Friday, July 17, 2009

Moved home...

If you are looking for me, I have moved home.

This is my new address:

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Of ballroom and Blackpool

THE ballroom in Blackpool Tower is breathtaking. Especially the first time you walk on to it.

I guess it is a combination of factors: the sheer expansiveness of the floor set in durbar hall-like surroundings, leading up to a glorious podium (appropriated for the evening and most of the next day by a wise-cracking gentleman in formal wear); the elegant, slightly-arching galleries on both sides (packed with video-graphing parents excited like schoolchildren) reaching some three-quarters to the high, chandeliered ceiling; and, more than anything else, the realisation this is the ‘best’ ballroom in the world (at least that’s what most performers tell the audience between dances, while their partners hastily jump into yet another magnificent gown).

But like with all things, the effect begins to wear off. This year it didn’t look that grand. Don’t get me wrong; it still is magnificent. But it didn’t send me into the gape-mouthed, parch-throated, oh-my-god-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here state like before.

ore than anything else, what makes the long drive to Blackpool for the ISTD Grand Finals worth is the cabaret the evening before. You get to see one of the top couples in the world dance.
My personal favourites are last year’s performers, the World Professional Latin No 3, if I remember right, European, though for the life of me I can’t recall their names. They were big, physically, and appeared even bigger when they danced. They made the floor look small.

In contrast, this year’s Italian couple Domenico Soale and Gioia Cerasoli are diminutive, though that didn’t stop them from dominating the floor. I guess they didn’t make the World Professional Ballroom finals on their first try, or claim the World Amateur Ballroom Championships for three or four years running, by being coy.

Their best offer, for me, was the Tango. Suddenly ‘clarity of steps’, ‘sharpness’, ‘use your head’, etc – stuff all trainers yell at you all the time -- began to make sense. Also, an earlier comment from the Pale English Woman, a former British Open Professional Ballroom champion: “Dancing is not about moving alone, it is about stopping too.”

I do have a complaint against Soale and Cerasoli, though. They cheated; they didn’t do the Viennese Waltz. Next time I see them, I will ask for my money back.

Announcement in the midst of the ‘solos’ competition:

“Instructors, some of you are dancing your students off-time. Could you keep on time, please?”

Speaking of instructors, I have a bone to pick with a few.

You are the professionals, right? The ones who lead, the ones who have better floor-craft than us struggling men competitors? So how about ensuring you don’t cut across with your pretty girl and ‘blank out’ some poor devil? How about ensuring you don’t run on to the floor at the last minute into someone’s preparatory step?

Leave the panicking to people like me. We are good at it.

ver heard of the ‘organ man’ of Blackpool? He is the one the organisers send in when they want to clear the floor.

He normally makes his appearance just before the cabaret. At that point, the floor is crowded like a carnival ground. So the organ man pops in, calmly turns his back to the audience (his backside isn’t particularly pretty, so wonder why he does that), and begins to play – and, hey presto, the floor clears.

It worked wonderfully well this year too.

triptease is something you don’t quite expect to see in the middle of a ballroom. But it does happen every year in Blackpool, believe me.

Blame it on the sequence dance competition. The way it works is, you have two Standard dances, something wonderfully elegant but funnily-named such as Glenroy Foxtrot or Tango El Cid or Bournemouth Three-Step, plus a Latin: Jubilee Jive or Paso Espano or Samba Simon (okay, I made up one or two of those names).

Since they go immediately into the Latin, the women dance with their Latin gear under their Standard gowns. And as soon as the first two dances finish, they hurriedly step out of their gowns, kick them to one side, and run back to the formation, baring fake-tanned legs and more.

Personally I am a fan of good legs. But the inelegance of this particular revelation is a matter of serious concern. I mean, one minute they are simply magnificent, prancing around wonderously proud, so charming in their stiff, old-fashioned grace; the next they are stripping and kicking their clothes around! Ouch.

Of legs etc, another comment, this one by a male competitor to a friend, when she revealed herself in a Latin dress that would have given the Basic Instinct people something to think of:

“Go away! I need to go on the floor shortly – and I am wearing a very tight costume.”

The friend looked pleased. She went on to win the Rumba.

can’t wait to turn 35. I think I would love it in the Over-35 category.

It is bloody unfair that everyone between 16 and 35 are pitted against each other. That’s teenagers competing against people who -- if a wee bit precocious in a certain department -- are old enough to be their parents! Honestly, I think we need another category: the 16-26.

On second thoughts, I can cope with the teenagers. What I can’t is the sheer number of times I have to cope with them before I get somewhere.

Whereas in the Over-35 you normally have a straight semi (thank god when you get older, you prefer the fireplace and a warm blanket) and a final, the Under-35 end up with more rounds.

So you dance, and you wait. For the recall. You dance again, and wait. And again. Till the finals –- or the time they don’t call your number.

I guess competing is not about dancing alone. It’s about consistency, and nerves. Can you get it right all the time? How well do you cope with the agony of waiting? And how well do you keep it all under control on the floor?

Now for the last word, on a topic that might interest all Blackpool visitors.

Check out the Westdean Hotel, 59 Dean Street, FY4 1JB (00 44 1253 342904). The rooms are cosy and clean and cheap (£20 for single, with breakfast), it’s only £5-something by taxi to the Tower, and, better still, you don’t have to put up with the snotty attitude that some places on the promenade specialise in.

Give it a go, folks. The people here are real nice.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Four hands, one brain

BALLROOM jive is good fun. That is, if you are naturally bouncy and good at remembering routines with umpteen, quick 'changes of hand'.

“You want me to switch from right-to-left and left-to-right and god-knows-what-else every two seconds!" said a frustrated bloke to Ms Hitler, his trainer. "Could’ve coped with two hands, but between my partner and me, we have four hands, do you realise?”

“That’s correct,” said Ms Hitler. “Four hands and one brain – hers.”

The said bloke wasn’t me. Honest.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Oh boy!

HERE’S an interesting question: why is it okay for two women to dance together but not for two men?

I have noticed it at ballroom and salsa. A woman dancing with another raises no eyebrow. But two men dancing? That is cause for great merriment.

I can attest to that personally because I tried it the other day at Enrique's salsa-do -- purely as a matter of research, you understand. Now I can confidently state a) it is the best way to be the centre of attention on the floor (other than falling flat on your face, that is), and b) my Norwegian friend Morten makes a fantastic woman.

We made heads turn, of course. Everyone smirked, especially when we went into closed hold. We tried a few dips, and it went down well. This prompted me to do a few hip-grinds. Lady M, for his part, thought doing some girly 'shines' would be entertaining. It was, and the crowd had a look of amused appreciation.

Point is, two women dancing thus -- doing even more slinky moves -- would not have got such attention. Nor the, ah, charitable comments from my friends...

"I am seriously beginning to wonder about you!" said Girl 1. (Don't -- there are enough people around to say I swing straight and none to say otherwise... because I killed them all afterwards, you see.)

"What's wrong with you?" said Girl 2.

"What a terrible waste!" said Girl 3.

"It's bloody unfair. I was going to ask Morten for a dance!" said Girl 4. (Serves you right, girl, that's your punishment for not asking me, hah!)

"You like it, don't you?" said Girl 4.

See what I mean? This is true of the ballroom circuit as well. Quite common for women to dance together, even compete in medallist rounds. I am yet to see a boy-boy couple, though. Okay, I can understand the logic -- too many women, too few men -- and also there are separate events for gay couples, but, hey, why such smirky outrage at the thought of men dancing together? If a woman can get away with dancing as man, why not the other way round? Seriously, this is what I call sexual discrimination.

At the next comp I think I will ditch my lovely Zimbabwean partner Sarah and walk on to the floor with a man on my arm. I really want to see the look on the adjudicators' faces.

Besides, I have a feeling Morten will look gorgeous in a ball gown.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A splash of salsa

STOP, says the girl at the gate.

"Here for the salsa," says Glamorous.

Oh, goes the girl, and what names are we booked under?

"Um, haven't booked," says Glamorous, "thought we could buy tickets at the door?"

Girl consults friend boy. Decides we are safe to be let into Salsa Splash at the Lakeside Classic Resort, Hayling Island. Hands us wristband-tickets.

“Pay at reception,” she says. “Ask for Mr Richards.”

Empty reception. Salsa or no salsa, Mr Richards doesn’t believe in manning the desk -- or having it manned –- at 10:30 pm, Saturday. We walk around looking for him. Lots of black-tied men and gowned girls, but no Mr Richards. Nobody knows him.

Sorry, Mr Richards, if you want my money –- by the way, isn’t £20 a bit steep? -- do drop me a note…

Inside, more black ties and evening gowns scattered around a well-lit dance floor, where a sizeable crowd is swaying to live hip-hop. After dinner.

“Do you feel a bit shabby?” asks Smiles. She and me, we are in casuals. Glamorous smiles smugly –- she’s in a black gown, make-up on, hair in place, etc.

“Uh, a bit,” I say. “But whoever heard of salsa in a suit?”

It is a dinner-dance, I know. As always, the women look gorgeous, but men salsaing in dress shirts and black ties look strange -- almost like being at ballroom in jeans and t-shirt.

Floor, way too crowded. Easily the biggest -- and best -- crowd I have seen at salsa this summer. Plenty of good dancers (more women than men). But everybody is dancing on somebody else’s toes. The Cubans cope well, but the New York guys find it hard going. If I am not mistaken, I am not the only one who sent one girl for a crossbody and got back another.

Noticed on and around the floor: way too many good-looking girls waiting to be asked while most men -– silly twits –- dance with people they know. And the girls -– sillier twits -– instead of going for a man continue to stand around.


“Because,” says Glamorous. “It is inappropriate for a girl to ask in certain places -- or you will end up with egg on your face. Like, I asked this guy, an instructor… I knew him from long, at a big event like this, and he said, ‘Sorry, I am here to have fun’.”

Um, I thought having fun at salsa was about dancing. Silly me. But seriously girls, bugger the rules and go for a man –- no man worth dancing with will refuse you a dance.

Noticed also at the event…

Tracie of TLC collapsed at table with bottle of water and two friends fanning her (she recovered to dance some more)…

Enrique, friend, and Lorna of Salsa Explosion watching more and dancing less…

Pretty girl scattering dancers around by flinging herself violently at boy all evening long…

Faces from Caliente and elsewhere returning smiles wholeheartedly (sociological note to self: strangers at familiar venue become friends at strange venues)…

Dr L salsaing gloriously to forget molecular biology and membrane transport of protein…

Dirty Dancing outside the main ballroom to hip-hop music (observed by Glamorous on her way out)…

Two bachatas, two cha chas (thank you, DJ Brown), but no merengue (shame on you, DJ Brown)…

And now Mr Richards, if you could please let Robert and Jean White of Mambo City know it was a fantastic night, we all enjoyed it, and thank you so very much for organising it?

And, oh, about the money, I was not kidding.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Thou shalt...

DID you know in Indianapolis there are more men dancing than women? Thank goodness things are a bit different in England –- and may it remain that way forever.

That bit of information -- is that a one-off, or the norm? -- came from a column by Erin Lamb, a successful instructor in Indianapolis. Here are her thoughts, mainly for women: No, but thank you. Another interesting post, from Indysalsero, a salsa-addict from the same populous city: Rejection on the dance floor. For men. While both specifically talk about the salsa scene, I think all social dancers can glean something from their posts (though I do beg to differ with Erin on at least one point). Do check them out!

Let me add my own thoughts to the mix. What follows is from a man’s perspective, born out of two-and-a-half years of watching social dancers in England (both ballroom and salsa). This is my rant to all those gorgeous creatures fringing the floor, waiting for a man. Feel free to step on my toes if I am not talking sense:

Thou Too Shalt Ask
Men like to be asked, too. So please, don't go all dainty and ladylike on us -- not all the time, anyway -- and stand around the fringes waiting for our hand. Try walking up to us and asking instead. We are insecure beings, you know that. It gives us great pleasure when a gal takes the initiative. :-)

Thou Shalt Ask Men Who Have Asked Thee
Yes, you are a fabulous dancer. Yes, we love dancing with you. But don’t take us for granted. We’ve asked you four times -- so how about asking us? If you don’t, what you are telling us is this: ‘I am not so keen to dance with you, but if you want I might oblige.’ Sorry lady, we no want.

Thou Shalt Avoid Cliques
Try not to cling on to your girlfriends. Nothing frightens us more than having to come across and ask one girl from among a bunch. In our heart of hearts we are all chivalrous gentlemen, and it pains us to make obvious who we consider the fairest of lilies (especially to the lilies).

Thou Shalt Not Chat At Song-Ends
Is important to catch up with your girlfriend, agreed. But please end it before the next dance. If we walk up and see you deep in conversation, we will keep walking.

Thou Shalt Position Thyself
Right, there’s this lovely guy -- bless his twinkle toes -- whom you just have to dance with. But he’s popular, and girls just cut across the floor to grab him. How do you get his attention? Try this: move over to his side of the floor early. Position yourself where he would walk off -- and make your move confidently as soon as the song ends. It will save you the inelegant dash across the floor.

Thou Shalt Accept Gracefully
Whatever else you do, don’t give us the ‘Oh-okay’ attitude when we ask for a dance. That isn’t okay with us. Pretend you are pleased. And keep pretending -- unless you really don’t want to dance with us again.

Thou Shalt Smile At Us
Dance with us when you are dancing -- not with the guy in the far end of the room. Concentrate on your partner, look at him. Occasionally smile through the pain of being stepped on… We don’t just want to dance, we want to dance with you.

Thou Shalt Not Refuse A Dance If Thou Can Help It
Don’t do it unless you have a very, very good reason to (maybe the guy mistook you for his wife and snogged you on the floor… or maybe he is a ‘dangerous’ dancer… something like that). It’s downright rude and will work against you. One, it might frighten off the less-confident men; two, some confident men, who may also be sensible, might decide not to ask you since you are so uppity.

Thou Shalt Make Up If Thou Has Refused
Let’s say you had to refuse us a dance because you were already committed. No worries. But ensure you grant us the next dance -- and this time, it is up to you to walk up to us and say, ‘Shall we?’ That’s elementary etiquette.

Thou Shalt Be Good To Beginners
Don’t go for the good ones alone. It takes a lot of courage for a beginner to walk up to you. How about walking up to him, instead? Okay, you might not enjoy the dance, but look at it this way: the more floor exposure he gets, the better he becomes –- and, hey presto, there’s another ‘good’ man on the floor! So how about making a point to pick up a beginner every session?

Thoughts, anyone?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Dance gorilla, dance!

SCENE, favourite dance studio in Winton. Present, facing full-length mirror, Pale English Woman (aka Heidi Cruwys) and Dark Indian Man. Present in background, Pale English Man (aka Simon Cruwys) and amused onlookers (two). On, Cha Cha music.

PEW: "...and on 2, we strike a line… strike a line. Arms out, no, arms out. Sharp. Now bring it down as you ronde. To your side… lower it like this."


PEW: "No! Not that way! Drop your chest and bring your arms all the way down! What do you think you are? A gorilla?"

DIM thinks it over. No, he shakes his head, not a gorilla.

Another day. Same scene, more or less. On, Rumba music.

PEW: "…bring your right arm slowly down… as if you are going to caress my face… Look at me. Look at me! This is the dance of love. No! Straight fingers. No claws. No claws! You are not a bird, are you?"

DIM thinks it over. Not a bird either, he shakes his head, just a bloke.

Yet another day. Same scene. Pale English Man is with an elderly couple.

PEM: "That was marvellous, simply marvellous. It was a good variation of what I said, a very good one indeed… though it wasn’t quite what I wanted."

Elderly Gent: "Does it matter? I got there in the end, didn’t I?"

Is entertaining, is ballroom.