An Epic Vomit Story, Ham Hocks, And I’m Glad I Wore Tights! (Not Necessarily In That Order)

Boy am I glad I wore mostly-opaque black tights tonight!  I’m even more glad I wore my “boy shorts” underwear.  Why, you ask?  Because if I hadn’t, it could have been a very embarrassing evening.

Tonight Ivan and I had a really good lesson.  And afterwards Ivan was like, “This is your second good lesson.  I like it.  I love it.  But it is your second good lesson in two months.  Can you believe it?”

The truth is, he’s right.  It’s been a roller coaster the past two months.  Playing with the same last 10 pounds.  Other life things.  The long and the short of it is that I showed up for my lessons, sometimes sporadically, and it didn’t help that Ivan and Marieta had a full competition schedule.  I went through the motions, but that’s about it.  It’s not necessarily a “bad” thing – because there is value in repetition and showing up – but was the quality and presence there?  Not like it can be.  And consistency was lacking.  But still, I kept going, and sometimes that’s all a person can do.

I have to say that over the last few months I’ve learned some lessons.  Well, I think it is more like I’ve come to know these concepts, not as intellectual understandings, but as integrated aspects of my being.  For instance, everyone always says, “it’s the journey, not the destination,” and “trust the process” and other platitudes that I usually think are total crap.  And, well…  I am starting to see value in “the process” even when it doesn’t look exactly like I want it to or think it should.  Even when it looks exactly opposite of what I would have said I would have wanted.  Like gaining weight back.  But now after a week of consistency and being back on the program, I am back down and heading toward my goals again.  And just knowing that not all was lost was a huge win.  Instead of going into a total tailspin I talked to myself calmly, saying to myself that I know what to do, and I just need to do it.  And I chose to be gentle with myself until I had the inner resources to jump back on the horse – again, another huge triumph.

Because the deal is, that I’m the one driving the bus.  It’s all up to me.  I get the results I get from the choices I make. And sometimes there’s a lot to juggle.  And now, instead of feeling upset, put upon, indignant thinking about this, I feel empowered.  It’s my choice.  I DO have control over some things, like my food, my activity level.  And most of all, I embraced the idea that all this is a lifestyle, not a diet.  I’m in it for the long haul.  If there are blips up, that’s okay, even if it is a 10 pound blip, because that’s not the final outcome.  Because life is life.  There are choices I make because I want to enjoy things, be social, share a meal with family or my husband, or because I’m depressed and the best way I can figure to comfort myself, nurture myself, isn’t to eat what is on my plan.  And, it’s worth it.  I’m done with being a black or white, absolute right or wrong, good and bad-thinking person when it comes to my journey to health.  I can make any choice I want at any moment.  I can choose to eat cake when I feel like the benefit outweighs the price and vice versa.  That, to me, is the most empowering thing of all.  I can change my mind at any moment, nothing is off limits, and I’m going to make the choices that serve me best, holistically.  I love and value myself enough to do that.  And, truly, most of the time the best choices are to be on plan and to engage in regular activity.  And, sometimes they are not.  It’s about discretion and insight.

Maybe some people don’t understand how big these wins are if they’ve never been severely overweight.  Hell, I couldn’t even see them as wins until now.  I had to belittle any progress I made because it was never “enough,” because I was never skinny, never even close.  But from my recent experience I now believe that it’s okay to acknowledge what is going on, to see the changes that are happening.  In this case they were changes I didn’t like, but then, this time around, instead of thinking I’d completely failed, that I was a total loser, that I had slipped up for a fraction of a second and screwed everything up forever, I realized I just needed to make different choices.  And I also realized I’d made the choices I had for valid reasons.  I simply had to own all of it, and allow it to be okay that I’d not been “perfect.”  And this time, I somehow avoided the whole self-denigrating, beat-to-a-bloody-pulp punishment method and just got straight away to the next proactive step.  That, my friends, is a MAJOR victory.  Maybe some people don’t have to go there to learn this, but I did.  And that’s why I have a little more trust in “the process” no matter how it looks.   I gained wisdom, I gained a different level of confidence, I gained 10 pounds, and this week I lost 6 of them.  And I understand this entire experience like I never understood it before.

And with the proactive steps I’ve been taking comes progress and results, and, for me, self-esteem.  Because, let’s face it, it’s pretty obvious that how I feel reflects in my body – with weight and with dancing.  So it follows that with better self-esteem, goes better dancing. And thus was the case tonight.

Amazing, isn’t it?

In summary, I’m in a pretty good place overall.  Yes, my last lesson before tonight was a total bummer, but the one prior to that was just as good as the one tonight.  Things are looking up.  I’m heading in the right direction.

So, yes, tonight we had a good lesson.  Full of connection and feeling.  Full of constructive conversation and polishing.  We were in sync, we laughed, he taught me a new Bulgarian phrase – my legs are “Sfvinski crack” – ham legs, when they were moving slow.  And he confused me with his thick accent which was entertaining.

It happened like this: To begin the Rumba he puts his hand out and I’m to react and accept it.  Then we do a slow hip roll and then we’re off doing some forward Rumba walks.  Anyways, we’re to look into each other’s eyes until the moment we jet forward.  It’s actually a pretty intimate, connected moment.  It takes some presence.  And, of course, Ivan is all about the connection, and even more about the idea that the leader leads and the follower reacts.  I’m not to move until I get the “signal.”  To reiterate and further explain this notion, Ivan told me that he was the man and that he was the one that “opened the driveway gate.”  He said, “The man has the cold.”  Well, at least, that was what it sounded like, lol.

“The man has the cold?”

“Yes, the man has the cold.  Beep boop beep.”  Ivan pantomimed a finger punching a keypad.

“Oh!  The man has the code!”

“Yes, what you think I say?  The man has the cold.  You cannot open without the man cold!”

Uh huh.  Right. lol.  But really, he does so well with English!  I laugh and it’s funny and all, but I have so much respect for how well he communicates.  As a person who has been in a country that speaks a different language I understand how daunting a task it is.

But I digress.  We worked mostly on Rumba and Bolero in the jam-packed studio.  They were having a social dance party for half of the time we were on our lesson.  But you know, I didn’t even really notice it.  I was so into what we were doing, so focused on our work, it was as if we had our own separate space in an invisible bubble as we weaved in and out of the other couples.  I was happy to discover a few new details to incorporate in the dances, little moments with expanded arms, exaggerated whiplash through the body, remembering to push my hips upward as I do backbends.  It was a productive, joyful lesson.  I was mostly on balance.  Ivan told me I had never danced like I danced tonight.

However, at one point we were doing the beginning of the Bolero where Ivan runs up to me and puts his hands on my legs and I’m supposed to react, as he says, like “he’s the prince,” and I’m being “touched for the very first time.”  And that I’m supposed to enjoy it, or, at least look like I enjoy it, and he started raising his hands upwards and my skirt was raised with them, up, up, up….until you could see about 2 inches of my underwear!  OMG!!!!

There is no other context in which this would be okay in public!

And even so, when it happened I was like, 1) thinking internally that I’d made an excellent wardrobe choice and 2) yelling at Ivan that I didn’t want to show everyone all my cookies even as he was saying to me, “It’s okay!  If you love it everybody gonna love it!”

Oh what a wild life I lead!

But I do want to acknowledge that I’ve come a long way.  Because even though I don’t want to necessarily regularly show my underwear in public, I wasn’t totally mortified.  That may sound strange, but listen, I’ve developed some level of comfort with my body and that is an EXCEPTIONALLY good thing.  Also, I dress in the boy shorts and with tights or leggings because I have developes in some of my routines so I want to make sure I’m appropriately covered for those.  I have to be comfortable to do those kind of moves.  Anyways, I was prepared (I mean, I don’t even own a g-string, but if I did, and had worn it tonight, it would have been a TOTALLY different story!) and better than that, the wardrobe mishap didn’t freak me out.

So that little episode was, ahem, entertaining, but  even more entertaining was Ivan’s epic vomit story, a play in two acts.  He told me the first part a long time ago when we were reminiscing about New Year’s Eve.  Apparently one New Year’s, Ivan got blasted.  So blasted that he was going to be sick on the drive home.  He begged Marieta to stop, she urged him to hold on for just a little while longer.  He tried to roll down the window…and blew chunks.  Everywhere.  Inside. Outside.  All over.

The next morning he awoke, knowing he was blitzed but not quite remembering the events of the previous evening.

He showered.  He got ready for the day.  He got into the car.

The miasma of dried stomach contents curled his nose hairs.

He looked around.  He saw the salad he’d eaten.  Chunks of the chicken.  Red peppers.

It was epic.  Thus ends act one.

Apparently two weekends ago Ivan had a repeat performance.  Let’s call it act two.  It was hilarious hearing about it from Ivan, with all his over-the-top expressions, funny accent, and wild gesticulations.  He went to a party at his friend’s house and got hosed.  Marieta drove him home.  This time, he claims, he didn’t even have the energy to warn her or to request that she stop so he could be sick.  He struggled with massive effort to lower the window.  This time, he says, he “had learned from his previous experience” and so, he stuck his head out the window, his neck extended gracefully long like “a giraffe.”

He saw a car approaching.  The headlights were about to pass him in the next lane.  “It was amazing!” he said.  “One minute I see the lights, the next they are gone!”  Covered in his vomit, the light from the headlamps was drowned out.  He sprayed vehemently all along the outside of his car.

Once again he awoke the next morning, knowing he was hungover, and took a shower, prepared for the day, not quite remembering the exact events of the previous night.

“You’d better go check the car,” said Marieta.

“Why?” Inquired our hero, “Did the ‘check engine’ light come on?  Is there something wrong with the tires?”

“You’d better go check the car,” she repeated once again, exasperated.

He checked the car.  As he approached the side and accounted for most of the Technicolor specks of food (from where is come these carrots? He queried), so did his neighbor appear.

“Looks like you had an exciting night,” said the neighbor.

Ivan procured his garden hose.

He cleaned the car, but apparently, as he told me tonight, even after the cleaning, his mom, who is visiting from Bulgaria, opened the window and found a layer of slime that he’d missed.

“Good thing I sold the van,” he proclaimed on the lesson.

Who is the poor soul who purchased it, I wonder.  Alas, they will never know the full extent of its storied history.  And, that, my friends, is probably a good thing.

The End.




Mambo In Chinatown

Hello readers!

Maybe you’ve noticed – I’ve been on a little hiatus.  Things are going just fine, still dancing and all that but I guess there just doesn’t seem like much noteworthy to share recently, well, except that on my last lesson we went to a new studio and there was another couple there that Ivan and I know from competitions and they were totally having all these dramatic spats!  It was kinda uncomfortable but kinda funny at the same time because even though they’d yell at each other like cats, and storm off to opposite ends of the room, two seconds later they were smiling and dancing again.  I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s healthy, but it seems like that is how they communicate, how their relationship is set up.  To each his own.  But I digress.  This is not the main purpose of my post today.

Today I have a special treat for you!

You see, I have fans, fans far and wide.  Even fans who are bestselling authors, yes I do!  Fans who write great books about ballroom dancing and who have agents who approach me to feature their book.  This particular fan is named Jean Kwok and I know she is a fan only because I got this note:

Will you also please tell Stefanie that I actually found and read her blog when I was doing research for Mambo in Chinatown? Isn’t that a coincidence? I’m a big fan of hers! I love her voice and enthusiasm. I enjoyed hearing her insights about the world of ballroom very much, and I absolutely share her passion for ballroom!

Ha!  Too cool, right?!

Well you see, Jean is already a bestselling author for her book “Girl in Translation,” and now she has a second book coming out, poised to be another bestseller titled, “Mambo in Chinatown.”


Yours truly was lucky enough to get an advanced copy which I really enjoyed and then, even better than that, I had the opportunity to ask Jean some questions as well as get some exclusive photos of Jean herself, dancing, which I will share with you presently.  Because guess what?  Jean is the real deal.  Not only has she danced ballroom, she was a professional and even competed both with professional and amateur partners, once upon a time even with Jose Decamps!

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So what is the book about?  To quote the book cover, it’s “a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties and her secret escapes into a more Western world.”

Charlie Wong is the main character, an American-born Chinese girl 21 years of age.  She lives pretty miserably as a dishwasher with her widower father and younger sister.  She gets a job as the receptionist of a ballroom studio and her world changes.  We follow Charlie’s journey as she blossoms through her exposure to the ballroom dancing world even as her sister becomes chronically ill.  While Charlie comes to understand more of the Western world, her father continues to be suspicious of it and insists his youngest daughter be treated only with Eastern practices.  Charlie is left to reconcile where she has come from with who she has become.

If this piques your interest, because come on, if you are like me, you are always looking for books about ballroom, and I think most of us relate to the transformative power of dancing, then you can pre-order the book here

So without further ado, here we go with the exclusive Q and A!  I’m pretty excited about it!

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom: When did you start dancing? 

Jean Kwok:  I was an immigrant child living in an unheated apartment in the slums of Brooklyn, so I didn’t have the chance to take any dance lessons when I was growing up. I desperately wanted to, though. I envied my friends who went to ballet school. It wasn’t until I was at Harvard that I started taking dance lessons on my own. I must have been terrible since I was such a late beginner, but I loved it. I took all sorts of dance classes: ballet, African, jazz, Middle Eastern. I made the decision to become a writer at around the same time, so after I graduated, I searched for a day job in New York City that would allow me to write in the evenings. I saw an ad in the paper that read, “Wanted: Professional Ballroom Dancer, Will Train.”

I was terrified but I wanted that job so much. I passed the interview and was invited to an audition. At the audition, they picked about twenty of us to join a three-week training class. At the end of that class, miraculously, they hired me at Fred Astaire and that was the beginning of my truly learning how to dance.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How long have you danced?

Jean Kwok:  I worked as a professional ballroom dancer for three years. It was so hard to learn to dance well, and yet it was one of the most exhilarating things I’d ever done. In that time, I did shows, competitions and taught students. I still love to dance but unfortunately, I am married to a wonderful man who does not dance. I guess you can’t have everything. ;-) In the process of doing research for Mambo in Chinatown, I not only came across this wonderful blog of yours, Stefanie, but I also went back into the ballroom world. I danced a salsa with Jungie Zamora at Fred Astaire East Side Studio, which is now owned by my dear friends, famous choreographer and coaches Taliat and Marina Tarsinov. We filmed this salsa and I’ll release it on my website soon.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom: What is your favorite dance style?

Jean Kwok:  I love all of the dances: the speed and precision of a Viennese waltz, for example; the poise and grace of foxtrot; the hypnotic rhythm of tango; but I have to say that my heart belongs to the Latin dances. Mambo, rumba, cha cha are so unfettered, passionate and intense, while requiring tremendous discipline at the same time. I love doing high-speed turns and I enjoy the complexity of interaction with my dance partner. Outside of ballroom, I also love just going out dancing and rocking the night away. I’ve been hoping to get a group of dancing writers together but thus far, no success.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  Do you compete?

Jean Kwok:  I competed with my students and with professional partners as well. I had some wonderful students and we competed in all dance styles as Pro-Am couples. With my professional partners, I competed in Latin. In fact, I danced briefly with Jose Decamps, now 4-time US and 3-time World Rhythm Champion. Jose and I had some great times together. I won Top Professional Female at Fred Astaire National Championships right before I left ballroom. Leaving dance broke my heart but I needed to pursue my dream of becoming a writer, so I went to Columbia to get my MFA in fiction.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  Is the story autobiographical in any way? How so?

Jean Kwok:  I think that fiction is for me, always a veiled way of telling the truth. Like my heroine Charlie, I had always been considered clumsy and not-too-bright by my family. I was dreamy and no good at any domestic skills whatsoever. I burned everything, I hated to clean, I was opinionated and stubborn. (I’m still like that, actually.) Unlike Charlie, I was born with a gift for school, which is kind of like being born with an extra toe. I’ve often thought that if my gifts had been reversed, if I were good at cooking and cleaning and not gifted at school, I would be most likely working in a restaurant somewhere today. That was the beginning of Mambo in Chinatown.

I wanted to tell the story of a seemingly talentless young woman who discovers something she loves – ballroom dance – and thereby unleashes her own gifts. I also wanted to show my readers worlds they might not have seen firsthand: the professional ballroom dance world and Chinatown.

There are so many incidents from the book that come from my own life. Charlie goes to her interview at the dance studio in an oversized red dress, a red turban around her badly-cut hair, and black pumps that she has filled in with magic marker to cover up their worn patches. That was exactly what I wore to my interview. I had learned many things in college but how to dress was not one of them!

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How has dancing enriched your life?

Jean Kwok:  If I had never discovered dance, I would be a different person today. Dance has taught me about passion, health, my body, grace, humility, beauty and discipline. For me, both writing and dance are ways of accessing the deepest parts of my spirit. Through dance, I rejoice and grieve, I stretch the boundaries of my experience as a woman and as a human being.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How do you respond when people say that they are interested in dancing but are too afraid to start?

Jean Kwok:  Well, I know all about fear and I sympathize. Years ago, I made a decision that changed my life: to never allow fear to stop me from doing something I truly wanted to do. If I had listened to my fear, I would never have stepped into the dance studio and my life would be so much poorer for it. I would also say that ballroom is extremely forgiving. It’s been designed to be easy and anyone can do it. Of course, it also grows with you and the better you become, the harder it gets. That’s why it’s so fun.

So there you go!  I’m so happy Jean allowed me to be involved with the launch of her new novel.  It’s one of the better books about ballroom dancing I’ve had the pleasure to read.

You can follow Jean on Facebook here and on Twitter here


Calculus Of The Body

Hello lovelies!

It’s hard to sit down and write a blog post when you are obsessed with the Olympics!  Seriously – they are so addicting.  And it’s so interesting watching them this year, because my perspective is different from it was before.  I’m a competitor myself these days and especially watching the figure skating I see so many similarities.  I’d never really considered the mindset necessary for performance, especially under pressure, and you may think it’s odd but I swear I’m learning by watching these athletes.  Because, well, guess what, I’m an athlete too.  I think that’s been one of the biggest changes in how I think of myself as I’ve been on this journey – I see myself and own the fact that I’m a dancer, an artist, an athlete and these were not identities I’d proclaim before.  But I had no context for how to be an effective competitor prior to ballroom dancing so it’s been a learning curve!

So anyways, I was laughing because my mom asked me if I was watching the Ice Dancing and of course I was and she was all, “Can you imagine doing all those things on skates?”  And I was like, “Um, no.  It’s hard enough on dry land in heels!”

Okay, so before I get any further in this post, I have some news.  Today I finally, finally, frickin’ finally hit 100 pounds gone from my highest weight.  It’s taken years.  It’s a milestone.  I’m glad about it.  And, I’m totally focused on where I’m going.  Because the truth is, I still have about 75 pounds more to go.  Next stop, under 200 pounds.  I’ve decided to set milestones along the way.  The one after that will be 180 pounds because then I will be officially “overweight” instead of “obese” according to my BMI.  Finally, I have an idea that my goal weight will be around 140 pounds.  That’s not set in stone.  I’m actually more concerned with achieving a body fat percentage of 20% or less even if it is at a higher (or lower) weight because that is the body fat of an athlete.

So anyways, go me.  I’ve done some calculus on my body.  I say that because if you know how calculus works, it’s taking a curve and cutting it up into infinitesimally small sections to find a sum total.  Well, that’s how losing weight works too.  It’s the sum of a ton of tiny efforts taken consistently over time that will eventually create a sum total effect.  Day in and day out.  Every meal, every workout, every bite.  If I stray, even a little, my body is such an efficient machine, it will not give anything up.  I have to be on it like no kidding.  So I am.

Okay, so now I bet you are wondering what is going on with my dancing seeing as I’ve not posted about myself in a while with the month of guest posts.  Well, things are going pretty well.  The deal is the biggest issue is losing the weight.  Ivan and I agree that it’s the bigger problem than my actual dancing.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to work on – but I have a good base and the aspect that will give me the most bang for my buck, that will change how I move the most, isn’t learning new steps or changing small details (which are also very important), but rather it’s getting the weight off.  With being lighter I’ll automatically be able to move more, have more energy and stamina, and will have more confidence.

I really believe that’s probably the biggest aspect of all – feeling good about myself.  When I feel good I dance better.  Period.  I hold my body differently.  I stand up.  I project.  I fill the music.

So anyways, right now we are kind of in a holding pattern.  It’s actually good in lots of ways.  I’ve cut back on the number of lessons I take weekly because I’m at the gym more often and again, the priority is to get smaller and lighter.  My activities have to reflect that priority.  Still, I see him about 2 times weekly, sometimes for a double lesson.  And we are going over our routines.  I’m glad about it.  Because my American Rhythm open routines were pretty new – there’s still a lot to clean up and polish.  Not to mention just making things automatic in my muscle memory so that I can add more embellishments as time goes on.  So I’m happy to do lots of repetition and just be with Ivan on my lesson.

He never fails to entertain.  Not only is he funny as hell, but I also feel so blessed to get to work with Ivan.  Let me tell you some of the funny stuff first, then I’ll tell you why I’m so glad he’s my partner.

Okay, so the funny stuff is because he’s Bulgarian.  He had a charity event here locally called Dancing With The Stars to raise money for the Kidney Foundation and he told me he had to go home and “paint his hair.”  Haha!  He meant dye it.  Also, when I was doing my “signature” Bolero move I was all, “God Ivan!  It’s a feat!” and he was all like, “What you talking about?  Feet?”  It’s different but difficult to explain.

Okay, now the mushy stuff.  Ivan’s amazing.  I love how he isn’t just about technique.  I love how he is about connection and expression.  I love how he wants me to be present and to live the dance.  I love that he can see that inside me and wants to share it with me.  I love how he wants to build a partnership with me (and with each of his students/partners) and that it has the space to breathe and be unique.  It’s like, who else could I do this work with?  Of all the other dance teachers in the area, there is maybe one other person who I could  maybe work with, who I think would possibly be a fit.  I feel so blessed to be with Ivan.  There’s no one like him.

So one thing he’s been saying lately when I have a moment where I am too much in my head about something rather than being present with him in a dance is, “You forget with who you are dancing.”  And that’s a shame.  I don’t want to miss one second of it, you know?

So one thing that has been really great on our last lesson was working on connection.  We took the time to slow down, and go through moves piece by piece so we could discover when there are gaps, places where I let go, where I’m off-balance.  It was so wonderful.  It was an opportunity for me to get my bearings, him to get his, and the for us to come together and sort of merge into one unit, moving together.  It’s pretty much the optimal, ideal situation when dancing.  It requires presence and sensitivity and flexibility and openness, vulnerability and the ability to tap into the magic “action-reaction” of connection.  And it requires me to be in the flow, to be relaxed, and that’s usually not the space I’m in before a competition.

But I did have one competition where I was brimming with confidence and relaxed, so I know it’s possible.  I think the biggest thing was just feeling prepared and ready going into it, that I’d prepared myself properly and I knew what I was doing, and that I had been moving forward consistently prior to the competition, that I was in a good space for the time that had elapsed since the previous event.  So that’s what I’m working toward during this time.  As I’m getting this weight off, getting my body into shape, I’m working on the connection, the partnership, really knowing my body and my choreography, and I’m so satisfied about it.  It’s actually been great to be working out outside of my lessons on my cardio because I feel like it’s totally okay to working on less intense aspects of dancing, that there isn’t so much pressure just to do rounds, so we can spend the time on things we can only work on together.  Increasing my cardiovascular capacity isn’t one of them.

And I have to say it’s been helping.  I can get thorough so much more so much more comfortably now that I torture myself on the stair machine regularly during the week.  I definitely notice a difference in my endurance.

I think that’s all the news that’s news!  Oh, except that tomorrow, Tuesday, Dance Advantage is running a story on me!  That’s pretty awesome :) – go check it out.

Guest Blog Post: See Jen Dance!

Our journey with guest blog posts continues!  This time with See Jen Dance, a very special blog written by a very special woman.  I love how many people inspire me in the dance community.  Jen, take it away….

Howdy! Stefanie has graciously asked me to share my perspective with all of you. My marketing background can’t pass up an opportunity for shameless promotion, so here we go.

I’m a recently “retired” competitive and performance ballroom dancer, which is odd to say because I’m only in my thirties. However, I remain an active west coast swing competitor and community member; attempting to travel to competitions monthly. I also work as a marketing assistant for the dance studio I’ve called home for the last five years.

However, like many syllabus ballroom steps, there is more to me than meets the eye. For the past 31 years, I’ve been living with Type 1 diabetes.

Let’s get a few questions out of the way, shall we? (And yes, I’ve been asked these in some way shape or form.)

1) But you are so thin, petite and active [and insert adjective here]? How can you have diabetes?
Um, thanks? Type 1 diabetes (and Type 2 for that matter) can affect anyone – big, small, young, old, tall and really, really short. (Hi!) Please don’t let the media or Dr. Google tell you otherwise.

2) Oh, so you take insulin. Do you have the bad kind of diabetes?
I didn’t realize there was a good kind of diabetes, so yes? No – not really. Diabetes is a manageable chronic condition. But it’s just that – a chronic condition.

3) My grandmother’s sister’s cousin twice removed had diabetes and [she controlled it with diet and exercise and it went away] / [lost her foot/eyesight] / [died last year].
Oh boy.  We’re gonna leave that one alone. I assure you – I have all of my toes.

4) So – have you rhinestoned your insulin pump yet?
No – but I really want to.

I initially started to dance because I wanted a creative outlet, but then it became way more interesting (and productive!) than heading to the gym three times a week, so I jumped in headfirst and competed in my first pro/am after only three months of working with a teacher. I was on stage performing five months later. I’ve competed in a number of pro/am competitions since then, spent enough money on lessons, dresses, shoes, and travel than I care to admit, and have made great lifelong friends.

I began my blog,, in 2012 to add my online voice to the large pool of athletes with diabetes. (No one blogged about ballroom dancing. Everyone runs marathons or climbs rocks for some reason.) My blog is a place for advocacy and awareness and much of my audience are T1s, T2s, or T3s, but every now and then, I throw in a funny adventure featuring my instructor or some crazy competition experience.

The tricky part with taking on such an active hobby with an “invisible illness” is finding the balance between maintaining perceived normalcy and sticking out like you have two left feet (literally). On one hand, I can go in with the attitude that “diabetes can’t/won’t stop me… I CAN do anything I want… including wearing two yards of spandex and fringe with my insulin pump as well hidden accessory.” (Been there, done that.) It keeps the rude questions and stares to a minimum if caring for my health goes unnoticed. In spite of my efforts to be discreet, I’m not always successful – particularly when a low blood sugar prevents me from finishing a class or rudely interrupts a private lesson.

I’ve tried a variety of treatments to accommodate the needs of competitive dancing. I’ve been a pump user for nearly 10 years, but have been known to switch back to multiple daily injections when a show or competition is on the horizon, both for practical and cosmetic reasons. My control suffers briefly, but I work closely with my doctors to figure out the best temporary substitute. Plus – after being connected to something battery powered 24/7, a “break” is appreciated. No matter how I try or what method I use, it’s always a bit of a crapshoot. You deal with the stress of training and competing as a healthy person; now add the stress of managing a chronic illness on top of that. (I never said I was sane. :) ) I will admit that my desire to perform, compete, and prep were bigger life motivators than trying to maintain my blood sugars. After all, dancing made me happy, even when it was stressful. Diabetes… is just diabetes; there is no reward. (I take that back… keeping all of your limbs is definitely, definitely a reward.)

People with diabetes often speak of their “team.” Usually it involves their medical team, or a family member or significant other. I often include my instructor as part of my team. I know my relationship with my instructor is unique for a pro/am duo. I think, as a ballroom community, we tend to think of our instructors as these elusive beings that teach us to dance for an hour a week, but you can’t be friends with them outside of the studio settings. It makes sense for most pros to want to keep their personal lives private and separate from their student base in order to please everyone. However, when it comes to condition management, it makes more sense to share the intimate details of it with the people who see me the most often. It’s comforting to know that he does his own research on how he can help me live better. (And dance better, of course.)

We often read about how dance has helped lift the spirits of those that are downtrodden. Or that it’s cheaper than therapy. (Well… I don’t know about that. It’s more fun than therapy, that’s for sure.) Those with chronic conditions are often reminded about the physical complications that can be brought on over time. Very rarely do we talk about the mental and emotional toll “being different” can be, particularly when “well, you don’t look sick.” We don’t always have a safe way to escape its constant nagging.

Dance is my safe haven. May it inspire you to find yours.

see jen

Guest Post: Adventures In The Dance Kingdom!

Welcome lucky readers!  Today I have such a treat for you.  I’m very pleased to share this guest post from Adventures In The Dance Kingdom.  His signature blend of hilarious photos of Lego people (including one in a chicken suit!) and tales of his adventures in dancing is most charming and endearing.  I’ was hooked straight away and have enjoyed his blog for a while now so I’m glad I get the opportunity now to share it now with you! Enjoy!


I Like To Move It, Move It

 This is me.


I like to think of myself as just your average yellow-skinned, green tunic wearing 30-something guy who lives in Charlotte, NC. The only caveat to that is that I also happen to spend a lot of time studying how to dance. Specifically, I study the ins and outs of ballroom dancing (as you probably guessed, since this is posted on a site that discusses ballroom dancing). One of those things that I get asked frequently when people find out that I have this hobby is ‘why do you do it?’ Well, aside from my mysterious superhero-like origin story that goes through all the crazy mishaps that led me to this place (it may or may not involve getting bitten by a radioactive dance shoe – I’ll leave that to your imagination), one of the big reasons I dance is really quite simple:

I do it for the ladies.

Now before your mind rolls right down the roof and into the gutter, hear me out. Whether you want to do it socially or competitively, the term “ballroom dancing” covers many those unique styles of dancing that requires two things to make them work properly – someone to lead, and someone to follow. I’m not the type of person to get hung up on specific gender roles, but if you were to step into your average dance studio, the lead is generally given to the male dancers, leaving the female dancers to be the followers. In times of yore, when balls that hosted dance events using the early forms of these dance styles were held, it wasn’t hard to find a male who knew the dance. It was part of their training, being raised among the privileged – the peasantry learned the folk dances that were popular at the time. Today, with interest in ballroom dancing revived through various television shows that I’m sure you’ve heard of, people are signing up to learn these arts once again. You’ll find when you look around that average dance studio you stepped into earlier that the majority of the people who are there learning are women. One might think that, knowing how much women like to dance, more single men would be signing up in an attempt to capitalize on that market. But in the time I’ve been studying to dance in the Dance Kingdom, I haven’t seen all that many men come through – and the ones I have seen tend to not stick with it for very long. I have some theories as to why this is, and the main one is that in the world of ballroom dancing, it is rather challenging being a guy. Let me see if I can describe some of the challenges for you…

One of the things I have run into when talking to people about what I do for fun is the notion many people have about the type of man that likes to dance. Let me give you an example: I remember back to a story Sparkledancer (my competitive dance partner) once told me about discussing her hobby with some men that she worked with, and what it was like to compete with me in the dance competitions we decided to try together. Those guys made some jokes at my expense, asking her if I was an “effeminate” guy. That seems to be a stereotype that men have when they think of male dancers. Now, if you knew me, you would know that I do a lot of physical activity on a daily basis. A lot. So, if I were to pick an adjective to describe myself, effeminate would not be it. What these gentlemen fail to understand is that dancing of this nature is actually a lot of work. It’s not like being in college and going out to a club so you can wiggle back and forth with a girl while drinking. My dance partner was also nice enough to tell me that she made sure they knew that I was far from effeminate, so you don’t have to just take my word for it.


Don’t mind me, just stretching my hamstrings…

There are also a lot of working parts to dancing that the lead has to keep track of while moving around the floor. I once had a discussion like this once with Sparkledancer about the main differences between being the leader and being the follower in dance. She told me that as the follower, it was her main job to make whatever I was doing look pretty. There’s a lot to be said about that. As a boy, it’s not really in my nature to want to look pretty, so that’s not even close to one of those things I usually think about when I’m on the dance floor. For me, the most important things that I tend to think about are the rhythm and timing, the musical phrasing within the song, what figures I plan on doing next, and (in travelling dances) the positions of all the other dancers on the floor near me. How graceful or emotional I look is kind of an afterthought, and sometimes is even something I rely solely on muscle memory to get across. The follower, Sparkledancer explained, didn’t necessarily need to know in depth things like the names of any of the figures, or the rules of what steps are or are not allowed in each of the International versus American styles of dance, or how the figures I chose would line up with the phrases of the song playing. That’s the sort of thing she would trust in me to do correctly. Her first focus is on the movements of my body in our dance frame, and how she can interpret those movements to know what steps I want her to do. After that, she is concerned with the way each of the steps she does looks, how her extensions are, and the ‘prettiness’ (for lack of a better word) of the movement. Because, let’s face it, most people (male and female) want to watch what the female dancer is doing out on the dance floor during the average dance. I’m more like a dance prop. So the girls really need to make it look good, because all eyes are on them. Next time you happen to be out on the dance floor, whether in competition or socially, take a second to realize how different your thought patterns must be.


Another big issue that I know also affects the ladies (but in a different way) is that there are just too few men to go around. Our society today foists the idea onto boys that it is important to be manly, and favors ridicule for men who take up “womanly” hobbies. Because of this, right now there just aren’t that many male dancers to go around. As I mentioned earlier, many of the men I see come through the studio just don’t stay around for very long. Some of them leave because it’s fairly obvious that their spouse likes dancing while they don’t, so the men get “voted off the island” (as one female dancer once told me). Some of the men leave out of frustration, because learning new things as an adult is hard and people don’t like sticking around if they can’t get it right away. With so few men available, a guy does get to have a big say with what is going on and who he wants to dance with. With all the men out on the floor dancing, the women that came to the party without a partner are left in the background, eagerly anticipating the time that they will be asked to dance. After all, without someone to lead them, women who learn the follower’s part are stuck just standing there. In situations like this, I feel like I have a responsibility to try and dance with as many women as possible throughout the night. Whether it’s in a group class session at a studio or a social dance event, with women always waiting in the wings to go out on the floor, guys don’t get breaks.

Whew! Hopefully my rambling here gives you a better idea of what I mean when I say that I dance for the ladies. Keep that in mind if you see me stop to breathe a little bit at a dance party.

Guest post: Patrice Tanaka, author of “Becoming Ginger Rogers”

I am so excited today to share with you this guest post from Patrice! I loved reading her book and was thrilled when she agreed to participate and contribute to Ballroom Village and my blog. Patrice is warm and generous and, I feel, a kindred spirit, when it comes to how we approach dancing in terms of joy. Ivan also tells me I am and “advanced social dancer” rather than any particular level. So without further ado, I give you Patrice. Enjoy!

Dancing is a Shortcut to Happiness

I saw a meme on Facebook recently, which said “There are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.” For those of us who dance, these words have the ring of truth! Ballroom dancing is how I found my way back to joy and, at age 50, it helped me to reclaim my life again.

It sounds dramatic to say, “reclaim my life,” but I was in a pretty bad place before ballroom dance. I was burnt out after leading a talented, but, at times, contentious group of 12 co-founder/owners in starting up and building an award-winning PR agency over the previous 12 years while also caring for a sick husband who was in the final year and a half of his 17-year battle with a brain tumor. I had back burnered my own needs and desires for many years and personal happiness was not something I had experienced in a long time.

In February 2002, I started working with an executive coach because I was depressed and in a malaise that I couldn’t shake.
My depression was shared by many New Yorkers who lived in the city through 9/11. I was haunted by those nearly 3,000 people who died in the Twin Towers five months earlier. I thought about those nearly 3,000 people who went to work that morning and didn’t return home that evening. I wondered what they were thinking in the moments just before they knew they were going to die. If it were me, I think I’d be trying to convince myself that I had done everything that I most wanted to do in life and that I was “good to go.” My fear was that many of the people who died that day were not good to go. Many of them were young, in their 20’s, and probably not thinking about their mortality. I imagine, like most of us, they thought that they’d have a long enough life to get around to doing everything they most wanted to do.

At my first session with the executive coach, Suzanne Levy, she asked me to rethink my purpose in life so that she could help me to live that purpose. I groaned inwardly – maybe outwardly, too – at the seemingly daunting task of having to rethink my purpose in life at a time when I was so depressed that it was a struggle to get out of bed each morning. But, rethink my purpose I did.

At my next coaching session, I shared with Suzanne that my new purpose in life, informed by the nearly 3,000 people who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, was simply: “To choose joy in my life each day; to be mindful of that joy; and to share that joy with others. I told Suzanne that, if I could live my life this way, I’d be “good to go” whenever it was my time.

Suzanne asked me the natural follow-up question, “So, what brings you joy?” I had spent so much time trying to home in on and articulate my purpose in life that I hadn’t even thought about the answer to that question. So, I blurted out the first thing that came into my mind, “Dancing!” I was as surprised as she was to hear this.

I had totally forgotten that the reason I came to New York City to seek my fame and fortune was because of Ginger Rogers and the magical movie musicals she made with Fred Astaire, many of them set in the exciting, big city backdrop of Manhattan. I was hooked on Ginger since I was 8 years old. I yearned to live in Manhattan so I could wear beautiful, evening gowns like Ginger Rogers and dance with a tuxedo-clad, Fred Astaire-like escort at the swanky Stork Club. That was the dream that brought me to New York City and one I had totally forgotten until that moment.

When my executive coach discovered that it had been a year or so since I’d been dancing, her homework assignment for me was to book myself a ballroom dance class. And, this is how I began to reclaim my life with one, hour-long lesson a week. Soon, I was laughing again and having fun. One lesson a week over the following years became a full-fledged passion/obsession, involving two then three then four then five lessons a week with two different dance teachers – one for American Rhythm and another for American Smooth!

I danced my first showcase at the Pierre Dulaine Dance Studio eight months after my first lesson. The only reason I agreed to do so was because my then teacher, Tony Scheppler, tempted me with the promise of choreographing a special samba routine for me, knowing that I absolutely adored the samba. I was on a high, exhilarated from performing in the showcase and desperate to dance in another one soon. When I was crestfallen to learn that the next showcase was six months away, my teacher Tony suggested, instead, that we compete in the New York Dance Festival a month and a half away. That’s how I fell into competitive ballroom dancing.

I competed for about 10 years and really loved it. Only in the past couple of years did I realize that I didn’t really like to perform and compete. I really just liked to dance! Moreover, that my dancing was for my own pleasure and joy. I didn’t really care what the judges or the audience thought. I only cared about how I felt when I was dancing. I especially didn’t like the stress that I put upon myself when competing and the pressure of having to execute a set routine as flawlessly as possible during competition in order to win or place. The focus on having to perfectly execute a routine, I realized, robbed me of the joy of spontaneous dancing. So, I stopped competing for a couple of years.

Recently, I started competing again because I missed the fun of traveling to ballroom competitions with my teacher, World Rhythm Champion, Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine, and his partner, Liana Churilova, and their Pro-Am students. I loved cheering on my fellow students at our Pro-Am heats during the day and then in the evening, banding together to boisterously cheer on our teacher and his partner when they competed in the Open Professional Rhythm Championship.

I told my teacher, Emmanuel, that I wanted to compete again only if I could just dance freestyle with no set routines for any of my six rhythm dances – cha cha, rumba, swing, bolero, mambo and samba. That way, I said, it would be more spontaneous and exciting to me and feel more like real dancing. I told Emmanuel that I just wanted to focus on being present and following him rather than following a routine, which I had danced hundreds of times.

To his credit, he said, “okay, let’s try it and see what happens.” Well, lo and behold, free from the pressure I put on myself of trying to dance my routines perfectly, I just focused on having fun and following my teacher’s lead. This approach worked beautifully for me and, in my first competition after a couple of years of not competing, I surprised both myself and Emmanuel by placing first, second or third in most of my Open Bronze and Silver heats.

My teacher has now, half-jokingly, dubbed me an “advanced social dancer” instead of a competitive ballroom dancer. At first, I recoiled from this characterization, but if that’s what I am and it brings me joy, then that’s what I am. I never want to lose sight of the reason I started ballroom dancing – to pursue my joy! So, I am proud to be an “advanced social dancer,” pursuing my joy full-out and fearlessly in practice and at competitions. For me, dancing is very much a shortcut to joy and one that I will always choose.



And Now, A Special Guest


My guest post on Facing Diagonal Wall:

Originally posted on Facing Diagonal Wall:

Hello Everyone,

A couple of weeks ago, one of my posts was accidentally reblogged by Stefanie at Biggest Girl in the Ballroom.  Through a series of emails, she discussed wanting to set up a ballroom village for those of us who write about our experiences with ballroom dancing and suggested we do guest posts on each other’s blogs.  I did one the other day and now here is hers.  If you aren’t regularly checking out her blog, you should be.  It is full of frustrations and triumphs but also full of hope and optimism and captures a lot of why dancing is so important to a lot of us.  You’ll become a fan and start rooting for her just like I do.  So here’s Stefanie:

Hello!  I’m Stefanie, AKA  The Biggest Girl In The Ballroom.  I “met” Diagonal Wall because I’m always on the hunt for blogs about…

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