Friday, October 14, 2011

Epic, photo-laden Rocktober 2011 "Trip" Report

Hey y'all, this one isn't a "trip" report, because I didn't have to travel out of my own cozy homedown to go to it. But it was a "trip", in that I felt like I sort of went on a journey, mentally.  So here goes:

Columbus, OH, hosts two major events a year- CBUS, which is an exchange and is social dancing only, and for the last few years, Rocktober, which has classes.

Rocktober happens (You guessed it!) in October, it happened this past weekend, Oct 7-9th.  Last year, it was a big, multi-track extravaganza, with three tracks in the convention center and a big Showcase competition for couples' choreography and the whole 9 yards.  This year was a little different.

This year, while there were still dances to live music on Friday and Saturday nights (And DJ'd late nights) to which everyone, the whole community, was invited, as well as a J&J competition, there was no big, multi-track workshop.  What we decided to do instead (disclosure: I was one of the organizers for this) was to host the kind of intensive workshop with small classes and top level instructors that dancers in our region rarely get to participate in. That dancers, period, rarely get to participate in: a very small class with world class instructors that lasts the whole weekend. What a great opportunity, we thought, (disguised as being unable to find a venue for a huge workshop), to give dancers in our region the opportunity to give their dancing a kick in the pants.  And in the process, bring up the level of dancing in our region as a whole.

We filled the class with a combination of video auditions, which were open to anyone, and personal invitations to regional dancers.  The latter we hadn't really planned on initially, but we realized that very many people were intimidated or confused by the video audition requirement. Consequently, they hadn't sent in a tape because they didn't think they'd make it, when in fact they were our target audience.  So what we got in the end was a class populated entirely by people who were highly motivated to learn. 

Our instructors were Kevin St. Laurent and Jo Hoffberg.  This was the class:
all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer

Friday night we had a dance with the fabulous Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators.  Live music got us swinging out! But earlier in the day, me and one of my house guests had walked to the thrift store that is less than a block away from my place and acquired some polyester shirts in the theme of "the worse the better."  We also acquired one for my guy friend that was staying with me, without his knowledge. Although he did consent to wear it. So since Saturday is always dress up night, Friday was polyester shirt night!  I was asked at one point, with a perfect balance of disgust and incredulous laughter, if I was "responsible for" the pink shirt with the lime green polka dots.  Yes, yes I was.

all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer

It was great watching people filter in, and getting to dance with everybody that was going to be in the workshops, as well as so many of my friends that I haven't seen or danced with in a while.  I always love Friday nights for the "homecoming" aspect.

Saturday morning the classes started. To sort of start at the end: we did not do a single swingout on Saturday.  Zero swingouts.  Many steps, rock steps, and triple steps, but an absence of swingouts.

What we did work on, pretty intensely, was balance and leading and following.  Some things that are not rocket surgery, but damn, the simple shit can be hard.

all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer
There's Jay and me, balancing on one foot each.

The idea that we started with and did a lot of working on Saturday, was that you should have the ability to work from a default position of having your own weight and not pulling on your partner.  To work on this, we formed partnerships and led and followed a variety of rock steps in each of the cardinal directions: in (toward each other in side-by-side), out (away from each other in side-by-side), forward, or back.  At the end of each step, our goal was to return to a completely relaxed connection- touching each other but not imparting any information, any push, or any pull.  Our goal included being balanced and centered on one foot at the end of the movement, that our weight would be fully committed to that foot alone, thus making it clear to our partner where we were.

Building on this, but not moving on from it, was the idea that IF: in the absence of any information from your partner, you have your own weight and are a balanced presence, THEN: when your partner tries to communicate to you through the connection, it will come in loud and clear.  If I am solidly balanced on one foot, then it is no mystery what will happen when my leader attempts to lead me forward- I will step forward on the foot on which I am not standing.  As Jo said, I only have two feet.  

From there, we worked on stringing more steps together, with direction and speed changes, while still leading and following and maintaining our default relaxed connection.  At the end of each movement, we still aimed for being balanced on one foot.  We also worked on leading (and following) the distinction between step-steps and triple-steps.  

photo courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer, alteration mine.
One of the really cool things was that the class was small enough that Jo and Kevin really were able to walk around and offer individual feedback.  Above is a picture of Jo giving me some pointers, though Jo is mostly hidden.  :)

We went on to work (particularly the follows) on "giving good finger": though we want to maintain a minimum of necessary tension in our arms, we don't want to let our fingers go slack.  Slack fingers can lose connection with a partner, and have a delay in processing information.  Slack fingers must adjust to to tension, and then communicate information.  In the same way, we worked on following from our backs, with proper shoulder posture.  The lats connect directly from the shoulders and anchor to the pelvis; the core knows right away what the shoulder is doing, via the lats.  If we're trying to follow from our biceps or some other part of our arm, there are multiple points of mechanical "loss" between our arm and our core, thus also resulting in an information delay while we bring our core up to speed on what our arms were told.  

Utter geeking out much? (yes.)

We were working so hard that we actually forgot to take an afternoon break between the nominal class periods.  Cups well and truly full (if not overflowing...), we went home to get ready for the Saturday night dance! 

Saturday night was Glenn and his band again.
all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer

Who really do put on an awesome show.  For those of you who don't know, Glenn is a dancer in addition to being a fantastic musician, so he really understands what dancers want from a band.  His band also really feeds of the energy of the dancers in the room.  It is a good symbiosis. We were privileged on this occasion to have Solomon Douglas on piano as well as Glenn leading the band.  The combination of the two (and such a tight band) makes it pretty irresistible to STFO.

Saturday night, in addition to the social dancing, there was a Jack and Jill competition and special performances by Kevin&Jo and Jon Tigert and Mandy Spencer.

Show your numbers to the judges! All photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer.

Jon and Mandy treated us to a brand new routine.
all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer
Kevin and Jo treated us to a performance of their new "Shake that thing" routine, first seen, I think, at ILHC 2011.  I'm restraining myself, in the case of both performances, from posting a million photos.

all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer

I didn't make it to finals in the J&J, so there are no pictures of that not happening, but I'm pleased to relate the three excellent couples that placed:

Third place, Dan Rosenthal and Eva Collier:
all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer

Second place, Danny Beyrer and Binaebi Akah:
all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer
 And first place, Christian Oudard and Ali Lodico:
all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer
Congratulations to all!

After the competition, everyone was more relaxed, and the band even played blues as the night deepened. Gratuitous picture of Jon and me dancing, and my pretty dress:
all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer

Eventually, as always must happen, the band wrapped up (after acceding to two encore songs), and people filed out, and we were packing up the band's equipment, which had been at the venue since load-in on Friday night.  Unfortunately, the freight elevator that we used to get the piano upstairs requires a special key.  The guy that has the key had gone home.  I learned of this problem via Kevin, the trumpet player's, cell phone, which I totally absconded with as I rushed down to meet the guys with the piano.

"You have two choices," I told Solomon, "and it's your piano, so your call.  We can wait, probably at least an hour, to get somebody here with keys to the freight elevator, or we can carry the piano down the flight of stairs."

"It's not my piano," was the first thing he said.  Followed shortly by, "We should probably just carry it down the stairs."

So I scurried back upstairs in my 4" heels that I so thoughtfully wore, and rounded up every guy in the building.  The piano was on a steel frame with wheels at all 4 corners, so everyone had to get down to ground level to grab the frame, to carry it down the ~dozen steps from the lobby to the ground level.  We installed two guys at each corner, and two in the middle to stabilize, and up the piano went into the air, and down the piano went down the stairs.  That was honestly, really and truthfully less of a pain in the pass than finagling the piano into the shallow freight elevator had been.  Go, team! There are two videos of the event, one on the trumpet player's cell phone that I'd still been clutching, and one that Mark the drummer took, but they're still very much on tour, and the videos haven't made it online yet.

all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer
Sunday, bright and early at 10am, we had class again.

Today, we got to do swingouts.  But not step-step-triplestep-step-step-triplestep swingouts.  Nope, we did no-triple swingouts, triple-only swingouts, 6 count swingouts, 4 count swingouts, and all manner of homicide "suicide" triples.  Basically still trying to break every convention we have, coming to terms with the fact that there is no spoon, and trying to honestly and literally lead and follow every weight change.

We then talked about the difference between "open" and "closed" leading, and how the only thing we'd been practicing so far was "closed" leading, but K&J wanted to make sure that we were aware of a distinction, since rarely do you dance an entire song with closed leading.  More often, some sequences will be closed leading, and others will be more "open," blocking out the follow's general movements, but leaving the specifics of her feet (and thus unconstrained, the leader's own feet) more up to individual choice.

Later in the afternoon, after they'd straight up technique'd us for 8 or so hours over the course of two days, we go to do a Jack and Jill contest clinic.

all photos courtesy of Jenna Menchhofer

We set up a performance area, and in the spirit of random pairing, went from one side of the seating to the other matching up leads and follows as they were sitting.  We did three rounds of "prelim" format with three couples dancing at once and one round of "finals" format, with spotlights.  After each round, both the observers and K&J offered both positive and critical feedback on what people had done.

Kevin and Jo also talked about playing the game.

To paraphrase slightly: Jack and Jill competitions are competitions, and if you want to win them, you should try and win.  So we talked about strategies, when to play it safe in the prelims (e. g. if you're among the top of the field and to make finals you just need to not fuck up) and when to take risks (e. g. if you really need to be noticed.) Dress to be noticed, and many other things.  In the end, I think it was great practice for everybody.  I definitely personally found it helpful.

I think this weekend was a great success, and I'm so thrilled that we decided to take a chance on this new format.  I think that everybody that was in the workshops was blown away, broken, in the best possible way.  I know that my brain is still kind of reeling from all of the things that I'm trying to remember, so this blog post itself is kind of a way of consolidating it all, for me.   I know that Kevin and Jo were pleased with the way it turned out, because they went to lunch with the organizers on Sunday and they related how thrilled they were that they got to abuse us nerd out with us for such a long period of time and everyone was still focused and still working hard.

Thank you to my fellow organizers, to my workshop classmates, to everybody I got to dance with, and especially to Kevin, Jo, and the band for an amazing weekend.  Can't wait for next year! 

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