So yesterday when I showed up for my lesson I started trying to do Spiral turns. I need to figure out how to do them properly and on balance because there are about 3 of them in my Rumba routine. I barely seem to be able to hold on to them most times, and other times I have to step out of the position so I don’t fall.
It’s weird, because in American Rumba we do Rumba Walks and end the move with a Spiral and I have gotten that one down. It is usually very smooth and easy. But without just that little bit of help from Ivan’s hand, I seem to lose my center on the ones in the showcase routine.
One of my biggest problems, I think, is forgetting to settle. This is where the old ballet training and muscle memory bite me in the ass. It is so ingrained in me to try and hold my hips square and not to let them drop that I’m always trying to hold positions that are very difficult to hold and stay on balance in. The trick is that they are beautiful lines and I should hit them first, but then immediately begin to settle on to the standing leg. I try to hold them too long and get stuck.
The other biggest problem is that I don’t completely commit to one leg or the other before moving. I try to get to where I’m going without completing each step in between. This sometimes means my body weight is distributed between both legs making it impossible for either one to move. Once again, movements become slurred, late, sloppy.
The final biggest problem is that I don’t use my supporting leg to propel me onto the standing leg. I try to power myself using only one limb instead of both, leaving the leg I just moved from relaxed and useless. Especially on the Spiral turn, I need to use my supporting leg like the kick-stand of a bike and continue to place pressure on it to help myself turn.
So I have these three issues to contend with and then on the Sprial turns I also end up leaning one way or the other, forwards or backwards or to the side. I’m not keeping my spine straight and collapse my upper body or have my weight on my heels instead of the balls of my feet.
There is a fix for this and Ivan has it. It’s called pulling my hair.
So I’m practicing the Spiral turns and falling over and Ivan comes up and pulls my hair upwards by the roots in an attempt to get me to straighten my spine and stand tall. It didn’t hurt at all. I don’t know how he did that but it was painless. And, I got the point. But I just didn’t know that signing up for ballroom lessons might entail my instructor pulling on my burnette locks.
We worked on getting the Sprial turn into my muscle memory so I’ll be able to do it comfortably at the showcase and I do believe it is getting better. Then we worked on the open hip twist step again, me counting all my steps, reviewed the proper way to do a crossover, and the importance of counting my entire routine in every dance.
Actually, I’m very inspired by Ghada, also know as “Legs.” She started her own blog (firstname.lastname@example.org) about her personal ballroom journey and loaded a video of her practicing at her gym. She does everything by herself, including a ronde’ kick and a slow leg extension, which takes an incredible amount of control and strength. I should be doing this too.
Really, I should. Because when it comes down to it, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I need to be dancing my own body. I need to not be relying on Ivan. I should be able to do all my routines by myself as if I were dancing with someone. Then when that someone steps into the picture, it will be easier. We will be two pieces completely self-contained, yet completely connected, moving in unison yet independently.
Even though I think I know what I’m doing, I don’t always know what I’m doing on what count. It’s this weird paradox though. I’m supposed to dance the music but I also have to be on the right count.
Let me explain.
Ivan wanted to practice our showcase Rumba once before we ended the lesson. As usual, he had me dance my solo part in the beginning. I did it, and since I’ve repeated it enough times, I don’t count every beat but rather feel the movement, listen to the music, and create the drama of the story being danced. Ivan complimented me on this part of the dance saying that it was so “easy to watch.” And that he wants me to dance the entire 4 minutes the same way.
Only one problem… I’m not counting. I’m just dancing. So it’s like, dance the emotional story but don’t also forget to count. My brain is a little bit fried just thinking about that!
In any case, my dancer is coming out and Ivan sees it. He told me that it is a piece that many ballroom dancers and competitors are missing and it’s great that I have it.
It was kind of like that song from “A Chorus Line,” called, “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” You know the one I’m talking about, right? The one where one of the auditioning dancers explains how she never used to get jobs and so after one audition she stole her feedback card and saw that they had marked her a ten for dance ability, but a three for looks. Now her solution was to get a boob job. Voila! She began to get jobs left and right.
But for me, it was like “Fat one, good things five.” You see, after Ivan told me that I was doing well with the emoting/storytelling part of dancing he told me, “Stefanie how many times you gotta tell me you fat. Yes, I know this. Okay, so you fat. But it like one thing. You have like five other things that is good. The drama, the balance, the rhythm, da da da da da. The fat only the one thing.”
I have a few thoughts about this. One, it was really hard to stand next to Marietta on Monday this week because my body contrasted so greatly with hers. Two, I can focus on the one thing (the fat) or I can focus on all the other wonderful things I bring to my dancing. I know which one makes me feel better about myself. Three, I’m working on changing the fat picture. I’m on the right track for this so if nothing else it’s going to improve. Four, I’m really stuck on the fact that I’m fat. Good thing Ivan isn’t as fixated on it as I am.
In any case, we finished our lesson and Marietta walked in the door. They were going to practice for the Vegas Open where they will be competing tomorrow. And guess what? Me, and Ivonne, and most likely Katie, are all going to drive out to cheer them on! It is going to be so much fun, I can hardly wait. You better believe I’ll have some photos and video and writing to share about that little adventure.
But my dancing wasn’t done yet! Toni now does group classes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Imperial Ballroom Dance Center over closer to my area. I drove there and had a semi-private lesson. It was just me, and Chuck, and Toni. We worked on American Rhythm Rumba and I got to practice my Rumba Walks, following, Spiral turns, Spot turns, balance, and timing. It was really fun. And Chuck was enamored with Toni. She really is a fantastic teacher and over the course of the lesson we were able to improve the step she was teaching us considerably. He told her, “You do that so great, I don’t want anyone else to ever teach me how to do anything ever again!” It was adorable, and I was there to be a witness….he really did say it just like that!
It wasn’t a very sweaty day and I didn’t do much cardio, but after the past few weeks of stress, it was just what I needed to get the share the joy of dancing with other people who love it as well.
Ballroom dancing has brought much adventure, joy, friendship, and opportuinties to evolve into my life. I just didn’t know hair-pulling was part of the deal. But even if it is, I’ll gladly accept the price. It’s worth it!
Same trouble settling into the hip over here. (I swear I can hear my ballet teacher groan when I do it!!!)
To your point about practicing by yourself…. Something that is helping me is practicing on my own with a metronome (there are plenty of free metronome apps if you have an iPhone). I start very slow and bump up the tempo in small increments, only advancing when I can manage the current tempo with all the right technique. This can be a bit boring or frustrating at times, but it seems to be helping with muscle memory, which I think is a big part of what allows us to “feel the music” later on.
Also, for what it’s worth, standing next to Marietta would give me a complex too. It’s not fair to compare your body to that of a professional athlete, although I understand it’s hard not to. You are making progress and doing great 🙂