I think that about 85% of life is just showing up. What I mean by this is that when I choose to show up for various events in my life, I open myself to the possibilities of new and wonderful experiences. Last night, I showed up for a group class. I was the only one. So, it ended up being a private lesson, but only because I showed up.
I decided to go to Imperial Studio last night because they are starting a new American Rhythm class and of all the studios I frequent, this one is the closest. Also, I know the instructor, Toni, used to compete professionally so I think she has a lot of valuable knowledge that I could benefit from. Here is a picture of the lovely Toni from the Imperial website: http://www.imperialballroomdance.com/
So I arrive and the door is locked! But the lights are on and in a second Toni pops up from behind the front desk and lets me in. The studio is eerily quiet. Usually when I come for Inna’s group class, it is very busy and full of people and music. Toni puts the stereo on and we proceed. She asks me if I have done American Rhythm, before (yes), who I dance with (Ivan Dishliev), and if I compete (yes). Then she asks me to dance a little with her leading so she can check out what she’s working with.
Not bad, she says, but there is always something that can be worked on. A person could stay in bronze for their entire life and still find fundamental technique to work on. It is great, because she acknowledges that my footwork is there, so now its time to focus on the next layer of movement. Another amazing thing about Toni is that she also has a background in ballet. She really understands body mechanics and does a great job as the lesson progresses in explaining how to perform the movements to create the desired look.
We focus on the basic Rumba box. We take each step of the box one by one and dissect it. First we simply focus on the set up for the first step. I’m to imagine that the floating wooden floor on which I’m standing is a sandbox. I want to press down through the top layer into the bottom so that sand is covering my feet. Next, Toni talks about twisting the hips opposite the shoulders so that I create a “bow and arrow” tension in my body. This sets me up so I can spring forward from one step to the next. Finally, she demonstrates that when stepping to the side, she allows the ankle to drop and puts weight on both the toe and the heel of her shoe. I’ve been practicing doing it only on the ball of my foot. I keep these new concepts in mind as we take the first step.
It quickly becomes apparent that one of my “bad habits” is to dump my hips. I’ve never heard this terminology, but what it essentially means (I think) is that partly because my hips are so flexible and partly because I hear a constant refrain of “more hips!” from my instructors, I overshoot settling in my hip, creating a collapsing of the upper body which causes lack of balance, slower movement, getting stuck, and less aesthetically pleasing lines. Most importantly, it causes my movements to be less grounded and less controlled. Instead of working the hips so much side to side or up and down, I should be twisting them opposite of my upper body, wringing it around the spine as an axis like someone squeezing out a wet towel. I get what she is saying and instantly my dancing transforms. I love moments like this, where something suddenly becomes clear and the quality of my movement metamorphoses.
She also talks about using the back foot to help propel me forwards. I’ve heard this one before but it is not a habit yet. It adds a large amount of momentum to my movement so that I go off balance momentarily but it also makes the movement more grounded and clear.
Toni is bubbly and enthusiastic and we continue chatting through the lesson. She has some interesting ways to help me remember a few pointers. First, she shows me the “frowning bellybutton” move to help me to remember how to move my hips when transferring weight from my right foot to left foot on the side step of the Rumba box. (By the way, there is also an X-rated name for this move, but you’ll have to take a lesson from Toni to find out what it is!)
She also talks about how to hold my midsection. I’m to picture a fishhook going through my bellybutton and pulling it up to under my ribs. This will help me to pull upwards and create space in the body for movement.
She explains that I should also use my “pee muscles” in the pelvis and abdomen since they are my core. The movement should be generated from the core. This is most dramatically exemplified when we work on a cross-over. First she points out her pet peeve of people turning out the foot rather than keeping it parallel the step before the cross-over. Paradoxically, already moving in the direction you will step next makes it more difficult to get there in the next step. Then she explains that by simply generating movement from the knee and hip the swivel will be faster, more dynamic, and cleaner. And it is. It has never felt so easy before to do a crossover alone. We high-five and decide to end the lesson on a high note.
Toni really knows how to create some beautiful and sexy movement in her midsection. She tells me that watching me, the thing that catches her eye is my good footwork. But after the lesson, I’m dancing more grounded into the floor, and generating more movement in the rest of my body rather than just my feet. It is amazing that spending just 45 minutes with a person can transform my dancing and provide an entirely new perspective on how to do things.
At the end of the lesson, I thank Toni for her help and say I’m so glad she is now a part of the Imperial Studio. “Thanks,” she says, “And tell everyone else how awesome I am.”
Okay. So Toni, this blog post is dedicated to you. You are awesome. I’m glad I got to have a private lesson with you and found what you had to share very valuable. And now everyone else knows it too!