… through your heart. 😉
I have my own theory on why dancing and sex play nice together, but we’ll get to that.
… through your heart. 😉
I have my own theory on why dancing and sex play nice together, but we’ll get to that.
This is the essay I submitted this quarter for History of Waltz.
Toward the beginning of winter quarter, we spent about a day on various dances of the Renaissance era. The one I remember most distinctly is a half-moon step, where each partner walks a semi-circle around the other, turning slowly, and advancing towards line of direction ever so slowly. I was such a big fan. It was different from almost anything else we did, and really couldn’t be rushed. You had to move slowly, to travel line of direction slowly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved speed, but this was so different and so unique, and I watched as little by little, the other dancers in the room warmed up to it.
I’ve had a little bit of experience in regency era dancing from a reconstruction society in Utah, and regency dancing at BayCon. They are always slow, and usually pretty simple. But in the slow simplicity, there is some magic that whirling along at full speed with no idea what comes next just can’t match. A move that seems strange described suddenly and inexplicably works in a set, and creates a pattern that is beautiful to watch, and beautiful to dance. Some of the best are mystifying to me in how they work. They just do. There is someone there at the right time to do the next part with you, but you have no idea how they got there.
But with these slow, gentle dances, a lot of the students in the room try so hard to make them ridiculous, to break the drama and the elegance with humor and being silly. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I just think that they are missing the value of being serious and slow and elegant some times. It’s a phenomenon I see with the Congress of Vienna all the time. Stanford students love to make fun of it. But it can be a beautiful, slow, graceful, flirtatious dance. There are one or two gentlemen in the class who seem to think the way I do. And dancing with them is like dancing in a time warp. Even dressed in jeans, in a big gym with modern theater lights only feet above our heads, I can see us at a ball, tails for him and a flowing gown for me. Taking slow, graceful steps and savoring the tension, the drama, and the challenge.
It really becomes as though we are living the history of waltz. We learn by experience why people dance the dances they did, how it felt, and why they stopped. And that empathy for people who are from a by-gone time could be a powerful spring board into a holistic understanding of history. Take a step past the simple “hindsight is 20-20”. Understanding not just what they did, but why; seeing things from their perspective. Not judging them by what we know now that they didn’t then. And that can help us be more forgiving of ourselves and our past mistakes as well.
I got my ballet flats in the mail on Monday. Since then, I’ve danced in them three times. And having learned to dance, and danced for 3.5 years, in inch and a half character heels, I can tell you it feels weird.
I bought the flats for a couple of reasons. One, steps like the pas de basque step which involves undercutting one foot with the other are rather hard in heels, and we do an awful lot of it in history of waltz. Not that shoes at the end of the quarter are really helping with that. Two, my shins hurt. The real answer to that is probably to stop dancing for a while, but i’m probably on the wrong side of addicted at this point to stop. The past few days, between the flats and the rain boats, it’s my calf muscles that hurt instead. Yay? I’ve been stretching, I promise. And three, this will be my 4th big dance, and after having done 3 years of it in heels, I am very much looking forward to being able to change out of the heels at 2 am.
Dancing in flats makes me feel like i’m floating. The flats are lighter than my character shoes, but what really makes the difference is that landing requires so much less thinking. Something like a redowa, that I find to be so much effort in heels, is infinitely easier in the ballet flats. I can flex my feet an extra few degrees, it’s easier to come down on the balls of my feet. When I land, I can drop an extra inch as my legs absorb the energy.
I’m also less concerned about accidentally clipping someone. For all my dancing, I still hit, or almost hit nearby dancers sometimes. I try to remain compact, and not swing my feet out wide, but somehow every know and then, there is just suddenly someone else’s leg where I am compelled to put the edge of my heel. In the flats, it’s not nearly as big a deal.
True, I trade away the significant protection I have against people stepping on my feet or kicking me. I also can’t make a whole lot of noise with a stomp or anything, and I think i’ve confused some of my regular dance partners who haven’t quite realized they have to compensate for the fact that I’m shorter now. So, I’m not sold on the switch, but I also wish I’d thought to get the flats sooner. They are a nice contrast.
The dance itself was like I said in part 1, pleasant, but different.
I spent a couple of minutes complaining to my friend about my shoulder, but I had stopped the potentially disastrous move before any real damage had been done. It was just a little sore. So we quickly swept off to the other floor, because they were playing a Viennese waltz. I still don’t understand it, but my friend says is that many ballroom dancers find the Viennese waltz to be very hard. I wouldn’t come to understand until later in the night that this was so, having no sense of how crowded the floor typically would be. I had no idea the scarcity of couples on the floor for such a waltz.
I spent most of the night being rather shy and clingy to my friend, who was most considerate and willing to humor me. I did have a few wonderful dances with people I didn’t know at all. It was curious, dancing in a frame as light as a feather, every lead, a bare suggestion, a shifting of the eyes, a tiny motion in the hips. All my concentration bent on trying to interpret what I was supposed to be following, barely any connection with my partner. It was bizarre. Like we spoke two different languages and with no pidgin, were struggling to communicate.
And yet, my learning by experimentation, and by observation, served me well. Four years of dancing with countless partners, with many dancing backgrounds, gave me just enough skill to keep up with most of my partners. I dodged the Latin dances with anyone other than my ever patient friend, being that they are a weakness of mine, even in social dancing. I did however have a splendid hustle, a two-step, and a few others I don’t particularly remember.
I found navigating an exceptional challenge, although a fun one, for a number of reasons. With my mind on interpreting leads, my mind was less on navigating. A lot of the moves are angular, and go in unexpected directions. Moves I didn’t quite recognize until they were over, surprising me with whether they traveled or not. There is less rotating, and so more time that the lead cannot see in a particular direction. A greater number of professional ballroom dancers who seem incapable of varying their choreography. The leads are less attentive to signals from the follow. And, I knew no one at the dance. This meant that I didn’t know who was a beginner, and who was an expert. Who would be able to maneuver around us, and who wouldn’t. I couldn’t predict who was more likely to move in a seemingly sporadic direction. I am still unclear on whether a high percentage of sporadic movements is the mark of a beginner or an expert.
We called it an early night, as we were both tired. It had been a long week for each of us, and such a new environment had worn me out, too much thinking, too much new socializing. My feet hurt though, which was lovely. It’s been a very long time since I’ve danced enough dances in a row that my feet hurt.
I want to muse a bit about the lesson next. This post will be, well, significantly less glowing. I don’t think the teaching was bad, just that I learned to dance in a very different way, from very different teachers, and so found myself highly critical of their style. Fair warning, this is a very long post, because I have a lot to say, and the most important bits are at the end, so if this looks like a tl;dr kind of post, skip down to the last three paragraphs and peruse those at least.
The class started late, and ended late, but no one except me seemed to mind. The lesson was extremely fast paced, which caught me off guard. It was fascinating to watch. As a dancer that already knew a basic 3-count hustle step, I was able to figure things out pretty quickly I felt (although I did take their styling and throw it unceremoniously out the nearest window). A step might be demonstrated once, walked through once and then considered learned. Styling would be mentioned once, almost in passing, and things would move on. I felt like the teacher was a professional dancer, acting like he was teaching professionals a choreography. Not a professional teacher, teaching beginners how to dance. But people seemed able to keep up, more or less.
Except they weren’t keeping up. They forgot steps, misremembered important details, confused styling, and mixed up the names of the steps. The teacher would call one, and someone would mix them up and do another, and the teacher would stop the whole class to say “no, no, no. Do X not Y”. At one point one of the students got fed up enough to respond with “I don’t remember what X was.” The teacher took it with grace enough and demonstrated the step again with an air of “duh”.
Other than that, we spent a lot more time dancing individually rather than in couples. Because in ballroom hustle at least, the lead doesn’t really lead apparently. As the teacher put it, “Men’s hand’s are a teacup. Ladies have their fingers in the teacup just to test the temperature.” I assume he meant a sentiment along the lines of “don’t break the teacup, don’t make him pull you anywhere.” I found it an overly flowery way to say “the follows are self powered.” Not a bad way to dance, just not one i’m used to, especially for a dance as fast as Hustle.
One of the big differences between ballroom and social dancing is who’s to blame for a mistake. For example, in the footwork for an inside turn, a lot of follows were getting confused and turning more than they should. So the teacher explained that if you turned too much, you’d end up with your chest in your lead’s hand. And it was clearly the follow’s fault for over turning. Which of course makes sense, given that the lead doesn’t actually lead the whole move, just the beginning, and the follow finishes it without his help; so she has to know when and how to end up where.
It was just a different style up to that point. But then, towards the end of class, the teacher was rotating partners so fast that I felt like a machine lever. My partners were just going from one follow to the next and executing a pattern of motions. Hell most of them didn’t even look me in the eye. It made ballroom dancing feel like your partner doesn’t matter. If you could dance with a robot, so much the better because then you would be utterly free of worry about your partner messing you up. After all, the dancing is about you, not about you and your partner sharing a dance together.
And then, in the midst of it all came a moment that might have ruined my evening. In all the teaching, there was some little mention of there being a very light lead, but nothing about loose fingertips, or being gentle, or the awareness that in such close contact someone could potentially get hurt. In the middle of a whirl of partners and double outside turns, one gentleman moved his hands very quickly, so I attempted to turn just as quickly (being accustomed to turning as fast as i’m turned), but the gentleman retained a clamping hold on my hand such that it couldn’t rotate in his, which torqued my arm out, and back over my shoulder into such a position as to potentially cause damage. My friends says I could have ended up in the emergency room. I disagree, I don’t think the lead was actually applying enough force to dislocate my shoulder or tear anything. but then human biology is not my strong point.
It did in fact hurt however. So I stopped turning, and i took my hands away from my lead. He informed me that I “turned too fast” and moved on to the next follow. I was a little stunned. My shoulder hurt. He had no inclination that he’d done anything wrong. In fact, he hadn’t done anything wrong. I’d turned to fast. It was my fault my shoulder hurt. I felt stupid. I felt like a spoiled brat who’d been called out for it.
That, I didn’t like. I did not like that part of ballroom dancing one little bit.
I went ballroom dancing last night with a friend to the Cheryl Burke Studio. I have to say it was a fascinating experience in many ways, and I would like to share some of it here. Since I learned/saw/felt an awful lot, I’m going to be doing a couple of posts on it so none are overly long winded.
I would like to start by saying that having gone balllroom dancing only once, and being only one person, I can’t reasonably pass judgement on the entire activity, and to be fair, whatever else it was, it was a pleasant evening over all.
There were a number of things I enjoyed. There were two dance floors, one playing mostly traveling dances, the other playing mostly stationary dances. Which split the dances into a swing floor and a waltz floor more or less. I felt just a little schizophrenic however as the two floors were in the same room and therefore you could stand between them and hear hustle music in one ear and a quickstep in the other. It made it incredibly easy to go between them though, and made me quite reluctant to sit any dances out, since there was almost always something on one or the other floor that I wanted to dance.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere as well. The dance was held in the same place as Wednesday Night Hop in Mountain View for those of you who know it. It was very different from FNW, or Jammix. The room is large, and oddly shaped, with a number of rather inexplicable corners. The walls are almost all mirrored, the ceiling is high and unfinished, with the look of a warehouse. Couches and a carpeted area separate the floors. The lights are dim, and everything is softer for it. Television screens reveal the next three or four dances. It gave everything more of a club atmosphere, more of a… classy, upscale club feel. Not that i feel my normal haunts are poorer for the emphasis on casualness.
Everyone is soft spoken, a little dressed up, and rather more grown up. I won’t say that being more grown up is a good thing. Hell I’m about as little-kid like as they come at a dance event. It was however, distinctly different.
And the decorations, heavens the decorations were lovely. The whole hall was made up for St. Patricks day. A false ceiling with green and white streamers shamrocks hanging from them, and under the glass table tops. A few awkward pillars were wrapped in lights and then green fabric, so they glowed softly. The entrance was arched over by a rainbow. It was clear that whoever did the decorations cared a lot, and had plenty of time.
It was different. And it was nice for a change.