, he has some nice ones too, and a general aura of being that cute guy that everyone wants to mark well. Anyways, I like to make faces as I'm dancing, and I don't really make them on purpose, but they kind of spring from the mood of what we're doing and the figure and just what it feels like I should be doing. A healthy dose of that "feeling" I'm sure comes from watching countless videos of top pros executing certain figures with certain expressions, but it's gotten to the point where I've kind of absorbed some of it by osmosis. But now they're deep enough ingrained I don't feel like I can dance certain figures and do certain things like stay on balance without the requisite face. I know, it's weird, but it would really throw me off if I had to do a serious faced hover, or a depressed eight quick run face in quickstep. No indeed. In the hover develope I'm levitating with joy, and in the quick run I'm just so excited and can't wait to see what comes next. A smiling tango would be the beginning of the end. Tonight we were practicing straight up promenade runs for the first time (think quickstep meets jousting) and they went surprisingly well, and the open-mouth-charging-at-you-all-canons-firing face was there for sure, helping out the cause. 

Another thing that helps is just overall lightness of foot. Simeon was getting on Brandon's case for tangoizing the quickstep figures we were working on, and I think I need to work on that in general too. We're always working so hard in the other dances on being heavy and grounded and using lots of floor pressure, but in quickstep it's important to look like one is dancing on bubbles. If I think about champagne bubbles and cotton candy while dancing quickstep, that helps too. 

So anyways, I'm actually kind of excited about quickstep now. I like the new bit of choreography that we added at the end, more than a little inspired by what happens between 0:50-1:05  in this video. 

It's hard to go wrong with Anna Mikhed. 

Highly Questionable

I'd like to preface everything by pronouncing this blog and the contents herein, in the words of my partner, "highly questionable." Why? Because this same pronouncement is made about our dancing, by that same young gentleman, roughly five times a day. Nevertheless, I'd ask you to consider whether this is not the best attitude to have about one's dancing, and in fact, about life in general.

Think about it this way. The moment to we stop questioning ourselves and asking why, the moment that we take our own abilities for granted, that is the moment when we stop growing. To make any sort of progress, in one's dancing or in any pursuit, requires a certain humility and a consciousness of one's own limitations, and tireless inquest into the reasons why things are the way they are, and why my dancing doesn't look like it should, or feel like it should, or move like it should.

So I think that, all things considered, Brandon and I are on the same page here. (Pun so not intentional.) We know roughly where we are with our dancing, and we know, perhaps more clearly, where we want to be. And for us, those two items are matching up relatively well between us these days. Both being of introspective natures, we found that a lot of our dance training has spilled over into hours of mental reflection, some in depth conversations, and personal study, as we try to determine what exactly it will take for us to achieve these goals of ours, both together as a partnership and individually as dancers.

I'd like to make a comment about the subtitle of this blog. It came to me rather suddenly as a random and silly idea as Brandon and I were attempting to christen it. I explained to Brandon that I have always felt like the world in general is just too clunky. Mostly it's people: people when they dance, people in their interactions, people in their movement. There is so much good and beauty in this world, and if there was just some way for us to tread more lightly, rather than to stomp through this life, how much more of that beauty we would see. I suppose I ought to give specific examples to illustrate this rather outlandish assessment, but I just don't think I have any top of mind, unless it is ladies in clunky heels making as much noise as possible in a quite church on a stone floor. In any case, we'd like to think that this idea applies to our quest to become better dancers. We've noticed a sad lack in the rank and file of competitive dancers of a true expression of what dancing is all about. The two bodies moving as one, flowing across the floor to the strains of beautiful music, creating harmonious lines and shapes and a unified picture, something about this ideal is so often just not there. Many dancers seem too focused on "getting marked" to care whether their dancing is graceful and really beautiful. And although Brandon and I are both pretty competitive ourselves, for us competition is kind of a means to an end, the end being real, beautiful and powerful dancing.

Our goal, with our dancing and with this blog, is to try to bring back some of the beauty and grace that has lost it's rightful place in ballroom dancing. Highly questionable? I think so. Let's just say we have our work more than cut out for us.