A Graceful Badass!! Guest Post From Mel Skydancer

Hello! My name is Mel, aka Skydancer, and I feel so privileged to be guest-posting today.  Stefanie discovered me via a little TV show broadcast this year, but I discovered her over a year ago when my attention was brought to her blog through the Dance Advantage Digest that gets delivered to my inbox every week.  You’re all readers of Biggest Girl in the Ballroom, so I don’t need to say how engaging, warm and honest this blog is!  Thank you, Stefanie, for the invitation to write for your blog! So, as I’ve said, my name is Mel (known in the blogosphere as Skydancer), I’m from a small town in South Wales and I’m an aspiring Dance Artist and Dance Maker.  I’m currently doggedly pursuing a goal of entering a professional contemporary and classical ballet dance training course in London, but am facing all sorts of difficulties securing funding.  So far, so run of the mill, right?  There are thousands of fellow dancers out there who all share the same ambition of dancing professionally, and probably face the same financial difficulties, so what’s so unique about me that a guest post is warranted? Well, for starters I am thirty-one years old and I’ve been studying classical ballet for 3 years.  I used to fight semi-professional in Mixed Martial Arts/K1/Grappling, and I recently took part in a TV series called ‘Big Ballet’…. This is me:




Not your average classical ballerina, right?!  Well I don’t want to be your average classical ballerina! My passion is to start creating and performing physical Dance Theatre that incorporates elements of classical ballet.  Kind of like the neo-classical works created by Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe, but with added Eastern movement practices and weaponry.  I want to challenge those physical boundaries and limitations that are placed in the way of women in dance; I want to dance powerfully, emotionally and impactfully.  But most importantly I want to engage peoples’ minds, not just to fall in love with a moving body, but to start developing curiosities and opinions about dance, particularly classical ballet.  If a female dancer is strong enough, tall enough and powerful enough to dance that way using classical technique, why can’t she? If a dancer weighs at her lightest 135 lbs and at her heaviest 155 lbs (like me!) why isn’t there room for her to perform professional in a classical way? So why do I have these strong and somewhat heretical opinions? Well, it all started at the beginning of my life….


A Mini Mover


I’ve been dancing since a little girl, although not in the typical way that most little girls did! My mother herself was a dancer and taught classes at the dance studio in my hometown, and as a toddler I would go along with her and just immerse myself in that world.  Then I became obsessed with Michael Jackson, and would try my best to copy his dance routines and practice them until I felt that they were ready for my adoring public (my bemused older brother, my mother’s gay friends, and some teddies). At one stage I would even have dance-offs with my friend, Rico, and I would be genuinely disappointed when I lost! The seeds of perfectionism develop so young! I danced in every singe school production throughout Primary and Comprehensive School and was lucky that my gym teachers also incorporated a lot of dance into physical education studies. I was also a junior athlete, specialising in 200m, 400m, and 200m hurdles.  I loved moving with power and impact, but I was obsessed with the grace and refined elegance of classical ballet. Weirdly, despite encouraging my love for classical dance by sitting me down to watch videos of Fonteyn and Nureyev, Mischa and Gelsey, Natalia Makarova, Waye Sleep and Sylvie Guillem, my mother simply wouldn’t allow me to take formal ballet classes.  I was ballet that I wanted to learn so desperately. I wanted to know what it was to move like a Firebird, to enter a stage couruing en pointe, to leap 2 meters into the air as “le Corsaire’s’ Ali and to extend and dance out like Guillem herself. I didn’t want to stay on the ground, I wanted to stretch and fly! Yet, despite pleadings and pleadings it simply wasn’t to be. I contented myself with being able to dance and move as much as possible, and clearly showed potential for it as I was invited to audition for a stage school about 30 minutes from my hometown. Despite initially seeming happy for me to do it, within a day my mother soon changed her mind. I will never have the opportunity to ask my mother why she was so reluctant to let me develop as a dancer at that crucial ‘right’ time because she passed away after battling with cervical cancer in 1998. Having experienced the effects of the same mental illness that plagued her (Bipolar Disorder, Type I) I am in a position where I often analyse her behaviour and life choices.  Relations with here were always fractured and tempestuous; at moments she had so much love for my brother and me that it would consume her. But then just as quickly her mood would darken and she would say and do things to hurt us. My birth father was violent and abusive, and it doubt had a sever effect on the way she raised us.  Her relationship with her second husband wasn’t that much better and she never seemed to be fully equipped to raise two intelligent, creative and empathetic children. At times I allow myself to wonder what my dance career would have been like had she only said ‘yes’, but that’s a fantasy and a dream and wherever possible I try to live my life now, in the moment.


Moody Teen


I didn’t deal very well with my mother’s death, just as I didn’t deal with her illness; I was 15 years old and going through a pretty difficult time with my own mental health.  Nine months after she died I managed to scrape through my GCSE exams by the skin of my teeth and applied, auditioned and was accepted into a Performing Arts course at my local college.  I was exposed to more training and development in jazz and modern, but never classical ballet, and was also given the creative freedom to start playing with my own choreographic ideas (even though the results were pretty dreadful!) I was content to be dancing around, singing when I wasn’t dancing, and studying stagecraft when I wasn’t doing either!  My grand career plan at 16 was to graduate from college, move to London and start work as a jobbing dancing in musical theatre. I was well aware that I wouldn’t make it as a classical ballet dancer, but I certainly believed I had the  potential to reach as high as performing in ‘Cats’ and ‘Phantom’ on a West End stage! Even though I had managed to create this opportunity to dance, my mental health was spiralling further and further out of my control. Not long after graduation things came to a head, the boy I was in love with broke my heart and I had also lost my maternal grandmother a year after my mother’s death. My brother, too, was struggling and we both ended up being hospitalised around the same time. This was the first time I ended up on a mental health ward, dosed up on mood stabilisers to numb my energy but the treatment I received there set off a pattern which affected my physical health too. When I was released a few months later I was bloated, out of shape and probably the lowest I would ever be. I had only just turned 19, but I convinced myself that I was too fat and too old to pursue my dreams of moving to London. So I turned my back on dance, becoming angry and resentful. And there was only one thing I could do with that anger, and that was to let it lead me onto a warrior’s path.


Mel the Fighter


I needed to move and felt an instinctive pull towards competing in the ring and the octagon. As much as I had admired strong dancers in my youth, Bruce Lee was also a complete inspiration to me (he himself was a champion Cha-Cha dancer) and martial arts seemed like a natural fit. I had dabbled in some Judo and kickboxing classes in my teens, so I started doing more than dabbling.  I never really had a specific reason for wanting to fight; it just seemed like the right thing to do. I am very much an all or nothing type of person and like to do things fully, and fighting seemed like the ultimate progression when training in martial arts. So I started learning as many arts as I could to equip myself as a well-rounded warrior!


bjj Mel


Dance was so connected to my emotions, walking away from it meant that I could also walk away from having to deal with my mental health. Instead I could obsess over my physical body, conditioning it to take blows and take-downs, hardening my muscles and developing even more power and explosiveness in my legs. I was obsessed with making myself strong, pushing myself through conditioning workouts that would make even Rocky weep! I was no longer human; I was a machine with a single purpose – to be the most powerful. Period. I handled full-time work to fund my training and spent every weekend in the gym. I had no need for human comfort and compassion, I knew how to get my physical needs met and my brother was the only one who I trusted to have a real emotional connection with. Ironically even though I was studying the philosophical side of Martial Arts through the practice of Bruce Lee’s Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, I wasn’t paying any sort of mindful attention to that. For me it was all about the physically, I’d shut up my emotions and toughened up my armour.


Mel Kayo


Returning to Dance


Even though I was focused on conditioning myself, all I was doing was wearing my body out. And because I was pushing myself physically I was pushing myself mentally. Yes I was competing and enjoying some success, but I wasn’t able to sustain and perform properly. I wasn’t functioning! I realised after watching a performance of ‘Cleopatra’ by the Northern Ballet that I had to try and get back into dance again. I had been able to take contemporary classes and some salsa classes on downtime from training so wasn’t completely removed from it. But my heart was calling out for ballet, and though it took some courage I did walk into an adult ballet class and started to move from my soul. Yes, I was approaching thirty, yes I had the physique of a fighter not a slender sylph but I could dance. I had lovely feedback from my ballet teacher who was impressed not just with my physical capacity for movement but the quality and expression that I could deliver when dancing. And I was focused; just as I spent hours training the same jab combination on the pads or the same wing tsun combination on the wooden dummy I poured that same enthusiasm and dedication into learning how to plie, how to tendu, how to develope a leg, how to dance en pointe. I knew my body could do these things; I just didn’t have the muscle memory to execute them. Learning ballet technique also complimented my martial arts training; I became faster and more grounded in the ring instead of being blindly aggressive. I started to wonder about where I could take my potential as a dancer, I knew joining the Royal Ballet was out, but would there be room for me in a community dance group (if such things existed) and how could I learn the techniques and tools to bring structure to the dances that I created in my head? An opportunity to take the RAD’s Grade 6 Ballet exam came up at the same time as an opportunity to fight fora UK title in K1, so I chose the exam over the fight and was awarded a Distinction for my efforts. My Martial Arts training gradually slowed down, now my time was taken up with performances with my dance studio. I was happy just dancing around again, and I was making real connections within myself and with other people.


Mel 2013 Waving!


C2D 2012 - Ballet


(third from right)


On stage


As I shed my inner armour my body started to get leaner and lighter. The increased focus on ballet and Pilates developed longer, leaner muscles in my legs. I was still incredibly physical, with wide shoulders and that dynamic movement quality more commonly seen in male dancers. But I was moving with freedom, jumping higher and faster, extending longer and opening out. I revelled in it, feeling healthy and happy.


Mel 2012


I wish I could say that was the start of my career, but sadly it wasn’t. After about 6 months of completely stopping my Martial Arts training and conditioning my body I got a bit lazy and I gained weight. It wasn’t masses, just a few kilos, but my obsession over that affected my eating habits and my mood. Again. I went back on the medication to make managing life easier, but I still hadn’t figured out the best way to condition myself as a dancer let along how to handle the changes that Lithium causes to my body. I was sad and getting heavier, I went from UK  size 10 (US size 6) to a size 14 (US size 10) and convinced myself again that I was too old and fat to be a professional dancer.


Big Ballet


And that’s what led me to participating in ‘Big Ballet’. I saw this advert one day Facebook: bIG bALLET (1)


and after talking it over with my ballet teacher and friend I sent off my audition clip and rearranged a meeting with one of the producers to discuss the show in more depth. It sounded like the ideal training and performance opportunity for me and I let my imagination run wild with visions of rigorous dance training, conditioning and nutrition advice. I met the producer and we got on like a house on fire, and had a great discussion about how important it is to show different types of dancers. I was concerned that it would be another ‘fat Reality TV’ show, but she convinces me that it was more about challenging stereotypes and that I should be a good fit for the process since I was so strong and physically capable. I imagined that the resulting ‘Swan Lake’ production would be just as impactful as Matthew Bourne’s, and I fully believed that in 6 months I could be trained to execute a professional level performance. I knew I had achieved so much just dancing in community performances and with a few hours dance classes a week. Six months intense training seemed to me that it would be a good career development opportunity as much as a chance to showcase the full potential of different physical types of dancers. Unfortunately my naive enthusiasm was a little mis-guided! It was clear from a few weeks into the process that my ideas of the show were not shared with my fellow participants; the two mentors (Monica Loughman and Wayne Sleep) hired to deliver the show and the production company. I come from a background of serious training, dedication and graft and was genuinely shocked that the other dancers picked didn’t have that same mindset. Since I first started ballet in 2011 I had worked with a number of teachers and choreographers, including an ex-professional dancer who had trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School! All of them treated me as a dancer, they would correct me and reign me in or push me when needed, but to them I was in their class for a reason, In ‘Big Ballet’ I was just seen as a plus-sized amateur. Wayne and Monica had no idea of my past achievements in dance and Martial Arts, and the continuous presence of the TV cameras made me feel incredibly wary about sharing my dance truth. I didn’t want to be mocked and I didn’t want to be yet another sob story. I closed myself up again, gritted my teeth and forced myself to see the process out. But I’m glad I did, because even though the experience of filming etc. wasn’t the one I hoped for, going through that process made me even more firm in my resolve to pursue a professional dance career. When filming ended I started to take action to get my body under control again, to stablilse my moods and to find, or if necessary, to create opportunities in which I could dance.


New Opportunities


At the start of 2014 I was hired by a UK contemporary dance company to work with them as a supporting dance artist for a major BBC TV drama. I got to dance every day for a week and met some professional actors who I greatly admire. I also took part in a UK exhibition that challenged the notions of female sexuality, and got to display my strength and elegance as a moving body that interacted with the crowd. Yes, I felt certain that a dance career was possible for me, but I also knew that I had a long way to go in terms of my training and development before I could really get it started.


Mel with Hype Dance


(I’m kneeling on the left)


So I started applying for professional training courses at major dance institutions in the UK. There were quite a few ‘no’s’ to begin with, but the audition experience in itself was valuable. I made connections, got exposure to different styles of contemporary dance and also go to appreciate my own strengths more. In May I auditioned for the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance, the first training audition that resulted in a ‘yes’! I felt relieved and happy, but I didn’t take into account the complications I would face trying to secure funding. So I’ve had to apply for new courses and think of alternate routes that I can get the training that I need, but I’ve been doing so with a positive mindset. I am passionate about dance, it is as vital to me as my breath, and I am pursuing it with as much courage as I can muster. I’m not ‘there’ yet, wherever that may actually be, but I am on my way to getting there. I am a warrior and will probably always be on the battlefield, and my path is littered with losses and victories. I’ve had my  fair share of losses so far, and am hopeful that I will be getting victories soon even if they are hard-won.


The F Word


Anyway, enough about me! The biggest impact that ‘Big Ballet’ has had, and the one that I am most grateful for, is that people across the globe are now talking and discussing bodies, dance, health and mindsets. Funnily enough before taking part in the process I never personally defined dancers as fat or thin just as I never defined people by their race. I’ve come across dancers who were bigger than me and smaller than me, but they’ve just been dancers to me! Anyone, of any age, gender, size, colour, or sexuality who walks into a space and starts dancing is exactly that – a dancer. Sure, there are opportunities that are only available to certain ‘types’ of dancers, but that shouldn’t stop anyone who has the passion to move and develop themselves mentally and physically from doing it. I do believe that you look like what you do, I’m proof of that! Ballet dancers look like ballet dancers because they train every day, same for boxers, marathon runners, and gymnasts. Nobody should be prevented from walking into a ballet class or workshop or taking part in a performance just because they don’t already ‘look’ like the typical finished body. Dance is an art form, even though it is aesthetic and athletic, and what a person can give with their heart and with their soul is just as relevant as what a superb physical specimen can do with their body. Dancing regularly will change your physical appearance, but it will also develop your emotional intelligence and can help you to enrich your life. It is something that needs to be open to anyone who wants to learn, the fears of not fitting in are only fears, and they aren’t always reality. As far as professional careers go, I also think ‘Big Ballet’ might help to be a catalyst for aspirational dancers who don’t fit the mould to go out there and carve their own career paths. I’m doing it, it’s not easy and there are moments when you doubt yourself and think that you should just give up. But if you’re anything like me you know that giving up on your dance ambitions is like giving up on life itself, so you have to keep going,. Your journey might not exactly be the one you hoped for as a dreamy child, but if you work hard enough and keep pushing through those blockages and barriers you can pursue and achieve your dreams. Mel challenge


Amazing story, isn’t it!?  If you’ve been inspired as much as I have, you can support Mel as she pursues her goals via her GoFundMe account http://www.gofundme.com/SkydancerFund

Follow her on Twitter: here @MelMAOW

Follow her on Facebook: here

Read her blog: here

Still Alive And Kicking

I’ve been in a funk, my friends, when it comes to my dancing and my weight loss journey.

But I’ve still been dancing, even if sporadically, even if schedules have changed, classes have been rearranged.

I’m having a new dress made, for Smooth.

I’m doing a showcase in August and a competition in September.

I’m still a chunky monkey but I’ve started doing Orange Theory for cardio and I think it’s going to help.

And I have a wonderful surprise for you tomorrow – a new guest post.  Trust me, you will not want to miss this one.  It’s truly an incredible story and I’m so excited and honored to share it with you.

Then, yes, this is my blog and all and I’ll write a post.  I’ll fill you in on what’s been going on.  But I thought you might like to know I’m still breathing…I’m too pooped to write more than this tonight after an hour of OT and Igor kicking my butt for an hour after that in Latin class.  Seriously, I’m going to sleep like a log tonight.

Oh!  And thank you so much Sweet Baby Meg from Less Thighs More Thunder for the awesome Very Inspiring Blogger Award and kind comment.  I will address it in the near future.

“See” you tomorrow,



Guest post: On finding a new partner

Originally posted on The Reinvented Lass:

You all know how much I enjoy Stef’s blog. She is such a great writer, and her journey is super inspiring! She has been through a few dance teachers, so I asked her to write a post on her experience with that. I wanted to see what her experience has been because sometimes it’s helpful to know what others have experienced. And hearing how someone worked through it is good too. Each of us has our own experiences when changing teachers, and here’s her story…


I woke up from an uneasy dream and I just knew it was over. After a couple weeks of cancelled lessons and rescheduled lessons, after we had completed our first competition together, after I’d bought a dress and made it through blisters and tears, and at a time when I was really getting into this ballroom thing, ready to step it up to…

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Last Minute Comp! Say What?

Yesterday when I went to my lesson Ivan and I had a heart to heart.  I think Tony Meredith was a good influence on him.  They talked about the fact that nobody ever feels ready but if we wait to feel ready we’d never do anything.  They talked about how important it is to practice the mental aspects of competing as much as it is to practice the technique.  They talked about how you’ll never be younger than you are now.  They talked about how important it is to not regret – the importance of going after you goals in the now.

Anyways, it shifted something in Ivan.  He’s got a new outlook and is keen to compete and be seen more often with Marieta.  It seems to be paying off.  They did so much better last week in Atlanta and, even better than their placement, were the comments from judges afterward.  They really feel like this is their year.  If they are going to do anything, their goal is to be finalists, it’s gotta be now.

And it’s lucky for me, too.  Because the shift helped Ivan re-think things with us as well.  He realized that he actually did want to dance with me.  Both of us had had the mentality that we didn’t want to show up until I was closer to “perfect” – that I was more thin, that’s the biggest hang up, but we’ve had such a good time on our lessons lately, I’ve been so mentally relaxed and moving so much more and feeling more secure in our routines because we’ve been practicing them so much, well I felt like we could dance in a competition next week if we wanted to.  The only thing stopping us was my fat.

The main reason we didn’t want to compete and haven’t was because we didn’t want to feel like we did at our most recent competition.  A lot of that had to do with feeling insecure, and, a big portion of that had to do with Ivan’s thoughts as much as they did with mine.  Because when he’s feeling proud and good about showing me off we tend to do well.  When he’s stressed out, feeling bad because I’m the fat one and we’re focusing on that, then we do more poorly.

The reality is I’m still not where I want to be physically.  But, on the flip side, I’m in better shape.  We practiced doing rounds tonight and I was able to handle it.  The Orange Theory cardio has been helping.  And last night at Inna’s class I was surprised to see some new students who obviously had some experience but were extremely out of breath with our exercises, to the point of bending over and gasping, and I was doing just fine.  And, I tried on my dress and even if it’s not how I want it to look, it does look better than the last time I donned it.

Life’s too short.  Why not dance?  I guess that’s basically what it comes down to.  And we’re only doing open heats.  I have zero expectations.  It’s all about me, my progress, my experience, my growth.  Beyond that, it’s about enjoying our dancing, and enjoying the partnership.

I’ll be honest.  I’d lost some of my fire.  Because for me, doing this dancing thing, it has importance because I am a competitive student.  It’s fine to take a break from competitions and all, but I don’t want to dance socially.  I got clear on that a while ago.  So if I’m not ever going to compete, then I should save my money and stop taking lessons.

The long and short of it is, Ivan really wanted to dance with me, even if for just a little bit. He took the conversation with Tony to heart and it changed things.  He was so cute and told me multiple times that he wasn’t doing it for the money, and that if I couldn’t get the day off or if it was too expensive that he was fine, that I didn’t have to do it.  But that he thought it might be good to get out there once again, to just even do little things, because we are both clear on my ultimate goals.  And when I told him this morning that I was in, he texted me back, “I so excited for you!” And then tonight he told me, “I told you I not care if you can not doing this, but really I do care.  I’m so glad you are doing this.”

He really took the time to talk with me yesterday and I was like, well, sure.  If I can get the day off, I’d be up for a few heats.  My biggest concern was him being proud to dance with me, to want to dance with me.  I’m a work in progress, and I’ve made some progress.  Why not live a little and show it off?  Plus, he only wanted to do open heats with me – no more Bronze – so that speaks volumes to me as well.

I love how life is a flowing river.  You can never know what might be around the next bend.  Two weeks ago we would have said we were not competing in People’s Choice.  Yesterday we discussed it.  Today I went to see if I could maybe get the day off only to realize that it was the one Friday out of every 5 that I have off because I work on that Saturday. It’s almost like it was meant to be.

And I have to laugh because not only did we not plan this, but I have decided to loan some of my dresses to a very special lady across the country who is competing at her very first competition in just a few days!  (A blog post about that is forthcoming) At least I was smart enough to save one dress for myself, but I couldn’t dance Smooth if I wanted to!  I only have a costume suitable for Rhythm or Latin.  It all seems to be working out.

So yeah, life is pretty dang good right now.  I’m blessed to be in the position where I can do this at the drop of a hat.  I’m mentally chilled, have time to get the nails done, I’m prepared enough physically, I have a dress that will work, I have an instructor that wants to dance with me, and I could think of a lot worse ways to spend a Friday off work!

I scheduled a lesson for tonight and, like I mentioned, right away I wanted to do rounds of our open routines to see if I could hack it cardiovascularly.  I did, and that is actually a major victory for me and a testament to the work I’ve been doing outside of my dancing since we rarely practice one routine after another in a lesson.  I’ve never done open scholarship at a competition so I figure it’s better to try it out now, at a local, smaller competition, with less pressure and when I am mentally relaxed.

Alright, enough with the “serious” stuff!  Now for the funny part!  So tonight we were practicing our Bolero and Ivan all the sudden stops and says, “I hear this crack!”  And he grabs his nether-regions from behind.  “I think I split my pants!” He says.  “Third time in my career,” he says.  And he then proceeds to recount other episodes of pants splitting, the worst being white cotton pants gaping up the entire back seam from crotch to lower back while teaching at a studio all day long, not being able to change them or leave to get another pair because his schedule was so full!

I laughed, as you might imagine, hysterically, and said, “Show me.  Let’s see what happened.”


He split not one side but two!!!!   LOLOLOL.  I laughed even harder, and I love this man, because he actually let me take this photo!  OMG!!!! Never a dull moment with this guy.

I guess that’s all the news!  If you are coming to People’s Choice here in Phoenix, please do come say hello!

What’s Up Buttercup?

Heya!  I know I’ve been gone a while but I’m still alive and still dancing.

I guess I just don’t feel like I have all that much to share lately.  There is no definite competition on the horizon and my lessons are pleasant and fun but I still feel like I have to be in better cardiovascular shape and to have lost significantly more fat before I get on the competitive floor again.  Truly those are the things that are holding me back.

Thankfully Ivan is pleased with the quality of my dancing lately and even saying he’s excited to compete with me when the time comes.

I’ll be excited too.  It’s just that I want to have completely transformed and I want new dresses.  Period.  I just don’t want to compromise on this and I’m sick of being the fat one.

So, it’s really the same old same old.  Boring.  Who wants to hear about that?  It’s a broken record.

So I’ve not been writing.

On the up side, I feel like I’ve found my confidence in my dancing.  I believe I am a good dancer and can own it.  That’s a huge victory.  In fact, I was even shocked today in group class as I was asked to do the one and only demonstration in Jive.  Pretty cool to be recognized.

I’m still a little shy about it, and kind of try to hide and look at my fingernails between rounds of practice and stand to the sides or not in the front row.  I don’t feel 100% confident nor do I feel the need to pretend I’m a diva.  But there is some level of feeling like I’m somewhat competent at what I’m doing, even if there is still room for improvement.

Because, let’s face it, there’s always room for growth, with Ivan too.  But, for me, the deal is, the more confident I feel, the better I dance.  And being confident, for me, comes from practice, preparation, and the body-image stuff.  The smaller I am, the better I feel, the easier it is to move, the more I move, the better I can cope with the physical demands.  It all goes together – it’s kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg.  All parts of me from the mental to the physical and emotional are interconnected and affect one another.  I can’t wait to feel so wonderful about how I look and have that reflect in my dancing.  I can’t wait to actually create a “look” to present on the competitive floor.  I can’t wait to really love my new dress and how it flatters me.

But all that’s old news.  Now it’s about being consistent, being as active as I can, and putting in the time and effort to drive the transformation.  It’s gonna take time.

Three interesting things of note have happened, though.  The first was Tony Meredith came into town and I was lucky enough to get a coaching with him.  He created a new Mambo routine for Ivan and I.


The second thing is that on my last lesson Ivan and I had a grand old time just goofing around toward the end of the lesson.  I put on music I enjoy and he tried to whip me around like crazy, pretending like he was “Michael Malitowski.”  He tried to spin me all these directions and then he went to drag me, so I grabbed around his neck and he began to spin at the end of the drag.  And I don’t know why, but it just felt like the natural thing to do, so I lifted my legs up!  He spun me and I was completely off the floor.  I haven’t felt like that since I was probably 8 years old.  I was flying!  It was truly incredible and I can’t wait to see all the cool stuff we might be able to do when I’m lighter.  Because I’m strong under here!  And I can’t tell you what a phobia I’ve overcome with this because even when I was in high school and 80 pounds lighter, I was terrified of how heavy I was and convinced no guy could lift me.  I had to partner with this senior guy in the school musical and he even dropped me in one of the performances, proving me right in my mind!  So anyways, I can fly and the possibilities are exciting.

And the third thing is that I’ve been going to Orange Theory.  It’s great for me because it gets my cardio in, I’ve never burned less than 540 calories in a bout, and it keeps me interested so the time goes pretty quickly – much better than hopping on the stair machine for 45 minutes (which is tedious and boring and takes a lot of mental convincing to do).  And hey, I was pretty proud of myself when I first went because I was able to hang with the crowd.  Sure I might have had a higher heart rate, and maybe I wasn’t as fast as other people, but I was stronger and faster than others and I began to think, maybe I’m in better comparative shape than I thought.  There is no way 6 months ago I would have been able to perform this well.  It was also a pretty crappy reality check because my heart rate was so high (they track it throughout the workout).  I was working really hard, ergo, I am still fat, sick and out of shape.  But I was also thinking to myself during moments, “I am magnificent!” because I’m there, I’m sucking it up, I’m doing it, I’m pushing hard because that’s how things change.

And speaking of pushing hard, I had probably the most difficult and miserable hike of my life last weekend!  It was way too hot out, there were thick, icky swarms of gnats that plagued us from our first steps to our last steps,  and I’m fat, sick, and out of shape!  My heart rate was around 174 for most of the incline during the 3.4 miles.  I wanted to give up most of the time because it was so uncomfortable, and I made a pact with myself not to do that damn hike again until I’m under 200 pounds.  It is so much work to move my mass uphill and people just have no idea what it’s like for us fatties.  For example, my husband also tracked his workout and he burned 250 calories on the way up while I burned 3 times that amount, 750 calories.  Mostly it just makes me mad and that motivates me to keep working at it.  I made a pact with myself to be as active as I can this week and to get under 200 pounds once and for all.  I’ve been playing with the same 10 pounds for 2 months – stupid “social events” and “real life” – like Easter, family obligations.  I do great when I’m in my own little bubble during the week.  Weekends and any social obligations are much more difficult.  And my stupid body is so efficient if I give it any extra, it gloms onto it.

Anyways, I’m focused and fired up and while I was suffering on the peak I really concentrated on how awful it felt.  I wish sometimes I could bottle that misery up so any time I even want to think about going off plan I can take a little sip of it and instantly I’ll know what choice I really want to make.  I guess the next best thing is to go on miserable hikes and do horrendous workouts that feel awful so I am constantly reminded of why I want to change.  For the moment it is fresh in my mind.

So that’s the deal folks.  I’m still struggling with being consistent but I’m also still plugging along, I haven’t given up or given in, I’m resolved to be as active as necessary, and I’m gunning for the 199 pound mark in the next 3 weeks.

Oh, and I was sad to hear that my ballet class on Mondays will be cancelled.  I have to find a substitute activity and I’m thinking yoga.  But I’ll miss the ballet – the people, the exercises, the balance and leg strength it’s given me.  I will be sad to lose the progress but I don’t think there is another class nearby.  Yoga seems like the next best thing, maybe it will be better, who knows.

So now you are all caught up!

Until next time, Stef

Guest Blog Post By Ariana From Miari Dancewear: With Tips To Flatter Every Figure

Hello Dancers,


I discovered Stefanie’s Blog while researching what Ballroom Dance enthusiasts could read online.  I feel very excited to share my story and new projects with all of you!


My name is Ariana Probinsky, and I am the Creative Director and Co-owner of Miari Dancewear. I was a competitive Latin dancer for about 8 years and then moved to New York to study fashion at Parsons the New School for Design.  Upon entering fashion school, I had given up my love of dancing and made more room for my passion of design and contemporary fashion. I thought my connection to the ballroom world was finished once I entered the world of fashion…. Boy, was I wrong!


In 2012, I was introduced to Daria Chesnokova who was about to begin her partnership with World Champion, Slavik Kryklyvyy. They were going to dance a debut performance in Miami and Dasha needed three dresses for the show. Although extremely overwhelmed, I felt up for the challenge.  The three dresses were completed and worn, thus beginning my journey as a ballroom dancewear designer.




(Dasha now dances with Stefano DiFillipo and lives in Rome, Italy)


Two years later it is 2014, and I am working with several dance studios in New York City, and creating both custom competition pieces as well as developing a growing line of practicewear, MiariSport. Last month I added 5 new styles of practicewear to my collection. These pieces includes three dresses, one reversible skirt, and a pair of leggings!

exposedzipperedited _MG_0750banner photo2




Throughout my experiences of designing and sales, I have gotten to know all different types of men and women, and have learned what works best for different body types. Most women respond very positively to interesting asymmetry and organic lines of a piece.



For the Bigger Girls of the Ballroom:


  • Be mindful of what flatters your figure. I myself am guilty of this mistake. I often see a dress or style that is beautifully cut, very structured, and would only look good on a beanpole. It is easy to get swept away by the beauty of a dress, even though it’s construction was not meant for you. Find pieces that compliment your shape.


  • Flatter the waist.  Several styles of MiariSport practicewear have side seam gathering. This creates a more flattering look across the wearer’s midsection, hiding any uncomplimentary shapes. (Teresa Dress, Leanne Dress, Convertible Dress). Women of any size are often conscious of their waistline and extra ruching of fabric makes this area much more attractive.


  • Don’t hide behind a lot of fabric. A common mistake of fuller figures is wearing clothing that is too baggy or oversized. This can often make a figure appear even bigger. Often times the most flattering silhouette is to lightly hug one’s curves, (though not too tightly), and offset bigger areas with a trumpet skirt or a mermaid silhouette.


  • Less is more. When in doubt, go for simple. When opting for a showcase, competition dress, or something to wear out for dinner and drinks, simpler is always the more elegant choice. Pairing a simple solid color dress with a sparkly statement necklace, adding rhinestoned belt to accent the waist,  or hair accessory, or a sexy red lip can be the most confident look. This allows the viewer to have a focus point, the eye to be attracted to one point, and the rest of the eyeball to sweep across the natural beauty of you!


iskah edyta feathers

caption: Custom Dresses by Miari Dancewear



10 Facts about Miari Lovers

1. She is not a size zero.

2. She aspires to be elegant, both on and off the dance floor.

3. She is aware of her curves, and wants her clothing to flatter them.

4. She appreciates a classic, but is unafraid of being daring.

5. She is understated, but always manages to sparkle from the right places.

6. She does not sacrifice quality

7. She is mostly tasteful with a small bit of provocateur.

8. She knows that beauty does not always equal pain- great clothing can be comfortable!

9. She is confident in her style and taste.

10. A great dress makes her feel better, and thus, dance better.



Ballroom dance has changed for us, especially in recent years in America. Styles change, and trends come and go. Although we are no longer in the golden age of Fred and Ginger, our own standards of style have evolved within our dance culture. I look forward to designing and creating spectacular fusions that can only be had with both fascinating words of fashion and ballroom dancing!


Website: www.miaridancewear.com

Blog: tumblr.com/miaridancewear

Instagram: @miaridancewear

Facebook: facebook.com/miaridancewear

Amazon Store

Email: ariana@miari.us

Phone: (646) 660-1955

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.