I know, I know, my life is SO exciting! Well, not really, but I still feel the need to process my experiences, and guess what, that is what I do here on the blog. In any case, I don’t think this will be a very profound post or anything, but I guess I just wanted to jot down the latest happenings.
I guess one of the main things is that I’m back to taking ballet. I didn’t make it to class on Sunday because of overtime at work, but I did manage to squeak in on Monday night. I think it is going to be a permanent part of my routine. Class feels good and it’s frustrating at the same time. It’s good because of course it is more physical activity, and it builds strength, and flexibility. I’m also finding my center a little bit and improving my balance because of it. I also give myself a free pass on it. I’m not expecting myself to really be able to do like grand jetes, but every once in a while in class, I’m able to surprise myself a bit and hit a combination well. Of course, in the next exercise the wheels generally fall completely off the bus, but hey, it’s ballet. I’m mostly doing it as a support for my ballroom dancing and when I goof up, I simply laugh it off. I am not putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself in the class, though I do want to do well, and I do push to try to stretch myself to do what I can. Just showing up and moving for an hour and a half is a worthy way to spend my time and it makes me feel better to know I’m doing this for myself. Plus, there is an added advantage of making some more dance buddies and building another layer to my dance community.
I must say that I am so thankful to have a place to take a class like this. It is for adults and just the right level – not too hard, like I’d find at say Ballet Arizona, but not too easy or alongside 10 year olds. But even with this little reintroduction of ballet, I’ve already had dreams about putting my toe shoes back on. And by dreams, I mean literal dreams, NOT as in, I’m wanting to get back into those torture devices. No thanks. Not really on my radar. But I guess my subconscious mind has a different idea!
In any case, I’m pretty excited because the owner of the studio knows I do ballroom and she is involved with a charity called Dancing Classrooms here in the Phoenix area. I got an invite via Twitter to come to a meeting about it in the coming week. I’d love to participate in this program and share my love and passion for dance with youngsters as well as to help provide the opportunity for them to experience the healing and empowering magic that dance can be. I’m excited to see how I can be of service and pretty psyched to have been invited.
Well anyways, ballet class on Monday went as well as can be expected in an obese body. I have difficulty closing my legs completely in a tight fifth position because they are so massive and jumping is chore. I do the best I can but it’s pretty hard on my ankles. My left ankle is already weaker because of past injuries and I know the weight doesn’t help. I’m looking forward to being significantly lighter, but you know what, every pound helps and my diet is working. I’ve not been able to get under 250 pounds for the longest time but I’m determined to be there within the next two weeks. It’s only a few pounds away and I feel like it will be a breakthrough. I’ve been bouncing around with about 10 pounds and pardon my French but it’s time to stop dicking around. The holidays are over, thank goodness, and I’ve been able to get a bit more physical activity in, and doing well with the diet. My weight was down this morning and that is a good thing, a sign I’m doing something right! But now more yo-yo bullshit! What I’m doing is working and I’m ready for significant change. I do think, looking at myself in the mirror at class tonight, that I am beginning to look a tiny bit smaller. I will take it. Though by far still the biggest gal in the ballroom, it’s a step in the right direction and I’m going to celebrate it.
Which, brings me to tonight. Inna and Artem must be competing out-of-town somewhere so it was Igor who taught Latin. I must say that I really enjoy watching him demonstrate the Latin movements. His hip action is so clear, and he generates great fast and slow dynamic. I always learn something new when Igor teaches and I’m grateful for all the teachers who have crossed my path and contributed to my dancing.
So tonight we began with Rumba walks. Wow. I just had a realization, which is pretty ironic especially considering what I’m going to say in a minute (you’ll see what I mean in a moment). The realization is that we did a lot of rumba walks tonight, around in a really big circle. Probably for 4 or 5 minutes straight, which may not sound like a long time, but when you are dancing it sure is! Well, my realization is that I was able to do them the entire time. Perhaps my arms could have been stronger, but you know what? When I first walked into that class a little over a year ago, I could not have lasted that long. No way.
Anyways, after our Rumba walk warm-up, Igor shared with us the proper positioning of our hips, which should be under the body and tucked under, similar to how the pelvis should be placed in ballet. We did some plies, feeling that tucked in, pulled up and under position in our hips and then repeated our rumba walks attempting to maintain that alignment.
Next we did some Cha Cha. We did a little routine: Check, ronde, back-together-side, time step, time step, back basic to a hip twist and repeat. First we just learned the steps. Then we worked on playing with the timing, accenting the movements on the 1 and 3 counts – prolonging them with a bit of hip action/settling/twisting as a wind-up for the next movements which had to be quicker (and looked lightning fast when Igor did them) to make up the time used prolonging the 1 and 3 counts. It created a great dynamic but man was it hard! I was out of breath almost immediately!
But then Igor shared with us the nugget that made the biggest difference to me tonight. It’s a concept I already “know” about, but one I still struggle to implement. Basically its keeping my upper body/shoulders facing forward and allowing the lower body only to twist. Igor said many of us were fighting against our own bodies, and I know that I was one of them. In any case, seeing how he did it, along with the explanation, I was able to implement this new information (well, old information but not absorbed or integrated) and oh my goodness did it make the step easier and clearer and sharper and it even looked faster! I am never going to forget this lesson! Well, at least that is what I tell myself ha ha.
But just when I was beginning to feel better about this new cha cha cha, alas! It was time for “a little” Jive. Uh, yeah….Well, we did a little bit of what football players do, hunched over and pumping the legs as fast as we could. The whole thing about the Jive, it seems, is to move the legs, making the knees reach the waist with every move, and jumping up and down like a bunny rabbit, all while keeping the head completely level and preventing it from moving up and down. The knees must move up to the body but the head must stay still.
Well, Igor is pretty dang amazing. He was jumping like the Energizer Bunny doing that basic step, his knees practically up to his throat as he caught significant air while jumping upwards. Me, I’m baba metza, remember? I thought I might pound through the floor and I jumped – I could hear it creaking under my weight. Well, my Jive doesn’t look as heavy as it could, but it has a long way to go before it really looks light, airy, and athletic – it is nothing like the Jive Igor was pounding out, not even close. The truth is that I’m in no shape to do it properly…even the basic exhausted me, made me feel sick, and I had to stop before the rest of the class. I felt that my performance was pathetic with a capital “P.” What business do I have competing when I can’t even dance the basic of the step properly for a measly minute by myself!? I was totally thinking that Igor must be thinking, “These ridiculous Americans! They have NO idea what it is really like to dance.” And then saying “Good job” out loud because god forbid he actually tell us the truth of how crappy some of us actually looked and offending someone…I mean, I wasn’t looking at other people. I honestly don’t know what they were doing because I was focused on me, so obviously this thought process has nothing to do with their performance and everything to do with mine. I thought mine was pretty shoddy. And I have no idea what Igor was really thinking. But in my head my old dance teacher would be so disappointed in what I was doing in class and would have yelled and cajoled me until I gave more and that would still not be enough. Sigh. I felt a little like this is an uphill battle and I’m not going to climb the mountain tonight. I felt a little defeated and deflated.
Which makes me think of my last lesson with Ivan. During it we worked on cleaning up more of the Cha Cha routine. There was one step in particular that I was not able to execute and that I was always a little bit late on. It really had me mad at myself. And, like in the lesson tonight, I felt defeated and sad. Well, Ivan noticed and after the lesson he talked to me about it.
“You can’t feeling so bad about this step. It’s a hard step. You are changing direction a lot and it is really fast. You can’t expect yourself to do it right away. Even the professionals, they gonna have a hard time with it.”
It sure didn’t look like Ivan was having any problem making it look awesome!
He continued, “Now I’m feeling bad because you are feeling bad. Like, you can’t be giving up on yourself or thinking that you will never be able to do this. It’s like I believe in you more than you believe in yourself. You have to not be sad about this. I see that you understanding. You show me that you understanding this and that is the most important part. It’s better if you can tell me that you understanding but that you can’t do it right now than to get so upset about it. Cause you are gonna do it.”
“Don’t feel bad Ivan. I’m just upset because I feel like I don’t practice enough. I need to do more on my own. I’m frustrated with myself because I still am relying on you too much when we are dancing instead of dancing on my own two feet, being on balance, and using my arms more than my feet, legs and ‘engine.’ It’s super frustrating to me because I want it so badly and I feel like I should do more.”
I mean, deep down inside I know that these routines with some more difficult steps are a really good thing for me. I’m going to struggle and I’m going to become a better dancer because of the challenge. I’d much rather be working really hard to reach for something than to only do what is easy and stay the same. I am thankful to have the opportunity to break every step down so that it will be awesome eventually. I don’t find it tedious or boring at all – I think it is awesome and it makes me feel more secure.
Just like dancing tonight, not being able to participate every second of the class, having to take a break and rest, it’s beyond my current capacity, but showing up to class and doing what I can does move me forward. I know this because I can see the difference in my endurance with rumba walks as compared to when I took my first class at Imperial. I trust that I will improve in stamina, in technique, in expression, because I continue to show up and do my work.
Ivan told me that he didn’t think I don’t practice enough. Well, he conceded, “we should all be practicing 8 hours a day but even this will not be enough. It’s never enough. But you, Stef, you come in to dancing a lot. I don’t think you don’t practice enough.”
Hmmm. I’m not sure I agree. I feel like I’m pretty lazy – meaning that unlike my friend Lady Gaga who will practice on her own at the gym, I pretty much only dance on lessons. Maybe I will go over one tiny thing in my kitchen for a minute or two but that’s it. How lazy am I!
Well, anyways, that’s what’s been going on the last couple of days. Tomorrow I get to see my favorite Bulgarian instructor for a lesson in the evening. I’m going to do everything I can to remember what I learned today in the Cha Cha and maybe he will notice a difference. We’ll see. Either way, I’m looking forward to it. It’s another day, tomorrow. And that means it’s another chance to dance, which I’m pretty happy about.
I can relate.. I too was @ 250 for awhile, broke thru from being sick, no effort on my part. I look up to you for dancing despite being uncomfortable w body. I am scared to dance again..and don’t have the “balls”like you. You=inspiration!
Hi belladancer! It’s so great to hear from you and others who have stuggled with their weight and body but are dancers nonetheless inside. It was hard at first going to dance…I kind of lucked out in the beginning becuase I started with a teacher at my gym. I didn’t have to face an actual studio of people. But once I was hooked, that did become a reality I had to deal with. Of course I worried a bit what people would think and if they would take me seriously. Some did, some didn’t. Over time, as I’ve become more comfortable just showing up as I am in the moment, I’ve found more and more support As I’ve continued to improve, only possible because I began and continue to show up to classes and lessons, I think people recognize and respect the dancer I am more and more. So, if I can, I’d encourage you to dance if it is in your heart to do so. Remember, courage isn’t the absence of fear but rather the willingness to do something anyway even in the face of that fear. And as I’ve continued the fear has lessened while the joy has grown. You have all the “balls” you need. I’m humbled to have been inspiring to you in any way and I hope to hear about your own dancing adventures soon. XOXO, Stef
I too was @ 250 until I got sick, no effort on my part. I admire that you dance and fulfill your passion despite your weight. I am so scared to dance again. Don’t have the “balls” like you. You=inspiration!
Stef – I had a discussion with a ballroom friend recently about the idea that our teachers must be frustrated or disappointed that us oldies (adult dancers – most of my gang are Senior 3, which is over 55, and eligible for Senior 4 or higher if they used that category) not being physically able to dance at the top level of performance. I teach Iyengar yoga, not dance, but it is also a physical discipline that is technique-heavy and requires huge strength and stamina to practice at the really high levels.
I can tell you that, as a teacher of mostly over 45 year olds, I am equally thrilled and excited when I see a tiny improvement in someone’s yoga pose as I am when they eventually do something like a headstand. Seeing a 1 millimeter movement in a muscle that a student has never moved before, the realization that a spark of an idea or concept is suddenly there is a real thrill. Seeing the furrows in their brow release and relax during Savasana (relaxation at the end of class) is so rewarding it is hard to describe!
So I can’t speak for every teacher, but I am guessing most of us feel this way and really look for improvement on any level and effort from the student as our rewards. From reading here and looking at your photos – especially that last one! – I don’t think any of your teachers can possibly be disappointed in your progress or work ethic!!!
Wow, what great insight! I’ve never heard of that type of yoga but it sounds awesome. Thank you so much for this perspective and the nice thoughts about my photo and work ethic. Reading what you wrote, and thinking about my conversation with Ivan, I do think he was happy just that I understood the concept. In my mind I focus on the fact that I can’t yet execute it, but of course the first step towards that is to understand what is being asked of me. Some people don’t even make it that far! Anyways, I thought your comment was very insightful so thank you for that!
Stef, I think you and I may have the same capacity to be hard on ourselves and expect a lot of ourselves. But I also see you being patient and gentle with yourself. Yay.
It definitely sounds like you are in a lot of hours of dance class every week. There was a time when I was in dance class about 7 hours a week, and after a month or two of that, I noticed that I started picking up new things more quickly. That is, the teachers would demonstrate something I’d never done before, and I probably would pretty much get it by the end of class. It’s been a long time since I haven’t been able to pick something up at all.
I have also found that practicing simple skills on my own outside of class really helps me too. This may be really hard to do depending on how many hours you’re in class, but I cut back to about 3 hours a week (mostly to save some money) and now I make sure to practice on my own for about 30 minutes at a time 3 or 4 times a week. Before I could devote that much time at once, I’d just work on 10 or 15 minutes at a time. I use those small snippets to practice the body movement, balance, and contro–things that don’t require a partner. And I think that really helps a lot. I practice turns, footwork, solo movements (jazz steps that are behind the history of the dance I do), line dances that require the jazz steps, etc. I think these practice times have helped me at least as much as being in class a lot did too.
I’ve been reading a book called “Talent is Overrated,” and it lays out quite a lot of tips about how practicing and practicing in specific ways can help one get better at whatever skill. Someday, I’ll post notes on this book after I finish it, but it does say that practice will pay off more when you get immediate feedback on how you did. That’s why lessons and privates are helpful, but when I practice on my own, I rely on a mirror or some other characteristic of the room to give me feedback. For instance, did that series of three turns go in a straight line? Well, I can see if I’m still lined up with the spot I picked when I started the turns. I do these things in an empty cardio room at my gym for the mirror; admittedly, it would be a lot harder to do them at home.
Good luck with however you decide to spend your dance time–in class or lessons or on your own.
Hey thanks theoldmaid for your fantastic comment! I love all this info and I’ve even heard of that book. It might be worth reading for those tips on effective practicing. Getting that feedback quickly in the moment is key, isn’t it? Thanks so much for sharing what has worked for you. It is encouraging to think that even just 10 minutes of practice at home could make a difference. I probably wouldn’t have given the idea much credence without your influence, so thanks! And, I’m curious, what kind of dance to you do? You mentioned jazz steps are behind it’s history? I’d love to know! Thanks again, Stef
Oh, I’m a swing dancer. I do lindy hop. I didn’t start young enough nor have I put in enough practice to be as good as the follow in this video, but I can dream. (Oh, and they won first place in this competition.)
Cool. I have friends who love that Lindy! One who started with ballroom then really got into Lindy, to the point of taking private lessons and going to a convention. It’s a pretty fun dance and so American, which is neat.
theoldmaid – thanks for that video! If we weren’t doing ballroom, I would love Lindy or WestCoast Swing. The music is so great. And I love that they both have Jack and Jill comps. That shows some serious skill from the lead AND the follow. She was spectacular!
Stef – I should tell you that your name does come up when we are talking dance with friends sometimes and I mention your blog. Often the question is asked, because it is in the title, about “how big is big?” My dear spouse often jumps in here with something like “well, she is a pretty big girl, but man can she DANCE!” And he hasn’t even seen that latest photo:-) So you know you have two serious fans up here in Canada.
It could have something to do with the fact that we have a daughter who danced and when she got her first pointe shoes at 12 or 13, she was 6′ tall with them on. Now she is a few tiny millimeters from being 6′ tall in her bare feet and describes her build as “sturdy.” The skinny little ballet girls drove her crazy, but having a few taller friends and some great parental support (we are awesome parents…), she danced all the way through middle school and high school. Combine that with our experience of being old, untrained and hopelessly mismatched for size ourselves and you can imagine we have a special fondness for any dancer who doesn’t look “right” for their dance world, but goes ahead and does it anyway. Keep it up!
Mr. Wanton here:
Stef you may want to check your Vitamin D, status Mrs. Wanton was way deficient and now that she is supplementing her weight seems to be moving in a downward direction(in response to a cleaned up diet, dancing and walking). We’ve also switched over from coffee to tea (mostly black but with some green tea too).