Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dancing from the Floor Up

I hardly know where to begin, Brandon and I have been through so much with our dancing and improved so significantly since we started this blog, and frankly the dancing has taken priority over it because we've been so focused. Still, we determined to do our best to make periodic updates, and my personal goal is at least one post per week.

In summary, we've had the opportunity to take lessons from some world-renowned coaches an average of about once per month. We know just how blessed we've been to have these opportunities, and we owe most of it to our own coaches Simeon and Kora for fostering a relationship with these great teachers and giving us the chance to learn from them. Although these lessons generally cost more than we're used to, we find that it is more than worth it because we get so much out of them.

We've had lessons with Paul Holmes, who completely did our foxtrot choreography and redid most of our tango, and even a bit of our quickstep. Brandon frequently sighs over Paul's ability to just put me in the right place all the time and make me look amazing while he does it. He's definitely kind of a wizard with the ladies, all right.

And then there was Anna Mikhed (my favorite lady dancer and a bit of a dance idol for me), whom we managed to schedule a lesson with when we heard she was in town for a competition (by in town I mean BC, Canada, but close enough!). We remind each other often during practice of the "Anna Principles" as we like to call them, because she broke down the elements of frame and movement in such a clear way that I think we really needed. I particularly have to remind myself of the "necklace" concept on a daily basis. She's the one who presented the revolutionary idea that rather than pressing your shoulder blades down and back as we're always told (and ending up looking like a chicken in the arms), you hang your shoulders forward, and then rotate them back in place. Keeping my shoulders forward and down has actually helped my neck and arm breaking problems tremendously, when I remember to do it.

And of course we mustn't forget Glenn Weiss, who has a way of looking at our dancing, nailing the problems on the head, and telling us in simple terms how to fix them. He's like the dance doctor. We're really excited for his visit next week when we will again have a coaching session with him. I also think it makes Brandon particularly happy to know that Glenn has also been Victor Fung's coach for many years, as Brandon really identifies with Victor's dancing in a lot of ways.

Then we have our regular weekly lessons with Simeon and Kora, which have been a lot more enjoyable lately in that we've able to take more time breaking down how our various figures actually work, versus trying to cram and put together choreography as we had to do at the beginning.

As far as competitions go, we have quite a few more under our belt by this point. We began our partnership with Quest for the Best in late September with barely memorized routines and danced novice. We finished about middle of the pack, and still laugh about a particularly horrible corner in the waltz, and the crash in quickstep. But you've got to start somewhere, right? Then came NW Regionals at the end of October. I don't know about Brandon, but I was stunned when we won the Novice division and placed second in pre-championship. We more than qualified for USA Dance Nationals in LA to represent the NW, which is where we're headed in about two weeks! Watching those videos now is painful though; we've improved so much and I still wonder how we won. And then there was Grand Ball in Canada, where we danced pre-champ only and barely missed the final. That was right after I injured my knee, and I really shouldn't have been dancing. The dancing was not good; we both knew it, but at least we got to meet Anna Mikhed. For me, that was worth it. Then there was City Lights Ball in San Jose, where we danced better than before and placed well too. That was just a fun competition also because of all the dancing greats who are always there judging and participating. That was followed by Quest for the Best round two, where we danced and won both novice and pre-championship levels, though the turn out was so light we were uncontested in pre-champ and had only two couples against us in novice. Oh well. Finally, we went to BYU in Utah and danced for the NDCA National Championships, placing 2nd overall in novice out of over 70 couples and 4th in pre-champ out of 45. I'll never forget the moment our number "193" flashed up on the leader board for the pre-championship national final, and then there came Brandon running towards me with a big smile on his face. "We made it; we're national finalists!" I didn't really care about anything else after that, I was so happy. But in the end we actually won waltz in novice and took second in pre-champ in that dance. For some reason that dance is much better for us than the others. Anyways, to go from dancing gold and feeling like a poser in open competition to actually making the national pre-champ final in six months...that was one of the best feelings. At the same time, we're both keenly aware of how much we still need to improve the dancing.

So, lately, Brandon and I have been having a number of light bulb moments in our approach to dancing and practice that seem to have come in quick succession. One came from a video of a Jonathan Wilkins lecture Brandon watched, and this principle solves so many problems in our dancing it's unbelievable. It is that, you either rotate your body or rotate your foot, but not both at the same time. Essentially, you can either rotate your frame (CBM) and step under your shoulder, or you can keep everything square and pivot on your foot. Well, we do both a lot, and end up pulling each other over, fighting, or losing control. Or we do the wrong one for the type of turn we're doing.

Also, we've been watching a lot of video tutorials by Marcus and Karen Hilton (dance legends, and 9-time world champs) about various figures that we dance. These have been unbelievably helpful. We've noticed a common thread though in their philosophy and approach to most of the steps. They dance from the knees and feet, and use floor pressure to achieve almost everything. They don't think about the rotations or the energy originating from anywhere else, not the hips, not the frame, nor even the core. Rather, the core stays strong and stable and toward the partner, but the feet pushing in the floor at various angles and the bending of the knees in response to that drives most of the figures and rotations. Wow. So in the end, while you might achieve the same movement in the hips, frame, or other parts, it all comes straight up from the floor and blossoms into this beautiful shape on top. We tried dancing one of our heavily rotated and shaped sections in our quickstep the other day (affectionately known as the "rolly-pollies") and tried dancing it just from the feet and knees versus the frame as we used to (yuck), or the hips as we've been often told to do. I couldn't get over the difference. For the first time we felt together and connected in our cores, and even the shapes seemed so much larger and expansive, plus, I felt stable and balanced. Amazing. Then last night, Karen said something about this chase in tango I'm working on and how the lady has to make the rotation by pushing off the inside edge of the standing leg...and somehow that miraculously solved the problem I had been having. So now...I'm thinking about how I can control my head and my shapes and everything I'm doing just from the feet. That way the whole body is responding and is moving consistently, and not just the isolated part that I want to produce an effect.

It's the philosopher in me, I think, that is loving this amazing feeling we're getting that we are getting closer and closer to the root cause of many of these figures, the real place from which the energy originates. It's the metaphysics of dancing. So often, we try to replicate an effect because we don't know the cause; that's when you get that dancing that looks random and elicits the "What are they even doing?" reaction. I'm really excited about all of this, and could go on and on in detail about various sections we've had breakthroughs on, but this post would get out of control, so I will leave it here for now. Now it's just matter of getting our bodies physically caught up with all the mental breakthroughs.