So last night I went to Inna’s butt-kicking International Latin class over at Imperial Studio.
It began a usual with a Rumba exercise, which, I’m proud to report, I was able to make it through. Finally, finally, I feel like my body is responding to the demands I’m placing on it. Now, I’m still pushing my body to it’s limit, it feels like, but I was able to complete the exercise and didn’t have to stop, or drop my arms. I didn’t have to “cheat” or halt to rest. This is progress! Progress, not perfection, has to be my motto as I’m doing this process right now. The moment I get caught up in all I still can’t do is the moment my internal devil begins spewing all sorts of unhelpful and demoralizing drivel. I’ve got to keep my eye on the prize…not on the roadbumps.
Now, I did have to bow out of an exercise at the end of the class, being doubled over for breath, but this is par for the course. One day I WILL make it through this class. One day my body WILL have adapted to it enough and will be physically capable of doing it. Yesterday wasn’t that day, but it’s gonna come.
But then Inna threw us a curveball. She seemed to be in a good mood. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that she and Artem placed 1st in the Professional Rising Star International Ballroom division at the UK Open last week, and also made it to the quarterfinals in the Professional division as well. They were competing against top, world-ranked International couples and held their own. They’ve worked really hard to get where they are and I wish them only the very best. I feel privileged to be able to learn from teachers with such expertise in their field. And although Inna is currently competing in International Standard, she is a master teacher and also a master dancer herself, Latin style included.
I wrote about her in my Tumblr post today in response to a 30 day challenge question which was, “Describe a dancer you admire.” I think this describes Inna, from my perspective, pretty well:
She is strong and powerful. She is tiny but can take up all the space in a gigantic ballroom. She has exceptional technique and bleach-blond hair. She commands attention, and can control her body so precisely, that all she needs to do is shrug a shoulder and everyone stops to watch. She is a master teacher and a master dancer, expressive from the tips of her French nails, to the point of her toes, down through the earth. This is an actual person, not some idealized made up person in my mind, who, as one commentator put it, is “something else.” http://dancingwithstefanie.tumblr.com/post/16453769849/day-19-describe-a-dancer-you-admire
You can see the dance that prompted a commentator to say she is “something else,” here:
Well, in my experience she sure is.
So miss Inna decided to change the rules of the game on us in class last night. Basically, she told us that we all knew at this point how to do the basic steps she was asking for. Now mind you there were only 6 of us and all were girls and this created an opportunity. She told us that we all knew how to move our arms in the prescribed motion and where to step which way when. But it was boring to watch! She challenged us to make it interesting, to stand out from the crowd by doing something different, something “out of the box,” as she put it. Apparently her coach in the Ukraine asked her class to do the same thing one time too. And everyone had a choice: do it, make it work or say, “but I don’t know how.” But I think in the Ukraine if you are told to do something, you just do it. There is no tired, or hurting, or can’t breathe. These options don’t exist.
It’s a little different here in America, that’s for sure. But I think all students still ultimately want to do well and please their teacher. We’d prefer to rise to the occasion. But when Inna asked us all to just creatively make up some arm movements, it felt like the entire room balked. What were we supposed to do? At least in my experience in ballroom, everything about what you are supposed to do is told to you. Only the professionals do more creative movement in open routines. A student does mostly performs lead and follow dancing or has a prescribed routine in which every detail of movement is already predetermined. Also, I’ve put in lots of hours trying to get my arms to do the right basic movement when doing say, an under arm turn, but not a lot of hours creating different arm movements.
I mean, it makes sense, right. Part of being a competitor in ballroom is to draw the attention of the judges and gain audience support. You can’t do that if you blend into the background or look just like everyone else. The idea is to emphasize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. But I don’t think a lot of time is spent on developing this skill at the outset of ballroom lessons. It is something only explored once the student is a little more advanced.
I have to give Ivan some props here. If he hadn’t been working with me on doing different things with my body and arms, I’d have been at a complete loss as to what to do when asked by Inna. Once he made me just move to music and he walked around me over and over in a circle. I noticed myself constantly looking to him for a response, for approval, but what I needed to do was hold my space, claim my center, make him a moon to my planetary body.
Listen, it’s easier to do when you’re alone and no one is watching, even someone like Ivan who I trust and respect. It’s just so revealing, so vulnerable. What if I look stupid? What if I fall?
Well, the amazing thing about last night, was that I experienced this but I felt like a lot of the other girls in the class did as well. Look, they are all very very good dancers. Many have been dancing for years and have some Pro/Am titles under their belt. They all have better bodies than I do, for sure, by far. I’m so hung up with my body image that I think that I’d be more confident if I was in a body like any of the other five girls in that class last night. Like, if I had one of their bodies, I’d be super-confident and comfortable in my own skin. But these buff, fit, lean, girls, with beautiful legs, and hips, and arms, well, it seemed like they were feeling the same way I was feeling (insecure) in my 262 pound body. Oh, by the way, I’m finally down a few pounds again. I have a goal to be below 260 by Sunday. The next goal will be for getting under 250 pounds, but I digress. I’m just glad I’m back on the right track even after that detour a week ago.
Now, let me be personally responsible here and be sure to clarify that I have no idea what those other girls were thinking, nor is it really any of my business. I could totally be projecting my “stuff” onto them, and they could totally have been feeling confident. But I have to say that it really seemed like they were experiencing some of the same internal struggles to bust out of their comfort zones and be confident just like I was experiencing, regardless of the disparity between our respective body sizes. I’m not the only one to struggle with this. And this includes even girls who outwardly appear immaculate to me.
In any case, we did the exercise again, each playing with arms but dear Inna wasn’t satisfied. She upped the ante once more.
Now let me take a moment to express my appreciation for Inna doing this. I am very thankful that she is putting forth the effort to challenge us students. I feel like she really does want to pull the best out of each of us, and encourage us to become unique dancers, showcasing our individual strengths. That right there in my humble opinion is some quality instruction and it will contribute to the creation of some exemplary student dancers. This calling forth of the dancer and person within, something deeper than just teaching steps, is so special. I can imagine that teaching a syllabus of steps might be easier to do, but this level of engagement that Inna’s bringing to the table, well, I just feel so privileged to benefit from it.
She also told us that the studio is the place to practice. That we aren’t being judged here. We weren’t at competition. Basically she was making it okay for us to experiment, even if we looked silly or messed up in the process. As she described, it was no longer about just the steps. It was about being creative, expressing ourselves, becoming something greater.
So Inna gave each and every one of us girls a different body part to emphasize. I got hips. (Whew! I thought! Probably the part I’m most comfortable with at this point). The girl next to me, who is probably the best dancer of the bunch got assigned shoulders. (What the heck should a person do to emphasize their shoulders? I had no idea and breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me that had to do that!) Another girl got legs, which was appropriate because her legs and feet are gorgeous. Absolutely one of her strong points. Another gal got arms. And finally the last girl got head. (Really? Head? WTH would I do if I had to do head?)
We were given a few moments to prepare and then it was go time. We all had to perform one by one in front of the group. The gal who got arms blew me away. Her opening movement was so strong, so expressive, so engrossing. It was fabulous.
But wait, there’s more! Next Inna told us to pick a body part to emphasize then the rest of the group would have to guess which part we were emphasizing. Again we were given more time and then one by one faced the music. I picked legs because I think they are one of my better features, at least my footwork is pretty good.
It was really an amazing opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and consider some new ways to approach my dancing. I’d never considered emphasizing my head or shoulders, ever. Now at least it is on my radar. Also, I can begin to play and practice with doing some movement, maybe before I start dancing, that will immediately set me apart from other competitors in the ballroom. A lesson like this is priceless. Actually, it was an opportunity for transformation, and this I know: that the seed of the ideas planted in my psyche today will bear fruit far beyond this one lesson. That is a lesson from a master teacher. That was Inna’s gift to me and to the people who showed up to class last night.