Sunday, December 11, 2011

My (It's not) Bambloozled 2011 (anymore) Blues..

So I walk into our weekly swing dance Wednesday night this week, and catch a dance with one of my favorite leads.  The dance is playful and stretchy and full of confidence, call and response, jazz, and smiles.

Kara and Paul, open Jack and Jill Finals.
Josh Wisely Photos
At the end of the dance, he stops and looks at me with some surprise/admiration and says, "You should go to blues events more often."

Because I’m listening, and relaxed, and, yes, more confident. 

The event in question that I just got back from is BamBLOOZled in Washington, DC.  This was my second year in a row for this event, and it’s one I will make every effort to get back to next year.  It’s workshop weekend, in that there are classes all day Saturday and Sunday, but it also boasts a full schedule of social dancing all night Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so you can make whatever you want out of the weekend.

What I made out of the weekend was something of a hybrid; I danced all night Friday, went to morning classes on Saturday and napped through the afternoon ones, danced all night, skipped morning classes on Sunday and went to the afternoon ones, and then danced/partied all night.  I actually got to meet and hang out with some really cool women this weekend as well, which is something I don't always get to do.  Overall, it was simply awesome.

For the slightly longer version...

I managed to scoot out of Columbus, OH at noon on Friday, carpooling with a friend from Cincinnati.  (Who'd stayed with me the night before, to cut a couple of hours off of his drive.)

We got into DC Friday evening in time to have pizza at the apartment of some dear friends of mine who moved to DC from Ohio about 6 months ago.  They have been gracious hosts of myself for dancing in DC no less than 3 times since then!  Thanks, D&K!  The pizza party included also my carpool buddy's fiance (also a friend of mine) who'd flown in from elsewhere, one of my favorite dancers from Philly who I hadn't seen in 6 months, and a cool chick from Boston who I'd not met before.  Which is all a lot of detail to say that the weekend started off decidedly *right,* with good friends and laughter.

Dan and Kelly, open Jack and Jill Finals
Josh Wisely Photos
We made it down to Glen Echo for the Friday evening dance more or less on time, and walked in past the Contra (?) dance in the Bumper car pavilion, which looked very fun, but cold.  I was grateful that the organizers had been able to secure us the amazing Spanish Ballroom for the evening.  If you should happen to follow that link, you'll see that when they set up tables for weddings or whatever in the ballroom, they cover the floor.  To protect the kick-ass hardwood.  It's a nice floor.  (Ok, I'm done.)

Now, prior to this event, I hadn't been to a blues event in 6 months, since I came over for Red Hot Blues and BBQ, also put on by Capitol Blues.  So there were a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while.  And there is very little blues in my home scene.  So I was clearly in the red, with regards to blues.  The combination of dear friends and blissful dances Friday evening pretty much had me squarely in heaven for a few hours.

And then the organizers did another thing that I want to praise profusely- the advanced and intermediate track auditions were Friday evening.  This excellent (from my point of view) scheduling meant that I got to arrive at the auditions feeling relaxed and warmed-up and goofy and confident from dancing with my friends, instead of feeling hungover and groggy and nervous in the morning.

The format of the auditions was also new to me.  Each petitioner was given two numbers with his or her name on each, and queued up in groups to dance with two instructors for ~50 seconds each.  After you danced, you'd hand the instructor one number, and s/he would put your number in their pile of number where they thought it would go for relative placement.  Repeat with the second instructor. At the end, the top X number of dancers (by consensus, I suppose?), plus those who pre-placed into the tracks, were in the class.

This format of auditions seemed easy and stress-free to me, as a follow especially.  I was guaranteed to be dancing with leaders who could showcase what I could do, and therefore granted every opportunity to be evaluated on my best dancing.  And if I don't make it on my best dancing, then that is clearly the correct decision.  (As it turns out, I did place into the advanced track, which I was pretty psyched about, and we got to find out before we left for late night by consulting the pile of numbers at the registration table after the dance.)

I'm a huge dork. But my vest is cool.
Josh Wisely Photos
Late night was at the excellent late-night venue Du-Shore Dance Studio.  It's excellent for a few reasons, among them: 1) there is a good, fast, cheap diner literally across the street.  2) It has a nice floor, and mirrors, and poles.  I do not deny that I enjoy goofing around with props while I dance, sometimes, be they pillars or poles or scarves or whathaveyou.  More awesome social dancing, as well as the Newcomer Jack and Jill finals, which were fun.  There were a relatively large number of comps and performances this weekend, but they were well spread out and broken up.

I did have a string of particularly memorable dances, one delightful, one odd, and one funny.  Somewhere to the middle/end of the late night, I'd had my first ever dance with a charming lead from far away. It was one of those dances where the chemistry and connection feel just right, and the certain social distance one usually keeps for a first dance melts away. "More later," we both said at the end, and meant it.  Unfortunately, immediately after that, another lead I'd not met before asked me to dance, and it was... exceedingly odd.  He kept moving very little, very slowly, or in weird ways.  It's hard for me to describe why it was so off-putting because no single thing was terribly objectionable.  He did keep putting his face on mine when I was very much *not* seeking a head connection, but I suppose I could have used my words to stop that, but did not.  I do wonder if guys see dances like that rare delightful first dance and think that a girl who will dance like that with one person will dance like that with anyone? Mostly, I tell you that so that I can tell you this: after the odd dance was over, I walked to the sideline and hid behind a friend of mine, burying my face in his shoulder blade and mewling, "aaawkwaaard."  And then another fellow who I don't even know that well comes up to me and asks, "If I promise not to defile you, can I have a dance."  I cracked up laughing and we both giggled throughout the next song.

Despite our best efforts to leave "early enough to get a reasonable amount of sleep," we left the late night at 4 and I wasn't sleeping until after 5.  And one of our party missed the Friday night auditions due to plane timing, so we had to get up early Saturday anyway! grr! So we grabbed what sleep was to be had, showers and cereal and headed into Saturday classes.

Melody dancing with Chris Härm
Josh Wisely Photos
Saturday morning classes were blocked, rather than scheduled to the minute, which is to say, ~11am to 3.30pm were devoted to a single pair of instructors per track, with the instructors directed to take breaks "as necessary."  It definitely helped the classes flow better, I think.  The advanced track classes were taught by Brenda Russell of Portland and Chris Härm of Australia by way of Europe.

Brenda and Chris did two things that I'm going to call out as having particularly liked, but I'm going to try (I fail so hard and so consistently at this) to make this part brief because I reckon I'm going to do a separate post on technical things I'm thinking about after this weekend.   First, the rotation scheme for the class.  Despite the organizers best efforts, there were ~4 extra follows in the class.  Which is kind of a lot, in a class of ~20-30 couples that aims to be intensive.  So Brenda instructed the spare follows not to be as far away from each other as possible, but to deliberately pair up.  Basically, this is an advanced class, you are big kids, let's be pragmatic here and one of you will lead for this rotation.  And then the leads rotated in two-follow increments so that the pairs were always adjacent, but the same follow was never in a follow-follow pair two rotations in a row.  Brilliant.  This resulted in me getting a lot more out of the classes due to less time out, but it also let me practice my leading, because I opted to lead on every rotation where I was with another follow.  And since the follows I was dancing with were good and also honest, I got nice physical (and sometimes verbal) feedback on what I was doing.  Extra special bonus- I got to meet some really cool other follows who I might otherwise not have met.

The second thing was to focus on the more technical aspects of blues as a dance.  Rather than practicing a ton of particular movements, there was a strong emphasis on posture and connection and communication between partners.  While building up a vocabulary of moment is also sooo important (and was helped along by electives in, among other things, African dance and Solo Blues), I really appreciated having a space where "thinking face" was permissible while we were exhorted to push past our personal tendencies to dance with more control and more connection.

Endocytosis. Leader in blue, follow in purple.
I did not actually draw this for this blog,
although it IS perfect.
Related to this, Chris used what is now my personal favorite ever metaphor used in a dance class.  You know how some leaders hunch over their partners and/or stare at the floor behind the follower? And if the follow matches this shape, it can spiral towards ever-increasing weirdness? (especially if the follow is significantly shorter.) Chris called the boys out on this and, while demonstrating on Brenda, informed them that they looked like they were attempting to endocytose their partners.  Nerd-me laughed until I nearly cried.  Filed under "funny 'cause it's true...."

Having been somewhat deprived of sleep Friday night Saturday morning, as much fun as the African movement class looked like (complete with a bunch of African drums and drummers), I decided I was going to try and sleep through the afternoon electives, before the open J&J prelims.  Minus some logistical considerations, I did manage to spend most of that time sleeping.  Ten minutes before prelims were supposed to start, I crawled out from under my down-parka-that-is-practically-a-sleeping-bag, tossed on a tunic dress over my workout tights so I'd feel pretty, and got ready to dance again.

Prelims were fun.  They're conducted in the "back room"/annex at Glen Echo,  with less room for an audience than the main ballroom, so it feels a little less like a performance/being judged, though of course you're still being judged.  I had the most fun with the third song, which was the most rowdy, where my leader opened it up a little bit, and we got to play, but I didn't make finals.  Not terribly surprising, considering the depth of the field (the ladies that did make finals are all incredibly skilled dancers), but one of these days.  :)   A number of my friends did make finals, which where pretty thrilling to watch.  I don't mind breaking up my social dancing a bit if it means I get to watch dancing like that.  Or this.

Shoshi and Nick, open Jack and Jill Finals.
Josh Wisely Photos
Dinner break was interesting, because me and my host-mate from Boston did not actually make it back to our hosts' house for the break.  There were supposed to be 2 cars from the hosts' place at the lessons, and through a collusion of circumstances, there were 0.  But one of the cars was arriving at Glen Echo just in time for the prelims, so we convinced them to bring us our stuff, and then hitched a ride with a different party, who were going to a different hosts house, so we could get dinner and changed.  It ended up working out, and I got to have a nice dinner and hang out with some people I might otherwise not have gotten a chance to talk with.   Also, I got to borrow some double-sticky tape, which was completely necessary for my dress, a piece I absolutely could not wear to a lindy event due to rotation... but liked wearing out all the same.  :) With cowboy boots.  Sadly, I don't think there is a single photograph of this.

Saturday evening we danced to Seth Walker, a completely enchanting NC native, by way of Austin, TX.  Only live blues I've ever danced to that legit made me cry.  It was four or five songs from the end of a set, and I was dancing with a lead with whom I feel very safe, and we relaxed into the emotion of the song.  Someone approached me for the song after that, actually, and I had to decline, because I didn't feel like explaining the tears in my eyes.  I did go up to Seth after the end of the set and tell him how that particular song had touched me.

The late night was once again wicked good, this time with the embedded treat of blues choreography showcase.  There were four entries, all wildly different.  Mike and Dan performed the showcase that held the greatest illusion of a social dance, while the others ran with very strong, more theatrical themes.  Kara and Tomasz made the bold choice to dance to St. James Infirmary, and opened with Kara lying dead on a table.  A fantasy dance then takes place, with the amazing suggestion of dancing with a dream or a corpse, at turns, with a return to reality at the close.  A trio of ladies did a burlesque theme, but were apparently not eligible for prizes since they were more than a "couple."  But Dan and Jenny's routine blew my mind.   The  music was fast, and country, with a slightly aggressive edge, and the dancing captured all of that.  The choreography was tight, with little running themes mixed lovingly in, like a particular chest isolation that matches a guitar riff.  It was fucking cool, and lovingly musical.

A still from Dan and Jenny's choreography showcase routine.  Killin' it.
Josh Wisely Photos
I also got to dance with charming-lead-from-far-away again.  I really dug on the fact that I got to have more than one or two dances with him this weekend, since who knows when we'll see each other again.  That is one of the bittersweet things about bigger/ higher profile events.  If you meet someone with whom you connect really well, you're more likely to indulge in "sets" of dances, a few in a row, which can be dreamy.  But in the end, it's Brigadoon.

We closed out the late night this time.

I made the "informed" decision to skip Sunday morning classes.  It was mostly informed by the fact that I was way too tired to get up early enough to take public transit to Glen Echo, and there wasn't a car going to classes until the electives.  My hostmate from Boston was more ambitious, and got up for Sunday classes, but she'd skipped the late night.  My hat is off to the teachers who closed out the late night at 5 and also were up and teaching at 11.

Mike Marcotte, one of the fearless organizers.
Preach it, brother. Amen.
Josh Wisely Photos
The Sunday afternoon classes were *really good.* The first pair (there were two rooms) was Solo Blues opposite "Critique class."  Lacking a description, I wasn't sure if we were gonna get critiqued or learn to critique each other, but either way, I was in.  What actually happened was they rounded up every judge and instructor who wasn't teaching the solo blues class, plus one or two traveling instructors who weren't actually teaching this weekend, and put them all in a room with us and let us practice, work stuff out, offer suggestions and ask feedback of each other as well as the teachers.  We could dance with the teachers, or have them observe us dancing with others.  It was really good, and, most surprising to me, all of the feedback that I got was pretty coherent, which was *great.*  More on this later.

The second class was "dips and tricks" again with Brenda and Chris.  I managed to snag one of my preferred social partners for the class, since I don't have a regular dance partner, and made a quad with my carpool buddies.  The class was, obviously, non-rotating.  Given that I have a bit of a reputation loving tricks and being pretty game for crazy/stupid shit, hahaha, I had a few people ask me to do the class, and said straight up no a few times.  But somewhat gratifyingly, one of the people that initially asked me (who I declined because I didn't think they were a strong enough base to be safe) came up after and was like.... you were right to say no, thanks for sticking with your guts on that one.  So that was nice.  And the class was FUN! The main trick may or may not have made an appearance during intoxicated dancing at the afterparty....

Kelly and Rachel (another one of the fearless organizers) show us
that it MUST be love.
Josh Wisely Photos

Anyway, Sunday night dinner was at somebody's house, which was so cozy and gracious of them, and the Sunday night dance was in the backroom rather than the ballroom, so it was far more intimate.  By that, I mean crowded! Get your juke on!  At one point, I sat out for a little bit and ate m&m's in the freezing hallway and told awful jokes with a handful of awesome people.  I laughed so hard my abs hurt, and it went out with a bang.  And by that I mean a joke that I can in no way reproduce here, without getting lynched.

The party at Glen Echo went until 2:30 or so, and then the fiasco moved to some gracious DC dancers' house and continued with music and drinking and friends and snacking and birthday spankings, drunken wrestling on a hardwood floor, and other excellent ideas, until long past the sun came up.  Eventually, the party broke up and I found my way back to my hosts' house, in time to pack up my things and say good bye, load my stuff in the car, crawl in the back seat and sleep most of the way back to Ohio.

Goodbye, Bambloozled, only until next year.  You were special to me, and I'll hold a place for you in my heart till we meet again.

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