Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dancing With the Stars on Tour

So, one of Tiny Dancer's birthday presents this year was a pair of tickets to see Dancing With the Stars during their tour.  I didn't realize how far Corpus Christi was when I bought them, because despite living in Texas all of my life, I had never actually been before.  I didn't know how late the show would run, but I knew that starting at 8 at night, it would be unlikely that I would be comfortable driving back immediately afterwards, so I went ahead and booked a room for Sunday night, and we drove up Sunday morning. 

We took the day to do a little sightseeing, touristy shopping, and visited "The Blue Ghost" along with the Aquarium.  Shara got to pet the sting rays during feeding time.

We checked into the room, then took the hotel shuttle over to the auditorium, along with some others staying at the hotel who were attending.

We picked up a souvenir program, and headed to our (excellent) seats.

 We were in row E, on the stage right side of the theater. 

 The show was fantastic.  All of the pros did such a great job, though it seemed like Kyo was having some problems with his shoulder, which was taped up with athlete tape.   They did group numbers, trios, duos, and Shara got a lot out of watching.  When we go to competitions or participate in studio events, unless we are able to stay for all of the pro dancing, which we just aren't always able to do, then she only sees the pros dancing with amateurs.  While she can still learn from this, actually being up close with high level professionals who were only dancing with each other was a fantastic learning opportunity for her. 

Emma Slater took a selfie with the crowd.  I can't really see us, but we were way over on the right side of the photo, about a quarter of the way up.

Afterwards, some of the cast stuck around and took pictures with audience members.  Shara dashed up to the front with 1% phone battery left, and got a picture with Val, the winner from last season.  She was so excited, I think her pupils actually reformed in the shape of stars, and stayed that way through the next morning.

I really hope she can take some of the lessons from this chance to really see pros dancing full out and apply them to her own dancing. 

As for upcoming events, we were supposed to do Level Passing last night, but it got rescheduled for next month.  We do still have A-Day coming up this Sunday, which is when we confirm her January performance.  We also have a planning meeting on Friday to attempt some more long-term planning, so I can be as efficient as possible with my budget.  Woo!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Danciversary and New Dresses

Happy One Year Danciversary!  So, she celebrated one year of dancing with Fred Astaire on June 10th with a dance class, a balloon, and brownies that I took the Happy Father's Day tag off of and gave to her.

We also decided that since she's going to be a serious competitor and dancer, her dresses need to completely reflect that.

Which meant she needed a new costume.

We found a Latin dress for sale from a dancer who competed at Blackpool, and it shipped to us from Poland.  We had to modify the bra cups, since they were originally intended for someone with a smaller chest.

Obviously, that isn't Shara in the dress.

This is before we fixed the strap and the cups, so she wouldn't let me take a picture of the front. 

Since she's doing an Argentine tango for her Showcase dance in January, we wanted a dress tailored for it.

Which meant she needed a new costume, of course.

A friend we met during the production of Sound of Music I participated in happens to be a seamstress, and I found pattern pieces that we (well, I just told her what we wanted from each of the pattern parts, so really, it was all her) put together into an actual dress.  We went for a fitting on Sunday, and while it needs a couple of tweaks, it's looking pretty fantastic.  It's navy lycra with a fitted bodysuit under, a halter neck with criss cross straps, and a skirt with a point over her right thigh.

While we were killing a little time waiting to meet with the seamstress, we swung by the dance store to browse through dresses and see what they had.  We were particularly interested in a green dress she had tried on a while back, since it might match the new Latin dress.  Her Lita also mentioned being interested in taking her shopping for a new smooth dress for her birthday, so we were looking to see what the possibilities were.  Which meant we....just kidding.  I certainly wasn't expecting to buy anything.  She did find one she really liked, and she tried it on.  It was a really good fit, and I figured we'd keep it in mind, but while we were at the seamstress' house doing the fitting, her Lita messaged and said she'd pay for it if we wanted to go back.  Since we had to pass the store again to get home, and it was a fast fitting, we decided to stop back by.  While we were there, we found a pair of earrings that looked like they had been made for that dress.  They are a little heavy, but I found some stabilizing thingie for the back of her ear that is supposed to take the pressure off of the ear lobe, so I ordered them (I love you, Amazon) and they came in today.  They were only $1.99, so even if they don't work, it's not a huge loss.

Anyhow.  I'm sure we'll add more crystals.  I can't imagine NOT adding more crystals to something, actually.  We're not sure what we're doing with it, but we have time, since she's not planning to compete in it for a while.  Her next event will be a level passing on the 21st of this month (July) and Mini Match in August, though we're not sure yet what she needs to wear for Mini Match.

The Journey of the First Year (Part 8 - May: Dancescape)

The next weekend, we were headed to another hotel, the Westin Memorial, in Memorial City.  But first, there was a tan incident.  I was trying to save a little money.  I'm pretty sure that's how most tan horror stories start.  Anyhow, I found a groupon for a $20 airbrush tan, and managed to squeeze in an appointment that Friday evening (May 29th).  Everything was looking normal-ish, except that the tan wasn't developing.  After a panicked text message to the airbrusher at 10:00 that night (she was trying a new product and asked us to text her a picture of how it was developing), she offered to let us come back at 7:30 in the morning and she would retouch Shara's tan.

We had an appointment for hair at 11:30, and she was scheduled to start dancing after 1:00.  We dashed over to the tanner at 7 am, got retouched, went back to the house, let it develop as much as we could, then she rinsed off so we could head to the hotel.

After finding the studio manager, picking up her souvenier blanket (obviously because it was freezing in the ballroom), and getting checked in, we headed up for hair and makeup.  Her makeup artist was one of the male pros from the independent circuit, and he was excellent!  I loved his color choices, and she got a lot of compliments from our guys.

She had been feeling a little concerned, since she went into Latin the prior weekend a little self-conscious, and didn't come out on top, and with Latin being the stronger of her styles....

But she blew everyone in her category out of the water.  All of her rounds were danced with Matt this time, and she quite literally placed first in every category she entered, including her championship round.  They even figured out how to pronounce her name halfway through award announcements.

Even better, all of the competitors from our studio did really well (including our pros), and up against some really strong competition, too.  I was really proud of everyone.  We won some kind of Top New Studio award, or something.

While we were there, we looked around at some of the dresses on display, and even though we knew Shara was going to need a new Latin dress to really move forward competitively, we also knew we weren't going to find it there!


The Journey of the First Year (Part 7 - May: Lonestar)

The first of her two competition weekends was in San Antonio at La Toretta Resort and Spa.  We went to a local spa for her spray tan, this time.  We tried getting her tan hand airbrushed.  It was a little more expensive, but it looked a lot better, less streaky than the one she had in December from the spray tan shower.  We drove up to San Antonio for one night at the Hilton, since it was a lot cheaper than staying at the resort both nights.

We painted nails and toenails back in the room and had a terrible night's sleep, despite the king size bed.  The next morning we got up early enough to head to the resort for check-in and makeup.


 The view was gorgeous, and so was our room, but I had to stash our stuff quickly and head down for coffee.

Once she had hair and makeup done, she got set to dance.

It was an all Latin competition for her, and she only danced with Daniel.  She competed in mambo and bolero in addition to her regular cha cha, rumba and swing categories, and went head to head against a really great dancer a little older, but in her category. 


 As usual, I'm not the best photographer.

But the professional photographer got some really great shots.  Shara and the other dancer went back and forth winning categories, and in the final round, with five judges voting, Shara wiped the floor with the other girl in cha cha, lost all five votes in swing, and lost by one vote in rumba, giving her a runner up youth title.  She had a great time, though, and it helped to restore some of her confidence after the Foxtrot Debacle. 

After she was done competing, we enjoyed being at the top of a hill during a huge flood, hit the resort's water park the next morning between showers, and headed back home before the rain started up again.

The Journey of the First Year (Part 6 - February through April 2015)

Gosh.  So much and yet so little happened here.  Things were moving along as planned, and I coughed up my tax return as a downpayment on her national competition. Neither of us have been to Disney World, so we were both fairly excited.  She started on her foxtrot open, which she was going to be using as a Spotlight dance to the Pink Panther in May.  I started rehearsals for a production of Sound of Music that I ended being the Assistant Director for, and put in way too many hours of time.

Right around the beginning of February, we also learned that Richard was getting a promotion that involved him transferring to our sister studio.  We were really disappointed, but we did get a fantastic new instructor for Shara to work with, and she did (and does) continue to work with Matt.  I will say that her new instructor, Daniel, is easy on the eyes.

Anyhow, this was around the time of signups for their big dance production (which just happened in June), but that we didn't participate in because all of our money was budgeted for nationals.  At the end of February, we did the household consolidation, and got half of our stuff put into a storage unit.  I just kept putting money into the kitty, until we got word that the amount I had budgeted and been paying off did not include her dance entries.  I was pretty upset, and not at all sure I would be able to scrape up enough money to make it happen, even with help from her other relatives.  The studio manager conferred with the owners and some of the other professionals, and sat me down for a chat at the beginning of April.

He told me that since Shara's end goal is not necessarily to be the world champion (not that she wouldn't be thrilled, and not that it wouldn't be excellent for her career), we don't need to put all of our financial eggs in one basket.  He advised taking the time until she turns 16 to have her participate in all of the different types of events the studio offers, so that when the time comes for her to teach, she can truly speak with the voice of experience.

This meant I could relax a little bit about the nationals bill, and put the money we had already saved up towards two competitions in May (one Fred Astaire, one independent Dancesport), and instead of focusing on nationals, have her do a Showcase event in January, which would involve intricately customized choreography to a song of her choosing.

Along the way, she had her spotlight on May 9th. 

Which meant she needed another costume.

We bought a pink coat dress, which I paid extra to have shipped expedited.  It didn't arrive until two days after the event.  The day before, we had to go out and find her a shirt she could wear with her smooth practice skirt.  This is the only event she's had that I haven't been able to attend.  I still feel guilty about it, since she went with her dad and Lita, lost a heel cap, psyched herself out, and managed to twist her ankle while she was dancing.  I still think some of it was psychological.  She was convinced she wouldn't do well and might hurt herself, and sure enough, she did.  Mind over matter.  Anyhow, I don't have any video, since I wasn't there, and she wouldn't let me have the video from her phone.  She looked really cute, but I don't even have pictures.  The main issue was that it gave her a lot of self-doubt right before she was about to hit a major set of events.  She had competitions coming up one weekend after another, and she really needed to walk into them with her head held high and feeling really good about herself and her current level of ability.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Journey of the First Year (Part 5 - January 2015)

After the exhilarating experience of becoming Regional Champion and Top Junior, she put the pedal to the metal with her training.  She also got a lot more serious about her career path.  As it was, we already knew she wanted to become a professional dancer, and we knew that her focus had abruptly shifted from contemporary to ballroom.  The pros at the studio were leery of really aiming her in that direction until she had at least some competitive experience under her belt, so we had a big meeting with her coaches and the studio manager the week after the competition.  She made it really clear that she hadn't changed her mind, and so we started planning for her to compete at the national level in November 2015.  We drew up a financial plan that took a huge commitment from me (and the rest of the family).  It required us to use our tax refund as a down payment, then pay the remainder of the payments out every month.  Each payment would be what I was paying in rent at the time.  Well, there was absolutely no way I could make that happen on my own.  Even with assistance from my ex-husband's family, that was still a huge expense.  I did a lot of talking and planning, and we made the decision to join households with my grandmother, keeping her from needing to leave her house, since it was too big for one person, and allowing us to try to help my daughter's dreams come true.  The studio hinted that they were grooming her for a professional position within their organization, and did tell us that they looked into hiring her, but that we would have to wait until after she turns 16.  So, one year down, two to go.

With this in mind, we made a huge decision.

We decided to take her out of school and homeschool instead.  This wasn't an easy decision for me.  There were a few relatives who did not support this choice.  I told her I would let her take the college placement exams, and if she passed, we would talk about what happened next.  When she passed (in eighth grade!), I made the commitment to her to allow her to try for the spring semester of 2015.  We got her registered, and she got her college ID.

Whenever I asked her about regrets, and prom, she always told me that she has proms all the time, and at the ones she goes to, she can dress like a princess and everyone else can actually dance, unlike regular proms.  I do worry about her social interactions, but she seems to have enough friends who have made the effort to keep in touch, that I worry less now.

Her uncle wanted to do a photo shoot for her and Greyson, and he got some really great photos.

She spend the rest of the Christmas and New Years holidays having extra rehearsals with Matt, and even just one month after her first competition, she was continuing to improve at a rabid pace, particularly considering that we could only afford six private lessons per month.  The guys at the studio used every Friday night party as an opportunity to help her get in more practice following, and even going to far as to specifically work steps that she was weak in.

She also started work on her opens.  In dance, she can compete in either closed categories or open categories.  In closed categories, depending on which level a dancer competes at, there are certain approved moves, which can be danced in any order with whatever appropriate stylings (arm motions may differ between instructors, or independent schools, etc.).  In open routines, there is generally more freedom of expression, and no set list of moves, though it can be difficult to balance demonstrating solid technique with adding flair.  So far, they have only worked on two, tango and foxtrot, but the one she started working on with Richard in January was the tango open.  At the time, they planned to have her learn opens in all of her regular dances (waltz, tango, foxtrot, cha cha, rumba, swing), and add her three additional dances that she would be competing in (Viennese waltz, mambo, bolero).  This meant she would need to learn 9 closed routines and 9 open routines by the beginning of November, and we only had 54 lessons in which to learn and perfect all of them.  Needless to say, she was feeling a little stressed, right from the beginning.

We threw in Mini Match along the way (January 31st, 2015).  It was a casual event, set to be minimally competitive between our studio and the Pearland studio, which is also owned by the couple who owns our studio.  She danced each of her competitive six dances (no Viennese, mambo or bolero yet) with each of her partners (Matt and Richard).