Once More, With Feeling!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Dance Starz Studio

Private lesson with Ivan

I’m thinking about changing the name of this blog to “Ivan Says.” Just kidding. But in all sincerity, having Ivan as my instructor and the conversations we have on lessons are changing my life. The things he tells me help me to become a better dancer, partner, and person. So be prepared to read alot about what “Ivan Says” because it’s valuable stuff and I think worth sharing.

I arrive to my lesson today and Ivan says, “Let’s just dance.” I’m amenable (of course!) and we begin to Cha Cha. I’m still working on getting onto my own feet, cleaning up foot work, finding my center, staying on balance. I’m “in my head” trying so hard to do everything right, even while having a good time just being with my friend. But you see, when my attention is in my head with my myriad of thoughts, it can’t be elsewhere.

We work on cross-overs, trying to get the arm placement right but something is missing. There’s no “pop” or “pizazz” or excitement in the movement. Yawn.

Ivan reminds me to extend in five directions like a star, to stand up straight and lift my spine, and I do this. The picture is prettier but again, the movement empty.

I’m still not doing something.

Oh, I’m not looking at myself in the mirror.

I make no eye contact.

I am avoiding connection.

“Look at yourself in the mirror.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Don’t be scary.” (Translated this means don’t be scared)

“Uh huh, right.”

Ivan grabs my hands and says, “When you gonna do it? In a year? No, now!”

He pulls over one of the dummies used to display ballroom gowns in the studio.

“This is Linda Dean, a judge. You gonna see her. Let’s get close.”

Ivan positions us next to the dummy. It is an inanimate object but I am still feeling timid. I fear getting in the space of strangers. I don’t want to be “too much” or up in somebody’s grill. You see, I was always told I was “too much” so I’ve learned to tone it down. No, that’s a lie. I’ve learned to reign in myself so much that I can be invisible when I want to. I’ve learned to not to be the center of attention. I’ve learned to dim my light so that everyone else can shine, so that things are “fair.”

But this defense mechanism isn’t going to work for me in this situation and I really want to become the dancer I sense inside. So I decide that I’m going to act “as if.” I’m going to be confident, right here in this moment, and look at the pretend face of the judge. I’m going to direct my energy straight to her, unabashedly, freely, joyfully.

And I do.

We practice it a few times doing a cross-over and Ivan is pleased.

“Okay, now we do it to Marieta.” We will know if we are successful if she has some reaction in response to us.

We walk right over to Marieta and bam! She physically jolts. I feel Ivan hugging me in celebration. We nailed it!

So far this is shaping up to be a great lesson. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin, less “scary”, and more willing to let it all hang out.

But as we start to move again, my steps are riddled with errors. One of the things I often do is connect then pull away. Ivan may lead a turn and I stay with him to a point but then my arms become noodles. The next minute I’m grasping, pulling, frantically trying to find the connection again. I invade his space rather than maintaining my own area. I’m late. Ivan has moved on to the next step and I’m one fraction of a second behind.

This process is unconscious. I have been advised of it before (many times) but it still continues to haunt me.

So we’re working on connection and Ivan is talking about the fact that I’m not staying with him. He demonstrates how it should feel and then how it feels when I pull back and break the connection. He’s done this with me before so why am I still doing it? As a kinetic learner, after the demonstration I am able to recreate the connection. We begin to move in unison.

We close our eyes. The world fades away. I have no cues to go on except to feel Ivan inviting me to move through the connection. I’m feeling, not thinking, and things are flowing. My attention has shifted from my head where I “know” everything to my body and heart. They have their own form of wisdom found in the expanse devoid of words. I am in the moment feeling, being connected, and nothing else. I am no longer an “I.”

The moment I think I know what Ivan will do next because we have done the step 100 times before “I” shows up again, my brain interferes with the flow, and I start to misstep. If I stay connected we move like silk.

Ivan spins me but because my eyes are closed I don’t know exactly where his hand is. But I’m reaching for him, seeking the connection and make one by finding his upper arm. The unexpected touch is exhilarating. I’ve stayed connected and best of all Ivan is excited as well. He was thrilled that we were really connecting and his body reacted as he got goosebumps on his arm from the touch.

“You are like the plug and I am the outlet.” He says.

From now on we are to practice first “plugging in” before we take a single step. I don’t often do this, and we usually just start moving, but when we do take the time to do this, or rather, create the space with awareness, the dancing is on an entire different level. It transcends steps and figures. It is something authentic and wonderful, more than the sum of its parts.

We practice just making the initial connection with hands as if we are going to start dancing. Once Ivan is satisfied that I am connecting he gets creative.

“Ok, now I have no hands.”

I have to connect with his upper arm. But he takes that away from me soon enough. Now I only have his shoulders. He signals me to turn but I’m slow in the uptake. It is more difficult but still possible to respond to his invitation.

“But I not caring I have no arms. I am dancing with a girl and she is responding to me. I feel so good about myself.”

He puts my hands on his head. We dance this way feeling the connection.

“See, even with the head!”

Truth be told, no actual touching is required. At the beginning of the lesson Ivan did some Rumba with me using just his body to signal where I should go next. It was trickier to follow to be sure, but so amazing to feel the energy of it. I had to completely tune into Ivan’s energy and this left no space for errant thoughts or worries. Just as when I close my eyes, focusing on the connection suddenly makes things crystal clear.

And you know what, I’m dancing better according to Ivan when I do this. No worrying about the steps or my balance or pointing my toes, just feeling.

“We are all forgetting this. We are all forgetting to feeling. Me, you, Marieta, professionals, everybody.”

He taps my back and my chest three times with the palms of his hands, “Feel! Feel! Feel!”

Ivan is a wizard breaking the curse.

Didn’t I spend a good portion of my life learning how to block feeling? To avoid the difficult emotions like sadness, or grief, or fear, or anger I learned how to numb myself through food and distractions. I’ve learned how to tune out. I have been practicing how to appear like I am present but my essence, my soul, my consciousness have vacated the premises. My true self is floating in the ethers away from the pain and harsh realities of life.

It works to a point but I miss out on fully feeling my life. Life is flat, devoid of good feelings along with the difficult ones. I don’t taste my nourishment. I am living in the future or the past which don’t exist. I am disconnected from my surroundings, from my body, and from other people. I am disconnected from myself.

Now the secret to my success is to be present. 100% present in my body. 100% present in my heart. Feeling life. Experiencing it fully. Not analyzing it, labeling it, or judging the experience, just being in it as it is. I can’t explain how freeing this is. You’ll have to experience it for yourself.

But I think this is why ballroom dancing is so addicting for me. How often in our daily lives are we really 100% present with one another? How many times are we in a conversation but instead of being with the other person, we are thinking about the bills, or doing the dishes, or determining whether what the other person is saying or doing is good or bad, right or wrong?

Metaphorically we are dancing alongside our partner but not with them. We are cheating ourselves and them of the gift of connection.

Ivan was so happy to be dancing with me today because I was being a present partner (for the most part). It is easy to slip back into old habits via my analyzing brain and these are the moments I break connection. But being with another human being, truly just being with another person, is a precious and wonderful experience. I’m so glad I get to share it with Ivan and vicariously with you.

I’m still new at this connection thing so I’m going to begin to consciously practice it. There is a great book by Cheri Huber called What You Practice Is What You Have (actually ALL of her books are excellent and I highly recommend them). I’m going to practice connecting so that I will have more connection in my life. But I need to start small. I’m going to connect with myself first because really, if I can’t connect with myself, know my own feelings, hurts, wants, and wishes, how can I ever really connect with someone else?

I’ve devised a little exercise to jump start the process. I’m going to look into my own eyes in front of the mirror for 3 minutes. I will set a timer. And to keep myself honest about doing this exercise I will post what I discover before the end of the week.

So I now challenge you show up as a bigger player in the game of your life. Together let’s create a more present and connected world one person at a time, starting with ourselves. I invite you to join me in practicing awareness and connection, in dancing, in relationships, and in daily business by participating in the same exercise that I’ve committed to do. I know that only a courageous 1% of you will actually do this, but for those of you who are ready for a breakthrough and do participate, I want to hear about your experience. I know we can do it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s