February 11, 2004

Weekend notes

I should really type this in before I forget. Last weekend I went up to Ames to attend the Cyclone Ballroom Classic, a dance competition run by the folks at Iowa State. It was lots of fun!

I drove in Friday evening through a driving, blowing snowstorm. Honestly, the driving wasn't that bad, since the wind kept the snow from sticking (much), but the sides of the road were like a car graveyard; there must have been sixty or so just between Des Moines and Ames. Nonetheless, I got there without event and met up with Kathy to practice and find out who-all I was dancing with. I got partnered with a few different girls from UIUC for the dances I wasn't doing with Kathy, and was able to dance one or two dances with them, at least for some of the dances. Then I went back to the room my parents were staying in at the Union---conveniently upstairs from the comp itself---where we'd brought in a cot. Kathy actually brought over a sleeping bag to sleep on the floor of the room so that she'd be able to just cruise downstairs in the morning. Sleeping was slightly complicated by a really uncomfortable bed, a really loud elevator right next door, and some amazingly loud snoring on the part of... well, I won't incriminate the snorer. Suffice to say, I got to sleep eventually.

In the morning, I got up about 7 so as to get to the comp at 7:30. This in itself was so bizarre as to be nearly disorienting; I'm used to having to get up fully three hours before the comp, to account for getting up, getting to the Arch, waiting for people, and then driving to Boston (or, save us, New Haven). Sleeping upstairs from the venue... y'all should try it sometime. ;)

I got downstairs to find the, hands-down, best competition venue I've ever been in. Seriously. The main room had a full-sized wooden dance floor that was neither slippery nor sticky, surrounded on two sides by ample seating (with room for more as the comp grows in future years) and on a third side by a large stage big enough to actually hold the MC, scrutineer, judges, and so on. Behind the seating on the long side was another smaller ballroom, with wood floor, set aside as practice space. And behind that was a third ballroom, the "Sun Room", curtained off, subdivided, and being used as a (huge) changing area. The main ballroom was big, with a high ceiling with decorated rafters and big windows (which were, alas, curtained). On two of the sides without windows was a long balcony that could easily be used for taping. The comp only had about sixty or seventy competitors, but the venue will be workable at least until the comp passes 250 or 300, I think.

The comp itself started at 8:30 and was broadly similar to most I've been to; but with so few competitors, there were only a few events that ran semi-finals, and all of those also ran "second-round" or "B-level" finals for those that didn't make the cut to the A-level finals. So, everyone gets ribbons, which is always nice. Another artifact of the smallness of the thing was that smooth and standard were collapsed into a single section, where either international or american-style waltz was allowed, and likewise for foxtrot, tango, and V-waltz. (Quickstep was also competed, international of course. ;) I did American for everything, just because it's a lot easier to lead with an unfamiliar follower. And I did quite well; in the advanced level, with five couples in, I got second or third in all five events, dancing little more than the basic. Woo!

The morning competition ended early, around 10:30, and so we broke for a two-hour lunch and changing break. Which was another slightly disorienting experience, given the rushed, crammed-in nature of most of the comps I've been to. We returned for the first afternoon section at 12:30: rhythm/latin. Here the sections were combined but the events were (by and large) not; there was only one cha-cha, for instance, but separate events for american and international rumba, and for swing and jive. Rounding it out were bolero and samba. This made things interesting, because Iowa State is a primarily American-style school and UIUC an International-style, so the separated events had significantly lower participation. My American rhumba was almost danced as an exhibition, until we cajoled ISU's Bryan and Jill to dance it too; my Jive was danced as an exhibition, because neither school really works on it. (It was a little embarrassing, but I got a few compliments, so hey.) No bolero (nobody to dance with!) but in the other events I did... okay. Not generally last place. But I felt a little bit stuck---good enough that I probably shouldn't dance intermediate, but not choreographed enough to dance advanced. :P

After a short changing break, we danced the third section: street. This was quite the novelty for me, as these dances simply are not competed in the New England comps, except maybe as an occasional fun dance. The events were Merengue, Salsa, Hustle, West Coast Swing, Lindy, and Nightclub 2-step. Of which I competed the middle three, to decidedly mixed results---I'm a little too ballroom-y to really pull them off. It was fun, though!

After the awards, my mom and I caught the Saturday Mass at St Thomas Aquinas, which I still think is architecturally one of the coolest churches I've ever been to---the "front" of the church is in the middle, and the lectern and choir are there, but the congregation sits to either side of this, so when the priest faces the front of the church during the Eucharistic Prayer he's sideways to the congregants. Really nicely set up. But that's another story altogether. After Mass, my family went out to a pretty good restaurant whose name I continue to not-quite-remember: a mental block keeps me calling it "Okechobee", but that's wrong. The service was good, but the food took a long time (my fault, I ordered the salmon, I wasn't thinking), so we missed the 8:00 salsa rueda lesson. (Kathy ran in to catch the second half, but I didn't bother.) I did show up at 9 for the social dance, however, where I was able to really network with the ISU and UIUC teams. The U of I folks in particular were really excited about the prospect of a club starting here at Knox---we're only two hours apart, practically neighbours, and can easily come to each others' dances. At the fun dance competition, I took 5th in Jack-and-Jill swing with a newcomer named Wendy from the ISU team (out of a field of 30 or more couples, with a deep-cut tap-out round to narrow it to the final 7!). Heady with that victory, I asked Jill, the most senior girl on the ISU team, to lead me in the reverse-role cha cha, where in a tap-out from 25 or so couples, we made the final cut and placed 4th. Which, I guess, means that I'm better at leading and following than I am at performing, but that's not really news to anyone. After the fun dances, the social dance continued until midnight, including a couple of polkas and a re-learning of the Electric Slide. Maybe I'll actually be able to keep it in my brain this time around.

The next morning the judges ran workshops. First, Chris Martin did a "debriefing" where he took all the various judges' comments and relayed them to the group. This was an incredibly useful thing that I wish were available at some of the New England comps.... After that, I took a smooth/standard workshop from Ed Simon that I found useful and a rhythm/latin workshop from Nathan Daniels that did an excellent job at laying out the similarities and differences between the two styles. (He also confirmed something I've suspected for a while---the word "hoo-ha" is actually a gender-neutral term for "genitalia", which he very consciously uses in sentences like, "When we say 'inside edge of the foot' we actually mean the inside edge of the foot, calf, and thigh, all the way up to your hoo-ha." Which is still a little disturbing because an alternate meaning for the slang term is just "big fuss, brouhaha", which is rather different. But I digress again.) Finally, Ed Simon gave a hustle workshop where he explicitly said something about the back rock that I've long observed---the best dancers don't dance it as a back rock, but as a together step from which to push forward on the next step. Great workshop, as usual.

Incidentally, Ed Simon did remember me, although he was having a really hard time placing me---which is reasonable, since he'd previously seen me at New York events and in Florida. For his part, one of the reasons he was willing to come out to judge this comp is he'd like to see ballroom become bigger in Iowa---his home state. Yup, that's right, he's from Cedar Rapids (and in fact his studio, Dance New York, has a satellite studio there).

After the last workshop, Kathy and three other people were taking a private Lindy Hop lesson from Chris Martin, so I killed time by reading the Iowa State Daily---pretty good paper, really---and then Kathy and I grabbed a late lunch at Quizno's (crappy ads, awesome shop) and I napped in her room for three hours before heading home, arriving around 11:00. Whew. Talk about your event-filled weekends.

Oh, and by the way, a new item in the Recommended reading: One Good Thing, a blog by a woman named Leigh Ann Wilson who writes about her young children and the sex toy shop she and her husband own in Lakeview. Really a great read.

"I am sure, absolutely sure that Dante fully intended to include Retail Hell into one of the circles. Maybe I just overlooked it when I had to read it in college. It's possible. I was drunk a lot back then." --Leigh Ann Wilson

Posted by blahedo at 7:10pm on 11 Feb 2004
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