My niece had a runny nose when we took her to the mall this weekend to Build-a-Bear and I’m convinced she gave me a slight cold. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that my allergies are horrendous at the moment and I have asthma. This compounds the inflammation in my airways and makes it that much more difficult to breathe, much less do anything that requires cardio. So yesterday I went to the gym, as I do now on Thursdays, to work out with my trainer I requested that we limit the high-intensity cardio and stick to lifting some weights.
She opted to cancel some of the kettleball swings but other than that, it was still a solid workout. I did 12 deadlifts with a 50 pound barbell and rows in between. Then I did squats with a 30 pound barbell pushing it into an upward press above my shoulders as I straightened my legs. Then I did 12 backward lunges with the 30 pound barbell on my shoulders and finished off with an incline plank. I repeated this circuit four times.
It was tough but not so tough that I wanted to cry, like I have on previous workouts. It got my heart pumping and was taxing and I always feel like the thing that limits me the most is endurance, breathing hard, the cardio part. But I was able to do it and that was good.
At the end of the work out my trainer told me, “You should be proud of yourself. You did four sets of that and it’s pretty impressive. That is not easy. You are strong. I don’t put out weights like this for everyone and I wouldn’t do it for you if I didn’t think you could do it. Good work today!” She gave me a high-five.
Me, I was like, really? Because I have a set of sunglasses on that filter how I see the world that generally point out how pathetic I’m doing – how I could be doing more, and how lame it is I can’t do a Burpee and that my belly gets in the way, and how silly I look doing all this stuff.
It’s like, I feel guilty for feeling good about myself. Somehow this is taboo, forbidden, wrong.
But I did feel strong doing those dead lifts. I banged them out pretty good and though challenging, I was up to the challenge. I felt pretty good about doing that, that it was less pathetic than usual, but here was my trainer saying that I should be proud of myself for what I had done. I’m not exactly sure that I know how that feels. I mean, I was proud of myself for completing over 120 heats at the San Diego Open a few years ago and earing Top Student. That was a goal I worked for and achieved and it felt awesome. But these everyday victories, they somehow don’t seem big enough. It’s as if I’m waiting until I’m at my goal weight to actually approve of myself, be proud of myself, love myself.
Like following my eating plan this past week. I did it successfully and that was good, but I wasn’t exactly “proud” of myself for doing that. In my mind, it is simply what I need to do to get where I want to go, and I’m focused like no kidding on that so I did what needed to be done, that’s all. In truth, I’m not even proud of myself for being down over 70 pounds from my highest weight ever (see picture below). Because it took 3 fucking years to do that and I’m still mad that I’m 100 pounds from where I want to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I notice a difference and I do feel somewhat better about myself. I just still see that I have so very far to go and this is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take months of consistent, persistent, determined action. And though I’m anticipating victories along the way, like reaching 213 which will be 100 pounds from my highest weight, and getting under 200 pounds, and getting to 179 pounds which will mean I’m overweight and no longer obese according to my BMI, and hitting my goal weight, I’m just not all that impressed with myself for where I am.
But I am starting to question that point of view simply because it could undermine all my efforts, and I refuse to let that happen this time. This time, I’m following this through come hell or high water!
My nutritionist seemed to also think I should be so proud of myself. She was like, “Stef, you’ve already accomplished a lot, and now, if you keep what you are doing, you will get to your goal in less than a year. You’ve got this! I really hope you are proud of yourself.” And she gave me a big hug.
But I find myself having trouble letting go of my story. You know, the one about me not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I’m having trouble letting go of what I want to be so badly that I can’t seem to be satisfied with where and how I am. It is the ultimate thief, this mindset of comparison, and “not-enough.” But I swear, at the same time that I can see my face looks a little thinner, and maybe my belly too, and that when I thought I’d need a size 24 skirt I ended up purchasing a size 16, at the same time as I can see these steps of progress, I can also see my huge arms, how much larger I am than any other girls in my dance classes, how thick my legs and thighs are, the cellulite on my knees. At the same time that I feel slightly lighter, that it is maybe easier to move and more tolerable to wear heels to dance in, I also am also exhausted panting for breath and having a difficult time holding myself in yoga poses or ballet because I weigh so much or my body mass simply gets in the way.
I am still in a place where I feel the need to block out how I look and don’t feel proud of my appearance. I am longing for when I can wear this one asymmetrical dance shirt I bought and feel so beautiful and sassy in it. Right now when I put it on I just see where it hugs and tugs when it should be hanging empty, and it is frustrating and makes me feel sad.
And the thing I am up against physically that challenges me the most (besides the self-esteem and body image) is the cardio. Well, at least, it is my experience of me being out of shape. But even this I am questioning once again because of my nutritionist and trainer. Because the truth is, when I do a dance class, even though I may be panting and sweating and absolutely killing myself, and even though I may need to not do everything full-out just to stay in the game, well, the truth is, I’m working harder than anyone else out there just because of the sheer weight I carry. They’d probably be more tired too if they were carrying an extra 90 pounds.
Because I always experience myself as out of shape cardiovascular-wise, and because my dance teacher says that even skinny people can really struggle with the cardio and endurance required for dancing, I was feeling the need to add in some training to improve this. But both my trainer and nutritionist said that I was crazy active, especially compared to most people, and probably even more so for obese people. They said, “cardio isn’t the problem. Get the weight off and it will become so much easier. You won’t have to change a thing if you just keep dancing like you are. It will be enough.”
My nutritionist said, “You have a strong heart. Cardio isn’t problem.”
My trainer said, after lifting all those weights today, “You are strong. Strength isn’t the problem.”
The problem is how I feel. The problem is the extra person I’m carrying around in my body. It makes it difficult to feel and act strong and sexy in Latin class with Rado doing the Rumba. I can do the steps, and some of my shapes look nice and all, but I’m lacking the confidence necessary because of my fat fucking arms and huge tree-trunk legs. I am the anthesis of the ideal for a Latin dancer, the complete and utter opposite, and it is a laughable farce, me dancing this dance.
Or is it awesome? Because I’m doing it anyways, because it is in my heart, regardless of external circumstances or appearances.
I don’t know. I think it is kind of a ridiculous-awesome, if there is such a thing.
What I do know is that in less than two weeks I will be dancing in a competition. I will be putting myself out there to be seen and judged. And you know what? Doing that, revealing one’s art, whether it be a painting or a dance, in writing or sharing a musical composition, and regardless of that person’s size or appearance, regardless of all those things, well, it takes a strong heart.
By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Oh how I love my favorite Bulgarian, my dance instructor, Ivan. His language gaffes keep me entertained.
So here’s the story:
Ivan and I are working on our Samba routine. I think we have it completely choreographed but I have yet to dance the entire thing full-out, to music, in sequence, and we are days out from my next competition, people! AHHH!
I will just do what I did for Jive last competition. We had practiced it once, count it once, before Desert Classic and I knew all of three, count ‘em, three steps. I did three steps for the entire Jive. So anyways, then with the un-practiced Jive, and now with the un-practiced Samba I’m simply going to give myself a mental pass on that dance, meaning that I will dance it the best I can and that I will be fine no matter if I mess up or how well or poorly we place because the fact of the matter is, we simply do not have the time to really make this routine polished. Heck! We are still working on, improving, and polishing the Rumba and Cha Cha routines and I’ve been dancing those for a few months now!
So I’m not going to be too hard on myself when it comes to performing the Samba this time around. I will be a little more serious about it for my next competition after I’ve had the opportunity to work out the bugs and practice! And yes, I may be in a pickle with this Samba dance at the competition for lack of preparation, but that is not what this post is actually about.
You see, on my last lesson we were working on the Samba and Ivan’s shirt flew up. I saw this big brown june bug on his side. I thought perhaps he had a tatoo on his abdomen or something. I was curious – I know, like it was so important to find out what this brown dot was when I was in the middle of learning a routine I will be dancing in a few days – I don’t pretend that I make any sense when it comes to these things. Well anyways, I had to know. I just did, okay?
So I told Ivan, “Ivan. Pull up your shirt! What is that brown dot on your belly? Do you have a tatoo?”
“No. What you talking about?” He pulled up his shirt to reveal his belly button and I scanned the skin for the mark I’d seen.
It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I’d thought.
“What you looking at?” He inquired.
“Well, I guess it must have been this.” I pointed at a small brown dot on his side.
Tears streamed down my face as I gasped for breath between guffaws.
“Ha ha ha, Ivan! No, that is NOT a pickle! A pickle is a very different thing.” (If you know what I mean)
“That’s a freckle.”
The lights were off but it was mid morning so sunlight illuminated the wooden floor in thick yellow shafts through blinds. It was warm, but not hot and my task was to bend at the knees, into that position you see kids doing at roller skating rinks with their butts folded down to rest near their ankles. A position in which you could skate under your friend’s legs if you wanted. Compact. Small. Like a tight little ball of human being.
I, however, was unable to do this. Not ever in the roller skating rink as a kid nor now, at the yoga class. While everyone around me sunk two feet below my head, I continued to hover like a person not wanting to fully sit down on a public toilet.
Was I doing this right? Was there something else I should be doing? My Achilles tendon has always been tight and it was blocking me from going any further toward the earth. I was frustrated. I was hot and sweating and it was hard to hover. And I was wishing I could be in a different place with my body. I was feeling the want, the lack, the utter dissatisfaction with how I was in that moment.
I spoke up, asking the Yoga instructor, “What should I do here? I can’t seem to go any lower.”
“That is your place,” he wisely replied.
It didn’t seem like a proper answer. I didn’t like that answer. I wanted to hear a solution, a modification…something that would get me to where everyone else seemed to so easily be. But I wasn’t, and there wasn’t anything for it. I was where I was, but still I rebelled against it.
“But isn’t there something I could do?” I begged.
“That is your place,” he repeated.
And so it is in every moment, isn’t it? We are where we are, how we are, and there is nothing for it but to be at peace with what is…or not.
In that moment in that yoga class, I was not at peace with my place. I was not open to expanding my heart, being present to the joy that was available, and fulling inhabiting my body. No, my mind was racing – critiquing my sub-par performance, telling me that I should be more, better, different, and completely wound in knots over my limitation.
Never mind the fact that I hadn’t done yoga in years and had less than even 4 months total experience. Never mind that this was my third class back. I had expectations for myself and I was not living up to them.
I lived most of my life from this same space of not being enough, of feeling like I was always falling short, of comparison and lack.
Especially when it came to dancing. From having the “wrong body type” to never having my leg high enough at the barre, to struggling with double turns, to having no plie’ nor ability to jump and fly. Through the lens of dancing my faults and imperfections were magnified. I could never see any of my grace or fluidity. I could never see the beauty I did bring, however imperfect it may be, because my eyes were clouded by the thick fog of wishing I were someone different from me. It was especially cruel because at my heart I am a dancer. I couldn’t admit it to myself back then, it was so buried. I was dancing and didn’t consider myself a “real” dancer! I was someone who “did” ballet, not a ballerina. I “did” jazz, but wasn’t a bona fide jazz dancer. I did it for exercise. I did it because I didn’t play sports. But I didn’t do it because I was actually a dancer – the title was to lofty for the likes of me.
What a lie. How could I come to see myself in this way? I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that I loved ballerinas ever since I can remember and would stare endlessly at the one adorning my bedroom wall made of foam and linen with her pink toe shoes and a real piece of tulle for her tutu, her arms up in fifth position, her brown yarn hair fashioned in a bun atop her head. I wanted to be her. So badly. And I so wasn’t.
It is funny how life works though. You guys who’ve read the blog know the story – I quit dancing after high school because I wasn’t going to be a professional dancer and so what was the point of continuing? I got my degrees, I “grew up,” I got married, I ballooned. Although I always struggled with my weight, I took it to a new level of obesity after I stopped doing things I loved, like dancing, getting up to over 300 pounds.
And one day, I started dancing again.
This time it looked different. I’d never really been aware of ballroom dancing but DWTS was a big hit by this point and what the instructor teaching out of my gym was doing looked a hell of a lot more entertaining than the stupid treadmill. I thought I’d give it a try.
Where ballet never felt quite right, like a tuning fork of the right pitch, ballroom harmonized with my core. From its emotionality to the partnership involved, no other form of dance has ever suited me more. And though I’m still not satisfied with where I am in my dancing, physical appearance, expression, and connection, I am closer to than I was last week, last month, last year. I’m growing and changing. I’m dancing.
Interestingly, all the angst and imperfection and pressure I used to feel in dance class is no longer present in my weekly ballet and yoga classes (I’ve been going to yoga for 3 weeks now). No, in those classes I am joyful. I am where I am and it is what it is and I can totally laugh at myself. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to progress, improve my balance, strength, and flexibility, but it is okay to be where I am. It is somehow okay that my leg can’t get higher than 45 degrees, that I fall out of my turns, that I can’t entirely hold my turn out, that I can’t do a plank for longer than 30 seconds (yet!) or jump in properly from downward dog, that I fall short of what’s being asked for in so many ways. It’s totally okay and funny and joyful where before it would be all self-loathing and punishment. I know that next week or next month I might notice some slight improvement and it is enough. It’s enough and it is wonderful and I actually banged out a double pirouette this week, can you believe it! I am happy with my place in these experiences. I am open-hearted and alive to the joy of just being present in my body.
But in ballroom, I am not entirely happy with my place. I feel this pressure inside because I care about it so deeply. I watch videos of ballroom dancers on YouTube or television and this little whisper in my heart urges me on, believing, profoundly believing, beyond all sense or reason or the appearance of things at the moment, that I have some of Yulia or Joanna or Karina or Anna in me – that I have within my spirit and body and mind the makings of a champion. No, I’m not talking about being a professional or anything like that, but I am saying that I see something in them that I must have in me. Like I believe I could move people like they do through dancing. I will most certainly never be as technically perfect or polished as their dancing may be, but I can dance with my heart, and it just might get to a place polished enough, and I can be in a body healthy enough, that people can hear the message I’m sending. To be honest I think many can see it now, and I think of how much more powerful it will be when I am stronger, fitter, healthier, more confident, especially in light of the very broken place I’ve come from. I’m excited for that possibility. In fact, I have even had brief moments of being in a place where I am happy with my place. Like today on my lesson, my first stab at our Cha Cha routine was solid. And in our Samba routine, I can see that when I’m thinner it is going to be sexy hot!
So my mission for the next three competitions is to be satisfied with my place. To be as open-hearted and present and bold/fearless as possible, knowing that I’ve not “arrived” anywhere (nor will I ever), but that I am solidly on my journey…to a new body, to a new dancer, however much or however little it appears I have changed from the outside looking in, from the inside looking out, I will center myself in the knowingness that I am in my place. This is my place. And all there is for me to do is to be at peace with it…or not
But, well, I’m declaring here that I will be at peace with my place, especially on the days I compete. I will laugh in the face of my fallibility and imperfections. I will dance with all the energy, technique, power, expression, and connection I can muster. It will be what it is as it is in the moment. All I can do is decide to leave every ounce of it on the dance floor, to not hold anything back. So that is what I’m deciding and I will refuse to be anything but joyful while doing it.
So here we are, on my 200th blog post, can you believe it? There seems to be something etherial about the number 200 for me right now – from this 200th blog post, and I just got a WordPress badge for getting 200 likes, to being only 2 away from having 200 followers on Facebook, to being closer to 200 pounds than I’ve been in years….it seems like a big deal.
So I looked it up and here’s what I found:
Angel Number 200 is a message from your angels that your devotion, faith and trust has led you to a ‘knowing’ that you are in-line with your life purpose and soul mission. Number 200 is a message of ‘Divine Timing’. Trust the Universe is working behind the scenes, and certain factors need to fall into place before desired results can come to full fruition. Things are happening behind the scenes that will prove to be of great advantage to you in the near future. Even though you may not be experiencing these opportunities just yet, believe that they are on their way into your life right now. Stay peaceful, positive and patient in the interim. Have faith and trust in the Divine and listen to your intuition, always. At this point in time you are where you are meant to be.
Uncanny. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? In other words, be happy with your place. This is your place. Be in your place, peacefully, and know that you will soon be in your next place.
Guess that Yogi had it right.
This is my place. Thank you for meeting me here. I am grateful.
The countdown to People’s Choice is inching along. Three weeks from tonight about this time I will be reflecting on my performances in American Rhythm and getting a good night’s rest to face Latin the next morning. I have 21 days to create whatever results I can, and they can’t come quickly enough!
So in case you didn’t know, I hired a nutritionist and I began working with her on Sunday. Chelle is amazing and she specializes in clean eating and sports nutrition, which is good because, like, you know, I’m a dancer and dancers are athletes.
She met me at the grocery store with my custom plan in hand and we did all the shopping for the week. The plan included the shopping list and all the recipes I’d need for each week plus food logs and such. The best part is I’m prepared. I can grill my chicken, portion it out in 4 or 5 ounces and be ready to grab and go. Seriously, daily prep has been a snap so far. I’m eating like a freakin’ Hobbit, though – I get breakfast, and second breakfast, and elevensies, and lunch, and snack or tea, and dinner, and evening snack! I don’t know what to do with myself eating like this when I feel like I eat too much already and this seems like even more food than I’d normally consume. Go figure!
By Antoine Glédel (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Honestly, for me, the hardest part of staying on track this week hasn’t been the eating or the preparation. Nope, it’s been the sick panic feeling in my stomach that the 2000 calorie plan is too high. It’s the fear that I’m not going to lose any weight before People’s Choice, and I so desperately want to. It is seeing my weight on the scale at the doctor’s office on a day when I wouldn’t normally weigh myself and having to face that number.
It’s the emotions that are the hardest part, which is what I expected. What I didn’t expect was the intensity of those bad feelings, nor the apparent randomness with which they descend upon me like an eagle snatching a fish from the sea. It is swift and seemingly out of nowhere and completely overwhelming. It is the feeling of not being able to stand being in my body one more second the way it is and being powerless to change what is in the moment. Because I can’t escape my Italian-grandma-size-fat arms or the huge Santa belly. They silently scream at me, pushing against the side of my chair and all I can feel is the adipose. It broadcasts what I think of myself without saying a word. And I’m so ready for it to go. I can’t tell you how ready I am for it to go. And it just sits there, all lumpy and giggly, laughing insanely at me, reminding me that it is still here and that I have a long way still to journey with it on my back. Sigh.
Oh, I’ve been absolutely spot on with my eating plan. Well, my eyes did skip the page and I ate the snack and dinner planned for tomorrow today, but that’s no big deal. I’ve adhered 100%, and what’s more, I could totally make this a lifestyle, which is kinda like the point. I just didn’t know what to do before and never would have taken the time to figure out all these details, from shopping lists to macronutrient ratios, so this has probably been the best money I’ve spent in my life to work with Chelle on this. I’m not kidding.
I was on the right track with my thoughts about food and all, but Chelle’s plan has brought things into focus with definite boundaries, and I like it….even if before I was feeling guilty for using one whole egg and two egg whites in my morning omelet, thinking that I should only have 2 egg whites or maybe one whole egg and 1 egg white, but Chelle has me on one whole egg plus four, yes count ‘em FOUR! egg whites and that freakin’ blows my mind and makes it yell at me that this plan is UNREASONABLE. What does this certified nutritionist think she is doing anyways? HA! I love how convincing the voices in my head are until I say them out loud….
Anyways, the food is great tasting, which is important – and today I was particularly and pleasantly surprised with the simple salmon. There is variety in the menu, which is also important, while still some habitual snacks which makes things easy and automatic. And guess what? I’m not even jonesing for a cheat meal, which I can have once a week, which is kinda surprising. The only thing I’d like is maybe a glass or two of wine so maybe I will add that to dinner one night and make that my cheat meal! I guess I’m blessed that I’ve never had too big a sweet tooth or had weird cravings for potato chips and such…in fact the day before the plan started I was craving tuna tatiki from the local AJ’s, lol. So anyways, what I’m trying to say, is that the food and plan are easy to adhere to. I’m not having cravings or wishing I could eat something else. And this should bode well when it comes to creating results.
So anyways, I’m only on day four, but it has been a good four days in terms of eating according to the plan. Like I said, the difficulty I find is only in wishing results would happen sooner and the moments when I feel like the bottom drops out and the seductive voice in my head pretending to be an expert on nutrition casts doubt on the plan itself.
With the 6 Hobbit meals a day I’m very fueled to do my normal weekly activities such as ballet, Inna’s class, Rado’s class, lessons with Ivan, and work out sessions with my trainer. Most things have gone fine this week, no big drama-rama at the gym, and in fact my trainer and I even laughed a bit today about those guys at the gym who feel the need to grunt all the time. But I lost focus in Inna’s class, forgetting the combination and also not holding my space, losing my confidence, not feeling good enough, and seeing how big I am as compared to everyone else in the mirror. The same was true for in ballet, though it was generally a good time and I cracked some funny jokes and one of my classmates told me class wouldn’t be the same without me which was really sweet, but I was still, in the back of my mind, bummed about being so big. And Ivan heard it in my voice when I called on my way to our lesson that I wasn’t feeling great about myself.
It’s not like I didn’t see how big I was before, it’s just that because I am actually on a plan and actually striving with focus toward what I want, and because I want to transform so badly, that I am now even more aware/fixated on my stupid fat body. I feel like some of the pain of it was muted by being apathetic about it and/or ignoring the elephant in the room as much as I could. Like setting the fatness in a box and placing it on a shelf in a dark closet somewhere in my mind and letting it just sit there, separate, and yes present, but not at the forefront.
And now, with every glance in the mirror, I’m horrified over and over and over. I’m feeling like why am I doing People’s Choice? I look the freakin’ same as I did 6 months ago. I’m so disappointed that I haven’t made more progress with a quarter of the new year gone and that is part of why I decided to hire Chelle. But since I don’t look drastically different, and all my clothes still pretty much fit, I still have the same fat girl dresses as I’ve always had, and that is disappointing too. I’m going to be competing once again in the same dress I wore in my very first competition over 3 years ago. It’s depressing. I want a new dress along with a new body to show some progress, damnit!
So I’m searching for the goal I want to go for in People’s Choice since I’m not going to be looking all that much different in 3 weeks time, and I’m not going to suddenly be speedier or have drastically improved technique. I’m feeling kind of ho-hum about the entire prospect when I want to feel excited. I can’t wait for when people begin to notice and tell me that I look different, tell me I look great, for when I can get a new dress, and not one for a fat girl, for when I feel proud of me, who I am, what I’ve accomplished. I want to feel confident, you know? To feel like I am enough.
So all I can think to do is the perform the shit out of everything. This will be my goal. I will focus on connection with Ivan and the audience and the music. I claim and hold my space on the dance floor. I will exude confidence with every movement. I will dance with a palpable purpose and passion. And I will let that be enough….for now.
I had a really great double lesson with Ivan this morning. This is the difference having a solid goal and time frame in place makes. Because I’ve put the down payment on participating in 80 heats in People’s Choice, I know I’m going. Because I know I’m going, I know I need to do whatever I can to prepare myself in the short 4 weeks before the competition.
In only four weeks there is only so much you can do. Even while I work at it, I’m not going to lose a significant percentage of my body fat in that short of a time. However, even dropping just 5 pounds will make a difference I can feel on my body. I’m determined to be spot on with the plan my nutritionist sets forth for me. I can be motivated for one week at a time, especially with the competition looming. There is a purpose, and an urgent one, that will be behind all my choices and struggles. I need that.
And I’m determined to not lose any momentum afterwards like has happened in the past. I’ve already gotten the days off work for Desert Classic, which is also just a short time away. But the thing is, as soon as I am complete with People’s Choice, I will have another goalpost on the horizon to focus upon. This is so important for me. I will have my next competition planned before I complete Desert Classic to keep the cycle going.
Also, I probably can’t improve my cardio to where it really needs to be, but I do believe in a month’s time, especially combined with even a modest weight loss, I can make a difference. So what I need to do is practice exactly the task I need to accomplish while in the competition itself. We’ve been lazy on our lessons in this regard, indulging in long chats, stopping when it becomes a moderate effort, not doing rounds. I’ve talked in the past about making a playlist of songs for rounds of American and Latin styles with songs 1:30 each, but today I finally showed up prepared. I directed the lesson. I had an agenda. Because we have little time and I have to do what I can.
Before I fully committed to People’s Choice, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I was working toward…the vague goals of “getting better” and “losing weight” just weren’t moving me forward in any directed fashion. So I’d show up on a lesson and, as Ivan put it, say “Let’s do a Foxtrot. I’m fat.” He said I just moved and complained. That I wasn’t really dancing or doing anything.
So anyways, today I came in with a list of songs to warm up with. During this time we focused on connection. It was the perfect place to start and I told Ivan that this is how lessons need to look for a while – come in, warm up, focus on connection, then cardio, cardio, cardio doing rounds.
And guess what. It kicked my butt. I thought maybe I’d do okay since I did okay with the showcase number and that dance was pretty long. But nope. After swing I was kaput. And there are two more dances to complete. Because I was dancing full-out, pushing it during the beginning. Because that is my potential and capacity to dance like that, but I can’t sustain it. My body stops me. The asthma problems don’t help, but I honestly and truly believe that my body and physicality and lack of cardiovascular fitness are the biggest things holding me back right now. Anyways, I’m going to push during these next four weeks, doing rounds on every lesson and I do think it will get better. Oh, and it will probably feel better anyway because most likely the dances will only be 1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds at the most and I’m intentionally making it longer for conditioning.
But even with the reality of how exhausted I was after Swing, it still felt really good to be working on exactly what I need to work on and to be directed and focused. I didn’t have time to go all “poor me” and get in my head. And I have to say, for the first time, I had this moment of really being excited. I love the shapes I’m making, in Samba especially, and I could, for an instant, imagine how fierce it will be when I’m 100 pounds lighter.
And there were some funny moments that had me in stitches and it felt good to be happy and laughing on a lesson, even if my shortcomings were right in front of me. For instance, we were doing this move in Samba and I was really getting into it and so was Ivan. He wanted to spread his arms open wide, his chest puffed out like an eagle, presenting himself as very manly and strong. At the same time I was to step backwards behind, cross my feet, put one arm up in the air and the other one on his chest. We both went at it full force…but instead of connecting with his chest, my arm hit is wrist with a loud “smack!” and he was like, “Oww!” and withdrew his paw like a wounded kitten. It was so funny! Sometimes it feels good to hit your teacher, you know! lol.
And then there was some typical Ivan inappropriateness. On one step he told me to shut my clam. No, he didn’t mean for me to stop talking. He meant my, ahem, other clam, as in, keep your legs crossed daintly like a lady and don’t dance like a cowboy. Oh Ivan!
But mostly the lesson felt good because we were productive, focused, and clear. And while working on connection, I was able to control, direct, and project my energy such that at one point Ivan got goosebumps which is the ultimate in knowing I’m doing something right. I love it!
Which brings up another thing I’ve been pondering. I’ve been going to all these group classes that really emphasize technique, with Inna and Rado, and that is great. I love these classes and learning all this amazing information. However, there comes a time when you just have to dance. And that’s what I’ve got to focus on during my (expensive) time with Ivan. We have to focus on connection and actually dancing.
Ivan was so funny on our last lesson. I was telling him about what we talked about on Rado’s lesson and asking him for his take on it, thinking that I wanted him to tell me what I needed to do to “fix” things. But he basically said, “This so good you going to these classes. You learning all the different techniques but it is different with everybody. I think you open. I think your mind is open and you can listen to all these things and understand there is no one right way. Many people is wanting this, right and wrong way. So go, and learn, and now use this information. You not stupid. You no need me to tell you what to doing wrong or how to fixing it. You can do this yourself. You just need to do your routines by yourself step by step.”
Well, dang if that isn’t taking responsiblity for my own dancing on a new level, I don’t know what is. And that is another thing I was reflecting on…how much responsiblity I’ve been taking for my dancing, especially since Desert Classic last year. It is a good thing.
Anyways, getting back to how Ivan was being so funny. So he was basically saying, yes, technique is important but it’s not everything and you have to dance, like really dance, if you know what I mean – the difference between “doing” the steps, passing through the movements and “being” the dance. It’s kind of hard to explain but when you experience it or feel it, you can tell the difference. Really dancing involves, for me, like actually hearing the music (like I used to before I learned the importance of counting) instead of just saying the numbers in my head. Like actually seeing Ivan, not just blankly staring at him. Like being playful and in the moment and responding to my partner, the crowd, what feels right inside.
And so we have this conversation about technique and dancing, and Ivan slaps my butt when we are doing our Mambo routine and he says, “See! This is not technique.” And then we do rumba and he keeps me in this one position longer than unusual, and I go nuts wiggling my hips and he’s like, “Yeahhhh! See! This is not technique! But it looking so good!” I have these moments when there isn’t a conscious thought, and I just move like I feel like I should, and it is amazing…it is really dancing.
Because my truth is, I am a dancer. We know this. Everyone can see it. I’ve finally admitted to myself and I finally believe it to be true about me.
The other reality is, I’m fat. Everyone can see it. I never needed to admit it to myself, it is what it is, it is the truth about me.
I thought there was perhaps a way to see the dancing beyond the fat, but not so much. They are intimately intertwined. As Ivan told me, “It always begins or ends with fat.” You see, people know me because I move so well and it’s pretty unexpected because I’m extra large. So people will ask him, “Oh, who do you have a lesson with next?” “Stefanie,” he’ll say, and they will reply, “Oh the big one. She’s so good!” or “She’s so good! Isn’t she the fat one?”
People can’t just see me as a good dancer. They see me as a fat good dancer. Kind of like most people don’t see just a man, they see an Asian man. Or they don’t just see a woman, they see a woman with Cerebral Palsy. The fat is part of the picture, inseparable from me as being Asian or having a debilitating disease. Of course I can change this…I’m in the process of doing so…but this isn’t the point I’m making. The point I’m making is that as of this moment in time, this is part of my picture. Period.
So it was with mixed feelings that I read this post from The Reinvented Lass. I did the showcase Cha Cha and shared the video and it affected her. She reached out to me and asked me if I minded if she posted it on her blog and talk about how it affected her. Of course I didn’t mind! I think it is so amazing she was affected, and that she wanted to share and engage in a conversation. I love it. And I really appreciate and honor her honesty. She was so self-reflective and kind and yet, I have to admit, it still stung.
The Lass wrote that she was proud of me. That she’d read about my struggles and thought that I was a, wait for it….good dancer, and that she liked how I got into character.
But in my head all this was overshadowed. She also wrote:
…she did such a great job with it – regardless of her size!
Yes, isn’t that the story of my life. It all begins and ends with fat.
But I started thinking about what things she can do better than me and how much better than me she can move. And to be honest, how much better than me she can move especially considering her size. Petty, right? And then I started to feel bad for myself and started thinking how bad of a dancer I must be. And I felt bad for having such thoughts about her.
All that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.
And reading this, I have compassion for both for her and for me. This stuff isn’t easy. Petty? I’m not sure I’d agree. It’s just true, what she thought, but it does prick the heart. It goes to my point that there is no way of really seeing just the dancing alone becuase it is embodied by, well, my Rubenesque physique. And still, it pisses me off. Why can’t people just see the dancing?
And it made me think that being fat, letting myself present myself this way, is me handing others a weapon to use against me, keep me down (read – a way for me to keep myself down). They can always be superior because at least they aren’t fat like that one girl who dances well, for God’s sakes (read – other people are superior to me)! They may not be able to dance like me, but heck, at least they don’t look like me. The fact that they have a body fat percentage lower than mine makes them a better, more worthy person somehow. And anyways, they can get better, and at least they don’t look ridiculous trying to be sexy (read – well, you know. All this crap is just me projecting what I don’t want to own).
How unfair and mean and separating and victim-y is that to think? And all that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.
For me it brings up thoughts of how inappropriate it is to dance in this state. That I shouldn’t dance while fat. But it also makes me think that it is important that I still get out there anyway because the stronger truth is that I am a dancer. I am a dancer now when I am fat and I will still be a dancer in the future when I am thin. Who I am is a dancer, but who I am has nothing to do with how much I weigh….and everything to do with it.
So what is there to do? I’ll take a note from the Lass:
But I also told myself that it’s not a competition. It’s a journey. She’s on her journey, and I’m on mine…
And in the meantime, I can appreciate Stef, her journey, her ability, and her dancing. I can appreciate that we share a passion and that we both think dance is so important to our lives. And I can cheer her on to be the best.
Yes. That’s right. We are on our own journeys and how much better is it to root for one another, remind one another of our greatness, and have open, honest communication, than to get stuck in the mental muck that threatens to separate us? How much better is it to appreciate that we share a passion called dancing that is important to the both of us, and that really, we are more similar than we are different?
So, Lass, I cheer for you, and for us. I appreciate you and know that you do kick-ass swivels (which I suck at!) and turns. I know you are insightful and wise. I am so glad you had the courage to share what you thought. Thank you for being my friend, warts and all.
So maybe the title of this post isn’t quite right.
Maybe it doesn’t really all begin and end with fat.
Maybe, instead, it all begins and ends with compassion and respect for ourselves and others, how we are right now, holding a vision of the best in the future. Maybe it all begins and ends with connection, not separation, recognizing our similarities rather than only seeing outer differences.
Maybe the truth is that it all begins and ends with love.
So my Tuesdays and Thursdays now look like this:
In the morning I wake up. I feel sore and tired and just plain bad. My allergies are atrocious and I have to clear out all my sinuses. And my asthma is ridiculous and I’ve made an appointment with the doctor next week because I think I’m at the point that I need a blast of steroids. My husband tells me I’m a vampire because I want no human interaction whatsoever, from talking, to making sounds, to touching me, looking at me, or even breathing on me. I am the anthesis of a morning person. Seriously, steer clear of me with a wide berth until about an hour after I’ve woken up. Throw in my moon time, and you have a perfect storm.
My husband, on the other hand, wakes up with a grin on his face, ready to take on the world, energetic, happy. It is about the opposite energy of mine and super annoying. You know, like when you are sad or grumpy and someone is just shooting rays of sunshine and rainbows out their ass? Yeah, like that.
Anyways, it is in this state that I stumble into the gym and take on some of the hardest things I will take on during the day. My poor trainer. She tries to correct my form but first off I don’t trust her so don’t try to touch me, especially in the morning (see paragraph one), and secondly, if you just ask me or tell me to put my hips parallel to the floor that is enough. I will do it. I have a good sense of my body position because, you know, I’m a dancer. Anyways, I digress….
These work outs are so difficult for me. So hard that I can barely do some of the exercises. So hard that I start panic breathing. So hard that I start crying silently. I’m already hurting and sore and then put this with a trainer who has no idea what it is like to be overweight or out of shape, who has never lost a significant amount of weight, in a room full of people who are all specimens of human perfection, and me seeing the cellulite on my knee through my workout pants, it is hard on all levels, emotional and physical. It feels like shit. Really, it does.
By MSGT Jon Nicolussi, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Yeah, I don’t look like that when I go to the gym….
Me, I feel angry when I’m working out. So very angry. Because I can barely do the hamstring bridges on the physioball and have to grunt to hover just pathetic inches above the ground. I’m angry because I’m so goddamned fat that I can’t do a proper Burpee because my goddamned belly gets in the way and even doing the modified ones I can barely complete the jump at the end. So angry because of reasons I can’t even put into words or explain to myself.
But I do it. I on some level have faith that eventually it will get easier. That it might actually feel good to be in my body. That I will maybe some day be proud of how I look and what I can do. Right now this seems like a pipe dream and all I see is the huge mammoth in the mirror and my giggly parts and all I feel is the pain, the effort, the disappointment, the anger. It’s overwhelming and sucks and I’m shaking as I’m writing this.
So anyways, I’m doing my process this morning as usual. Pushing hard. Crying. Struggling.
And just about when I’m done with my work out as I’m walking back to the area to complete my last exercise in the circuit, this older man with stark white hair steps in front of me and says, “Really good effort today. I mean it. Just keep it up.”
Well, I lost it. I’m still crying. He’s a total stranger. I have never seen him or had a conversation with him or anything. I feel so alone in this. And I consciously (or unconsciously) block out other people in the gym as much as I can because it is too hard to feel all the body shame and stay together enough to complete the tasks in front of me. So it was a total surprise. Like, I’m not there to show off (that is a laugh! I usually look like I’m flubbering around on the floor like an injured slug) or for attention (like those dudes who feel the need to grunt with every power lift, calling attention to the effort they are putting forth, making sure the world knows they are there and important). No I’m there for me.
So I’ve made no friends. I’ve made no effort to make friends. And this guy just swooped down and crashed into my world, shot a spear straight through my heart. He noticed me. He noticed my struggle, my effort, my perseverance. He pointed it out to me when I can’t see it for myself, when I focus on my shortcomings and how awful and angry I feel. I block out the strength I’m demonstrating. It just doesn’t feel like enough, somehow. It’s the ultimate in the need to be right, according to one of my friends. I can never be satisfied with what is.
No, no I can’t. I am so unsatisfied. I’m so unsatisfied with not being able to dance like I really want to dance. I’m unsatisfied with being kicked off roller coasters. I’m unsatisfied wearing frumpy clothes because I hate the way I look. You are damn right I’m unsatisfied.
But it is stealing whatever joy could be in the present moment. As Ivan told me long ago, I still have that Mental Problem. Beyond all the physical battles, this is the biggest battle I will fight – the one to set my mind healthy.
And now I’m leaning even more into it. I’ve hired Chelle, from Recipe For Fitness to hold my feet to the fire when it comes to nutrition. Because that’s the missing element from my transformation, and I’m pretty convinced I am not successful doing this stuff on my own and need help with it.
Because I have a BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal). I’ve decided I will do a solo at Emerald Ball next year in May 2014 an it will involve a lift. This gives me just a few days over one year to prepare and scares the bajeezes out of me. I’ve never been to Emerald Ball, which is a pretty big deal, and to dance a solo in front of that kind of audience, well, I’ve never done a solo at a competition before either! There will be goalposts and milestones along the way. I’m doing People’s Choice in like 4 weeks and don’t even feel remotely ready. And I will do Desert Classic or Galaxy or both and possibly Vegas in December. I will have weekly meetings with Chelle and my sessions with my trainer. I will continue to take lessons with Inna and Ivan and Rado. I will keep a food log and weekly progress reports. I will fit into normal size clothing and have Marieta design new dresses for me. I will hold my leg at 90 degrees or higher in ballet and complete a double pirouette. I will become the champion I can be, in dancing, and in life.
So that’s the dealio peeps. Taking my life on like no kidding. Scared, angry, sad, excited, determined, and strong. It is okay to move forward even if it doesn’t feel good in the moment. Feel the crap and do it anyway and all that.
I love the way Ivan says things. It’s just so funny sometimes. For instance, he never says, “Why didn’t you pick up the phone?” but rather, “Why you no pick the phone?”
By Holger.Ellgaard (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Well, Ivan, I no pick the phone because I was at the gym.”
“Oh?! What?! You at the gym. You never doing this. Goooood.”
“Well, I did go for a while there but couldn’t make it work. This time I’m making it work.”
“Are you sweat?”
“Yes, I am sweat a lot.”
“I know. I can smelling it through the phone. Go take a shower. What did you do?”
“45 minutes on the stair-stepper. I got my heart rate up to 160 for most of it and pushed it to 180 for 5 minutes toward the end.”
“Goooood. And how you feeling?”
“Pretty good. I didn’t want to go today but I couldn’t bring myself not to go. So I went. I was really tired all day.”
“See. But you going then you feeling good. Ah! The stair-stepper is the worst. But I love it!”
“Yeah, it hurts my butt! But it gets my heart rate up and I need the cardio. Third time this week to make it to the gym. So can we have a lesson tomorrow morning?”
“Yes madam. See you six-thirty, krasiva.”
*krasiva = beautiful in Bulgarian.
Well, the truth is I haven’t really wanted to blog about what has been going on for me the past week or so. First off, I’m annoyed with myself for still getting so emotional about things and really letting them get me down. I didn’t want to make this blog a whine-fest.
But, as usually happens, with some time, and some tears, and some working out at the gym, and some sharing with friends, I’m feeling better. Seriously – when I read that it makes it sound like something dramatic happened, but in all honesty the only drama was that in my head.
I can’t say why exactly, but my body image issues have been getting the best of me lately. That and I’ve just felt sad like I will never be able to have/create a body I love and that looks good, and that I will never become the dancer I wish to be. For whatever reason, it was especially heavy on my heart this past week. And working on the Rumba only exacerbated the problem.
I’ve done a lot of dancing over the past days so perhaps a lot of emotion is just being shaken out. I recall that upon first taking up ballroom dancing I did shed many a tear, so sad about what I have allowed myself and my body to become. It was and is incredibly painful to really absorb the damage done by getting so large, not to mention how I feel about myself as a woman. On good days, I accept where I am and work toward what I desire, I might even find some things to find beautiful about myself. On neutral days I block it out and focus on if my clothes are fitting looser, and how my body moves and all that it can do, rather than how it looks doing it. On bad days I see my reflection in the mirror and it disgusts me, triggering a myriad of thoughts and a swirling drama that threatens to suck me down into a black abyss.
The weird thing is that all was smooth sailing for the first part of the week. I danced almost every day and even went to the gym for some cardio. I had lessons with Ivan, a great group class with Inna and I even danced around my kitchen at home just getting lost in the music and movement, not caring what it looked like and savoring the experience.
Then Saturday on my way to my lesson, I just felt sad. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I walked in and Ivan was looking good. He had dyed his hair darker because the night before he had done a performance in a local Dancing With The Stars fundraising gala. And I swear he has gotten more trim, plus he had grown some stubble. And it just hit me. Why would someone like that want to dance with someone who looks like me? And the more we danced, the more ridiculous I felt. And the more emotional I got and all the fight went out of me and I could barely focus. I didn’t really say anything, but we both knew it was just bad news. At the end of the lesson was like, “I don’t know what to telling you. I don’t knowing what is making it better. You think I gonna put on my shoes today if I knowing it gonna be like this?”
Even so, he assured me, it’s normal to have a bad lesson every once in a while. If all lessons were like that, it would definitely be a problem, but (thankfully) it’s not. So we parted hoping that the next day would be brighter.
To a certain extent it was. After a serious session of cardio on the stair-stepper and a long chat with my friend “Blue Eyes,” who has also shed a ton of weight and knows what it is like to go through this, I was more or less in a neutral space. But I was worried.
I can’t remember exactly why I thought I wanted to have a lesson with Marieta, but I believe Ivan mentioned he wanted me to see how Marieta did one move that they also have in their routine and I realized that I have another amazing resource I can call upon to grow as a dancer. I haven’t had a lesson with Marieta in a long time and so was excited to set one up and was in good spirits when I contacted her about it.
But the day of the actual lesson with all the body image issues and self-doubt raging through my system, I was already feeling fragile, and I knew just being around Martieta might trigger me. If you have never had body issues you may not understand, but I find it incredibly difficult to even stand beside Marieta sometimes. Because she has a gorgeous body. Because she is an exquisite dancer. Because she embodies so many qualities that I wish I were. I mean, I intellectually understand we are all different and beautiful and amazing in our own way. And intellectually I understand that I am where I am in my dancing and though it is great to have a vision of where I am going, I have to start where I am. There is no leaping ahead to a different reality, a different body. And my greatest beauty is going to be when I express myself, and just like no two singers’ voices sound the same, no two dancers are exactly the same either. But that seems like a small consolation in those moments when I am overcome with the very uncomfortable emotion that arises when I feel intense shame about being who and how I am.
Even so I want to find the expression inside me and to work through this body-shame. And as amazing as Ivan is, even when he does the female part, there is still something inherently different when I see a female dance it. There is a presence these women ballroom dancers have. Marieta’s presence has a very different quality to it than Inna’s but both exude an almost palpable energy just walking on the floor, much less moving. I’m searching to find my quality of presence and also learn how to project it. I have a feeling it is tied into confidence and fearlessness.
So anyways, I wanted very much to have a lesson with Marieta, and I am planning on working more with her in the coming months because what I got on the lesson was of such value. But I was a mess. Actually, Ivan and I had had a decent enough lesson prior to Marieta coming in but just as she was walking in we were starting our Rumba.
In the beginning there is about 30 seconds where I am going to dance alone. There is no choreography at the moment and Ivan was just encouraging me to move, feel the music, express. He said, “It’s your movie. Imagine there is a spotlight on you and thousands of people watching.” He turned off the lights, put a spotlight on the mirror ball in the studio, and told me to enter from across the room.
Inside, I felt scared. But I want to grow and so pushed that down and pretended as best I could and moved.
Well, anyways, Ivan and I then danced, I screwed up a bunch but it was okay and then our lesson was over. It was time to work with Miss M. And I just felt like I should tell her why I had wanted to work with her, what the purpose of our lesson was. But it turns out, that might have been a mistake.
Because it all came out in this big, overly emotional gush. I was just talking and the tears were coming, and that was exactly the wrong thing to do to set me up to have a productive lesson. I was all caught up in my longing to be thinner, more beautiful, a better dancer. And I even blabbed, “I want to be good enough that it will be hard to tell who is the student and who is the pro.” Which, although a worthy goal, and something to strive for, it is most certainly not where I am, and indeed, may never happen. I am actually okay with letting that go and working toward it at the same time, but in that moment I was wrapped up in how lacking I was feeling, how “less-than” I was as compared to Marieta or any pro, in every way.
I guess I felt like because Marieta is also a friend I could go say all this stuff but if I had scheduled a lesson with any other pro there is no way I would have said anything like this at all. Lucky for me, Marieta is a true pro through and through and she set the context right away.
But I’ll be honest, we got started and I was having a hard time concentrating. I had to excuse myself for a moment to collect myself in the bathroom but then I came back and was calmer and more focused and more able to actually absorb what she was sharing…which was really wonderful.
Marieta told me that she had come in during the last few minutes of my lesson with Ivan so she could watch on purpose. “You may have thought that your movements were very expressive, but really they were pretty insular, you were holding them inside.”
“You are right. I’m aware of that. That’s part of why I want you help…to get what is going on inside so that it is readable and expressed on the outside.”
She had me do a lot of rumba walks and some balances. I wobble more than I should. And she explained how to move to keep on balance by imagining my spine is a pole and all movement should always twist around it. She encouraged me work on strengthening my core. She also demonstrated that to go forward you have to go back first – that it is more dynamic to create a sort of whiplash to movement than to start from a static position. And just being around her presence, focus, and intensity was a lesson in itself. I still don’t understand how she is able to switch her weight between feet so quickly, or to move her limbs with superhuman speed and sharpness but I’m looking forward to observing her and working with her again in the near future and more often. It brings a whole new dimension to the dancing, as well as a new level of strong femininity. And I think she was even harder than me on Ivan usually is, which is a good thing.
So I left the lesson richer with wisdom, feeling foolish about being a blubbery emotional mess, but also with a mental adjustment in place that allowed me to finish the lesson and actually get something out of it (a lot actually) and with a stronger resolve to continue to work toward my goals.
Which meant that I made a personal goal to get 45 minutes of cardio in 5 days of this week above my normal activities. Two of those times must be on the stair-stepper. I’m just making this up, just for this week. Then next week I’m going to make up something else to do, focus on, accomplish, and count as a success. Better to focus on specific worthwhile tasks, and practice at being a winner, than to go down in the emotional torrent that can so easily present itself.
And so far I am off to a good start. I got 45 minutes on the elliptical machine in yesterday and then went to a 90 minute ballet class which is more challenging than the one I usually take on Sundays. It was a stretch and I liked it. I even began to feel like I could do a little bit more, raise my leg a little bit higher, hold my chest up a little longer, and that maybe, just maybe, the grand plies were slightly easier than before. I felt like after a month or two of going to classes just once a week has made a difference in my body alignment and strength. I even liked the lines my legs were making sometimes (probably because I came straight from the gym and had runner’s stripes on my pants!) Today I had a lesson with Ivan and shortly I’m off to Inna’s class. Which is all to say, that I’m still moving forward. That the story isn’t over. That I am not satisfied with where I am. Not by a long shot. But it’s my movie, like Ivan said. And the credits haven’t rolled yet.
Which begs the question, what the hell have I been doing?
Okay, first things first, I promise that a write-up of my experience at the Arthur Murray Winter Showcase will be forthcoming soon but there is just so much going on in my brain that I need to work it out! And the blog is where I do some of that and I’m needing a purge about now. I just have to say that I was so appreciative of the experience and felt so welcomed by everyone that I interacted with. They didn’t have to be so kind, especially since I already dance elsewhere, which made it even more especially wonderful.
But back to my drama. It’s pretty much all mental but it’s making me feel like every emotion possible all at once. Imma ’bout to explode here!
A lot has happened but I suppose it all really started this weekend. On Sunday I woke up after a very nice evening watching my dear friend dance as well as a show by Jason and Sveta Daly. And I have to say is, watching Jason and Sveta really affected me. Especially their Rumba and Bolero. I totally got chills at some points and Sveta is impeccable in her technique. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them dance better than last night. Anyways, it was gorgeous and wonderful and I loved it, so I was puzzled why I was feeling emotional on my drive in to my lesson with Ivan.
When I walked in, I just told him right away I was a mess.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I’m sad. Because I want to be like Sveta and Marieta. I want to be as good of dancers as they are. And it is painful to me that I am not. And I don’t even think it is possible. I can’t believe that it is possible for me to move like that or have a body like that. But that is what I want now, and, looking back on it, ever since I was a little girl. Back then I wanted to be a ballerina. Now the picture has changed, but it feels the same. And it is even more upsetting because I’ve buried it so deeply, stopped dancing for over 10 years, and gained such an incredible amount of weight.”
“I mean, what are we doing here, Ivan? What is our goal? What do we want to do? What is our focus? I like that we are working on some open routines but why? What is the purpose?”
“I don’t know. There is lots of goals you having,” he replied. “You is wanting to lose the weight, and dance scholarship, and all these things. But do you want to go to a competition and only doing 10 dances?”
“No.” I answered. “I wouldn’t want to travel and do all the prep that is necessary for a competition and only dance a few dances.”
“See, so you wanting things different from your friends. You having different goals. You can’t be comparing yourself to them.”
But that’s the crux of it all, isn’t it? That is the world of ballroom. Comparison. I am being compared to those on the floor at the same time. My body is being compared. My dancing is being compared. My costume and make up and hair and tan are all being compared. And judged and ranked. And pardon my French, but it can be a total mindfuck.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all say that we should only be competing against ourselves, our last performance. That we should only strive to better than we were yesterday. And, maybe that is the way to go. I just have to say that it is super hard not to look at my amazing friends, or the pro dancers I look up to, and think it is impossible for me to be any sort of champion. It is impossible for me to actually realize this dream of mine to move and look like a Latin dancer. I want to be her, not just play at it. I want it badly. But maybe not badly enough?
I expressed this sentiment to Ivan and he seems to think my biggest problem is not believing. In his Bulgarian wisdom he pretty much said, “You always wanting this. But can’t just want it. You having to believe it. You not believing it. But I believing it. I know this is gonna happen. I already see it.”
So although I scheduled a double lesson, we only danced maybe 20 minutes total of the hour and half after all the talking. But sometimes I just need to do that. I don’t know if anyone else does that, but every once in a while it just has to happen.
But then the 20 minutes we did work something amazing happened. We began to work on Rumba, just the fan. I’m not exactly sure how or why it happened, but Ivan was encouraging me to express myself more and more because in those moments when I really tune into the music and actually connect like I’m supposed to, and am centered in myself, I actually dance. (Amazing, I know!) And, it turns out, that I can be in control as the lady on some moves, slow them down, add dynamics, change the speed etcetera, according to the music and what it feels like I should be doing to interpret it and the “story” of the dance.
So anyways, I was in the space to do all that I guess after all the talking and I began to play with the music and do this leg extension thing before stepping into Sliding Doors. And after we did it, Ivan looked at me and said, ” You make me dance there.”
“What?!” I asked.
“Yes, because you dancing, you doing something, I have to doing something too. You make me actually dancing with you as a couple because I can’t just stand there while you are moving. I can’t just wait for my student to doing a turn, I have to dancing too.”
Honestly, that was the coolest thing ever in my mind. The coolest. The friggin point of dancing is dancing together, having a conversation through our bodies. And the fact that I had enough dance in me to get someone like Ivan, who I consider light years ahead of me, to join in with me, was so fulfilling and fantastic. It felt awesome. Ivan was pretty excited too. He said, “When my next student comes, we have her video it and we can see.”
So here’s the thing. I’m going to share these videos with you. But the deal is, that when I saw them, I was pretty mortified. It looks nothing like how it feels inside. And I can see a bunch of things I really don’t like, especially how slow I am at the very end. So please be gentle! I’m a work in progress. And the thing is, I went from feeling awesome about myself, to seeing the reality of what I was doing, my abilities at this moment in time, and I was pretty darn disappointed. I went from feeling great to feeling crappy in just a few seconds.
Alright. Well that was the end of the lesson and I had to get going to my ballet lesson across town. I didn’t have time to wallow, but I have to say that I didn’t exactly feel like blogging about all this. I felt drained and I needed some time to work through the feelings before I felt okay about sharing it. But I guess I do, because here I am blabbing all about it! But anyways, on to ballet.
Which was great as usual because the class is so much fun and pretty casual and as a special bonus my friend came to join me for class and coffee afterwards. So that made for a fun lesson, and even better was a chance to catch up with someone for the first time just me and her. It was so wonderful. She told me about her life and I shared a little of what was going on with me. At one point we talked about the time I went on the boat with Colette and Lady Gaga and Ivan and Marieta.
“I don’t know what kind of balls you have girl, to go on a boat with them!” Read bathing suits and hot bodies.
My answer stuck with me. It just came out of me in the moment, but now it’s been rolling around in my brain. I replied, “Well, really, it came down to a choice to participate in life or not. I made a decision a while ago to participate because I didn’t used to. I would be afraid to do anything, especially anything physical, for fear that someone might see a fat roll.”
Seriously, I did this, back when I was a normal size. I would never get in the pool at pool parties. I would not play games at camp because I was afraid my shirt would ride up and reveal my belly. I would sit alone on school field trips to water parks. It sucked. And now I’m on the reverse end of this – doing all these things, including ballroom dancing, in a body that is ridiculous, and in spite of the fact that people can see fat rolls and my shirt does occasionally ride up and reveal my Buddha belly. I do all this now when it isn’t just in my sick head which is pretty ironic if you ask me.
So anyways, I had to end the girl date because I had another activity planned with Lady Gaga. She had arranged a class from an instructor at her studio for stretching and some ballet exercises to assist her with Latin. She invited me along and I’m game for anything once to try it out. It was another intense experience stacked right on to the other ones of the weekend in a different way. This also affected me deeply and gave me much to ponder.
When we got there, at the beginning of the class Lady Gaga mentioned, “Please help me!” to the instructor. “I have bad feet,” said Gaga. I was thinking the same think about my feet. I don’t have the best point (but not the worst either). But our instructor responded with something that woke me up.
“Nobody has bad feet.” He said.
“Anything is possible.” He said.
And he proceeded to tell us the story of a woman he knew who was a professional dancer. As a student, her teacher told her she would never make it as a professional because of her feet. But she stretched them and worked on them, and something like 20 years later she happened to be at the same convention as her old instructor, teaching a workshop, as the professional she became.
It was just the message I needed.
The class was a lot of stretching, and it turns out I am pretty flexible. I mean there is always more you can work for, but the thing is, I’m pretty happy with my flexibility for what I have to do in ballroom at the moment. The bigger concerns are aesthetics (read fat), cardiovascular endurance, and speed. I’d rather begin to spend more energy and time and resources on those issues that are really holding me back than to work at something I’m already decent at. It isn’t going to get me where I want to go to do that. So the long and short of it is that I won’t be continuing with the class, even though I’m really glad I went this weekend.
I gained so much just by being in the presence of this teacher. It turns out that he is Romanian. And he explained, after class, that he had been trained in both ballet and ballroom and also music as a child because that was part of the schooling there. He currently dances with a ballet company. And he was just amazing. It is evident that he has lived a life of discipline. And he just had this gentle, kind, pragmatic manner about him. He was soft-spoken and kind. He never got flustered, even when the woman in the class who was taking it with her husband was trying to correct her spouse (more than once!)
His message was consistency over being a hero. That it is better to work consistently at something, slowly, not working so hard just to prove something only to do it once.
His message was, live by the principle that you are what you do. We all have different abilities. We have to work with what we have, and not compare with others. And that comparing to others is different from being inspired to do more and be more by others who are doing more and being more. Ivan actually said something very similar to me on a lesson the day before. That it should be motivating to see someone dancing amazing and then to look at it and say, “If he/she can do it, so can I. How are they doing it? What can I work on to do it as well?” It is a more empowering and proactive response than to sink into the depths of self-loathing and deprecation, hopelessness and despondency.
I was especially affected by the instructor’s response to my question, “How often should you stretch?”
“That is a good question.” He replied. “It depends on how much time you have to devote to it and how badly you want it. Me, I stretch two hours a day. There was a time when I worked my way up to four hours a day. And when I was dancing, and where I wanted to be, I spent maybe 10 minutes on it.”
His answer blew me away and opened an entirely new paradigm about how badly I want what I say I want.
I guess the good news in all this, even though I don’t feel a lot of closure around all that has happened, is that I did figure out my “goals” with ballroom dancing. It’s probably pretty obvious to you, but I had to suss it out. My goals are actually pretty clear and simple.
I am a trim, fit, confident, trusting, consistent, expressive, and sensual woman. I love my body. I dance every moment fully present and connected to the best of my ability. Every moment I dance feels as awesome inside as it did when Ivan was made to dance with me as a partner rather than a student.
I think everything else will fall into place if I focus on this.
So in this mindset, I threw my workout clothes and tennis shoes in my car with the idea of going to the gym after my lesson with Ivan tonight. I also had been thinking about stuff I want to work on as a dancer, including twisting more, being on balance, being faster, connecting, and as Sveta mentioned to me, “having a small base and a lot of movement.” I wanted to work on these things but guess what. I pretty much sucked at all of them during my lesson. It was disheartening. Ivan had to push and pull me because I was slow. I missed responding because I wasn’t connected. It was so disappointing! I mean, after all this talking and all this thought and all this intention, and when I show up, I still can’t perform any better. It feels hopeless and upsetting.
But then, well, even if I sucked today, and was not connected, and too damn slow, two things I noticed. One, I’ve been wearing my heels on all my lessons, even in Inna’s class. It may seem like a small thing, but I’ve been using my comfy practice shoes almost exclusively for months. It affects balance to be higher and on a smaller heel. And it takes more strength in the ankles and calves to dance in heels, especially at my size. But I must feel like I’m strong enough to do it because it hasn’t been a thought lately. I haven’t been debating which footwear to use. And it has been a few years since all I wore was heels on all my lessons. Not since I went through the first time I painfully conditioned my feet to be able to wear heels with my first instructor has this happened.
The second thing I noticed was that although I was not happy with how I performed at my lesson and was kicking myself for not doing better, I still had the motivation and determination to use the gym clothes I’d brought with me, and I know for a fact there are times when I have chosen differently in the past. And at least for today I can say that I stuck to my diet and added 45 minutes on the stair stepper after my lesson with Ivan. And trust me, I wanted to quit about 15 times while I was on the stupid machine, and I had to bargain with myself to keep going, and I even had to slow it down a few times to recuperate. But I drew a line in the sand. It was simply this: I told myself that I would complete 45 minutes on the stair stepper tonight. I was committed to not breaking my word with myself and thus determined to not quit until I had completed the task. I could have chosen to beat myself up for not going full speed the entire time, or even for having a desire to quit. Or I could choose to celebrate that I completed it, and began to rebuild some trust with myself. I didn’t feel particularly sad or triumphant once the task was done, but I did take a moment to blast “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera on my iPod and walk very slowly on the treadmill afterwards as a little reward for myself. I lost myself completely in the music and that felt great.
So I sit here after writing 3000 words and I know that I have a long way to go. I have a long path ahead of me in terms of discipline and consistency. In terms of shedding weight and improving my cardiovascular endurance. In terms of loving myself and accepting myself as I am while striving to be better. And, of course, in terms of becoming the dancer I want to become.
But Ivan seems to think it’s possible. And if he can see that in me, why do I struggle with it so much?