Friday, February 27, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Plan Practice in Advance

You're familiar with those weeks where the universe conspires to dump every possible commitment on you at once, right?  I am finishing one, and would very much like to see it end.  Today's ballroom tip will therefore be to the point, despite being the habit that makes the biggest difference in the productivity of my practices.

Plan practice in advance.  I like to agree with my partner beforehand what dances we want to work on and how we want to work on them.  We make notes at the end of practice what needs to be checked or revisited next time.  Each of us gets to select figures or elements that bug us, so our pet peeves get equal time.  This helps avoid discussions of what we should work on that devolve into other topics far too often.

Our most productive practices start with 15-30 minutes of warming up, including some stretching, basic elements, and doing boxes or basic figures together.  We then move onto our selected figures in the selected dance, dancing each several times to fix things.  We finish by dancing through our entire choreography for that dance once or twice, to check how permanent our fixes were and how more global goals such as musicality are progressing.  That normally takes about 45 minutes, so if time allows, we move onto another dance and repeat the procedure.  We might finish with a full run-through if a competition is coming, we haven't worked on a dance in a while, or we want to check how all the dances stand.  My practices that have followed this pattern are the ones with the most dancing, the most progress, and the least time spent discussing or arguing.  I leave feeling like things have been accomplished.  I hope it helps you as well.

Happy dancing!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Video Yourself

Today I have yet another tip on improving the quality of your practice, and that is to video yourself.  I was at a large competition two weeks ago where one could see about seven latin dancers backstage watching video of themselves after their semi-final--videos are a hugely useful tool to actually see what you dance like.  It is a sad but definite truth that what a dancer feels she looks like is not what she actually looks like, and nothing reveals that more rapidly than watching a video of yourself dance.  Videos have no mercy, and you will quickly see  if that headline you've been working on actually looks like your ear lobes are glued to your shoulders or if the arm motion you thought looked sassy actually looks like the mad flappings of a broken chicken wing.  Over time, one does learn what correct dancing should feel like, and watching videos of your own dance is a brutal way to accelerate that process.

With the prevalence of gadgets containing video cameras, procuring video of yourself shouldn't be technically difficult.  You might need to cultivate friends in other dance categories who would be willing to take video of you, but having more dance friends is always a plus in my mind.

I am not using gentle words to describe the process, because most of the time watching yourself dance will knock your ego down by several pegs.  Kate of Riot and Frolic and buckets of dance wisdom has several tips on making the process less painful, though I would say that for me, watching old, old videos isn't so bad.  They are still embarrassing, but in the hah, hah "I used to dance like that?" sort of way, not the painful "I was so terrible" sort of way.  Having documented evidence that you're getting better is reassuring in its own right.

Happy dancing!

Monday, February 16, 2015

January 2015 Swap Report and Finished: Swap Bags

The world postal systems turned out to be remarkably efficient at the beginning of the month, so I am the lax one in not reporting sooner on the results of the January 2015 Geek and Nerd Swap, themed Imaginary Worlds.  Let me put that right.

That time-consuming prima donna, the jade anna dress, became top priority in January because I had a competition I needed to wear it to and because it took far longer than I anticipated (see previous post for details on the most recent ripping and resewing).  The date of the competition happened to be the ship date for this swap.  It was not my finest example of time-management.  So in the midst of the ripping and resewing, when my sewing machine and serger seemed to have taken up permanent resident on the dining room table and green threads had attached themselves to everything in the apartment, I made a project bag.

The frog fabric was purposefully purchased for this bag, as my spoilee collects frog-related things.  The purple was part of the fat quarters/scraps I purchased to bolster my stash in January.  I followed Shannon's helpful tutorial, adapting it only to make the purple strip narrower and to have an opening on each side for the drawstrings.  The entire time I was sewing this, I remembered how pleasant sewing with cotton is.  It doesn't stretch!  It doesn't shift!  It doesn't bunch up!  It stays where you put it!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Practice Run-throughs

After babbling about ballroom hair for the last few weeks, I thought I'd share a few tips on improving practice for competitions.  In hindsight, this tip is something that I should have figured out earlier than two years into competing.  Hopefully, you are more aware or have more guidance than I.

If your practices are anything like mine, it is all too easy to spend two to three minutes standing and talking for every minute dancing.  Even if my partner and I are focused on dancing and fixing problems, we are then working on specific figures individually or dancing slowly without music.  We stop and start, change the music, discuss what went wrong, dance another bar or two, repeat.  It is possible to practice for hours each week, greatly improve your technique, and then nearly pass out in a competition where you are suddenly asked to dance continuously for 90-120 seconds, two or three or five times in a row.

One answer is run-throughs, or to dance continuously for 90-120 seconds in practice.  It is best if your run-through resembles the hardest competition you could dance; for me, that would be five consecutive dances for 120 seconds each, because there are a couple competitions I've attended that do indeed leave the music on for that long.  I would recommend doing this in every practice at least the week or two before a competition, but my partner and I find run-throughs a good way to check if we've actually mastered a new element, and so we like to do them more often.  You get to check not only your physical readiness, but also your mental ability to focus to the end of the dance.

I found run-throughs enough physical training for competitions as a syllabus dancer, but I doubt they'd be adequate as my sole exercise for open events.  If you've been dancing run-throughs for a while and still cannot maintain through the dance in competition, it might be time to examine your exercise regime.  Dancing should be fun, and it isn't fun if you're about to collapse in front of a judge.  So, play the game, and exercise.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sometimes One Must Rip

My January swap has ended and the first two competitions of the new year are done, so let's have an update on the projects that consumed the month, shall we?  First up, the jade anna dress.  When last we heard from this project, I was crying on the bathroom floor and the dress looked like this:

 Let's list what isn't working here, shall we?  First off, the godets are clearly not correct, as the fabric is pulling in tightly just below the lycra.  This was because I tried to use a narrower triangle for the godet (I had used quarter circles in the past, but it had seemed overkill at the time) and the godet apparently had a smaller opening angle than the space I was setting it into.  The overskirt would have to come off.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Washing out Ballroom Hair

Ballroom hair should not move regardless of the sharpness of your tango, the spinning of your Viennese Waltz, or the number of times you get hit in the head during the first round.  If you've used either of the two previous tips, you probably do have hair that no longer feels like hair on your head.  Restoring it can be tricky, particularly if you've used something like eyelash glue.  The stuff is intended to not dissolve in water and stick to hair, and it does a good job of it.  This is how I wash all the gunk out after a competition.

First, I gently remove any stones, hair pins, hair nets, and ties (the shape of the base ponytail is unchanged by this, which is a little freaky to me even now).  If possible, I will try to scrap off any obvious blobs of glue.  I then soak my hair in warm to hot water and start massaging shampoo onto the sprayed parts.  The hairspray will start to slowly dissolve, at which point I can work the shampoo down to the scalp and out to the tips.  I typically shampoo twice, until all the stiff parts are gone.  I do not try to work through knots at this point.

Shampoo doesn't dissolve the glue, but it will gum up into little balls.  I then put conditioner all over my hair, from root to tip, and start combing out tangles with a big tooth comb.  I work from tip up to root, sliding out the glue bits as I find them.  A good rinse and I have my own hair once again.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ballroom Tip: Gluing Hair Jewels

This tip is up late, since I have spent most of the last week finishing up swap presents and finishing up the jade anna dress to wearability in time for a competition Saturday.  More--oh so much more--on that later.  For the present, a tip.

Consider hair jewels.

I called this style "Medusa Goes to the Opera."
Hair jewels, typically rhinestones, are a common addition to hairstyles, particularly for the fancy up-dos of the ballroom events.  So how do you get them to stay on?  I use the same water-proof eyelash glue that I use for my fake eyelashes.  Coat the back of the stone with glue, let it sit for 30-60 second until tacky, then press into place on the dry, shellacked hair.  I have never had a stone fall off once properly set in place using eyelash glue.

As you might have realized, ballroom dancers are not shy about putting all sorts of products in their hair.  I've seen and heard of white glue and glitter glue, as in those from the school supply section of the average store, being used in hairstyles.  As long as it's water-soluble and safe for skin contact, it's an option.

Christmas a Few Weeks Late

I take a flexible attitude to celebrating holidays on time.  I don't see much point in making a holiday more stressful in an attempt to have everything finished and ready by a certain date, at least when it comes to celebrations for adults (I have little brothers, so I know that you can't get away with that for kids).  I am happy to celebrate Valentine's Day on February 11, and I will celebrate my birthday over the course of a couple weeks if life allows.  Hence my craft-related Christmas presents have arrived in January, and I am finally writing about them in February.

First, I got fabric.