Yesterday I awoke to grey skies, frigid air, and fat wet drops beading upon my car.
Desert rain is a wonderful thing. There is nothing like the smell of creosote and wet earth. Since we get rain so infrequently I tend to really enjoy rainy days and overcast skies, even if it makes driving a little bit scary.
But I braved the weather (and traffic) so I could dance – I mean what else could propel me out of bed on a day that just begs to be spent in pajamas, under the bed sheets, with a cup of hot tea and a good book? You are right. Nothing.
But dance did rouse me and I met Ivan for a double lesson and we continued to work on our routines. And also, something kind of funny happened. We never discussed it, but all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we are working on an open Mambo routine. Actually, this started a few lessons ago, but today we took it to a new level.
Now here is a funny aside for you…from what Ivan tells me, dancers trained in Europe in the International Latin style have a very difficult time picking out the “2” count in the Mambo. For years and years, Ivan says, he and other dancers he knew danced off the timing, and started on the “1” count because that is what they could hear. In any case, these foreigners finally devised a way to locate the “2” count by pretending the song was for a Cha Cha! So, for instance, if you count a Mambo as a very fast Cha Cha you can find the “2” fairly easy. In fact, I remember Rado sharing this same tidbit at the dance camp! In any case, I find this amusing.
But I can relate. The very first partner dance I ever did was when I went to Spain. I went abroad for a summer of classes. An enterprising dance instructor talked many of my classmates into meeting at a local bar for Salsa lessons while we were at school. So for about a month and a half twice a week I went to a bar, drank Fanta orange with Malibu, and learned Salsa with my main partner who was from Algeria. Wow, when I write it like that, my life kind of sounds exciting!
Anyways, I loved it!
But of course in Salsa you start on the “1” count. This is what I was used to when it came to Latin music. So when my very first ballroom instructor began teaching me Mambo, I totally thought he was off the beat! LOL. I danced along with him, but I secretly thought he couldn’t hear the music properly! It took a long time to hone in on the “2” count, but ironically enough, now that I primarily dance Mambo, it feels awkward to dance on the “1” beat!
Okay, so back to my narrative.
We are working on this Mambo routine which is kind of exciting to me because it’s the first American Rhythm dance we’ve worked on beyond syllabus steps. I think I just asked for “cardio” in my lesson and this was the result. But anyways, just like in the Rumba and Cha Cha that we’ve already worked on, I need to know the choreography, the timing, the sequence of the steps. So the lesson was all about this, and it was pretty awesome.
Here’s the thing, though – in the beginning of the routine there are a lot of distinct steps, out of hold, and this makes them easy to remember in sequence. In the middle of the routine, however, I do about 15 left-right-left-hold (meaning balance on the left leg with the right leg free and available to move) steps. They all look different because we are doing different things with our arms and different facings in relation to the dance floor. But when it comes to remembering the routine, by myself, it gets tricky!
Seriously, the first hurdle is just knowing the steps with the proper timing. We didn’t even broach technique, character, performance, accenting, etc. But Ivan helped me. First, he laid down on the floor. You see, I was to do this by myself, and Ivan had had a late night involving wine heh heh heh. Second, we counted the steps and I did them over and over. The first few times, he’d prompt me when I was drawing a blank. By the end of the lesson, I pretty much had it. I say pretty much because I’m still slow – my brain is still working on overdrive to remember what comes next – but that is okay. Because now even if I have to pause and think, I can run through the routine on my own.
But the other thing Ivan did to help was to label certain distinguishing characteristics of the mostly similar steps. For instance, the first step, doing the left-right-left hold ends with me pointing forward with my left hand. We labeled this “Shoot Ivan.” Next in the sequence, I turn my partner lifting my left arm high and my right arm low. For whatever reason we focused on the low arm and Ivan called this move, “Send Ivan to Hell.” I laughed at these stupid names, but you know what? It helped me remember what was coming and it even makes a little bit of sense. I mean, you have to shoot Ivan first before you can send him to Hell – you know? LOL.
So anyways, the majority of my lesson was just getting clear on the what I’m supposed to be doing. Once we had done the choreography, and by “we” I mean me by myself, I asked Ivan to review the proper motion for the basic step. Why? For a few reasons. First, it’s been a long time since I reviewed the proper motion, much less danced the American Styles with any consistency. Second, because I noticed that I looked different doing it than Ivan did. Well, it was a great thing to request. More and more I find that going back to the very basics is so important and elucidating for more complicated steps and choreography. Knowing how to move properly in the basic sets me up for moving properly in every step.
So here’s what I learned. Well, probably more like “remembered” because I swear I’ve been told this stuff before but hey, if you don’t use it you lose it! (There is no Mambo in Inna’s class and Ivan and I have been focusing on Latin lately.) But anyways, what I “remembered” is that when doing the basic step you first place the foot (going forward or backward) and then even as you are changing your weight to that placed foot, you are actually propelling yourself in the opposite direction to land on the opposite foot. For instance, if you place the foot back, at the same time, as you are committing your body weight to the back foot, you are simultaneously shifting it forward to land on the next step on the opposite leg and foot which is stepping forward. The same holds true for the front step with the left foot, placing it but then shifting the body weight on to the back foot almost immediately. (One note here: the steps described are from the perspective of the lady (a.k.a. my perspective – because, after all, that is the most important perspective, no? lol).
Not only does this way of thinking about the basic Mambo step exemplify proper technique, but it also will change the look of the step, and even better, it will make dancing it with a partner easier and more in unison if both partners are doing it properly.
So I guess that’s the meat of my latest adventures. After my lesson, I made my way to a ballet class. It was pretty cool and in some parts easy but others challenging. I do believe that I will be sore tomorrow from the work I did today. And also, we worked on turns. And just by the way, turns from 5th position suck! LOL. Seriously, they are so hard, especially for someone with a tight Achilles Tendon and limited plie’ (AKA me) but we practiced them nonetheless. We did chaine’ turns across the floor which I managed fairly well, and weirdly I don’t get dizzy actually doing them, but I get extremely dizzy upon stopping (and I remember a time where I didn’t get dizzy anymore at all!), and then we did the turns from 5th. Well, mostly I did them average-like to poorly, but there was one really lovely turn! And you know what? I want to celebrate that one lovely turn because it was uplifted, and I looked like I was almost floating, and I held the posse position for just a fraction of a second longer than necessary with such beautiful control and center, placing my foot in 5th gracefully and solidly to end it. It was awesome! Of course, right after that the next 3 turns sucked ass, but hey, but you know, that’s what dancing is, right? Lots of practice to find that balanced uplifted strong space. 9 times out of 10, or even 99 out of 100, I blow it, or something is “off” – but then that 10th or 100th time it clicks and is an out-of-the-body experience of perfection. Well, at least that is how it feels to me.
So shoot Ivan and send him to hell! It’s been a good day to dance. And, to echo a Klingon sentiment (because I am a total nerd and Trekkie), it would be a good day to die. Because if I died today, well, I was in my process, doing what I love to do, working towards my potential. There is no worthier pursuit, no better way to spend my time. And for that, my friends, I am grateful.
You always make me smile! And feel more normal. I thought I was the only one who made up names like “the ping pong” in cha cha when I feel like I’m a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth as I spin. I barely know many real names of steps. Thanks for being you.
Awww, thanks SIH! Yes, I think we are all a little weird! Ha Ha! Thanks for being you, too!
Thanks for the great inspiration, insights and humor!
🙂 Glad you are inspired and enjoying the humor! We are nothing if we can’t laugh at ourselves, you know? Thanks for the comment and for reading the blog, Mary! I appreciate you!
There aren’t “names” in west coast swing for patterns or fancy moves. So during choreography last year, we had to make up our own. We had “the super-awesome whip,” “the wcs cross-over break,” “the octopus spin,” and my favorite, “the thing Jen can’t ever do correctly, but it’s still in this piece.”
Lolololol! The Octopus Spin sounds awesome and I love your “favorite” titles as well! Too funny!