Ohio Star Ball Here I Come!

Hey!  It’s a surprise to me, too!  I wasn’t expecting to be going there this year but an opportunity has come my way that I refuse to miss.  It might be a stretch for me to make this happen but I’m determined to seize the day.

So what changed from a few days ago to now?  As you may or may not know, I attended the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Scottsdale, Arizona over the last two days.  I danced in the bronze Rhythm category with Ivan.  We completed 2 rounds of closed dances and 1 round of open dances.  We also competed in the scholarship for closed bronze which was a Best of the Best qualifier event.

Now before Thursday I did not know this Best thing even existed, much less what it was or what it meant.

But let me back up here for a moment.  Before I get into all that, I want to share a bit about my experience over the past days.  Because although the news I have to share is wonderful and exciting, it actually isn’t the biggest “win” I had.  You see, I had many “wins” over the last few days that had absolutely nothing to do with how I placed or what my results were.



This was my first competition back in over a year.  That in and of itself is a bit intimidating.  When I left the scene I was doing reasonably well and I felt like people, certainly Ivan included, had expectations for me.  This is wonderful in the sense that people believe in me and want to see what I can do, how I will grow and develop, what I can show, and that they are interested in me at all.  On the flip side, this can easily turn into pressure, unhealthy, dysfunctional thinking, and misery through trying to strive to be something I think others want me to be, or trying to be perfect.

Okay, so during my break from the competition scene I’ve gotten myself to a much more grounded, healthy, stable place around how I think about myself and my dancing.  Stepping back on to the competitive ballroom floor was testing this new way of being.  I haven’t faced the nerves, the expectations, or being judged in a long time.  So I’ll count it as win number one to have had the courage to brave the uncertainty of dancing in public for the purpose of being compared, judged, and ranked.

The second win was how Ivan and I danced and related to one another.  We enjoyed ourselves.  He gave me feedback but it didn’t descend into the negative pit of despair.  We definitely had our hiccups out on the floor, we missed some areas in our open routines especially, but we never stopped dancing, we never lost connection, we made it work, and it was fun.  He was pleased with how it went, even with the mis-steps, which was a relief.  He told me flat-out before the competition that he had expectations for me about dancing in closed bronze, so I appreciate his honesty, but the thing is that we lucked out that our results matched his expectations.  I had already resolved myself to be completely at peace with however the results panned out.  I refuse to get myself in to that space of being disappointed by reality not going how I imagined it “should” go….instead I choose to accept it as it is.  This made the most challenging part simply waiting to for the results!  The waiting made me sick to my stomach.  But a result is just a result.  It is inherently meaningless.  Any meaning I assign to it is created by me.  I have no idea what the judges are looking at, and quite a few times results I saw in other heats and some of my own heats, I did not agree with.  Oh well.

So we related well to each other, we danced well, especially for slapping together the open routines is such a short amount of time (truly they are not practiced enough which is why I screwed them up here and there), and we actually enjoyed ourselves.  We went to lunch after our single dances and talked things over, noting that this is the way it can be each and every time we compete, whether there are 5 or 50 couples on the floor, because it is up to us the pressure we put on ourselves.  We don’t need to go to that nasty, misery place ever again.  In the end, for me, I think it is about confidence, believing in myself, doing my best, which is exactly what I did this time.  I did the very best I could.  I see that I have room to grow in confidence, and there are specific goals I have in regards to elevating weaker aspects of my overall game, and, with where I am right now, I left it all on the floor.  Yes I did.

So that being said, sometimes the person on the floor with you is better prepared and has a better overall game.  There were some confidence-boosting perks that occurred (which I will get to shortly), and there was also this situation.  When I saw the girl dancing in the Latin scholarship with me (it was a 2 couple final) I knew I would be second.  You know, sometimes it can be really a close call, and sometimes it’s really clear who is the superior dancer.  In this case, it was clear.  The cool thing was that I was cool with that, and this is no way demeaning my dancing.  There is no shame in doing my best and placing second such a polished dancer.  I’ll call this win number three.  I mean, what a great feeling to be so happy after completely bombing my cha-cha, “losing” to this great dancer, and ripping my dress!  I’m starting to be un-messable-with!

So yeah, that happened.  During my closed silver Latin scholarship (um, yeah, why in Silver in Latin when I have more experience in Rhythm….that was intimidating, but how the teachers did it so I go with the flow) I got so into my cha-cha that I forgot where I was in the routine and did the second set of cross-overs before the first single one, lost connection with Kristijan, and we stood still on the floor for a moment not dancing at all.  All I could do was laugh about it, and be like, meh, well, I’m still second place.  So I screwed up that pretty royally and then during the Paso Doble my heel got caught in my dress and I had to do this weird kick to get it free.  Well, I freed myself and then a dance later, during the Jive, I was spinning and a panel on my dress flew off across the floor!  And get this – I didn’t miss a beat!  For all I knew my butt was hanging out but I didn’t skip a step.  How is that for irony?  So as a cherry on top of the sundae, not only was I okay with my result, and okay with how I danced, but I got money for showing up!  Yep, even through it was a 2 couple final they still gave me a payout, which was super nice, and combined with my Rhythm scholarship winnings, really helped a lot with the cost of things!


Yep, did you catch that?  I earned first place in the closed bronze Rhythm scholarship.  It was a 3 couple final.  Then we danced a cha cha in the best of the best round, which was like a solo, and I won that as well….which got me an invite to compete in the Best of the Best at Ohio Star Ball….which is why I’m now going to Ohio Star Ball.  Can you believe it?


I mean, granted, Galaxy was a smaller competition with a small final, but still, it’s an opportunity.  Not everyone gets the chance to participate in this event and I even met Sam Soldano, the owner of Ohio, who is also a co-presenter of Galaxy, and he seemed keen to have me come.

Okay, so I won and I got my butt handed to me.  I also made new friends and that was win number…well, I’ve lost count at this point.  They are really adding up, aren’t they?  I mean, I can’t see a single downside when it comes right down to it.

And you know what, even though all this has been beautiful and wonderful, it’s still emotional.  I find myself tearing up today, for no particular reason.  I’m happy.  I’m satisfied.  And yet dancing, especially when I put myself out there on public display, taps into something deep within.  I sense that there has been a breakthrough, even if I can’t exactly put my finger on exactly what it is.

I don’t know what to name this breakthrough, all I know is that I feel clear – clearer than I’ve felt in a very long time.  I know exactly what to do for the next two months.  I know what to eat, how to work out, how much I want to dance.  I know the consistency I want to foster.  I love this time frame of 2 months – it’s enough time to make a significant difference, and yet still creates a sense of urgency, so that I show up even more alive, vibrant, strong, grounded, joyful, and grateful at Ohio, even as I rocked Galaxy exactly as I am right now.

There is something powerful about being willing to show up even when I know that I’m still in the process of developing.  I acknowledge myself for being courageous.  I acknowledge myself for being willing to be imperfect and to look the fool.

As you all know dance has been, and continues to be a healing experience for me. Another of the amazing gifts garnered from participating in this competition was seeing the progress I have made.  I used to be 85 pounds heavier. I used to  get winded after 1 samba.  I used to be afraid to express myself.  I used to be ashamed of my body and who I am.  The evidence is clear, I am no longer who I used to be.  I am no longer Biggest Girl In The Ballroom. No, I am Beautiful Girl In The Ballroom.  And that’s the biggest win of all.

Gah!  I am freaking sobbing writing and reading this!  I couldn’t tell you why it’s all so emotional, but it is.  I just feel like so much has happened, and there is so much more to come…starting with tonight!  I’ve got to dry my eyes, get cleaned up, and get back for the final session.  Then back to work on Sunday with a lesson with Ivan.

Stay tuned and I look forward to meeting those of you who will be at Ohio!

Love, Stef


Everything’s Wrong! Cue The Pre-Competition Freak-Out

Why I do this to myself I seriously don’t understand.

Boy did I get myself into a tizzy today.  So the deal is that I’ve signed up to do the Galaxy competition here in Phoenix and it is in about a week and a half.   I’m going to dance Rhythm with Ivan and Latin with Kristijan.

Do I feel ready?  Not at all.  My body and endurance is not where I want it to be.  My new shoes got here today so I’m breaking them in and they hurt.  I do not feel practiced in either set of my routines – we are still working out details in Rhythm open choreo (closed is just lead and follow but there is still technique to remember and execute with excellence), and I don’t know that we’ve run the routines completely start to finish, certainly not full-out with all tricks.  Oh, and also for sure we’ve not done any complete rounds.  In Latin, I learned both Paso Doble and Jive just last week.  Needless to say I don’t feel entirely comfortable with everything.  (Or ANYTHING!!! Gah!)

Not to mention that this is my first competition back in a year or longer.

Until today, I’ve been cool with it all.  I’ve been in a space that I am dancing for me, I love to do it, I need to get back into it at some point so why wait, we never really feel ready, and I’d thought I’d come to peace with how I am dancing and how my body looks.  I was really calm about everything just trusting that I don’t have to be perfect, but to get where I ultimately want to be, I need to get back in the game.  I was choosing to not take things so seriously because of everything that is going on, and really people don’t care that much anyways! I’ve been watching a lot of reality shows lately like Project Runway and RuPaul’s Drag Race and all the judging that happens comes down to opinions.  I’ve been working on making my own opinion of myself more important than those of others around me.  This isn’t to say I’m not open to feedback or coaching, but rather that such feedback doesn’t shake me to the core like it used to, that I can decide what works for me and leave what doesn’t, that I don’t just accept it as fact, and that at the end of the day it is about loving myself and being okay with being me.

I’ve been telling myself that this year was indeed about transformation.  I’ve made a lot of changes, although they may be invisible, but they have culminated in me changing the name of this blog, creating a situation where I can pursue dancing with two amazing instructors, and feeling ready to step back on to the competitive scene knowing that I am not as polished as might be expected.  I was (or at least I thought I was) strong and centered – determined to play my own game at the competition – one in which winning meant no nerves, enjoying myself, sharing myself, and really feeling the dancing (not just going through the motions or doing the steps per rote).  Not to mention it is a privilege and a blessing to get to pursue dancing.  First world problems, all of this!  I’m generally grateful about it!

Speaking about grateful – here is a pic of the new dress.  Animal print, red and black…RAWR!

New Dress is heavy! All those crystals...wish I had lost more weight just so I could be the same pounds after putting this dress on, Grrrl! lol

New Dress is heavy! All those crystals…wish I had lost more weight just so I could be the same pounds after putting this dress on, Grrrl! lol


Here is a nice detail of the cool 3-D flowers Julia added

Here is a nice detail of the cool 3-D flowers Julia added

Well, today, all of that went right out the window.  About half-way through my lesson with Kristijan, as we were running through rounds, it hit me, like out of nowhere.  Suddenly a cacophony erupted screaming mercilessly all my fears and insecurities, self-judgements, harshest self-criticisms, doom, gloom, and crappy self-talk.  I have not been triggered that intensely in a very long time.

“What will people think?” they said.  “You look exactly the same, you fatso!  You took a year off!  What the hell have you been doing?  Does your dancing even look different at all?  No! You know there will be expectations and what do you have to show for it?”  They continued, “And what about dancing with two different instructors?  People are going to comment on it.  You are going to be judged. They will be judged.” (Cue dramatic, horrifying music…dum dum daaaammmmm!)

And then probably my most familiar demon spake, “You stink! Your dancing is so bad, so gross.  How messy your feet are!  There is no upper body movement.  You are moving your hips wrong.  Seriously everything you are doing is horrible.  You really need to let go of the idea that you are or could be a good or excellent dancer.  You are just never going to look like that! Stop trying to be something you are not.  You will NEVER be enough.”

I got so fixated on looking good, or, not looking bad, that all the joy was sucked out of my being.  I was so caught up in all that was so completely, obviously WRONG with me, and how I am still not able to fix it, even after living 37 years on this Earth… “If only I could fix it.  Then I would be okay, then I would be acceptable.  Then it would be okay for me to dance…..”

I know it’s all bullshit but it feels so very real.  It’s so depressing. The black hole of egocenteredness….

I’ve really been working on letting go of trying to feel “special” or “better than/worse than” others.  This is just an ego-trip/ego-trick.  The ego is concerned with such things. (side note, ego is not bad…it’s just getting in my way in this particular issue.  We, as humans, must have some sort of ego persona to function properly…I guess I’m referring to an overblown ego, a needy ego, one that is not balanced or neutral in nature…)  I’ve been practicing my mantra of this is it, and this is perfect.  I am enough just as I am.  My body is exactly how it is and exactly how it isn’t.  It is changing every day based on how I take care of it.  I am so blessed to have such an amazing body that moves so beautifully and to be in such good health.  I’ve been practicing freeing myself from self-judgement and criticism so that I feel safe enough to just express myself freely.

And then today, oh man!  It sucked me right in!  Right back down to the deep black pits of despair.  Honestly, I’m still upset about it – that’s why I’m writing about it.  I want to get it all out and get the freak-out processed and gone so that I can show up how I want to show up at the competition, with a big, joyful smile on my face, nonplussed by how anyone reacts to me, really focused on enjoying the magnificent experience – to enjoy it for every penny I’ve spent on it (Am I right?  Ballroom is stupid expensive $$$$$), all the time I’ve put in to get ready for it, and all the energy I’ve put toward it.

(And shout out to Girl With The Tree Tattoo – how upset and disappointed I would be if I couldn’t even do it!!!! Humans, including me, are INSANE!!! I am lucky to get to do it…)

Although it was apparent I was emotional during my lesson, I pretty much held it together until I made it into my car.  Once I reached my vehicle and closed the door, I collapsed crying and coughing.  I even began retching a little bit (luckily I had tissues in my car) and my throat spasmed tight just like it did when I was a little girl trying to hold my emotions inside.  I felt like I was being choked from within the internal tissues of my esophagus.  Maybe you don’t believe in chakras or anything but it so happens that the throat chakra is related to self-expression, which makes total sense in my mind as to what’s going on inside my system.  It’s an old pattern of the feeling of being judged and needing to be other than I am which steals my joy and tightens me up to hold in the emotions.  Unfortunately it also squelches free self-expression, and I do not feel safe to be myself with abandon, without filtering.  Oh my! Time to let that one go, don’t you think?

The hilarious part is that I’m the one judging myself.  I do recall as a little girl wishing that I could just be accepted for who and how I was.  I did not feel that it was okay to be me.   I suppose every child experiences some flavor of that while growing up and being socialized so that we can actually fit into society and all.  So it’s probably just a normal part of development.  However I really seemed to have internalized the voice of self-judgement and it is rearing its ugly head right now.  There is no problem with it existing, it’s just that I am buying into what it says, and what it says is vicious.  This doesn’t serve me at all – it steals my joy, makes me sad and depressed, and just generally sucks!  Why am I believing what it says, anyways!?  If someone said these things to me out loud I’d tell them to go fuck themselves!  I’d walk away and know that they were full of crap projecting on me and that it was not the truth. OMG. So the fact that I was so very taken in by fear today was a real eye-opener.

Okay, so yeah.  Cue the freak-out. That’s the space I am experiencing today.


I’m determined to feel the feelings.  I am grateful this happened today and not the day of the comp!  (Yay? lol) Only when such vulnerablities that we want to hide in the shadows are exposed can we address them and heal them.

Moving forward: I, Stefanie, am committed to intentionally create for myself the experience I’ve described about how I want to show up at the competition.  I do declare that I will be joyful, calm yet excited, open, grateful, ready for fun and magic, limber, relaxed, connected, sensitive, centered, strong and powerful!  I will move people.  And, I choose to love and approve of myself exactly as I am.

That being said, I would still really appreciate encouragement and reminders of how awesome I am :)  It would help me shift out of this dark space quicker.

Love, Stef

A New Ballroom Village Member

Hi guys!

I’m on my (slow) phone right now and have no home internet service so I can’t do a long post just now (well I could but it sucks typing with just my thumbs on the Qwerty keyboard).

But! I’ve been remiss in not getting this information out sooner so I wanted to get it posted at least.

Please welcome our newest Ballroom Village member, The Dancing Housewife. http://www.thedancinghousewife.com/

Please post a link to her on your Ballroom Village Page so we can all spread the word about the new kid on the block.

And…lots more to share, Galaxy Comp in like a week…eek!

Condolences to Girl With The Tree Tattoo about your latest bummer news and Congrats to BC Ballroom Dancer for getting the go ahead to compete even if it is getting difficult. It is amazing all the ups and downs we all experience during our journeys. Remember, we are all in this together and never alone. Someone can always relate to what is going on for us, individually. Keep sharing, beautiful Ballroom Villagers!

Xoxo, Sparsely-posting Stef

Really Dancing….No, Really! I Mean Like REAL Dancing.

Hi everyone!  I’m baaaaaaaack!

I went on vacation for a week in Ireland, and the week and a half before that I was down for the count with bronchitis.  It’s been a while.

It’s been a while since I wrote and it’s been a while since I did anything physical.  It’s certainly been an eon since I last danced.  It’s also been an age since I last worked out or did any cardio.

What I have been up to is driving in a tiny car on scary one lane roads in the back country of Ireland, eating lots of food, drinking lots of cider and generally laughing, enjoying life, and getting soft.

Also, my husband took lots of amazing photos of our trip.  Below are three:  The Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, and the Cliffs of Moher.




It’s been great and now I’m glad to be back to “real life.”  In fact, on one of the lay-overs during my sojourn home (it was a 22 hour travel extravaganza from Dublin to our doorstep) I made a point to call and schedule my dance lessons for the week.  It was a priority!

Today was the day for my reunion with Kristijan (Ivan is in Bulgaria until the end of the month) and I had a grand time on my lesson.  I began in my practice shoes.  I’m still recovering a little bit from my respiratory infection and still have congestion and a cough, plus I haven’t been “in my body” to dance for the better part of a month so I thought 3 inch heels right off the bat might be a recipe for disaster.  Anyways, we warmed up with Rumba walks and off we went.

“What do you want to dance?”  He inquired.

“Rumba!” I exclaimed, “I’m a slow starter!” I exhorted.

And it’s true.  Rumba is probably my favorite dance and I love it so much.  It’s a slow burn and a nice way to warm up and reacquaint oneself with one’s body after a long absence.

So we reviewed the choreography.

“How much did you practice while you were gone.”

“Zero,” I said.

“But there is a thing called visualization,” he retorted.  “And it can be a good form of practice,” he explained.

“I did nothing of the sort,” I replied, honestly.  “I ate and I drank and I got fat! I did not practice one iota! So let’s see how this goes,” I said.

And we danced.  And then he suggested we turn on some music.

And I really liked it.  I liked the music, I liked the dancing.  He told me he missed me and the energy I bring.  He corrected me and told me not to put my head down like a bull.  He told me my center of gravity was high and to get more settled in my hips.  He told me to fix my wonky, weak arm.

And I was in a goofy, playful mood.  I pretended like I was Latin champion on of the world and began the Rumba dramatically.  He liked it.  “That was very good,” he said.

So we did the choreography and he told me I was leaning backwards during my spiral turn (which is a bad habit of mine) so I said, “Oh, so you’re saying this wouldn’t work if I were in heels.  Maybe I should put on my heels so I could have a reality check.  These practice shoes give me the illusion that I can actually dance.”  I say this because with the lower heel I can get away with more bad habits and still stay on balance and make things work.  The moment I put on 3 inch heels the entire landscape changes and I often feel like I have strapped on not just shoes but the wobbly legs of a newborn deer.

So guess what!?  I changed into my heels!

And we danced some more.  And I emoted and I played.  And the best part was we danced!  We really danced!  I mean there were all these little gems scattered hither and thither in the routine.  I wouldn’t say the routine rounds were perfectly polished, but there were these amazing moments and sequences of moments where magic happened.

For instance, I began my Rumba with conviction and Kristijan reacted.  Somehow we started the routine totally differently.  We did a hip twist into a double spin and then began the official choreography.  None of this was planned and none of it was communicated except that we were both present and both dancing, together, and it was just the natural evolution of the next right thing to do.  I have no idea how it all was coordinated – it was from a realm beyond words.  It just worked, it just happened, we just created it out of nothing because we were both there, together, connected…which is all the more amazing since we haven’t seen each other for like 3 weeks.

Then there was this moment where I decided that I really liked the music and the movement I was doing so I delayed it.  I stretched it out and made it happen over twice the timing it usually does.  And it was awesome!  I totally took the lead and Kristijan had to react to it.  He totally did and it was so awesome!  I don’t know how this all happened but I just knew that I was planted on that spot and that I was going to finish what I was going to do and then I would move, and somehow through the ethers he got the message and figured it out and then our next move was even that much more sharp and impactful because we delayed so long.

I loved it!  I loved creating something together, from nothing, with no prior planning or scheming or communication.  I loved how it all unfolded, naturally.  I thought to myself, “If I dance like that, so relaxed and joyful and playful and open, at a competition…if we could spontaneously create something in the moment so that each time we danced a routine it was genuinely new, I would be so satisfied and happy with that!  I wouldn’t care how we were ranked!  I would be pleased.”  So I told Krisijan as much and I said, “So let’s dance like that in competition, m’kay, deal?”  And he said, “Okay, Deal!”

I mean, in my view of the world, what we did today was ACTUALLY dancing.  It was not just going through the motions.  It was connected.  It was alive and breathing.  It was co-created space.  It was magic and spontaneous and felt free and joyful.  It was the best!  Yay!

And besides that, the other big news is that Krisijan and Anja got a puppy named Don.  He’s a rescue Lab-SharPpai mix, black, cute, and exploring the world with his sharp-puppy-toothed-mouth!

Also, I’ve decided I will dance in the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Phoenix in September.  It will be my first competition back.  I don’t know if Ivan will be game, but I know Kristijan will so at the least I will do Latin, and I’m hoping I can do some Rhythm as well.

Lastly, I have a fitting for my new dress by Julia tomorrow on my lunch break.  Fingers crossed I love it!

I think that gets me caught up for now, on my end.  But in a parting note, I did wanted to give a shout out to all my Ballroom Village bretheren.  I’m getting caught up in all I’ve missed over the past couple of weeks and you all have been a busy lot, posting!  I’m working my way through your recent adventures.  Also, and importantly, I wanted to send a very special congratulations to BC Ballroom on completing chemo!!!!!  Yay!  This is cause for celebration and I’m so glad to read that you are dancing up a storm right now!  You GO girl!  You are an inspiration to me….and I’m not just talking about how consistent you are with your blog posts lol! (I could use a little of that hahaha)

Oh, and I have a guest post on Girl With The Tree Tattoo!  It’s about how I got to the place where I changed my blog name from Biggest Girl In The Ballroom to Beautiful Girl In The Ballroom….go check it out.

Come to think of it, there are at least two more pieces of exciting news in the works!  I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned!

I’m glad to be back with you all and I’m looking forward to sharing more dance adventures, insights, breakdowns and breakthroughs with you!

Love, Stef

AKA Beautiful Girl

A Blog By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

You may have noticed there’s a little something different around here, namely, well, the name!

Yes, I finally did it.  A while back I was trying on some new names but couldn’t land on the right option.  I decided to let it marinate and frankly, I forgot about it.  But the reason I wanted to change the name of the blog was because my focus has shifted.  I’m still me, but I’m no longer placing my body in the spotlight and making it the most important thing about me.  Rather, I’m focusing on who I am.

Well, as you know there are two new dancers at the EuroRhythm home and I’ve had the joy-filled opportunity to work with them both.  I honestly barely know them but they are a great addition to the family.  They bring amazing, positive, supportive energy and they are generous with their knowledge and so approachable and accessible.  So after my lesson with Kristijan, I was hanging around the studio kind of watching a friend on her lesson and struck up a conversation with Anja. We talked about a lot of things – confidence, shyness, the process of dancing.  And somehow or another my blog made its way into our chat.  I was showing her pictures and the Facebook page and told her I’d invite her to join it.  When I pulled it up and she read the name she was like, “Why this name?  You can’t have this name.  You need to change it!  I won’t join until you change the name!”

She was so sweet about it but so committed to it!  It was quite extraordinary, in my humble opinion.  I said, “You know, I wanted to change the name a while ago but couldn’t find the right thing to change it to.  And it has to be the right choice because you can only change the name of your page on Facebook one time in the life of the page.  Once it’s changed, it’s permanent.  I’m open to changing the name but I need help brainstorming.”

She said, “Well, maybe it could be something like Biggest-Hearted Girl In The Dancing World.”

And I said, laughingly, “Yes!  Of Course! I do want to be humble about it.”

And she said, “Well it’s a little too long anyway.”

So then I recruited my friend MB to assist and after overhearing our prior conversation she said, that the perfect name could be, “You wish you were me.”

To which I replied, “I don’t even wish I were me some of the time!”

And we had a good laugh over how outrageous and prideful these names seemed.

I told Anja I’d think about the name and we parted ways for the evening.  She reiterated that she would not join my Facebook page until I changed the name of the blog.

About an hour later I got a message from Anja through Facebook:

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So that’s the story.  And I have a new like!  Bonus.

Since I’ve changed the name, I’ve had one more lession with Kristijan and a double lesson with Ivan.  I have much to report…but right now I’ve got to be on my way to a family birthday celebration.  So we’ll save that for the next post, which should be completed shortly.  I’ll just say that things are moving right along, I feel like I’m having breakthroughs and growing and being stretched on each lesson and it feels so good.

TTFN, Stef

Unsung Hero

If you read my last post, it may be apparent to you, as it is to me, that there is quite a bit of forward movement in my life that has happened in a short amount of time.  To recap:  I’m dancing with Ivan again (Rhythm), I’m staying at Damir’s studio (of course!) for Latin, and he has a new high-level couple from Slovenia, Kristijan and Anja, both of whom I am working with in addition to the coaching I get from Damir, himself.


(That’s me with Kristijan! And yes, we choreographed a wink into our Cha Cha!)

My last lesson with Ivan was on Saturday and it went so very well.  As I walked in the door, however, I was greeted with a big surprise.   Miss Linda Dean and Anna Nicole were in the studio.  I’m not much acquainted with Anna Nicole but Miss Linda came right up to me and gave me a big genuine hug. Indeed, it surprised me a bit as it was a full embrace and longer than I expected…you know how ballroom people generally are when we greet one another – kiss, kiss, hug, hug – perfunctory and devoid of meaning, authenticity, or emotion?  Well, this was not that – in my experience this particular hug was more than the usual “ballroom” greeting, and it pleasantly surprised me.

She said, “So you are dancing again?”

I said, “Yes! I’m back! I’m going to show more expression, I’m mentally in a much better place, and I feel more solid in what I’m doing!”

“I don’t care about that,” she said.  “I want to see how you were already; on your leg and with the rhythmicality in your body.”

I took a moment to process her input – to me, expression is paramount.  For me, full self-expression with complete abandon is my ultimate goal. And, also, it was incredibly elucidating and helpful to hear what she (and I imagine what other judges) are looking for.  I can deliver on this!  Be on my leg, be rhythmical.  Great!

But the funny thing is, I never stopped dancing.  In fact, Miss Linda saw me at Damir’s studio, briefly, at one point.  She knew I was dancing there.  So I find it interesting her choice of words, “You’re dancing again!”

Well, I’ll take it!  She seemed genuinely pleased and she actually said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear this [news].”  (The unsaid part is …daincing with IVAN!)


So I had an incredible lesson with Ivan.  We pretty much have our Cha Cha squared away, which is great.  Of course, we were moving around and dancing while we were reviewing it and finalizing it and I noticed this slim, petite lady with frizzy reddish-brown braided hair watching.  I’m not sure who she is but she is either a pro or a high-level amateur who is dancing with a recent California transplant who briefly flittered with Damir for a spot in his studio.  I’ve met him before but I’ve never seen her.  Anyways, about halfway through my lesson with Ivan she approached me and said, “Oh My God!  You have the most amazing leg action! I guess your teacher must be pretty good!” To which I smartly replied, “He’s alright,” LOLOLOL.  And Ivan turns to me and says, “See! Nobody is coming to me ever when I dancing with anybody else!”

So that was cool and all, but for me the best part was that I felt solid.  We reviewed our Cha Cha and we have it on video in case we forget.  Then we spent the rest of the lesson exploring the Rumba – we danced various pieces from previous Rumba routines as well as explored new possible movements.  It was so much fun and a little bit exhilarating.  I mean, when your dance instructor says, “Let’s try  Marieta’s routine here” that’s kind of a big deal!  She’s the professional!  And yet, suddenly, my arm is firmly grasping Ivan’s shoulder from behind his neck, I’m slowly sinking into middle splits and pointing and flirting with the imaginary audience to my diagonal.  Then I squeeze my legs and thighs together, make sure my ankles kiss, and reach my hands heavenward.   Suddenly I’m the dancer I’ve watched from afar in the audience….wishing I could be her…now I am her.

And Ivan says, “What you think is missing from this Rumba?”  And I say, “I like it all very much.  I don’t have any idea of the order of the steps but I am enjoying what we are discovering.  I feel like we have a lot of puzzle pieces and we can work on the next couple lessons to fit them together in the proper place and order to create a beautiful image.”  And then I say, “Beyond the fact that I have no idea how this Rumba goes in terms of sequence, the only thing that I want to do is touch you!”

I have to tell you, audience, this is a major breakthrough.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I had a lot of hang ups about enjoying my body, and also, enjoying anybody else’s body.  I think that I correlated “enjoying” with something prohibited or profane.  I imagined that any sort of physical enjoyment, no matter how innocuous or laid back, was something to be avoided.  I imagined that to simply enjoy one’s body was to be sexual.  And now I know that is not the case.

Anyways, I embraced the feeling and idea of the Rumba and what came up naturally, when Ivan asked me, which in and of itself is a breakthrough – because he’s involving me in the process of creating the routine we will do (in the past it just would have been assigning or dictating what the steps were)  – okay so what came up naturally was, “I want to touch you and your body more.”  And naturally I found opportunities to do so – on his neck or chest or shoulders.  And how great is that?!  Seriously?!

Okay so if you dance with a professional Ballroom dancer you know they have different body boundaries than most “normal” people.  It’s all about getting and being in their personal space.  It’s all about touching and sensuality.  It’s all about full expression.  When I first came to a lesson with Ivan, I was so completely intimidated and shy.  I pulled inward because I was afraid of what he might think of me.  I was afraid to *really* show who I am and all I feel inside.  My excuse/story for holding back was about my body/weight/size/I-don’t-look-like-a-ballroom-dancer-thererfore-I-could-never-be-one…yada yada yada….

And, that’s the past.

So how I show up now is open, authentic, and willing to be myself.  And I surprised myself by being open, authentic and confident enough to declare my truth that the only thing that was missing from the Rumba was more touching.  I was like, let’s find every opportunity we can to touch!

And it was so fun!  I mean, Ivan is a good looking cat with a good, solid body.  I enjoy touching it.  I was just afraid to admit that previously and so I didn’t touch it and I held back.  Now I’m like, whatever!  It’s another body in this world.  All bodies are miraculous and wonderful in so many ways.  And, this one in front of me is wonderful and looks nice to touch.  Because of the nature of our relationship, and the roles we play for various dances, it is appropriate to touch his body (within reason!) and so I’ve come to peace with this aspect of the dance-acting and have chosen to embrace and enjoy the sensuality of it!  Why not?

I do think it caught Ivan a little off-guard with my, ahem, enthusiasm, lol.  But of course, what I consider courageous and outrageous and acting with abandon seems middle-of-the-road to Ivan lol!  Even so, after a beat or two and a few practices of a hip roll, we got in to a position where I was directly in front of Ivan and he was like, “Now I get to touch!” as he grabbed my ample hips. Woo! Lol!  It was so lighthearted and great!  I loved it all.

But here’s the deal:

So, like, Miss Linda Dean has seen me in relation to Ivan on the dance floor.  From the feedback we’ve gotten, it is a pleasing and even, maybe, exciting show.  This is how all the judges who have taken any notice of me have seen me – in the context of dancing with Ivan.

It’s actually such an incredible gift, in my mind, that anyone remembers me…I last danced maybe a year ago.  And I find it even more incredible that others are invested in the possibility of me participating in competitions in the (near) future.

And they see me as in relation, or maybe as an extension of Ivan.  That’s fine.  That’s great, actually.  Ivan has been a major, major influence in my dancing and has pulled out so much from inside me.  I adore Ivan and I’m so grateful to be dancing with him again.  It feels like home.

And yet….there is an amazing, humble, giving, kind, compassionate, generous, extraordinary human being (who disguises himself as “ordinary”) who has contributed incredibly to my life.  He has been a support, an uplifting presence, an example, a coach, a guide, a mentor, a friend.  He has given me tools such that I can be on my own feet, solidly on my legs, independent.  And yet, I know this person has my back like no kidding.  All he has ever wanted to do was support me in becoming the dancer I have wanted to be. He has given so generously of his knowledge, his wisdom, his authentic self.  I have been truly blessed to work with this exceptional man.

And yet, this man will be an unsung hero.  He will be unseen.  He is the person who helped build me up.  He brought me back to center and sanity and balance.  He is such a genuine and humble man that he cares not who I dance with, but rather, that I am empowered to dance as I wish to dance.  It’s such an amazing gift.  He tells me, “Nothing has changed.  I am still here for you.”  And I believe him, wholeheartedly, even as many external circumstances in my dancing world are shifting.

This is a true master.  This is an extraordinary human being.  This is one who is willing to step aside, to never receive any recognition or accolades for the work he has done, to gain nothing for the wisdom he has shared, and to receive no tangible reward for the love he has poured into a person.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this person is Damir.  He is the unsung hero.  He is the humble, supportive, wise, kind man who has helped me get to where I am in attitude and technique these past 9 months.

No one will ever visibly “see” all he has done for me as I dance with Ivan, and if I end up competing with Kristijan.  Because of my previous foray into the competitive ballroom world, I am inexorably connected to Ivan (happily so!) and that is how I am seen.  I feel like many people might attribute my progress to Ivan.

And this is how amazing Damir is.  He’s totally okay with that.  He doesn’t even care where the recognition lands.  He’s that humble, that committed to being of service that he has removed any trace of his ego from the equation.

So this is why I want to publicly and formally and gratefully acknowledge the “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Damir.  I want at least some people to know how big of an influence he has been for me, how much he has helped me, how much he has loved me, and how much he has supported me…and even how much he has believed in me.   Like everything he coaches to, it’s the stuff that’s not obvious, the stuff that is internal, being with the “ordinary,” that really makes a difference in quality of a person’s life.

The trajectory of my life is profoundly changed because it intersected with Damir.  I don’t think many people will “see” that when I dance with Ivan and, perhaps, Kristijan.  But it is Damir who has helped me make a quantum leap during the past months.  He may not need or expect acknowledgement or recognition, however, I wanted to give it!  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I look up to you in so many ways, as a dancer, and as a human being.  You are incredible and I am ridiculously blessed to get to work with you.  Know that even if others outside my “story” don’t know who you are and what you’ve contributed to me, I do, and I am Grateful beyond words.

The End.

Love, Stef



I Broke My Shoe Today

Where to begin?  Since my posts have been so sporadic and with much time in between them, lots has happened so there is lots to share.  Why the paucity of posts?  I’d say it’s because I’ve been in a season of taking a step back to regroup.  I’ve taken this time to go internal, to rebuild my dancing foundation, and to get mentally clean.  I’ve not competed in the better part of a year and I’ve wondered what I was doing all this for.  I don’t necessarily have all the answers but I do feel the siren song of the ballroom world calling to me once again.

I don’t regret a thing.  It has been an important piece of my journey to take this time, to get different coaching, to gain a measure of independence and being solid on my own two feet.  It was good to be separate and get centered.  From this space I can truly move, truly connect, truly be a partner.

So what happened was that PBS aired “America’s Ballroom Challenge” and I watched it and I saw all these friends and people I know and I was invigorated.  I also saw a particular instructor and amateur partner dance and I thought to myself, “I could do that better!” Boastful, I know.  And perhaps not even true!  But the deal is that it stimulated me to call my old friend, Ivan, because I wanted to have the possiblitity of it being true.  And as much as I love Latin, I also miss Rhythm.  And I missed Ivan and Marieta, too.

So I called Ivan and we talked and because we parted so amicably, going back was a possibility.  I said, “I’m thinking to do Rhythm with you and Latin with Damir.”  And he said, “Okay, no problem.”  It’s actually even better than that because Ivan and Marieta are going to start competing in Smooth so after we get our Rhythm routines squared away, I want to do Smooth as well, which Damir doesn’t offer.

As of the writing of this post we’ve had 3 lessons and the new, re-vamped Cha-Cha is complete.  I feel like all the moves in it are within my reach and I love that Marieta helped us with it as well.  She added some sections that allow me to be more expressive and feminine.  I am excited to show new aspects of myself and I was pleased that Ivan could tell that my dancing was more solid.  The best part is we are having lots of fun.  There isn’t the pressure that used to be present and I am committed to keeping things mentally healthy between us.  As much as I’m showing up differently, more positively, more joyful to Ivan, he’s also declared that he will relate to me as the Stefanie I am now, rather than drudging up the old Stef with less confidence, more worry, more story.  So great!  Things are chugging along and feeling good.

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The other exciting news is that a new couple has come to EuroRhythm.  They are really excellent and I have had one lesson with both Kristijan and Anja each.  Last week I worked with Anja on some styling and she actually reminded me of Marieta a little bit in how expressive and free she is with her body.  Today I worked with Kristijan on my Latin closed Silver Cha Cha choreography and boy was it an experience.  He certainly has a lot of energy and he gave me so much information.  The biggest thing was creating the space to really dance, expressively dance.  I’ve been so focused on getting on my legs, feeling solid, I’m overthinking everything.  I went from being overly emotional to being almost robotic. I was way out of my comfort zone on my lesson today but I embrace it.  It’s like I’ve been practicing in a small pen and now the gates have been thrown wide open and I’m being introduced to a world that is way larger and deeper than I’d previously exprienced.  Also cool was that Kristijan said that I have beautiful legs and feet and that I’m very flexible.  Plus he was blown away with the way I connected through our frame, the amount of resistance I had.  The best part of it was that I was glad to hear the good feedback but that my ego didn’t take it and blow it up bigger than it is.  Of course he also gave me some corrections, mostly about making smaller steps and working my back leg more, but again, I stayed even keel.

The way I’ve been dancing with Damir I’ve been very much in my head, thinking everything through.  My face shows it.  So one big thing Kristijan kept asking me for was to smile, to actually look at him, then to look to the audience.  It reminds me of my early days with Ivan and how he pulled so much out of me.  I think working with Anja opened it up for me a little bit and then when I was on the lesson with Ivan this weekend I showed more of that freedom, more of my personality in the sections Marieta helped choreograph.  Both of them were like, “See!  You have this in you!  Why you not showing it before?  Not everyone has this inside them.  I ask my other students, please do this, and you just doing this.”  And yet, there is still more to show and express.

For me, I think it comes down to Trust and Confidence.  Trust both in myself and my partner and Confidence in my movement.  I noticed on my lesson today I was a bit unsure.  And as Damir says, the worst thing an Artist can do is hesitate.  It is our complete committment and conviction to the Art we are creating that allows access to the Art.  I have some growing to do in this regard but now that I’m aware of it I can choose differently and practice it until it becomes my new way of being.  I was so excited to be very uncomfortable on my lesson today because that means growth.  And I just know that I’m going to become even more expressive than I ever was before.  I’m going to be able to be completely authentic about who I am in my movement and that is exciting indeed.  I also noticed that I have been working so diligently to be able to be independent and move myself that I’ve not been practicing really relying on my partner.  One thing that happened with Kristijan (we’ll call him “K”) was that he wanted me to rely on him more so that I could go a little off balance or create a bigger movement than I could do on my own – to leverage the connection to create a fuller picture.  It’s not something I’ve been practicing, to trust in this connection and my partner, but I’m excited by what’s possible beyond what I’ve been doing.  My limits expanded today.

After the lesson tonight with K, I saw Damir and said that as much as he was helping me be a robot, Kristijan was all about expression, which is what I was overdoing before, so I’ve come full circle.  And he said, well it must be time for more expression.  The entire journey is to work to find balance and just when you find balance, destablize it.  Then work to regain the new balance and just when you find it, get off balance again.  It’s funny how all this unfolds, isn’t it?

So I forsee a competition in the not too far future.  I have routines to get together so it will be a bit but maybe before the end of the year.  Maybe Galaxy, maybe Holiday in Vegas.  I do think, regardless of what’s next, that I am in a great position for next year.  Also, there is a sense of urgency without pressure.  At least when it comes to Ivan, we talked about it and we want to get out there as soon as possible but doing it joyfully, sanely, taking what time we need to set ourselves up to win (and by win I mean dance with excellence and without all the drama – the results will be what the results will be in terms of placement.  I’m clear that I’m more committed to loving me and loving my dancing and sharing that than I am to placing first.)  Of course I care about how I place and I am competitive and I do want to win, it’s just that my priorities are re-ordered.

In that same vein, I’m ready to let go of my hang ups about my body.  It hasn’t changed much in terms of how it looks in the past months and frankly, so what?  My struggles with self-esteem and body image have been such a big part of this blog but it’s time to let that be in the past and to drop all the drama.  My body is how my body is.  It’s different every day.  It changes based on the choices I make about what I eat, how I work out, how I treat it, how I dance it.  I’m discovering that I can still be an incredible dancer just as I am right now in this moment.  So much of what has kept me stuck has been feeling like I need to look different to “really” dance.  No!  This is not the truth.  I can dance right now, and in many respects, I can dance better now than I did when I was in high school and a size 8.

In fact, truth be told, my body has very little to do with dancing even as it has everything to do with it.  This weekend the People’s Choice DanceSport competition was held and I went to spectate with two dear friends.  The most moving part was a woman who came out on the floor in a wheelchair.  I’m not sure what condition she has but it looked like her body was fighting against her for every single move she made.  She was able to stand up and take some steps with the support and assitance of her dance partner even as she shook with each and every movement.  It was completely captivating.  In fact, I found it more beautiful, authentic, and engaging than many of the pro performances that evening.  That was true dancing.  She’s my new hero.  Even though her face couldn’t move to express her feelings, it appeared frozen, it was so very clear she loved dancing and she was passionate about it.  It was so incredible how she was emoting purely, and without all the usual cues like facial expression or clear, smooth body movement.

So my body isn’t important when it comes to dancing, even though it is totally important when it comes to dancing (get the paradox?)  That being said, it’s not an excuse to give up or stop working on honing my instrument.  In fact, I’m starting a new plan June 1st and comitting to 30 days of doing it.  Mostly I want to prove to myself that I can successfully complete it and I think it will support me in re-creating my future body.  But in this moment, this is the only body I have.  It is how it is.  I’ve been resisting it, I’ve been fighting reality, I’ve not wanted to choose my body, insisting in the fantasy that there is any other body to have.  Right now, this is it and this is perfect.  There is nothing to fix or change.  There is only the body I have so I might as well choose it and dance it with freedom and abandon.  It’s like, all these dancers I’m working with are reflecting to me some of my great assets as a dancer – my legs, my feet, my connection…they see it and they celebrate it.  Why shouldn’t I?  They are not as hung up about my body as I am.  They see it differently than I have chosen to see it.

So anyways, I’m the Biggest Girl In The Ballroom.  Maybe that will never change.  Maybe it will.  I’m choosing to be okay with what is so and to continue to put energy and effort towards my goals and dreams.

Finally, the title of my blog post is a true statement.  One of the straps on my heels snapped tonight so the Universe is telling me I need a new pair.  I’m going to take it as a sign that it’s finally time to try on the 3 inch heels.  I have two pairs of unused shoes that I’ve not worn because I wasn’t on balance.  I got them out and walked around in my kitchen and I actually feel like it might now be possible to work in them.  Of course it will take some adjustments but I think it was a message that my old shoes broke – that it’s time to “step up” to the next level.  Perfect timing.

So that’s the skinny in my world.  I’m excited to see what happens next.