Friday, December 20, 2013

Second Lesson... My First Love in Ballroom and Then There Was Tango....

....but not in that order... (it just sounded better for a title!)
Hey guys...another longer post here... and I think the lesson posts are going to end up being longer... (they were before as well, there is just SO MUCH that happens!) I'm working on a few series for shorter posts, and there are some VERY EXCITING things coming up in the next few months!

So tonight I had my second lesson with Steve at Get On The Floor Dance Company. I was really anxious about this one, not sure why. Perhaps because everything has been happening so quickly in this Ballroom world of mine. I still wrestle with all the good fortune that has come my way over the last several weeks (in general, not only with dancing).

I also brought a friend with me, not so much to dance, but so that I could reconnect her and Steve because she used to be his student many moons ago and from what I'd been able to gather both would enjoy catching up a little. Turns out I was right! So my friend visited with Franny and got an eye full of my lesson. I did my best to pretend they weren't there.

Steve opened by telling me he wanted to split my lessons 50/50 between American Smooth and American Rhythm. Well that's different! You know what else is different? I didn't fight him on it! I have a long sorted history of dictating what I work on, mostly because with my first few instructors American Rhythm was what they really loved to do, and since I always felt like it wasn't important for me to practice rounds as if I were competing and I always wanted my instructors to like working with me, I focused on what they wanted to focus on...which then made me much more proficient in American Rhythm vs any other style. I'd say I probably spent 20% of my time on the American Smooth dances, and least of all dances EVER worked on was Tango.

Not this Tango, This is one of my cats... Tango. ;-)
"Let's start with Tango." Steve states. Of course, Mr. Smooth dancer is going to pick that one... oy! "How do you count Tango?" He asks (now would be a good time for me to interject that I never really focused on the counts... I just feel them, I can pick out what can be danced to what piece of music, but I can't really put words to it anymore.)

"I can't count it, I can only spell it." (When newer students learn Tango they often learn it by spelling it in the tempo it's danced....T-A-N-G-O for Slow - Slow -  Quick - Quick - Slow. Funny how that works out isn't it?)

We briefly went over Tango and it wasn't a super close Tango hold, in Tango the partners are pretty much connected from the top of the frame down to their hips, and when the frame and hold is proper it can sometimes give a newer person the impression of almost riding their partner's leg, which can take a while to get used to. I know I had a BIG problem with it when I first started ages ago, but as long as I know my partner is more experienced it's not an issue. I am still in some respects a new student again, so the frame was kept a little more informal. (At least that was my perception, we didn't discuss it.)

Once around the floor so Steve could get an idea of where I was with Tango, and he broke it down further. We talked again about the promenade and how it's different from a Fox Trot promenade. More staccato, (sharper). Keeping my balance over the left leg as I come into and out of steps. It was a fairly decent round of Tango for me.

I would like to take this moment to highlight how exceptionally stupid I feel when I'm asked if I know how to count a dance, and it's not because I'm made to feel that way... it's all in my head. I studied piano for 9 years... so you'd think I'd know the answers to a lot of the musicality questions...but the catch there is I learned mostly by ear so I never really learned all the technical in's and out's. You might say that my talent was never honed into a skill. As long as I could feel my way through a piece of music my teacher never drilled me on the vocabulary around it. As I started to learn to dance, I fell into the same trap. (To this day I can't play a new piece of music without hearing it once first.)

We finished up the Tango portion of today's lesson with some fan step work. This studio has some narrow poles on the floor that are structurally part of the building. Steve wanted me to work with the pole for support... I don't know what it is... but when I'm asked to do a step on my own my mind goes completely blank. Like even the English language abandons me. This has always been the case, it did get reasonably better in my later years of dancing , but I probably panic about doing the steps on my own as I did when my apartment burned up. (Yes, it's irrational, but yes it's that intense.) To say all of that to an instructor when you have a limited time to work is not always appropriate so I usually attempt to walk though something with a lot of coaching and attempt to improve even more when in frame.

I'm pretty sure we settled that I was showing some small bits of improvement... I know Steve said I do actually move fairly well... which is something I hold very important. Steve also mentioned that he could feel when I was panicking during some spots in Tango... and I agreed wholeheartedly that yes there are some tense moments when I can't remember or feel what I'm supposed to do next, or I'm at war with anticipating the move vs following the move. (I'll have to tell you all about the difference another time).

I am also always concerned with supporting my own self and not being a heavy follow.  In short, while two individuals in a partner dance like Ballroom Tango appear to be relying on each other for support to stay vertical they are actually supporting their own weight and moving across the floor in sync. When I start to panic I start to lean a little on my lead and that can be difficult for him (or her, I've followed some female pros in Tango and it's the same feeling). It was interesting that when I mentioned this to Steve he said he honestly didn't think I was all that heavy of a lead, and it certainly didn't have anything to do with the fact that I am a heavier person. When I panic though I do tend to lean a little more. Huh... interesting. I know that the physical weight of a follow has no bearing on how "heavy" they dance with their leads... I just don't think it's ever been put in to words like that for me before.

The Smooth portion of the lesson over (it actually felt like it went REALLY fast!) Steve decided on East Coast Swing. Now East Coast Swing was my first ballroom love. Way before I knew Salsa was more than just a chip dip, East Coast Swing and I were best buds. My Mom used to jitterbug with me when I was a kid, and my Dad used to literally throw me around the dance floor to swing music during wedding receptions when I was little. When I learned East Coast Swing, it reminded me of all that (and who doesn't love a good Benny Goodman Big Band number?).

I can almost hear Benny Goodman coming out of this pic!
Once again Steve remarked how much more alive I seemed, and I reminded him that I have studied mostly Rhythm. So they come to me without hesitation, it's easier for me to "get into" the spirit of the dance on the faster Rhythm dances as well...They don't require as much muscle control for me at this point. After a nice little swing we talked about technique and I was once again asked to count it... All I could remember was the one instructor from years before describing the foot placement in the triple step as "little little big" and immediately I knew that I wasn't executing that.  I picked it back up again fairly quickly though. We also discussed the pendulum motion that the hips are supposed to do during the basic step and Steve noticed that when my steps got smaller my pendulum action improved. HA! I'll take it!!! What I didn't say, but thought kind of loudly, is that because I am a bigger gal it takes a lot more accentuation for most of the hip movements to look right on my frame. But hey, Steve was happy with the pendulum motion... I wasn't going to try and talk him out of it. (Especially since we'd done a couple of East Coast Swings at this point and I was getting a little winded.)

 At one point we were working on the under arm turn and how to execute it and Steve said that he noticed I really exaggerated the step before the turn and that it wasn't the correct way to do it.

"Oh yeah, I know..." I responded, "It's an old habit, I literally wind up to throw my weight around to complete the turn on time."

Steve then said he wasn't aware of that, mostly because he's always been a thinner guy, (mad props for admitting that he didn't know what it's like to carry extra weight...that's another first for me!) So I explained that I didn't think it felt different until the point where I start to feel tired, then I start to throw my weight around more for turning in order to execute the step. In reality I don't know what it feels like to be a thinner person either, because I've always had extra weight on one level or another. What I do know (and mentioned to Steve) is that I had gotten really good at executing turns, and I could stop on a dime at one point, but I never did it properly. Instead of relying on core strength I'd always used my feet and legs to stop. (Which actually may account for some of the ankle damage now that I think about it.)
I had some other really good learning moments though. I don't know if I've ever seen anyone else do what I do when I'm learning in frame...but then I've never spent a ton of time watching other people take lessons.

I'm very easily distracted by visuals... another person walking across the floor, the reflection in the mirror, other couples on the floor, the fact that my friend was on the sidelines, sometimes it's like the classic joke about ADHD which... oh look! A Squirrel!! I happen to have ADHD. :-)

So when I'm learning in frame I sometimes shut off my vision... I don't close my eyes, but that's a good learning technique for some. (One of this blog's most popular posts is about dancing with my eyes closed in 2007.) What I do is I cast my vision to the floor and I listen to what my instructor is saying, or maybe listening to the music, and I focus very intently on what everything feels like, from the lead to my foot placement and especially on what I'm being told to focus on.  When I do this I know I'm really learning... on an almost muscle memory level. I've been told I look angry...but I'm not focusing on emoting during this process either so my "thinking face" could be interpreted as "angry face" I guess. I caught myself doing it at one point, and I waited to hear something about it from Steve, other instructors have told me to stop, or asked what was going on, it felt like he noticed, but he didn't say anything so I just kept absorbing what we were working on. Personally I feel that I progress much faster when I do this... it's another one of those things that just happens and I don't really control it actively. So much about dancing, as you move past the basics, starts to come from an instinctual place. I'm pretty sure it's the part of the brain that doesn't get exercised in regular daily life.

Shortly after that great new/old learning feeling... the thing I like least happened... the one thing that sometimes happens when I dance an old step with a new partner... memory overload. Steve was leading a step that consists of walking back 3-4 steps in a cuddle hold, turning to face each other for some toe taps and then in the span of two beats of music this is what went flying through my head....

I remember this one, after the toe taps, RT wanted no flick, but I liked the flick, Largo wanted, nay demanded a flick, was that right or left foot? Right, it's in place of the rock step, wait...what? How did that go? Which one does Steve want? Okay wait, rock step or flick? What's it going to be? CRAP it's too late! 

Old dance memories that somehow had tied themselves in with the muscle memory of the East Coast Swing just flooded in like a tidal wave.

Nothing like being able to sensory overload yourself.  

I will work on figuring out where that all happens and see if I can't purge them all before my next lesson because they really wreck with my head.

After the 4 steps back pattern, we moved on to making my turn more sharp, which involved the war of anticipating vs being lead. I think my issue here was that largely any dancing I have done since the last time I had a swing lesson has been with fellow students of the art of Ballroom, and while some of them are quite proficient leads, the requirements aren't nearly as specific as when one might dace with their instructors or a more skilled partner. I know even I felt the improvement on that one.

Major bonus... some of that East Coast Swing... actually felt like DANCING... not sure if Steve thought the same thing, (it is very possible for this to feel very one sided especially when the partners are at such different skill levels) but I swear in there somewhere was some - not really having to think about it, just get into the beat and enjoy the connection between lead/follow, the music, and the dance...  Oh how my spirit sings when that happens!!! It's not anything that can be forced, you can't plan on it (at least I can't), and it's pretty rare.... in this case it maybe only lasted for a couple measures of music...if that... but it is something every single dancer should strive for. Yes all the technique can be overwhelming and all the practice can get tiresome...but it is so worth it when it all just becomes Dancing!!!

So, yeah... major ups and downs in this one... but strange stuff is going to happen. And awesome powerful things are going to happen too!

We were about to wrap up and I was thinking about Salsa, but the East Coast Swing had me pretty beat so I decided to let it slide... this time... Steve had made some references to how he doesn't let certain things get past him with students... ummmm... yeah... he hasn't met me in a more advanced lesson yet. ;-) While there are some things I am trying to change, like my level of complaining about dances I haven't really worked on. (I want to be an all around dancer this time through, instead of nearly exclusively Rhythm).

Then Steve said "Let's finish with 10 squats."
"Nope, can't do them."
"Come on..10 squats."
"Yep, nope, seriously can't do them, I can't bring myself back up once my knees have hit a certain angle."
"Okay..." he walks over to a pole "....4 - count ankle presses then."
"That I can get on board with, my ankles do need a lot of work."

So there we stood on two sides of a pole working on ankle presses... no idea how many we did not a full set... you know what sucks? I can already feel where my ankles are weakest. Adding those to my warm up or cool down at the gym.

Once finished, I went to the side of the floor and chatted with my friend for a second before Steve and I changed back into street clothes and we chatted for a bit. On the way home, my friend complimented me given how long it had been since I'd danced. Then she said something really funny:

"I got to see your legs! You never have your legs out!"

I couldn't believe that her biggest comment was about my legs (I had been wearing my Bonnie's Practice Skirt again.) "Why would I have my 'legs out' normally? They're so much narrower than the rest of me, I don't think it looks right."

I don't recall her response, and the way she said the above statement didn't exactly lead to a positive or negative connotation... Perhaps it was their highly reflective quality since I don't think I've worn shorts or a short skirt in a really long time so the legs are mighty pale. HA!

Either way, the lesson was good and challenging in ways I remember lessons being, I'm still at war with what I remember dancing like and I really need to work on stopping that if I want to progress forward. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Miss Kat and Merry Christmas to you! We have not met officially, but I happen to see you working with your instructor the other day. What joy you bring to the studio! I wanted to let you know that while you write that you are having trouble finding your steps, one would not know watching how you glow when you dance. I hope to see your smiling face more often!