Dancing Stars 2012: Team LaJack

Following Jack & Laura on the road to Dancing Stars of Central Georgia

05/11/2012: Rehearsal #16: Dress rehearsal.  We had a great dress rehearsal last night at the City Auditorium.  Got our publicity photos done (which validated my decision to go in full stage makeup & eyelashes) and gained a new fan, viz. the photographer, Walter Mallard.  Hi Walter! Can’t wait to see your photos!  We got to mark through our routine on the stage 1 time and then do 2 run-throughs full-out.  Neither run-through was perfect but that’s okay.  Everybody knows that mistakes in dress rehearsal means fewer mistakes in the performance.  My only real concern is catching my heel in my dress on one particular move, so I’m going to ask Jack to go over that one with me this afternoon.  It was good to see some of our competitors in their costumes–everybody looks so great!  The stage floor is manageable and the space is, as I suspected, a bit bigger than our rehearsal space so we are in no danger of falling off the edge.  I also gave the event host Jeff Cox his assignment for the performance night: to come over to Jack & me just before we go on and tell us “Don’t f*** it up.”  We found out by watching the DWTS results show this week that Tom Bergeron says this to Cheryl Burke every week before she performs.  And, really, Cheryl never f***s it up, so there must be some magic in this ritual!

Next stop: the big show!

05/10/2012: Rehearsal #15: The last one!  Today was our last studio rehearsal.  Whee!  For those of you keeping track, there WAS a rehearsal #14 but I didn’t write it up that night and then our friend Sheree’ had her baby the next day and I totally lost the plot.  But now we are fired up & ready to go!  Actually made a minor change to the routine today in order to make better use of the stage space, so we might be practicing in the corridor under the stage before our dress rehearsal time slot tomorrow afternoon.  After rehearsal we recorded a little YouTube video soliciting donations for Jack and I headed off to get spray-tanned.  Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .

05/06/2012: Rehearsal #13: SEAL Team 6.  Told Jack this afternoon that I am the SEAL Team 6 of dancers because my dance bag is in the car and I’m ready to go at any time.  (Better analogy: Revolutionary-era Minute Men?)  Jack’s gorgeous wife Buffy and their super-cute kids (Wade, Judd, Ella, and Evan! I had to practice those names a few times) brought Jack to the studio and watched us do our routine.  Ella, who does ballet, gave it her expert seal of approval.  Judd, who had eaten too much popcorn earlier in the afternoon, had a stomach ache and just wanted to go home.  So off they went and we carried on with rehearsal.  With the show so close we are just polishing details like crazy.  Certain corrections are easy to give and easy to understand but hard to make stick–unfortunately, those corrections are usually to the fundamental elements that have to be right in order for a dance to look excellent.  Posture and frame, body lines, straighten this knee, bend that knee, open your chest, lift your elbow, lower your arm . . . . We could perform it tomorrow and it would look really good, but both of us seem to recognize that it could always be a little bit better.  Plus we are down to single digits now–the show is Saturday the 12th–and I think we want to keep rehearsing just to have our heads in the game.

Tomorrow (probably) we practice with my dress and take some video.  Thursday is our last rehearsal at Madison Studio, then Friday is dress rehearsal (full costumes, hair & makeup) at the City Auditorium.  And then Saturday we go out there and KILL IT.

05/01/2012: Rehearsal #12: Squirrel Blindness.  I don’t necessarily recommend rehearsing late at night (okay, 8:30 p.m. may not constitute “late at night” to anyone but me) but at the same time, a little goofiness fostered by exhaustion is not the worst thing either.  In continued pursuit of the perfect snap into promenade, I announced to Jack last night that I am now “squirrel-blind.” You will remember that a good snap into promenade resembles Doug the dog (from Pixar’s Up) spotting a squirrel and in order for the lead/follow to look right, Jack has to see the squirrel first, as it were, even though I’m the one who put all the squirrels in the routine.  So I am now squirrel-blind and Jack, fortunately, now has excellent squirrel-vision.

Continuing the small-animal theme we also went down a crazy rabbit hole of trying to dance our routine to a half-dozen songs that we both like but that are not our official song.  Bond’s “Libertango”: slightly faster but workable.  Shakira’s “Objection”: TOO FAST.  “We Are Young” by Fun. and “Rollin’ in the Deep” by Adele: either way too slow or way too fast depending on how you deal with the tempo.  Jack started me in on this experiment and said it helped him understand the rhythm of our song better.  Noted for future reference: it’s good to know what the traditional rhythm of a dance is before you ask someone to diverge from it.

In other news, my dress came in and it is GORGEOUS.  I can’t wait to perform in it!

04/30/2012: Rehearsal #11: “Casual.”  Last night was the “Casual Rehearsal” at Stratford Academy, consisting of a meeting with the show organizers to run down the schedule & requirements for dress rehearsal and day of show, then a chance for each couple to run their routine a few times on Stratford’s stage, which was taped off to (supposedly) the same dimensions as the City Auditorium stage.  I am pretty sure (read “aggressively hopeful”) that the producer cheated the dimensions inward a little bit, because if they were accurate I am definitely going to fall off the edge at the end of the routine.

It’s safe to say that we did not keep it casual at the casual rehearsal.  We ran our routine twice, full-out both times, despite not having rehearsed for over a week.  I wouldn’t say that we covered ourselves in glory but it was an extremely useful exercise to do the number on a stage with an audience, albeit a small one.  You gotta know the effects of adrenaline in order to fight them.  I get very tight physically but keep my wits about me while Jack’s concentration kind of goes all over the place.  Duly noted.  We’ll be rehearsing again tonight and should be able to clean up everything that was wobbly last night.  I am 100% confident that we will go out there on the 12th and KILL IT.

04/21/2012: Rehearsal #10: Getting the **** out.  Well, dear readers, it finally happened.  We were practicing the Big Finish to our routine, where Jack has to [redacted in the interest of suspense], I approach him at great speed by means of [redacted], and we finish in a [redacted] position.  Due to a slight misalignment, we hit the final pose and promptly. . . fell over in a heap.  It was hiLARious.  Fortunately no one was hurt except to the extent that we were paralyzed with laughter.  Jack agreed with me that we should continue to pursue a policy of making all possible mistakes in rehearsal.  If we can fit them in during rehearsals we’ll have none left to make at the performance.

Daniel & Ashley a.k.a. Team Dashley also attended our rehearsal today; we traded off with them doing run-throughs and getting critique.  Their routine is awesome–really high-energy and fun.  It’ll be a total crowd-pleaser.  Hopefully we’ll have a chance to practice with them again; Daniel had a good idea to get some video of Ashley and Jack talking together about their experience with Alzheimer’s to add to their voting pages.  Stay tuned to see the video here as well.

04/17/2012: Rehearsal #9: THE LIST. After Sunday’s rehearsal I realized we really needed to focus on problem areas as opposed to doing a lot of run-throughs that would, in effect, reinforce our mistakes.  So on Monday morning I sat down, went through the routine in my head, and wrote a list of about a dozen corrections.  I figured we’d be lucky to get through half of them during today’s rehearsal but Jack is such a quick study that we actually got through them all–including the ones he anticipated and fixed before I even mentioned them.  He has to be out of town part of this week and next so I’m glad we made really good headway today.  I’ve already got a list going for our next rehearsal on Saturday but so far it’s only half as long as today’s.

04/15/2012: Rehearsal #8: By hook or by crook. Someone (JACKSON WALKER) accidentally double-booked himself today, so we almost didn’t rehearse at all. But Jack made a heroic effort to come down to the studio after a 3-hour meeting in Atlanta, turning our 2 p.m. rehearsal into a 7 p.m. rehearsal.  Maybe both of us would have been a lot fresher at 2:00; nevertheless, we put in a good session.  It’s all about cleaning and polishing (wow, sounds like housework) right now.  Tonight we worked on defining head direction for every step in the routine and also on making some mushy-looking steps look neater and more purposeful.  And heel leads, heel leads, heel leads.

We were both having footwear issues tonight: Jack had come straight from the ATL with no change of clothes and no dance shoes (protip: keep ’em in your car!) and was thus dancing in his sock feet.  I was trying to break in my shoes for the performance and was thus wearing 3″ heels.  Jack minus shoes and me plus 3″ makes us very nearly the same height, which was a bit strange.  After a few run-throughs in the heels I put my practice sneakers back on and was fortunately (?) wearing those when I stepped squarely on Jack’s right pinky toe.  That’s one easy way to remember the problem area where we need to start at our next practice. . .

04/06/2012: Rehearsal #7: One more and one more and one more. With the routine fully choreographed & learned, Jack and I are now tapping into our inability to leave well enough alone.  Add a pose here; tweak a position there; put in a new move near the end which means subtracting something from the middle.  Run through it.  Run through it. Run through it. “Got one more in ya?” “Sure!” Run through it.  “Wanna go again?” “Definitely.”  Run through it. “Okay, we’re not going home on that one; it was terrible.”  Run through it. “I can go one more time.” “Okay, this is gonna be the best one EVER. It’ll be so good, you’ll cry!”  (It was pretty good, but no one cried.) This will teach me to pick up Starbucks for us immediately before a rehearsal.  In related news, we have renamed ourselves Team Coffee-Breath.

Jack is working on his tango face, trying to hit the sweet spot between looking like he’s doing differential equations in his head and looking like a creepy stalker.  I need to do a better job helping him out by resisting the urge to do shtick during the first 16 counts of the routine.  But it’s so hard, especially for a member of Team Coffee-Breath.

04/03/2012: Rehearsal #6: Woodshedding. Spent half our rehearsal time today polishing technique and the other half working through problem areas in the choreography.  We also took some video so Jack could review at home.  He texted me later and seemed discouraged; I forgot to warn him that seeing yourself on video is a sure-fire confidence killer.  No matter how good you are, you have an image of your performance in your mind that is always better than the reality.  But once you get over the initial shock, the video is useful for showing you your problem areas.  So it’s good that he took it–just gotta remember to delete it soon and not get obsessed!

Despite the few rough spots in the routine, Jack continues to impress me–he is thisclose to having the full routine tattooed permanently on his frontal lobe, and although his technique isn’t perfect yet it is improving by leaps & bounds.  It’s gonna be detail work from here to May 12.  Jack says his goal is for people not to be able to tell which of us is the “star” and which is the “pro.”  I think that goal is within reach!

03/30/2012: Rehearsal #5: Routine is DONE. It’s not polished; it’s not good; it’s not ready for prime time, but it is choreographed and we managed one clean nonstop runthrough.  I’m really glad to be done with choreography so early because we will be taking a couple of weeks off from rehearsals next month.  Plus, if we decide to get fancy/ambitious and add some new stuff, we have time to do it.  The great thing about Jack is that he is willing to try anything–and willing to keep trying it till he gets it right.  He also has the knack for simplifying, which is a strong argument in favor of dancing with a non-dancer.  Sometimes you need a dancer to tell you how to make your moves look clean and sharp and purposeful (doing steps in hold is easy compared to just walking across the stage, trust) but sometimes you need a non-dancer to say “If you need to turn around, why don’t I just grab your elbow and turn you?”  I was trying to make a trigonometry equation out of it and Jack was right: grab elbow and turn worked great.  We are both really pleased with the routine.  I’m proud of myself already for choreographing it and proud of Jack for working so hard on it.  You will want to see us in action on May 12–click here to buy tickets or make a donation if you cannot attend the event!

03/27/2012: Rehearsal #4: so close! Just finished rehearsing with Jack and we both can’t wait to perform this routine. Daniel came to help me demonstrate some steps and I think it really helped having the male perspective on the tango style. We are just hung up on one step right now–it’s a hard transition from a series of pivot turns to a series of Argentine-style flicks. But it will come and then it’s back to Your Trusted Choreographer to create a really big finish. The whole routine is pretty punchy already; I’m not sure how to take it up another level without needing Jack to juggle lighted torches or something. Not that he couldn’t do it but it’s probably against fire code! I had no idea I’d feel this way but I don’t want the routine to be over. I’ve seen so many cool moves I want to do and Jack is up for anything but we only have about 20 seconds of music left. It’s gonna be an incredible 20 seconds!

03/20/2012: Rehearsal #2 and #3: delayed but not denied. I got a cold last week and am still getting over it, so we skipped last Wednesday. Practiced Sunday and then today instead. Today we had the photographer and videographer in to capture us just starting the process. It was a slightly bizarre day: I have almost completely lost my voice and kept having to cross the room to speak to Jack because I couldn’t talk over the music. Anyone who sees this first video package is going to think I need medical treatment. They may also think we are both crazy. I started teaching Jack to do pivot turns, only to learn that he gets dizzy (and then nauseous) really easily. He held it together but was joking about needing to wear a trough under his chin just in case. I made it clear à la A League of Their Own: there is no vomiting in the tango! We also started talking about Tango Face and I realized it’s hard to describe. The best I could do was “You have to look like you might either seduce me or dismember me–it could go either way.” Thank goodness Jack does not think I’m too weird . . . or thank goodness he’s enough of a gentleman not to mention it.

We are 4th in the fundraising right now. I’m hoping some of my dance friends will come through with ticket purchases and donations once the event gets closer. Click here to “vote” for Jack and me with your donations!

03/12/2012: Rehearsal #1 was a glowing success. Jack is a hard worker and quick study who absorbs corrections like a champ. Our song passed the “Can we really dance to it?” test and the choreography is working out rather well if I do say so myself. The transition from notes (made while I was pounding coffee and playing the song on repeat) to actual dancing required a few minor adjustments to suit the counts but I was expecting that. I feel lucky to have an actor as a partner: although he hasn’t danced before, Jack is used to taking physical direction and creating a certain look. It will take lots of polishing to make this routine look REALLY smooth and elegant, yet sexy and compelling but after today I know we will get there!

I also have to give props to our instructor Eddie Ares, who gave me a lot of the vocabulary that I am now using teach this routine and communicate the character of the tango. Eddie’s phrase “Make an issue out of it” came in handy for explaining that quality of making a movement big, purposeful, and obvious. Describing promenade position as “squirrel position,” on the other hand, is entirely my fault! To move from closed position to promenade, tick your head to the left like Doug the dog from UP: SQUIRREL! Sure, there’s more to it than that, but . . . SQUIRREL!

I ordered my dress for the performance today. Jack bought shoes. We are all over this thing! Next rehearsal on Wednesday.

03/11/2012: First rehearsal tomorrow. We’ve got a song; I’ve picked out a dress and shoes; choreography is roughed out and ready to go. Can’t wait to get started! Don’t forget to “Vote for Jackson Walker” via www.dancingstarsofcentralgeorgia.com.

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