Because I’ve reached my hundredth post, I thought I should write something special about that. You know? Cause it seems like a milestone or something.
But the truth is, I have no idea what I could do that’s special! I think it would be boring, and maybe difficult, to read (and write) 100 reasons why I love dancing, or something like that.
So I thought I’d celebrate simply, by just doing what I always do, and chronicle my dancing adventures. And also, I’m going to dedicate this post to my instructor, Ivan, who has made more of a difference in my life than I think he will ever know.
I will start with yesterday morning when I danced with Ivan at that new studio. This time I remembered my shoes and there was no electrical shock therapy involved. But it was a great lesson. Just one of those times when I felt healthy (for the most part) and energized. I awoke feeling that life is full of possibilities especially with the increase in cashflow I anticipate with the new job. I don’t know if the lesson was remarkable for any other reason than that.
After work, I then headed over to Imperial Ballroom because they were going to have a social dance party with wine and my friends Colette and Katie were planning on going. I arrived at 7pm for class with Toni where we worked on Mambo and Tango and I had a blast, as usual. Toni is so cute and funny and I generally just feel better about life after a lesson with her. Also, I made a new friend, Harry (or Harold) who had just started taking lessons with Toni but has some experience with Salsa and Argentine Tango and that was a special treat. He really seemed to get the “soulfulness” of dancing, and how it can fill a special place in a person’s heart. In addition, I saw my friend Rebecca, whom I haven’t seen since December. We used to dance with the same instructor but she has also moved on and seems very happy.
It was a very fun night full of laughter and conversation and just enjoying dance. I got to dance with Harry a little bit, and Toni and I did a wacky (horrible) Hustle which was mostly just messing up and freestyling. Then I also had the opportunity to dance some Mambo and Cha Cha with Artem. I was like, “Artem, you dance Mambo?!” because he competes professionally in Standard and I’ve never seen him dance Latin. He was like, “Yes. It’s dance. I dance everything!” I did pretty well though there were certainly some things I didn’t know and my knee-jerk reflex is to say “Sorry!” when I screw up. He was like, “Why you keep saying sorry? You think I know what I’m doing?” I was like, “Yeah – you are the professional!” When the Cha Cha started playing, I asked Artem which kind we were going to do, American Rhythm or Latin, and he said, “Let’s just keep it social,” which was fine with me. It was pretty fun and Igor even said after our Cha Cha that it was “spicy” which was a total ego boost.
I also got to dance one Latin Rumba with Igor which was fun but nerve-wracking, a little bit. I’m still pretty new to the Latin dances and only ever have done them with Ivan. Every man leads a little bit differently and there are also differences in body shape and size. Igor is quite a bit shorter than Ivan so when we did some side by side rocks and I spun in front of him, I realized it wasn’t necessary to go up on my toes like I normally do with Ivan. He was also very gentle with his leads…it just felt different. Not bad, by any means – I absolutely love the Latin Rumba, it’s just that dancing with a different partner creates a totally different experience. Plus, it made me even more insecure just because it was my first time ever dancing with either Artem or Igor. However, I was thrilled to hear Igor complement my dancing, saying “Nice Rumba!”
It was all very, very fun. I was sweating buckets by the end of the evening but even so, it felt like everyone was just cutting loose and playing with the dancing, which is especially nice for us ballroomers because we work so hard and get so technical most of the time on our lessons.
I will also say that as fun as the dance party was (I always love dancing with good dancers and especially ones who are better than me!) I absolutely, completely, and fully feel that Ivan is the instructor for me. It’s just such a good fit in all ways – personality, teaching and learning style, body shape and size even, and I am so grateful.
So today I awoke and headed off to a lesson with Ivan. I got there early so I stopped by the Starbucks to grab an unsweetened iced green tea for myself and a hot white chocolate mocha for Mr. Ivan. Sometimes I just think I am psychic. When I walked in the door the first thing Ivan said was “Hot Mocha! (my nickname) I just thinking I want to go get a mocha from Starbucks but no time.” Apparently I got the mental request through the cosmos.
Just then, Marietta came out from the back. Had I known she was going to be there, I’d have gotten her a drink too! She was subbing for her mom on a lesson but since she was there, Ivan began to tell her about our “shocking” experience at the other studio. And somehow then the conversation turned to doing lifts. I told Ivan I was more likely to be able to lift him so he asked me to try. I grabbed him around the waist and lifted him up! We laughed heartily. Then Ivan decided to give it a go. And he managed to lift me off the ground holding me around my waist twice! Then Marietta told him he had to hold me over his head. Ummm, I think we need to wait on that one, Ivan.
So anyways, we began with the Smooth dances and Ivan reminded me that he wanted to hear my heels scraping along the floor. Boy could I hear his feetsies and I told him he was doing a great job all the while laughing at myself and wishing my feet would just do what they are supposed to do, sliding connected along the floor, heel and toe coming up and going down at the correct time. Ah, yeah, still need to work on that. But of course it wouldn’t be a lesson with Ivan without more twists. He made us get really close to the mirror to practice being in tight quarters on the dance floor. He also made me get close to Marietta, like right up in her face while we did a pose in the Waltz. I noticed that with her, since I know her and feel comfortable around her, it felt okay to do it. I could even look her in the eye. I wasn’t uncomfortable or shy. Normally, this isn’t the case – especially with strangers. I am afraid to look and so my eyes find the floor. I still really struggle with issues around worrying about what other people think of me. It has gotten better, especially with Ivan, and I find more and more confidence, and care less and less, and express more, but I still have a long way to go.
Anyways, after the Smooth dances were complete, we began Latin Rumba and I have to say, it is so easy for me to go on automatic pilot. It sucks! Bad Stefanie! I continue to forget to tune in and connect right away. I kind of did but then Ivan decided to delay a movement going into an underarm turn creating a slow controlled dynamic and then a quick movement to catch up and get back on time. It felt so grown-up and fun. But then Ivan upped the ante. He wanted me to find my sexy. I still cringe inside around this.
“C’mon hot mocha! You gotta dance like that, hot!” He made me practice squashing my face so close to his that our noses were touching. He made me practice coming toward him like that hungry tiger we’ve talked about. He also made me do it when he didn’t react (like I normally don’t) being “cold,” as he calls it, so I could see how un-fun it is to come at someone with that hot and heavy energy and get no reaction. It’s all just so dang uncomfortable! Ugh! So many thoughts go through my head when working on this stuff – bringing out the “inner whore” as Ivan calls it. He tells me I dance like a nice virginal high school girl but what I need to do on these particular dances is be a harlot. It’s just so much easier to dance a swing and be happy-go-lucky!
Also, I think about like, is it really okay that I’m this close to you, Ivan? Or that I’m touching you? And what are other people who are watching think? I automatically look anywhere but into his eyes and then remember that I’m supposed to look in them but then my head wobbles around and I don’t seem focused. Not very sexy, I know.
Anyways, we ended up having a whole conversation about all this (and more) after the lesson. Ivan assured me it is okay for me to touch him in the Rumba. He told me that he has to help me push some buttons inside me. He agreed that my expression is getting better but that there is still more that needs coaxing out and the sooner I can “push my buttons” and get it out there, the better. Ivan told me I need to love my body as it is and that I need to lose weight. He told me I dance very feminine. He told me I need to start feeling sexy, even right now – that it would be great if I came wearing less clothing or whatever to help me feel that. I started getting teary-eyed. My willingness and ability to allow myself to feel such things is so tied into my body image. How can someone as fat as I am be sexy? Is that even possible?
It’s tough, you know, because there is this idea of what a dancer should look like, both male and female. I may feel a certain way inside, but no matter how good a dancer I may be, it can only be expressed so much though my physicality such as it is. So there is both the mental and physical aspects of me that still need to evolve.
I feel like such an oddity. I do believe myself to be a good dancer but I look so much different than most of my competitors. Last night, for instance, I went to grab a drink after the dance party Colette and Katie. Alongside those gorgeous gals I felt like we were Wilson Phillips, and you can guess which member of the band I represent!
To a certain extent, I’m at the place that I don’t care about my size and shape – that I love dancing and I’m a dancer, and dancing from the heart transcends physicality. In some ways this is true. But it is also true that my physical presentation absolutely does matter. It absolutely affects the ease with which I can move (or not), my endurance, my overall health, and the lines and pictures I can create. To to another extent, I am very concerned about my size and shape. Layer womanly insecurities about being sexy on top of all that and you get a befuddled mess!
I mean, at the end of Inna’s class on Tuesday, she did a little demonstration, acting out three different couples with help from Chuck, one of my classmates. First, they walked out with a belligerent, combative, irritated attitude. Next, they acted very shy and lacking energy. Finally, they came out with heads held high in calm confidence. Inna asked, “Which couple will win the scholarship?” We all knew it was the third couple. “How do you know this?” she asked, “None of the couples even danced. You saw no dancing.” It was a visceral demonstration of how very important presentation is. She then proceeded to ask us, “How do you present yourselves? To your co-workers, your dance partners, your children, your friends? How do you present yourself to yourself?”
Ask any of my family members and they will tell you how little I generally bother with how I present myself. From wearing worn-out clothes to pulling my hair back into a ponytail from my make-up-less face, I’ve considered spending the time and effort to present myself nice usually not worth it. This isn’t to say I don’t dress up appropriately for special events, but in most of my daily life, I’m as casual as they come. I always figured it wasn’t that important – that what mattered was what was inside and that people who loved me or were my friends would love me or befriend me because of who I am and that had nothing to do with how I look.
And now, here I am, addicted to this dancing sport in which presentation is 80% of the game! Where make up and glitz and glamour are as important as technique. Where to win at the game, I have to play by the rules that are 180 degrees from how I normally show up in life.
I almost started crying after Inna’s demonstration because I realized that I don’t always present myself that well. I want to hide. I don’t want to put effort and energy into make up and hair and clothes because nothing can hide how obese I am. If you dress up a frog in the clothes of a prince, everyone can easily see that it’s still a frog. Like I don’t want to look nice with nails and hair when I’m ashamed of the rest of me. You can’t hide 250 pounds behind a haircut, you know?
So on this 100th post, I’m feeling like I’m still the same person as I was on the first post – still someone struggling to find herself and evolve. Someone who acknolwedges her greatness and also is humbled by her humanity. Someone who is still in the game, moving forward, learning, and growing. Someone who has gratitude in her heart for all the lessons and friendships and experiences she has had thus far.
On this 100th post I can see how my ballroom family has grown larger and deeper, and so have I. I feel re-energized and re-focused as I gear up to compete in the Desert Classic competition in about two months. I feel clear that the choices I make regarding how I feed myself, care for myself, exercise myself, and present myself in the coming days and weeks will build to create how I show up for this next competition.
So the story continues! Yay!
Now…. on to the 101st post.
Tears on my face, love and pride in my heart. THANK YOU FOR BEING SO BRAVE!!!! YOU inspire me so much…
Awwww. This was the best thing to wake up to this morning. I read it first thing. Thank you for starting my day off so wonderfully.
What a beautiful, heartful, post, Stefanie! I can easily imagine how hard it was to write, in some ways–and how squicky you might feel after writing it–but I also think that your honesty is invaluable to other women and other dancers who struggle with the same things.
It is so hard for people to push past that area of discomfort, of breaking what almost feel like unwritten taboos, in terms of how bodies and faces and displayed emotions interact with the bodies, faces and displayed emotions of various dance partners! (And by that, I don’t mean an official partner–but anyone you find yourself dancing with!) Most people are so wrapped up in their own tangle of personal putdowns that they don’t stop to think that their insecurities are making it more difficult for their partner to put THEIR best foot forward!
In acting, one of the most excruciating exercises young actors are sometimes put through, is a “taboo” exercise–where they’re given words with strong emotions of shame attached to them (think, anatomically correct body part terms; the correct names for bodily functions, racial slurs)–and forced to shout the word they’re given, with great conviction and feeling, at each person in the classroom. The idea behind this, is that as a person, you should have your feelings–but as an actor, you enter a different space–and need to become aware of, and, where appropriate, release the personal feelings associated with the taboos, for a performance.
Usually a class like that ends up with people angry, in tears, breaking down, in various ways…but if you’re able to disconnect your feelings from the act, from the scary words–you find a new level of communication in your work, a new level of freedom.
I think dance is the same way–finding the way to say, “This is a magic space, where normal rules don’t matter, and I’m beautiful and my dance is beautiful”–and truly believe it–and then act on it–is necessary to the story-telling aspect of dance. It’s playing pretend, on a grand scale–and adults are so invested in their own negative stories about themselves, that playing “let’s pretend” is terrifying and, at times, almost impossible to do.
As for your beautifully expressed thoughts about your relationship with your weight, and the way it affects your life–all I can do is applaud your willingness to share. I truly believe that one of the great benefits of the internet is the ability to see tiny windows into the souls of other people–people you wouldn’t necessarily be that close to in real life, for whatever reason–and see yourself there. That’s pretty darn amazing–and a really wonderful gift that you’re offering to anyone who might find this post, today, or years down the road! 🙂
(And on a more personal note…Girlfriend–if you’re ever in the same area as I am, I am dragging you into my photography studio, so that I can show you just how beautiful and sexy you are! 🙂 A woman’s beauty comes from her strength and her soul–the outside is just the package it’s wrapped in…and in my opinion, a good photographer’s job is to capture both in an image that shows how you look through the eyes of those who love you. :))
Thanks, Aurora, for the kind words. That acting exercise sounds really interesting. It is really interesting how our own “stuff” can get in the way of freedom of expression. I love the idea of having a “magic space” where normal rules don’t apply. I’ll use that as I think of dancing with Ivan in a special “bubble” when playing these more challenging womnanly roles as a dancer. And – I would ABSOLUTELY LOVE to have photos done by you! I adore your style – it is so romantic and beautiful. What an honor and pleasure it would be to have a session with you. I just may need to do a competition across the country and visit both you and Ellen!
Well, that acting exercise had it’s drawbacks, as well! lol
The nickname “Urine” became attached to me, when I was just a little too convincing, when it was MY turn to shout my “taboo” word! 😉 (I am just grateful that I didn’t have a worse word. Others did! ;))
And thanks for the kind words about my photography–I am, indeed, unabashedly romantic, and it’s my personal mission to show women just how glorious they really are. It’s one thing to HEAR it–it’s another to see proof of it, in a portrait. 🙂 (Sadly, I’m still a ways from Ellen, now, though! My website doesn’t reflect it right now, because I’ve chosen to take a break while focusing on health–but I’m in Pittsburgh, now…which is quite a ways from Boston. If you should make your way to the Ohio Star Ball, though, in Columbus, Ohio, you’d be an easy two hours away, though! ;))
One day before I die I pretty much have decided I have to do the Ohio Star Ball. It’s like a right of passage or something. When I do, we’ll make plans!
YAY!! Road trip!!!! I love it!
We’ll make it work somehow! Boston is only 90 minutes to 2 hours from me (depending on traffic) and Hartford is 20 minutes away. Who knows what comp or event we’ll all end up at someday! Anyway – just want to say you are great and I’m so thrilled to have found your blog and to have you as a friend! Here’s to many hundreds more!
Keep at it, Stef! It’s crystal clear to me that dancing has really helped you in more ways than one, as it has with me. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next!
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All 4 chicks are adorable, and this Colette girl sounds AWESOME! 😉
LOL. Yes, this Colette girl IS awesome. 🙂
OK perhaps that comment was on the wrong blog – but you know what I mean. 🙂