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GenCon Schedule [May. 9th, 2012|09:41 am]
Prospective Schedule for 2012:

8:00 - SPA1233118 - Tai Chi
10:00 - SEM1229373 - Invitation to the Ball: A History of Ballroom Dance (note: I am running this event)
12:00 - SPA1229362 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Waltz (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
1:00 - SPA1229363 - Latin Dance for Beginners: Rumba (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
2:00 - LRP1230757 - Evil League of Evil Tryouts
7:00 - ENT1229381 - "Le Dorke d'Arthur: The Humpening"
9:00 - ENT1229371 - Glitter Guild Burlesque (geek-themed burlesque show)

10:00 - BGM1230586 - Last Night on Earth
12:00 - SPA1229366 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Tango (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
1:00 - SPA1229370 - Country Dancing for Beginners: Polka (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
2:00 - LRP1229801 - Raising the Imperial Standard (L5R)
8:00 - LRP1230760 - Peace of the Blade (7th Sea)

9:00 - SPA1234232 - Zumba with Sean
11:00 - SPA1229374 - Swing Dancing for Beginners: Jittberbug (single time swing) (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
12:00 - RPG1236849 - Technocrats on Ice (Mage: The Ascension)
4:00 - SPA1233897 - 70's/80's Dance
5:00 - SPA1229793 - Poi spinning for beginners
7:00 - SEM1229394 - Geek Psychology 101
9:00 - ENT1237593 - Gen Con Masquerade Ball

8:00 - RPG1229344 - Bureau 13: The Pittsburgh Ripper (d20 Modern)
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Thoughts on Star Wars [Apr. 30th, 2012|05:39 pm]
Over a winter holiday I had the chance to read one of the most engaging books of literary criticism I've come across in some years, Star Wars on Trial. The book is edited by David Brin and features numerous essays about the inherent merits of the Star Wars franchise. In summary, it fires eight charges at Star Wars, then presents an essay in prosecution and defense of each charge. They are:

Charge #1: The Politics of Star Wars Are Anti-Democratic and Elitist.
Charge #2: While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs.
Charge #3: Star Wars Novels Are Poor Subsitutes for Real Science Fiction and Are Driving Real SF off the Shelves.
Charge #4: Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas.
Charge #5: Star Wars Has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination.
Charge #6: Star Wars Pretends to Be Science Fiction, but Is Really Fantasy.
Charge #7: Women in Star Wars Are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak.
Charge #8: The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make It Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer.

It's a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Star Wars, bothered by Star Wars, or with an interest in how literary criticism can and should be applied to popular culture. I'm not going to get into the different charges at this point, but I enjoyed the book because it got me to look at the franchise in a fresh light, to reconsider the value of the prequels, and question the significance of the franchise and the messages we take away from it. One of the more interesting essays in the book questioned the morality of the Jedi based on the films and proposed that a very different story of the Jedi is told wen we look at the films alone, and in particular when we examine them in chronological order. I was intrigued enough that over a recent holiday with wyndstormhntrss we sat down and watched the six films, nearly back to back. The results were fascinating.

FascinatingCollapse )
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Dance of the Day - Swing [Nov. 23rd, 2011|12:44 pm]

Every year UPenn does Dancing With the Professors, which is like Dancing With the Stars but makes the obvious substitution. I participated for the first time this year, dancing with my mom (she's not a professor but she is university faculty). We got second place. She did a great job and I'm incredibly proud of her.
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Dr. Horrible [Nov. 18th, 2011|11:29 am]
From a conversation with sphinxfeather:

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Competitions [Nov. 8th, 2011|01:50 pm]
Oh, hello!

I'm not going to apologize for not posting in awhile. I can't decide if there are two reasons I haven't posted or if they're the same reason, but it's been because my life is pretty repetitive these days so there's not a lot to say about it, and because I'm so busy living it there's not much time to write about it.

The overwhelming majority of my time (I can't even say "free time") is spent in competition practice. After Rutgers Ruth and I decided to make a big push to break into silver, particularly with our smooth (American style ballroom). There are six main tactics we use when getting ready for competitions:

1) Practice
2) Repetition
3) Practice
4) Private lessons
5) Practice (focused on the private lesson material)
6) Extra practice

All the hard work paid off in our dancing. I watch videos of us dancing now and videos from last year and it looks much better. Is it where I want it to be? No, but it's improving. As I frequently say, "I don't need to be perfect, just better than yesterday." Every day.

We've done three competitions since the beginning of October, Princeton, Cornell, and DCDI. Results have been pretty positive, though not as strong as we'd hoped. Wynd was wonderful and not only attended Princeton (and watched us on livestream for DCDI) but videoed us there as well. Videos of the other comps were not a priority; given how close they were I figured the dancing would not be markedly different, though the UPenn team got a few videos of us at DCDI.

Princeton Bronze American Smooth
Princeton Bronze International Standard
Princeton Bronze American Rhythm
Princeton Bronze International Latin

DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Waltz
DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Tango
DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Viennese Waltz
DCDI Silver American Rhythm: Swing
DCDI Silver American Rhythm: Mambo


We didn't do as well as I'd hoped but we did about as well as I'd expected. We made finals in three of our smooth dances (waltz, tango, and foxtrot), which was the style we'd put most of our efforts in, as well as being my favorite style. We placed last in each of those finals (8th, 7th, and 6th respectively) but getting there was a huge accomplishment, especially since it was the first time Ruth and I had ever gotten to finals in smooth.

Rhythm was weird; we were eliminated in the first round in rumba, swing, and mambo. The last was truly surprising as our first time at a contested event in mambo we'd made the finals (DCDI 2010) and 7th overall. That said, when I saw the video later I had to agree with Wynd's assessment that our timing was off. Swing, normally our strongest of the rhythm dances, was a surprise but we saw areas to clean up in the video so we could come back stronger. Cha cha, however, we made it to the finals 5th place overall. Oddly enough, we danced the syllabus bolero - meaning open to all couples regardless of level - and placed 2nd overall, despite being the only bronze couple on the floor (oh, and 1st and 3rd place were gold).

Standard we got quarter-finals in waltz, semis in tango, and made finals and 5th place overall in foxtrot, but nothing in quickstep. Was a little surprised we did better in tango than waltz, as tango's one of our weaker dances, and was annoyed that we continued to suck at quickstep, but overall it was pretty satisfying. Latin we got semi-finals in all our dances, which I was very proud of given that Latin is my worst style.

Generally we were pretty happy with our results and very happy with our dancing, but wanted another shot. I'd been planning on competing at Cornell the next weekend with Lauren, and persuaded Ruth to come along so we could get another shot at those dances.


Earlier this year it had looked like Ruth would be moving to North Carolina for a job, and so I agreed to temporarily partner Lauren, another UPenn dancer, whose partner was abroad for the semester, in Latin and rhythm. When the job didn't happen, I not only wound up with two partners, but Lauren was adamant about dancing silver, and so we come to Cornell. I actually ended up only dancing with Ruth in bronze, as Lauren got sick and was unable to dance. That said, Ruth and I got the best results we'd ever gotten.

Waltz: 3rd place
Tango: quarter-finals
Foxtrot: 1st place

Cha Cha: 2nd place
Rumba: 3rd place
Swing: 5th place
Overall: 2nd place

Waltz: 5th place
Tango: quarter-finals
Quickstep: quarter-finals

Semi-finals in rumba, and jive, quarter-finals in cha cha and samba.

This was easily the best results we'd ever gotten and were a very positive indication, especially with last week's results, that we were ready for silver. Even the low scores tended to come from one specific judge who has never graded us well (we have numerous rounds where every judge except him marks us for call backs, and in smooth foxtrot nearly every judge marked us first place while he marked us last) indicating that our flaws are somewhat subjective. In addition, we got our first ever call back for quickstep. One more comp in bronze, we said, then move up.

DC Dancesport Inferno

I was thrilled with how we danced this comp, but the results were largely disappointing. On the plus side, Ruth and I reached finals in smooth Viennese waltz, a dance we'd always come in dead last before, and placed 7th in a field of over 56 couples. Most exciting to me, we danced in the west coast swing fun dance - an event open to all couples regardless of level - and beat out every one of them to get 1st place! This was Ruth's time competing west coast and we kicked ass, beating much higher level dancers. Woo!

On the downside, smooth we only got semi-finals in foxtrot and quarter-finals in waltz and tango, something we're still not sure how to reconcile with Cornell and Princeton. Standard we got our second call back ever in quickstep but still only got quarter-finals in waltz and tango, and eighth-finals in foxtrot and quickstep. Again, not sure how to reconcile that with the previous comps.

Things with Lauren went much better than I expected. In rhythm we reached semi-finals in cha cha/rumba multi-dance and swing/mambo multi-dance. Latin we got nothing in cha cha/rumba but eighth-finals in samba/jive. Not bad for my first time competing silver. Ruth had a TBA parter and had no Latin results or with rhythm cha cha/rumba but got to the finals in swing/mambo with 5th palce overall. It validated the idea that we're ready for silver in rhythm and we're talking about moving up for our next comp.

What Now?

Well, more practice, obviously. We're tentatively planning to try silver in smooth and rhythm at our next comp, though we're debating what competition that will be and when. We've started choreographing new routines, and we're just gonna keep plugging away.
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Dance of the Day - Fashion [Aug. 31st, 2011|11:57 am]

100 years of fashion, 100 years of dancing, 100 seconds. Awesome.
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Dance of the Day - Hip Hop [Aug. 11th, 2011|11:19 am]

Not sure if this is racism or racial commentary. It's an amazing piece but I'm still a bit uncomfortable watching it.
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Dance of the Day - Chicken [Jul. 19th, 2011|05:16 pm]

Competitive chicken dance at an NDCA comp!
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Post 9/11 World [Jul. 15th, 2011|01:08 am]
I've been listening to a Dan Carlin podcast series recently about the end of the Roman republic. One of the factors Carlin speculates contributed to the final end of the republic was that when Caesar took what was supposed to be temporary power he held it so long that an entire generation grew up under a dictator, never seeing how the republic was supposed to function. The autocracy was the norm as far as they were concerned and since life was good enough they had no reason to campaign for a restoration of liberty.

When Bin Laden was killed there was a story on NPR about college parties celebrating his death. Now we'll have the argument about whether it's ever appropriate to celebrate death another time, but the point is that the commentator was surprised that Bin Laden's death would mean so much to kids. After all, he said, they'd grown up with the war on terror so how much could this mean so much to them? The reporter said she'd asked the college kids that same question and they'd replied it meant more to them because they'd grown up with the war on terror. This was the end - or at least the beginning of the end - of a war that had gone on for over half their life.

All of this brings me around to the thoughts that have been circulating in my head lately, thoughts about what it means to grow up in a time of war, of suspended liberty, and what a return to normalcy really means. To those college kids, if the Patriot Act were reversed tomorrow it might be a cause for celebration but it would be a deviation from the norm, not a return to it. To my parents, on the other hand, it would mean a nominal restoration of American justice.

I, however, like several of you reading this, am caught in the middle. Not all of you, not even most of you. Very few in fact. You see, I was in my freshman year of college - barely into my first month - when 9/11 happened. Most of you are a few years younger or a few years older. You'd been adults for at least a year or were still teenagers. 9/11 was important for everyone, but for those of us born in 1983 it means something significant that I've never heard anyone speak about, not even once.

9/11 coincided with the dividing line between childhood and adulthood. In my case, they were only three months apart. I graduated high school, I turned 18, and now I was an adult ready to participate in this great republic I'd been primed for my entire childhood. I had a fantastic civic education. Say what I will about high school, Cheltenham had the best history teachers I've ever met. The best government teachers. A number of things had been impressed upon me, not the least of which was the concept of civic virtue, nor was I ignorant of the cost of liberty, historic challenges to freedom, or the high costs of maintaining a free society, costs that included blood as often as not.

I turned 18 in June, 2001. Three months later, before even the first election I could participate in, 9/11 happened and America changed. In October the Patriot Act was signed and the country I'd been taught about no longer existed. The rights that I'd come to not just praise but see as defining my country were now suspended. Now one can argue whether that America really existed - I'd argue that the beginning of the end really started with Roosevelt - but that's not the point: we'd been prepared for a future and now it was gone. It wasn't taken by the terrorists: they'd hurt us and threatened to destroy us, so we did it to ourselves first.

My generation was at the front of the line when it happened. Finally guaranteed participation in this society, just as we achieved our full citizenship it was yanked away.

Is it any wonder we're bitter? Is it any wonder we don't trust the government? We don't trust our leaders? We don't engage in civic demonstration or representative democracy? We don't expect anyone can fix the economy? Do you wonder why we don't expect there to be social security? Why we barely turn out for elections? We're too young to be cynical we're told. Bullshit. We're too old not to be and too young to be anything else.

Right now the legislature is in "emergency talks" to raise the debt limit and prevent a government default. The Republicans are cynically and manipulatively trying to pass a plan that will control how the default will spread so that they don't alienate seniors by allowing social security to dry up. The Democrats are doing their best to ignore the fact that the current fiscal situation actually is untenable. Both sides dither over numbers while ignoring two critical parts of the puzzle. One is that the military and military operations account for 40% of the budget, meaning that anyone who is serious about cutting the deficit must cut the military, and getting out of a prolonged guerrilla war is a good start. More important, however, is that America is not a budget.

America is not a budget. We are not a company. We are not a conglomeration, an incorporation, or a charter. America is an idea. America is a piece of paper. That piece of paper is bleeding.

America is not buildings and roads. It is not a miltary and guns. It is not a social security network or medicare plan or schools or cities or mountains or forests or anything else. These are things America has but not what it is. America is an idea, and that idea is freedom. That freedom hasn't existed for ten years.

Are you used to it? Do you think about it? Do you even notice it?

I do. Every damn day.

I can't not notice it.

Think about what it's like when you drive and you see a police car behind you. You're not speeding, you're obeying all traffic laws, but there he is. Perhaps he's not even following you, the officer's not even paying attention to you, but the car's route is coincidental with yours, at least for a stretch. Think of how it makes you nervous, of how much closer you watch the speedometer, how much more carefully you obey lights and traffic signals, how you studiously avoid your phone. I'm worse. When I was in high school and got my driver's license I had a Pennsylvania junior license. It restricted a lot of things for the first eighteen months you were licensed to drive or until you turned eighteen, whichever came first, which meant if you got your license after 16 1/2, you were probably going to get your actual license by aging out, not by passing the year and a half mark. Remember when 9/11 happened? Well just as I was coming off my junior license suddenly cops had a lot more power. I never left that sixteen year-old paranoia that the cops might report me to my parents, it just replaced parents with something else.

That happened with nearly every part of public life for my generation. We traded the supervision of our parents for the supervision of the government. We traded it right when we were supposed to be independent adults. And the worst part is that it was traded for us. Remember, the Patriot Act was passed before that first election we could participate in. We had no say in the officials who passed it, only disappointment in the officials we've elected who've maintained it.

I used to believe in America. Really, truly. I knew that I was naive, that America didn't work the way I'd been taught, but at least I would have a say in this country. At one point I'd even planned on military service and was on a list of three final candidates to attend the United States Naval Academy. I knew America was great, not because she had the best education or infrastructure or the biggest budget or any other metric of prosperity. I knew America was great because the idea of America was great. It was a two-hundred year old experiment in human potential and at last I was going to get to take part.

Then it was ripped away.

I remember being in shock, an almost fugue state, when the pictures of tortured Iraqi prisoners were released. I remember horror when our president refused to condemn torture. I remember disappointment when Obama stopped trying to shut down Guantanamo Bay. These were not things America participated in, I knew, but that America didn't exist anymore.

I've only just recently come to realize how significant it was that I was on the bring of that change. It affords a perspective on the path of this country that really can't be matched. I'm hardly a centrist - I'm a proud registered Republican yet I've never voted for one outside of a primary, and wrote in most of my votes to protest gerrymandering in the latest PA election - yet I manage to piss off both the left and the right in the rare situations when I can be persuaded to discuss politics. My political views are almost never politically-related, though they're doubtlessly politically-influenced, because the political institutions are meaningless. I watched them crumble. I watched them fall.

This year will be the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. No doubt it will be solemnly commemorated and the dead honored and mourned, both of which are as they should be. I also have no doubt there will be renewed protests on the Patriot Act, it's renewal, and what I suspect will be a demonstration in poor taste about the death of America intended as a reference to the Patriot Act. Take all of that according to your own belief. I will mourn the dead and I will attend what protests I can, especially if they involve more than a meaningless petition or changing my Facebook status. Yet what I will be mourning for, privately and save for this post, secretly, will be the adulthood lost to my generation. The potential we never tasted, the citizenship in a free country that we were promised as that dream was ripped from us.

We are America, or at least we once were.

We can do better.
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Undanceable? [Jul. 13th, 2011|11:46 am]
The Onion's AV Club has a list of songs about dancing that they claim are undanceable. They are wrong.

1. Iggy Pop, “Nightclubbing”
Nice groovy beat. Good for west coast swing or a particularly dirty foxtrot.

2. Neil Young, “Dance, Dance, Dance”
Slightly harder. It's not as slow as they pretend and it's got a pretty clear QQS rhythm. A faster nightclub two-step would be my choice though it could also work for a slow polka.

3. Roxy Music, “Do The Strand”
How is this not danceable? It's got a very clear driving beat. East coast swing, baby. Or hustle. Or merengue. Or tango. Or paso. Come on, AV Club! Even if you're not doing ballroom how can you not hear this beat? Next.

4. Lou Reed, “Sally Can’t Dance”
Okay, they admit this one's danceable but that due to the lyrics it wouldn't be fun to dance to this one.

5. Bauhaus, “St. Vitus Dance”
Works for an awkard hustle.

6. Leatherface, “The Bastards Can’t Dance”
No sample, can't evaluate.

7. Violent Femmes, “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance!”
Great rhythm! This would be a hilarious jive! I will never get a chance to use this song (for obvious reasons) but I bet it'd be a lot of fun.

8. Modest Mouse, “Dance Hall”
Another jive. Feels like a satire of 50's rock and roll movie songs. Would actually be pretty fun to do a satiric beach-party showcase piece to this.

9. Lykke Li, “Dance, Dance, Dance”
Okay, this is really awkward because of intentionally disruptive percussion. You could do hustle to it, though I wouldn't try.

10. Patti Smith, “Dancing Barefoot”
Nice blues feel. This could be a great west coast swing. Why is this song on the list? It's groovy, it flows, it pulses. Why is this on the list?!?!

11. Pavement, “We Dance”
I imagine a lot of people would slow dance to this song. For me it's nightclub two-step but that doesn't mean other people couldn't do something. $5 says I get a wedding couple with this song in the next year.

12. King Harvest, “Dancing In The Moonlight”
Again, they admit you could dance to this but claim the lyrics are too irritating to make a good dance song. Um, no? It's happy, it's perky, it's celebratory. It's calm and casual but that doesn't mean you can't dance, it means you dance casually. I've had this song in my rumba playlist for years.

13. Pop Will Eat Itself, “Dance Of The Mad Bastards”
Strong driving rhythm. Would make an excellent hustle. If you're into punk you could also slam dance to this.

14. Prince, “Batdance”
Another easy hustle, though this song really is everything wrong with Prince in one place. I'd really hoped never to hear this song again.

15. T. Rex, “Cosmic Dancer”
What "awkward rhythm" are they referring to? Very clear QQS beat. Nightclub two-step. Next.

16. Dead Milkmen, “Instant Club Hit”
No link, no comment.

17. Sebadoh, “Dance”
Okay, this is on the list for excellent reasons. Too many breaks, horrible lyrics. You could force choreography if you really wanted to, but why would you ever want to?

18. Pere Ubu, “The Modern Dance”
Okay, it could be a hustle but an uncomfortable one. Still, if you're dancing club style the rhythm's clear enough that I don't know why this song doesn't work (save for the weird break about 50 seconds in, but that passes).

19. Nik Kershaw, “Dancing Girls”
Oh, more techno! It's more hustle! It's a bad song, but it's still a hustle.

20. Lindsey Buckingham, “Slow Dancing”
I was intrigued enough from the AV Club write up that I actually looked the album up on Amazon to hear the sample. It's not as bad as they say. I would never slow dance to it, but it would make a good slow (wait for it) hustle.

21. The Clash, “Rebel Waltz”
THEY TELL YOU THE DANCE IN THE TITLE! Okay, it's actually a Viennese waltz, but still. The write up is an endorsement of why one should dance to this song. Waltz is not primarily a romantic dance (although it can be); it's primary feel is that of a dream. Waltz is dream-like, it's a fantasy. The song captures that. Fail, AV Club! Fail!

22. Sick Of It All, “G.I. Joe Head Stomp”
Fast. Real fast. Not sure why this doesn't work for slam dancing (according to AV Club it doesn't). I like the rhythm. Maybe a real fast tango or quickstep. A punk quickstep to this could be kind of fun, actually.

23. Iron Maiden, “Dance Of Death”
Another waltz. Fast tempo though not quite in Viennese range. Could probably be a great showcase piece, though I'd rather get a different vocalist.

24. Death Cab For Cutie, “Stay Young, Go Dancing”
Guess we're saving all the Viennese waltzes for the end. This actually quite a beautiful song. I'm gonna go buy it from iTunes and play it at my next party.
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Morality in Gaming [Jul. 7th, 2011|02:02 pm]

I've been thinking a lot lately about gaming and free will, particularly as it relates to the 7th Sea game I'm running with C--- and L---. 7th Sea is a game of high adventure that can support a number of different story types. Though the default game presented in the core book is one of swashbuckling adventure, it can encompass a great deal more. I believe one of the flaws with the game that directly resulted in its market failure was its refusal to embrace any given genre. Each supplement, including the nation source books, was intended for an almost entirely separate game. For example, the Eisen book focuses a great deal on mass combat and how to depict military relationships while the Montaigne book is about high culture and courtly life, however both books are largely limited to their respective countries. The implication is that all Eisen games are military games and all military games are Eisen; likewise for Montaigne/courtly politics, Vodacce/intrigue, Castille/guerrilla warfare, etc. and doubly or triply so for the Secret Society supplements.

That said, it's certainly possible to run 7th Sea picking and choosing the elements we like and transplanting them as we see fit, and we're attempting to do just that, but there is one aspect from the core book that we have wholeheartedly embraced: heroism. 7th Sea is a game about heroes, a fact which is even reinforced in the mechanics. Examples include:

* When PCs perform "evil" actions they lose Reputation score. When their Reputation reaches a certain point they become NPCs under the GM's control and the player must create a new character.

* NPCs are divided into Brutes, Henchmen, Villains, and Heroes, each of which has separate mechanics and are treated differently.

* Characters are not killed by default - even the strongest attacks will only knock someone unconscious unless another character deliberately takes a separate action to kill him or her. Thus even the most thuggish warrior subdues his or her opponents rather than resort to lethal violence.

Leaving aside all the various genres depicted by the supplements, this is very in line with the heroic swashbuckling genre depicted in the core book. The problem, however, comes about when players can't step outside that genre. Is it heroic to play a hero if one doesn't have a choice?

In "Grand Theft Auto and the Problem of Evil," Stokes makes the claim that morally correct actions without the free will to choose them are morally neutral and therefore it is the ability to choose good, or at least refrain from choosing evil, that demonstrates morality. He puts it quite succinctly, "... Grand Theft Auto is the most moral video game ever created. After all, no other game allows us to choose not to murder prostitutes."

Now 7th Sea doesn't give you that choice. One can murder prostitutes once or twice, but very quickly the character is taken away as an NPC and the players is forced into playing a hero. By Stokes' standard 7th Sea characters are amoral because while they are defaulted into doing good they never have the opportunity to choose good, and it is the choice that ultimately matters. This directly contradicts John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism that states the most good for the most people is good regardless of what caused it to arise.* Mill would say so long as players aren't murdering the prostitutes, it doesn't matter why and players are good for it. We might imagine that Stokes would counter with the argument that the player is no more moral than a dustbin: the prostitute is not murdered as a result of impotence on part of both the player and the dustbin, not because of any moral choice.

This is not a merely academic question but one that pertains to both how the game is written and how people enjoy the game. It is the difference between a novel where the plot occurs exactly as the author intends and an interactive experience where the participants make choices that affect the outcome. By definition, this makes the characters important because their actions - the actions they choose - are important in as much as they affect the world. A character who can choose to engage the pirates with cannon fire or a boarding party of marines is only choosing method, but the engagement itself is only significant if the character could also have chosen to allow the pirates to ransack the town or even sell out the town and join the pirates. In this example, the player is destined to fight the pirates no matter what.

The limitations need not be that extreme, however. While 7th Sea prohibits morally negative options, it does permit morally neutral options. Thus the player cannot choose to join the pirates (although he could pretend to join them so he could work as a spy or saboteur), but he could choose to pay the pirates a ransom, recruit others to fight the pirates, or let them sack the town while he works on a long-term plan to stop them further down the line. He could even choose to ignore the pirates. In this sense the character has free will to make choices, excluding a certain limited subset of villainous or evil choices. As such, the character has as much free will as people in most modern societies: able to make whatever choices they like within the boundaries prescribed by their societies; in other words, I have free will though I'm no more free to murder prostitutes than the 7th Sea character but my limitations are enforced by police rather than a GM.

This does restore a sense of significance to the players' choices, though the significance is more limited than total free will. How much that appeals to a given player will vary by players' taste but that brings up the concept of meta-morality which forms the crux of my argument. 7th Sea is a moral game, even more so than Grand Theft Auto, because the player has chosen to play it.

As a player I can choose to play whatever game I like. I can play an evil D&D game and portray a burning, pillaging, evil necromancer, during which it is probable I will murder a great many people, prostitutes among them. I can play Grand Theft Auto where I may or may not murder any prostitutes. Or I can choose to play 7th Sea wherein no prostitutes are murdered. If I choose the latter, I have preemptively saved those (fictional) prostitutes, whereas in GTA I am exposing them to my unknown future whims.

Consider vehicular homicide in conjunction with drunk driving. We recognize that a person cannot be held accountable for actions they did not have control over, but we still consider drunk driving a morally negative action. It doesn't matter that the driver did not have the motor coordination to avoid an accident nor does it matter that the driver lacked the inhibitions to restrain himself from driving while lacking said coordination. We hold the driver accountable because he did not restrain himself while still sober. A driver who turns over his keys to a designated sober friend prior to drinking is moral because he is making a choice to limit his future actions in such a way that precludes potentially harmful actions. It is the self-imposed limitation that is moral in this instance. Comparably, a player who chooses to play 7th Sea is self-imposing a limitation on his ability to choose villainous actions.

7th Sea characters cannot be moral but the decision to play a character in 7th Sea is highly moral.

This is where the crux of most of the player disputes we've had in 7th Sea have come from. As I've said before, not every character is right for every game, but that also means not every game is right for every character. Given how invested players become in their characters we may extrapolate that not every game is right for every player and thus not every player is right for every game. If a player wants to play a "grim and gritty" game of high drama where the PCs are constantly having to make difficult choices, 7th Sea is absolutely the wrong game, if only because the character can't necessarily make that choice. But if a player wants to play a game where he or she plays a hero and, even when the character is tempted will still do what's right in the end, 7th Sea is just about perfect.

* With extensive supporting arguments that say why it's not okay to kill 1,000 people in order to benefit another 1,001 people, which is basically the anti-Nazi qualifier.
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Dance of the Day - Peabody [Jun. 24th, 2011|11:18 am]

These guys were my favorite smooth couple for quite some time and I was sad when they retired. This was their competitive showdance routine the last year they competed. The style is Peabody: an old, obscure style of American ballroom that was really phased out in the 50's. It's almost never danced socially and very rarely competed.
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(no subject) [Jun. 19th, 2011|10:54 pm]
Remember this?

Passed my exam with flying colors. Win!
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Dance of the Day - Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris [Jun. 14th, 2011|09:26 am]

From the 2011 Tony Awards:
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L5R Philosophy [Jun. 8th, 2011|01:28 pm]

[a href="http://www.alderac.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=250&t=91445"]Big post[/a href] on the AEG message boards about moral philosophy in l5r. Come join the conversation.
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Dance of the Day: Protest [Jun. 6th, 2011|10:25 am]

One of my students made this video about a protest event in Washington. Please watch the whole thing.

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Dance of the Day - Malcolm X [May. 19th, 2011|12:41 pm]

From the 1992 movie. Given how much ballroom dance has become an expensive and therefore upper class form of recreation, it's easy to forget that many of the styles originated in lower class communities. Obviously Latin dances are Hispanic in origin, but how many people remember - really remember - that swing dancing was originally an African American style of dancing? I love its inclusion in Malcom X and consider its placement highly appropriate. Everything about it from the music to the steps was part of a minority subculture which in turn became part of a white counter-culture which in turn was co-opted and became part of mainstream white culture after it was sanitized. Real Lindy hop fast, loose, and dirty (A Day at the Races and Hellzapoppin both have scenes that better depict what it was really like) but it was there.

I wish I knew when things changed.


Edit: And, as kittydesade pointed out, today is Malcolm X's birthday.
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Thoughts on Thor [May. 6th, 2011|05:49 pm]
I saw Thor this afternoon. I liked it.

This will be spoiler-free.

Initially I was very suspicious the idea of Thor as a movie. A second-tier superhero at best, the idea of a movie about Thor generates even less interest than Daredevil did. Moreover, THor seems like the hero least suited for adaptation to the big-screen. This may work in a comic book...

... but it's hard to imagine that picture translating well to the big screen. Moreover, Thor runs into the same problem that movies about Superman run into: he's a god. What kind of stakes can a movie like that have? This felt mostly like an excuse for another Marvel action movie, and one I planned to skip. I see most superhero movies these days, but my time and budget are both quite limited and I didn't intend to go out of my way to see this any more than I did for the remake of The Hulk or X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

I became cautiously interested when I heard that Kenneth Branagh was directing. I respect his work as an actor and he's been very good about selecting his projects. When I saw the final trailer last week I decided to give it a shot at matinee pricing, if my schedule allowed. Thanks to an unexpected opening, it did.

The movie works, and it does so for several reasons. The first, and perhaps the most significant, is that it Branagh has his actors play everything completely straight. Comedy is present, but quite sparse compared to typical Marvel movie fare - much more so than either Iron Man - and is limited to a few low-key scenes. It is completely absent from the scenes that take place in Asgard and the movie benefits from this choice. Quite frankly, Thor has always looked ridiculous and the supporting cast doesn't fare much better. The movie refuses to acknowledge this. There is no point where someone tells Thor, "Your armor looks stupid," or tells Loki, "You look like a confused, retarded, lesbian cat confronting her sexuality" (he does, by the way). Nor does Branagh hide the designs. Instead, he fills his frame with them, early and constantly, so by the time the weighty drama is unfolding the viewer is used to them, if not completely accepting. Moreover, the different visual motifs used for Earth, Asgard, Jotunheim (the realm of the frost giants, ancient enemies of the Asgardians) give each a distinct feel so that we can take Asgard as is, if only because it is distinctly its own realm.

The other reason the film works so well is that Branagh is not content to simply film a comic book story, but seeks to make an epic. I don't know if screenwriters Miller, Stentz, and Payne intended literary allusions within their tale, but the story I find Thor resembling strongest is nothing from the bit of Norse mythology I know, nor even the Greek or Roman pantheon, but rather that of the epic of Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh, the oldest known story in literature, is about superheros behaving badly. Gilgamesh is a powerful king who abuses his power and so the gods teach him humility, which yields to many a wacky yarn and in the end Gilgamesh becomes a great and wise king. I'm paraphrasing, obviously. At the very least go read a synopsis (here's one). While Thor doesn't attempt to follow Gilgamesh point for point, there are enough similarities that I feel comfortable calling it a spiritual successor.

This use of epic allows for several effects. The first is relevancy. Thor is a story about power. How one acquires power, how one uses power, how power can be abused, how power is shared, how power is lost, what power is good for, and what makes one worthy of power. While The Dark Knight handled the issue better and more effectively, particularly with regard to America's role as either world policeman or self-appointed vigilante, Thor makes a worthy attempt to grapple with these issues. The first act may be intended as a parallel for the start of the Iraq War, but rather than focus on what has already occurred, the remainder of the film deals with the consequences - the unexpected consequences - of what unleashing power has wrought. The film never hits you over the head with the parallel, to the point that I question whether it's even truly there, but the questions about power remain universal in their relevance, so perhaps that's why I'm able to apply them to Iraq. Regardless, it makes the theme quite significant and I applaud Branagh's deft handling.

The second effect of using epic is both the most obvious and the most subtle. Mosty mythologies about deities can be summed up as, "Gods behaving badly." This is just as true of Thor as most other such stories, such as The Illiad, and like The Illiad the effect in Thor is that the gods are humanized. It is easy to see Thor as an arrogant, presumptuous boy who is scared at what it will take to fill his father's shoes and is looking for an easy way to what he thinks is living up to his father's legacy. It is easy to see Odin as an old man who is worried that he hasn't done enough to teach his sons and is punishing them because he's frustrated and doesn't know how to be a better father. And Loki...

I promised no spoilers. I'm just going to say that Loki made the film for me. Everything about the character was perfectly done, from his plot lines to Tom Hiddleston's emotional and moving performance. Loki was what turned the film from camp to an epic.

Even if he does look like a retarded, lesbian cat.

Should you go see this movie? Eh. If you're not a fan of modern comic book movies, this one won't change your mind. If you've enjoyed the last decade's releases from Marvel, however, this is one of the good ones.
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GenCon Schedule [May. 1st, 2011|01:49 pm]
Time for my annual GenCon preview:

08:00 AM - 10:00 AM - BGM1119310 - Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM - SEM1122700 - Things You Think About Games
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM - SPA1118525 - Bellydance for EVERY Body

12:00 PM - 01:00 PM - Lunch

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - SEM1123845 - 7 Words You Can't Say While Gaming
02:00 PM - 03:00 PM - SPA1117847 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Waltz (note: Wynd and I will be running this event)
03:00 PM - 04:00 PM - SPA1117849 - Latin Dance for Beginners: Cha Cha (note: Wynd and I will be running this event)
04:00 PM - 05:00 PM - SEM1120296 - Dirty Secrets of Game Design

05:00 PM - 06:30 PM - Dinner
06:30 PM - 07:00 PM - Costume Change

07:00 PM - 12:00 AM - LRP1120048 - Victim's Ball 3: City of Ladies* - Call of Cthulhu

10:00 AM - 11:00 AM - SEM1122698 - Hamlet's Hit Points
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM - SPA1118527 - American Tribal Style Belly Dance - Introduction

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM - Lunch

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - SEM1120437 - Faith and Fellowship: Finding God in your Gaming
02:00 PM - 03:00 PM - SPA1117851 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Foxtrot
03:00 PM - 04:00 PM - SPA1117854 - Latin Dance for Beginners: Rumba (note: Wynd and I will be running this event)

04:00 PM - 05:00 PM - Shopping
05:00 PM - 07:00 PM - Dinner

07:00 PM - 11:00 PM - Running Heroes of Rokugan modules


09:00 AM - 01:00 PM - Running Heroes of Rokugan modules

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - Lunch

02:00 PM - 06:00 PM - RPG1118485 - Summer Storms - Legend of the Five Rings (Heroes of Rokugan)

06:00 PM - 08:00 PM - Dinner

08:00 PM - 11:00 PM - LRP1118486 - Spoils of War - Legend of the Five Rings (Heroes of Rokugan)


09:00 AM - 01:00 PM - RPG1118893 - Swashbuckling 101 - 7th Sea

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - Lunch

02:00 PM - 03:00 PM - SEM1120081 - Steampunk Gaming

* Notice for Dancers: This is a Call of Cthulhu larp that will feature opportunity for in-character dancing (big band era. Swing, lindy, Charleston, probably some foxtrot and quickstep).
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Are you going to Gen Con this year? [Apr. 27th, 2011|10:25 am]
Please reply if you're going to Gen Con this year.
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(no subject) [Apr. 22nd, 2011|11:05 am]

This post was inspired by Feminist Frequency's video blog post regarding the Smurfette Principle, the central concept of which is that literature tends to depict groups that are predominantly male and then include a single token female character to give the illusion of diversity and/or equality. This is a particularly egregious problem in gaming and roleplaying games in particular where the majority of developers, including writers, editors, designers, artists, producers, publishers, coders, et. al., are male.

An acknowledgment first: there are exceptions. There are games that depict female characters in a real and positive way (Syberia) and that were developed by women (Assassin's Creed). This is much more common in paper-and-dice RPGs (Dragonlance), perhaps because the barriers of entry are lower meaning that if a woman can't get a job creating RPGs there is nothing stopping her from starting her own company. It should further be acknowledged that paper-and-dice RPGs especially, which will be my principle subject for discussion in this post, have improved dramatically in the last 5-10 years in terms of depicting gender, but I will discuss that at length in the post.

One more note: while most of my statements regarding gender breakdown and participation are anecdotal or based on my own personal experiences, the Wizards of the Coast gamer survey in 2000 provides substantive data. I highly recommend reading Ryan Dancey's analysis of the survey, available on Sean K. Reynolds' site.

RPGs originally developed from war games. The earliest ancestor that can be clearly tied to Dungeons and Dragons was a miniatures wargame where Gary Gygax simply used a figurine of a wizard in place of a catapult, supposedly casting fireballs rather than hurling boulders. While there are female miniatures wargamers, the hobby then and now, primarily appeals to a male audience.

I believe there are two factors that influence this, the first is that while it is often claimed that women don't want violence in their games, that is blatantly untrue (sit in on an all- or mostly-female gamer table and see). The tendency, however, is that women tend to have less tolerance for out-of context violence than men (see: Geek Girl What Rules' "Gentler Sex My Ass - The LARP Version"), and miniatures wargames are largely about out-of-context violence. The second reason is that because men and women perceive wargaming as a male activity, they tend to treat it as a male activity, often marginalizing female players; Magespace has a great rant about this. I cannot count the number of times I've been in RPGs where male players try to dictate how female players should play the game, including in-character roleplaying decisions, character development, and most especially tactics and rules. In a wargame, where tactics and rules are 2/3 of the game (the other third being painting), that means these male players are trying to play the game for the female players. Who would want to play a game like that?

When RPGs evolved from wargames the primary-male creative force and player base remained. I've commented on this before but allow me to quote myself:
it means you've got mostly men buying the books in what's already a male-dominated hobby.

And that means the books are going to be marketed towards men.

Now this becomes a Catch-22. The books are marketed to men who buy the books and remain the dominant sales audience so the books are marketed to them, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

One of the results is the real subject of this post (at last!): male game designers trying to depict women and failing.

Now it should be obvious to everyone that men can and do write women well and women can and do write men well. We've been doing it for hundreds of years and almost every great work of literature requires the author to depict the other gender at some point. While this can be difficult, it is hardly impossible. Problems arise when the authors won't even try. While there are many examples of failure, I want to concentrate on two specific types of failure. I will touch briefly on game designers who don't even try to depict female characters and go on at greater length about authors who don't make a sincere effort.

Authors who don't try include those who write games that are entirely populated by male characters, or nearly so. These can be professional designers or gamers running home games. Early games were replete with such examples, though they've become much less common. Usually they were restricted to dungeon crawls and other context-less RPGs, but frequently showed themselves when such games left the dungeons and all significant NPCs were male, while female NPCs were limited to specific cliches. Comparatively, when was the last time you saw a male as a server in a tavern who wasn't the bartender?

The second problem arose out of a failed attempt to address the first problem: authors not making a sincere effort to depict female characters. How many female characters are depicted in a way where it matters that they're women? Could you change their gender without changing the story, or are they just male characters with longer hair and who you can make a roll to seduce without weirding out the rest of the table?

The original Metroid was considered progressive at the time because the main character was a woman. In fact, this reveal at the end is considered one of the major , a D&D setting based on Gothic novels, featured primarily male Darklords; while Jacqueline Renier may appear to be a female villain nothing would change with her back story or development if she were male. Likewise, the story in 7th Sea remains unchanged if Bonnie Magee were male. Legend of the Five Rings fares a bit better with Matsu Tsuko and Bayushi Kachiko, both end up as stereotypes of the woman scorned and a tiger woman respectively (though props to the l5r writers for making Matsu Tsuko's woman scorned trope based on revenge for her lover's death rather than rejection. It's almost enough to make her a dynamic character, except she has no motivation other than honor and revenge).

I saw this as an enormous problem in most of the fan-written modules for Heroes of Rokugan II. Gender rarely mattered for characters, male or female, except to determine who was eligible for marriage and/or seduction, though there were some notable exceptions. Interestingly, the modules I consider exceptional were usually either written by someone married or in a long term relationship - in other words, someone who had regular contact with someone of the opposite gender in a variety of situations.

Even more important than depictions of NPC characters, however, are the options afforded player characters. Games are, by definition, about the PCs. While modules usually afforded equal marriage opportunities to both male and female PCs, they usually only afforded sexual opportunities to male characters, often punishing female characters with Glory and Honor penalties, while male characters only suffered such penalties if indiscretions were made public. The module Charge of the Baranghuar was the most egregious such case, actively targeting female characters for seduction, then penalizing them with Honor loss, Disadvantages, and Shadowlands Taint if they couldn't beat a roll that would overwhelm most characters.

When Wynd and I wrote our module An Arranged Marriage we specifically sought to address this issue. The central question of the module was, what happens when a female character acts like a male character? The module, which we'd originally titled, "Judgment," builds to a climax whereupon a female NPC commits a discrete infidelity which then comes to light, and the PCs are asked to decide the NPC's fate. The NPC's younger sister pleads to the PCs:
She knows all too well the pressure samurai-ko find themselves under, and she has enjoyed much greater freedom than her elder sister. She tries to appeal to everyone’s sense of fairness: how many of them have been caught in difficult situations where they appeared to be guilty of indiscretions?

In our original version we were even more explicit:
She knows all too well the pressure samurai-ko find themselves under, and she enjoyed much greater freedom than her elder sister. She appeals to the PCs’ sense of fairness: how many of them, particularly the men, had affairs and were not caught? How many of them got away with indiscretions? She will openly compare forced marriage to rape.

I will fully admit that we stacked the deck with metagame sensibilities (e.g. 20th century feminism, character history, etc.) and from a gaming point of view the final version, as edited by Rob Hobart, is probably better. That said, the point remains: male characters were allowed to sleep around while female characters were heavily penalized for it, and our module was an attempt to address that issue and make players notice.

When I write l5r modules I follow a very simple procedure to establish gender: I flip a coin. Or more accurately, I use random.org to select the gender. Only when the gender is known do I design the character, or gender is by definition interchangeable and irrelevant. How gender is relevant is admittedly inconsistent, as it should be. In the real world not every woman is driven by notions of motherhood, nurturing, romance, or other traits historically considered female, just as not every male character is driven by historically male traits. It does, however, give a starting point to consider how strongly those traits are portrayed in the character.
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Cruise! [Apr. 12th, 2011|04:17 pm]
This past week, Wynd and I went on vacation. We took a (semi) cruise to the Bahamas and it was amazing. Wynd has pictures up on Facebook (check 'em out if you're friends with her), but here's the skinny.

SkinnyCollapse )

Overall: This was an amazing experience, both teaching and the cruise itself. I can't say enough good things about Royal Caribbean. The food was amazing, the service impeccable, the ship beautiful, and everything was handled quite professionally. If you're looking to go on a cruise, you're putting yourself in excellent hands.
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Dance of the Day - Latin [Mar. 29th, 2011|10:21 am]

These two our Ruth and my new Latin coaches!
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Dance fo the Day - Cha Cha [Mar. 28th, 2011|12:39 pm]

This is a performance Ruth and I did back in October. Took a long time to get it up.
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Realization [Mar. 23rd, 2011|01:23 am]
Today was one of those fourteen hour days.

Sadly, only eight of them were paid.

The rest were spent with the UPenn ballroom team, preparing my kids there for the upcoming showcase and practicing with a temporary partner for a local competition. While taking a break I was speaking with said partner and we were talking about... actually I can't remember how it came about. But at some point I said something along the lines of, "Going from being an English major to a dance teacher, I think I may have made the only possible downgrade in terms of money earned for the effort." She responded that at Wharton the focus is on the opposite: earning as much money as possible with as little effort. I don't know what I said in response, but I know what I thought.

I have been a failure at every single thing I have ever tried in my life.

Now I caught myself right away because that is blatantly not true. I've succeeded at a great many things, often wildly so. And when I have failed, for the most part it's not been a failure despite my efforts; it's been a failure for lack of effort.

In this brief instant, my adult life flashed before my eyes and I realized that everything about my career has come about not because I wasn't good enough but because I never devoted myself to success. I was never willing to pursue success against the odds, despite hardships, over the long term. I didn't fail, I quit, and that made me a failure.

Things I have quit:

- Writing. I didn't produce one page of a salable screenplay when I moved to Madison. La Maupin collects dust waiting for a third act despite actual interest by real players.

- Epic. When I had trouble creating testing plans I didn't ask for help or look up examples of good plans; I just ran bad plans until they fired me.

- English. To do anything as a literary scholar I'd have to go to grad school. I wrote that off my sophomore year, but never pursued anything else you can do with an English degree.

- See also: game design, journalism, and teaching.

Quite simply, I've never followed through. I pass a few roadblocks but I always let something stop me.

It's strange, but I've been more devoted to ballroom dance for as long as any other career path I've followed. I've put in more effort than most and stuck with it through tougher hardships. And yet I still constantly find myself questioning, "Is this worth it?" "Will I make it?" "Am I wasting my time? My money? Maybe I should just quit now and stop throwing good money after bad."

Fuck. That. Shit.

I'm nearly thirty years old. It's time to grow a pair and grow up. I love dancing. I love teaching. And I'll be fucked if I'm going to let myself fuck it up for myself because I don't have the stones to see this through. I'm not going to be that Alex who flounders around waiting for something better to come around. I want to be a dancer? Fuck waiting around and taking classes and practicing until I'm good enough to be a dancer. I am good enough and while I'm going to keep pushing myself to get better and better and better, I'm going to spend that time being a dancer. Fuck the five year deadline I had when I moved back here to make it "work." I will get a job at McDonald's and live in a flea-trap if I have to, but I am not quitting this so I can go get my MBA from Arcadia Community College only to drop out of that program as well before seeing the fruits of my labors.

I'm giving notice right now. I'm manning up. I am no failure and I will not let whatever childish insecurities I might be carrying around threaten my future.

It's 1:18. This is the last time I stay up this late. I'm going to bed now. I'm getting up early tomorrow and going to the studio where I'm going to drill the rest of the rhythm syllabus until I have it solid. And I'm going to keep drilling that book every goddamn day no matter what DVIDA bullshit I have to put up with so that when June comes I ace that test. And then I am going to apply to every dance studio in Philadelphia. I'm going to apply to the studios I love, the ones I shudder to work for, and I'm even going to apply again to Arthur Murray. I'm going to get offers from each of them and take the best offer and then I'm going to be the best fucking dance teacher you have ever seen.

Bring it on, Alex, you've got me to contend with now.
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Dance of the Day - Hustle [Mar. 20th, 2011|07:30 pm]

Precious few music videos involve partner dancing. This one does and is tons of fun.
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Dance of the Day - Standard [Mar. 18th, 2011|09:19 am]

Best pro standard I've seen in the past twelve months!
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Unbalanced vs. Broken [Feb. 10th, 2011|10:03 am]

Around July I started planning a 7th Sea larp and this past January we kicked off with an amazingly well-received first session. At this point we've reviewed all characters and mechanics, in addition to NPCs, which has had me thinking about game balance. Generally, game balance is seen as a good thing but there is very little discussion of what balance means, though things we consider out of balance are "unbalanced" while particularly egregious offenders are "broken." I want to talk a bit about the distinction.

I think it's easiest to set up a definition of game balance. A balanced game is one in which no given character option or set of options (i.e. classes, skills, powers, spells, special abilities, merits, flaws, etc.) has an unfair advantage over any other set. Most gamers I know would agree with that definition, although we might argue over the particular wording, but the crux of any disagreement would be the word, "unfair." What makes an option fair or unfair?

Accessibility is a big factor. If I'm playing D&D and all the spells in the Tome of Ultimate Badassery (Vol. 6) are more powerful than the spells in the main book, then any player who buys ToUB6 has an innate advantage over players who just buy the core book. If access to this supplement is limited, such as it being a limited print run, expensive, or some players just not having the time to comb through each supplement to find the best options, then those who do have access have an unfair advantage because they have something that other players do not.

Campaigns that allow character development between sessions, such as larps with blue-booking sessions or living campaigns that give free Advantages or treasures in exchange for player-written fictions can be considered unfair and thus unbalanced. The former gives advantage to players with a great deal of extra time while the latter gives advantage to players with greater skill at writing.

Another unfair advantage is if access is available to all players but not their characters. For example, in Legend of the Five Rings the schools of the Great Clans are significantly more powerful than those of the Minor Clans (though this was even more egregious in 1st edition). A player who wants the roleplaying challenge of portraying a minor clan samurai is thus also stuck with a mechanical penalty.

Still another unfair advantage is when some mechanical options are so powerful or low cost that any player who doesn't use those options is placed at a disadvantage (a dominant strategy). This is particularly common in games that use merits and flaws/advantages and disadvantages, which give incentive to players to take the most powerful merits with the lowest costs that they can while taking flaws that give many points but at a relatively low or rarely-occurring penalty. An example would be the Unbondable merit in Vampire: The Masquerade, which for only a few character points negates one of the most powerful tools in the Kindred's arsenal.

Now there are several responses to an unbalanced game which I'm going to briefly touch on.

Fix it: This is one of the most common solutions, wherein the GM tries to adjust the mechanics so that the advantage is no longer unfair. This may mean increasing the cost of a certain option, making mechanics universally available, or otherwise changing the situation so that no option is favored over the others. The problem is that this fine-tuning requires constant adjustment and GM awareness, and due to Chaos Theory may have unforeseen consequences and end up unbalancing other areas of the game.

Ban it: Probably the second-most common solution, though extremely prevalent in large games where the GM has too many players to keep track of to fine-tune them all. Simply banning certain character options makes it impossible to use them to unbalance the game. In 7th Sea, for example, we tried to ban all non-core book mechanics until the game had been up and running for several months (a ban that is still in effect on paper but has had so many exceptions made I call it a failed effort). The problem with this approach is that it upsets players who wanted to use those mechanics, and some players will always be tempted to try to have an exception made just because they want to be the exception; I'm guilty of this myself - after I got an exception made to play a Brotherhood monk in Heroes of Rokugan 3 I started plotting how to get the GMs to let me play a Heichi Bushi.

Ignore it: This is the easiest option though it can have the greatest consequences. The GMs say, "Yes, the game is unbalanced. Accept it and move on." The downside of this solution is that players can become upset if their supposedly bad-ass character is overshadowed by other characters due to unfair mechanics.

When it came to 7th Sea, I encouraged option 3. Even the core book is unbalanced so all banning supplements did was limit how many unbalanced options we'd need to deal with and how many new mechanics we'd need to learn. Furthermore, we were upfront with the players. This is a first edition, never updated, RPG written over a decade ago: gaming has made a slough of advancements since then, none of which had been incorporated into 7th Sea and we were not going to go back and re-write the system to provide balance. The system was there to allow us to tell a story, nothing more. If that would get in the problem of you're enjoying the game, this was probably not the right game for you. You want to know the most powerful options: here you go.

And this is the difference between unbalanced and broken: something that's broken makes the game less fun. Take the Minor Clan Schools from l5r mentioned above: while they are unbalanced (weaker) than the Great Clan Schools, they also allow one the opportunity to portray a very different character than normal in l5r. Now note that in this example the player is choosing to portray a character unbalanced to be less powerful than the standard counterparts. This is a key distinction; unbalanced options become broken when they allow one character to outperform the other characters, at which point the game becomes less fun for the players who are being overshadowed. It is the reaction of the other players that determines whether a character option is broken, not the mechanics of the option itself.

This is one of the reasons we did the post about why we would not be attempting to balance most of the 7th Sea mechanics: there would be too many. The work of balancing them would be arduous and keeping track nigh impossible; this is a new game for the GMs as well as the players and we can barely keep track of the real mechanics, let alone twenty pages of house rules. By warning people about this approach we were adjusting (or attempting to adjust) attitudes so that elements that might be considered broken were merely unbalanced.

Another aspect of the relationship between unbalanced and broken is how such things are introduced. If we accept brokenness as how game balance relates to fun rather than an extreme case of skewed balance, then we can take something unbalanced and keep it unbroken as long as it makes the game more fun. An example of this would be our introduction of a Crescent character. We out-and-out banned Crescent characters (and all associated mechanics) for the start of game but one player approached us asking for permission to play such a character. She did so with a backstory that justified her presence in the game and a concrete plan for how her character would interact with others in a way that would make the game more fun for everyone involved. Knowing the player and her gaming habits we trusted her and approved the character. In just one month this character has become one of the most heavily-involved characters in the game, creating an extraordinary amount of plot for herself, despite the fact that the GMs have had almost no opportunity to write plot to get her involved. Does she have access to character options other players don't? Absolutely. But that has enhanced the game for a dozen other players and given them more fun. Ergo, not broken.

In the end, it all comes down to what you consider the game to truly be. As I've said before, "anything that makes the game more fun is the right way to play the game, and anything that makes the game less fun is the wrong way to play." Game balance is simply one more tool in the arsenal of fun.
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Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses [Jan. 27th, 2011|12:52 am]
One of my favorite comedy teams, who are apparently film students at NYU, did that as their film thesis. For $11. It's awesome. Go watch it. Right now.
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MAC [Jan. 16th, 2011|09:30 pm]
This weekend was MAC, the Manhattan Amateur Classic, one of the largest all-amateur ballroom dance competitions in the US. Ruth and I attended, along with our friends Monika and David.

We drove up Friday night. Let me state right now: all the stories you've heard about driving in New York are absolutely true! I've driven in big cities before. Philadelphia, of course. Minneapolis. Boston. Chicago. Chicago's a bitch of a city to drive through, both on the main roads and downtown. Chicago ain't got shit on New York. The other drivers weren't as bad as I thought they'd be, but the pedestrians are... fearless. Fortunately we only had to go a couple blocks from the Lincoln tunnel to reach our hotel. When we got there, however, and realized we'd have to circle around (hotel was on the wrong side of the street, no way to do a u-turn or a left turn)... well, I'll let a phone call Ruth took speak for us.

Ruth: We're one block away so we'll be there in-
Me: Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.

The hotel itself was very nice. I hope to have some pictures soon (if you're friends with Monika check her shots on Facebook). We had a view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and Madison Square Garden. The beds were a bit small (I was glad I brought a sleeping bag; there wasn't room for David and I to share our bed unless we wanted to spoon) but otherwise the place was wonderful. If you need a place to stay in downtown Manhattan, and can get a good rate, I HIGHLY recommend The New Yorker Hotel. We went out to a nearby Irish bar for drinks and dinner for those who hadn't eaten yet, then back to the hotel at about Midnight to sleep before our early start the next day.

We woke up early on Saturday. The girls were up at 5:30 to start hair and make-up. David and I slept in - him in the bed, me on the floor - until 6:30. It didn't take me long to shower, gel and pomade my hair, and get suited up for standard. I also grabbed a muffin and tea from the kiosk downstairs, which were good but pricey; $6 but it's hotel service in New York so it wasn't unexpected. We reached the ballroom about 15 minutes before events started. Ruth and I got in a warm-up dance each in waltz and quickstep, the latter of which revealed extreme traffic problems for us and resulted in a hasty backup plan to deal with avoiding potential collisions. Fortunately this plan was never needed.

Standard went well enough. I thought we bought it on the first round, but we did well enough to get called back for quarter-finals. Monika and David got called back as well. I thought the quarters went much better for us but we got booted anyway, while Monika and David continued to the semi-finals where they were dropped. We'd later see most of the dancers who made finals dancing in silver. Apparently my friend John wasn't kidding about a lot of people dancing down a level at MAC.

I changed for Latin and Ruth and I did a little warm-up then we all went out to lunch. We ate at a nice cafeteria across the street that had surprisingly good food at reasonable prices. Even with a bottled smoothie (mango tango flavor!) my meal still came to eight bucks and change. I went back to the ballroom to watch the upper syllabus standard dancers while Ruth went back to the hotel to take a nap. She reappeared later and we did another warm up before hitting the floor for Latin. David and Monika joined us to cheer on Ruth and me since they were only competing standard this weekend. Unfortunately we were eliminated in the first round; I wasn't surprised as my international Latin sucks, but Ruth insists I was better than many of the dancers who made it through. S'arrives.

Although that was our last official event for the day, I stayed behind to try and convince some of the UPenn dancers to try the team match with me. It took a lot but eventually we got a team together. The team match was very rushed, condensed into a single round instead of the expected two. Dances were randomly drawn from the 19 competitive dances, though no specification of Latin or American was made (i.e. if waltz was drawn one could do smooth or standard) along with variations such as "reverse role (follower leads)," "reverse line of dance," "too fast," etc. The dances ended up being waltz with changing emotions called out by the emcee ("Happy! Now depressed! Bored! Confused!"), same-sex swing, three-person foxtrot, and an all-team relay race of samba, Viennese waltz, paso doble, and quickstep. Ruth did the same-sex swing which she actually did quite well, and I did the three-person foxtrot with her and her swing partner, which we absolutely bombed. In the relay, we took the Viennese portion and had to dance a bit of paso; while we made up a lot of time that the team lost on samba with our Viennese we still finished next to last, and the team came in last place over all. S'arrives, it was fun.

After the day's events we went back to the hotel to change. Ruth wanted to go check out Mario Batali's restaurant, while Monika, David, and I had gotten tickets to watch the open dancers compete that evening. The three of us had a quick dinner at another pub, then went back and watched the novice, pre-champ, and champ dancers. The adult events were standard and rhythm, though we skipped out on rhythm as it was late and we were tired. We also saw youth pre-champ and champ Latin. That was... disturbing.

Normally I love watching kids compete. It's inspiring and they're usually fantastic. These kids made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I've never seen children so sexualized, both in their costumes and in their dance routines. While Latin dances can be sexy that does not mean their sexual. Cha cha is supposed to be about flirtation, not copping a feel. Rumba is about romance, not dry-humping someone's leg. Worst of all, however, was the children's faces. During the first three or dances (cha cha, rumba, samba, and in champ paso doble) only one girl smiled. During the final dance of jive, a dance about having fun, only three smiled (which tells me that two were only smiling because their coach told them to). The rest just looked grim and determined. They looked dead inside.

These children have enormous amounts of pressure put on them by their families. Most are from the eastern European immigrant communities and their families immigrated from the former Soviet Union. They take lessons from the best former Soviet coaches. During the Soviet Union ballroom dance was a state-sponsored activity and when the country collapsed many of those coaches immigrated to the US. These coaches often can only teach within that community because many don't speak English or do so poorly, and so they offer high discounts to those children. Their families spend all of what little money they have building their children up as dance champions, pinning their financial hopes on the children becoming champions themselves and then becoming $150/hr coaches. The children do little besides dance, have no social life, and many don't even go to school as the parents consider homeschooling a better way to fit in with practice and lesson schedules. Granted, I depict a worst case scenario and many of these children lead healthy lives and love dancing, but those weren't the children I saw on Saturday.

I didn't like it.

I am happy to say that the one girl who smiled, who was also dressed in the most conservative of all the dresses there (such as they were) won her event. So there's that at least.

After that we went back to the hotel. I took a quick shower to wash out my hair product and went to bed.

Sunday, Ruth and I woke up at 6:15 and 6:30 respectively. Again, I showered and did my hair, got on my Latin outfit (it doubles for both Latin and rhythm), grabbed a muffin and tea, and then we hit the ballroom to warm up. Warm up went okay if not great, though going over a recent change we made in our rhythm routine went well. It was hard practicing smooth in my Latin shoes but we managed. Still, we took warm up rather lightly as Ruth's ankle had been hurting her.

Unfortunately, we got shut out in rhythm in the first round. I was disappointed; I'd thought we did extremely well, but apparently not. I am curious to see the judges' marks when they're released. Regardless, I put it out of my mind and went to change for smooth. Despite a few collisions - there was some seriously bad floorcraft going on, of which I'm guilty too, we managed a callback to the semi-finals. I thought we did much better our second time around but didn't get a callback to the finals (though we still did better than anyone else on the UPenn team!). More disturbing, however, we had to speak to the invigilator, an official who ensures that dancers comply with rules such as syllabus restrictions to make sure they're not dancing advanced steps in basic categories.

According to the invigilator one of our figures, parallel right turns (a slow underarm turn where the follower turns to open hammerlock position then back) was illegal in bronze because she passed behind the leader's back. This isn't true but we had no time to argue, nor did I have the inclination to do so. I will need to ask Ken Richards, who is also vice president and head of dancesport for USA Dance, next time I see him. I think the invigilator was misreading the step and that it is fully legit, but I do want to check. Regardless, I had to adapt on the fly as we were told this literally as we were walking onto the floor for semi-finals, but I managed to cope. Thank God for partners who can actually follow! Unfortunately, as I said before, it still wasn't enough to get us in the finals.

After being eliminated we changed, went out for a quick brunch - eggs Benedict. Yum! - then drove home. I realized I left my iPod in the hotel and left a message with their lost and found when I got home. It took about an hour and a half to drop everyone off, and so I got home around 4:00.

All told, it was a fun comp, if exhausting. I'm reasonably happy with my results, though I'm hardly content and think we deserved better, especially in rhythm. Moreover, I'm very happy with how much Ruth and I have improved in the past few months since DCDI. Above all, I'm excited for my next two comps, Mid-Atlantic, which I'll be doing with Terri Ann, and Rutgers, which I'll be doing with Ruth. Was the weekend what I'd hoped it would be? No. Did I have fun? Hell yes! Did it inspire me for the next one? Oh my, yes!
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MAC Schedule [Jan. 10th, 2011|06:48 pm]
Saturday January 15th
Adult & Senior Syllabus

Start Time: 8:00 AM
8:32 AM [Heat:35] Adult Bronze Standard First Round (WQ)
8:54 AM [Heat:35] Adult Bronze Standard Quarter-Final (WQ)
9:18 AM [Heat:35] Adult Bronze Standard Semi-Final (WQ)
10:09 AM [Heat:35] Adult Bronze Standard Final (WQ)
10:55 AM Awards

2:35 PM [Heat:61] Adult Bronze Latin First Round (CR)
2:59 PM [Heat:61] Adult Bronze Latin Quarter-Final (CR)
3:46 PM [Heat:61] Adult Bronze Latin Semi-Final (CR)
4:06 PM [Heat:61] Adult Bronze Latin Final (CR)

Sunday January 17th
Adult Syllabus & Junior MAC

Start Time: 8:00 AM
8:40 AM [Heat:88] Adult Bronze Rhythm Quarter-Final (CR)
8:56 AM [Heat:88] Adult Bronze Rhythm Semi-Final (CR)
9:08 AM [Heat:88] Adult Bronze Rhythm Final (CR)

9:28 AM [Heat:93] Adult Bronze Smooth Quarter-Final (WF)
9:40 AM [Heat:93] Adult Bronze Smooth Semi-Final (WF)
9:54 AM [Heat:93] Adult Bronze Smooth Final (WF)
10:12 AM Awards

All events have the possibility of starting up to 1/2 hour earlier than listed start time.

The event will be held in the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center located at 311 West 34th Street.
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Thoughts on Pop Culture [Jan. 7th, 2011|01:10 pm]
Quiet RiotCollapse )

Taylor SwiftCollapse )

The New Edition of Huckleberry FinnCollapse )

Easy ACollapse )
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A tale from the past [Dec. 22nd, 2010|01:20 am]
I am your elder and this tale was told to me by my elder, the Great Schwa, he who was once known as Evan Louscher. All glory to the Schwa. I will tell you the wisdom of the Schwa and how he championed the people and ended such nefarious wrong-doings. Then you too will know how to deal with thieves and cretins.

In ages past, in the dark years, there was a blight upon the land. This blight came in the form of a thief. The thief struck when there were none around to harry him, stealing the hard-won foodstuffs of the people of the Tower, the people of BSFFA. The people went hungry for the thief spared none: his hungers were for meat and cheese, sweets and sandwiches, desserts and dinners, even unto the soda and the very milk, nothing was safe.

And so the people cried out for a hero and the Schwa answered them. "I shall go forth and do battle with the thief," he said. "But how, Great Schwa," they asked, "will you battle the thief when none know who he is?" And the Schwa said, "Watch and I will teach you."

Schwa journeyed forth to the land of Cub and there did he obtain the first of his weapons. Then he traveled to the barony of CVS and obtained the second. Finally, to the duchy of the AV Department did he sojourn, where he squired in return for his bed, board, and tuition; and from the deepest dungeon of the duchy he requisitioned his third weapon, signing the form that would leave him liable if he did not return the equipment by Thursday.

Then the Schwa brought his three weapons together and laid the greatest trap ever known to the people of the Tower. "Clear out the fridge!" declared Schwa. And though there was much complaining and gnashing of teeth they obeyed. Such was their trust in Schwa the Great. Then the Schwa laid his weapons in place:

Within the fridge he placed his first weapon: a collection of food of every kind, to whet every appetite, and every beverage that he could afford for this venture.

Next, he took his second weapon, and dosed each food with great quantities of laxatives. Surely whoever drank that chocolate milk would count himself fortunate to have any bones left afterward!

Finally, he took his third weapon, and placed a rare camera (for this was in the dark ages, before digital cameras were common or well-known) and hid it in the ceiling tiles facing the fridge.

And then Schwa waited, as did we all. The lounge was kept empty, the lights off, tempting the thief. Would he strike?

He did! A video was found of a student from BSU creeping in, sneaking, walking in a manner that would be called comical. I cannot describe it in this tale; you will think it mere hyperbole but seriously, the guy looked like something out of a Little Rascals short the way he was trying to sneak in.

Armed with this video, Schwa demanded to speak with the thief's Advisor Residente, and with said Advisor demanded to speak to the thief.

"Behold," said Schwa, "proof of your misdeeds. You shall repay us for all that has been burgaled else we shall report you to the Dean. Your crimes are numerous and the debt not insubstantial. Think I too soft of stomach to press charges? I, the Schwa who captured your crimes on film? I have nothing better to do than make you suffer."

And lo, the thief made restitution, but then did he ask Schwa, "Am I to be punished further?" To which Schwa said, "Did you not drink of the chocolate milk?" then held forth the empty box of laxatives and proclaimed, "Your debt shall be paid tonight."

So ends this tale of the Schwa.
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Dance of the Day - California Star Ball [Dec. 9th, 2010|10:10 am]

This is the pro-show from the CA Star Ball. It includes several pieces that I'd heard about (esp. the toilet paper routine in Part 1 at 11:05) and have been wanting to see for awhile. I highly recommend watching this if you get a chance.
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dm16QbT2VdU&feature=sub
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOOxky3oPy0&feature=sub
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Dance of the Day - DCDI [Nov. 25th, 2010|09:38 pm]

Nov. 6 and 7 Ruth and I had our first large scale competition since Clover, this past March. Although there'd been competitions since Clover (Philly Festival and Disco America with Ruth, DC Dance Challenge with Wynd) they were either uncontested or against only one or two other couples. As such, DCDI was our first real test.

I'm ecstatic to say that we crushed our wildest dreams, let alone our expectations!

International Standard
- Waltz - We'd danced standard waltz at Philly Festival and Disco America, placing second of second of two and first of two respectively. We reached the semi-finals (top 16) out of 105 couples.
- Tango - This was our first time dancing standard tango, having only added it three months ago. We reached semi-finals out of 100 couples.
- Foxtrot - Let me just say that standard foxtrot is the hardest dance I know of. Not just the hardest ballroom dance but the hardest dance period. Although I've been learning standard fox for close to a year, Ruth and I had only started training on it in the past three months. And we still got semi-finals! (out of 88 couples)
- Quickstep - We'd danced quickstep before at Clover, Philly Festival, and Disco America. Clover got nothing, Philly Festival we got first out of two couples, and Disco America we got second out of two. Unfortunately we didn't get any placements this weekend. Ah well, given our huge improvement in other areas, I call it a win. 101 couples.

International Latin
- Cha Cha - Just started working on Latin cha cha three months ago. Furthermore, Latin is the most heavily contested division in collegiate competition. We got a callback to the second round (top 44) out of 112 couples, so I'm pretty thrilled.
- Rumba - Like cha cha, just started this three months ago. Gotta say, I have had more trouble with international rumba than any other dance, particularly with the straight leg action that characterizes international Latin (as opposed to the bent leg that characterizes American rhythm). We got to the second round out of 111 couples.
- Samba - We got to the quarterfinals (top 26) out of 101 couples. Honestly, I have no idea how we did this well.
- Jive - No call backs. I can't complain; we've only been working on jive for two months.

American Smooth
- Waltz - Ah smooth, my favorite and, what I'd considered, my strongest category. We didn't get any callbacks at Clover and while we placed first at both Philly Festival and Disco America that was only against two other couples. We reached semi-finals out of 61 couples.
- Tango - Pretty much the same story as waltz. Our early rounds were pretty terrible, especially my timing, but we must have done well enough since we got past those lousy first rounds and did pretty well in our later rounds. We reached semi-finals out of 59 couples.
- Foxtrot - Now I'd always considered smooth foxtrot to be our best dance. This was the only dance we got callbacks for at Clover, and there we got all the way to the semi-finals. We came first out of two couples at both Philly Festival and Disco America. As such I was very surprised that we only got to quarter-finals this time, out of 55 couples. It's not bad, just not what I expected.
- Viennese waltz - No callbacks and, looking at the video, it's clear why. We weren't with the music, going way too fast. At Disco America we got third out of three couples, so clearly this is a dance we need to work at. That said, we're not competing it again until April.

American Rhythm
- Cha Cha - No results at Clover though we came in first of two couples at Philly Festival (Disco America was first uncontested). We got to semi-finals from 73 couples. One of our biggest strengths, I believe, is that our rhythm really looked like rhythm. Most people were just doing their Latin cha cha but leaving out fan and hockey stick; ours is pretty distinct and is actually rhythm, not just lazy Latin.
- Rumba - Same as cha cha with the same results: semi-finals from 73 couples. I think our rumba looks a bit better than our cha cha though Ruth and I still can't pull off romantic together.
- Swing - I actually think this is one of our best dances, and certainly best in the rhythm category. Set up is the same as cha cha and results were semi-finals from 74 couples. Although we have the attitude, our look is still a bit too social.
- Mambo - WE REACHED THE FINALS! Win! In the finals we got 7th, giving us a total out 7th place out of 47 couples. Our biggest strength is that we were actually doing mambo (unlike most couples who were doing salsa) and our timing was actually on 2 most of the time (mambo is danced off-time more than any other dance, even by professionals). The only other time we competed mambo was at Philly Festival where one of the judges marked us second even though we were dancing uncontested. I call this a huge improvement!

Big thanks to Wynd for all her support over the weekend and for videoing everything!
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DCDI [Nov. 10th, 2010|09:24 am]
This past weekend was DC Dance Inferno, to my knowledge the largest collegiate ballroom competition on the east coast. It is, for lack of a better word, ginormous. Seriously, I can't express the scope of this thing. My last competition was DC Dance Challenge, which I danced uncontested with Wynd in early October, which is a small local comp that got about 50 couples; DCDI got 801*. It was also my first time competing with Ruth, my regular competition partner, since Disco America, back in July, and our first big competition since Clover, back in March.

We did light years better than expected.


American Rhythm
Cha Cha (73 couples): Semi-finals
Rumba (73 couples): Semi-finals
East Coast Swing (74 couples): Semi-finals
Mambo (47 couples): Finals, 7th overall in mambo

International Standard
Waltz (105 couples): Semi-finals
Tango (100 couples): Semi-finals
Foxtrot (88 couples): Semi-finals
Quickstep (101 couples): First round elimination

American Smooth
Waltz (61 couples): Semi-finals
Tango (59 couples): Semi-finals
Foxtrot (55 couples): Quarter-finals
Viennese Waltz (45 couples): First round elimination
Overall: 13th in smooth

International Latin
Cha Cha (112 couples): 2nd round
Rumba (111 couples): 2nd round
Samba (101 couples): Quarter-finals
Jive (109 couples): First round elimination
Overall: 41st in Latin

My goal going in was to make it to the second round in half of our dances and I thought that would be a tall order. I was in shock the whole weekend as we advanced to round after round after round. Hell, some of those dances we only started a month or two ago including two of the hardest dances there are, international foxtrot and samba!

The competition was exciting but the biggest thrill is that all the hard work we've been putting in for the past year is paying off on the floor.

Other highlights include:

- Wynd is the most amazing girlfriend in the universe. She spent her whole weekend at the comp, videoed most of the heats, dealt with uncomfortable chairs, hours of waiting, assisted with logistics, and was still cheering us on. Best. Girlfriend. Ever.

- Seeing old friends. Lin from Wisconsin. Ryan and Pinar from Philly Festival. Getting to cheer them on.

- Getting to cheer on friends. Go John and Kelsey!

- Did I mention part of the reason Wynd is awesome is because she videoed everything?

* This does not include TBA entries, dancers who register without a partner and are assigned one at the competition itself.
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Dance of the Day - Pole Dancing [Nov. 10th, 2010|01:15 am]

The first time I posted a poll dance video it was a novelty. Since then the novelty has worn off and it takes something truly special to get me to post a pole dance video (i.e. that pole dancing tango couple awhile back). A pole dancing ninja girl with a katana qualifies. Needless to say, NSFW.

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Glee - Rocky Horror [Oct. 28th, 2010|12:54 pm]

Note: This entry is about my thoughts regarding Glee's episode incorporating The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Several years ago I did a more in-depth reading of the movie which can be found here: This Movie Lacks Plot, Depth, Character Development... That essay was written because I was unable to find an essay I'd previously read by Scott Miller; several days later I was able to e-mail Mr. Miller who e-mailed me a chapter from his upcoming book, "Inside the Rocky Horror Show." I would strongly encourage everyone with any interest in the show or film to read Mr. Miller's fantastic essay.

Reactions to "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" have been mixed (review, review, review, crushing review). In many ways, this episode encompasses every single problem from Glee (strange character shifts, awkward plotting, shoe-horned gimicks) with every single problem from Rocky Horror (implausibility, horrible pacing, a culture that overshadows the source material). Perhaps that's not surprising. Neither then is the fact that this episode is one of the most entertaining for the reasons both Glee and Rocky Horror are so successful: incredible musical numbers, wonderful visuals, and an open culture of acceptance. I had fun watching this episode. I rated it 5 stars on Hulu.

That said, I wanted more.

My biggest problem is that Glee never interacts meaningfully with Rocky Horror. Now this didn't seem such a problem on the surface and the show is very upfront about this: Will is doing the for all the wrong reasons and so absolutely everyone is questioning why he's bothering. But while there's an attempted bit of lip service paid to the benefits of the Rocky culture at the end of the episode, no one else seems to connect to it.

This is a problem that Rocky has always had. Most people are familiar with the show only through the film, which they then associate with callbacks, props, dressing up in costumes, and having a grand old ball of faux-debauchery. This is fun, but it completely obfuscates what the film is about. In Miller's great essay (link again) the St. Louis director explores the era that gave birth to the show and, in doing so, reveals what I believe to be the show's purpose. While it is caged in terms of sexuality, Rocky is really about different reactions to a changing world and perceptions of change as threat. The most obvious interpretations are Brad (fear and rejection) and Janet (embrace), but no less significant are Eddie (attempt to return to the past), Columbia (denial), Riff Raff (co-opt), Magenta (peripheral outsider), or Dr. Scott (analysis). The conclusion is that nearly every method of dealing with change is doomed to failure, often destructive failure; only those who allow themselves to be part of the cultural change without attempting to dominate it or allow it to dominate them, prosper or even survive unscathed.

Now while that's the message of Rocky Horror, there are other themes including that of the outsider, transitions from childhood to adulthood, self-realization, and of course sexuality. Most of these themes intersect frequently (i.e. Janet's self-realization comes through sex), so it is understandable that audiences and critics have blurred them together to the point the show seems to be only about sex.

Glee is very upfront with the show's sexuality. As a long-time devotee of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (I'll be attending my 52nd performance tomorrow evening) I've become almost inured to the frank sexuality (ha ha) portrayed - there are only so many times you can call Janet a slut before the word loses all significance. Glee breaks that shell by ramping things up. Naya Rivera's opening solo as The Usherette's lips borders on the graphic. The vivid filming means that you can't not be aware of the fact that a woman's lips are serenading you*, and one would be hard-pressed not to think of oral sex, or at least kissing. It is, in many ways, an uncomfortable moment. The first of many, especially if we're to be asking ourselves what is the role and duty of art when it comes to shaking the status quo?

Another such moment occurs during "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me." The film version is coy, more cute than sexy despite the raunchy lyrics, and while shouting callbacks it's easy to lose sight of just how raunchy they are. Jayma Mays's rendition is incredibly in-your-face with her sexuality, something we've only seen once before and in a very different context. While the Madonna video fantasized sex as intimacy (except for Finn, for whom things are starkly real and sexual, as indicated by the illumination reminiscent of a red-light district) now we see Emma as a seductress. This scene is not about intimacy, it is about "scratching an itch." And we hate Will for tricking her into it. Will is clearly getting off in the moment.

Will was right in not allowing one of the students to perform that number, though he did it for the wrong reasons, but he doesn't fix the problem. It's wrong to put a teenager in that number because of the power differential in the relationship, but Will dominates Emma to get her to do the number with him, knowing that she won't stand up for herself. It is a disgusting sight, made all the more so by his denial later and half-assed apology during which he admits his deceitful motivations but doesn't actually copy to what he did that was wrong - this is not an apology! Somehow, Will has become the villain!

This is one of the more interesting directions this show went in. When Todd VanDerWerff writes, "Sometimes, I miss the Will Schuester of the Glee pilot," he has a valid point, but this show isn't trying to be that consistent. The point of a show like Glee. is that the characters roles and relationships change episode by episode. There are numerous examples of Will's smarminess throughout the first half of the episode, but the pivotal moment is when we see Will sitting out, alone and refusing to be involved, during John Stamos's, "Hot Patootie," just like Frank did in the film. This episode takes a gamble setting up Will as the villain and Sue as the voice of reason, and I applaud them for that even if it didn't quite work out.

The key to understanding Frank-n-Furter in the show, however, is to recognize that he is both villain and victim. Frank is as caught up in his movement as every other character, and when that movement leads to his death he is powerless to stop it.** Frank unquestionably hurts other people - he ruins Brad and Janet's relationship, abandons Columbia, abuses the servants, and kills Eddie - but we love him and are sympathetic because he seems to be trying for something larger than himself, even if that is nothing more than shared hedonism. We are uncomfortable with Will as a Frank-type villain because he is not trying to give to others but rather to take Emma for himself.

There are several ways the show could have been much improved. The opening of "Over at the Frankenstein Place" is brilliantly executed and I wish I could have seen the full number. Placing the trannies around the stage, in hiding with their heads only occasionally visible was a fantastic decision that gives the same sense as seeing the characters walk through a fairy (ha ha) inhabited wood. I'd have liked to see similar juxtaposition used frame the episode to suggest a clear transition from the high school, where order and chastity are the rule, to the glee club/auditorium where everyone is trapped in Will's perverse play and playground.

Moreover, I'd have liked to see inclusion of some of the music that was in the stage show but was cut from the film. Not only would this have allowed directer Adam Shankman and writer Ryan Murphy to build a stronger connection to the play than to the film (something that would be very appropriate for a glee club), but the removed songs emphasize coming together, and in particular outsiders coming together. Were it up to me, the show would have ended not with the time warp (which I loved as a number), but with Will publicly serenading Emma to apologize.

Ladies and gentlemen: here is Barry Bostwick and "Once in Awhile."

* The film depicts Patricia Quinn's lips, Richard O'brien's voice was dubbed over. While the gender-bending approach is nice, it diminishes the femininity and, in many ways, the sexuality, of the opening.

** Miller suggests that this was O'brien's hypothesis that the sexual revolution, left unchecked, would eventually lead to inevitable disaster. Miller goes on to suggest that we consider this foreshadowing of the AIDS crisis, although O'brien could not have known about the rise of AIDS when he wrote The Rocky Horror Show, as that inevitable disaster.
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Larping [Oct. 22nd, 2010|12:53 pm]

Lately I've been having an argument discussion with a player on the AEG message boards about the proper role of mechanics in a game (link).

I'm frustrated with him, not because of his attitude about mechanics-before-all - that's not the type of game I want to play but more power to him if that's his preferred game - but by his attitude of "this is the right way to play and everyone else is wrong." I won't sum up the discussion here (check the link if you're interested) but I'm astounded at the naivete displayed.

A game is played for fun. There is no other reason to play. Anything that makes the game more fun is the right way to play the game, and anything that makes the game less fun is the wrong way to play. That's it. That's the whole kit and kaboodle. In 3rd ed. D&D there was even Rule 0 printed in the Dungeon Master's Guide that said as much, in nearly those words. Whenever players would complain about my rulings, I loved whipping those out: having fun is in the rules, bitches, and Monte Cook says I can change them to make the game more fun.

This is where my beef is with this guy: there's no acknowledgment that what constitutes "fun" is different for different players. There are many players, players I respect, for whom fun is number crunching, building a powerful and/or intricate character, and they rely on the rules to be able to play those characters. A GM who arbitrarily changes the rules on that player has negated the players' ability to play that character, making the game substantively less fun. Any GM who wants to maintain fun for these players has an obligation to run the rules as written (including house rules) and to do so consistently.

On the other hand, for many players "fun" is getting into character, portraying dramatic situations, and roleplaying them out. Often these characters have little interest in dice or character stats (I know one such player who challenges herself to see how long she can play a game without actually writing up a character sheet. I believe her record is nearly two semesters). For these players, being forced to roll dice for what they're doing as a character breaks the scene and thus breaks fun. Any GM who wants to maintain fun for these players has an obligation to put story and character before mechanics.

Now here's the kicker a lot of gamers don't want to acknowledge: both styles of play are equally valid.

A gamer who likes mechanics is guilty of nothing more than playing the game written in the book. A gamer who ignores mechanics when they're not needed hasn't done anything except tell the tale the mechanics exist to support. You cannot deride either faction, regardless of which side you come down on without doing disservice to the game as a whole, and inded to the gamer community. Doubly so because most gamers will find themselves somewhere in the middle (it's like sex that way).

Instead of arguing over how a game "should" be played, gamers should acknowledge that there are a variety of styles in which games are played, then find the games that match their playing style. GMs should tell players how they tend to run games and let the players decide for themselves if that's the sort of game they want to play.

This is as true for larps as it is for table top games. When I tell potential players about my upcoming 7th Sea larp, I'm pretty specific about what it's about: adventure, swashbuckling, and personal development. Games will focus on PC interaction and cooperation. Intrigue will be a large factor in the game but politics will not be. Rules will be light and used only where needed, largely because the GMs are still learning them and they're unreliable.

A living campaign is slightly different, though only on a matter of scale. Some living campaigns are very strict about rules, while others are very loose. When someone signs up for a living campaign, they should have a sense as to the game's style, but they must also acknowledge that because the game is being interpreted by dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of GMs, that there is an inherent variability. So what should the player do? The same thing he would do for a home game: talk to the GM about what type of table she runs. Ask her if she requires people to roll social skills for IC conversations or insists on knowledge checks for things the player believes the character would know even if the player knows OOC. If you don't like the GM's style, find another GM to run that game. If you can't ever find one, you may be in the wrong campaign.

Not every character is right for every game and that means that sometimes a player isn't right either. Or more accurately, the game isn't the right game for the player.

And once you've committed to a game, don't keep arguing about how it "should" be changed. Just shut up and play the game the rest of us are playing. That's why we're all here.

Even you.
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Dance of the Day - Flash! [Oct. 18th, 2010|11:09 am]

West coast swing flash mob.
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Dance of the Day - Flight Attendants [Oct. 14th, 2010|12:29 pm]

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Glee - Duets [Oct. 14th, 2010|11:49 am]

Hands down, the best episode Glee has ever done.

But won't you tell us why, Alex?Collapse )Even if you haven't watched the show to this point, consider picking up with this one and trying this episode out.
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Dance of the Day - Rhythm [Oct. 12th, 2010|11:55 am]

Normally I'm not a fan of pro rhythm, especially compared to pro Latin. That said, at this event rhythm absolutely crushed Latin.

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Dance of the Day - Wynd [Oct. 3rd, 2010|07:51 pm]

Today I danced with Wynd at her first comp. I'm very proud of her.
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Harry Potter [Sep. 21st, 2010|10:00 am]
Fascinating essay about the educational system in Harry Potter. I like this because it addresses one of my primary problems with the Harry Potter series: namely that Harry and the other white hats don't do anything to deserve victory from a literary point of view. Their victories don't come by dint of moral virtue, personal strength, or knowledge. Largely, they seem to come from loyalty, but this is problematic at best, as loyalty seems to be the chief currency of the Death Eaters as well, albeit loyalty to a different master.

According to Rosenberg, the virtue that the Harry Potter series rewards is not moral virtue but learning, which she demonstrates is not the same as knowledge. Harry and his cohorts are united by their ability to learn and adapt, which I believe I mis-perceived as loyalty; in fact, they are united by a process and love of curiosity which is why they are able to reunite even after their numerous fights that break the bonds of loyalty.

I'm almost tempted to re-read the entire series from this perspective.
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Syllabi [Sep. 16th, 2010|12:19 am]
I've reached a point with my dancing where I feel like I can make a comparison between the different ballroom dance syllabi out there.

Dance JargonCollapse )
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L5R [Sep. 14th, 2010|04:42 pm]
Making excellent progress with Champions of Rokugan. I'm enjoying this.

If anyone's still looking to jump in, we need a few more players to go through Topaz again.
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Dance of the Day - Spiderman [Sep. 7th, 2010|04:25 pm]

Awesome! That piano bar scene had nothing on this.
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Dance of the Day - Paso Doble [Sep. 1st, 2010|01:29 am]

This is the funniest dance video I've seen in ages. Better than the merengue dog (at least from a ballroom dancer's POV).
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Dance of the Day - AMERICAN Quickstep [Aug. 18th, 2010|11:15 am]

The newest style for smooth? Time will tell, but I love it!
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