Christmas showdance

This is me and my teacher’s showdance at the dancing studio’s Christmas party. We’d performed it the previous week at a competition in Disneyland Paris, but I’d messed it up and felt that I’d let people down, so I was determined to do it properly. Thankfully I think it went ok – I can see plenty to improve, but it was far better than before. People at the studio liked it too, happily. Phew.

My teacher gets the credit for this: she put a huge amount of work in. So big thanks to her.

Big plans for next year, dancing-wise. Competitions and showdances and oh my. Can’t wait.

Naming the purple

I am trying to  switch boat. My current boat needs quite a lot of work doing inside – a new bathroom and kitchen, for example – and my parents are a) in need of a project b) selling their boat. So cunning plans ensued and a new boat was found. It’s less immediately pretty than my current replica dutch barge, but much nicer inside, so the price balances out. Anyway that is all boring – the important thing is that the new boat is PURPLE:


Haven’t actually got it yet. The builders are fixing it up and we’re inspecting the results tomorrow. Assuming all is ok, we’ll then need to sail it the 10hr trip from Roydon to the marina. Anyway that is all boring – onto the important business of names. It is new so only has a temporary name: ‘Purple Haze’. I feel like I should come up with something of my own. So, here’s what I’m thinking:

Any favourites / ideas? Obviously it is quite camp, which I feel needs acknowledging. Other suggestions so far are ‘Barney’, and ‘People eater’.

Halloween Hattering

I was tantalisingly close to a crowning moment of awesome yesterday, but it was just out of reach.

Me as the Mad HatterI was at a Halloween party at my dance studio, and naturally I’d dressed up. You may have noticed the photo. I was quite pleased, despite the trousers being, well, you know that recurring dream where you’re out in public in your pyjamas? That. Also I really liked the wig. I had no peripheral vision on the dancefloor, and I’ll probably need a bezoar removing, but come on. So I travelled over to the studio dressed as such, thinking ‘it’s the weekend before Halloween, so there’ll be plenty of people in costume’. No. It was just me. Which meant I won the Tube.

At the party there were vampires, corpse brides, pirates and generally lots of people finding excuses to wear cool hats, and we were quite the sight doing the Time Warp. After a while the hostess arrived: Karen Hardy, ex-Strictly winner and world-champion, straight from commentating on Strictly at the BBC, resplendent as Poison Ivy (Batman villains being an accidental theme), and in a larger wig than mine. And once the live band had finished she stepped forward and announced there’d be a prize for the best costume.

I hadn’t known there was a contest, so it was a double surprise when I was one of the three finalists. We were asked to stand in front of everyone: me, a Vampire, and Jack Sparrow. At first it seemed like the audience were going to pick their favourite, but Karen then said there was to be a dance-off. We were all to dance simultaneously to the music that had just been playing: Thriller.


If my life were a film, this would be basically perfect. In general, the thought of impromptu freestyling in front of lots of people is oh god I can’t even type it, but Thriller is obviously a different matter. I can do that. So, in theory: result.

But, back in the real world, I haven’t performed Thriller in three years. Give me ten minutes and I can probably bring it all back, but at the drop of a hat? Not so much. We’d actually gone over some of the initial steps earlier in the party, but halfway through the song, and a bit different from how I did it on the plinth, and not including the chorus, so I’m not quite sure how to start and then the music begins and right, it’s time to do something. So I’m all scary swims and zombie arms and standing at the front like I know what I’m doing. Then it’s the chorus, and I get trolled by muscle memory. I leap into the start-of-chorus position, because I’ve done the chorus hundreds of times and I know it starts with a leap and what comes next is…wait – what does come next? It’s a turn or something. I don’t know. Crap. So I, completely inexplicably, do some bullshit body-roll that I’m going to work very hard to pretend never happened, then step around being a zombie until the music ends. It is not quite what I had hoped for when I set off, but at least I kept moving. I have no idea what the others did, but I’m guessing the actually-correct moves we learnt earlier.

And now we’re being judged, Strictly-style, by Karen. Jack Sparrow gets a 6. Vampire gets a 7. I am told that I started out bold and confident, then ‘had a moment’, which I got through. This is one way of looking at it. I also get a 7. And it’s over to the audience to vote by applause.

Jack Sparrow steps forward. Gets applause. No way to judge, but it seems like a good amount of applause.

Vampire steps forward, and it is loud. Clearly he has done something right. Jack Sparrow and I exchange an oh-dear look.

So, just to finish things off, I step forward. And the room goes nuts. I am totally unprepared for this. I don’t really know what to do, but then I’m being presented with a statue of a skeleton holding his own head, which is obviously the best kind of statue.

All of which was a bit unexpected. Apparently someone filmed the dance-off. I’m not sure I could take it. When I first went to the studio I was all, right, these are all excellent dancers and very nice people and I am going to be dignified in front of them. Lulz. Still, I did enjoy it.

Might keep the wig.

Killick Klassik 2012

trophyLast week I took part in a ballroom/latin dancing competition in Miami. It was a Pro-Am event, meaning amateurs dance with their professional teachers, and we’d been preparing for months. I’d never done anything like it before, and I was ridiculously excited.

I entered a bunch of single dances. In Latin, the rumba, cha-cha and jive. In ballroom, the waltz. In each you can dance in up to three difficulty levels, based around bronze, silver and gold – I danced in three subcategories of bronze. I also danced in two different age ranges, which basically meant I’d entered everything I possibly could enter for a single dance. So: 24 dances total, and once there I signed up for the viennese waltz, making it 30. I figure, if you’re going to go all that way, you might as well make the most of it.

But perhaps the bigger deal was the other competition we entered: the showdance. These are one-time-only anything-goes spectaculars, so are obviously right up my street. You’re marked by ex-world-champion judges, who also give you feedback and comments. Not something you can get every day.

All the dances went pretty well. I took first place in, um, all of them. Necessary qualifications: in eight of the dances I was the only competitor at that age range and skill level, so inherently came first; and in the showdance you’re graded rather than placed. But still, I was obviously very pleased with this 🙂 I was also the top bronze-level male in the competition, which meant I was awarded a trophy in front of everyone. Eep! Wasn’t expecting that.

I had various of the dances filmed, and they’re all online here. This was our showdance:

and here’s the Viennese Waltz, which people seemed to like:

I like how we catch the cameraman off guard. By this point I’d realised that everyone else stands around for a bit waiting for a neat bit of musical phrasing. This isn’t so important in the Viennese Waltz as in some of the others, though, so I decided to just go for it.

The experience of entering competitions was quite odd. Firstly, I was bizarrely serene the entire weekend. I was just not frightened by it, which is weird, since I should have been frightened by it! This was something to do with being a long way from home, I think. Secondly, it was really difficult to remember the routines. We’d been practicing for a long time, and beforehand I was more concerned about remembering the technique of the steps than their order. But on the floor, under the lights and the judges’ gaze, I found that even the smallest bit of doubt was magnified tenfold. There’s a step at the end of our waltz routine that I just didn’t do. Next time I’ll know to properly drill them into my subconscious.

Overall: totally hooked. The team and fellow students from the Karen Hardy Studios were great, and much kudos must go to my teacher, who due to my entering everything ended up dancing 30 times in 40mins – as well as putting a huge amount of work in beforehand. There are more competitions coming up, and we’re already rehearsing.

Miami bound

I’ve just boarded a plane heading to Miami, to compete in a 3-day dancing competition. So excited. My teacher and I have been practicing for months.

We’re entering 4 dances, in 3 difficulty classifications, in 2 different age ranges. Plus a one-time-only showdance. Each dance has multiple heats, so basically this adds up to a *lot* of dancing. Ra.

I’m hoping to get some video of the dances. Will post them if I can.


Look look my brain

Someone took a picture of my brain:


I was asked if I’d volunteer for an experiment that would see me lying in an fMRI scanner for 90 mins and performing various cognitive tasks. The recompense would be an image of my brain. I don’t know how quickly people normally reply to the email, but if I took more than a millisecond I’d be most surprised.

The fMRI scanner is more cramped than you might expect. You have to put earplugs in, and there’s plenty of padding around your head to stop it moving. Then you slide into a white torpedo bay, where the researcher’s disembodied voice provides instructions, and you reply in a distant can’t-hear-your-own-voice kind of way. You hear a noise that isn’t actually too loud, but is repetitive and not at all sci-fi. You look directly up into a mirror, which is angled to show a nearby computer screen, and you clutch a small box with buttons that need pressing in response to items that flash up on the screen. And then you do your best not to fall asleep.

I so nearly fell asleep. It’s quite cosy – all warm and protected. I was watching various shapes flash up on a screen, and pressing buttons related to their positions. I feel I could have done this significantly better if I hadn’t been drifting off, but presumably everyone has the same problem. I wonder if my occasional internal FOR GOD’S SAKE WAKE UPs are apparent on their data. Analysing brain scans just be a great job.

Then a couple of days later I picked up a CD with about 600 small jpeg images of slices of my brain. Some look as you’d expect, like the above. But some look a bit Prometheus:


The whole thing was awesome. It was great to get the chance to be in an fMRI scanner for reasons not desperately unpleasant.

Hmmm bop

I braved the dancefloor at a wedding this weekend. I’m pretty nervous about party dancing – give me a set of ballroom/latin rules to follow and I’m fine, but ask me to move to a beat in an unstructured way and I feel like a dork. I’ve been told I don’t look quite so stupid as it seems, though, so I’ll give it a try if the lights are low. And when the playlist kicked into I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ there was no real choice.

As it happens, that particular song has a cha-cha beat, so I was a little more in my comfort zone. I fudged some basic steps for a bit, then noticed that a girl opposite me was doing the same. So I figured what the hell, stepped forward, offered my hand, and we danced a little routine, much to the surprise of everyone else on the dancefloor. We even got a cheer.

Ok, not the most exciting anecdote ever. But quite nice for me, as this is exactly how it’s meant to work, but never before has in 8yrs of learning to dance. So yay 🙂

PowerPoint people

I had an entertaining moment at this evening’s Voltaire Lecture (one of a series of annual lectures we run at the BHA) when a PowerPoint presentation went a bit wrong. Robin Ince was due to give a talk on ‘The Importance of Being Interesting’ in front of a sold-out theatre of 400 people, and just before the talk started we’d added a few extra slides to the beginning of his presentation, each containing details of an upcoming event. So the lights fall and my boss starts talking through what we’re up to, beginning by pressing the space bar to move to the second slide. But after 10s of describing the event, the presentation automatically moves on to the next slide. My boss takes this in his stride, but 10s later it does it again. This isn’t meant to be happening – it should be manually controlled. So there’s really no choice – he asks for someone to come fix it. And that would be my job. So I hop up onto the stage and walk to the lectern with the laptop, very very aware that I don’t actually know how to solve the problem.

I didn’t set up the presentation, and I don’t use PowerPoint all that much. It’s obviously not a complex issue, but I remember PowerPoint has a lot of settings in a lot of different places. Worse, the laptop is projecting to an enormous screen over my head, so I’m going to have to figure this out with 400 people watching my every click. But I figure it’s something to do with the presentation settings, and I esc back into the program and start scouting for anything that looks likely. Anyone who’s done much troubleshooting will appreciate this sensation, I think – you have a rough sense what you’re looking for, and you hope it’ll just kinda turn up. Meanwhile my boss is saying nice things about me to fill up the silence, and I get a little round of applause. But during this time I’m glancing through the menus and there’s nothing jumping out at me. Hmmm. What to do.

At which point I remember I’m standing at a lectern, with a microphone, so I ask the audience. “Powerpoint people?” This gets a laugh, and an answer. It’s enough of a hint that I spot the setting, which I change, then someone shouts out that I need to apply it to all the slides, which I do. Problem solved. Very relieved, I promptly get the hell off the stage.

That’s not a trick you can pull very often. Live hiveminds aren’t common. Still, got away with it this once.