September 13, 2007


That's how many people were at tonight's ballroom class.* It was overbalanced with women, but only about 2:1, so that's not as horrible as it might be. The encouraging thing is that the guys that were there appeared to be interested in their own right, rather than being the suitemate that got forcibly dragged along. There will be attrition, of course, but I'm optimistic that we'll get 35–40 next week (and possibly with a better gender ratio).

Also, they were learning pretty fast. Which is always a good sign. :)

*Well, that is, there were 67. Not 67 factorial. That would have been a little excessive; we definitely would have had to move to the fieldhouse then.

"My biggest concern in the 107th Congress is that Bill Clinton will be with my wife in the Senate spouses club." --Sen. Gordon Smith, R-OR

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January 13, 2007

The story of Vernon and Irene Castle

Ages ago, I TiVoed a showing of The story of Vernon and Irene Castle, a Fred-and-Ginger flick about the founding mythology of modern ballroom dance. I knew of the Castles, of course, but not a lot about them; and (as usual) the effect of the movie was heightened by not really knowing its outcome in advance. When I see a movie like this—which is not now exceptionally well known, not exactly one of the AFI top 100—I kind of wonder about the state of modern film, because despite being a "dance genre" movie, "just" another Fred and Ginger vehicle, it certainly has its share of drama and foreshadowing and suspense, though none of it of the hamhanded variety that makes you cringe at its obviousness. (Well, maybe a little of that.) Modern movies? It seems like, not so much.

That aside, this is a worthwhile movie for anyone in ballroom dancing, if only to see some of the genesis of the different dances we now do, like the foxtrot and tango. Even the samba shows up, indirectly; one scene depicts the "Maxixe"—those x's would be pronounced as 'sh'—which was a precursor to the American version of samba. Even today, the step known as the corta jaca in International Samba is known as a maxixe in American Samba, and this move certainly appears in the movie's Maxixe, as do moves recognisably analogous to samba rolls, voltas, and whisks, although the styling is quite different.

"Food are always in caves. They're like the grocery stores of the ancient world." --Sam Heath

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January 12, 2007


This evening I went to a Flamenco lesson.

As so often happens at Knox, when we book a visitor, we try to get them to do or talk about a variety of things. So when the dance department was inviting a guest instructor for the ballet class, they asked him if there was something else he could teach, too. Flamenco it was, which led to a co-sponsorship with the Spanish Club and a variety of other groups. Attendance was from a broad spectrum, including the dance regulars (members of Terpsichore) as well as much of the Spanish Club, Sarah Day-O'Connell's world music class, and a whole bunch of the ballroom group. Plus a few people who probably just thought it sounded neat.

It was! I actually drove home at 5:30 just to pick up my latin shoes, which I'd meant to bring this morning but forgot, because I figured, hell, this is pretty much precisely what a wood-block latin heel is for, there's no way I'm not wearing mine. I cruised in right on time, put on my shoes, and joined the ranks. The teacher moved really fast, and for most of the people there this was (by design) more of a "feel the rhythm" sort of survey rather than a "try to remember this" lesson, even for the dance professors. For my part, I was really digging the similarities to things I knew. In particular, my revelation of the day was that paso doble is essentially the partnered version of flamenco dancing. I've even seen flamenco before, but it never really registered how much the shaping matches. All the stuff with the forward hips, the pulled-back shoulders, the appel from a standing position? Identical.

A difference is the timing. Although there are some things phrased in 8 (the usual form for paso), most appear to be phrased in 12, with a really common duple-triple alternation; the first pattern we learned (and boy would it have been easier if he'd just counted it like this, but I figured this out later) went *1*-2-&-3-*4*-5-6-*7*-8-&-*9*-10-&-*11*-12-& and then repeats starting on the other foot. Another starts off with a slip-pivot motion on 2-3 into a presentation pose that holds till 6 and then prances on alternate beats, so that again the whole pattern is two threes then three twos: (1)-2-*3*-(4-5)-*6*-(7)-*8*-(9)-*10*-11-*12*.

The killer for me was totally the hands, though. In flamenco, the hands are always moving. I suck so much at coordinating hand motions with anything else; back in my jazz choir days, when we had to clap, I would actually make sure to clap silently, because with me also singing I would inevitably drift off time with the clapping. Which still screws up the visual, but at least the audio works! Anyway, so, flamenco. There's this sort of wax-on, wax-off thing you do with your wrists, and if you're a girl, the fingers are constantly spiralling in and out, while boys rotate the wrist as a fist and then pop their flat palms out when they get to the end of the rotation—before immediately making a fist again and rotating the wrist the other way. All of which is going on while you're doing moderately complicated foot stuff (which may be more than just stepping, as at least a few of the moves have a tap-dance-esque thing where the ball of the foot hits the floor with one timing and the heel hits with another!).

But it was all a lot of fun, of course. And then there were tapas out in the CFA lobby. That was when Jennifer Smith (the head dance professor) asked me if I would be interested help out with Rep Term's movement workshop, teaching some ballroom dancing. It was about all I could do not to shout, "WOULD I!" Of course I would. I've been itching to do something like that nearly since I got here. So it looks like I'll be teaching two to four days' worth of one of the Theatre/Dance department's movement workshops later this term. Whee!

"Everyone hates flacks. Journalists hate them because they think they're incompetent whores. Businesspeople hate them because they think they're incompetent whores. And flacks hate themselves because deep down inside they suspect that they might be incompetent whores." --Forbes

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August 18, 2006

Part 1: San Jose

Thursday: transit.

Fly out of Midway around 1:15, brief non-plane-change layover in San Diego, arrive in San Jose around 5:30 local time.
Fly out of Midway around 3:15, arrive in San Diego and first learn that we won't change planes, but then someone changed their minds and we did change planes (and didn't leave for another hour and half). Finally arrived in San Jose around 9:30, sans luggage and all things considered liquid, including lens solution, which is liquid, and toothpaste, which really isn't.


Competed. Took 5th in silver rhythm (from a semi), less well in other events. Ran into Mike and Jayne from Rhode Island.
Ate at a little coffee-shop-and-bakery a few blocks away. Went back to watch early rounds of some pre-champ and champ competitions.
Went for sushi at the place next to the coffee shop. When Bryan and Jill left to watch the evening events, Kathy and Ian and I walked to a bar. Then back to the hotel to get Kathy's ID, and then back to the bar again. Learned what bars smell like when they don't smell like smoke. Otherwise uneventful.


Got up before the slowpokes and got a chance to wander around SJSU and downtown San Jose. A lovely little semiburban city. Got sucked into a Borders, but escaped with little damage: one book I'd been meaning to buy for a while, and just one clearance item.
While Bryan and Jill watched Michael and Amelia, Kathy and Ian and I found some Indian fast food (naan wraps---the ultimate fusion food). While eating, Marissa and Michael and Dave (from BBDT) walked past. Chatted with them for a bit, before they headed back to the comp. Wandered over to The Tech to spend the afternoon.
Walked to San Pedro Square to find food. Settled on one place that looked nice and posted decent prices, but after we'd asked for a table, the host asked whether we wanted the other restaurant that shared its front door. So we went to the other restaurant, but this appears to be its back door actually, and there's no host at this end, so we walk all the way through the place and end up seated on the patio on the other side. The food is adequate. We then go back to watch evening events, where we get to snark about the costumes and the embarrassingly low quality of the rhythm events. Took a BBDT reunion photo with Michael, Marissa, Dave, Angie, and Alex.

Sunday morning:
Took the trolley to San Jose Diridon station, where there is no marking as to how to get to the Caltrain area; fortunately someone else was headed the same way, or I would certainly not have thought I was supposed to open the gates onto the tracks to cross them. Purchased a ticket from a vending machine, which gave no indication that it only gave change in quarters, even if you give it a twenty. Proceeded through the tunnel, which gives no indication as to the correct platform for northbound trains; ran up the wrong ramp before running back down and up the right one. All this running about with full hiker backpack and satchel cause serious windedness, requiring eyes-closed slow-breathing rest before getting back to normal. Fortunately, the train seems to have deparated in the direction of San Francisco and I had a full ninety minutes to rest and get started on Quicksilver.

"Folks, the President needs a break. He's like a Black-and-Decker cordless Dirt Devil vacuum. If you don't recharge his batteries, he can't suck!" --Stephen Colbert

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April 28, 2006

Actually, no, I wouldn't

I just went to a biology talk. One of the things that's always fun in the experimental sciences is finding incidental apparatus for some experiment or another; in this case, adhesive that could stick bits of string onto starlings. It was in this context that Professor Templeton (the speaker) uttered the following very funny quote:

"Eyelash adhesive. You'd be amazed to hear that they still sell fake eyelashes—who knew?"
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April 24, 2006

General update

I haven't been feeling very bloggy lately, but I've actually been doing a few things worth writing about. Saturday I was in Indianapolis for part of a dance competition, where I didn't do very well, but really liked the downtown area. Vibrant and very well-integrated, you could tell it was active from the crack of dawn until past midnight, unlike say downtown Chicago or downtown Galesburg. It's big enough to have a decent nightlife (at least, so it appeared in one evening there) but small enough that the nightlife hasn't divorced itself from the business district, which is nice. Also, the architecture is great, at least in the half-mile square right around the city centre.

Then I had to rush back to Galesburg to practice for the chorus performance on Sunday. We did a Civil War-themed concert, with each song preceded by narration and readings (of the voiceover-on-A&E-specials variety) that really made the concert feel more like a play. (Or a revue, but that term makes it sound kitschy, which it wasn't.) Everybody was on, at least to the outside observer. The soloist that had woken up with no voice and the soloist and reader suffering from severe back spasms didn't let on, and you'd certainly never know. The world-premiere piece that we did really came together, and we actually finally liked it (after a couple of months of banging our heads on it—it's modern, so you need a while for it to grow on you). I can't wait to see the DVD.

And then I had to turn around and write a midterm exam for CS 142. Which, for some reason, was way harder than usual. I was having a devil of a time writing questions of the appropriate size. Although I prefer writing more smaller problems, so that blowing "part 1" doesn't screw you for part 2, I just kept devising these monolithic problems that I couldn't tease apart into pieces. It's also a very boring exam, largely due to the order I've had to follow in teaching things, which hasn't really let me devise any of my fun problems. (Maybe that's just as well? But I have heard students comment that they enjoy my exam problems.) And I couldn't use problems from last year's CS 142 midterm, because I haven't covered any of that material yet, although I'm close in a few cases.

Now I need to tidy up some loose ends and do laundry, and tomorrow I'm doing a fast round-trip to Chicago for an eye appointment and to get my car fixed. Fun fun fun....

"Giving 51% of the people 100% of the power is immoral. It's rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic to debate whether the 51% should be chosen randomly or by careful scheming." --Paul Hebble

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March 13, 2006

Dance, dance, dance

Knox sent eight people to the Cyclone Ballroom Classic this year. As usual, the ISU Ballroom Dance Company put on a nice competition at the best venue ever. I think some of the team was a little disappointed, because there wasn't as much placing as last time, but happily, they aren't discouraged—they are all going to Northwestern's competition in three weeks, and are determined to keep getting better.

Andrew and Dana did a fabulous West Coast Swing, taking first in the bronze division. I think that's better than I would've done. :) I got a trophy because Kathy and I were the only ones up to the task of competing all 19 dances. Which seemed a little cheap until I realised that the reason that the others didn't compete all 19 was because they knew they wouldn't look very good. So, there's something to that. Continuing a lifetime trend for me, my best placement was in a fun dance: reverse-role cha, led by Dana; we made the callback to the finals and then placed second. Dana then turned around and followed Jennifer, the ISU coach, in a Jack-and-Jill waltz, getting called back twice and placing fourth!

The real highlight of the competition was in many ways the workshops the next day. The judges gave eight hour-long workshops on everything from Paso to Peabody, and Knox folks were at nearly all of them. It was nice to hear them repeat a few things I'd been telling them, but it was even better that the judges were saying things that I hadn't gotten around to saying (or didn't know!). We really need to figure out how we can get up to a professional studio every now and then to get lessons from a pro.

"I'm "that" guy at an Oscar party.... I make fun of dresses and awkward (stuff) like the rest, but it quickly deteriorates into rants about the ignorance of our society and how lame it is that we are watching this crap. I usually am banished to the kitchen by the costume designs." --Justin Kaufmann

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February 27, 2006


It's said that when you attend a ballroom competition, the only reliable thing about the judging is that the best six couples make it to the finals. That is, whether you get knocked out in the semifinals or in the hexadecifinals (hey, I've been to some big comps), it just means you're not as good as the best six.

The corollary for a tournament like Dancing with the Stars is that only the final champ matters, and if so, I guess I agree with the judging. In the very, very final tally, I think the right person won. I just disagreed with a lot of the choices along the way (not always the judges' decisions, but the outcomes after audience voting). Specifically, I'd rank the competitors as follows:

My rankStarDwtS rank
10"Master P"7

Note in particular that with the exceptions of Drew and Tatum, all the women were better than all the men. Drew's push to first in my personal ranking was a very recent event, pretty much just in the last week; I feel that Stacy hit her limit, and while she was still very good, he pushed past her in the final surge for the finish line. Freaky Lips Lisa was easily the most improved of the whole lot, easily rounded out the top three, and would've given Drew and Stacy a run for their money if she'd made it to the finals. Tia and Giselle just got the shaft, plain and simple. They could both dance rings around any of the guys other than Drew. A combination of poor judging and lacking fanbase is what did them in. Jerry really did get a lot better over the course of the competition, and he really was very gentlemanly about the whole thing, so I didn't especially mind him making the semifinals, but he simply wasn't in the same league as the others. While the top five on my list had long since lost the characteristic newcomer look, if they'd had it at all, even on the very last day Jerry was still not straightening his legs, still sticking his neck out, still flinging his arms around, and all around looking like someone I'd expect to see in the Bronze-level events. George had had a promising start, but actually got worse over time; and his patter, initially funny, became obnoxious and annoying weeks before they finally got rid of him. Tatum may have just gotten unlucky at getting her "bad" dance early on, because her waltz looked fine. And Kenny's chief virtue is that he wasn't as totally horrible as "Master P". (Also, I liked his snarky comment at the end about the funny ranking system.)

So here we are at the end of another series. Based on the ratings its gotten (and that with 2½ hours a week dedicated to it), I think we can expect at least a few more. I wonder how long it will be—and who they'll get in the next batch. :)

Incidentally, someone gets a Best Targetted Advertising award for the two-minute commercial for Take the lead, sort of a Stand and deliver-meets-Shall we dance?-meets-Save the last dance starring Antonio Banderas (I mean, seriously, what's not to like?), which looks to be an excellent addition to the ballroom film canon.

"The nice thing about it being 12 degrees out is that having a space heater pointed at my bare feet is the most luxurious opulent sensually enjoyable thing I can imagine experiencing while I work on a boring porn site for money AND I AM DOING IT RIGHT NOW." --Zach Miller

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February 17, 2006

"No it *wasn't* a proper tango, it was *Blondie*, for God's sakes!"

Well it's about damn time somebody said it. It has seemed completely incredible to me that with all of the high-powered ballroom types on live TV at DwtS, nobody ever pointed out that a lot of the music they play is not even remotely close to the right sort of music for the dance. We saw it especially with paso doble, but also with many other styles, tonight including Blondie's "One way or another" as a tango of all things. I've even wondered if they're deliberately sabotaging couples by giving them music that makes it virtually impossible that they could convey the "feel of the dance", something the judges often harp on and sometimes is legitimately not the dancers' faults.

So tonight when Len called Jerry on something not looking like a "proper tango", pro dancer Anna (who afaict is not supposed to talk while the judges are reviewing), interjects with, "No it wasn't a proper tango. It was Blondie, for God's sakes!" And I just started cheering, because, jeez, it's about damn time.

PS: Drew looked pretty good, but the dances of the evening were definitely Lisa's. She was the only one with hip action in the Latin, and Stacy was just downright wooden in face, hips, and legs in both dances. While I don't begrudge Jerry this trip to the semis, he's so clearly in a different league from the other three; I certainly hope that the mis-ranking of Lisa at 3rd doesn't cause her to get bumped out.

"'Temptation Island' ... 'frat boy' ... 'business major' ... 'sorority girl' These are the important keywords involved in this little bourgeois puzzle." --Matt Stanislawski

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February 10, 2006

The semifinal approacheth

Week 6 came and went, and George finally danced his last. I'm reasonably happy with how it turned out; while Jerry isn't fantastic and Tia really ought to be there instead, he has definitely shown considerable improvement over the course of the series. His paso doble was perfectly respectable, its chief fault being that it was danced against some seriously great competition. Meanwhile, I feel that George has actually gotten worse, or maybe it's just more apparent now that he just stood there and acted a part while Edyta danced circles around him (or, as Len put it, "flatulated around him", but that's probably not quite what he meant to say ;).

Over the last few weeks, I've found myself really rooting for Freaky Lips Lisa, though. Unlike Stacy, who was a total natural, Lisa has clearly gotten this good through a lot of hard work, and definitely gets the "most improved" award whether she wins the series or not. Contra the judges, I actually think Lisa's dance was the best of the week. Drew still has that shoulder problem (though it's much better now), and his tango wasn't nearly as sharp as Len claimed. Stacy's jive looked fantastic, but her knees were bent the entire time. But Lisa, arguably dancing the hardest dance of the three, managed to do a quickstep with poise and elegance, very well in synch with her partner. It's true that there was a misstep in the middle—I'm not arguing she deserved a 30—but I still thought it was better than the other two.

(See, this is the problem with grade inflation. Once you have people that consistently get 9s and 10s, it gets very hard to make fine distinctions between them. Since scores don't carry over from week to week, the judges should really just say "the first dance of the night is getting 5s from everyone, no matter how good they are, and then we'll curve it from there." I suppose that wouldn't be as exciting, though.)

With respect to tonight's performances, holy cow those kids were sharp. That last one—Maksim's brother?—did the most amazing triple spin ever, and I had to back up the TiVo to rewatch it about four times, the last time in slow motion. Wow. And the other performances were all impressive, too. This is so much better than the occasional ballroom championship special; thanks to the reality show format, we get 2½ hours a week of good-to-great-to-OMG-fantastic ballroom dancing. Here's hoping for a successful and long-running franchise!

"I'm a single woman with three cats---if she hangs out here much longer I'll get attached to her and keep her and will someday end up shuffling around with thirty-odd cats in a filthy, decrepit Victorian house, frightening the neighborhood children and likely being eaten when I expire. I'd like to prevent this." --Jill Moniz

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January 27, 2006

DwtS again

I said I wouldn't review it every week, so for now all I'll say is: well, thank goodness, it's about time.

Now off to do more housecleaning....

"As for this being the stupidest column I've ever written---ha! not even close! I've written lots of stupider ones. You just need to read more." --Eric Zorn

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January 20, 2006


And tonight we see a stellar example of the flaws in ABC's elimination rules for Dancing with the stars. It's fine to have viewer input figuring into the tally, shaking things up a bit, but by making the scores only count by rank, being second-worst with a lead of 6 is no better than being second-worst with a lead of 1, and there is no way for the judges to signal that one dancer is just so bad that he shouldn't continue; and when you get celebrities whose fan base is large and will call in lots of votes for them, they simply can't be gotten rid of. I would happily cast votes against this jackass if they'd let me, and I think a lot of other people would too.

This P idiot has repeatedly shown disdain for the judges, for the sport, and for the show, and has no interest in actually doing a dance that looks good, rejecting everything that ballroom dancing is about, and preferring to just do his own thing. Fine, but get off the damn show then. He has now been promoted past at least two dancers better than him, one significantly so, and he doesn't even appreciate it. As a result, we will next week be subjected to yet another dance that is ugly and painful to watch, instead of getting to watch a dancer who wants to dance well, dancing sharply and prettily.

Let me be clear: I have no problem with watching beginners. I teach dance twice a week, and I go to competitions, and I have fun watching people who are still learning to dance. They muck up the steps a bit, and they have bad form, but they're still fun to watch. And at least seven of this batch are (were) even better than that: in an amazing burst of effort, they have learned in a few weeks how to dance quite well, and as I said, Giselle's tango yesterday was great, something that would have been in the running even in a real ballroom comp. And yet, the rapper gets the callback instead, because his fans, who wouldn't know a foxtrot from a paso doble, call in all their votes for him just so he can win, nevermind that it's a competition of which he has rejected the premise, the evaluation, and the spectators.

Hey judges, you read blogs? Here's what you need to do: award everybody except P a 9 next week. That will tie them all for first, and he will be sixth, and the viewer voting will have to rank him #1 for him not to be eliminated. At this point, gaming the system is about all you can do.

Other viewers: I'd bet anything that lots of people did just what Greg and Carrie did last week, and that's exactly why Jerry got called back instead of Giselle. Seriously, if you're going to commit vote fraud (and why not, it seems to be encouraged), you should at least spread your votes over the bottom three or so, to avoid this problem. Anybody whose viewer ranking is as much lower than the judges', as P's is higher, will get knocked out before he does.

(In other news, what the hell is DwtS's deal with thinking that music from Rocky counts as a paso doble? Last season, Joey danced to "Eye of the Tiger", and tonight the professionals danced—under protest, I assume—to "Theme from Rocky". Yechhh.)

"Miss Manners recommends dropping whatever else you are doing to go hunt for salad knives. It will not be easy, but the small knife, also sometimes called a tea knife or a youth knife, is the only correct one to use. You need them, because you are at an impasse. You are right that meat knives should never be used on salad, but your partner is right that one has to defend oneself against inconsiderate and lazy salad-makers." --Miss Manners

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Dancing with the stars, season two

I'm not going to run a weekly commentary on the new season of Dancing with the stars like I did last summer (1 2 3 4 5 6), but I do plan to check in from time to time.

It's pretty amazing, quite frankly. With the exception of the surly guy that got eliminated the first week and the big galumphing elephant that will hopefully get eliminated tomorrow, the talent here is quite good. There is definitely significant competition at every step along the way. So far, I have agreed with nearly everything the judges have done, except for their curious love affair with Drew Lachey, who is far from bad but not nearly as good as the judges make him out to be.

This week was certainly the women's week to shine. All four of them were better than all four of the men. Even Freaky Lips Lisa looked good out there; hers was the only jive that really had the triple-steppy bounce of the dance down. And that's a dance to show off the follower, and a hard one to follow—she picked a hard task, and really did well at it. (Probably a wise choice, as I don't think her tango would be as good.)

The top three performances of the week were the other three women, though, and Giselle got totally rooked on her tango. From a non-dancer perspective, I'd love to see the final dance-off come down to Giselle vs. George, because they both have the wittiest banter and play off each other very well. But as good as he is at the dancing, she's got him beat, and she got my online vote this week.

Not needing my help at all were the other two women. Stacy's tango was so sharp, I was sitting in my living room shouting at the TV: "Holy cow! Look at her head snap! Oh my God!" Good choreography and good song choice, too. The judges were surprisingly negative in their commentary, and I had resolved that if she got anything less than a 27, I'd have to throw something at the TV. No need, although I still think it deserved even more. Tia's, then, was just as precise, and she had the emotion and aggression the judges claimed they wanted, and she threw in some positively gorgeous Argentine moves that really enhanced everything, so I thought she'd have to tie or beat Stacy, though there again I was slightly disappointed.

So much good dancing! The elimination choice this week is easy, and I hope the audience doesn't screw it up, because I can't take another week of "Master P", and I feel really really bad for his partner, who is a real trooper. But after he's out, there are still seven left and it will be genuinely hard to decide who I like least. At this point, they've all given some really good performances, and it will start to come down to consistency, I think.

(And when I think, geez, these guys have only been dancing for a month and a half, well, that just makes the outcomes that much more impressive and enjoyable!)

"It's still possible to get locked out of a private home, but usually this requires the help of another in the form of a playful spouse, rowdy friends, or just a toddler who pulls closed a door for whatever reason toddlers do most things." --Snopes

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October 30, 2005

Comp results

This weekend, I took nine kids to the UIUC ballroom comp, and they sure did me proud. Over the course of a dozen or so events, they took home 16 (pairs of) ribbons, but even better, they got complimented by several total strangers for having fun and looking good. Also notable is that of the nine of them, six got called back and/or placed in a jack-and-jill event, dancing with someone they'd never danced with before.

Speaking of which, I danced a couple of events with Amy from UIUC, whom I had met before in a non-ballroom context but never danced with before; we got called back into Advanced-A for our Hustle and placed in Advanced-B for our International Cha. And I know this might be more attributable to the partner, but when I danced with Kathy, we got put in Advanced-A for all six events, and placed in three of them: 5th in Int'l Samba, 4th in Am Rhumba, and 3rd in East Coast Swing. So much for smooth being my better section! (But like I said, the credit is probably hers; among her other events she racked up another five placings, including two well-deserved firsts.)

Now, here's hoping ISU's comp doesn't have some horrible conflict with Knox's schedule next term, so I can sustain this momentum. My team is totally psyched about competition now, and are working on becoming actively designated a club sport, for better access to things like renting vans to go to competitions. Which would certainly be convenient!

Thursday also happens to be "take our children to work day" at IBM. If you seem significantly taller and less rambunctious than the other participants in the conference room, check whether you have inadvertently signed up for an event at "take our children to work day". If so, return to the lobby and re-register. --PL Day Info, IBM

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October 24, 2005

Long weekend

My weekend started last Friday, with a party in honour of a few of our new faculty at Heather Hoffmann's house. It was the best sort of party: most of the time, most of the people were standing around the kitchen, talking. And the hosts were nanobrewers, with one beer on tap that had espresso in it. Fantastic.

Saturday, I meant to get up at ten, actually made it up and showered and dressed by noon, and had an hour to do tidying and cleaning for guests. One of whom showed up early, but whatever. I have had people over before, but those were explicitly in an "I haven't moved in yet" mode; this was the first time I had people over to a moved-in house. It went pretty well; Chris and Christopher and I played a few rounds of Rumis before moving on to Lunar Rails, a crayon rail game that ended up lasting nearly seven hours (the box said 3-4, but they lie a little and we were just learning the game). Chris won, I lost, a good time was had by all. Definitely an experience to be repeated.

Sunday, then, started out uneventful (although at coffee-and-donuts one of the parishioners was celebrating her hundredth birthday), but after the community chorus rehearsal I bustled over to the knitting club, where they had a guest speaker. Someone's friend's mom, I think, but she's a weaver. She brought a table loom, which was pretty cool; easy to understand when you watch it, and in particular, easy to understand how to get from your "basic weave" (over, under, over, under) to more complex designs. The best part was her computer program, which lets her assign warp threads to harnesses, optionally assign harnesses to treadles, and then lay out a treadle pattern and see how the weave would look. For someone who can pick up the notation fast (e.g. me), this permits a much faster demonstration of the relationship between thread, harness, treadle, and pattern than would be available from actually doing it. She also had some very interesting and impossible-seeming woven scarves; mind-blowing. I was so sad that I had to leave a few minutes early to go teach ballroom.

That went well, too, of course; it was the last team class before our competition Saturday (!), and I ran it as a mock comp, going through each dance in turn, doing a four or five minute practice period and then clearing the floor, making them walk on with their partner and dancing as if in competition for the 90-second window of time they'd have. Hopefully, this got them a little more comfortable with the format. We'll see Saturday, I guess. :)

Of course, all of this stuff meant that I didn't get very much grading done. Alas. That's what I should be doing right now, I suppose. Ah, procrastination, what would I do without you?

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." --James Nicoll

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July 07, 2005

Dancing with the Stars, pt 6

The finale.

John wants help learning lifts, and they bring in Patrick Swayze? Give me a break. Talk about playing to the audience. Anyway, seeing John and Charlotte's quickstep this time made me wonder: was it really not as good as before, or was I imagining it? I felt that they weren't as well synched, and although it wasn't bad or anything, they looked too much like they were trying too hard. Nice ending, though. The 27 they got was certainly too high, considering that it's the judges' way of saying "we thought it was damn near perfect".

Not to be outdone in the Dirty Dancing references department, Kelly practices her lifts in the pool. Sigh. Her samba, then, was maybe a bit worse than the last time (much as was John's quickstep). She's still clomping through her voltas, and her real issue is an inability to straighten her legs. The routine had a lot of spinning in it, and she frequently seemed like she wasn't totally in control of things; her arms appeared not to flourish but rather to flail. All the same, she does have some hip movement, and the actual footwork proper seemed to be relatively clean. I think I agree with the 25 inasmuch as I thought it was worth about two points less than John's quickstep, but I think they both should've been a little lower.

Freestyling around the floor, John managed to bring back the synchrony I liked so much. The choreography showed this off; it also let him throw in a lot of "formal" moves (which looked good) and a lot of showy, fun moves (which also looked pretty good), with a "character of the dance" well fitting the infectious enthusiasm of the song ("I'm so excited"). A pleasing performance with some easily overlooked inexactness of footwork. This one actually deserved the 27 it got, I think. See, this is the problem with grade inflation.

Kelly danced to "Let's get loud", which is really hard to beat for a compelling upbeat latin dance. Her routine was a really well-put-together open cha-cha (which, note, was not one of the seven dances she had already learned for the competition), which incorporated some recognisable bits and pieces of samba, hustle, and even a swivelly little salsa move, as well as the now-foreseen lifts (which were very well-executed). It was a nice way to play to her strong suit. Most of the worst clunkiness came at a transition between a lift-y move and regular dancing, which is understandable since they had less than a week to prep it. As usual, here legs never really straightened and she was a little clompy sometimes, but overall a great performance, one of the best in the series.

Unfortunately, the judges were clearly pressured into scoring her a certain way. I might have expected a 10 to come out on the very last dance, but the idea that all three judges, who had never awarded a 10 yet, would decide that this routine was so much better than every single other routine in the entire series, was simply too much of a stretch. I get the feeling that in the middle of the series they were allowed to judge according to their own criteria, but in the first and last two weeks they were under pressure from above to do certain things. Yuck. This routine was good, but certainly not worth the only 30 awarded ever.

We now turn to a medley of the other four couples. Trista's rumba was actually pretty good. Evander was just as bad as ever. Rachel's tango was, if not great, at least a lot of fun to watch. Joey's cha-cha was a significant and noticeable improvement over the one he did in week one; his feet were sharp, he stood up straight, his facial expression was good, and he had a passable latin motion.

Finally, the awards. Pretty much as soon as Kelly's 30 came up, it was easy to read the writing on the wall; she's always been very popular with the audience, and it seemed exceedingly unlikely that, having won the judging, she'd lose the audience. And as we might've predicted, she won.

All the same, I think that she might've had a shot even without the network's interference. She improved so much over the course of the series (much like Joey, for that matter) that it's hard to use anything earlier than a week or two ago to really form a good judgement; and even with tonight's dances only, her freestyle might have been enough better than John's to offset the amount her samba was worse than his quickstep. It's just that the judges had boxed themselves in with that first 27, so none of the rest of the scores could be reasonable either.

So, in the end, I'm not disappointed. I still think John could've been the winner, and he certainly was a consistently solid competitor. But by the end, Kelly was good enough to give him a run for his money, and took the prize. The series as a whole was definitely an unmitigated success. Here's hoping it's the start of an annual summer franchise!

"After all, deleting e-mail all day builds up an appetite. And what better way to fill that craving than with a protein-rich square of salty, pink pork." --Wired

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July 06, 2005

Dancing with the Stars, pt 5

Lots to talk about now. I just finished last week's DwtS episode, and the results were both expected and unexpected.

John and Charlotte are so smooth. Although the timing on his foxtrot wasn't the three-in-four timing characteristic of a truly advanced dancer, he still managed to delay the initial "slow" a little, and look really smooth on his rise and fall. And he was pulling out move after move after move that looked good and easy, and was in fact quite advanced. A shadow grapevine. A contra check. A bounce fallaway! How did he get all that in one week? He's really good at being good enough not to distract from showing off his partner, and that is why he will win. Charlotte is clearly the best teacher in the group, too, in addition to being an excellent dancer in her own right, and this helps too; this is fundamentally a pro-am championship, even though the network is focussing on the "am" part, and Charlotte will deservedly make a fortune after this. Their score of 27 was too low for this performance.

Kelly walked on with an odd costume for a smooth dance, but she put on a pretty great show, especially considering she'd learned foxtrot just three days before and was still actively working her General Hospital gig. She is a really good follower---probably a mix of innate talent and good instruction---and her pro is quite canny at selecting moves for which he can provide a strong lead. She has a bit of a pop up on her rise, but manages to be smooth nevertheless. As the routine ended, I guessed she'd get a 22, which was right on.

I loved Joey's costume (and his partner's even more), but he still seems constitutionally incapable of bringing his legs together. He was dancing right on the 1, 3, 4, which is of course what you teach beginners to do, but of course makes him look like a beginner. I do have to say, though, this was definitely his best performance so far; he has shown a lot of improvement since the start. Unfortunately, there was too much show and not enough dance. As a cabaret piece, it would have been great. This is pretty much exactly what the judges said, too, and then his whiny partner actually had the poor judgement to start arguing with the judges. Why did she think that would help? I thought the score of 20 was probably about right.

So now we move on to the Paso Doble. I was slightly dreading the prospect, because it's sort of a tricky dance; on the other hand, it would benefit my man John significantly, because the hip stuff he has such trouble with is not really there.

John led off with some syllabus paso and then mixed in some good open work as well. The routine was well-planned to show off his partner (who, btw, had an awesome costume (that skirt cape!), much better than the unflattering thing they stuck on him) in a dance that tends to highlight the guy a lot more. And she's really really good. It looked pretty awesome, and as usual he really nailed the character of the dance. It wasn't one of his smooth/standard masterpieces, but it was a fine, fine piece of work. The judges fell over themselves to give it another 27, which I thought was a smidge high but was pretty happy with.

Kelly took the floor, and this music started playing, and I said, and I quote, "what the hell kind of paso is this?" And it was even worse than that: not only was the music a samba, so was their routine. From start to finish, they danced a well-choreographed samba. WTF? Judged as a samba, it looked pretty good, actually, but it just wasn't a paso.

Not. A. Paso.

And yet somehow, the judges affected not to even notice. After all the crap they've given all sorts of competitors for not observing the character of the dance, making it too showy or not feeling it enough or whatever, the comments they gave were so deeply, utterly disconnected with reality that I can't help but assume that there was some network muckamuck sitting there telling them they had to give Kelly good marks so she'd get called back so the finals would be gender-balanced. There's just no other explanation. The judges awarded this routine, which failed on the most fundamental of criteria, a 25.

Still somewhat in shock from the bizarro-world the normally agreeable judges had fallen into, I steeled myself for Joey's performance. The music started, and it was---"Eye of the Tiger"? What a strange choice. And the moves they were doing were---


Son of a gun. If you blanked out the weird music and imagined the strains of "España Caní" piped out over the ballroom, Joey and his whiny little partner were actually dancing a picture-perfect paso doble! It was clean as a whistle, and it looked fantastic. There were some great open moves, and then there were perfectly recognisable bronze basic moves in there. It was, to be totally honest, the best paso of the three. But this unexpected result clearly didn't fit in with the judges' notions or the network's plans, and they only gave it a 25. Not only was it not rated better than John's, it was only tied with Kelly's.

So it was that Joey was eliminated. If you'd told me at any point before watching this episode that Joey wouldn't make it to the finals, I wouldn't have been a bit surprised. But tonight his performances really broke through to a new level, and I rather felt that he had gotten gypped. On the other hand, Kelly has been on a consistent upswing; though I was a bit negative about her at first, she has undeniably improved a whole lot, and I'm not unhappy to see her make it to the finals. My money's still on John and Charlotte for the win, though, unless something strange happens.

But did they have to make Joey do his farewell dance to ABBA's "The winner takes it all"? That's just snarky.

"There is nothing pleasurable about being a Cassandra." --Molly Ivins

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Dancing with the stars, pt 4

Somewhat belatedly, I just watched the DwtS episode from two weeks ago. Four couples enter, only three come out. (Hmm, that's not as catchy as it was supposed to be.)

First, Joey's samba. His footwork has definitely improved over previous weeks, but I still get this bleh impression; that he's out there doing stuff but I just can't bring myself to be interested. Was that a volta? I think it was supposed to be, but I just don't care. (And that ass slap was totally gratuitous.) His partner is whiny, his routines don't have enough basic, and he's just very enh. I was pretty ok with the score of 20.

Rachel's samba had a slightly-too-long intro to it, but from there on out it was a fantastic routine. Her cruzado walks were great, her voltas were great, and her samba roll! Beautiful! I felt like the music was a smidge too bouncy (I think because it's really a bossa nova), but it did make for a nice Austin Powers-esque costume on the guy. I was well-pleased, though, with the 25 this got.

There will be a waltz! A V! Waltz! In a group!

John's samba was really disappointing. As my selected favourite couple, I hold John and Charlotte to a high standard that they just didn't meet here. Throughout the routine I could think of nothing so much as the Strictly Ballroom mockeries---not the real sambas therein, but stuff like Fife's Bogo Pogo move, and Scott's dad's fast-foot-shuffling in flashback scenes. Funny, but not very inspiring as a dance. He had no hip movement whatsoever. Nice shish-boom, but it couldn't rescue an otherwise bleh routine. I think it was still a bit better than Joey's, so I was ok with the score of 21, but I really felt like it deserved to be numerically lower.

Kelly started her routine out incredibly awkward. She did a stompy bent-knee volta that made me cringe, and she did an arm flourish at the totally wrong time. And then came the wardrobe malfunction: her halter strap came undone. No indecency yet, but it certainly met the standard of "suspensefulness" that I've held up as a model of what not to have in a ballroom costume. Not really her fault here, of course. And actually, it may have been her salvation, though not for the crass, obvious reason. For the rest of the routine she was a model of grace under pressure, dancing very well in spite of the problem. Indeed, concentrating on that problem may have let her just dance without thinking too much, which possibly helped. For sure, the awkwardness was gone, and her footwork was good, and she was moving her hips. I don't think her performance was quite as good as Rachel's, but I was overall pretty satisfied with the 26 she was awarded.

The linguist in me is also compelled to note that "wardrobe malfunction" is now clearly a full lexical item in the language; I had written it down in my notes immediately, long before the judge and commentator used it. It's just the obvious term to use for this sort of situation, now.

Finally, we get to see the four couples in a Viennese Waltz. Sort of uninspiring all around, actually. John made a nice contra check but an incredibly awkward lift; Rachel was carried in an excellent, elegant lift, but was otherwise awkward. Kelly was concentrating too hard, and although the lift itself looked nice, it spun too fast and her handler drifted as he spun (not her fault, of course). Joey was just off-the-scale weird, with bell kicks (?) and some bizarro under-arm turns and other moves. And despite being billed as our chance to see them all on the floor together, the camera never let us see any of the non-central couples; as a result, we saw none of the actual viennese waltzing. And then, it turns out this wasn't actually judged. Laaaaame.

Also lame was the choice of eliminee. Joey was clearly the consistent worst competitor (of those remaining), but apparently Rachel was really unpopular with the audience. Despite consistent decent-to-good performances, and here ranking 2nd of 4, the audience voting went sufficiently against her to boot her from the program. Quel injuste!

"For all the dozens of sermons and homilies I've heard denouncing abortion, I have never once, in almost a quarter-century of regular church-going, heard a sermon denouncing those who throw their pregnant daughters out of the house." --Chris Tessone

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June 15, 2005

Dancing with the stars, pt 3

Tonight, the third installment. They got off to a shaky start; when they did their little "here is the character of the dances they'll be doing" bit (new this week), I'm not sure I agreed with their emphasis, for example, on "really fast turns" in jive. But, with bated breath, I let them get started.

I simply dreaded Evander's jive. He clunked around the floor in everything else, and I just knew he was going to do the same thing in jive, where you need to maintain a connection with the floor but you really need to be light on your feet. But in the event, he wasn't so horrible as all that. He was merely bad. His feet stayed apart and I never once saw him point his toes. I'm not sure I would have recognised it as jive if the sound were off. But it was at least understandable as dancing.... He got a 13, which I totally agreed with.

In introducing Rachel, they talked about how she was in the bottom two last time, which certainly gives the lie to their claim that the non-eliminated were called out in random order! But anyway. Her international tango was danced to surprisingly upbeat music, but she really got into it. Again, she had a good mix of technical merit and art---she did some excellent artistic flourishes. And netted a 26, a score with which I was well pleased.

Kelly, then, danced a jive, which was surprising since in the past the dances ran down gender lines. I wonder if they were assigned dances for this one or if they got to choose.... But in any case, she took the floor with some fairly basic jive that was nevertheless pretty well done. The cut lines between "basic jive" and "flashy open choreography" were perceptible, and the open stuff had a little bit of awkwardness, but all told I'd put it as a pretty good novice routine. (She really needs to find a costume with more support if she does jive again, though.) I think that the first week was just an anomaly, because I once again agreed with the judges' score of 21, and with most of their comments. (The audience, incidentally, was incredibly rude. The judges gave some excellent constructive advice, which Kelly obviously appreciated, and the audience booed so loud you could barely hear the judges. Cretins.)

John and Charlotte have an amazing chemistry, and I'm thinking that she's also the best of the instructors. When they have clips of her teaching, she is always making some comment that is right on, be it about posture or lead or anything else. When they started their tango, the first thing that struck me was their incredible synchrony---again---whether they were doing easier basic stuff or open choreography. This is hard to maintain when you're also doing the staccato move-slow-then-move-fast thing that really makes the tango work, but they pulled it off. (But why is her hair down? It does weird things when she snaps her head around.) They couldn't quite replicate their quickstep success, but they did very good and are still obviously the couple to beat, overall. Still the prettiest! They got a 24, which was pretty right, all things considered. (I continue to love Len, the Brit: "you move like a PANTHER!" Heh.)

You could've driven a mack truck between Joey's legs, but I still enjoyed their routine. He is clearly having so much fun with this, I'm going to hate to see him go. I really like that he and his partner are both contributing to their routines, although I wonder just how good she is if she claims not to know how to make it look like she really is feeling the dance. All told, a little sloppy, and 22 might've been a smidge high, but I couldn't really complain much.

At this point they explain how the scoring really works, and I was a little disappointed. The scores we see earlier do nothing other than rank the couples, who are then awarded between 1 and 5 points accordingly. (Five for the highest, etc.) The audience voting does likewise, and then the points are added up. Which means that if the scores are 30-29-28-27-10, that second-to-last place might as well have gotten an 11 for all the good it'll do them. It's like an Amber auction. Here, though: lame!

Finally, they called out the couples, again in "random" order but the last two were claimed to be actually the lowest combined scores. Thank goodness, Evander was eliminated. Anything else would be a travesty. Who next? Hard to say; I voted for Rachel (thrice) and John (twice) to stay, but the last place is a tossup between Kelly and Joey. We'll see how they do next week....

"The enemy of a critical theology is not natural literalism but conscious literalism with repression of and aggression toward autonomous thought." --Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

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June 09, 2005

Dancing with the stars, pt 2

I can't stand how the announcer called out "Are you ready to rumbaaaaa" as if he were the first person to think of it. But anyway. This week the ladies danced the rumba (international), while the men danced the quickstep.

Rachel started off this week with a high-quality rumba. She really had the feel of the dance right on, and the timing---never easy for a newcomer to international-style rumba---was perfect as well. The judges gave her a 24, higher than any score last week, which sounds about right.

Joey followed that with a quickstep. It was preceded with a bunch of whining about "it's so faaaaast", with which his partner agreed---which made it clear right from the start that he didn't get it. Despite the name, a good quickstep actually feels quite smooth and slow. As the dance got going, his butt was sticking out and he had no connection with his partner. (And yeah, that would make the dance a lot more work than it should be!) On the other hand, his steps did seem to be fairly well-synched with his partner; I just wish they'd done something other than the gallopy stuff. Alas. 21 for them, which seems a tad high but not outrageous.

Trista had good technical control of a lot of her moves, but appeared to have a very weakly-felt notion of the rumba rhythm. A lot of places, she was stepping not quite in time, though her partner never let her get completely off-time. Very nice ending. With all the flaws they could have called her on, though, the judges decided to diss her on her facial expressions; once again, it's like they're judging a fun dance. Sigh. At least this week I'm agreeing with the judges more: 19 was pretty much right on for this routine.

John took the quickstep floor with a really cute lead in, and then once he and his partner took their frame, he went into a solid gold quickstep. No gallopy stuff, but a really good medium-to-advanced syllabus quickstep, with good frame, exactly the right expression, and a very smooth motion. After one trip around the room, he brought in a few scissor kicks and a diagonal race across the floor before ending up with some more demonstration of his mastery of the dance. Wow. The judges were pretty floored too; rather than their usual feel-good gushing, they were actually at a sputtering loss for words. John is definitely the man to beat in this competition. He got a 26 out of 30. Right on.

After last week's misjudging, Kelly was unfortunately led to believe that she needed lots more FEELing in her dance; this week she had too much feeling and not enough dancing. Her rumba was a lot worse than her waltz, with very little in-time motion, just lots of running up to her partner and then pushing him away. The judges claim that she had improved a lot, which is simply false, and gave her a 17. That score is about right, I think, with my only reservations being that it poorly reflects the relative quality of the two performances.

Evander was just as bad this week as last week, clunking around the floor with no sense at all of the dance. It was all gallopy stuff; like Joey he was not connected to his partner, but unlike Joey he wasn't even particularly synched with her. His performance reminded me of what it looks like when a couple of intermediate ballroomers are goofing around and try to "lead" an open quickstep---his partner made a game try at following, but there really was not much she could do. Bleh. This week the judges seemed to perceive his lack, awarding him a meagre 14 out of 30.

Finally, having added up two weeks' worth of judging, they added in last week's viewer voting and in "random" order (read: arbitrary order, carefully selected for dramatic effect) called the callbacks for next week. When they called Evander back, I thought sure Kelly was out (since judging-points-wise she was in last place), so I was pretty floored when they called her back. Only Rachel and Trista remained, and although I didn't dislike Trista's work, I was really hoping that Rachel got the nod---her waltz was adequate, but her rumba was quite good. I wish that they'd shown us how the viewer voting played out; and I still don't know just how cumulative everything is. (I suspect that all the judging points are cumulative, but each week the viewer voting starts fresh to comprise half the callback numbers---that'd be the most dramatic, sigh.) As for drama, I'd rate the remaining five as John, then Rachel and Joey in some order, then Kelly, then Evander, which sets them up nicely for the alternating boy-girl elimination that you know they really want.

Anyway, eagerly awaiting next week. I totally voted for John, although I think Rachel might have been a wiser strategic vote. Amusing endnote: at the end of the credits, we see that this has been a BBC production. But of course!

"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself." --Sen. Barack Obama

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June 08, 2005

Dancing with the Stars, pt 1

I didn't get a chance to watch it last week, but I taped it. Dancing with the Stars is ABC's summer reality show about ballroom dancing, pairing celebrities with professional dancers and dropping them into a stock reality competition format. Here are comments on the first round (last week).

The first guy was fun to watch because he looked like the newcomer that he is. Joey (formerly of NKOTB fame) had the sort of head-forward stance that so many newcomers take, and throws his arms out rather than bringing them up in a controlled fashion. The routine they've choreographed, like many open cha-cha routines, spends very little time actually chachaing, something I've never been a fan of but which doesn't seem to bother judges much. The first two judges gushed about his performance, but the third (Bruno) brought up his posture. He got a 20.

The second competitor, Rachel, danced a lovely routine to waltz music that looked more like something out of a theatre arts competition. Brit judge Len pointed out exactly that; she still got a 20.

Evander Holyfield was the third, and what he was dancing bore no perceptible relationship to the cha-cha. His partner had a few cha-cha moves, but he mostly just stood there; when he did move, it was just one or two steps on individual beats. I'm not sure I saw even one cha-cha-cha out of him. The judges seemed to pick up on this, but then awarded him an 18; the 7 and 6 he received were the same scores awarded to the previous two. Judges officially noted to be on crack.

The fourth dancer, Kelly, was loads of fun to watch, because she and her partner were the first to actually dance the dance. They did a waltz routine that circled the floor, including a mix of basic and advanced moves (several of which I've done myself---Kathleen and I could've done that routine much better, actually). The ending was a slight clunk, but that's what you get for dipping an inexperienced dancer. Even so, this was clearly and by far the best routine so far. Except... the judges, I now see, are not actually judging these dances as dance competitions, but as fun dances, where skill and style take a back seat to fancy and/or outrageous moves, regardless of execution. The entirety of their complaints seemed to have to do with her facial expression, except for Len, who went on about how the routine was all "flowers" and no "lawn", when in fact this was the first routine that had any basic moves at all, that showed any notion of the actual spirit of the dance. They socked her with a 13.

John, the fifth dancer, had a little sloppiness in the footwork, but excellent posture, and he really had the look and feel of the dance well in hand. There was some actual cha-cha-cha in the routine, and just the right amount of flash. (Also, nice shish-boom!) Easily the best of the three guys; but he's stuck with another damn 20.

Trista, who is by this point famous for being famous, was the last of the six competitors. Her dress was frustratingly too long, so I couldn't see her feet, but the motion was generally pretty good, especially for a newcomer. Overall, I rated her as a "meh"---it was recognisably a waltz that she was doing, basically, and had no particularly notable positive or negative characteristics. The judges gave her an 18, which, whatever. Their numbers clearly have very little attachment to reality.

Now off to watch this week's tape, and see who gets bumped off. Apparently "half" of the points are to come from viewer voting, but it's not clear what the algorithm will be, or how many votes Kelly will need to overcome her undeservedly low score of 13, when everyone else had basically the same scores. :P

"In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it: Social Darwinism, every man or woman for him or herself. It's a tempting idea, because it doesn't require much thought or ingenuity.... And it's especially tempting because each of us believes we will always be the winner in life's lottery." --Sen. Barack Obama

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March 06, 2005

The epicentre of midwestern college ballroom

Just got back from the Cyclone Ballroom Classic. Iowa State is, I think clearly, the epicentre of college ballroom dancing in the Midwest. There are other schools that have some ballroom presence, but not many; and the ones that do tend to have small programs, or don't focus on competition. Not only does ISU have a good-sized team, it operates a good-sized and growing competition, under the loving guidance of Ed Simon, an awesome New York dance pro.

It's too bad that this weekend was the last before the end of the term, because that meant a lot of Knox kids didn't go to the comp who otherwise would have. However, I did get one couple to go, and Andrew and Rachel did fantastic: they competed eight events, did respectably in all of them, and placed first in Newcomer American Tango and Newcomer International Rumba. Woo! And they did great in the categories I deem even more important: having fun with their dancing and being able to dance with lots of different people.

Now my thoughts turn to program-building. I need to poke the students working on making us an official club, as this will provide a source of money for travelling and competing. I need to psych up the students about competing, so that they'll be up for competition next year. And I need to advertise the success so I can bring in new people for the spring term. :)

"We believe that labels are important, but mostly for bottles of wine." --Christo and Jeanne-Claude

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March 04, 2005

A flurry of activity

The term is winding down; it is the end of week 9, the last day of classes is Tuesday, and my exams go out on Monday. I've been making good progress in flushing my queue of backlogged grading; two homeworks and a project went back in my 141 class this week, and hopefully I'll get a 262 homework done tonight, bringing me up to the stuff turned in just this week, which I feel less guilty about not having graded yet.

My students are wrapping up their projects, although I bribed the 141 kids with a nine hour extension if they came to class, so hopefully I won't have people turning it in "on time" and then going home to sleep it off. We'll see how it works, but in the abstract I like the policy better than making it due at 2am.

This weekend is the Cyclone Ballroom Classic. Because it's so late in the term, initial interest in attending waned a bit, and we ended up with just two Knox kids going. That's ok, though, since it's really our debut as a college team, and I certainly don't mind starting small. Andrew and Rachel are good, too, and I think they'll really represent Knox well.

Between now and 5 tomorrow, though, I have a lot to do: pack, drop off my dog, assorted miscellaneous errands that can't wait until Monday. No rest for the wicked, I guess.

"I'm convinced artichokes are actually an extremely sessile animal; perhaps an extraterrestrial species. They're Meat Plants." --Sam Walker

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January 07, 2005

Ames, Iowa, here we come

At dance class last night, I announced the Cyclone Ballroom Classic and asked people to come talk to me if they were interested. Seven! I got seven people! Three of them guys! Woooooo!

In other news, winter term is 10% over, my dry hacky cough has turned into a still-annoying but much-less-painful wet icky cough, and I have no plans for the weekend other than sleeping, eating, and lazing around. I'm still not caught up on rest after that party last week.

"Why doesn't Sony dominate MP3 players? Because Apple is in the consumer electronics business now, and unlike other American companies, they're obsessed with good design. Or more precisely, their CEO is." --Paul Graham

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September 16, 2004


Getting a table at the Carnival of Clubs seems to have really paid off. Tonight, at the first ballroom class of the year, I had loads of people! Even better, the gender balance was fairly close---I never managed to really count, but I think I had nine or ten guys and maybe twelve or thirteen girls. All of them seemed to be having a lot of fun, everybody got to meet and dance with a lot of other people. I fully expect to see most if not all of them back next week. Wooooooooo!

"If I ever get elected God, one of the policies I'm going to implement is massive and real penalties for the board of directors and CEO (or equivalent) of any company that puts out a product with a planned obsolecence. It's a crime against humanity." --Sam Walker

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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

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December 08, 2003

LONG day

I got up and sang at church today, which was nice as I saw a bunch of people that don't go on Saturdays (including Robby, who is now walking!). Then I booked it over to T.F.Green to learn this performance choreography. Turns out it was to a song called "Mr. Santa", based on "Mr. Sandman", one of my longtime favourites. But it's, like, 15% faster than a standard quickstep. And there was a lot of choreography to learn... we worked on it for about an hour and a half and then got lunch.

We were going to go down to the Biltmore at 3 to check out the dance floor, but although Marissa claimed to have a shovel in her car, she did not in fact have a shovel in her car, which was a problem. Someone said Providence had gotten 22 inches of snow in the past few days (seems high---I'd guess about 15-18). Anyway, Marissa finally borrowed a shovel from a store down the street and Dave and Angie and I (mostly Dave) shovelled her out. We got to the Biltmore at 3:30 and the parking garage's ticket machine was broken---we had to wait for someone to come out and remove the gate and hand us an "equipment failure" card with the time handwritten on it. We practiced a bit, and then left around 5.

I grabbed some Spike's and ate dinner and just chilled out for a while (nearly took a nap; probably should've) before leaving for the thing. I was a bundle of nerves, but it ended up fine. I missed a bunch of the choreography, but faked it effectively. And I was dancing in an honest-to-God Santa suit, which made up for a lot. :)

I could've stayed and danced for a while, but I didn't want to stay in the suit because (being all polyester) I was roasting to death. And the nicest clothes I'd brought with me were a blue oxford shirt and khakis, which was a few steps down from the next-least-formal attire there, so although welcome I would've felt out of place.

I took the opportunity to come visit Greg and Carrie, and I'm staying the night here... for the last half hour I've been watching their kitten rapturously play with an old heel tap she found somewhere, and it's terribly amusing. ;)

"Every moment someone hangs out with their neighbors is a moment they aren't watching TV is a moment they are closer to the realization that other people are humans too." --Zach Miller

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October 04, 2003

Ballrooming in Galesburg

I just got back from the Rotary Harvest Ball. At $20 a ticket, I figured the worst case is I go and hear some good music and give money to a good cause. In fact, I was able to do some dancing too! Chuck (the physics prof) and Faye Schulz picked up a fair amount of ballroom in Champaign a few years back, and I danced a few times with Faye; Jackie Uhlmann in the dean's office also has some dancing experience (she claims to be rusty, but don't believe her) and I danced with her a little bit. There were also a couple other Rotarians that I asked to dance, one named Dawn who was standing there dancing in place, clearly itching to dance, and one named Marta who had complimented me on my dancing. I asked a few other women to dance, but they declined; one explicitly said she only dances with her husband. Too bad. Of course, I think I was about the only person there not part of a couple, but that just means I've got my work laid out for me, getting a dance community together. :)

Specifically, I'm now set to go on starting a ballroom group here. After weeks of crossed wires, I finally managed to reserve the auxiliary gym; the first ballroom lesson will be a week from tomorrow, Sunday the 12th, at 6pm. If you know a Knox fac, staff, or student, let them know. (I'll eventually open it to the Galesburg community, I think, but for now I'd like to keep it to Knox-ians and their partners.)

"Then came 9/11, and we all rallied. Country under attack, most horrible thing, what can we do? Ready to give blood, get out of our cars and ride bicycles, whatever. Shop, said the president. That and more tax cuts for the rich." --Molly Ivins

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April 07, 2003

More snow. Crazy.

More snow. Crazy. I mean, you can usually expect a snowfall around here sometime in April, usually light. But this will be, I think, the third so far this month. And this one is due to actually leave 5-10 inches on the ground by late evening. In fact it's supposed to be snowing on and off until Wednesday afternoon, except for the times when it's sleeting or freezing raining. (This is Mike's cue to gloat about his choice of grad school. I should really move this thing to a comments-enabled blog app one of these days.)

Day two of MIT went a lot better: Kathleen and I passed the qualifying round and got an additional callback in silver quickstep (to quarterfinals); and then Qi and I placed 7th in foxtrot and 8th in viennese waltz, from a starting field of 14 GOLD competitors! I think that might be the best I've ever done. Yaaay!

"I love Chicago! It's just like New York, except that it's bright and clean, and people there try to be helpful." --Rebecca Santoro

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April 06, 2003

MIT Day One

Happy daylight savings!

Day one of the MIT comp is over; they debuted an idea of qualifying rounds (which they inaccurately call "preliminary rounds"). A reasonable idea, but given that the great appeal of MIT is that it gives a chance for those who aim for breadth to show off---especially beginners, doing things like paso, bolero, and mambo---a failure, since those who might really shine in those events get knocked out before they can even dance them. Because, you see, the qualifying rounds are just the two most common dances from the section, so if your strengths are elsewhere, too bad. This is especially a problem at beginner level.

Part of Boston's Big Dig is open!! On the way up there, we discovered that I-90 now extends all the way to the airport via the Ted Williams tunnel, and I-93 disappears underground around exit 19, into a spacious four-lane-wide high-ceilinged tunnel, with shoulders most places and two-lane curved tunnel offramps. It's so cool. This massive engineering feat (and they aren't even done yet) is, in all seriousness, a modern Wonder of the World (CivIV designers take note).

Also, I finally more or less finished Amy's skirt. It's about 28 inches from waistband to hem, and so full that the hem is on the order of 20 feet long. Big pain to work with, but it looks cool. We'll see how it looks if she dances in it tomorrow (er, today).

Hm, I should go to bed. I can get a whole two hours of sleep!

"Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception." --Mark Twain

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November 13, 2002

Brown Comp

The Brown Comp went off just great, thanks in no small part to me getting <7 hours of sleep in the three nights previous. But that's ok, because for the last few days I've slept upwards of twenty hours, so it's all good. Of course, now my sleep schedule's messed up. That's ok, gives me more quiet time to catch up on my work. :)

"So this is like that part of the face lift where they cover the face in mud and place cucumbers over the eyes and put bad flash applets in the ears. It all makes sense." --Kevin Price

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