On a Box Now Checked

Embed from Getty Images

Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

Advertisements

On the Other T

Embed from Getty Images

The streets you walk are stone in the old city. People are milling around – some on the move while others stand talking to others or observing others. The smell of street food is constantly challenging you.

Your ear detects music starting from within a nearby building. The rhythms remind you a fusion of African and Latin sounds; then a haunting bandoneon (concertina) and violin join the rhythm. The music draws you into the building like a magnet. The place is alive – some conversing, some focusing on the music, others dancing, and others watching the dancers in sync with the rhythms. Your soul is touched. You are hooked.

The history of many dances is a combination of myths, legends, unrecorded history, known events of time and place, a blending of cultures, and word origins. The cultures of Africa, Portugal, Spain, Britain, Italy, Poland, and Russia integrate with the lower-class locals of Buenos Aires. The result – Argentine Tango.

Embed from Getty Images

The initial spread of Argentine Tango is linked to the sons of wealthy Argentine families who travelled – but at home – Argentine Tango became an important part of their culture – even having a Golden Age (1930s – 1950s) – but then the military dictatorship suppressed the dance for nearly 30 years.

Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango (American and International) are different dances – not different styles of the same dance. Their 4/4 timing and musical rhythms have some commonality, but not always.

Ballroom Tango is dynamic, dramatic, edgier, staccato, sharp, and strong – but Argentine Tango is sensual, intimate, personal, interpretive, and smooth. The dancer’s alignment to each other and their holds are different – as are the steps and their timing.

Key Elements of Argentine Tango

Embed from Getty Images

The Embrace
The embrace refers to the contact and position of the dancing partners, which can be open, closed, or someplace in between. In the closed embrace, partners connect chest-to-chest, heads touching, and bodies leaning forward (think of an inverted V). In the open embrace, the space between the partners vary. No matter the embrace choice, the bodies should not be arched away from each other as in ballroom. Also unlike ballroom, arms are more inward with the elbows down (not out).

Because Argentine Tango is improvisational, communication must be clear and through the connections between the partners. For the lead, communication is subtle, so every little movement counts. Followers must tune in to detect the subtleties, so some followers close their eyes to immerse themselves into the embrace, the music, and the dance experience.

The Walk
Argentine Tango is two people walking together in the embrace. A step involves moving to all the weight being on one foot (which creates a free foot with no weight). The next step may include another step or a weight transfer to the other foot.

There are many important aspects to the walk. For instance, pushing into the step is paramount over reaching for or falling into it – plus, maintaining a firm and balanced contact between the upper bodies in the embrace.

The are two types of walks: parallel (even) and crossed (uneven).

The video below involves two accomplished Argentine tango dancers – but note – they are just walking. Notice their embrace, weight shifts, posture, and how good they look doing the most-basic steps.

The Patterns/Figures/Steps
Argentine Tango is not choreographed or fixed with predetermined patterns. Although a lead-and-follow dance, the subtle nature allows the dancers to appear moving as one.

Besides the walk (caminar), other common steps/figures include the cross (cruce), leg hooks (ganchos), figure-eights (ochos), turns (giros), opposite-direction turns (contragiros), displacements (sacadas), foot-by-foots (llevadas de pie), cuts (cortes), breaks (quebradas), links (baleos), and others.

Let’s bring back Sebastian and Roxana for a dance involving more than just walks.

Not all Argentine Tangos are created equal because different styles exist that depend on factors as floor size, type of embrace, length of steps, speed of music, and culture. Styles as Salon, Milonguero, Milonga, Tango Nuevo, Canyengue, Vals, and others have their setting in both place and music.

Argentine Tango has found a place on the stage and screen. Tango Argentino was on Broadway in the 1980s. Forever Tango (in the mid-1990s) toured the US as a show before having a long-running stint on Broadway

The big screen has provided a long list of Argentine Tango scenes through the ages. Here’s a snippet. Argentine Tango serves as an important backdrop in The Adios Buenos Aires (1938), The Tango Bar (1988), Tango (1998), Assassination Tango (2002), and Tango Libre ( 2012). Dances scenes also provide impact as in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Scent of a Woman (1992), Evita (1996), and Moulin Rouge (2001). Scenes from Shall We Dance (2004) and Take the Lead (2006) fuse elements of Argentine and ballroom into their tango.

For those who want to compare, here’s my past post on Ballroom Tango.

Personally, I know enough Argentine Tango to be dangerous because I rely on my ballroom instincts, musicality, and ability to improvise to be a solid beginner. On the other hand, ballroom also gets in the way of the posture elements necessary in Argentine Tango. I would love to learn more, but the city’s Argentine Tango studio is further away than we prefer.

To conclude this post, below are 4 Argentine tangos to enjoy. Each is well done, different, and full of sensuality. Which did you watch or enjoy the most?

On Let’s Swing

When think of the emerging music of the 1920s and 30s in the USA, swing music come to mind. The initial craze led into the Big Band era that continued into the 1950s.

From the likes of African-American giants as Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, and Louis Prima to Big Band icons as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman to the new generation of swing of Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, then onto the more contemporary sounds of Brian Setzer, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, swing has maintained a presence for many years.

Even within a generation, not all swing music is the same. Different music with different rhythms at different tempos also means different dances. Swing dance broke the rules of dance as it was fast, loose, and free … so the purpose of this post is to examine a few of the mainstays of swing dance.

Lindy Hop
Lindy Hop’s roots a traced back to the Harlem community of New York City, and influential dancer George “Shorty” Snowden. Life was a buzz with Charles Lindbergh’s successful solo flight over the Atlantic, and his name became attached to many things.

The dance, a fusion of Charleston and Foxtrot, moved out of Harlem and became popular – and also took on another name – the Jitterbug. Interestingly, this dance remains popular today – especially in clubs specializing in Lindy Hop/Jitterbug. Enjoy this classic movie clip that includes dance legend Frankie Manning.

 

Jive
As a variation of Lindy Hop, Jive became popular in the late 1930s, then American GIs took the dance to Europe. Although variations as boogie-woogie, swing boogie, and modern jive exist, today’s jive is a competitive ballroom dance.

 

East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing evolved as a simpler version of Lindy – that is, East Coast was easier to do and easier to teach. Arthur Murray Dance Studios were instrumental in popularizing this dance, which also became part of the competitive ballroom dance circuit.

Because of tempo variations in the music, one could subdivide this dance into single-time swing (fastest music, slower steps), double-time swing, and triple-time swing (slowest music, fastest steps).

 

West Coast Swing
With a Lindy style that was more anchored and whippy, dancer Dean Collins left Harlem and took the Lindy Hop to the California. From this, West Coast Swing developed into a slotted dance where dancers are either on or off the slot (track). West Coast Swing music is typically slower than East Coast Swing music with more of a smooth, blues, R&B, cool jazz sound. This video involves two good dancers dancing improv (not choreographed).

 

Shag
As another variation of swing that developed from the upbeat music of the 1930s. Shag developed in the African-American communities of the Carolinas, and then spread across the country. DIfferent variations include Collegiate, Carolina, and St. Louis. This video is interesting because is uses multiple dancers.

Swing dance isn’t limited to the above as other variations include Balboa (Bal), Rock and Roll, Western Swing, Imperial Swing, Jazz Dance Swing, Rock and Roll Swing, Acrobatic Rock and Rock, Washington Hand Dancing, Push and Whip, DC Swing, and Charleston. Even in competitive dance, American Style Ballroom Swing is different that International Style Ballroom Swing.Swing dance is also the foundation other modern dances as disco and country line dancing.

Speaking of line dances, let’s end the post with a classic. Shim Sham originally appeared as a tap routine in Harlem during the 1930s – but it morphed into a swing dance, then into a line dance for today’s swing dancers. Let’s bring back the great Frankie Manning for some Shim Sham.

Any favorites? Which of these do you wish you could do? Better yet, can you dance any of these swings?

Which of these dances should have its own dedicated post?

On Rumba

Embed from Getty Images

Some say Rum’-ba, others say Room’-bah – some spell it as Rumba, others Rhumba.

Real interest in Latin music began about 1929. In the late 1920’s, Xavier Cugat formed an orchestra specializing in Latin American music.

Some dances accentuate the relationship between a man and woman. Rumba is a woman’s dance as she uses her rhythmic, sultry moves to charm her partner. Yep, Rumba is foreplay by dance with the woman controlling the signals.

Rumba first appeared in Cuba during the 1880s as an energetic dance that was a blend of Spanish, West Indian, and African cultures.

It’s initial lewd nature caused it to be restricted to private events.

Forerunner dances of Rumba are Son, Danzon, Guagira, Guaracha, and Naningo. In the 1940’s, Son was a popular dance of middle-class Cubans while Danzon was the dance of wealthy Cubans. Today’s American Rumba is a modified version of Son.

Although Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer introduced Rumba (the dance) to Americans in 1913, it was a movie of the same name that caused promoted the dance to many – Rumba (1935) starring George Raft and Carol Lombard.

Monsieur Pierre and Doris Lavelle popularized Rumba in Europe during the 1930s – which helped Rumba become a competitive dance in 1955.

Today, Rumba is a popular competitive and social ballroom dance.

The match between the musical rhythms and the body expression of the dancers make Rumba one of the most popular ballroom dances throughout the world.

American-style basics

  • Music: Repeatable 4-beat pattern in 4-beat music
  • Pattern: slow (2 beats), quick (1-beat), quick (1-beat)
  • Steps: Short, compact
  • Hips: Expressive hip motion called Cuban motion

Basic Rumba box step …

… and the basic box with Cuban motion.

Rumba styles today include American ballroom, International ballroom, Cuban, Catalan, Flamenco, African, Yambú, Guaguancó, and Columbian. In general, differences are based on choreography and the music’s tempo.

Night Club-Two Step and Bolero are different dances, but actually variations of rumba

As a “dance of romance”, polished Rumba is a beautiful dance.

… and we end with a Dancing With the Stars version of rumba.

Any thoughts? Which videos did you watch? Have you danced Rumba? Do you think you could learn?

On a Close Encounter of …

Embed from Getty Images

I recall hearing and reading about the hub-bub between John Hurley and Kelly Monaco in Season 1 of Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) – but I didn’t watch. As a sports fan, having ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne in the Season 2 cast caught my attention – so my wife and I watched DWTS for the first time on January 5, 2006.

We watched the entire show. The next day was the results show, and my wife asked, “Don’t you want to see what happens?” I had seen the first night with Kenny, and that was good enough, but she was curious – so we watched the elimination of Kenny Mayne.

Season 22 (of the 2 seasons per year) starts later this month. Since that first episode we watched, DWTS was the first domino that led us into the world of ballroom dance. We’re still watching the show and still dancing. Who knows how much money we’ve spent on lessons, dances, and shoes – at least I can blame Kenny Mayne.

Long-time watchers may remember Season 2 as it included guests Drew Lachey (a Cincinnatian who won), Stacey Keibler, Jerry Rice, Lisa Rinna, Tia Carrere, George Hamilton, Tatum O’Neill, Giselle Fernandez, and Master P, It also introduced us to professional dancers Tony Dovolani, Maksim Chmerkovsky, Louis Van Amstel, Cheryl Burke, Anna Trebunskaya, and Edyta Śliwińska – the Polish-born dancer who easily catches the eye. Besides, many of us would love an opportunity to dance with the partner of our choice …. Just once! Did you hear that Edyta? Anna? Sharna? Peta?

To those of us old enough to remember the variety shows on television, DWTS is a blend of a reality show of today and the variety shows of yesteryear – especially on the Results Show when top artists perform – such as this appearance by Michael Bublé in Season 9.

Like any business, dance studios aim at making a profit. Every studio has their way of increasing sales, which may include providing coaching sessions. The “coach” is usually an experienced dancer/teacher from out-of-town who is part of a normal lesson – of course with an extra fee. Yes, coaches are an outside perspective providing a new set of eyes for suggestions, but it’s never interested us – after all, we are social dancers who don’t compete.

As part of one of the sales promotions are our current studio, we earned the right for a drawing – and what did my wife select? … a free coaching session. We talked with our regular instructor about the upcoming coaching possibilities, so we selected Agnes. Plus, I took a group class with her last year, so I knew she had a pleasant demeanor … as well as being an attractive woman. (At least I’m honest.) 😉

Early this past February, we had our coaching with Agnes. A wonderful lesson – and I had a few steps with her. In our chit-chat time, I discovered that she’s Polish and now lives in Los Angeles … but why I didn’t wonder if she knew Edyta is beyond me! After all, look at the connections – Polish, dancer, Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, my wife was gone on her girls’ cruise – which meant too much time on my hands – so I searched Agnes. On her website I discovered her personal story of dance and journey to the USA – her dance accomplished as a winner or finalist in the most prestigious dance competitions, and her appearances on Dancing With The Stars.

WHAT? I had in my arms and danced a few steps with someone who has been on the show! My wife and I had a coaching lesson with someone who probably knows cast members – including Edyta! … and yes … in the video above, that was Agnes and her partner dancing to Michael Bublé … and odds are, we watched that episode!

With YouTube doing what it does, I saw other videos, of Agnes and her partner Urs … including the entertaining, unique dance video below that demonstrates grace, variety, speed, strength, versatility, control, and probably more. TIP: After watching up to 2:50, save yourself time by forwarding to 4:50 … and enjoy watching the lady I think of as my Close Encounter of the Dance Kind.

On Personal Shorts

Embed from Getty Images

This is a good image to lead me back to my regular blogging routine because this post is about personal shorts – as opposed to Opinions in the Shorts (which should return next week). Then again, there is that question of personal preference of boxes or briefs.

Our trip to Spain and Portugal was wonderful, and thanks for coming along on the travel posts. It was fun to share the highlights, yet it was important for me to have a balance of text and images – thus not be overwhelming on either.

It was also a walking vacation for us. Experts say 10,000 steps a day is a good goal – and 12,000 steps is better. We logged our steps each day and averaged 16,000 steps per day. That includes 3 days at sea (no land stops), but we went over 20,000 on 4 land days.

Yes, I still yearn for Barcelona – and still hope to make a video to that song using our images – but time will tell if I get to it.

Volunteering in English Second Language (ESL) continues to be very rewarding for me … and to think it happens on the same day as my ballroom dance time with the Downs Syndrome adults. Rewards galore!!! Sorry to say this, but one of the downsides of this year’s vacation was that I missed the dance competition for these wonderful people.

PlaybillSkyMajor announcement!

For those who didn’t get the advanced notice on the Hear Ye page, the next musical is Sky: The Musical. Act 1. Although the production team hasn’t finalized the details, I’m guessing 5 acts. Opening Night is this Tuesday, November 10 at 9:30 pm (Eastern US). All songs must have either Sky or Skies in the title – but no to compound words with sky (such as skyward, skyrocket, skyscraper). Meanwhile, I still have to secure an opening act and prepare the playbill – but at least I’ve completed the cover.

Ladies, do you need an outfit for Opening Night? See the Hear Ye page.

You may recall I was in the midst of working on a tango routine. We were very close to show ready at our goal – the end of September – which we had to do because of our cruise. The first time we practiced after getting back, we did well – which was a relief to both us. Last week we had a dress rehearsal at another studio with a live audience. It was far from our best, but we didn’t collapse … and it was a good learning experience for me because this idea is new to me. On to the show very soon. (Here’s the song … again)

We recently went to a young couple’s wedding. One song caught my attention because everyone was doing the same dance to a song I’d never heard! If you have an upcoming wedding, you may want to learn Watch Me Nae Nae.

Does anyone out there have a foam mattress as Leesa or Casper? If so, please share your thoughts.

It’s been an interesting football year for my teams: an undefeated pro team … my alma mater winning with an explosive offense … my local college having an OK year, but not what was expected.

The opening image gave me an idea for a future post about underwear. So, do you think I wear boxers, briefs, or others?

I really enjoy the song Counting Stars by OneRepublic. I stumbled across this a cappella version done by one person. I think it’s really good. Enjoy … Have a good weekend and I hope to see you on Opening Night!

On the Floor: Reprise and Challenge

The story below is the revised version of my first attempt at fiction. I issued a challenge to develop a new ending: a) after “The music ends” and b) in 75 words or less.

New endings will either be posted as comments on this post or as the whole story with the new ending the reader’s blog with links to this post. See the Challenge page for more information as long as it remains published.

I  encourage others to read all the endings. Do you have a favorite ending? Thanks for participating.

aFaShortStoryChallengeThe music starts – its tempo and rhythms define the dance. He approaches her table, and extends an inviting hand. She accepts. They take to the floor. He offers a hand and a frame. Again, she accepts, but looks away while in hold as if to say, “I’ll dance – but I’m not interested.”

They move to the music’s sharp, fiery rhythms that are intertwined with sensuality. Their eyes continue gazing in opposite directions to avoid a visual connection – yet, their bodies touch.

They dance – they move – sometimes slow – sometimes fast – but always sharp and to rhythm.

He rolls her out – they flick in unison. He tugs to roll her back into his arms. She shrugs him off by returning to hold with her head turned away. Their steps continue.

He steps back – a lunge – a corté. She steps forward and raises her leg against his, and slowly moves it downward as a caress. He notices – she’s got his attention. As he returns her to upright, their eyes connect through a glimpse – yet each looks away.

The pace seeming hastens. The musical beat remains steady. Their moves remain sharp. Their eyes are starting to communicate to the other through glances.

She leans her body into him and her head is no longer facing away. They lock their eyes for the first time, and her eyes and face speak to him when. She places her head on his chest.

The normally sharp fans are now slow and smooth – yet still to the music’s rhythm. As she turns, his right hand slides naturally along her sleek frame. He notices the curvature of her hips. His head is not as high as he looks toward her with hopes of connecting again.

To him, her face displays desire. Her eyes are closed, but only she knows why. They are now in another place. To him, they are in the midst of passion. To her, she is the seductress who has succumbed to his fantasy.

He responds to the music’s fire with 8 fast steps down the floor. He rolls out as before, but on her return, she is close – and her right hand slowly caresses his face. The music ends.

They pause – each smiles to the other. She says, “Great dance”. He responds, “Absolutely” as they high-five.

Sounds of the different tempo and rhythms of the next song now filling the hall as they walk off the floor without knowing the thoughts of the other. One looks at the other saying, “Now that’s a tango.”