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suburbaknght

[ website | Dancing Through the Recession ]
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Dance of the Day - Wedding [Aug. 15th, 2010|09:46 pm]
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Oh yeah, I taught them.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnDROMiIaZM
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Bacon salad [Aug. 14th, 2010|12:45 pm]
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Great fail last night at Acme.

Bacon Salad
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Dance of the Day - Swing [Jul. 24th, 2010|12:33 am]
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This is what ballroom swing should be: fast, flirty, strong Latin elements united with clear Lindy ancestry.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mNgddoZg6Y
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Dance of the Day - Tap [Jul. 23rd, 2010|10:13 am]
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Holly jeez! Everyone with two legs gets totally served at 1:20, and again at 1:40!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2icYxQazgI0

(link and caption from Cracked)
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Gen Con Schedule [Jul. 22nd, 2010|04:24 pm]
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Thursday
9:00-1:00 - Heroes of Rokugan, game TBD - GMing
1:00-2:00 - SPA1007970 Intro to Swing Dancing - By popular request I'll be running this again.
2:00-6:00 - Heroes of Rokugan, game TBD - GMing
7:00-11:00 - Heroes of Rokugan, game TBD - GMing

Friday
8:00-Noon - RPG1008805 Kung Fu Justice: Visions and Vendetta - Mutants and Masterminds martial arts silliness
Noon-1:00 - SPA1007972 Intro to Latin Dancing - Due to good response I'll be running this again. Nearly sold out.
1:00-2:00 - SPA1007975 Intro to Ballroom Dance - An experiment this year. Completely sold out!
2:00-3:00 - SEM1009032 Where We've Been, Where We're Going - One of my favorite game companies is re-launching. Let's hear what they're up to
3:00-4:00 - SPA1008717 Belly Dance Is For Every Body! - I've taken this class several times and always have a blast with it
4:00-6:00 - SPA1009035 Steampunk Cotillion Dance Class - Sounds fun from the title alone
8:00-Midnight - LRP1009716 Night of the Rose and Cross My annual 7th Sea larp

Saturday
11:00-Noon - WKS1007965 Learn to Dance for the Gen Con Ball! - I run this every year and it's one of the things I most look forward to about the con. Better registrations this year than previous years
2:00-6:00 - RPG1008023 To the Last Breath - The conclusion of Heroes of Rokugan
8:00-9:00 - SEM1011343 History of the Carthaginian Empire, A - Could be interesting and it's free
9:00-Midnight - ENT1014142 Pajama Jammy Jam (a.k.a the Dance) - One of my other favorite events
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Dance Routines [Jul. 20th, 2010|09:58 am]
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International LatinCollapse )
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Dance of the Day - Contemporary [Jul. 16th, 2010|02:00 pm]
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Normally I'm not a fan of contemporary but this...

I'm not going to describe it, except to say this is one of the few times I've experienced a true emotional reaction to a dance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvGceaFTne8
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Dance of the Day - Swing [Jul. 14th, 2010|12:56 am]
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Ruth and I were asked to perform with her friend's band. The choreography was rushed, we were in a great deal of pain from a workshop the previous day, and we hadn't rehearsed nearly enough, but all things said, I think it went reasonably well.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC2_k9h43l8
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Dance of the Day - West Coast Swing [Jul. 8th, 2010|04:40 pm]
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My favorite west cost couple improvising at a party or convention of some sort. They're hilarious.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ4xcnHw7Fc
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Dance of the Day - Theater Arts [Jul. 1st, 2010|09:45 pm]
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I frickin' love this couple
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BPYzSDTlMo
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Writer's Block: Twilight is nearing [Jul. 1st, 2010|03:00 pm]
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How do you feel about the upcoming Twilight film? Are you a fan or a critical bystander?

KILL IT WITH FIRE!
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A Very Republican Tea Party [Jul. 1st, 2010|12:59 pm]
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Normally I'm not a fan of political humor. This is pretty solid.
http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1938095
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Gritty Reboots Part 2 [Jun. 25th, 2010|09:27 am]
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New article up on Starship Reckless!
http://www.starshipnivan.com/blog/?p=2585
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Re-post! Glorious, glorious repost! [Jun. 19th, 2010|12:59 am]
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I was honored today when one of my favorite and most respected literary critics, Athena Andreadis, contacted me to re-post one of my blogs on her site.
http://www.starshipnivan.com/blog/?p=2519
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Dance fo the Day - Smooth [Jun. 15th, 2010|10:22 am]
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From the amateur smooth championships. It may be hubris on my part, but I watch this and it really looks like a level I could achieve one day.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgxzqchpKSI
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Gritty Reboots [Jun. 11th, 2010|10:34 am]
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I'm sick of gritty reboots.

I was going to make a joke here about gritty reboots being the new black, but that doesn't work. A gritty reboot just takes something and puts black on it. Don't get me wrong, a gritty reboot can be fantastic (Batman Begins) but it can also be atrocious (Daredevil), pointless (The HulkStar Trek).

I have to lay most of the problem at the feet of Batman Begins. BB was a fantastic movie that producers missed the point of. BB took a superhero who's always had a problem with camp and whose latest films had spiraled out of control into self-parody and got rid of all the extraneous BS. Instead of ridiculous bat-themed gadgets we had tools that were actually useful. Instead of Gotham as a bright neon Blade Runner parody we got a shadow-shrouded city that Batman could actually function in. Instead of Three Stooges-esque comedy fight sequences we got commando-style combat encounters that were believable.

These were great, but they weren't what made BB a great movie. BB was great because they were real characters. Bruce Wayne wasn't interesting because he angsted but because angst was a realistic reaction to what he'd gone through. Christopher Nolan and David Goyer wrote, and Christian Bale played, someone who was crazy enough that we all believed he could become Batman and was sympathetic enough that we wanted him to. BB was about character.

But Hollywood didn't pay attention to that. They saw sets with low illumination and characters with tragic pasts and said, "Aha! Keep everything dark! That's what makes a great movie!"

No, no, no, no, no!

To paraphrase Aristotle, if characters behave in a believable manner and experience logical consequences, at the conclusion of the story the audience will experience a useful fear. It doesn't matter if the circumstances aren't realistic so long as the characters behave in a believable fashion given the circumstances. That requires real characters.

Spiderman 3 was a fairly dark movie but the characters were morons. People don't hate it because of the dance sequence and emo hair - they hate it because the dance sequence and emo hair are out of character, coming completely out of left field. The first season of Heroes was amazing because it was filled with fascinating characters who behaved like real people despite the absurdity of dormant superhero genes, because we believed them when they reacted to such genes. The subsequent seasons fell apart because the story began to dominate the characters, and once that happens you realize how insipid the story really is.

I'm truly worried about Spiderman's gritty reboot. I'm worried it's going to be all grit and they're going to forget what made the first two movies so wonderful in the first place.

Then there's the issue of rebooting origin stories. The origin story is the easiest to portray because it's the easiest to envision realistic reactions, but we need stories that go beyond puberty and mid-life crisis metaphors (X-Men and Iron Man respectively). We need stories about what it means to live in the new life you've created for yourself. BB was a great film but it was The Dark Knight that truly had something to say, and it was a message our society needs very badly.

Hollywood, don't keep being gritty for the sake of being gritty and don't keep rebooting because it's easier than going forward. I want to see:

- A Superman movie that makes use of the "alien among us" concept to deal with 21st century loneliness.

- A Spiderman movie that uses choosing between two dreams as a theme and not a cheap way to raise the stakes.

- An X-Men movie that contrasts the team's bemoaning their outsider status with the Brotherhood's celebration of it (though one scene in X-2 did this very well.

I want stories that matter and characters I care about, not just endless dark-framed long shots followed by closeups of the hereos' faces.
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Starship Troopers [Jun. 10th, 2010|03:11 pm]
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Great take on a film I'd previously completely dismissed. Not sure I agree with the reviewer about the director's success, but intriguing read nonetheless.
http://www.avclub.com/articles/starship-troopers,41966/
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Dance of the Day - Gap [Jun. 10th, 2010|11:10 am]
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Ah, the one that started it all.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzFkZb4OlDM
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Philly Festival [Jun. 5th, 2010|10:57 am]
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Had a great time at Philly Festival!

Amateur Bronze Solo
Waltz - First Place (uncontested) - Ellen and I did the waltz I choreographed and we performed at the Blue Ballroom showcase back in December. Ugh. This was one of my worst times dancing this routine. My legs just gave out. No idea what happened. I feel ashamed of this performance and bad for letting Ellen down, but I think I redeemed myself later. Hopefully I can redeem the waltz tomorrow at the Top Hat showcase. On the plus side, we got some good comments from the judges.

Amateur Full Bronze Rhythm Single Dances
Cha Cha - First Place (uncontested) - Rough start and we had a bit of spacing issues, but overall a pretty good run.
Rumba - First Place (uncontested) - Very good run but we still need to work on the attitude and character. I was too far on the edge of the floor; must get used to dancing in the middle of the floor.
East Coast Swing - First Place (uncontested) - One of the best dances we've had. Walks and points were a bit weak but the promenade triples were fantastic, as were the whips. Need to check the video later to see if my footwork went as well as it felt like.
Mambo - First Place (uncontested) - Needs work. I thought our timing was pretty solid, but I'm told we were off close to 80% of the time.

Amateur Bronze International Multi-Dance
Standard Waltz/Quickstep - Tied for First Place (out of two couples) - One of the best waltzes we've ever done. Thought the quickstep went well but Ruth tells me her footwork was constantly off.

Amateur Bronze American Multi-Dance
Smooth Waltz/Tango/Foxtrot - First Place (out of two couples) - Fantastic job in waltz. Did a good job with tango timing but still need to work on staccato actions. Losing frame in foxtrot.
Rhythm Cha Cha/Rumba/East Coast Swing - First Place (out of two couples) - Better with foxtrot this time but lost energy at the end; need to practice for consistency. Rumba went well but again, must focus on characterization. No complaints about east coast swing.
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American Star Ball Pictures [May. 20th, 2010|10:54 pm]
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No videos but we got some great photos from American Star Ball. I can't hotlink them directly, but if you're interested check the links. Warning: you may need to register for the site.

Dramatic shot from our tango during a contra check. We're unwinding and it's caused Monika's gown to flow beautifully.
http://timelinedc.instaproofs.com/buy_print.php?event=226391&type=original&id=62974903

The best photograph I've ever seen of my dancing, also from our tango. I may need to buy this for promotional purposes.
http://timelinedc.instaproofs.com/buy_print.php?event=226391&type=original&id=62975331

I've worked so hard to get my promenade to look like this.
http://timelinedc.instaproofs.com/buy_print.php?event=226391&type=original&id=62975335

Opening out from our foxtrot. I need to get the curve out of my back but I like the jazzy feel of this shot.
http://timelinedc.instaproofs.com/buy_print.php?event=226391&type=original&id=62975351

If the direct links don't work, go to the site then go to American Star Ball. We're in the 8:30-9:30 set (page 1) and the 10:30-11:30 set (page 3).
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Team Twilight Sucks [May. 18th, 2010|04:17 pm]
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Dance of the Day - Latin [May. 18th, 2010|03:25 pm]
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When Vaidotas Skimelis and Jurga Pupelyte performed this dance at Ohio Star Ball two years ago there was quite a bit of controversy. What appears to be a silly, over-the-top, ridiculous Latin routine, was actually danced in the old style from the 70's and 80's. While the audience laughed this up, a number of judges were offended by it - they'd made their names and reputations dancing Latin like this and saw themselves as being mocked. Notice the exaggerated arm movements, the focus on poses rather than lines, and the deliberate removal of nearly all torso movement. This was how Latin used to look.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDOh-cYs0kU

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcd5hlc5HbA
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Dance of the Day - Foxtrot [May. 15th, 2010|03:40 pm]
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Great foxtrot from Dancing With the Stars. Cheeky, playful, flirtatious, and jazzy. Great characterization. Derek's best choreography in the show's history.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkJHsRWxZrw
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American Star Ball [May. 15th, 2010|02:49 pm]
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A few weeks ago, Gene (the smooth coach for UPenn. Someone I'd worked with previously way back at Arthur Murray and a teacher who's opinion is extremely important to me) asked Ruth and me to dance at American Star Ball, a local competition over in New Jersey. Unfortunately, Ruth was to be away on vacation during the event and Wynd had a prior commitment, so when I made a comment on Facebook and my friend Monika appeared open to competing, I jumped a the chance to dance with her.

With only two-and-a-half weeks to go we began practicing like nuts. Back when I had a week to get Tory ready for Clover I swore I'd never do another last-minute entry again, so what do I know? I will say that it is incredibly helpful having my core routines and being used to teaching them several times. Due to the competition schedule, Monika and I only had to enter four dances, only three of which were routine-based, so we made good progress on choreography and spent most time working on connection with one another and presentation.

Today was the competition. We got an uncontested First Place in each of our entries. Uncontested rounds always make me nervous; on the one hand, you know you can't fail, but on the other hand if you do fail, it's that much more embarrassing.. Uncontested rounds occur when you're the only entry in your event. In our case, due to the fact ASB is mostly a pro-am event and most amateurs there were higher level than we were and our comparatively younger age, we were in an entirely separate division. The thing is, judges will sometimes award an uncontested couple second-place or even third-place if they don't feel they were dancing up to the expected level. It happens rarely but it does happen - it has to in order for uncontested First Place to mean anything.

At any rate, we got First. Individual analyses follow.

Waltz Single Dance: One of the best times I've ever danced this routine. Good movement across the floor and very nice shaping, particularly on our open positions. Head stayed up the whole time. Slight navigation difficulties in one corner.

Tango Single Dance: Much better than rehearsal but still with room for improvement. Reverse turns have gotten much sharper and I had good head turn, but timing on all other steps is still a major issue. Great job on tango floorcraft and hold. Head needs to stay up more on promenade open.

Foxtrot Single Dance: Our weakest dance of the day, IMHO. Nice movement but adaptations to the larger floor left Monika confused, something I blame on my leading and inadequately preparing her for such on-the-fly-changes. Too much rise and fall on the grapevine. Promenade pivots, however, came out perfectly.

Viennese Waltz Single Dance: One of the best Vienneses I've ever had. Fantastic movement and flight, especially compared to the couples in other divisions on the floor with us. Very little rise and fall. Beautiful transitions from reverses to natural and we nailed the dog-bone shape around the floor. Openings very well-timed with the music. Only problem: apparently we were slightly rushing the music.

Tango/Foxtrot Multi-Dance: Tango a bit awkward this time. The timing issues became much more prevalent, less quick/quick/slow and more quick/quick/qui-waaaaaaiittt. I thought foxtrot went better this time, with clearer lead-follow but I'm told that the first one looked more controlled.

Waltz/Viennese Multi-Dance: Just like the first time for waltz, except no navigation issues. Given how well that first time went, I can't complain about this at all. Viennese went even better, eliminating all the timing issues. Possibly the best Viennese I've ever done.

And that was the day. I'm pretty thrilled!

In other news, the Dererk-Nicole foxtrot on Dancing With the Stars this week is some of the best choreography Derek's ever done, possibly his very best. If I can find a YouTube clip I'll put it up as Dance of the Day.
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Game Design [May. 11th, 2010|04:53 pm]
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I did a lot of gaming this past weekend, both l5r and D&D, the vast majority as the GM. Combine this with the release of another mod that I wrote (this one co-wrote with Wynd), the upcoming l5r fourth edition, and the design of another campaign setting (more details later) has be thinking a great deal about game design, and in particular how to make a mechanically interesting game while preventing abuse of the system.

The first thing we need to address is what a role playing game is. I don't mean the, "you create a character then pretend to be that character," aspect but what it means to actually play the game. Generally, I break the game down into four areas:

1) Mechanics
2) Dramatization
3) Simulation
4) Socialization

Mechanics refers to the actual rules of how one plays the game. A player who really enjoys deciphering the grappling rules in [any system ever] is taking pleasure in the Mechanics of the game. Mechanics might be considered the opposite of Dramatization, which is the assumption of role, acting, etc. Simulation is the intersection of Mechanics and Dramatization, where the rules are invoked specifically to represent some aspect of the game being described; usually this is combat but anything where the GM says, "Roll to see if X" is a Simulation moment. Finally, Socialization is everything that's not actually part of the game but that takes place when we play games, such as ordering pizza or chatting about Star Trek vs. Star Wars.

For the record, it is possible to create entirely different breakdowns, but this what works for me.

One of the biggest problems when trying to decide how to design a game is estimating how each group likes their balance of these four aspects. Some games lend themselves very well toward one aspect or another. Nearly every edition of D&D, for example, is very interesting from a Mechanical perspective to the point that many people "play" the game entirely by designing characters, traps, etc. because their fascinated by how the game rules interact with each other. Larps tend to be very rules light because they're largely focused on Dramatization so the rules that make Mechanics and Simulation function are less relevant. Other examples quickly become apparent.

While game design encompasses many aspects in each area, I want to talk about rules in specific because of their tendency to influence and be influenced by each area. In particular, I want to address the issue of rule complexity.

Rule complexity is an aspect of Simulation that directly affects both Mechanics and Dramatization. The more complex rules are, the better Simulation becomes possible (notice that I say "possible." Also note that I don't say "realistic") because the rules more accurately represent what the game designer is attempting to express. In Shadow Run there are very detailed rules about the effects of cyberware because one of the themes of the game is the definition of humanity. In 7th Sea there are complex rules regarding each magic system because the differences between each style of sorcery is an important part of the metaplot. Again, examples of games creating complex rules to create a more intricate Simulation become obvious.

Complex rules don't just draw attention to their area of Simulation, however, they also draw attention to the rules themselves. Thus the more complex rules the more emphasis on Mechanics and the less emphasis available for Dramatization. This is not to say that Mechanics and Dramatization are opposed, but it is a nearly-inevitable effect of rules to shift emphasis from one to the other because the more complex the rules are, the more the players become aware of those rules which breaks into the player's awareness, "Hey, I'm playing a game." At that point the player is less likely to think about what's happening in the game but rather how it is happening.*

Now there are many roleplaying purists, gamers whose favorite part of the game is Dramatization, who lament complex rules for this reason. I know a great many players who are incredibly intelligent and capable of understanding complex rules but who favor simple systems because it avoids the distraction of Mechanics. That's fine. Their games are largely about Dramatization and rules are only invoked when absolutely necessary for Simulation purposes.

Dana's 7th Sea larps at Gen Con are a great example of this trend. Dana has created his own system in which each character "sheet" is reduced to three or four numbers that can fit on half a playing card. For something like a duel, players each draw a card, add the number on their card for Combat, and whoever scores higher wins. That's the whole system and it works damn well. Does it leave out the intricacies of all the Swordsman styles that are part of 7th Sea? Absolutely, but his larp isn't about those styles, it's about the conversations between the people who pratice those styles.

The counterexample is 4th edition D&D, an incredibly complex (though not difficult to understand) game in which the mechanics are so pervasive that entire aspects of the setting have been altered to reflect them. While the formalization of roles within the party of leader, defender, striker, and controller has done wonders for balancing game play it specifically affects how the characters think of themselves within the game. This isn't a bad thing, however, as one of the main joys of D&D is small-group tactical combat. That's why people like to play D&D and it works for them. If you enjoy taking apart mechanics and looking for the most effective or the silliest or the most intriguing combination, D&D 4e is not a bad way to go.

When one is designing a game, one most consider what type of game one is creating and who is expected to be playing it. One must consider what sort of experience they're playing to have and what sort of experience your rules are going to give them. The ending of The Gamers II when Joanna has Daphne use her wish to advance Dramatization and Cass is incensed at her for not using it to advance Mechanics illustrates the conflict that can occur when the designer guesses wrong.

There is another issue of rules complexity that needs to be addressed, one that was actually my original idea behind this post and I've been trying to work my way around to the entire time: that of interaction. A min-maxer is a player who tries to find an optimal combination of rules and character options to achieve a specific effect, stereotypically combat effectiveness but I've seen other min-max builds such as social dominance, or even a single ability normally out of reach of most PCs. The more complex rules become, the more min-maxing is possible.

Let's consider a simple game. In our game, every character has one trait. Let's call if, "Effectiveness." A character's Effectiveness is compared to the Difficulty Rating of a task, such as climbing a wall, out-witting a sphinx, or beating an opponent in combat. Both Effectiveness and Difficulty Rating are numbers on a scale from 1-10. If Effectiveness is higher than the Difficulty Rating, the character succeeds. If not, he fails.

This seemingly simple system - there aren't even any dice! - actually affords quite a bit of complexity. We could introduce abilities that allow the character to boost his Effectiveness in certain situations, to lower Difficulty Ratings, to give a bonus to the next check if the character beats the Difficulty Rating by different amounts, to allow characters to add their Effectiveness, and so on. Each of these areas is something that can be manipulated. What it doesn't allow is min-maxing because most of it is out of the players' hand. This system may do very well on Simulation (in fact, I'd say such a system is perfect to simulate Jedi), but very poorly on Mechanics because it's not very Mechanically interesting.

We could make it more Mechanically interesting by dividing Effectiveness into three traits: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. Now the GM needs to decide which to use for each challenge. The game gets more complex with abilities that swap or temporarily boost each score. Min-maxing becomes possible as players build up one score at the expense of others.

We can make it even more complex by splitting the traits down further or adding dice rolls to each trait when comparing against Difficulty Rating (the system used by most tabletop RPGs). Dice rolls allow for entire new set of complex mechanics based on interacting with the dice rules - think about all the rules to roll and keep dice or affect how they explode in l5r.

Each step to make the game better at a Mechanics level opens it up to abuse. An ability that says "You may add your Spirit to your Physical scores whenever you roll a die" may be powerful, and an ability that says, "Three times per session you may add your Physical score to your Spirit" may be fine, but taken together that means once per session that character is adding 3x his Physical and Spirit to a roll. This game doesn't even exist yet and we've already broken it!

This is why RPGs need to hit a reset button every few years and release a new edition. Seemingly innocuous rules become abusive once it's seen how they combine with existing rules. Core rules that were tested over and over in playtesting and found to be perfectly balanced and functional as core rules become unbalanced or overshadowed when less-tested rules are introduced in supplements (I'm looking at you Hojatsu's Legacy Duelist!).

The end result is that while a game may be established with an optimal level of complexity and balance between the four areas - or at least an acceptable amount of customization available for each group of players. With each new supplement, however, the complexity of the rules goes up by definition as new rules and character options are introduced. There is thus an inevitable creep toward a Mechanics-intensive game over time.

My response to this as a game designer, at least for my home games, is to simply not care about Mechanics. I expect players to have broken characters and I don't concern myself with that. If that's a part of the game they enjoy, if that's what makes the game fun for them, why would I want to fight that?

Rather than try and "fix" their character, I strive to recruit like-minded players who will enjoy that area of the game as well. This isn't to say that I will never jump in and block something with GM fiat (I'm looking at you every feat from Book of Exalted Deeds but as a GM who's their to have fun as much as all the other players, I'd rather say, "yes," then move on to the parts of the game that interest me.

This becomes much more difficult when designing games blind. When I write a module for Heroes of Rokugan, I don't know who's going to play it. Now each of the modules that I've contributed so far has, admittedly, been written with different players in mind. In fact, if you look over "Touch of Death" (the rejected module) you can figure out exactly who each scene was written for. That said, it still needs to be playable and enjoyable by people who've never met me.

The key to blind design is to put the focus on Simulation. Rather than writing mechanics, write for theme and story and tell the GM what they are so that she can adapt on the fly based on the group she has. As a game designer I don't want to have to list Target Numbers for every delegate in "An Arranged Marriage" in response to persuasion by coercion, bullying, bribery, seduction, deception, philosophical argument, enlightened self interest, etc., but GMs may need that information, and in fact they probably will because if I list just one method it's pretty unlikely to be the one the PCs try. On the other hand, I can say, "This character response very well to arguments based on moral virtue. A PC may roll Awareness/Lore: Bushido at TN 40," create appropriate listings about the best argument for each NPC, then a note at the end that says, "The GM should adjudicate other methods of persuasion as appropriate, but the TNs will be at least +10 higher." Thus players can use whatever methods they like rather than my reminding them they're playing a game by telling them what to roll every time.

There is one last area that affects all of this, and that is house rules. House rules are changes to the game specific to a given group of players, a campaign, etc. One of the things I'm loving that's been promised about 4e l5r is a section on house rules in the core book along with a description of what effect each will have.

As a GM, though, I try to keep my house rules rather flexible. At D&D on Sunday, for example, I adapted the rules of called shots (striking a particular location on a target) from Mongoose Publishing's Quintessential Fighter.

Most games handle called shots by saying something like, "You may voluntarily increase the difficulty of your attack by 4 before you roll. If you succeed, you hit the opponent's arm." There are two things I don't like about this approach. One, it makes no sense to me that if you're aiming for a particular point on a subject that you either hit them there or miss completely - if I miss my opponent's eye because I roll a 22 instead of a 23, why don't I hit the rest of his head? Second, it means that for upper-level characters there's no reason not to make a called shot every round, at which point they stop being special and start being paperwork.

Mongoose had a particularly creative solution to this when QF was published back in 2001. They said if you made a critical hit, you could choose to waive the extra damage and instead make it a called shot instead. What type of called shot you could do was limited by your Base Attack Bonus, but there were great rules for the effects.

I loved this approach because this is exactly what critical hits are supposed to represent: a strike to a vulnerable point. A standard critical hit that did extra damage now represented a called shot to the torso or head or other point vulnerable to wounding, but a player might forgo that extra damage to instead turn it into a called shot to the leg to slow their opponent down, to the hand to cause a penalty to attack, etc. Furthermore, because it was still dependent on those rare critical hits, high-level players couldn't abuse their high attack bonuses to make critical hits every time they attacked, thus keeping them special.

For my game I partially adopted the rule. On a critical threat the player can choose to make it a called shot (if they're going for the eye, groin, or other small, target area I may increase the opponent's AC; if the confirmation misses they still get a regular hit for the surrounding area, but an eye should be harder to hit than a leg). The effects of the called shot, however, are completely at my discretion as GM. This makes them more risky for players, who still have the option of just doing normal critical hits for extra damage, because I may have it do a weaker effect than they'd like, but it means I can adjust on the fly to keep the game balanced, while still allowing dramatic combat. Ergo, Mechanics, Dramatization, and Simulation.

Then if someone gets me hot wings we get all four areas.

* Note that I use a great many qualifiers in this paragraph, such as "nearly-inevitable" and "less likely." I am describing trends, not immutable laws. Each group - indeed, each player - may buck these trends, but the overall tendency will remain outside these counter-examples.
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Effort v. Reward [May. 1st, 2010|12:19 pm]
suburbaknght
Fantastic article on Cracked about effort vs. reward. Taken on one hand, it's incredibly depressing. Taken on the other hand, it does a great job building up gumption for things you really care about.
http://www.cracked.com/article_18544_how-the-karate-kid-ruined-modern-world.html
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Dance of the Day - Salsa [Apr. 30th, 2010|05:53 pm]
suburbaknght
[Tags|]

This is Robreto, the salsa teacher for the new studio where I'm teaching.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJqWJVTpcbc
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Larp Pictures [Apr. 30th, 2010|01:49 pm]
suburbaknght
They got to larp in a castle! A real castle! I am so insanely jealous!



More pictures at:
http://community.livejournal.com/larpix/32377.html
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Nazi Zombies [Apr. 27th, 2010|01:47 pm]
suburbaknght
Someone's been paying attention to my blog/college senior reading.
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Weapons [Apr. 23rd, 2010|12:50 pm]
suburbaknght
Great videos about real world use of medieval wapons:
http://www.lloydianaspects.co.uk/weapons/weapvids.html
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Dance of the Day - Rhythm [Apr. 22nd, 2010|11:42 am]
suburbaknght
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Rising Star Rhythm from the Seattle Star Ball. Very interesting to watch this couple. They have a very classic (also, outdated) style. They're using genuine American style Cuban motion, including landing on a bent leg (something almost never seen in modern competitions; pros almost always use an int'l Latin straight leg) and their mambo has all the ridiculousness of 50's styling. On the other hand, their swing is fairly jive-like. This is the first time I've ever seen a ballroom competition where they dance swing to actual swing music - normally they use rock and roll - and I've gotta say, the Latin-style moves do not work with the music; normally I love ballroom swing but I kept thinking, "this song would be so much better if they were doing Lindy hop." Overall, I like watching this couple but I highly doubt they won.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu6SKkdZOKA
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Rumba Choreography [Apr. 20th, 2010|03:08 pm]
suburbaknght
New competition routineCollapse )
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Kick Ass Commentary [Apr. 20th, 2010|11:33 am]
suburbaknght
I saw Kick Ass yesterday. I have mixed feelings.

Very small spoilers aheadCollapse )
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Dance fo the Day - West Coast Swing [Apr. 16th, 2010|09:21 am]
suburbaknght
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Jordan and Tatiana are my unqualified favorite west coast couple, and probably in my top five favorite dance couples, but that's not why I'm linking this video. This is, quite simply, the finest west coast choreography I've ever seen. It's one of the few west coast routines I've seen that tells a story, the lyrical interpretation combines beautifully with musical interpretation, despite the advanced choreography everything is still being lead and followed, and frankly it's just beautiful. This isn't an "everyone must watch this!" video, but if you enjoy these links at all I highly encourage you to watch it. I'm going to watch it again right now!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2a3RY8UbE0w
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Dance of the Day - Tomas and JT [Apr. 15th, 2010|09:12 am]
suburbaknght
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My second-favorite ballroom couple, JT Thomas and Tomas Mielnicki retired yesterday. Here's a great compilation from their victorious 2008 Ohio Star Ball finals.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7uIJbhlaDo
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Dance fo the Day - Viennese Waltz [Apr. 13th, 2010|09:47 am]
suburbaknght
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Three different versions of Viennese waltz: international standard, vintage, and American smooth. It's interesting to be able to compare them, though I'm rather disappointed with the smooth couple.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inu8O5psISU
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Dance of the Day - Belly Dance [Apr. 12th, 2010|10:05 am]
suburbaknght
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hani had her first dance performance!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cotjRGQozrQ
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Gen Con Schedule [Apr. 12th, 2010|10:02 am]
suburbaknght
Here's the plan for Gen Con this year.

Thursday
9:00-1:00 - Heroes of Rokugan, game TBD - GMing
1:00-2:00 - SPA1007970 Intro to Swing Dancing - By popular request I'll be running this again.
2:00-6:00 - Heroes of Rokugan, game TBD - GMing
7:00-11:00 - Heroes of Rokugan, game TBD - GMing

Friday
8:00-Noon - RPG1008805 Kung Fu Justice: Visions and Vendetta - Mutants and Masterminds martial arts silliness
Noon-1:00 - SPA1007972 Intro to Latin Dancing - Due to good response I'll be running this again
1:00-2:00 - SPA1007975 Intro to Ballroom Dance - An experiment this year. It's already half sold out!
2:00-3:00 - SEM1009032 Where We've Been, Where We're Going - One of my favorite game companies is re-launching. Let's hear what they're up to
3:00-4:00 - SPA1008717 Belly Dance Is For Every Body! - I've taken this class several times and always have a blast with it
4:00-6:00 - SPA1009035 Steampunk Cotillion Dance Class - Sounds fun from the title alone
7:00-11:00 - LRP1008403 Scarlet Pimpernel, The - A larp with a masquerade ball? Yes please!

Saturday
11:00-Noon - WKS1007965 Learn to Dance for the Gen Con Ball! - I run this every year and it's one of the things I most look forward to about the con.
2:00-6:00 - RPG1008023 To the Last Breath - The conclusion of Heroes of Rokugan
8:00-9:00 - SEM1011343 History of the Carthaginian Empire, A - Could be interesting and it's free
9:00-Midnight - ENT1014142 Pajama Jammy Jam (a.k.a the Dance) - One of my other favorite events
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Wisconsin! [Apr. 8th, 2010|11:12 am]
suburbaknght
Got in from my grand voyage to the midwest last night at about 10:30. What a great time! The trip was fun, the workshops went swimmingly, and it was a blast seeing old friends. But what happened you say?

Tell us! Tell us! Collapse )

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!
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Dance of the Day - Clover [Mar. 30th, 2010|04:33 pm]
suburbaknght
[Tags|]

Someone actually caught us on video! We're couple 102.

Waltz - Really good shot of our waltz from about 17 seconds on. The steps are strong but we're not selling the posture or attitude. I need to get my head up more and we need to be closer together while we're in closed position. The two-way underarm turn needs to not look like I'm reaching.

Tango - Not quite as long. Starts at 51 seconds. Way too far apart in promenade. Heads, as always, need to stay up more. Need to stay closer in the pivot.

Foxtrot - You can see us at the beginning. Our heads need to be a little higher, but really we look damn good, better than a lot of other couples on the floor (and worse than several of the others). You can also see our grapevine toward the end and I'm really not happy with it. It looks a little hesitant; we're not selling our conviction of the step. Must work on facial expression.
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Dance of the Day - Rehearsal [Mar. 25th, 2010|10:01 pm]
suburbaknght
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No videos of us from Clover, but these are the rehearsals we had. Not bad for three months early, but lots of room for improvement.

Waltz
Our weakest at Clover and our best in rehearsal. Need to work on closing the feet and looking up. Very good on progressive movement.

Tango
Good sharp movement but I need to get my goddamn head up. Our promenade position needs a lot of work. Good thing we spent two hours working on it today (really).

Foxtrot
Our best dance at clover and our worst in rehearsal. Opening up the grapevine really helped. Again, have to get the head up and have to work on arm positions.
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Clover [Mar. 25th, 2010|01:40 pm]
suburbaknght
Tory and I dancing swing: the only picture I like from Clover.
http://timelinedc.instaproofs.com/buy_print.php?event=207607&type=original&id=58176641

BTW, when I said "it's all Tory's fault," I didn't mean the results were her fault; it was at her urging that I was even dancing this weekend. All the good times this weekend, all the extra practice to get ready, all the improvements in my dancing I've made while preparing, those are Tory's fault.
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Bullying [Mar. 25th, 2010|10:07 am]
suburbaknght
Anti-bullying campaigns are a big topic in schools right now. Let's start by agreeing on a two key points: bullying is harmful behavior and schools have a responsibility to stop and prevent bullying. I don't foresee any argument on those points, so we'll move on.

I came across this story today from NPR's Facebook feed. Mostly it's pretty typical fare about anti-bullying tactics schools are taking, but I take issue with one particular section:
"Frederick County Public Schools has a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of physical violence," she warns.

And further down:
"We've done research on this issue, and quite often parents will tell their kids, 'Don't get into fights, don't do that. But if somebody hits you, you better hit back.' And sometimes that's where the rub is, between messages they hear at home and what is the reality in the school setting."

Note: these quotes are from two different individuals. The first is from a school-district representative, the latter from a researcher.

Let me make my personal opinion very clear: I'm extremely anti-violence. I believe violence harms the person causing injury as much as it harms the person being injured, and I'm happy to justify that with either philosophical discussion or psychological reports about the effects of PTSD if you wish. When I decided to learn to defend myself I deliberately chose to study aikido, arguably the most non-violent martial art on the planet, and pursued a sub-style that took the non-violent aspect to an extreme even at the expense of effectiveness. In my view, hitting people outside of sport is always bad.

But that doesn't mean it's always wrong. I've heard the arguments about how teaching kids to run for grown ups instead of hitting back turns them into wimps who can't solve their own problems, and frankly I don't buy it. Kids have lots of opportunities to learn independence, and I don't think the time to learn it is when the consequences involve concussions. Others will argue that bullies are cowards who will back down if you stand up to them whether you win or lose. That's a nice myth that's related to the truth, but it's still a myth. Studies have shown that bullies want to fight and they want fights they can win; if you lose to them, they keep coming back.

In 2004, Black Belt did what is, to my knowledge, the only large-scale study of real-life fights. While this study was targeted at adults, I believe the results extrapolate downwards. Out of over two-hundred violent incidents, all but fourteen were encounters that no one but a self-defense expert would refer to as a "fight." The overwhelming majority were physical bullying that ranged from pushing to assault. Why? Because the people who instigated the violence were looking for victims. They wanted the thrill of dominance. Anyone who gave the impression they would not be easy to dominate physically they avoided in search of easier prey.

If you consistently deliver a message to all the children in a school that if someone tries to hurt them that they should shouldn't fight back but rather run and get a grownup, all the bully hears is, "I can do what I like to the other kids and they won't do anything to me!" This is a message that will increase overall levels of violence, not decrease it. It is imperative that you don't tell kids that they can never, ever use violence.

The danger here is of falling into the line, "If you make all guns criminal then only criminals will have guns." And in response, when guns are legal and available, shooting deaths increase, and accidental deaths far out-number shootings in self-defense. If you tell kids that they can fight back, they'll find excuses to fight back, and then they find excuses to fight. Again, violence increases. Even when violence might be justified, it still turns into a game of, "He started it!" "No, he did!"

So what's the solution? In a perfect world, all kids would take martial arts classes from wise and compassionate teachers who would teach them skills of self-defense and the means to project that they are not potential victims, all while nurturing the maturity to ensure that violence is avoided. In reality, that's not possible due to constraints that range from money to time to disinterest to differing physical limitations to the fact that some kids would still be bullies.

As I said above, violence is always bad but it's not always wrong. Bad things have consequences. Kids can be taught that they're allowed to fight back but there's going to be punishment regardless, so they better be prepared to take those consequences. Will second-graders understand this? Probably not, but it may reduce long-term violence, and one day those kids will grow up and be a little more prepared to make hard choices.
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Competition Anaylsis [Mar. 20th, 2010|08:24 pm]
suburbaknght
Summary: I had one goal for this competition: to get at least one call back. We got a call back in foxtrot.

More detailed analysisCollapse )
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Gamer Girls [Mar. 16th, 2010|05:05 pm]
suburbaknght
[Tags|]

If you're a girl and you're a gamer, the zine RPGirl is looking for essay and article submissions:
http://rpgirl-zine.blogspot.com/2010/02/2010-call-for-contributions.html
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Life Boat [Mar. 16th, 2010|09:40 am]
suburbaknght
On the train this morning I was listening to a podcast of the latest episode of This American Life. TAL is a radio show on NPR where, "each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme." Even they know it's a terrible description, but it's accurate. Each week they choose a theme and then find the coolest (or strangest), "no shit, I was there," stories about it you've ever heard that tangentially have to do with the theme. It's compelling and I highly encourage you to listen to it. But at any rate...

The second story in this week's episodes (listen to the free podcast here) was about the Lifeboat Debates at the University of Montevallo. Each year for the past twelve years, the University has sponsored a debate where the professors from each department have to convince the attendees why if the world were to end their department should be saved. Now the story on TAL is interesting, where a non-tenured professor takes the entire faculty to task for not taking the debate seriously, but it got me thinking: could you make that argument for your major's department?

Imagine: the world is ending, or close to it, and most knowledge will be lost. You can save one body of knowledge and everything else must be rediscovered. Which knowledge would you save? Art? Literature? Medicine? Chemistry? Philosophy? Do you choose based on practicality? Quality of life? Knowledge for its own sake? What is your criteria for deciding which knowledge is valuable and which knowledge is the most valuable?

Now most of you reading this either have a bachelor's degree or are in the process of earning one. Did you consider your major for the knowledge you would save? If not, you should be seriously worried.

This question, and as TAL says, the entire debate, forces you to ask the question that scares the shit out of every liberal arts student: is what I'm learning really valuable? Now I'm not saying that you need to panic if you didn't choose your major as the essential knowledge (I was an English major and I'm torn between history and agriculture for the knowledge I'd save) but if you can't make a persuasive case why your field should even be considered, you're saying that you've spent four years of your life learning something of no real use.

Knowledge is valuable but the thing about value is that it's extremely relative. Knowledge has value because we credit it as having such. Even if I wouldn't give English the first seat on the boat, I'd still try to find a space for it. The ability to communicate, to persuade, to explore hypothetical situations, or to be inspired by literature, all of these are tools that would be critical, if not exactly essential, to building a new world. Though I've not had a job based on my English degree since graduating, it's certainly proved useful in every job I've had in the past five years. You don't need to have a skill essential for the world to survive but you'd better make sure the skills your learning improve the world.

Otherwise, what's the point?
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Writer's Block: Out of fashion [Mar. 15th, 2010|10:34 am]
suburbaknght
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If you could choose which fashions would go out of style permanently, what would you choose, and why?


Jeans.

Really, I don't get the appeal.
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Dance of the Day - Argentine Tango [Mar. 12th, 2010|10:03 am]
suburbaknght
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Why is this 12 year old more manly than I am?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GADaAmhZ8JY
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Dance of the Day - Hustle [Mar. 11th, 2010|10:07 am]
suburbaknght
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Took all of 3 seconds into the video to identify this as an Arthur Murray couple. No one else teaches the left side-by-side change, though I think I've turned Ginny on to it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bM7julVexzw
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Dance of the Day - Pole Dancing [Mar. 8th, 2010|11:09 pm]
suburbaknght
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Good lord this is amazing. NSFW.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFWf60ln8II
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