Yesterday was our last lesson with Eddie before we go to Gumbo the weekend after next. We spent our entire lesson (90 minutes) doing “rounds,” which means running through our competition routines over and over again with only a small break between repetitions. Waltz waltz waltz. Tango tango. Waltz-tango. Foxtrot foxtrot foxtrot foxtrot. Waltz-tango-foxtrot. Waltz-tango-foxtrot. Waltz-tango-foxtrot. You get the idea.
Rounds are ideal for building stamina, obviously: when I took my shoes off at the end of the lesson, they had sweat stains around the top of the heels. But they also help you learn to change gears really quickly. In a typical multi-dance heat in a competition, you walk onto the floor and dance anywhere from 2 to 5 dances (depending on your level) consecutively without leaving the floor. When you have finished one dance, you get a few seconds to take your starting position for the next one, and off you go. You are judged not only on technique but on “the character of the dance,” so during that short break you have to let go of the dance you just completed and focus on the one that’s coming next. After making your waltz look like a waltz–smooth, graceful, romantic–you must immediately make your tango look like a tango (sharp and aggressive) and then your foxtrot look like a foxtrot (upbeat, happy, elegant). And do all this while controlling your nerves, staying in time with the music, and practicing correct floorcraft and technique. No pressure!
I always have a hard time with waltz, especially in the very first heat of the day. Being slow, smooth, and controlled is a challenge when you are buzzing with adrenaline. But yesterday we worked on being more aggressive and powerful in waltz while still expressing the character of the dance: lowering, hinging steps from the hip, covering more floor. I found that if I really focus on my body, it gives my nervous brain something to do AND my dancing gets better. Sometimes I look at myself on video and I can see that I’m dancing with some weird combination of laziness and tentativeness. In some ways I’m holding back (not stretching my steps or working my hips) while in other ways I’m slacking off (letting my bum stick out or not staying left). Yesterday, after an hour or so of drilling our smooth routines and really trying to overcome those shortcomings, I suddenly found that my dancing in cha-cha, rumba, and swing got better too. A rising tide lifts all boats, it seems.
We are going to do some more rounds on our own tomorrow and one or two days next week, then we leave for Gumbo next Thursday. Stay tuned!