I’m home from the Holiday Dance Classic but I’m convinced the adventure has just begun.
I’ve been reflecting on the events of the past days and what a roller coaster it was. I will just do my best to go in chronological order, but be forewarned, this will be a looooonng entry!
Wednesday morning I awoke and Marieta did my hair and make up. I took the time to really warm up my body, including my joints, with much care as in the past I have not been diligent about this and strained muscles. I always want to show up and apply what I’ve learned from past experiences, and knowing that I didn’t want to injure myself, and that I wanted to be in a good mental space, I did what I could to prepare myself.
I would say that warming up my body was successful, but I’d say the mental aspect was unsuccessful. I definitely struggled with nerves on Wednesday and couldn’t seem to shake them. They are really distracting, they make me feel like I’m not really present, and as a spacecadet I miss a lot of information when I’m sick to my stomach, feeling the tension rise through my body, elevating my shoulders, increasing my breathing rate, making my heart race. I couldn’t hardly eat anything all day long.
And it didn’t help that Ivan was not pleased with my dancing. It was American Rhythm, and ironically, even though it felt poor, we managed to actually place really well. But the cardio was brutal, especially with some quarter and semi finals to dance in between other heats, and I was mostly in survival mode, not free-expression mode. I totally knew things were off, and we had a big old conversation about it after the fact over dinner before the scholarship later that night.
The long and short of it was that both Ivan and I were on the same page. He felt that I wasn’t consistent between Galaxy and Holiday and didn’t necessarily feel I was properly prepared to get back on the competition floor. I had kind of wondered if he might say let’s not do Holiday before we left, but he never did. If he had, I would have been a little sad I think but I would have agreed. So now we know to have that conversation in the future. Because we only want to put forth our best, and because I want to demonstrate some growth and change each time I show up on the floor. I do not believe I progressed much at all in either my body or my dancing since the last competition and girls that I have previously beaten at other comps beat me this time around. So anyways, it is what it is, and we were there and Ivan had been expecting me to do poorly, and he actually confided in me that it wasn’t quite as bad as he had thought it would be. It was still awful but not horribly so.
So I cried a little because it was a bummer. He said I was slow and heavy and pulling on him and not on balance. And I didn’t feel good inside when I was dancing because I was tired and stressed out and I’m certain that showed in my dancing. But with open honest conversation, I had an opportunity to make a different choice in the moment. So I gathered my internal resources and mustered my fight for the last three dances of the day in the scholarship round. And to a certain extent it worked. I managed to place 3rd in an 8 couple final, plus the next day in the practice room Jonathan Roberts recognized me saying, “Weren’t you the girl in the green and purple dress? You have so much life in you when you dance! Other girls may have technique and all that, but you are so alive!” So I did something right, I suppose.
And I’m actually glad Ivan and I talked it out, even if it was difficult to hear. He tells me the truth as he sees it. This way we can address the issues and move forward. But I must tell you, during the conversation I was most fearful that Ivan would want to give up on me. I am still so sad to think that he might decide not to bother with dancing with me if I don’t step up to the plate and change and grow. If I don’t show progress, especially in terms of getting my body under control, then there is really no point to continue to compete. I say this because although it is fun for me in lots of ways, I don’t just do it for fun. I do it to compete. I do it to become who I have the potential to be. And I believe I have the potential to be a fierce and high level competitor. That’s how I wish to play the game. So I need to get myself into that type of shape. Period. In the competitive ballroom game I play the entire package of the couple is important. I can’t deliver in terms of the expected aesthetics. My body size and shape and cardio fitness are my biggest weaknesses at the moment, and they will not be overlooked, especially when I am up against dancers who can deliver. But anyways, I told Ivan my fear, and he was like, well actually, I do want to dance with you. I care because I know how good you could be and I want to see it.
Wednesday American Rhythm turned out to be bittersweet. In terms of results I placed in every heat I danced in, I think. Mostly 1sts a few 2nds, and one 3rd. I even did well in my open dances, which were much less practiced that I would have liked, some of which were semi-finals. But Ivan wasn’t pleased with my dancing, and I wasn’t either.
Still, there were some wonderful things that happened. We had our great conversation, and also one of the judges that Ivan says doesn’t like him, came up to him and said nice things about me, and then told me I danced so passionately she “could’t keep her eyes off me.” Ivan said it was a “big day in his career” that this lady talked to him lol. And Jonathan Roberts noticed me and let me take a picture with him and even smiled at me when I was on the floor on Friday. Even better than that was a lady who stopped me as I was going to the bathroom to tell me that there was something “so welcoming and inviting” about my dancing that it made her feel good to watch and that it made her want to start dancing too.
Even better than that is that one of the coaches Ivan will be working with also approved of my American Rhythm techique. Ivan put the pressure on me before the competition because he told me that his coaches told him that the “didn’t care” what he was doing but wanted to see the proper technique in his student because if the student could demonstrate it he himself must understand it and would have successfully transmitted it to me. Well, I knew they’d be scrutinizing me and I wanted to do well, if only for Ivan’s sake. It would have sucked if I had biffed it badly so that they lost interest in working with Ivan. But fortunately they also had good feedback for Ivan about me.
Thursday we had off so it was a nice relaxed day. And it started out great! Why, because I was able to connect with another dancer who was there competing who reads the blog. We had coffee, got to know a little bit about her, and I even got to see her dance later in the week. Other than that, Ivan, Marieta, and I slept in a little, walked around the strip a little, ate a little, and then went to see a magician in the evening. After a low-key day it was off to an early night of sleep since dancing would commence early the next morning with an even earlier hair and make up appointment at 6am. My new roommates also had the same idea. They were already in bed by the time I got home. Kelly came to compete with Decho Kraev, and she brought along her friend Oana who was a huge help to both of us, especially with the tan make up. Cathy “blue-eyes” also came along and took a ton of amazing pictures for all of us! In another room, also dancing with Decho, was Ghada.
The good thing about Latin is that I don’t do the Paso Doble so I get a little rest during rounds. This helped me immensely and I feel I was able to perform much better on Friday. However, my results were really mixed. It was all or nothing – I got all firsts or I got nothing in both open and closed rounds, and did not make the final from a 15 couple semi-final. A gal who dances with Rado that I beat at Galaxy took the entire thing. But the cool thing is that later that night I saw Rado and congratulated him and he was all, “What happened? Did you not dance the scholarship?” And I was like, “We didn’t make the final.” And in truth I messed up pretty bad on the rumba. But Rado seemed a little puzzled, like he had expected me to make the final and so he paused and just said, “You know Stefanie, I really like your dancing. I like the quality, the attitude, everything.” And yeah, that made me feel better, plus it was super sweet of him to say that. Also, one of Ivan’s good pro friends came down especially to watch the scholarship round and he also remarked that he thought I should have made the final. What Ivan had to say was basically that at the end of the day it isn’t my dancing that’s holding me back from greater success in Latin. It’s the aesthetics.
So anyways, I think that’s mostly true. I don’t feel badly about my actual “results” and placements. It’s always so nice to get good placements, but they don’t define me, nor do I think they are an accurate indication of whether I am a good or poor dancer. I’m much more concerned with how Ivan feels we did, how I feel we did, and how other professionals that I look up to and respect perceieve us. And you know, Michael Chapman came up to us and said that I was “lovely” and he told me directly he wants me to come dance at Millennium. And I ran into Damir, who is just so awesome and encouraging, and he took the time to talk with me and I think he also believes in me.
But I think for the sake of strategy and in order to be a strong competitor that I’m going to shift my focus for the next competition. I’m going to work more on Rhythm and come back to Smooth. I think I’m more naturally suited to Rhythm and that I could do some good things in Smooth. I still love Latin and will continue to practice it at Imperial and EuroRhythm, but I’m going to put it on the back burner for the time being. Then I can come back to it when I can be a serious competitor. Ivan agrees with the plan, especially since I’ve just not as been as successful in Latin. I have really decided that weight loss has to be my priority right now. Everything will change with that. My dancing will change automatically, my lines will be more beautiful, my confidence will grow, and everything really stems from that. Then my secret plan is to come back to Latin with a vengeance when I can be like “Ka-POW!” lol. It’s all good. All part of the process. All part of my development.
But one thing is certain. I am done, done, done with these dresses! I refuse to get on the floor in them one more time. Maybe the green and purple will still be okay once my belly has flattened out, but I’m sick of the other two. More to the point I’m sick of the body that fits in these dresses. I have been in them for too long. I’m sick of looking at them. I’m sure the judges are too. The time is long past due for some transformative change and I’m making a promise to myself that I will not compete again until there has been significant enough change to finally get a dress for myself that I absolutely love.
But anyways, Latin was up and down in terms of results even though I felt like my dancing was pretty consistent. But I got noticed and I got to watch my friend Ghada dance in her open final, and Kelly got 3rd place in hers! And because I’m friends with them and I’ve talked with Bree before, I ended up hanging out with their camp and meeting Decho for the first time. Both he and Bree were so darling to me. I’m so happy that my friends have just as an awesome couple supporting them as I do with Ivan and Marieta. Bree was right there, watching both girls intensely, counting for them, sending her positive energy to them, and giving them little tidbits of feedback between rounds. And Decho was cool too. He asked me how many lessons I took a week and told me that I was very, very good. Regardless of competition results, I can’t help but be encouraged and excited about the future of my dancing with encounters like this.
I watched the Rising Star heats that evening with Ivan and then it was again off to bed. On Saturday the pressure was off of me, but on for Ivan and Marieta. We had a very fun breakfast with colorful conversation as per usual with Mr. Ivan and then I pretty much left them alone so they could practice and relax and do whatever they needed to do. But Marieta joined me for dinner and I just love spending time with both of the Dishlievs. Then I cheered obnoxiously loud as they made their way to the final from a quarter final and ended up placing 6th. I’m totally biased, I know, but I thought they should have gotten 4th or 5th, not 6th. In any case, I also got to see lovely Inna and Artem take 1st, also from a quarter final, and Inna even came to say hello after the night was over. Of course I complimented her, because their dancing is like on a different echelon than the other dancers that were at the comp since they also compete on the world stage. Anyways, I reminded her of how blessed I feel to get to learn from her and she said, “I know, because you are always telling me that.” And I said, “That’s because it’s true.” And maybe she was feeling happy after winning but she gave me a quick hug and said, “Oh I love you!” and then flitted away faster than a quickstep!
Just like every other competition I’ve done, I’m so glad I participated at Holiday. I learned a ton and feel more like a bona fide part of the ballroom world than ever before. Most importantly I am clearer and more focused than I have been in a long while. I see the path clearly before me. I see how precious and important every single day is. I see that every single day it is urgent that I do my work outs at the gym, eat every bite on my nutrition plan and focus my energies around my dancing. I have a strategy. I have a plan. I have an instructor who believes in me and wants to see me reach my potential and we have an honest relationship which will facilitate my growth the fastest way possible. Emerald Ball looms in the distance but this time 5 months doesn’t seem so very far away. There really isn’t any guarantee that I will do that competition but it is the one I’ve set as my goal. Ivan and I will have to assess how ready I am before we commit, but with that aim in mind I have a time frame I can work with. I think I can make significant progress by then, but on a deeper level than ever before, I see how it will take consistent day in and day out actions to get there. I can do it. I’ve got this.
I end up home feeling hopeful and determined. I’m so glad I went to Holiday if only because it reminded me of what I really want. It reminded me of my purpose in this life: to dance, to inspire, to aspire, and to grow. Growth is sometimes difficult, usually uncomfortable if not painful. But it’s usually worth it in the end. And boy I have come a long way from where I began. I now believe I have what it takes to do this. That in and of itself is a huge milestone. And it seems like others are buying into the possibility as well. If nothing else, I’m memorable when I compete, and that’s going to be awesome when I show up as the new me in May or whenever.
Our return trip was a bit eventful, but Ivan was able to fix the flat tire and we made it home safely. Perhaps that is a story for another time. Because now I’m tired after ballet and need to get to bed so I can wake up for my 6:30 a.m. gym session. More pictures are to come when I get them from Park West (in a few weeks) and from awesome Cathy “blue eyes” tomorrow night at class. So sayonara and good night!