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Tue, Apr. 6th, 2010, 04:27 pm
The Matador

I finally got around to watching the bullfights on a matador documentary I have on DVD. They're very good. I was surprised.

The sword strike when attempting the kill is really something. It has speed and precision very similar to fencing, and incorporates lines and shaping as would a performance. I think that with my background of both fencer and dancer, I can't help but appreciate it.

I think I'll have to go to a bullfight while they still exist. (I don't think they're in any danger of disappearing any time soon, because they bring in so much tourist money, but they're a brutality, and in the big picture, the advance of civilization while slow, has generally been unstoppable.)

Tue, Mar. 2nd, 2010, 03:11 am
Fashion show

It simply never occurred to me that one day I might end up being a ferris wheel operator. And indeed, operating a ferris wheel is something I have never done, and never expect to. Likewise, it absolutely never crossed my mind that I might end up on the runway of a fashion show. But weirdly, that just happened.

Seeing myself in runway-model makeup cracks me up without fail:

I'm pretty sure I'm not that gaunt. I think that's the make-up. Maybe runway models aren't really skinny, maybe it's all make-up!

I was expecting the event to be almost boring actually (and perhaps for more experienced models it was), like a dance competition without the dancing, so I was pretty blase, and instead it kind of knocked my socks off. In a good way :)

I also got Kora interested (for those out of the loop or overseas, she's a (MARRIED!) friend of mine, and is one of the instructors at a studio I go to), so here's Kora in one of the outfits she modelled, from an anime-style line:

Give that girl a ray gun :)

A whole bunch more pics and descriptionCollapse )

Fri, Aug. 21st, 2009, 03:30 pm
Seattle Star Ball - pics!

Seattle Star Ball 1

Seattle Star Ball 6 Seattle Star Ball 2 Seattle Star Ball 3

Karen isn't so fond of these pics, as there are better ones of her, but these are the ones I like so far. We'll probably be getting more pics at some point too.

Mon, Aug. 10th, 2009, 02:51 pm
Onstar @ Seattle Star Ball. And hacking the car.

Just finished competing at Seattle Star Ball. It was my first competition with Karin, and I think we did pretty well. Our events spanned Saturday and Sunday, and on Sunday morning I got a txt from her that morning pointing out "If we make finals in all our events, we'll be doing 22 dances. Eat your Wheaties!" :-)
We did make the finals in every event, and while we bombed out in a few dances, we got some placings I'm pleased with - 3rd in Pre-Novice Standard, and 3rd in Gold Latin.
I should write more about the dancing - it was a good weekend - but maybe some other time.

After those 22 dances, I was all set to head off, and threw my gear in the car, then discovered in horror I was locked out. I was still wearing my latin attire, so I had no pockets, which meant my phone, money, keys - everything I had was in the bag I'd just put in the car, which meant I was locked out with nothing but the shirt on my back. Furthermore, (other than a large rock) the usual car break-in tricks don't work on this kind of car. I was stuck, 40 minutes drive from the nearest spare key, and it was midnight on Sunday so everything was closed, so even the best case scenario was looking rather grim. Then I remembered the Onstar system. I found Karin, we used her cellphone to call Onstar, and had them remotely unlock the car. Saved!
I was so relieved. I think this means I'll have to pony up for an Onstar subscription - my free trial period runs out this month.

Speaking of the car, I h4X0R3d it. The car has a system called CAGS (Computer-Assisted Gear Selection). Now, a lot of people will tell you that the reason they buy a manual transmission is precisely so that the computer does not get to "assist" in their gear selection. But a little bit of computer assistance (when you're not driving hard) raises the mileage high enough to bypass some EPA tax/fee/emissions thing, thus lowering the sale price of the car. So the engineers that implemented CAGS - deliberately I'm certain - gave the CAGS system it's own separate fuse, so the car gets the good gas mileage, but if drivers want the computer to butt out of their gearbox, it's a trivial job to disable the system.
Except the EPA requires that car computers monitor all emissions-related systems for malfunction, so it has to check CAGS. So if you just pull the fuse, you disable CAGS but the computer notes a malfunction. So you have to make a special fuse with a resistance high enough to disable the system, but low enough that when the computer looks at the system, a connection is made and it sees that it is present.
So that's wot I did.
I actually like CAGS. what it does is this: when you are driving like the proverbial grandmother on the way to church on Sunday (which for me, is frequently) and you shift from first to second, it bumps you into fourth instead. Since you're just tootling around, the V8 can be at a near-idle and still generate enough power to accelerate you, so 2nd and 3rd are wasteful if you're not driving for performance. CAGS teaches you to let the motor run at lower RPM than you would at that speed in a regular car if you're just driving normally. It's kind of fun to change gears and have the car bump you into a higher gear as you do it.
But I've had the car a few months now, and CAGS has me pretty well trained, so there is no further need for it and it was time to get rid of it. (for example, it sometimes tries to bump when I don't want it to, because it doesn't know that I already know that fourth is appropriate but I choose something else due to something about to happen)
The instrumentation still notes when to skip gears though, which is a fair compromise :-)


I'm drawn to "hyper-miling" (driving so as to raise your gas mileage as high a possible), and my car displays the gas mileage in realtime, and I think you could get some pretty good results from this car, but the most effective hyper-miling techniques are just stupid dangerous, and I don't plan to die or be horribly mutilated just to save a few cents on gas. So I just do a few things that aren't anywhere near as effective, eg, I'll just pick the right gear to best coast down hills, instead of being a hyper-miler and shutting off the engine entirely, saving a lot more gas but also driving without lights, indicators, airbags, power-steering, ABS braking, power-braking, stability control, and all those good things that KEEP YOU ALIVE. Most of the other gas-saving techniques are similar.

An interesting thing about this car though is that its the opposite of many cars; usually, the the biggest drag is pushing air, and the faster you go the faster you have to run the engine, so optimal cruise speed usually under 50Mph. With this car, the drag is low, and the engine is big, and the high gears are tall, so you get the best mileage at a much higher speed - the engine takes a fair amount of gas just to be running, so the car would need to be moving quickly to counterbalance that loss enough to get the MPG into the mid-30's, but it does exactly that because of the low drag and tall gears.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure what the optimal speed is yet, because I suspect it might be faster than what is allowed by law, and the only flat bit of freeway around here is the Evergreen floating bridge, which has a limit of 50MPH :-/

Sat, Apr. 18th, 2009, 02:48 pm
Justin's Guide to Modern Etiquette

Section 47:

A gentleman's cellphone and multi-tool should always reside in the front left-side pocket of the pants, never the right-side (nor the rear where he might sit on them). This is so that over the course of his day, were he to suddenly find himself ballroom dancing with a lady, she would not be inconvenienced by these tools pressing into her hip.
(Note: Some advanced or unusual dance steps involve putting the lady into wrong-side position, where she would be connecting with his left side, but these steps are rare and so are unlikely to occur during the course of the average day)


This week I found myself ballroom dancing with steps that involved wrong-side position. My pocket wisdom failed me.

Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009, 07:51 pm
Still alive

My parents called to find out if I was still alive, on account of how long it's been since I posted a LJ entry. As it turned out, I was still alive, so the story had a happy ending.

I've been way too busy to post, because of dance competitions pushing all else aside, and then trying to catch up on life afterwards.

Six of us rented a van and drove down to California for the competition, and a bunch of others flew down. In the end, there were five couples from the studio competing there. So, a huge group of us.

Soon after we entered one of the arterial bridges in San Francisco, the left front tire blew out. And there was no shoulder to pull over too. So we, um, caused traffic problems. A CHiPs cop pulled up behand us, had a look at the wheel, and said we'd have to drive on it until we could get out of traffic, at an on-ramp about half a mile away. Meanwhile, they'd get a repair truck in for us. So we drove on the rim, at about walking pace, with the car going THUNK-THUNK-THUNK-THUNK, it was pretty inpressive how big a difference having a tire makes :-)
While waiting for the repair truck, we found that the rental had a spare wheel under the car and tools, so Simeon changed the tire, and we were ready to go by the time they arrived.

When I was three or four, CHiPs was my favourite TV show. It didn't really occur to me until the guy pulled up behind us that there were CHiPs in real life. There are! It was just like the show, except our van didn't explode!

Anyway, here is a pic of Anne and I during a (restricted-costume) dance event. She complains about how incredibly pregnant she looks, but if someone doesn't know what she looks like when she's not preggers, I really doubt they'd notice.


In latin, we came third in a category that doesn't suck. So I was satisfied with that. In standard we danced well, but most of our events were uncontested. It seems that this is another competition that is mostly pro-am at our level.

Satisfaction was short lived however - the next week we had a small local competition (the last one together before Anne eases out of competition until after her baby is born), and we did terribly, with some massive drawn-out screw-ups. But Anne was sick with a nasty virus as well as pregnant, and the organisers mixed our events in some really mean ways, so we're not putting too much stock in it.

Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008, 03:56 am
pic - random dance competitors

couple competing in amateur standard

I got lots of behind-the-scenes pics, but this was probably my least-bad shot of dancers in motion during competition. It's a really challenging thing to try to photograph, because not only is the light much dimmer than even regular indoor lighting, but the subject is moving FAST, so the exposure times are so long that motion blur is all but guaranteed. And in addition to that, what you "see" when watching the dance is the emphasized movements and moments, whereas most times you hit the shutter, you get something mid-step that doesn't look like what it looks like to watch.

I want a DSLR with full-frame sensor and a f1.4 lense. That would give fast enough exposure to get real shots. It would also cost more than a used car. So I'll likely be sticking with the old point-and-shoot for the time being.

I don't have any pics of me and Anne dancing. We were going to order a video of us in the open-amateur Latin, but the evening session was running so late that as soon as they opened the ballroom, we had to be in the loading dock ready to go, which meant we couldn't contact the video crew. And I was too busy dancing to take any photos of us myself :-)

Thu, Aug. 16th, 2007, 05:56 pm
I just watched Burn The Floor... LIVE!!!11!

My plan was that the moment I bought tickets to Burn the Floor: Floorplay, my visa would come through in order to force me to miss the show. That plan completely failed. On the bright side though, I got to see a cool show. (This is the advantage of making win-win plans :)

As I normally do with shows like this, preferring to see human magnificence as closely as possible, I went to some extra trouble to get a good seat, and (yay) got the best seat in the house IMO. Sitting down, I thought "PREDICTION: I am soooo close that at some part of the show I am going to be hit in the face with droplets of their sweat as they move." (Heh, if being that close to the performers squicks you out, that's why the "IMO" as regards it being the best seat :-p) Anyway, my prediction proved correct. Awesome. Grossed out yet? :)

I was all on my lonesome, and I assumed that there wouldn't be many like me (a guy... going to the show alone... single... hot... (ahem) :-), but a guy much like myself soon took the seat next to me. Guess we can't be too rare after all.
Before the curtain raised, a dancer started moving through the audience, pulling mortified people out of their seats at random and doing some flirty/dancey/generally amusing thing with them to entertain the crowd. Being in the front row, I knew the chance of being picked was high, but I wasn't worried - I'm familiar enough with ballroom that I could hold my own :-)

She came over and teased the guy next to me for a bit, falling onto me as part of the act. Moving on to another victim, the guy beside me took the opportunity to snap a picture of her before she got too far away. The flash sure got her attention and she came back with a you're-in-so-much-trouble look. I briefly wondered if he was a plant, but he seemed pretty reluctant to hand over the camera. She took the film out, handed it back, and waltzed off, at which point the guy got up in protest, and the moment he moved (completely different to how he walked up the seat) it was clear he was a dancer and this was part of the show. They did their thing, the show started, and his seat next to me was free for my use for the rest of the night :-)

(The photo act was a warning about flash photography, so if I go again, I'll bring a camera+tripod. Wish I'd purchased my SLR by now though. The low-light performance on those things would be great)

The show started with Samba. By national champ standards (which is their pedigree), really sloppy samba! Not up to par at all! I was worried the whole show would be a wash, but they improved during the show (or I ceased to care :). I think they were just pacing themselves, since the end of the show has to be the most impressive, but it's also when they'll be the most exhausted - the show is two hours of dancing with a 20 minute intermission. Competitions (which I was comparing it to) are only about 20 minutes before a break.
Heheh... "only" :)

The show was great. Being a bit of a fanboy of Burn the Floor, I can't help but make comparisons... most of them lean towards the original having the edge, but I bought the new one on DVD, so time will tell. The stage and costume budget did not appear to be as immense as the original. Speaking of which, most of the guy's costumes had super low-cut latin pants! I am vindicated! (Two years ago, over protests and objections, I convinced Colleen to make me a low-cut pair of latin pants, heresy though deemed the very concept). Theirs were cut even lower than mine.

Looking at the shoes (close enough to reach out and touch, if you don't mind losing a finger), I suddenly recognised Kathy's dance shoes. Same make, model, finish, and colour. So familiar, always kicking around, yet now on another dancer. That was weird.

Just as I was thinking "Holy smoke - they must be exhausted by now", intermission came, saving them. A woman in the audience took the opportunity to ask me if I was part of the production. I told her I wasn't, she explained that I looked like a dancer. I was flattered, because those people are real dancers :) (But I imagine she was also wondering because the audience plant had been sitting right next to me, and they're the same age as me).

Speaking of me (funny how a post about a show can spend so much time talking about me), see the lady in orange in this picture? (Also the one in the top photo) She repeatedly picked me as her audience focus. Sitting down, looking up at her, as she's looking back at me, Attitude set to Full Blast, dancing to me from three feet away, it seemed a bit too much like getting a lapdance in public. I like to watch the dancing... being watched by the dancers as I watch them... not so much, it makes you part of the show instead of an observer. Still, I guess it makes for more of an Experience, and you get to see the best dancing when you're their focus.
The reverse is true of me too - when I am dancing to an audience, I hate doing the eye-contact thing... I can't pretend no-one is really watching if I'm looking them in the eye, and then you're meant to be flirty in a I'm-so-hot way... and it's just... no! Ah well :)

Looking back at the audience, some of them were waving for my attention. With the light behind them, I couldn't see their faces, but I recognised Gold by his silhouette, so I knew it was Gold and Co. Just wasn't sure who the "Co." were :)

In addition to costume/outfit ideas, since (unlike many amateur ten-dance champs) the dancers are my age, it was also interesting to see how the guys styled their hair. Mental Notes Were Taken. Stylists May Be Consulted. :-)

Music selection was great. Some of the classics from the original show, plus a bunch of great new stuff (including Tainted Love! though not like the Marilyn Manson version unfortunately). Speaking of which - as well as the music being live, they had two singers for the vocals, which is an area where this production tops the original.

At the end, I was also curious to see if there would be a standing ovation - New Zealanders don't really go for that. There wasn't, whereas a show even half as good in the USA would instantly get one. It appears that it is just a cultural thing. I briefly toyed with the idea of being the dude who starts a standing ovation, since I was in the front row, and was a bit more aware that they're usual for this kind of performance, but decided not to. Kiwis are pretty reluctant to get out of their seats before the show ends :)

So, at $85 a ticket... I'm tempted to buy another. The show is only here for four days (three remaining) so I'll have to decide quickly. The theatre was almost full, and all the remaining shows are Fri-Sun, so presumably it will be packed. Doubt I can get such an awesome seat again, but it was a good show and after I watch the DVD of it that I purchased... I might just have to.

I saw Burn the Floor!

I was so buzzing with energy afterwards I had to go clubbing. I danced all night. With a lot more latin than usual :-D
Consequently, it's 5am as I write this.

Visa shit temporarily forgotten, Life is (temporarily) Good!

EDIT: I forgot - there was one section where they blindfolded the woman and then she danced with the various men. It's a pretty neat trick, in the sense that most dancers do that - if the woman can follow with her eyes closed and with no pre-set choreography, it means your lead-and-follow is working, but it didn't occur to me to ignore that and use how most people probably don't realise this, and so make it into a part of a show. Nice.
and in the DVD, you can see that the blindfold is not opaque enough to not give complete blindness anyway

EDIT EDIT: In the Paso Doble, like in the original, there were two guys facing off, but this time it wasn't over a woman - they each had a partner. In Paso (which is styled on the matador and bull fights) the woman is usually in the role of the cape, but in this act that actually really came through because the guys started out with capes, focused completely on each other, and were soon dancing with partners - but still focused on each other - as if their partner were nothing more than a cape in their hands. Strangely cool effect for such a little touch. Also, it makes me want a bolero jacket. Again. But I'd probably never wear it :)

Tue, May. 8th, 2007, 11:42 am
interactive photography behind the scenes

On the topic of random dance photos that I like, this is behind the scenes at a dance competition - a little backroom with dancefloor behind used for last minute preparation at a small amateur competition, before student dancers walk out to compete in front of a crowd.

backstage at a dance competition

The picture is nice and all, but something is missing from the photo. Something contextural. It's there, but you can't see it.

Take you right hand, and ball it tightly into a fist. Now, like in Fight Club, you're going to punch yourself, hard, and it's going to hurt. (In this case, you'll be punching yourself in the stomach). Since you know you're about to get punched in the stomach, tense it up in anticipation so the muscles (instead of your organs) take the blow. Now, postpone the punch while keeping your stomach tensed, hold that until you almost feel like puking. Keep holding it.

Now you can view the scene in the proper context. :-)

Couple 118 in front of the mirror - this is their first competition. Their event is looming like inevitable doom.

I guess last minute backstage practice is a bit like post-9/11 airport security: It might not actually achieve very much, but at least it keeps you distracted - at least it feels like something is being done.
Oh, and both activities are motivated by terror.

The foreground couple you may recognise from my photo album, Laura and Glen dancing pro-am. They do a lot of comps, so to them this is a minor local competition - more like a practise run for a real competition - so they're not as nervous. But they're not you, so if you're still looking at the photo, you still don't get to relax you stomach. :-p

(I took this photo a couple of years ago, but it was recently unearthed in a recent photo-sorting in anticipation of making a new photo album)

Sun, Mar. 4th, 2007, 07:14 am
Dance Wars

In addition to positive response, there is a bizarre kind of hostility I sometimes encounter in clubs in New Zealand - and only New Zealand, and it just clicked that it is a misguided drunken tall-poppy syndrome. (The same tall-poppy syndrome that we are told is a particularly New Zealand problem, and to an extent, Australia too). Holy carp, everything fits now. I suspect I could probably find it in Australia too if I went to the right (wrong) clubs.

Generally it takes the form of someone (who is drunk) trying to get in my face to intimidate or mock. Ie some fucking idiot.

I initially ignored this when it happened, but that's too much like accepting it, so I've now started to play games with them, which is much more... interesting. Sometimes I'll just choose to diffuse, other times I go head on, other times I play with passive-aggression. Whatever seems interesting :-D

A drunk person has two basic disadvantages:
1. They're at an all-round general disadvantage because they're drunk.
2. They're not aware of #1.

Generally at a club I dance for myself. But when self-appointed tall-poppy-cutter starts being annoying, one fun trick is to shift my style, unbeknownst to him now directed to his audience, movement quite conservative but decently executed without being obvious how. Dance is all about contrast. The shift in focus creates a contrast between Some Normal Guy who is looking Quite OK Actually, If Not Kind Of Good, and the idiot flailing monkey next to him. Monkey thinks I'm trying to ignore him, and so steps up his efforts (and the contrast) believing he is making an impression. Technically, he is correct, but the girls he is trying to impress are getting a different message from the one in his imagination. Hail disadvantage #2. He ain't getting in their pants now, and that's me doing the national gene-pool a favour :-D

Last time I did this, the guy's mate came over, grabbed his arm, and hauled him away from me. It could have been unrelated, but I think he was saving the guy from his ongoing public broadcast of himself as an ass. (I'm actually kind of impressed - that's a pretty good kind of mate to have around, and if I'm ever in drunk-ass's shoes making the wrong kind of spectacle of myself, I hope you guys will do the same for me :)

A women tried to be poppy cutter too. She was big and tall for a women - slightly shorter than me but way bigger. Much older too, so I was wondering WTF is wrong with her, acting like a fucking kid, the dim kind at that. But she keeps getting more aggressive about getting in my face and more worked up, expecting me to be cowed or something. But... she's trying to make me submit to her, and is annoying me. I don't dance in clubs the way you're supposed to for competition, but just for her, I switched that attitude on for three seconds, and she skedaddled right away, never to bother me again.

I also got hit on despite not looking, but still, those poppy games are what I remember the most, so a bit of a weird night.

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