Maybe it is because I live in Phoenix and it is bright and sunny 98% of the time that I adore cold, cloudy days and don’t even mind gentle rain. I mean, it is the end of November and just last week we hit 90 degrees. It is always such a relief when the weather cools, windows can be left open, sweaters are useful. I love the feel of chilled, crisp air, the mirky grey light that infuses the world from cloudy skies.
Yesterday and today we’ve had my favorite kind of weather. The kind that makes me want to drink cocoa, wear slippers, curl up under a cozy blanket and read a good book. But instead, yesterday, I awoke and went to the gym, with my new New Balance lightweight shoes and had a make up session with the trainer (she cancelled on me Thursday) and then it was off to EuroRhythm for a workshop on body weight transfer and partnering. The only bummer is that Ivan and Marieta were gone in Ohio to dance. I wouldn’t normally mind so much except for how soon Holiday will arrive and I lament missing prime practice time on the weekends.
Speaking of Ohio, Friday night I had friends over and we rigged up the iPad to watch the competition live on the big tv. Unfortunately, StarStreamers, the service the broadcasts Ohio, firstly, charges for the service, and secondly, the picture quality was deplorable. I was sorely disappointed feeling like I was watching the spectacle on LSD with all the tracers and pixelation distortions. And when I called their customer service phone line after troubleshooting it was not in service. I will think twice about streaming with them again but for the larger competitions they are the only option. Nevertheless, it was very fun spending the time with my ballroom buddies and we were still able to make out who was who, for the most part. Not an ideal situation – I definitely prefer the streaming services provided by ParadigmDVD – but still not a bad way to spend a Friday night.
So yesterday I did my time at the gym and attended the workshop. I really love going to that studio. I am always greeted warmly and there is “great energy.” I feel like Damir really cares about his students, each and every person. He shares all sorts of insights, stories, and theory throughout the workshop. He covers subjects ranging from the energetic and spiritual to the nitty gritty nuts and bolts of every single movement. He will draw graphs of the counts and timing of various steps and it is clear he truly understands every nuance of how things work logically while also holding an expansive context that accounts for the etherial component of dancing.
Sometimes, in the the workshops, however, I really don’t know exactly what I am doing or what I am supposed to be doing. I just mean it can be an information overload. My main way of dancing is through feeling. I gather that other dancers can be very technical and focused on all the details. They can tell you all the counts and the breakdown of the counts and when your hip moves, or you step, or you work the ankle. I think this is important information to learn and understand and that it helps to create clarity and a common language thorough which to communicate about dancing. However, in my mind, I cannot possibly hold, process, and apply all this information as I am moving. It just doesn’t work for me. For instance, Damir was calling out all the pieces of just the basic Rumba step – step, hip rotation, pre-settle, settle and prepare to move, lat contraction and compression, and back to the next step. I can’t think of all that, much less say it all aloud, in the time it takes to execute it in my body! However, going slowly, being aware of all the parts is immensely helpful. It’s just that when I dance it is a much more intuitive and feeling prospect for me. I feel like it is a good practice, and something to explore during practice, but not during performance. Most of all, while doing these exercises in Damir’s workshop, I feel like it is an opportunity to discover my body and learn about how it moves in a more specific way and it teaches a finer level of control.
It is a reminder of how much I still have to learn, and also of how much I think I know but really don’t. And that’s okay. Dancing is a deep ocean, rich enough for a lifetime of study and application. It enriches my life immeasurably to dance and to learn from such different perspectives. And I have to remind myself that my job is to sift through the information, experiment with it, try it out, and find what works for me. There is nothing black or white, or 100% correct or wrong about dancing. There is a spectrum of ways of being it and I’m to find my particular ray of the expression rainbow.
But being in contact with different instructors with different perspectives is such a gift because I am exposed to more options about how to “be” a dancer. From what Damir shared yesterday I became aware of various nuggets that I want to apply in my practice, especially with Ivan which I think will help me be even more responsible for my own dancing, as well as being a stronger partner. Probably the deepest realization was that I was reminded once again of how many trust issues I have – lack of trust of self, lack of trust in my body, and fear of being vulnerable and really letting myself trust Ivan so much that I actually put myself in his hands. It is this mutual trust (in my mind) that makes partner dancing jaw-dropping and beautiful and I want to grow into that.
The other thing I am pondering is Damir’s assertion that resistance is actually a good thing in terms of connection. He was talking about how many times we hear our partner saying that he can’t feel where we are, where our weight is. The way to actually feel it, which is a little counter-intuitive for me, is to resist. Because I hear all the time how I’m supposed to respond right away, action reaction, that I should follow. But to truly follow, I must actually be a millisecond behind Ivan’s lead, and not anticipating what’s next. Damir danced with me for a few seconds to demonstrate what he meant so I could feel it. He asked me to lead him and he resisted. The pressure was a little too much for actually dancing but great to get the point across. He felt very grounded and stable. I knew where he was all the time. It took effort to move him. But there were no gaps in our connection and it felt safe and secure. Ironically, one of the things I always try to do and feel like a total failure about is making my connection with Ivan as light as possible. I’ve focused on being on my own feet so he doesn’t have to push me or pull me, but I always seem to miss his leads because there are gaps in the pressure in our connection. Damir said that the lead will complain if the follow resists at first but if we stand our ground eventually the lead will love it because he will know where his partner is at all times. I can totally see Ivan going ballistic about it and yelling at me to “Move your ass!” and telling me I’m slow and all that, but I can also see that this might benefit our connection. I’m going to give it a try and experiment with this new tool.
Another theme we broached was finding the cause of dance action. This is definitely an area I struggle with. Because dancing can be such an illusion. We see certain actions and for me I try to create them. Having not been instructed on how to generate the movement, I go for the obvious. For instance, if I see speedy, sharp swivels, I try to force them. I try to muscle them out through my legs and I exhaust myself. I come to dread the movement because I feel like I can’t do it properly and the visual effect is unsatisfactory.
So anyways, yesterday we did swivels and Damir explained all the movements that led up to the swivels. He broke it down – step, hip rotation, lat compression, step. Finish the one movement before starting the next one. And suddenly, swivels, a step that I’ve hated for a few years, became effortless. It was an epiphany. I could see the importance of the process that happens before the swivel is what creates the swivel. The swivel doesn’t just “happen” nor can I make it happen out of nothing. In concept, this is not new, but after yesterday I have an entirely new context and experience of it.
So a lot happened yesterday and today I am reflecting upon it all. The good thing is that I do not feel overwhelmed, but rather, grounded and centered. I am where I am in my journey and it is okay. I have some new tools to play with and a competition on the horizon. I am in the space that I will just go and dance and enjoy the experience. I am focused on holding this peaceful center, creating and holding my space, as I dance in Vegas. I feel like I have two options: I can dance from a place of fear, comparison, and lack, or I can dance from a place of love, joy, and celebration. I admit I waver between the two, even on a single lesson! However, my goal is to dance from the second space this time around. My goal is to expand and be flexible rather than to contract and tighten. I mean, to get to dance is a priceless priviledge. I am so grateful to be in good health and to have the resources to participate. I am so blessed to get to travel, spend time with dear friends, make new friends, and create memories. I am so blessed to get to live my passion and share it with others. For whatever reason, thankfully, I am in the place of being grateful for all I do have rather than the fact that I’m not thin, or struggle with steps, or see my imperfections. I am putting in the mental preparation for this competition experience rather than just showing up so that I can create a vision for how I want to be. Then I can return to it, remind myself of it, and coach myself back to it if I let my emotions get out of control. All I have to do is remember that Toni Redpath told me that I am a RockStar. I have that in me. It’s enough. I will continue to evolve and grow into that RockStar. And it’s not all that serious. What a relief! Of course I want to do well and I hope Ivan will be pleased. But most importantly, I aim simply to be proud of myself, glad to be just be me, grateful to be moving, dancing, sharing.
Stef–thank you for this marvelous post! You so eloquently and thoroughly explained what so many of us face in our daily dance training and progression. These concepts apply to all styles of dance! Like you, I am a “physical” learner—which many dancers are—and we have to “feel” the concepts in our bodies to “understand.” So totally different from auditory and visual learners. Spent 18 years standing behind top ballerinas teaching me, and it was performing the ballet moves alongside them in the mirror that “stuck” it in my body—not so much just what I heard or saw. If I watched it without moving myself, and then tried to do it—I drew a blank. If I did it side by side at the same time as the teacher, it “stuck.” That’s how we learn! For me, standard ballroom dancing is a natural progression out of ballet. I look forward to more of your posts!
I am so glad you enjoyed it. I guess that is why Damir is so great. He presents the information in a variety of ways for all the ways people learn. And you are right. It is one thing to intellectually grasp a concept, another thing entirely to embody it in the physical being. Like reading about riding a bicycle and riding a bicycle!
Sorry I missed Friday night! I’ve been a crazy women getting everything set for thxgiving w my remodel. When r u gone for your competition?
Sent from my iPhone
Glad to know I wasn’t the only one having trouble with the OSB live stream!
I know just what you mean about trying to force a step vs. actually understanding what’s supposed to be happening anatomically. It’s an amazing feeling when that clicks. And I’m obviously only a very amateur ballroom dancer, but a good lead is amazing, and allowing yourself to let go and follow is truly startling. I wish I had more time for ballroom! Thanks for letting me enjoy it vicariously through you 🙂
Ohhh I love the kind of weather you are talking about.. as long as it doesn’t snow (for driving to work’s sake) I love being inside, curled up in a blanket on the couch, cat on my lap and boyfriend at my side.. Christmas is my favorite time of the year! So cozy 🙂