Oh me, oh my. Another competition in the books.
And yes, my toes are numb. From dancing 80 heats in heels. Ballroom isn’t all glamour behind the scenes you know….it is sweat and hard work, and smelly fake tans, and struggle, and pain, and awesome and worth it! lol. But seriously….I do NOT know how some of these pro/am couples do it….there were at least 3 or 4 students who did over 400 heats at People’s Choice! My body is banged up doing a fraction of that. It is pretty impressive they are still standing!!!
Me, with my 80 heats, I’m physically exhausted. But satisfied. It has been a good few days.
Wednesday night after work I made the 15 minute trek to the hotel and competition venue here in Phoenix. I was certain I’d have an early morning Thursday as I generally dance early in the day and this means early appointments for hair and make up. Even though the competition was local, I still find it chaotic and stressful to rush to the location, scramble to find a space in the woman’s dressing area or a public bathroom, and so I opted to stay at the hotel for two nights of the competition. It turned out that I didn’t start dancing on Thursday until noon, but I was still glad with my choice to spend the previous night. It gave me time to sleep in a bit, have a nice breakfast and feel collected and centered before I began dancing.
So you guys all know I hired the nutritionist and I spoke with her about how to eat during a competition. Basically, I made my best effort to eat clean and fuel my body with good foods. I brought protein shakes and cheese sticks and chicken mini loaves and oatmeal and fruit and almond milk and a cooler with ice. I have to tell you, though, with all the chaos and stress, and physical effort, it was such a challenge to eat anything! I give myself a free pass for this week and will get back on track ASAP. And the thing is, it’s not that I ate poorly, or bad foods or anything like that, it was that I couldn’t eat enough! I was full and nauseated and it was just hard to get any food down, even without the horrible nerves like I had last year at Desert Classic. Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous right before I go on the dance floor – standing there at the “on deck” area I always feel like I need to pee and vomit and have a bout of diarrhea all at once…but then I get out there and start dancing and all I can focus on is the dancing. But the nerves were short-term and didn’t last long, just in those few moments before the heats. Anyways, I shoved almonds and mango slices and cherries and NoGii bars down my gullet as much as possible, but I’m telling you it was nowhere near enough. And even after the dancing I had like zero appetite. Ah well, I made it, and did the best I could, and shortly I will be back on plan 100%. I just have to continue to figure out what is going to work for me during competitions, especially when travelling!
Anyways, can I just take a pause here and say how much I adore and appreciate my instructor Ivan as well as his gorgeous wife and partner Marieta. I mean, I think you readers already know this, but it bears repeating, especially after this competition. It was kind of special being the only student for People’s Choice. I honestly don’t mind to have other students along, too, and it can be fun, but this time was really neat flying solo. I owe so much to Ivan, he has helped me and encouraged me so much during the past two years, and he believed in me from the beginning, over 50 pounds ago. I am so incredibly proud to be his student, and so proud of how he and Marieta did last night, placing first in the American Rhythm division. I just hope for him to be as proud of me as his student, and I very much think that at this competition I did. I was happy with how I showed up at the competition and happy that his exemplary work as a teacher was recognized through me.
And they are just good people, Ivan and Marieta. It is a testament to the excellent human beings they are this little anecdote I’m going to share with you. You see, one of the ladies who was running the on deck area asked Ivan for his card. He didn’t have one on him, as per usual, so I made a mental note and when I saw her in the bathroom I asked her if she’d gotten one yet. She didn’t so I gave her one and she told me that as someone who runs the on deck area she sees a lot…a lot. Things you’d be surprised to see – how pros treat students and the like. And she observed how Ivan treats his students on and off the the floor. She could see what a decent and kind and fun and funny and ridiculous person he is, but yeah, she wanted to maybe dance with him, not someone else. I’m like the luckiest student ever and happy Ivan is getting noticed and possibly will have more business…though I must say, I do think he has been the best kept secret, you know!
You see, there is always a lot that goes on during these things. And before them, too. Ivan has been the one who has believed in me before I believed in myself, and more than I believed in myself. He has pulled out the performer in me. He has helped mold me into the dancer I am today. So when I get compliments like I did at this competition, it is a reflection upon both me and Ivan. I just don’t seem to be able to put into words properly the full extent of my gratitude. All I have ever wanted was to be a dancer, and this man, this crazy adorable Bulgarian, is helping me become that like no kidding.
And based on results, we did well. I placed mostly first in single dances, with a few seconds, and got second in closed latin bronze scholarship, losing out only to my friend Colette who is the Emerald Ball champion!!! Not too shabby, if I do say so myself – especially for my second scholarship ever. And I won in the American Rhythm division. Plus many people, even some judges, and Bree Watson (National American Rhythm champion with Decho Kraev!!! OMG!!!) gave me lovely compliments on my dancing. It was astounding and I’m humbled and grateful.
The best part is that Thursday I was struggling so very badly. My asthma has been out of control and even with steroids on board I was having a hell of a time. My inhaler wasn’t working at all so I was dancing and couldn’t breathe. At a certain point I told Ivan I might have to withdraw from some heats, and I am not the type of person to do that. But I had zero energy. Ivan could see it in my eyes – the lights were on but no one was home. I had nothing left to give but still moved as best I could. He and I both knew we were not dancing our best….but I still placed well. People still had no idea how badly I was struggling. It is a great place to be to know that I was perceived as performing well when inside both Ivan and I know there is so much more to show.
Friday went better after 40 more milligrams of prednisone and 3 breathing treatments on my nebulizer which I brought with me to the hotel and coughing up mucous for hours during the night. I was extremely worried about 19 heats in a row but it turned out that the ballroom was split into two floors for many of them, and not everyone knew where they were supposed to be, so there ended up being a lot of little breaks where the announcer would have to call out the couples who should be in ballroom A and ballroom B and this saved me, plus I could breathe better.
At the end of the day we did a few open dances and Ivan even said…”Finally we are actually dancing! We can never just do five heats, you and me!” Because it took so long for us to “warm up,” even though I attribute part of that to being at battle with my lungs and body the first day. So we completed all of our dances around 2pm on Friday except for the American Rhythm scholarship round which was scheduled for 10pm Friday night! What?! That was pretty brutal…to be exhausted and sore and have numb toes and a rash between my thighs from the fishnets and just wanting to be done but to have to show up 6 hours later and dance your very best. Well, Marieta was a doll and touched up my hair and make up and Ivan and I killed it. Happily there wasn’t a semifinal – just a final, so I only had to dance Cha Cha, Rumba, and Swing once.
So participating in competitions is always an experience. And part of that is meeting new people. And you know there were a lot of funny moments along the way. For instance, at one point they announced the next dance would be Merengue. I knew we had no Merengue heats but Ivan apparently didn’t hear the announcement so he rushed over to a table at the edge of the ballroom, poured out this pink drink on the floor to wet his shoes to make them sticker – the floor was pretty slippery – and another of the pros, this Hungarian guy Chaba, was like “Hey! Ivan! That’s my cocktail!” And we weren’t even dancing in the heat! Then that same pro, Chaba, was out there in his own little world, couple 106 dancing to himself and then announcer said, “We have an extra couple on the floor.” There was a pause and he continued, announcing the numbers of the couples in the heat which didn’t include couple 106. Then he even said, “Couple 106 you do not need to be on the floor right now.” And Chaba was still grooving, oblivious. So Ivan yells, “Chaba!!!” And it was too funny.
Well, it also turned out that Ryan Seacrest productions is creating a reality show about pro/am ballroom dancing and they were filming during the competition. One of the pros they are following happens to be Bulgarian. His name is Rumen, like Roman with a “u.” When I originally heard his name I thought it was “Ruben.” Anyways, while Ivan and I were enjoying some food and sparkling water Thursday night after our dancing he came to say hello to Ivan. I impressed him with my inappropriate Bulgarian sayings and ended up lending him my phone charger. Ivan says he is totally a crazy guy but he likes him because he is very social. In any case, it will be so interesting to see this show whenever it comes out. There were a few pro/am couples they filmed, but honestly they danced very little. And it appeared to me that a lot of the “drama” was staged….the pros had conversations with their am partners as well as with each other that looked like they were planned, and I overheard producers saying stuff like, “when you come off the dance floor I will have so-and-so meet you,” and when I was arranging to get my charger back from Ruman he was all like, “Well in 10 minutes we are filming a pool scene.” We both laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it. I even walked in front of a camera at one point so hopefully they will edit out my head from the frame but anyways, know that the Biggest Girl was at People’s Choice and so were these soon-to-be reality stars. I have to say, though, that they all sat at a table, and the film crew recorded them cheering for some dancers….and one of the dancers was me! I was doing a Cha Cha and we did the splits right in front of them. I heard a lot of cheering and all but I figured it was played up for the tv show, you know. And they weren’t filming me so much, just the reaction of the dancers on the show. Anyways, I didn’t give it much credence but then as I was walking around the hotel later one of the other pros on the show was walking with a person on the film crew (not being recorded or anything, just talking) and he stopped me, have me the ballroom kiss kiss on the each cheek and told me what a great dancer I was and that they had been cheering for me! Woot! That was pretty dang cool if you ask me!
Well, anyways, after I was complete with my dancing, I went to go watch, support, and cheer for my friends who were still dancing. Then it was time for evening show and pro heats. Of course Artem and Inna won Standard ballroom and not surprisingly the Grand Slam as well, (their 5th time winning!) Everyone in the Phoenix ballroom community was present, it seemed, which is always fun. Local competitions are nice because of the friendly faces and extra support.
I feel like People’s Choice was a very good experience for me. Smaller competitions are nice because there is more of a chance to be noticed, I think, and then judges will recognize you perhaps if you show up to larger comps. I don’t think I’ll do any massive comps for a while just yet, but I do want to continue to work, to improve my technique, performance, cardio capacity, and body figure. I want to continue to progress and show an improvement the next time I dance. Honestly, this is my focus for the next two months before Desert Classic. I want to see how far I can get in this time and be a better dancer than I am today. I just want to continue to dance my best, like Ivan and I felt after our American Rhythm scholarship round and then no matter how I’m placed, I will feel good about what I’m doing, how I’m showing up on the dancefloor. I’m excited for the coming year, my focus and energy. I’m pleased with how I am and where I am and looking forward to the future as well. I’m going to enjoy and savor this experience even as I prepare to forge ahead.
I think I’m finally beginning to show that I just may be a force to be reckoned with. I may not be at my full potential just yet but Ivan and I and even other people can see it my light beginning to shine. I have a fire burning in my belly and I’m going to go for this with all that I am. It has taken time to muster my resources and it will take time to heal and condition my body, and that is great. I’m up for the journey. People’s Choice was a wonderful milestone and also just the beginning.
Congratulations, Stef! I wish I could have made it out there to see you. You totally rock!
Whoo hoooo! So much to say!! You are amazing and should be so proud of yourself. Your placements are incredible and I’ve done just 10 heats in a row and know how hard it is so I can only imagine! It really sounds like you danced from the inside outward and that everyone not only saw you dance, but felt you dance as well.
Being “forever me” my question for you is, what has really changed since that “tough” comp last year that the experience was so dramatically different?
Many many hugz!
Well done! This sounds like a fantasic experience, and you did amazingly!
So proud of your tenacity, your enthusiasm and your insights. Congratulations on a fabulous showing, numerous awards and many kudos. All very deserved. That you persisted through the asthma is beyond amazing. Take a bow on all accounts! You have the heart of a champion and passion of an artist. Cha cha cha. xoxo me
Stef, You Rock! Love, Dad
Nothing quite like a good post-comp buzz to help heal those feet, Stef! And having another comp to aim for is the best. If there was some syllabus International Standard, I think we could consider coming down for the Classic. Maybe in a year or two when we start to put our toes into Novice:-)
Get the hubby to massage the tootsies, give them a good soak in some Epsom salts and get ready to start the whole routine again. When you are on a roll like this, good things happen!
Your light is indeed beginning to shine!
I want to give congratulations to both you, Stef, and your pro Ivan and his wife Marieta. All of y’all looked like you were having so much fun. Keep going strong!
Congratulations! I’m sure this is just a little glimpse of all the good things that are yet to come your way.
Steph- Huge congrats on your triumphs! You go, Girl! The Universe is finally starting to smile on Ms. Lein, and living the I’m slim! dream is gonna be next on your dance card, fer sure.
Thanks Marian! How comes the book?! I haven’t seen any posts from you in a while. Hope you are well and dancing up a storm!
Woot! EIGHTY heats?! Shoot… I’m done after 5. (Mostly because that’s all I can afford, but…)
Thanks! It is a physical challenge, that’s for sure!