Saturday, March 12, 2016

Entering the Twilight Zone of Expression.

Canasta Tango pattern

So I'm back to having coached ice dance lessons on a regular basis.  My rink added a late afternoon public on Tuesdays which so far, has yet to be discovered by the general public.  Since coach A. had no one lined up for this new session I was able to book a half hour at 4pm for the whole month of March Tuesdays.

This past Tuesday, as we're leaving the ice, she said "the skating director asked me whether or not you'd be interested in competing at ISI Districts."  I had seen the face book posting that announced our rink was hosting District IV's spring competition but hadn't given it a second thought.  I had let my dues slip--after my big face plant last July it was not a given that I'd be skating well enough to test let alone compete.  Coach A. expanded the subject:  "The deadline for paying your dues and filling out the form is the 15th of March.  You'll skate either the Dutch Waltz or the Canasta Tango.  I'll see how they look at next week's lesson and then we can decide."  March 15th--that's like this coming Tuesday.  Yow!  The competition itself is not until the weekend of the 16th of April, so I'd have a month to knock off the rough edges--and a deadline.

OK, I've been skating these two low level dances off and on for a couple of years now and pretty much can remember the steps.  On a good day I can even place them on the rink where they more or less need to go.  But a dance needs to be skated with feeling.  One hears of skaters possessing great Tango or Waltz or Blues expression.  It's one thing to go through the motions and execute the steps correctly and another thing to skate a dance in a way that captures something of the emotion of that dance.  Somehow the expression thing is a quality that continues to elude me.  Coach A. has the unenviable job of attempting to teach a Clydesdale to dance. 

Last night diaristdaughter and I went to the rink for a Friday night public.  I figured it would be packed but with that deadline now looming in my near future I needed some ice time before the next lesson/decision.  While I was there I paid my team dues.  I decided why not use the ISI competition as a warm up for skating my USFSA prelim dance tests?  Having people watch me skate isn't new.  The major difference would be that all those aggravating people would be up in the stands (where they belong) instead of on the ice blocking my pattern.  It continues to amaze me: ice tourists don't know any of the dance patterns but they instinctively know exactly where to congregate in order to screw up an ice dancer attempting to practice a pattern dance.   Anyway, now that I had an nonrefundable stake in the game it was time to come to grips with these dances once and for all.

We bought our ice passes and for a while were the only skaters on the ice.  A half hour into the session there were still only four or five skaters in addition to us.  Very unusual for a Friday night.  But then again, this was another March only add-on session and it replaced the usual late Friday evening "disco ball/DJ" session.  Maybe all the crazy kids that love to crash into each other in the dark during the DJ thing were off doing roller derby instead.

After warming up I scrolled through the music on my shuffle and queued up my file of ice dance music.  I have half a dozen different tunes with the correct beats per minute for each of the three preliminary dances.  I alternated between tunes for both the DW and the CT as I practiced.  Towards the middle of the session, while skating the Canasta Tango, I had the sensation of actually connecting to the dance.  My feet were finally executing the steps on what seemed to be the correct beat of the music most of the time.  Sort of a WOW moment.  The ability to hook up with the music seemed to depend on which tune I was playing.  After experimenting I came to realize that the tune Besame Mucho worked best for me.  Hernando's Hideaway didn't work nearly as well, nor did any of the other CT tunes in my file.  This seemed kind of random since they all possessed the same number of BPM, but I decided to stick with Besame Mucho for the rest of the time I spent working on the CT.  Once I settled on the music I started cleaning up the steps and soon discovered that I was executing the slide chasse and swing roll steps with a little more style than usual.  Was I crossing over some sort of a threshold and entering the realm of "Tango expession"?  The short answer seemed to be YES (!)  My steps were crisper.  My demeanor and movements seemed to have been taken over by another spirit--one with an "attitude".  It was sort of like a dreamscape.  Who the hell was this skater?

I reverted to the Dutch Waltz and tried different tunes in the hopes of a repeat of my Tango revelation but try as I might I just wasn't feeling it for the DW.  This is odd in as much as I truly enjoy listening to Strauss waltz music.  Perhaps this is a reflection of me having a harder time with the basic skills required of the DW.  I almost always have trouble with the end pattern of that dance.  Unless I place the last progressive and swing roll just right I flirt with the risk of running out of room for the two last 3 beat strokes before the dance repeats.  You can ask my ex-dance partner V.  She took up riding horses in steeplechase events, figuring that it was safer than doing the Dutch Waltz with your diarist.  Maybe once I get the end pattern under control I'll be able to enter the "Waltz Zone".

As for next Tuesday's decision--it's a done deal in my mind.  Just need to sell it to my coach and hopefully not forget the password for getting back into the Tango Zone--Besame, Besame Mucho...   


  1. You've captured so perfectly how much music matters. How great that you will be doing the dance competition! Having that extra pressure always makes you work just a little bit harder on "attitude." Since I skate primarily on public sessions, I also see the "aggravating people"; the trick with dance compulsories is to practice the separate steps with the music as well (in tempo even if out of context). Then you can take full advantage of the rare moment when you can fit an entire pattern in.

  2. Jo: I wish I had read your comment earlier today. Just back from the rink's Sunday afternoon public--very unproductive and heaving with aggravatin' people!

  3. Our Sunday afternoon ones are like that too--really not ice-dancer-friendly. You have my sympathies!