You So Beginner!

So it has been a week since I’ve seen Ivan.  I don’t dance with him Mondays cause I work and then go to Marieta’s class.  Usually I try to fit one in on Tuesdays but last week I took extra lessons so I needed to cool it down for financial reasons and decided that I’d do Inna’s class Tuesday anyways.  Wednesday is class with Toni and work.  Thursday, well, I tried.  I really, really did.  My husband and I went to go look at a house because we want to move and the traffic was atrocious.  It doesn’t help that the Waste Management Golf Open is happening right now.  So about 20 minutes before my lesson I knew I would never make it there on time and called Ivan.  When I told him where I was he agreed and suggested we cancel the lesson and do a double on Saturday.  It is weird how things work out like that.  It was like I was “blocked” from dancing this past week.  I only made it to Marieta’s class on Monday.  All the other days I didn’t dance.

So Saturday about killed me.  My breathing issues were rearing their ugly heads and I felt completely uncoordinated.  It is amazing to me that just one week of not dancing can have such an impact on how I move, a negative impact that is.  I didn’t seem to be able to make my body work properly, I couldn’t follow, I kept losing my balance.  Sheesh!

Well, after maybe 20 minutes of moving things began to get better.  We did Smooth dances then American Rhythm.  Then the studio became chaotic-nutso (yes, that’s the scientific word for it).  On Saturdays we usually meet at Dance Starz because the church space is used by Miss Laurie Schwimmer.

I have to admit, a part of me likes to be seen at the studio.  It’s kind of cool that people will stop and watch when Ivan and I do a Samba.  But I only like it when it is one or two couples around.  When the place is bustling, it is a lot harder to stay focused.  We can’t control the music, and it is difficult to move.

What I’m saying is that I’m spoiled rotten.  Yes, I sure am.  I usually get to have a dance space all to myself with an amazing instructor and control the music.  So the benefit of getting a little ego boost of people watching me dance sometimes at the studio comes with the price that it will soon become chaotic, busy, and jam-packed.

Anyways, it was really nice when it was still early and Ivan and I were sharing the studio only with one other older couple.  About that time, my friend Ivonne walked in.  I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think to ask her to video us dancing.  I could have watched and seen how I was looking and then had the opportunity to correct some of my bad habits.  Also, I could have posted a little video on the blog so you can see what my practice is like.  Alas, no video.  Maybe next time.

Although I was hopelessly out of breath and soaked in sweat, and Ivan stopped me every two steps to correct something, it still felt great to dance.  I really like warming up by doing the smooth dances.

Tango was especially intense.  Ivan placed my hips where I guess they should have been the entire time.  I’ve not had them that close to his in the past and it initially made it difficult to move.  I was told to “come behind him” after promenade.  It was interesting.  I instantly understood where I was supposed to be positioned because he physically placed me but it was weird that he finally chose to do that today.  Why hadn’t he done it before?  I mean, if he had done it on the first lesson, or something, it probably would have felt invasive.  But it really didn’t on this day.  It was great because I could feel kinetically what I’m supposed to do.

Sometimes Ivan can get intense.  I see little glimpses of his “artistic diva” side who expects his students to “get” and then execute his corrections or steps in only a few tries.  I guess I just laugh it off and can generally do what he wants out of me well enough that he’s satisfied.  He only got “mama mia” on me, threw out a “Hallelujah!” when I finally got what he wanted me to get that one lesson when I started working on Latin.

Two things I notice.  One, Ivan is probably this hard on himself (in fact I pretty much know that he is) in his own head when learning new things and executing them.  Two, I don’t think he realizes how intense he is being in these moments.

It doesn’t happen so much with me, but I see it come out more with other students if I happen to hang around and obliquely observe him on a lesson while I’m packing my stuff up, checking my phone messages, that sort of thing.  And, if he does go all “Oy vey” on me, I just laugh.  Usually it snaps him right out of it.

Like today.  He was intense when he just grabbed my hips and put them where they need to be for the Tango.  But I thought it was great because I instantly “got it.”  Then he chilled out becomming his puppy dog self but later the diva came out again.  He was very disapproving of my arms.  If you’ve been reading the blog, you’ll know that arm styling is one of my weaknesses.  Also, I’m still discovering my inner artist.  I aspire to be a dancer, not a robot, and to move embodying the music rather than to mechanically do a step.  I often don’t know what to do with my upper extremities, especially when doing turns and so yesterday I was doing what I always do, what everyone else always does.  If you watch a video of pro/am couples doing the Cha Cha, for instance, you see everyone pretty much doing the same steps with the same arms.  It’s almost comic…and boring.  I want to stand out (in a good way) instead.  But here I am, on a lesson, practicing it the “ho-hum” way.

Here’s a video that demonstrates what I mean.

You can see the entire dancefloor moving the same way.  I believe there is a way to do these same steps but make it look different, to have a different quality to them.  That’s what I’m after…self-expression even in the context of doing the same steps as everyone else.

“You so beginner!”  Chides Ivan.  “Don’t dance so beginner.”

I just laughed.  I knew exactly what he was talking about.  He was in that intense mode, clearly dissatisfied and frustrated with my performance.  But it just makes me smile.  I’m weird, I know.  Someone else would probably be offended.  Like hey bud, how dare you tell me I’m dancing like a beginner.  How rude!

But he’s right. In fact, I was frustrated with myself for the same thing.  He just found a way to verbalize it.

Okay Ivan, I’ll try not to be so “beginner” any more.

But wait.  Maybe I don’t want to agree to that.  What about “Beginner’s Mind.”  Isn’t that a good thing to cultivate?

“Beginner’s Mind” is a concept I learned about that basically suggests it is a good thing to approach any learning with the openness and willingness to learn like a beginner, regardless of your level of expertise in that area.  It’s summed up in this quote from Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Here is a fantastic article that explains the concept eloquently and provides some tips on how to live using Beginner’s Mind:

Beginner’s Mind

I especially like the part about letting go of your expertise while also tapping into your innate wisdom.  Hmmm, maybe both Ivan and I could stand to be a bit more “beginner.”

So, I guess, Ivan’s comment could be taken as a compliment, or at least a reminder that no matter how “far along” on the journey I am (or he is), there is always the ability to be a beginner.

So thanks Ivan.  I’m so beginner.  And is a good thing.

8 thoughts on “You So Beginner!

  1. Stef- you may be “so beginner” but you also a wonderful “old soul” who is sharing some fabulous lessons on your journey. Thanks for this one.

    • loveablestef says:

      Ellen, as always, thanks for the support. It means so much to me that you consistently read my posts and interact with me. Hopefully I’ll be dancing a little more this week!

  2. Hi Stephanie! Reading your blog is so much fun 🙂 I admire how thoughtful and reflective you are when it comes to dancing. Thanks for letting us follow along.

    I can relate to what you’re saying here–I had an off week too and only made it to one lesson because a client at work had an emergency. (But one is better than none!?!)

    Anyhow, I was watching the video you posted when–surprise!!!–all of a sudden the teacher I’m studying with came into the frame.

    • loveablestef says:

      Paragon2Pieces – thanks so much for the comment! I’m just thrilled anyone finds my musings interesting enough to follow along! How funny that your teacher was on that video?! I just picked it because at the beginning it seems like everyone is doing cha cha crossovers all at the same time. I’m not in it nor did I know anyone in it. It was just on YouTube and I thought it illustrated my point. I’m just a little obsessed with ballroom dancing. I watch videos for hours sometimes just looking at different dancers, different styles of dance, etc, etc. How long have you been practicing ballroom dancing? What is your favorite style? Do you compete? Anyways, thanks for checking it out! I hope to hear more from you!

      • I started ballroom dancing the last week in December. I have a lot of experience in other forms of dance, but ballroom (just international latin so far) has been humbling! Between the heels and different postures (paso doble feels so awkward right now) I have lots to learn.

        I’m not competing yet, but hope to one day. My first student showcase is this weekend. Later in the month, I’m going to drive down to the California Open to watch/cheer on some other folks from the studio I’ve been going to for lessons. I’m really enjoying it, but feel like progress is slooooow with only one one-on-one and a few group classes per week. (Can I just morph in Yulia or Joanna overnight please!?!) What have you found that helps to accelerate the learning process?

        Happy to hear I’m not the only one spending a lot of time watching videos on youTube 🙂 I agree with your comment about the quality of movement in the video that you posted. That’s why I love watching the professionals–their lines and transitions are so beautiful!!!

      • loveablestef says:

        Ballroom is a different beast, eh? How exciting that your showcase is this weekend! Would you be willing to share photos, perhaps write a guest post about your experience? Feel free to accept or decline according to your comfort level, I just love hearing about the experiences of other amateur dancers. My instructor will be at the California Open with is professional partner (and wife) to compete in the American Rhythm category (Ivan Dishliev and Marieta Nedyalkova). Maybe you can cheer them on too! I always feel like I’m progressing too slow but I wonder if that is just the nature of learning something new. Many of the professionals like Yulia or Joanna have been dancing for years and years and years. We are babies in the world of ballroom – and you don’t expect a toddler to dance like a 20 year old, right? I think having an excellent instructor accelerates the process. One who understands body mechanics and who understands the steps. That way you can specifically ask about a particular move. Like in Samba, I could see that I’m not doing the same thing as the pros but I couldn’t figure out why. Sometimes it is just a little tweak and the entire picture changes. Also, if your partner is in the proper position and doing the right movement, you get instant feedback if you are in the wrong place or not matching them because movement is blocked, or it becomes very difficult. Then, once you understand how it feels to do the movement correctly, you can practice on your own time. I mean, if you are taking from an instructor who doesn’t know how to do the move in his/her own body, then of course he/she can’t explain to another person how to do it. You sound like you are a dancer like me in that you want to look as close to the professionals as possible. For that to happen I think it takes lots of practice and to take lessons from people who are excellent in their field. For others, it is more of a social experience, so that level of detail just isn’t that important. Neither is better than the other, it just depends what you want out of your dancing and what you are willing to do to get there. And, at the end of the day, I’m no expert! I can barely figure myself out most of the time ha ha. I think that being able to dance your own body 100%, be on your own balance is paramount. Then you can join with your professional partner who is also doing the same thing and become a synergystic partnership. You will be dancing yourself, but dancing together. It’s been a difficult “sweet spot” to find…I’m relying too little or too much on Ivan sometimes. But for brief moments, like Goldilocks finding the third bowl of porridge, I get it “just right.” Those moments feel so amazing they are addicting and I keep practicing, practicing so hopefully they will occur more often. And another thing to keep in mind is that 1) you are enough just as you are and 2) it is never enough! Even the high level profesionals are pushing for something more. Even those dancers people like you and I idolize as being amazing and for achieving things in their dancing careers probably (but not necessarily) beyond our abilities starting so late in life, those people still strive, practice, think they aren’t progressing “fast enough,” they still haven’t “made it,” just like us. I’m just saying it’s a process and a practice no matter where you are on the path. And it’s great to be on the path. And even better to get to share the journey with others like you.

  3. Yes, I will try to get some photos or maybe video tomorrow at the showcase 🙂

  4. very well stated Stef!

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