Today was a satisfying day. First off, it was an unexpected day off. Yesterday they canceled overtime for the weekend. I’ve been needing some “off” time – time to rejuvenate, connect with life outside of a dark dance studio in the morning or night, work, and home (which means 1 hour of TV and bed!) And to have two days off in a row feels luxurious!
Next, I weighed myself and I’ve had a breakthrough. I’m below 250 pounds for the first time in years and I’ve been messing around with the last five pounds for about 3 months. Finally! I kind of couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the number. Though not anywhere near where I want to be eventually, it IS a milestone and one to be celebrated.
Plus, I had an amazing lesson with Ivan this morning, during which I had another breakthrough – Can you believe it?! I will tell you the story shortly.
After the lesson I went and got my haircut and my brows waxed. The last time I had them done was in November! Luckily the salon was able to fit me in at the last minute since I didn’t know I’d have time today with the surprise day off and all, and now my hair is healthy and ready to grow out, and my furry eyebrows are back under control. Plus I had fun talking with my stylist about some ideas for my hair around competition time. I’m pretty excited.
Then I went to Sephora to get some much-needed and belated foundation. Suddenly my skin looks flawless and I’m feeling better so I also go in for some blush and gloss and powder.
Finally I have fantastic lunch from this amazing restaurant all by myself. It’s one of those places that uses all local organic foods and man was it yummy and totally guilt-free. I savored each bite eating it in gratitude for all the work that brought it to my mouth and how it is going to give me life and be a part of my transformation into who I am becoming, the body I am going to have. On a day like today I can remember that eating can be a spiritual experience as much as a mundane one and pray with each morsel. Seriously this place has prayer-worthy food. First off, they have the most amazing starter of seared albacore drizzled with citrus and some spices and garnished with avocado and thin orange slices. After polishing that off I ate a mediterranean salad with fresh, vibrant greens, brown quinoa, salmon, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and a fantastic oregano vinaigrette. It was so satisfying and what I feel was a honoring meal – one that honored the food sources as well as myself. I wish every meal could be like that, but in my hectic life right now, I’m thankful to have my prepackaged diet meals. They are working for me too, and until I have the time to cook (or the financial resources to pay someone to cook for me – lol) I’m grateful for them.
But hey, this blog is about ballroom dancing, so let me get to that part!
So I show up for my lesson and I’m there before Ivan but a receptionist has come and opened the studio so I am waiting for Vanco when he arrives (Vanco is like a nickname for Ivan, something that maybe his mom would call him as a kid).
He’s usually always early, but today he is right on time, though I notice when he comes in that he looks a little scruffy. I can see a five-o-clock shadow beard and his eyes look a little puffy.
“Oh you early!”
“Yes, Ivan. Do you want coffee? I said I’d get you coffee last night, but I came here first to see what you wanted.” Since he is usually early, I thought I’d have time to walk down to the Starbucks in the complex.
“No. I fine. No coffee.”
“You drink wine last night?” He asks.
“No.” I reply, “I’ve been battling a cold. I just came home from work and ate dinner and got the most sleep I’ve gotten in a long time last night.”
“Me neither. No wine,” he says.
I begin to say, “You’re sure? Cause you look like you might have drunk something last night…” But I never make it past, “You’re sure?”
“No wine last night. Whiskey.”
I bust up laughing. I could totally tell he was dragging! And in my book, whiskey could make for a more unpleasant morning than some red wine, but Ivan seems to think the opposite. And he’s his usual upbeat, funny self, if maybe just a little bit slow.
I joke with him. “It’s okay, Ivan. You can just lay on the floor like a few weeks ago and I will go through my routines.”
But that is not what happens. Of course, because he is crazy lunatic, he puts some super peppy music on straight away and I’m like, “Ivan! Let’s warm up with something a little slower! But before you do that, I have something to tell you! I am below 250 pounds for the first time in many years!”
“Oh! This soooo good!” He coos. “I thinking you 260 or 270 and you below 250! In a month you be 240 and then even smaller. Good job!”
Even better than Ivan’s praise was my friend’s reaction. She walked in the studio for a lesson later on in the morning. I shared the news with her as well because she has also been “the incredible shrinking woman” and down more than 40 pounds from the day I met her. She looks great and she understands what I’m going through. She almost jumped into my arms giving me a big, enthusiastic hug. “Oh Stefanie, I’m so proud of you!” I have to admit, it felt pretty nice.
So anyways, Ivan put on a Waltz, which was more to my speed (and probably his, too) and off we went.
For the first time in I-can’t-remember-when, we practiced Smooth, but it was pretty fun and a good warm up. The best part was when Ivan decided to dip me over his leg. I put my leg up in the air and he was like, “Woah! Let me do that again!” He sounded shocked. I was, like, okay, but why? So he did it again, and again, and again. About 5 times in a row. “Wow,” he says, “You feel so light! Like 140 pounds!” He couldn’t believe it – that it was so easy. So that felt awesome.
We then did a Foxtrot and a Tango and Viennese Waltz, the Foxtrot and Waltz and Viennese Waltz all being vastly superior to the Tango. Yeah, Tango isn’t my strongest dance, but that’s okay. I’m a Latin and Rhythm girl at heart.
At this point we still had the studio to ourselves (besides the receptionist, who, at one point must have thought we were completely cuckoo!) and that was a good thing because we began to work on Rumba and right away, and, as per usual, I messed up the connection. I mean, it takes a minute or two to really connect, at least it does for me. As much as I wish I would just be instantly ready, I’m not (Grrr!) and so as per usual, Ivan began talking to me about the connection.
Now here’s the thing – sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m not paying attention, that I’m not aware, and sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m afraid.
To really connect, to really be ready to follow, I have to trust. I have to trust me (and my body), entirely, which I struggle with, and on top of that, I have to trust Ivan. Listen, Ivan and I have a great rapport, and I trust him as much as I trust anybody on this Earth, and I still hold back and am afraid that he will lead me astray in the dance or something. It’s a survival-based fear, not necessarily a rational one. It’s a fear of revealing myself and really letting go, and I know I’ve talked about it before, and this time….this time, I got it on a whole other experiential level.
A few months ago Ivan told me a story about once when he was in Europe and some big-wig Latin dancer came to the club to teach. At first everyone was dancing all macho and stuff, trying to dance to impress the teacher and show him something special. But the teacher wanted them to focus on the basic steps and pointed out that the girls were dancing with fear, that the couples were dancing but holding back. He made the girls line up on one side of the room and the men on the other side. He blindfolded the girls and asked them to run across the room toward their partner. They kind of did about halfway across the floor and then slowed down or stopped. They practiced over and over, until they were running full speed into their partners and their partners caught them. Ivan said after that, everyone danced completely differently, open, expansive, bold, fearless. He also told me that one day I would be doing that with him.
It seemed like a nice story back on a cold, dark, pre-dawn morning, when I knew that I wasn’t going to be asked to do this exercise. But today was the day. We didn’t know it, at first, but it evolved into being the day.
So working on connection, Ivan asked me to close my eyes and dance with him. I did and almost immediately the panic and fear reared their ugly heads. I wasn’t freaking out so much as moving haltingly and realizing how uncomfortable it was and how very much I needed Ivan there and needed the connection.
But then, Ivan being Ivan, upped the ante. He had me do Latin walks with my eyes closed, promising me that he’d guide me backward or forward or to the side with a touch before I hit any walls. That went tolerably well, though it is difficult to stay balanced in heels, walking, with your eyes closed. It used to be a balance check we’d do in ballet to go into releve’ and then close our eyes. Try it….it’s not easy! Nor is it easy to walk, as I discovered. But anyways, I muddled through that, and then it was just time for the next step.
Ivan went to the opposite side of the studio and told me to run toward him with my eyes closed. On my first attempt, I did well about half way across the space before I began to panic. Ivan told me he could sense my energy had changed and called me on it. I felt fine as long as I knew I wouldn’t run into anything because there was lots of space, and I didn’t feel in danger, but then the panic and anxiety would begin to rise as the distance shortened and my fear that I’d run into something increased. In response, unconsciously, my steps would become smaller and less sure and less directed forward. My energy would shrink and turn from being directed forward to imploding internally. The challenge was to trust that Ivan would be able to stop my mass, running at full speed, and that I wouldn’t fall or run into the table. But I was fearful. FEARFUL I tell you!
But I want to get over this fear, for behind it, and the tears, are the joy, my true expression. Behind it is me being able to feel confident just being me, not questioning everything, or feeling like I’m not good enough. Behind the fear is the ability to be open and (eek!) vulnerable (or what feels like vulnerable to me). But that is the place where I can truly let people in through my dancing, the place I deeply desire to get to.
Anyways, Ivan let me try again. And again. Each time I would make it a little further across the room, from half way to two-thirds, to five-sixths of the way. But still, I was afraid.
“Maybe you take off the heels? Maybe you not feeling secure running blindly in the heels?”
Um, does anybody?
So I took of my shoes, running blind and barefoot and still panicking at the last bit.
“Okay, you have one, maybe two more times.”
“Alright, Ivan. No. This is it. I’m going to do it this time.” I told myself. I reminded myself that the experience of fear is physiologically the same as the physical experience of excitement so I tried a new tactic. I yelled aloud, “I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!” as I barreled toward Ivan, eyes closed. And this time I bowled right into his arms!
Do you see why that receptionist must have thought we were off our rockers?! LOLOLOL!
But I did it! I freaking did it! And it was a metaphor, like all of dance is, for life. And to me it meant that I faced my fear, and I worked with it, and I transformed it. And it meant that I pushed through it to the trust. I allowed Ivan to catch me. I didn’t hold anything back in fear, worrying about injury or that I’d crush him with my mass. I didn’t worry about what I looked like or what anyone was thinking of me as I ran like a maniac toward my goal. I, in this exercise, chose to trust completely, him, me, and the process of life. And that, my friends, is a big deal. It means, to me, that the openness I seek, the willingness to open myself to be seen, is there, just below the surface and that I am closer to it today than I was yesterday. To me, it was an act of courage. Perhaps a silly one, but a courageous one nonetheless.
And I squeaked it in just in time for as I felt my body crush into Ivan’s students and instructors began to arrive for morning lessons and group classes.
Ivan asked how I felt and I have to say I actually felt a little bit out of my body. I’m not sure how to explain that, except to say that it was a pretty intense experience, all about sensing the world around me outside myself while experiencing all that was going on internally for me. I was entirely lost in the moment and had to take a minute to ground myself back into my body. It was a lot to process.
But ground and process I did, feeling a little stronger and less fearful and we continued our double lesson. The rest of the lesson was pretty unremarkable, I suppose, but extremely enjoyable as they usually are. We danced Rumba, and Cha Cha, and Mambo. One awesome thing that happened was that Nona, Ivan’s mother-in-law, Marietta’s mom, who is a professional dancer and used to compete, came up to me just to tell me that I was looking like I was moving very good, very flexible. I noticed her watching me and smiling before she came up and she’s not the kind of person just to say something for no reason, so I felt like the changes are showing on the outside, that people can notice the growth and transformation that I’ve been working on at 6:30 in the morning week in and week out.
It was like how this week in Inna’s class she didn’t ask me to demonstrate anything like she asked other students but when I was doing my Cha Cha and Samba exercises across the floor she said, “Good, Stefanie!” in a tone that seemed almost shocked, like I was showing her something of me that she hadn’t seen before.
So, anyways, like I said at the beginning, it’s been a very satisfying day. One in which I totally understand the sentiment behind the Star Trek Klingon saying, “Today would be a good day to die!” That today I lived a day full of life and growth and experiences. I am whole and complete and glad. And indeed, if today were the day I was to leave this earthly plane, it would have been a good note to end on. Not that I have any plans for that! I have a lot of big scary hairy goals that I’m gunning for in the next two years and I’m excited to lean into that process. Today was a leap forward after a long plateau and as I bask in that achievement, I am encouraged to push forward once again.