That’s right folks. I am preparing to do a solo with my crazy awesome instructor to choreography that we had developed for us by one of the Arthur Murray professional dancers. If you have been following this blog for any amount of time whatsoever, you will recognize that this is nothing short of a miracle. When I think of the fear I had when this dance journey began, it’s amazing the progress I’ve made and the self-confidence I have built to even be able to approach this as a possibility.
So how does this choreography thing, work, anyhow you may be asking. Well, the studio invites the pros in for coaching sessions and you can use that time for whatever you choose. Some use it for technique critique, others use it to fine tune choreography they’re currently working on, but by and large people use this time to craft new choreography for future solos. This is exactly what I used this time for (my wife did as well and got an amazing Rumba routine). My poison was a dramatic Tango. My instructor found some great music from Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil is a great place to start when you’re looking for music selection because this music is made for movement and has some very nice hard beats.
Since we had the music selected, the pro worked through her process, listening to the music and really getting the feel for what would look great within my abilities (ok, we stretched those abilities considerably but nothing I can’t handle). So, yes there’s a good amount of what I’ve learned already with a bit of pazazz thrown in, but there’s also a lot of what I term “true dancing” or at least steps that make me feel like a “true dancer”. There are moves that you would see on any dance show that graces our primetime television experience. So, effectively, taking this step is really the start to some hyperbolic growth.
As of now, we have made it about halfway through the choreography (45 seconds worth) and I have mixed feelings about the progress. Certain areas are going really well and others I’m struggling with. My instructor tells me to trust the process and she’s pleased with the progress. All-in-all, I’m very excited about this new part in the journey.
Something pretty remarkable has happened with my dancing.
A little back story first.
I have been so freaked out by remembering routines, flubbing up technique, and just generally needing to become a better dancer that I have made it a point to go into the dance studio when classes/lessons aren’t in session and using the space for practicing. I have also bumped up my private lessons and group lesson attendance. All of this extra effort has caused me to gain a reputation around the studio as that dedicated student. It also has made me a better dancer, apparently. I know this because there is one student that has started to look up to me as an example of how to get better as a male dancer.
This is pretty amazing. This person in question has the same dance instructor as me and she told me that my progress is causing him to work harder/try harder. If you are an avid reader of this blog, you will know that this is definitely a milestone for me. It’s also a crazy responsibility. I’ve made a point to take this guy under my wing, impart whatever knowledge I have, and generally give him as much support as I can offer.
An interesting side effect is also that I am now trying harder because of all this. Effectively, I don’t want to prove him wrong. I want him to continue to look to me as a model and example of what progress looks like. So I think that the two of us are going to work off of each other and just get better in the process.
I’ve said it before, but the social dynamics of ballroom dance is deep and complex. This is a new wrinkle in that dynamic. I am no longer the newbie that is just trying to get my steps right to music, but I am now an intermediate level dancer that is not only getting the attention of female dancers, but also new male dancers as well. This is all unfolding as I prepare for my next competition in October.
Let’s see the impact it makes…
So I guess I took the summer off from posting, but I am now back in full force. The past 3 months have seen amazing growth in my dancing. In that time, I have solidly positioned myself as one of the better male dancers in the studio. I know. If you’ve been following this blog at all, you will know that my dancing is riddled with anxiety and baggage from my past. There’s something about competing (and having a rock star solid instructor) that moves you past the anxiety and into a place of pride and conviction.
Over the summer, I participated in a friendly competition with another studio. Now, I’ve done this before, but I was only competing with my wife. There’s a comfort with that. Even though you are more exposed by dancing with a fellow amateur, there also isn’t the perceived judgment. I say perceived because after going through the experience, not only was there no expressed judgment, but going through something like that makes your dance relationship much stronger.
So I dance the majors (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Rumba, Cha Cha, and Swing) twice (once with my wife and once with my instructor). Then I danced a West Coast Swing and a Salsa with my instructor. Those last 2 I had never danced before.
So the last time I finished one of these Team Matches as they call them, I was energized. I told my instructor my ambition of wanting to be the best male dancer in the studio. This time around, I was even more energized. I told my instructor that in addition to those goals, I see a long exciting dance future with her whatever shape that takes. I think she was excited about that. I know I am. I guess at this point all this crazy stuff is becoming a true passion of mine. Crazy.
So, yes, what a summer! We’re preparing for a new Showcase in October so stay tuned for those updates.
So I guess every dancer has that one thing that holds them back. For some, it’s maintaining head position. For others, it’s staying in time with the music. For me, it’s my damn right shoulder. In order to maintain proper frame, you need to do several things but keeping your shoulders back and down (also known as “locking your lats”), is critical to create the pocket of proper dance space. If this breaks down, then so does the pocket and the man’s movement encroaches on the woman’s and all communication of a proper frame is lost. If I could only master this one element, my whole dancing or level of dancing would change. My instructor has given me a number of exercises to work on this. I have done them every night, but I still seem to be having problems. It’s just when I’m focusing on the shoulder, I’m able to keep it back. The moment that I’m concentrating on footwork, timing, or style, the shoulder problem comes back.
Do any of you have any tips for me? Is it just that I need to continue with the exercises and muscle memory will take over?
So you have probably noticed that I talk about my height as a ballroom dancing man. A man’s height influences the length of his strides, the size of his lines, and ultimately, his presence on the dance floor. It’s a fact that taller men are noticed more on the dance floor if for no other reason than the fact that there’s more of them to watch. Of course, that’s a double-edged sword. Just as all of your successes are noticed, so are your failures.
So what is the ideal height for a man dancing ballroom? I would say in addition to the previous statement above, you want to complement your partner. You want your partner to naturally match you stride for stride. This makes for a much more symmetrical dance and uniformity. That’s not to say that partners with more of a height difference can’t be beautiful. My wife and I have about 8 inches between us (when she’s wearing her heels) and we dance beautifully. The height difference doesn’t make that big of a difference because we know each other and have danced with each other so long that she knows the strides I’m about to make and I know what I can give her.
Give me another partner, on the other hand, and all bets are off. Now, that does have a lot to do with me, admittedly. I just know that outside of my primary dance partner, my experience has been that if the skill level is comparable, dance partners closer to your height just feels better than those with more of a difference. You’ll notice I said skill level comparable. This is very important. I’ll take someone a foot shorter than me that can dance to someone exactly my height that cannot.
So take these few pointers and pick wisely, gentlemen. J