It’s My Movie

Well, the truth is I haven’t really wanted to blog about what has been going on for me the past week or so. First off, I’m annoyed with myself for still getting so emotional about things and really letting them get me down. I didn’t want to make this blog a whine-fest.

But, as usually happens, with some time, and some tears, and some working out at the gym, and some sharing with friends, I’m feeling better. Seriously – when I read that it makes it sound like something dramatic happened, but in all honesty the only drama was that in my head.

I can’t say why exactly, but my body image issues have been getting the best of me lately. That and I’ve just felt sad like I will never be able to have/create a body I love and that looks good, and that I will never become the dancer I wish to be. For whatever reason, it was especially heavy on my heart this past week. And working on the Rumba only exacerbated the problem.

I’ve done a lot of dancing over the past days so perhaps a lot of emotion is just being shaken out. I recall that upon first taking up ballroom dancing I did shed many a tear, so sad about what I have allowed myself and my body to become. It was and is incredibly painful to really absorb the damage done by getting so large, not to mention how I feel about myself as a woman. On good days, I accept where I am and work toward what I desire, I might even find some things to find beautiful about myself. On neutral days I block it out and focus on if my clothes are fitting looser, and how my body moves and all that it can do, rather than how it looks doing it. On bad days I see my reflection in the mirror and it disgusts me, triggering a myriad of thoughts and a swirling drama that threatens to suck me down into a black abyss.

The weird thing is that all was smooth sailing for the first part of the week. I danced almost every day and even went to the gym for some cardio. I had lessons with Ivan, a great group class with Inna and I even danced around my kitchen at home just getting lost in the music and movement, not caring what it looked like and savoring the experience.

Then Saturday on my way to my lesson, I just felt sad. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I walked in and Ivan was looking good. He had dyed his hair darker because the night before he had done a performance in a local Dancing With The Stars fundraising gala. And I swear he has gotten more trim, plus he had grown some stubble. And it just hit me. Why would someone like that want to dance with someone who looks like me? And the more we danced, the more ridiculous I felt. And the more emotional I got and all the fight went out of me and I could barely focus. I didn’t really say anything, but we both knew it was just bad news. At the end of the lesson was like, “I don’t know what to telling you. I don’t knowing what is making it better. You think I gonna put on my shoes today if I knowing it gonna be like this?”

Even so, he assured me, it’s normal to have a bad lesson every once in a while. If all lessons were like that, it would definitely be a problem, but (thankfully) it’s not. So we parted hoping that the next day would be brighter.

To a certain extent it was. After a serious session of cardio on the stair-stepper and a long chat with my friend “Blue Eyes,” who has also shed a ton of weight and knows what it is like to go through this, I was more or less in a neutral space. But I was worried.

I can’t remember exactly why I thought I wanted to have a lesson with Marieta, but I believe Ivan mentioned he wanted me to see how Marieta did one move that they also have in their routine and I realized that I have another amazing resource I can call upon to grow as a dancer. I haven’t had a lesson with Marieta in a long time and so was excited to set one up and was in good spirits when I contacted her about it.

But the day of the actual lesson with all the body image issues and self-doubt raging through my system, I was already feeling fragile, and I knew just being around Martieta might trigger me. If you have never had body issues you may not understand, but I find it incredibly difficult to even stand beside Marieta sometimes. Because she has a gorgeous body. Because she is an exquisite dancer. Because she embodies so many qualities that I wish I were. I mean, I intellectually understand we are all different and beautiful and amazing in our own way. And intellectually I understand that I am where I am in my dancing and though it is great to have a vision of where I am going, I have to start where I am. There is no leaping ahead to a different reality, a different body. And my greatest beauty is going to be when I express myself, and just like no two singers’ voices sound the same, no two dancers are exactly the same either. But that seems like a small consolation in those moments when I am overcome with the very uncomfortable emotion that arises when I feel intense shame about being who and how I am.

Even so I want to find the expression inside me and to work through this body-shame. And as amazing as Ivan is, even when he does the female part, there is still something inherently different when I see a female dance it. There is a presence these women ballroom dancers have. Marieta’s presence has a very different quality to it than Inna’s but both exude an almost palpable energy just walking on the floor, much less moving. I’m searching to find my quality of presence and also learn how to project it. I have a feeling it is tied into confidence and fearlessness.

So anyways, I wanted very much to have a lesson with Marieta, and I am planning on working more with her in the coming months because what I got on the lesson was of such value. But I was a mess. Actually, Ivan and I had had a decent enough lesson prior to Marieta coming in but just as she was walking in we were starting our Rumba.

In the beginning there is about 30 seconds where I am going to dance alone. There is no choreography at the moment and Ivan was just encouraging me to move, feel the music, express. He said, “It’s your movie. Imagine there is a spotlight on you and thousands of people watching.” He turned off the lights, put a spotlight on the mirror ball in the studio, and told me to enter from across the room.

Inside, I felt scared. But I want to grow and so pushed that down and pretended as best I could and moved.

Well, anyways, Ivan and I then danced, I screwed up a bunch but it was okay and then our lesson was over. It was time to work with Miss M. And I just felt like I should tell her why I had wanted to work with her, what the purpose of our lesson was. But it turns out, that might have been a mistake.

Because it all came out in this big, overly emotional gush. I was just talking and the tears were coming, and that was exactly the wrong thing to do to set me up to have a productive lesson. I was all caught up in my longing to be thinner, more beautiful, a better dancer. And I even blabbed, “I want to be good enough that it will be hard to tell who is the student and who is the pro.” Which, although a worthy goal, and something to strive for, it is most certainly not where I am, and indeed, may never happen. I am actually okay with letting that go and working toward it at the same time, but in that moment I was wrapped up in how lacking I was feeling, how “less-than” I was as compared to Marieta or any pro, in every way.

I guess I felt like because Marieta is also a friend I could go say all this stuff but if I had scheduled a lesson with any other pro there is no way I would have said anything like this at all. Lucky for me, Marieta is a true pro through and through and she set the context right away.

But I’ll be honest, we got started and I was having a hard time concentrating. I had to excuse myself for a moment to collect myself in the bathroom but then I came back and was calmer and more focused and more able to actually absorb what she was sharing…which was really wonderful.

Marieta told me that she had come in during the last few minutes of my lesson with Ivan so she could watch on purpose. “You may have thought that your movements were very expressive, but really they were pretty insular, you were holding them inside.”

“You are right. I’m aware of that. That’s part of why I want you help…to get what is going on inside so that it is readable and expressed on the outside.”

She had me do a lot of rumba walks and some balances. I wobble more than I should. And she explained how to move to keep on balance by imagining my spine is a pole and all movement should always twist around it. She encouraged me work on strengthening my core. She also demonstrated that to go forward you have to go back first – that it is more dynamic to create a sort of whiplash to movement than to start from a static position. And just being around her presence, focus, and intensity was a lesson in itself. I still don’t understand how she is able to switch her weight between feet so quickly, or to move her limbs with superhuman speed and sharpness but I’m looking forward to observing her and working with her again in the near future and more often. It brings a whole new dimension to the dancing, as well as a new level of strong femininity. And I think she was even harder than me on Ivan usually is, which is a good thing.

So I left the lesson richer with wisdom, feeling foolish about being a blubbery emotional mess, but also with a mental adjustment in place that allowed me to finish the lesson and actually get something out of it (a lot actually) and with a stronger resolve to continue to work toward my goals.

Which meant that I made a personal goal to get 45 minutes of cardio in 5 days of this week above my normal activities. Two of those times must be on the stair-stepper. I’m just making this up, just for this week. Then next week I’m going to make up something else to do, focus on, accomplish, and count as a success. Better to focus on specific worthwhile tasks, and practice at being a winner, than to go down in the emotional torrent that can so easily present itself.

And so far I am off to a good start. I got 45 minutes on the elliptical machine in yesterday and then went to a 90 minute ballet class which is more challenging than the one I usually take on Sundays. It was a stretch and I liked it. I even began to feel like I could do a little bit more, raise my leg a little bit higher, hold my chest up a little longer, and that maybe, just maybe, the grand plies were slightly easier than before. I felt like after a month or two of going to classes just once a week has made a difference in my body alignment and strength. I even liked the lines my legs were making sometimes (probably because I came straight from the gym and had runner’s stripes on my pants!) Today I had a lesson with Ivan and shortly I’m off to Inna’s class. Which is all to say, that I’m still moving forward. That the story isn’t over. That I am not satisfied with where I am. Not by a long shot. But it’s my movie, like Ivan said. And the credits haven’t rolled yet.

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9 thoughts on “It’s My Movie

  1. Paragon2Pieces says:

    Aw, man, this is tough. So impressed that you are sticking with your plans and pushing forward even on your hard days.

    Unrelated to the post: Thought of you this week because I made it to the Asian Open after all!

    • loveablestef says:

      I saw your post! It is just hard for me to write comments or like your blog because of the software and because I am usually reading on the go on a tablet or my phone so you can’ t always tell I am reading about your adventures…but I am! Interesting photo too! Artem and Inna are there now. It looks pretty epic and I am so glad you got the opportunity to go and that you shared it on the blog!

  2. Miles Rayl says:

    I am a new reader and I enjoy your blog and it hits very close to home for me on many levels. I am a male and have been doing ballroom for about three years now. I absolutely love ballroom. I think it takes a lot of courage to do the things you’re doing. If you think about it…how many people are out there in the same situation as you and just thought to themselves, “Why bother. I could never do that.” yet you are doing it and continue going in for the hard fight. The one inside yourself. You show up and work hard and you can’t do any better than showing up and working hard to do your best. I wish I could be there during these moments of doubt because I surely would offer words of encouragement because you are doing so much and working so hard. You shouldn’t come down on yourself as hard as you do. You do one thing more than 95% of the people in your situation…you show up. Whether that is at the gym or the dance studio…you show up. You work at getting better and fight to get past the negatives in your mind. Sometimes and maybe most often the toughest battles we face are with ourselves. I am sure you are a fabulous dancer and I would relish a chance to do a nice rumba with you. Well…if I could get past my own fear of dancing with someone talented and skilled and being less than adequate in my mind of my dance skills. I am still dedicated to being the best dancer I can be. I hope you continue in all your endeavors as well.

    • loveablestef says:

      Hello Miles! Welcome to the blog! I’m so glad you are here and it is especially wonderful to hear from a male dancer.

      Your comment was so encouraging and kind and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I was also very interested to hear that it “hits home” for you – that you could relate to my experience, especially being a male.

      And if we ever meet in person, I have your name written on my dance card for a RUMBA!

      • Miles Rayl says:

        Too bad you didn\’t make it to Vegas for the Vegas Open! I am living in Vegas. I am an American Style dancer and I think you may be international but we could definitely work out a nice Rumba for sure and thank you for saving a dance for me!

  3. Anonymous Lurker says:

    “Marieta’s presence has a very different quality to it than Inna’s but both exude an almost palpable energy just walking on the floor, much less moving.”

    From the many years of observing (and participating in) competitions, I think that the quality you describe comes from a projection of this thought: “I WANT you to look at me. I’m incredible. This partnership I have is incredible. You’re not going to want to look anywhere but at me, because some awesome sh*t is about to happen.”

    And there are all kinds of flavors of this — sometimes cocky, sometimes playful, sometimes sweet, sometimes youthful. But I think this is the core mindset of these performers. I guess some people might call this confidence, but me personally, I’d disagree. Off the dance floor, I’m fairly self-assured. But performance is on a whole different level. It’s not just about being comfortable being where you’re at and who you are, it’s about demanding attention by offering the viewer an experience they won’t get elsewhere but through you.

    I struggled (and still do) with that, for different reasons than someone else might… but it’s likely an even harder battle to fight if you’re also working on body issues, as you so eloquently chronicle. I don’t know what it’s like to feel disappointed in yourself in the way you describe, Stefanie, but I will tell you this — I’ve got the kind of stickish body that many others tend to comment on when they have bad days with their weight…but grace doesn’t come naturally to me at ALL. I’m not saying this to make you feel better — honest to god, I’m all pokey angles and limbs. Me being thinner than someone else has nothing to do with how good I look dancing. I’ve seen your photos and videos; you’re beautiful in the shapes you make. It’s really not about the vessel, but how you use it, and you do that so wonderfully.

    I know this is a big battle you’re fighting on the inside, and I don’t mean to downplay that at all. I just hope to convey that I wish I could look like *you* when I do ballroom. I’m rooting for you! 🙂

    • loveablestef says:

      Anonymous Lurker, I was so touched by your comment here, it really rocked my world. First off, I think you are right about demanding the attention. That is not something I’m comfortable yet, but darn it, I’m going to find it in me to revel in the attention and, as you say, demand it. I still let myself feel intimidated sometimes, and it is more comfortable to retreat than to really claim my space on the dancefloor whether in dance class or in a competition setting. But I want to change that and by golly that is the first step.

      Also, thanks for reminding me that it’s “not about the vessel, but how you use it.” I think you are right about that as well. The expression of dancing can transcend any “vessel” when it comes from an authentic place.

      I didn’t feel like you downplayed what’s going on for me, not at all. In fact I feel like you honored my journey and shared some new perspectives on it which I appreciate very much. Not to mention your extremely flattering comments! It’s weird to think that someone would want to dance like me when I spend so much time wishing I could dance like someone else! LOL. Maybe I should re-think that too.

      In any case, thanks so much for the support. Kindness from you and others is special beyond words. Don’t ever doubt that it doesn’t matter, because it does, very much, to me, and uplifts me. Plus, it makes me want to success becuase I know people are watching! It’s a good motivator for me.

      Thanks again. -Stef

  4. Christine says:

    I just found your blog before the big vote – CONGRATS on the award! I have to say that even after loosing 30 lbs and dancing everyday to the point of getting my dream job teaching dance, I still feel like the fatest girl in ballroom, especially when I think about wearing one of those tiny costumes that show everything you wish was covered. We have to deal with our body issues on and off the dance floor every day and learn to accept where we are right now, appreciating that we have this fantastic opportunity to express ourselves with dance. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to live out my dreams and I can’t let my body get in the way of being who I am. I am more than my body. I am a dancer. Thanks for writing your experiences down and owning who you are – you are an amazing inspiration!

    • loveablestef says:

      Hello Christine and welcome to the blog! Thanks for you awesome comment. You have such a cool story – I’d love to hear more about it and if you ever want to write a guest post on this blog, just let me know. I’d be honored to get your perspective as a professional. I think body issues can affect anyone of any size and it is especially tough in the dance world. But it sounds like you’ve been successful finding your expression as a dancer no matter what and I applaud that. Again, welcome, and thanks. I’m so glad you “stopped by.” 🙂

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