What’s In A Name?

Hey guys!  Thank you so much for all the feedback about the name of this blog.  I sincerely appreciate all the comments and suggestions.  I am still a little bit “in the question” around what I should call this blog so I have a little experiment that I’m going to conduct for the next week to give myself time to get clear on what the name means to me as it is, to try on a new possible name for size (haha), or to potentially land upon the perfect completely new name.

I believe that words are powerful.  And as I’m in the practice and process of transformation, both inside and out, it makes sense to me that as I evolve, things in my life will also evolve.  I want my blog to support me in this process and I am currently ready to let go of the story I’ve been replaying in my mind, heart, and body, the one in which I live as though I am a fat person, like that’s the most important part of who I am. I’m ready to let go of the part of the story where my personality is so wrapped up in claiming this physicality as my identity.  As I let it go, it is a little death.  And it creates the space simply be who I am rather than make up a story about it.

So I’ve been doing some work around this idea of the story that was imprinted upon my psyche that I claimed as my identity, and I’ve engaged in a process where I can identify where this may come from.  Once seeing that, I can then choose a quality to practice being.  That may sound a bit confusing so here’s an example of what I mean: I did this work previously some years ago and discovered that I was run by the need to be liked.  I’d compromise myself, even betray myself, not speak up for myself, and so forth all because I needed people to like me.  Of course, this rarely created the desired effect.  In fact, this “act” I engaged in pushed people away.  Yet it came from a deep need in me, so I don’t blame myself for operating this way back then.  I didn’t know better and I didn’t have the tools to cope better.  I was pretty much doing it unconsciously.  However, once I discovered this and became aware of how it was affecting my life, I gained the power of choice around it.  I could decide that I was more committed to being an honest, authentic woman of integrity and choose different.  I could then ask myself, “How would an honest, authentic woman of integrity act in this situation?”  Then, I could “show up” in my life that way.  I would practice recognizing when I was about to engage in people-pleasing behavior and then I’d practice being different – being honest, and authentic, and in integrity.  Or I’d notice when I’d fallen into the old pattern and ask myself what I could do differently the next opportunity.  I got better and better over time – and it took some time – and a bunch of practice.  It also went from being scary and overwhelming (I mean in my mind being this way could lead to total rejection and abandonment) to being second nature.  I wouldn’t say I’ve 100% let go of that need, but I will say I am much more in choice around it.

Okay, so anyways, the quality I’ve landed upon that I think would help me most to move forward in my life right now is PRECIOUS.

Why precious, you may ask.  Well, here’s one of my “acts:”  I act really capable, even over-achieving because I want to be seen, loved, valued, and acknowledged.  Well, that’s like saying to my subconscious that I’m only worth something because of what I do, what service I can perform, or what value I can add to the life of others. I think it comes from a need to be seen as important or significant or that I matter so that I can feel validated that I have a right to exist.  That’s hogwash in reality but my subconscious totally buys into it.  I mean, we all have the right to exist because we do exist! Right?  Anyways, this “act” is not necessarily good, bad, right, or wrong, and it really serves me in come contexts, like at work.  However, it doesn’t serve me in other aspects of my life, because I am not in the state of knowing and believing in my bones, on a heart level, that I’m loveable and precious just because I’m me.  And because of that, I only give myself love when I “do what I’m supposed to be doing.”  This is especially in the context of diet and exercise.  And it also results in my withholding love from myself which is just mean.  It doesn’t serve me.

The word PRECIOUS is defined as: of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly, a term of address to a beloved person, highly esteemed for some spiritual, non-material, or moral quality, cherished.

I think that works perfectly to shift my focus.  So my challenge is to incorporate a practice of treating myself as a precious person in my daily life.  It certainly works in the context of nourishing my body properly and exercising it excellently, while doing it in an encouraging and loving manner – without comparison to the journey of others, and with a dose of grace.  It becomes a process of how I’m being rather than on what I’m doing.

Also, being PRECIOUS has nothing to do with how I look, how much I weigh, how well I dance – which are all things I’ve strongly identified with as who I am, and with the persona of this blog.  In reality, these features are only a tiny part of who I am, of who any human being is.  Ergo, as I am doing the inner work to let go of this junk, and create a new, more evolved, enlightened, and expansive self, I thought perhaps changing the name of the blog was something that could support me.  Lord knows I could stand to step into more than one quality in my life.  I don’t like using Precious for the title of this blog but since I do use the words in the title to this blog quite a bit via social networks and in person, and since I know that repetition is a powerful tool for change, a new name might be just the ticket to ease me into another aspect my new self that I’d like to call forth.

Which reminds me of something Damir said.  Oh yes, we are still dancing.  And today was another wonderful lesson…more on that later.  Anyways, he said to me, “Stefanie, you are just converting physical size into energetic size.”  In other words, I’ve used my physical body as a way to claim my space in this world.  Now the process is to claim my space on the invisible plane.  His point was that I’ll still be “big” but in a totally different way, a non-physical way.

So in some ways, the name “Biggest Girl In The Ballroom” still fits.  It could fit in the context I just mentioned from the conversation with Damir.

Other comments from you guys that I got were:

Because you’re about owning your place and your space – not about size – and because people do know the blog name, maybe go with something that’s a variation of it so you don’t totally lose brand identity?

So… the reason I came across your blog is because I noticed that there weren’t really any fat chicks in the dance studio and I felt a little bit out of sorts… “Is this really for me?” “Why am I the only one?” I am grateful to have come across your blog because it was encouraging to me that even if there are only TWO starfish in the sea, at least I wasn’t alone. I have done some growing since I started following you… and you have too. Biggest girl in the ballroom isn’t about size for me any more… it’s about putting on your big girl panties and accepting who you are for what you are and accepting others too. It’s about keeping on keeping on, even when you want to give up. Due to an injury, I’m no longer able to dance, but I still keep up with you. You’re not the size you once were… life changes. BUT the lesson you teach seems to me to be about being a big girl even when the world tries to make you feel small.

We think keep the domain name the same so you don’t lose any readers or followers.  And Then Making it “The (formerly in handwriting font with an up arrow) Biggest Girl in the Ballroom”. We think will imply the journey and the success you have made of it. All of the best with whatever you decide.

I agree about the larger meaning of being Big. I was also thinking about being a Big Girl (in the being responsible for oneself idea) and also re: not losing your branding. Since comparison is the least interesting and least important part, how about “Big Girl in The Ballroom”?

Biggest isn’t just about weight. It’s about power. It’s about presence. It’s about an indomitable spirit. Why wouldn’t you want to be the biggest girl in the ballroom?

I think the biggest girl in the ballroom’s meaning can morph and change regardless of your size. Biggest can mean so many different things. My opinion is it is perfect just as it is.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?!  I feel so blessed to have this type of engagement with you!  It’s helped me re-frame my thinking about this issue and I appreciate it very much.

So here’s what I’ve settled on; I’m going to try on a potential name for one week.  I want to see how it feels.  I want you to see how it feels to you and let me know what you think.  I chose this new name because it encompasses a lot of what the people above were saying, including dropping the comparison game, which I think is especially important for me.  I’m not 100% sure just yet and still open to feedback, and, at the same time, I want to create some forward movement on this so this seemed like a great step to take.  I will make my final decision by next Thursday so make sure to make your thoughts known urgently.  All the input thus far has helped me immensely to get more clear on what I want to create. And, yes, this is ultimately my decision.

The name I’m trying on is “Big Girl In The Ballroom”

Let’s see how it goes :)  And Lisa, you may just be the winner of a $25 gift card :)  You’ll know by next Thursday.

Alrighty, now that that’s all taken care of, I want to share with you what happened on my lesson today.  I think I should talk a little bit about dancing here too! lol.

So as much as I sometimes miss Ivan, I so totally trust the teachings I’m getting from Damir at this time.  My experience of it thus far is becoming more aware of my body on a more detailed level and being present in neglected areas.  Basic areas, like feet and knees.  We haven’t really even made it up to lats and arms just yet and that’s totally okay.  When I get results like I got today, I’m grateful about going so slowly.

Damir said something pretty profound today that teaching dance was his calling.  It’s not a job, it’s not even a vocation.  He’s convinced he could do anything he’d want to do in this world as a profession.  Dance didn’t come easy to Damir.  He searched for answers for a very long time and ended up having to find them for himself.  Even though he had many instructors and coaches that influenced him, his process, from how he describes it, was him having to go so slowly in every step and breaking it down minutely and focusing just on one body part for months at a time.  Because he went through this process, he’s now able to see things in others’ bodies – alignment, energy, where their focus is.  He’s also able to adapt his language in such a way that his students understand clearly what he is asking of them – at least that’s been my experience.

It’s like, I’ve wanted these same answers.  I’ve known that my dancing didn’t look like it potentially could and all the answers I got were from the outside in – making things happen.  God bless all my instructors – they gave me the information I was ready for, that I could handle, and/or to the best of their personal understanding.  However, now I’m being coached from the inside out and it is a total game changer.

It’s also a lot more physical work!  I feel that my body will be changing soon simply from the new method from which I’m approaching dance.  It takes a lot more focus and energy and is based a ton on creating oppositions internally in the body.  It’s awesome and it ain’t easy.

Anyways, Damir focuses on a very practical method for dancing, the thought being that if you have a structure to follow, no matter what your emotional state or how your body is feeling on any particular day, you can use this structure to discover what adjustments might need to be made to still perform at an excellent level, especially in the context of a competition.

And this structure system begins with the feet.  If I thought I used my feet before, I was wrong.  They are experiencing an entirely new level of conditioning.

We are just now beginning to focus on the knees.  Being the second major joint in the leg, they affect a lot of things.  Hips are now moving as a result of the movements in my feet and knees, rather than actively “trying” to make my hips move.

I’m starting to see where the true causes of movement stem from, which is internal and not always obvious, rather than just seeing the end result, which I think a lot of us gravitate toward trying to emulate.  Both ways of approaching movement can be helpful in different contexts, by my personal dance education has been deficient in the information Damir is sharing with me.

It’s pretty wonderful.  Sometimes I may feel like I’m not doing anything on our lessons, that I’ve regressed as a dancer, or that we’re just talking too much!  Then there are moments like today and I realize that all my previous work has been valuable.  I realize that all the work I’ve done laid some foundation and that with new tiny bytes of information, new small puzzle pieces of data that I’ve not been aware of now being presented, things can shift dramatically and quickly in my dancing.

So we were working on the knees, just doing 1,2,cha cha cha, in place and focusing on really stretching the space between the knees as much as possible – like doing it with an imaginary resistance band around them. And it was hard work!  It engaged more muscles, but was controlled, and it caused proper alignment, and made me pull up in my abdomen, there were all sorts of great results from focusing on this particular aspect.  I’m learning how to utilize internal resistance, opposition, and elasticity to create a new quality of movement with stability and control.

So then Damir invited me to use this skill I’d just started practicing in Rumba walks.  Oh. My. God.  For the first time in my life Rumba walks felt GOOD!

Some iterations were better than others but that doesn’t matter.  I had a few really quality ones.  I got the feeling in my body.  It felt like my standing leg was pulling my moving leg forward, instead of the other way around.  I was (mostly) on balance.  It just felt “right,” not so forced.

I had a flashback to Inna’s class.  We’d practiced a lot of Rumba walks in there.  And her style is more aggressive in terms of coaching us to step big, to use big arms, and most of all, to push forward.  This could work great for some students.  For me, I always felt I was forcing this and it was taking way more effort than it should if I was moving ergonomically or biomechanically correct.  But I could never figure out how to do that from the language and demonstrations being used.  With Damir, I’m focusing on very different things: the back of my neck and head, staying on my standing leg as long as possible, planting it into the ground and allowing the elastic resistance between my knees to pull the walking leg forward under my body, keeping my hips under my ribs, and even a little in compressing my lats and pushing my chest forward (but that’s pretty advanced for me right now).  And it freakin’ feels better, way better, totally-different-breakthrough better, like I’m never going to dance the same way again (well, yeah, I may have some muscle memory to overcome) but now that I’ve had this visceral experience, I could never truly go completely back.  Things will never quite be the same.

It gives me hope that possibly all my dancing could feel this good.  It’s showing me I have things in my body ready from the work I’ve previously done to jump to a new level of quality with just the next right bit of information and practice.  It has been a joyful, fun process, for the most part, and although I have some urgency about my goals, I’ve also surrendered to trusting the process being laid before me by my new coach.  All will unfold in it’s proper time.  I fully trust Damir has my best interests at heart.  In fact, I feel so incredibly lucky to work with him, even more so because he told me that he hasn’t taken a new student in years and he’s totally booked with the students he has now.  I’m one lucky ducky he fit me in and I’m going to make the absolute most of my time with him.

Probably the greatest gift Damir has given me is the freedom to be me without expectations, both around my body and my dancing.  I always felt such pressure with Ivan, as well as his frustration and disappointment.  With Damir, I feel like he believes in me, like he believes in all his students, 100%.  He also believes that it’s up to the student to determine how far they really want to go with this dancing thing, and how fast.  It’s so great to be given this responsibility.  He’s totally just there to support me in my process.  It’s a precious gift of his time, attention, presence, information, guidance, and nurturing.  I’ve been able to stop beating myself up so much in this space, as well as to embrace the work required.  I’ve also become less fearful about making mistakes and not being perfect.  He’s helped me define the game I’m playing, and it’s one of personal excellence rather than comparison, authenticity rather than staged performance, deliberate internal presence rather than external forcing, one of groundedness rather than an emotional roller coaster.  He’s supporting me to become the excellent, authentic, present, consistent, grounded dancer I know I can be.  And at the same time, he places no need on me to be anything different than what I am.

I was so lit up about how excellent my lesson turned out today, that I totally thought, “I have to write a blog about this!”  And that was cool because it’s been a while since I’ve felt that way.  I think perhaps it’s because I’ve been in transition and thus the blog has been too.  The blog is going to evolve right alongside with me.  I did start this blog and journey years ago, and I’m not the person I was back then either.  Sometimes it’s okay to let old identities die and integrate their experience into the whole.  I feel like who I was cannot exist in the same space of who I am now, just like the partnership I had with Ivan could no longer live on once shifts had been made.

So life looks different now and probably the blog will too.  I’m excited to see where the journey leads me.

Love, Stef


A Request For You!

So I’ve been thinking, with all the changes going on in my dancing life recently, it might be time to change the name of my blog. After all, I don’t think that this statement is absolutely true that I’m the biggest girl in the ballroom, and I am certainly changing my body as it is getting smaller, and stronger, and more compact each and every day.
My request is that you share your ideas for what might be a new and improved name for my blog. What qualities do you see in me besides just being big? I really look forward to hearing from you.
If I choose the name you suggest, I will send you a $25 gift card and a book from my personal library that has moved me forward powerfully with an inscription just for you. Ready? Go!

Dancing Is For Every BODY! Interview With Artist Lyonn In Support Of American DanceWheels Foundation

So the other day I got this email:


My name is Tyler Gelrud and I go by the artist name Lyonn.

I am an alternative musician that uses my music as a stepping stone to raise awareness for causes I truly believe in!

I just recently teamed up with American DanceWheels Foundation! An incredible non profit that teaches dance to disabled individuals allowing them a well deserved shot in the spotlight. It is immensely uplifting and I am so proud to say they are using my song “Dancing Machine” as their theme song!

I am emailing you because I was hoping you could raise awareness about this non profit. Right now you can download my new EP “Promenade” at Lyonn.bandcamp.com
and all the money goes to American DanceWheels Foundation!

The best part is you can pay what you want! You type in the dollar amount and that money goes to the charity to help raise funds so the foundation can put together classes, videos, and dance recitals. This foundation offers people a chance to do something they never thought they could, and I am so happy to be a part of it.

I would really appreciate it if you shared the word about this partnership! Encourage people to download and donate, and you could help change lives. Thanks so much.

Tyler Gelrud

So, yeah, I was like, I want to help!  The best way I could think of was to buy a copy of the song and then share this coolness on the blog.  Lyonn agreed to a virtual interview because, you know, I have questions!  I’m interested!  And I thought you all might want a bit more information too, if I was going to promote something like this.

The idea struck me as very cool – using art to support other art, and to make sure people of all abilities get the opportunity to dance, because, as we all know, dancing is awesome.  And it’s kind of a hot button issue for me since I”m not your “typical” dance myself and I believe dancing is for everybody and Every Body, if you know what I mean.

So without further ado, here’s a little bit of info about our guest tonight, Lyonn.



BGitB:  How long have you been singing?

Lyonn: I started singing during my senior year of high school. My whole life I would sing for fun, but I started my first band at age 16 and that’s when I started taking singing more seriously.

BGitB: How long ago did you begin playing music?

Lyonn: I would say the same time as I started my first band, age 16!

BGitB: Why were you interested in these arts?

Lyonn:  I have always been into music, I loved listening to it and I would always imagine myself performing to all my friends. Once I started writing songs I knew I needed to make it more than just a hobby. It was the easiest way for me to express myself. That’s the biggest thing for me, expression, I hope people can listen to my music and relate to it. I want people to feel the same way I do when I hear a really great song.

BGitB: What instruments (if any) do you play?

Lyonn:  I can get by on an acoustic guitar!

That’s the instrument I play on stage during my show, and the instrument I write all my melodies on. I’m teaching myself piano though!  So far, not so good…

BGitB:  How would you describe your personal style? Style as in terms of clothing/fashion, music, decor etc.

Lyonn: I like to think my style is pretty current. Nothing too crazy, I hope it matches my music! I wear a lot of Disney t shirts though, so people give me weird looks from time to time! I grew up in Anaheim though, Disneyland was my backyard!

BGitB: What are your best 3 qualities ?

Lyonn: I feel uncomfortable answering this question, so I’ll have my mom get back to you with a response.

BGitB: What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?

Lyonn:  I’m really proud of myself for moving across the country for music. This is really what I want to do with my life, so I quit my job, sold my car, and moved. It was a big step and I am really happy I did it. This is just the beginning as well, and I’m ready to do what it takes!

BGitB: How did you come up with this important song? What inspired you?

Lyonn: I don’t really know how or why certain songs come to me. Any moment I’ll just get hit with one and the entire thing will pour out. I’m really happy to say that every song I write comes from personal experiences. That allows me to relive the moment when I perform and it keeps the passion burning very bright. I wrote this song the second I woke up on a Sunday morning after a near perfect Saturday night out in San Diego. It was a wonderful time full of friendship and dancing. I was captivated watching everyone dance and laugh. We all just forgot about the problems in our lives and danced the night away. When I woke up, I grabbed my guitar and the entire song came out in a single play.

BGitB: Do you dance?

Lyonn: Horribly…

BGitB: If so, What style?

Lyonn: Embarrassing.

BGitB: Why are you passionate about this particular project?

Lyonn: I knew I wanted to team up with a non profit focused on dance, I thought “Dancing Machine” would be the perfect fit for that type of foundation. When I contacted American DanceWheels Foundation and told them my ideas, they absolutely loved them. The more I talked with the foundation the more I knew it needed to happen. The foundation to them is much more than just dancing. They do such incredible work and they really care about the people they help.

I could go on and on, but one look at their website and you’ll understand what I mean!

BGitB:  What is your vision? For your life, for your art, for this project?

Lyonn: I hope to make music my career. If I could continue expressing myself and helping people with my music there would be nothing better.

In December, I am shooting a music video for “Dancing Machine” with American DanceWheels Foundation! That should provide enormous awareness for the nonprofit and I can’t wait. That’s the biggest thing on our agenda together, I can’t wait to let the individuals involved with ADWF be the stars of the video!

BGitB: What is your life philosophy?

Lyonn: This is the hardest question to answer. I really can’t answer it fully. I will mention I truly believe youth is relative. I don’t think there’s ever a point in ones life where they should stop striving. That’s the biggest thing to me, everyday is a gift and we should work to make every minute count.

There’s a million other things I could say, but for now I’ll let that sink in.

BGitB:  How does this project tie into your vision/purpose?

Lyonn:  I don’t want to cross any lines here considering I personally don’t know what it’s like to live with a disability, but I am truly inspired by these individuals. I can imagine living with a disability would make certain things in life a bit more difficult, but that doesn’t stop these dancers, and it gives me chills when I see the videos and the passion they have. I am so honored to be involved with ADWF, and I am so proud of all they do. Life is for living, and they sure are doing that!

BGitB: Why is your showbiz name Lyonn?  What is the story behind that? How did it come about?

Lyonn: I started this solo project in January 2014. I spent my entire summer of 2013 backpacking through Europe and that trip was the main motivation for me to start this project. I knew I needed to pay homage to that trip so I picked a city we visited as my stage name. Lyon, but I added an “n” to make it my own.

Well folks, it’s a worthy project so I wanted to support it! I hope you enjoyed this and if you want to know more about Lynn, his music, and this particular project you can follow him in the following ways:


Facebook page: Facebook.com/LyonnUS

Twitter: Twitter.com/LyonnUS




Lyonn.bandcamp.com (if you buy my EP on this site the $ goes to American DanceWheels Foundation)

Spotify and iTunes: Lyonn

Instagram: LyonnMusic


The link for this specific campaign




Please check it out!

Ernie Miller

When I was five and I lived in Aurora, Colorado, I had a black vinyl dance bag.  I use the term loosely, because the “bag” was actually a rectangular cardboard box covered in ink-black shiny vinyl imprinted with a pink pair of ballet toe shoes in Sous-sou.


Two to three times a week I made a sojourn from my home on the Army base to the doors of Ernie Miller’s dance studio to practice ballet and tap.  Again, I use the term “practice” loosely.   At the age of five through eight, I mostly flailed grossly.  And yet at the end of each dance lesson I was reward with a Dum Dum sucker, being the adorable “little peanut” I was.

Every year the studio would have a recital.  Every year Ernie and his wife would dance the very last dance in the show.  It was a lovely and vulnerable and authentic moment.  So much so that it made quite an impression on me in a time in my life when I don’t remember much detail.  It was that  special.


The deal is, Ernie and his wife and his beautiful daughters who taught in the studio WERE the studio.

Of course there were physical walls, and spring-loaded wood floors, and barres fastened securely to the walls.  But the studio was Ernie.  He created it.  He carved out the space for it to exist.  And he and his family populated it.  They created the tone.  They created the atmosphere.  They created the philosophy.  They lived it and breathed life into it.


So now fast forward 30 years.  I am an adult.  I’ve rediscovered dancing through the medium of ballroom.  I’ve been through three  instructors and now I’m on my fourth.  I’ve recently left my most favorite instructor (thus far) who moved me forward exponentially.  I’m now with this crazy Bosnian who is so very ORDINARY.

He emphasizes proper alignment of the bones and the body over anything flashy.  He promotes repetition, repetition, repetition of any and all steps, done properly, 10,000 times.  He is not teaching me any new figures or choreography whatsoever.  He’s simply going deeper into the most basic work.

So here I am, being serious and all about my dancing.  I don’t have much interest in being a social dancer.  I don’t care much to dance with people who are less experienced than I.

And yet, I’m invited to the annual EuroRhythm Luau.  With all manner of enthusiams!  Not only from Damir, but also from his wife.  Truth is, my hubby was out of town so what else was I going to do Friday night?  I figured there were worse ways to spend time and bought a ticket to attend what I thought would most likely be a hokey stupid party.

And so after work I took a break then got out my hair dryer and straightener.  I put on mascara and a comfortable outfit.  I got myself ready and drove over to the studio.

At first, it definitely seemed super hokey!  And then, after about 2 minutes, it seemed awesome.  It seemed like home.

It struck me as shockingly as if I had stuck my fingers into a socket – I have lived this before.  I have lived this as a five-year-old in Ernie Miller’s Studio.

It was family.  As humble as it might be, as hokey as it could be, who the hell cares.  There was joy in that space.  There were families present with grandparents and grandchildren.

And this studio, that I am now a part of, is Damir and his family.  He’s so very clear about his role as the leader of it.  He knows absolutely that he sets the tone, the rules. He knows beyond a doubt that he is the one that creates and holds the space.

I’m not going to lie.  The physical space of EuroRhythm is tiny!  It seems humble.  From the outside it is just a part of a strip mall.  On the inside there is nothing flashy.

And you know what, for me it melts away.  It’s not what I notice.  I walk into this space and I am embraced as I am, where I am, who I am in this moment.  I notice that I feel comfortable, I feel that it is safe and supported.  I know that I am surrounded by greatness, and that greatness is eagerly, generously shared with all those who walk through the doors; it’s shared with all those who seek the wisdom being offered.

I was just so singularly struck by this feeling of familiarity Friday night.  I knew that I knew this space.  It recalled and referenced my past experiences with Ernie Miller.  And wow, how very grateful I am about it all.

I got a great start with Ernie.  My mother to this day will profess the influence he and his daughters had on me in terms of molding me and shaping me to be the dancer I am today.  What a blessing and advantage I had being able to dance at such a young age.  I am especially grateful to my mother and my father for making that possible for me.

And Damir is just like Ernie.  He IS the studio.  His family IS the studio.  He sets the tone.  He creates the atmosphere.  And I’m just left agog.  What an amazing human being I have come to interact with.  He has come from a war-torn country, experienced unspeakable traumas, I’m sure, he became a world-class dancer, he immigrated, he created his own studio, and best of all, he is a JOYFUL and GIVING human being.  He has arrived on the other side of all these negative circumstances and chosen to be a compassionate, loving, generous, passionate, kind, caring, gentle, expert human being and dance coach.   He has created a home for all of us who chose to accept his brand of study and excellence.

Damir, and the results he creates, looking both at the students of his I know and his studio, are seemingly humble, simple, and, even, dare I say, boring!  And yet, they are also captivating, impeccable, and embodying excellence.   He has a quiet sort of “shouting” to the world.  And his results speak loud and clear for those with eyes to see, for those who have the clarity of mind  to understand.

So you know what?  I am so happy I went Friday.  I realized that I will never miss a party for the studio again if I can help it!  I realized that it’s about family.  And I realized, on a whole new level, what a special and excepetional human being Damir is.  God bless him for creating this space.

I am come home.

Status Report

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything and I find it odd how I used to feel the need to blog so much more than I do these days.  I think it is a result of the change in focus, mood, and tempo of my dance journey at this time.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve never danced before, like I’m just now learning how to dance.  For certain, I’ve taken a step back to focus on my foundation.  There is a huge emphasis on my feet and ankles, and although we’ve talked through hips and lats, it’s mainly my lower body that we’re working on.

I feel more balanced and controlled, which is a good thing.  However, being such an emotional person, it feels quite odd to move almost robotically, going slower than music, really breaking down each movement in minute detail.  Indeed, I often feel like my movement is quite restricted.  Amazingly, I see in the mirror, however, my body is creating similar shapes as before, it just feels completely different dancing it from the inside, dancing it from the alignment in my bones, from an internal point of reference.  I will feel like I’m not moving very much, taking smaller steps, and yet I’ll see in the mirror there is actually a lot going on, I am actually dancing my body more, I’m working to integrate all the parts like never before, the movement is more refined.  There’s so much to remember, so much going on, I feel like a complete novice all over again.

I’m also missing some of the excitement I used to feel with Ivan.  I miss being able to just dance a cha-cha routine all the way through as these days it’s just a few of the basic figures repeated over and over and over.  But on the flip side, there are not so many emotional ups and downs, it’s not as dramatic, and I’m feeling more grounded and independent in my dancing.  I’m also not as depressed about my body as I was with Ivan – he used to remind me of it so much more, and he’d emphasize that I needed to lose weight quickly, how it was really holding me back.  Although Damir acknowledges the issue, there’s just not the same obsession about it.  He totally believes in me to do it, if I want to.  His entire philosophy is to empower others with support and information and then they can take it as far as they would like to.  In other words, it’s all up to me.  There’s less pressure and shame projected upon me, less attachment, and this has been freeing.  I’ve been able to choose my speed about doing things, there is no making me feel bad about the choices I’m making.  As Damir explains it, it’s a case of delayed gratification.  By putting in the time and effort to achieve technical excellence, to really work through the process from the bottom up, including the transformation of my body, slow and steady, I’m going to own my dancing and have an unshakable confidence in it like never before. I’ll be “the real deal.”

And as much as I aspire to compete in the near future, the focus is more on the process itself.  This has made it so I have more energy to devote to my diet and exercise regimen.  It’s starting to come together as a regular routine and this consistency is something I’ve sorely needed.  It’s the regularly scheduled lessons, knowing what to expect, knowing what to work on, that’s made it so I feel I’m more settled, calmer, and I have no doubt that when I do step on the dance floor the next time, it will be an entirely new experience as well as performance quality.  I am evolving on many levels.

And another new thing, I’ve been getting in some practicing alone.  It’s really simple stuff – rumba box, backward walks, rondes, basic turns.  I have no arm styling whatsoever.  In fact, going full speed with music at this point feels overwhelming.  I wonder if I will ever get to the place where I can execute this level of excellence while moving full-speed.  But I’m glad to be taking on a new level of responsibility for my dancing.  Even when I danced as a kid I really didn’t ever practice outside of class.  I think the fact that I’m willing to do it shows a new level of maturity and dedication to my goals.

Speaking of goals, I brought up the idea with Damir.  I mean, the main reason I do this is because I want to compete on a high level.  It was odd to miss Galaxy this year, but it was the right decision to sit out.  I’m just not ready to perform yet.  I wonder when I might be.  But I can’t just dance with no purpose on the horizon.  So I mentioned that I’d like to do Ohio before I die and said, “Maybe we can do Ohio next year,” to which Damir replied “Oh girl! You would rock Ohio next year!”  I do appreciate that Damir holds a positive vision for me.  He tells me it’s not as far off as I think even when I’m feeling like I’m never going to be ready.

I still completely believe my decision to move was the right call and I believe wholeheartedly that this is already moving me forward to the next level of dancing.  However, there are also prices I’m paying.  For one, I miss out on Inna’s class on Tuesdays.  I miss the extra difficult cardio it provided and I miss seeing my friends.  It’s a bummer, but at the same time, the deal is, it was Damir’s only stipulation.  He has his reasons for this request and I completely understand them.  I agreed and I am a person of my word so I’m going to be in integrity about it.  I’m just acknowledging that I miss it.

So maybe that’s why I’m not so fired up about blogging – because there aren’t hilarious stories to share.  It’s all so very ordinary.  It’s just what I need right now, and it’s not as entertaining to read about as Ivan’s antics or Inna’s ball-busting classes.

What I can say is that I adore Damir.  I’ve been so blessed to work with both Ivan and he, both of whom  have wonderful hearts.  They have different teaching styles and I’ve needed both.  Ivan brought down some of my emotional walls and pulled expression out of me that I was afraid to share.  Damir is helping me to get my feet and legs under my body, to feel solid, to focus on the details of technique, and he’s empowering me to diagnose myself when things go wrong.  In other words, with his guidance, I’m learning why things work or don’t work and how to fix them.  What a relief!   He is truly a master at understanding how the body works and I’m always amazed at his laser-like ability to seen tiny imbalances or misalignments – I’m talking like millimeters off!  It’s amazing.

And it’s so nice to have my lessons so close to home.  Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8am like clockwork I make my way to be Damir’s first student for the day.  He welcomes me by opening the door to the studio wide and asking me, “How are you doing, girlfriend?”  He gives me a huge kiss on the head or the cheek and a hug both when I arrive and when I leave.  I’ve had one or two emotional lessons, just because I was bummed about stuff, and he’s been so awesome about that, letting me show up however I need to be, not needing me to be anything other than who and how I am.  He celebrates when I mess up because it elucidates my weaknesses and limitations so I can properly address them – it also creates the space for it to be okay if I mess up, which is very helpful since I have perfectionist  tendencies which can be quite unhealthy.  And one day, when I was a complete emotional mess, he scheduled me for a second lesson that day because he could see that I needed it.  I came back, in a better place after a hard work out at the gym, and we danced Cha Cha, and it was wonderful.

So there you go. It’s a new season.  My dancing life is pretty boring, but it’s good boring.  It’s meditative. It’s empowering.  It’s helping me find my center and balance.  It’s the Yin to the Yang cycle I was in. And even if progress is seemingly slow, plodding, methodical, I’m looking forward to what’s coming.  I’m getting excited to compete again.  And even more than that, I’m becoming who I’ve dreamed of being.  I’m getting closer and closer to expressing all of who I am, and the best part is that as I evolve I will be able to sustain the change.

And  you know what?  I think Damir’s right.  It’s not all that far off.  It feels like it from here but I have a suspicion that things are really going to shift more quickly than I expect.  I’ve already been surprised by how my body has soaked up certain new things, way faster than I would have thought.  I’m not kidding that it’s a process of discovery of my own physique and more often than I’d have predicted I pleasantly surprise myself by doing things I didn’t think I could do.  I’m so ready to absorb certain things, energetically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically and it’s reflected in the movement my body can execute with just a tiny bit of guidance.  Ultimately, I’m hopeful.  What a good place to be.




No Shortcuts To The Top

Here’s a quirky little fact about me; I love reading about mountain climbing.  Bouldering, 8000 meter peak epics, Nepal, Everest, K2, The Eiger Wall, and The White Spider are just a few of my favorite subjects.  I’m mildly obsessed.  For whatever reason I am enthralled by the journey, internally and externally, of those who risk their lives to reach the highest peaks and scale the most technical climbs in the world.

I think in many ways mountain-climbing parallels high-level dancing, maybe that’s why I’m drawn to it.  Both pursuits require determination, discipline, and practice.  Both are beautiful.  I think I like ballroom better because I don’t have to risk my very existence to explore my vulnerabilities and limitations.  I am challenged quite enough two and a half inches off the floor, thank you very much! Lol.

Anyways, one mountaineer-author I particularly enjoy (there are many) is Ed Viesturs.  You may recall him from the IMAX movie about Everest (which rocked my world in high school when I saw it on that eight-story screen – seriously, Khumbu Icefall?  You may pee your pants seeing how they traverse it using aluminum ladders lashed together to cross cravasses) and the 1996 Mount Everest disaster documented in Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air.”  He’s a world-class high-altitude athlete and he is the first American to summit all 14 of the 8000-meter-er’s – the 14 highest mountains on Earth.  As you might imagine, it’s an exclusive club.

Things I appreciate about Ed are that he is pragmatic, level-headed, he trains like a madman, he climbs with an ethos, and he lives by the credo, “Getting to the top is optional, returning home is compulsory.” He pushes his personal limits while at the same time lives in a personally responsible manner.  He even takes on further responsibility when others are in need around him because that’s who he is.

Well, anyways, I’ve enjoyed reading about Ed’s pursuits and I’ve learned a lot about being human from his books (as well as other mountaineers).  Honestly, I think that is why they do such extreme feats – to get to the core of their selves, to come right up against their limitations, demons, and boundaries, and to test their mettle, to discover who they are.

I’m no adrenaline junkie, but I can relate to the journey of self-discovery.  For me, as I’ve mentioned before, dance is my practice.  It is my walking, moving, bodily meditation.  It helps me integrate all aspects of self: mind, body, spirit, physical, anatomical, atomic, subatomic, and energetic.  It also helps me connect with myself, others, the universe, God.  I am a drop in the ocean and the entire ocean in a drop.  I can go just as deeply into myself through dance as Ed does when he climbs high into the clouds.  In a way, we are on the same journey, it just looks different externally.  Internally, we are coming up against our core selves with every step.

This is why I came to Damir.

This is the work we are doing.

It is deeply personal and internal.  And it’s a big shift.  And that’s why I haven’t felt so much like blogging about every new awareness, because they are coming at light-speed.  It’s like drinking from a fire-hydrant. And I’m not even sure I could explain or describe the work we are doing, anyways.  It’s beyond dancing.  It’s beyond the movements.  It’s the metaphor of the dancing and it is the actual dancing, and it is so much more at the same time.

Everything is changing.

It’s not obvious.

People are going to be able to tell that I have changed when I’m through on the other side of this leg of the journey, but they may not know what I did exactly.

This is the work I am doing with Damir.  It is all of the invisible stuff, all of the internal dancing that happens between sinew, muscle, bone, and energy.  It is rewiring my neurons to fire differently.  It is retraining my muscle memory and placing my awareness in long-neglected cells of my body, in forgotten pockets of DNA.  It is changing my structure, my elasticitity.  It is allowing me to be stable and to stretch.  It is helping me find beauty in opposition, for only in using opposing forces can we move.

I’m learning it isn’t actually ideal to be completely balanced 100% because if you are, there is absolutely no movement; there is only stillness.  To create movement, there must be an imbalance, even if it is ever-so-slight.  And with this new level of rooting deep into the earth, this new level of stability, my bodily movement is so much more under my control, I can be so much more deliberate about it. Trust me, there’s still lots of work to do, but already it is improved exponentially.

This work changes everything.  It is transforming me and I will emerge on a different level.  From the outside, it looks like nothing has changed, or even maybe that I’ve “regressed” because it is so “ordinary,” as Damir puts it.  But I know the truth.  I know that internally I will never be the same.

Here’s a good analogy; I don’t care if you have a Rolex dripping in diamonds if it fails to tell accurate, reliable time, if it fails to fulfill its purpose.  I’d take a practical Casio calculator watch over it any day.  The faulty Rolex, however, is shiny and appears beautiful on the outside.  Dancing can be like this.  Right now I’m working to become a Casio.

With Damir, I’m learning to balance my Yin and Yang energies, my Masculine and Feminine.

I’m learning to stand on my own feet

I’m learning to hold and control my own space.

I’m learning to be present.

I have not learned any specific new dancing technique.  I have not learned one new step or one new way to style my arms.  I have not danced anything more than Rumba boxes, forward and back steps, delayed steps, hip turns or spirals.  No new figures.  No routines.  Only fundamentals.  They apply to EVERYTHING.  It is AWESOME.

I totally trust that I’ve made the correct move. This is exactly where I need to be.

I miss Ivan and I do hope we can partner again.  That’s mostly up to him.  I’m committed to do my work regardless.  But I have a deep knowingness that Damir is a coach, not a partner, at least at this point in time.  I also have a deep knowingness that I have no need to worry about this, that the right person will show up when I’m ready and he’s ready, be it Ivan, or no.

So that’s what’s going on with me.  I’ve no competitions in my sights.  I am committed to doing the work. And the work is, well, mundane, ordinary, and basic.  It is learning my body, feeling it spatially, and understanding how it works.  I’m honing my instrument in a way I’ve never had access to before.

I feel settled. If that even makes any sense.  I feel grounded and secure.  And I need this like no kidding to stretch beyond my current limitations.  That is part of why I had to make the change.  I could go no further without finding my center.  I needed a space where it was safe to explore my shortcomings.  With Damir, it’s encouraged.  We bring my imbalances to light and in this way dissolve them.

The work I’m doing is to find and embody the paradox; to find the stillness, calmness, steadiness in the frenzied movement of a Cha-Cha.  In this way I can be my most authentic self.  What a blessing to have found a guide and coach for this next leg of the journey.  I am becoming who I am, a little closer to my authentic self every day.

Dancing cannot fail to change a person if they take it up as their practice.  It is as potent and transformative as any practice, be it Yoga, or Soccer, Bible study or Mountain climbing.

And just like in Mountain climbing, I’m discovering that there are no short cuts to the top.  This is the title of one of Ed’s books and I think it reflects his philosophy, and a truth of life.  I am grateful to be in the place where I’m ready, willing, and able to do the work.  For me, it looks like this: eating clean, getting workouts in, continuing consistent coaching with Damir, practicing the basics.  It looks like putting in the time, doing the mundane process, and repeating until complete.  There are no short cuts to a body fat percent of 20% or less, or a balanced spiral turn.  There are no elevators to the top of Mount Everest.

And you know what?  Hooray for that!  I’m coming to know who I am more and more deeply and securely with each choice, with each pitfall, with each interaction.  I am building the foundation of who I am so as to be unshakeable.  And I’m not only after knowing who I am, I’m after loving who I am, reveling in who I am!  I’m going to get to be me, 100% me and I can’t wait.

Hooray for no longer striving and pushing and going to extremes.  Hooray for settling into do the work. It may take time, but time is going to pass anyways.  It’s simply up to me to be a consistent Casio, at this point.  Tic toc tic toc tic toc…..and soon enough the humble yet reliable Casio will be worthy of adorning the trappings of a Rolex.

It’s A Bitch!

Oh my gosh, guys!  It went so great with Damir today!  Yay!  I feel so good about my decision and totally that I am in the right place right now.  He’s just exactly the teacher I need at this point and I think it’s a case of that saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I love how conveniently located his studio is.  That was a nice perk this morning.  We are scheduled to dance three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next month.  I’m excited about having a regular schedule, which may sound odd, and for a while I really loved being so freewheeling with Ivan, but for now being consistent will move me forward more effectively, I think.

Also, I loved probably every second of my lesson.  I was a little bit nervous as I walked in the door but Damir quickly put me at ease.  He’s a total pro and so comfortable in his role.  He asked me what I wanted to work on, Rhythm or Latin, and I was like, well probably both, but I guess he doesn’t do Smooth or Standard.  That’s okay with me, at least for now.  I am very happy to focus on the other two styles.

So he was all, “Why don’t we do a basic Rumba box,” and I was like, “Great!”  I was glad to keep it simple.  And he had told me during our conversation on Friday last week that our first lessons would not be very physical, they would be assessments of where I am, what I understand.  Because the deal is, I have no idea what “level” I am.  I believe I come to the table with certain skills, and others are lacking.  I have some knowledge base, but there’s still so much I don’t know.  I don’t even know what I don’t know!

Anyways, we did a Rumba box and he didn’t announce it, but he began leading different steps, and I was able to follow…a cross over, an underarm turn, then something I wasn’t sure of but I interpreted as a spiral but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.  lol.  But he said, “Great!  I followed you well during that Spiral, Stefanie.  You have a lot of the advanced concepts but you are missing the vertical motion.”

“Cool,” I said, hungry to learn what this mysterious vertical motion is.

I’m not sure we actually even made it to whatever that vertical motion is, but I am confident we will get there in due time.  What we did do was get back to the basics and all I can say is Hallelujah!  Damir is big on building a strong, proper foundation, and I couldn’t agree more, especially in terms of where I am with my dancing at this point.  I feel like I can’t really do much more to improve the quality of my dancing with my current skill set and knowledge, all I can do is add more decoration.  But adding more decoration isn’t what I’m after.  I’m after discovering greater control over my body, and my energy.  I’m after being able to wield my instrument more like a virtuoso.  I’m after excellence.

And as Damir says, there’s gonna be a price to pay.  Yes, of course there are the usual prices like time, energy, practice, repetition, being willing to go out of my comfort zone, and being willing to trust my new teacher and the process.  But the other price is to be willing to maybe take a step back or not progress as quickly in terms of levels of dancing, and, even more than that, to be willing to place poorly, at least initially, because I will gain confidence in what I’m doing but it might not be as flashy as before.  To me, it’s priceless to have conviction of how I danced, if I nailed it (or not), and the results are separate from that.  Well, I’m willing to take this on.  In fact, I’m excited about it.

Well, anyways, on the lesson we mostly talked about walking backwards.  It sounds so simple but, as you dancers know, a LOT is going on in even the most simple movements.  It was amazing to discover new things about how I’m stepping, why one thing works and one thing doesn’t.  It was really illuminating.  And the amazing thing about Damir, which really works for me, is that he not only talks about the physical actions, but he also talks about the energetic processes going on.  In fact, he even spoke about my Chakras!  Not your typical dance teacher, but it resonates with me.

I think most of all, Damir helped me feel centered.  He helped me to identify it physically while transferring my weight between my feet, and he also helped me settle into it, from my energetic core.  My last two steps backwards on the lesson were so solid, so centered, and he didn’t even need to look at me to know it.  We both knew it – rather, we both felt it.  And that is something to be excited about!

I think I’m going to have so much fun with Damir.  I think I’m going to discover so much about myself and my dancing with his guidance.  I’m open and ready to receive, hungry for new knowledge.  I also think it will be uncomfortable at times because I will have the opportunity to change the mechanics of how I’ve been doing things, as well as learning how to connect with a new partner.  I mean, at this point Damir feels more like a coach than a partner, and that’s totally cool.  Maybe it will always be that way with him, who knows.  Regardless of how it looks, I’m super excited about this new portion of my journey.

Damir’s also awesome because already I feel like he really sees me.  He’s observed a lot about me, how I do things, my strengths and my weaknesses.  I feel like he hears me already and already he’s been spot on regarding who and how I am even though we never really had any conversations about it.  It feels great to be recognized.

And guess what?!  I have a folder!  I was so excited when I saw it – my name is spelled correctly, and it’s so pretty, and it just feels good that we are tracking what we are doing.  Again, with Ivan it was great to be so free for a time, but now I like the idea of routine, consistency.


I love how she looks – so free and open and expressive.  Just like I want to be.  It’s the perfect color and it just makes me happy.

So by now you are probably wondering why I titled this post, “It’s a bitch” when things went so well on the lesson lol. Well, I think that’s going to be Damir’s catchphrase.  He said it about 5 times on our lesson hehe.  Basically, he acknowledges that part of the process of becoming a dancer with greater quality and more internal movement is a pain in the butt!  We have to remember why we are doing that same step for the 5000th time.   But the phrase made me laugh.  It’s totally true, and I love how he calls a spade a spade – he’s at least as honest as Ivan ever was.

So that’s the deal, yo!  All good stuff. I’m energized about dancing again, feeling the joy, and, bonus, back on plan with my food and working out.  Things are looking up!

When it comes down to it, I’m proud of myself for making the decision I made, even though it was sad.  Good job, Stef! You’re going places!