The Saga Begins
I'd intended to set out Wednesday at about 8:00 AM but this did not happen. I ended up sleeping in longer than intended due to extra exhaustion from practice and teaching the night before, packing too longer than expected, and the line at the post office (I had to mail a package) was immense and slow-going, so I didn't actually get on the road until 10:00.
Once on the highway things were easy, with virtually no traffic to speak of. I spent most of the trip listening to Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World on audio (more on this later) which made a phenomenal road trip book. I held off on stopping for lunch until I'd passed into Ohio whereupon I enjoyed my first Culvers burger since leaving Wisconsin. Oh butter burgers, how I missed thee!
Finally reached Indianapolis around 9:30 the night. I decided to stay in Indy Hostel, the same youth hostel that wyndstormhntrss and I stayed in at Gen Con last year. Though I was in the dorms this time, rather than a private room, the hostel was mostly empty and I had the dorm to myself. Tired after 12 hours on the road, rather than head out to The Jazz Kitchen or one of the other Indy spots I like, I opted to stay in, chill out, and catch up on DWTS on Hulu (verdict: overwhelmingly disappointing. Also: I hate Kate Gosslin with a rage normally reserved for STIs and babies on airplanes). Went to bed after just an hour.
Since I did the bulk of my driving on Wednesday, I was able to sleep in a bit on Thursday. Man that was nice. I rolled out of bed around 9:00 and decided to take breakfast in Indy rather than eat on the road. I remembered last time we were there John, the hostel owner, had recommended we try a place called Zest but we hadn't had time (they open at 10:00 AM, we had a con to get to), so I decided to give it its due.
Man, was this a good decision. I had the crème brûlée French toast which was, without a doubt, the best French toast I've ever had. More like bread pudding than either French toast or crème brûlée, it was rich and sweet and creamy and just about the most perfect way to start the day I've ever experienced. Man, just thinking about it now...
Ahem. At any rate, after breakfast I drove north to Milwaukee. This meant going through Chicago which was unpleasant but not nearly as horrible as other drives I've had through the city, partly helped by the fact the route didn't take me past the O'hare airport exit/toll (who decided to put a highway toll there? Seriously people, what did you think would happen?). Helping out my travel time was the fact that I forgot I gained an hour crossing time zones. All in all, I made it to guardian852's in pretty good order.
Now many of you don't know Guardian but you've all heard me talk about him before. When I talk about my friend who's training as a Catholic priest and who's other pastimes include ballroom dancing and capoeira, this is the guy. He's my best friend from college (one of the few I've really been able to stay in touch with) and still an incredibly close friend. We were staying at his seminary.
Guardian showed me to my room and gave me a tour. It's a beautiful old building and if you're ever in the area, I highly recommend letting him show you around. I met a few of his seminarians, all of whom seemed like great people. I know this shouldn't have been surprising, given how I still regard Guardian, but it was still something of a shock to see these future priests as real people rather than just religious vessels. Overall, a great experience.
Later that night we went into Milwaukee where we met up with runthebear, another friend from college) for dinner at a brew pup. At one point Guardian left us to attend mass for Holy Thursday (I think that was the occasion). Bear and I killed time at one of the most Wisconsin-ish places ever - a cheese bar - before meeting back up with Guardian and Kyle (another old friend from college and Bear's boyfriend) and going to a smokey bowling alley to engage in the ancient art of... karaoke (note: I wanted to attach a YouTube clip of Zapp Branigan's karaoke version of "Lola" but could only find it in Spanish. Just remember that scene and chuckle to yourself). Due to various happenings I only got one song in - Guardian and I did a duet of "Barbie Girl." Awesome - while Guardian did a few others, Kyle sang, "Long Haired Country Boy," and Bear did a few including an amazing rendition of "Black Velvet." I always forget how mind-blowing a singer she is.
Afterward, Guardian and I went back to the seminary, had a night cap (Port Royale vanilla liquor is delicious) and got some sleep.
Friday morning Guardian showed me a bit more of the seminary, including the grounds this time as well as the insanely-high cupola, and I headed down to Beloit. Workshops today. Oh boy.
I wandered around campus for a bit before meeting up with goobles. I briefly ran into hani but sadly only got to see her for all of fifteen seconds. Damnit! Okay, more time on the next visit. We checked in with security, I put my stuff in Goobles' and her roommate's room, she made dinner, and it was time for classes.
Now the workshops were the primary reason for the trip, both in terms of justifications for the trip and logistics. Everything was centered around them. I'd been coming up with the workshop topics since January and spent the last few weeks writing the detailed lessons plans and polishing them. Still, I was scared as Hell going in. Beloit was where I learned to dance. I cut my teeth as a dancer in the Beloit Ballroom dance club. The workshops were being held in the very room where I originally learned and, oh yeah, Darrah and Peggy Chevy, my first ballroom teachers, were there watching everything. *gulp*
There were about 8 to 12 people at any given workshop, completely even lead/follow ratio throughout, and I think everything went very well. While I covered a lot of upper bronze technique, the workshops were focused on social application of that technique. We did four workshops the first night:
Tango - It's All Valentino's Fault: Mastering Promenade - Promenade left turn is one of the earliest tango steps taught despite it being a surprisingly difficult and intricate step. This class broke down the promenade position to its core elements, focused on moving in promenade, then how to get in and out of promenade.
Samba - Boingy, Boingy, Boingy: Samba for Beginners - Another class I was nervous about since while samba is one of my favorite dances, it's hardly my strongest. We broke down the bounce in samba (down on whole numbers, raise the pelvis on the uh's between numbers) and covered how to produce it with the body and footwork while keeping the upper body even, then applied it to basic steps, boxes, whisks, and samba walks.
Waltz - Dancing Like the Stars: Producing Rise and Fall in Slow Waltz - Probably the class I was most looking forward to as this is the technique I've put the most effort into myself. We discussed the feel of waltz and how rise and fall can create that feel within a partnership, then went over techniques that create rise and fall. This started with lowering actions, then legwork, then footwork. We went through Tim's broken-down box and rising/lowering exercises, and we finished by applying everything to the twinkle.
Viennese Waltz - Crystal Meth in a Can: Introduction to Viennese Waltz - Another class I was looking forward to. Due to developments with my own dancing, I've recently come to believe that Viennese waltz can be taught to beginners, a view I've become quite adament about. While this class wasn't truly for beginners (I'd listed requirements as "able to dance both slow waltz and polka to music for an entire song") it was intended for people who'd never done Viennese before. My premise is that Viennese requires only three techniques, but all must be functioning in order to able to make the dance work: drive, timing, and foot positions. We covered drive using balance steps in four directions, and timing with whisks, then moved on to reverse turns. The first two techniques can be grokked very quickly, especially when they're each attached to those respective patterns, but learning the foot positions, especially for a reverse turn, takes lots of drilling. By the end of class, about 80% of the class had it about 70% down. As I said to Guardian, the rest really is just practice and building muscle memory. Overall, this class went much better than I might have hoped.
We finished the evening by hanging out in the BSFFA tower. BSFFA, the Beloit Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, is the club with whom I spent most of my free time in college. There were a few old stories we passed around (a few Guardian told that I hadn't known about), we signed a time capsule that will be hidden in the ceiling, saw Laura and shadow_chimera, both of whom were visiting, but generally just enjoyed that college geek atmosphere. I was pleased to see that several of the boffer swords I built - the wire hilt rapiers whose technique of creation I discovered - were still in use.
Finally, it was time for sleep. Guardian decided to stick around for the morning workshops rather than head back to Milwaukee that night, so we both crashed on the floor of Goobles' and Erin's room (I must admit, I appreciated having a chaperon to avoid any accusations of impropriety, particularly one who was a priest in training).
Saturday started up around 8:00 AM. After a shower we headed down to Bagles and More, a local cafe, for breakfast. Unfortunately Erin wasn't feeling well. She hadn't been able to make last night's workshops and this illness would keep her out of today's, a shame since she was the president of the ballroom club.
Six workshops on Saturday.
East Coast Swing - I Got that Boom-Boom-Pow: Creating Swing Action in Triple Swing - I started with this one since Goobles had told me that swing was the favorite style in the club and I figured it might be the best chance to get college students up at 10:00 AM on a Saturday. Still, I think the morning slots were the sparsest attended. I began by focusing on the differences between ECS triple steps and cha cha triple steps, starting with foot position, then timing. We finished by applying the new techniques to turning basics in order to produce more energy to play around with.
West Coast Swing - Beloit Students Swing Both Ways: West Coast Swing for East Coast Swing Dancers - I love west coast and was really looking forward to introducing it to Beloit where it's never been really appreciated. I worked mostly on translating ECS basics into their WCS analogues, then spent the rest of class focusing on connection and giving clear signals to one's partner.
We headed to Commons for a short lunch, then it was back to work at 1:00, though sadly Guardian had to leave due to the whole Easter thing.
Rumba - Hips Don't Lie: Layers of Cuban Motion - Normally I love teaching classes that break down Cuban motion, but I was a bit leery of this class since the Chavey's have always taught a mixture of international and American styles (you wouldn't believe how much confusion this caused me once I left Beloit) and rumba is one style they go international on (due to its similarities with cha cha). Still, I definitely wanted to do something on Cuban motion so I went with American rumba anyway on the basis that the technique is easiest to learn in rumba and could then be applied to other dances. In fact, we began by going over every dance that uses Cuban motion (Rumba, Cha cha, Mambo, Samba, Merengue, Bolero, East coast swing, Hustle, Salsa, Bachata, and west coast swing, though all in varying amounts and not all of them consistently), then broke the motion down from the ground up. I start with bottom of feet (keeping contact with the ground), then the foot (turn out, ball of foot), knees (bent), leg (push off to straighten the bent knee), and ribs (opposition movement). I finished by going over how we use Cuban motion to connect with our partner and to provide a smoother lead than our arms will alone, as exemplified with the open break and underarm turn.
Merengue - Beyond Marching: Tepid Social Moves - This was inspired by a great article by Kelly Buckwalter. In one hour we covered over six dozen patterns by exploring methods of variation in basic steps that we can improvise off of. This started with variation in direction, then timing, then turn variations, and finally creating variations by adapting patterns from other dances. Not bad for a workshop that I began by stating, "this is a stupid dance."
Foxtrot - Shut Up and Drive: Lead and Follow for Social Success - Poor foxtrot. It's an awful dance when you first learn it since it just feels dumb without good technique. This was mostly a drills class to create power in foxtrot by creating controlled power through the legs. This in turn creates energy within the partnership and makes the dance more interesting.
Cha Cha - I Bring the Fire: Hot Cha Cha Styling - My only styling class since I didn't want to simply regurgitate the Cuban motion rumba class, cha cha focused on creating sharp turns by use of the head and body alignment, but also worked on applying things like Cuban motion (including switching between straight and bent leg actions) to provide energy and play. Also touched a bit (tiny bit) on arm styling.
And, by 5:00 PM, we were finished and exhausted.
Unfortunately dinner took longer to prepare than anyone expected so I had to run off to give the pre-dance lessons without getting a chance to eat. Goobles had asked me to teach east coast swing (actually lindy, but we compromised); a few people came to the experienced lesson where I covered eight-count patterns (lindy whip, w/ inside turn, w/ outside turn, and lindy wrap) and one couple came to the beginner's lesson (ECS basic, underarm turn from closed to open, underarm turn from open to closed, and back-hand change). The dance started at 10:00 and Goobles and Erin blessedly showed up with chicken Marsala.
The dance was pretty fun, though much slower-paced than the socials I'm used to these days and was largely request-driven. It turned out that I did not need to DJ which made my time there much more relaxing. Got in at least one dance with pretty much every one of the girls there, plus one of the guys. Highlights include:
- Viennese waltz with Peggy.
- Slow waltz with Richard (I followed).
- Fast polka with some girl I'd never met.
- Finally got to do a swing with Laura.
- A west coast with Goobles that apparently the club was still talking about on Tuesday.
After the dance we went dinering with the Chaveys, then collapsed into the blessed oblivion of sleep on Goobles' and Erin's floor.
I'd heard from Bear that tezcatlipoca4 was in Chicago but unfortunately just did not have the energy for three hours' driving down to Chicago then four hours driving back to Madison in order to hang out with him for what would have been only an hour or two. If I'd known he was in the midwest I'd have stopped in Chicago on the way up to Milwaukee on Thursday, but seeing him will have to wait for another trip.
Instead I slept in, then headed up to Madison. I'd be staying with lex_of_green, Zim, and their third flatmate whom I'd never met before, Arabian Flatbread, a.k.a. Rick. No one was there when I arrived so I had some quiet time to sit on their porch in the rain and read. It was nice. Eventually Zim got in, followed by the rest of people. It was a lot of fun hanging out with them and I've got to admit, M. Flatbread is pretty cool.
Later I went to a social dance up in Madison run by Becci Eilders. Becci is probably one of the most influential dance teachers I've ever had. Back in February '06 she ran a dance that I attended where she announced that she was starting a program to teach ballroom in the public schools. I volunteered to help and, after I expressed by desire to help in any way possible, Becci decided she wanted to train me as a teacher. I'd been trying to get in contact with her before heading out west but without any success. At the Beloit dance, however, Darrah told me about the Sunday dances she ran. Naturally I had to go see her. This visit was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.
Monday was a great day. For starters, I got a new fedora, my old one having disappeared at some point over the winter. More importantly, however, I saw Sarah. Sarah was one of my favorite dance friends in Madison and while she didn't teach me west coast swing, I completely credit her for showing me how one could play with the dance. To this day, when I dance west coast I'm trying to replicate our first west coast dance at a social in Milwaukee, and when I teach west coast I'm trying to share the joy that she showed me within the dance. We ate at Wah Kee, my favorite restaurant in Madison. I've had fantasies about their ma po tofu since I moved away. Lunch was lots of fun and it was great catching up with Sarah.
That evening I sat in on a nightclub two-step and west coast lesson taught by Chuck, another one of my former teachers from Madison. It was an... interesting class. I got a lot of the west coast half, at least, though Chuck's leanings toward international Latin show through everything. Still, all kinds of fun. Plus I got to see a bit of Lex's capoeira class!
Tuesday began the long drive back home. I took the long, long, very long way around Chicago, going through Champaign, IL in order to see miaret. We hung out for a couple hours and had a nice lunch, but I had to be on the road before too long.
That night I arrived in Indianapolis again where I stayed at the hostel again. I wasn't as exhausted as last time so I went to a social ballroom dance on the south side. It was a friendly group with an enormous range of skills. As per usual at these dances, I spent most of my time with beginners but got a few great west coast and east coast swings in, plus a fantastic tango, and later a bolero, with another advanced dancer.
Twelve hours. Finished The Eye of the World and stopped in at Cabela's to see their mountain of taxidermy (click on that link, then check their photos). Ate 15 sliders on the drive home.
Overall, this was a fantastic trip. I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to (thegelf, not_a_girl, Craig, Holly, Darrel, Dakota) but it was pretty tightly packed and I got to do a lot. Hopefully there'll be another trip like this next year which will not be scheduled over major holidays.
Next year, in Madison!