Back To Real Life…And Beyond

There is always a bit of a transition coming back down to earth after a competition. But I must say, the pace has not lessened one iota since I’ve been home. I was right back to ballet Monday evening the day after I got home, and the rest of my week went as planned with work outs at the gym, Inna’s class, the eating plan, and fitting in some dance lessons with Ivan. Actually, there was even more activity this week because it was Imperial’s annual showcase/masquerade gala Friday night, and over at EuroRhythm Saturday morning after my double lesson with Ivan I was blessed to have attended a workshop with Latin couple Andrej Skufca & Melinda Torokgyorgy, who, according to DanceSportInfo.net are positioned 5 in the world and 1 in Slovenia.

It’s honestly been a very, very good week. I’m am clear and focused and determined. This feels really wonderful and like I have some forward momentum propelling me towards my goals. There is a fire in my belly that hasn’t been there before to power me. And I’m so grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, even the difficult ones, for they have brought me to this point.

Earlier in the week I had a nice lesson with Ivan where we focused on American Rhythm technique. I love getting back to the basics and still feel like I have so much work to do to truly demonstrate the proper movements. Especially since I do bronze, I want to be clear, prescise, and spot on with the basics. For me, the more clear and detailed and specific I can be, the more that I know what I am doing, the more confident I feel and the better I dance. I am happy we are taking some steps back to see the bigger picture and re-align. This includes finding our connection, which was the bigger issue we worked on today and Saturday. For certain Ivan and I felt disjointed at Holiday, like we were not dancing together. Well, Saturday morning, it was better. It was more about the energy and connecting properly and that always feels so much nicer and generates/allows more dancing and expression.

And we had some time to communicate and talk about how we both showed up on the dancefloor and at the competition. We discussed better ways to handle things and lessons to learn from the mistakes I made. It is such an all-around journey with opportunities for growth on all levels. And as much as I’ve grown, there is still so much more inside me. And I was actually happy when I felt uncomfortable on the lesson because it was out of my comfort zone.

It’s all tied to confidence. Confidence that I know what I am doing physically. Confidence in myself, which for me is tethered to my body and body image. Confidence in my connection to Ivan. I feel like everything will change as the fat suit comes off. For certain I will feel more beautiful, it will be easier to move, it will be less taxing, and that is why it is my primary focus at the moment, even as I continue to devour as much information about dancing as I can.

So it was a good lesson Saturday morning and we cleared the air and all that, and still it is difficult. We are two different people and sometimes we are not on the same page. It’s a challenge to come together and make it work. But I love it, and we know it’s possible. Again, on both sides of the equation, it depends more on how we feel about ourselves as a couple and what we are presenting than anything else.

So anyways, Friday I was able to attend the showcase at Imperial which was pretty fun and wonderful. But I ended up leaving early before the professional show because it was getting so late. They played a lot of games which were fun but I knew I needed to get some sleep for my big day the next morning.

So after my lesson with Ivan, I made my way to the workshop and it was awesome. It was awesome to be in the presence of these professionals. They shared so much information that my head was spinning! It was amazing to just watch them move which was a lesson in itself. They also gave specific corrections to specific people, which I thought was really wonderful. I even got one on my Samba! Woo!

We started with Rumba and the biggest takeaway I had was that the front foot is actually parallel when doing Rumba walks. It is the back foot, leg, and hip that rotate outward to create the Latin position which is turned out. I never, ever would have thought that, however, it made more biomechanical sense, and freed the hips, and I felt so much more stable walking that way. Also important was the timing. They got so specific 1 and 2 and 3 and a 4 ah! Each count = a specific movement. I am truly learning to love counting, and as Andrej said, there is something really beautiful about being exactly on the beat, not a little behind or ahead. My impression was that the extra counting made the music and movement more gooey, stretching it longer, and it again made so much sense for the release/recoil which propels the next movement, usually a step forward. They talked about torsion around the spine, especially in the upper body, which I find pretty difficult to execute. I wish I could just stand side-by-side with Melinda and do the steps over and over with specific corrections. Latin technique is just as detailed as ballet, if not more so, in my opinion. And the more I learn, the more I see how important it is to be aware and accountable for each and every little ticky-tah of movement. It’s mind-altering.

After a little break we changed to Samba. The biggest takeaway for me here was the importance of both the footwork, which involves a lot of ankle, foot, and calf strength, as well as the forward crunch/scooping of the hips forward to create the bounce. Again, when broken down, it makes more biomechanical sense, but these are details I’d never think of. From what Andrej shared you are supposed to actually begin to lift your heel even while your leg is bent during a whisk to create the movement of the back leg and when done correctly it actually causes the back leg to be placed in the right spot. It also allows a person to squeeze a tiny bit of extra movement forward into the hips to increase range of motion. Whomever sat down and figured all this out was a genius. I am very impressed with how clearly Andrej and Melinda were able to express concepts and ideas and how detailed they were.

In fact, they shared so much information, there is no way I absorbed it all! So I made up my mind to just focus on one or two tidbits in each dance and to work on those in the future.

So that brings us to Sunday which didn’t involve any dancing but does involve an interesting personal revelation about how very, very far I’ve come. You see, one of my friends from high school came into town with his adorable fat-cheeked baby and new wife and we met up to catch up. We had a wonderful visit but of course he asked about all this ballroom stuff he’s seeing on Facebook. And I realized, perhaps he didn’t know I danced in high school. He didn’t have a clue.

How strange!! It was a big part of my life, but I never really shared it. I danced outside of school hours and wasn’t confident enough to proclaim that I was a dancer. Here was this person who knew me since 7th grade, who I was next to in practically every class because of our last names and alphabetical seating, and he had no idea I danced during all that time. I am sad for the 12-16 year-old me. Sad, because I was so insecure about sharing who I was. On the flip side, I’m pretty amazed at myself because here I am now, blogging about and sharing my journey, broadcasting it to the world, all while having a body that is far from ideal and much worse than it was back in high school when I hated it even more than I do now! Actually, things have shifted around that issue as well. I’m finally, finally finding some peace in my relationship with my body. I am even grateful for all it has done and continues to do for me. And I had this weird revelation on my lesson with Ivan on Saturday. This may perhaps be a tangent off into La La land but bear with me. This is how I understand it.

I believe that dancing involves enregies. I think most people would agree it certainly involves emotional energies, which are invisible but very real. Well, anyways, when I dance with Ivan we throw and catch different energies toward one another. Well we were doing a Mambo, which involves a lot of booty shaking, and Ivan was being all interested in my ample, womanly behind, and I realized, my butt liked it! LOL! It really did. It was all happy and proud and I thought, wow, I should really take advantage of this and let my body parts enjoy this energy and attention. I mean, if I can’t give it to them, maybe this will help.

So anyways, those were some interesting realizations and now my wooojy woo tangent is complete.

And all that leaves to talk about is my lesson this morning. It was awesome. I found my mojo once again. No fear, just moving, just letting my body do what it wants to do, feeling the music, feeling good about being me. And Ivan got goosebumps and he loved the lesson and we both felt good. Even better than that was working on our connection. We had great communication around the connection and found a new one. It allows both of us to be more accountable for ourselves. Ivan realized the importance of backing off and even letting me fail so we can find the right placement for both of us. I desperately need the feedback of when I am using him too much or too little but I can’t get that if he always takes care of me (and Marieta) and neglects himself. And when it works like this, it is so nice, it feels so good! And Ivan was all, you dance the best when you just feel, why ever dance any other way? And yeah, he’s right. It’s meant to enjoy. Not to get all caught up in the right and wrong ways of doing things, – at the core dancing is actually not about “doing” anything – it’s really about “being” – being loving, and joyful, and open to sharing, connecting, growing, and evolving.

I’m energized and focused and excited about the coming year. And I want to thank you, dear readers and supporters for the part you play in that. You encourage me more than you will ever know. I appreciate you and I’m grateful to get to share my journey with you. A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. Cheers to us all as we embrace the new year! I have a feeling it’s going to be very sparkly!

20131223-214020.jpg

Advertisements

Topical Series: Ballroom Demystified (Part Deux)

Where was part one, you may ask?  Well this post is an extension of another post by Alaina which you can read here.

I thought it was an excellent topic and told her so.  And, me being as opinionated and vociferous as I am (at least as a writer), I was inspired to continue the conversation.

I’ll use Alaina’s same format.  She was comparing DWTS, which probably represents how most uninitiated people think of ballroom, to what actually happens at a ballroom competition.  If you’ve never been to one, then you can’t possibly know, but the two are worlds apart.  I think pretty much the only things they have in common are spray tans, amazing outfits and hair, the fact that there are judges, and Pro/Am couples.  Other than that, things are really different.  And one housekeeping note – I’m talking about NDCA Dancesport competitions as those are the ones I have experience with.  There are other competitions put on through studio chains or through other independent companies like World Promotions which have their own set of rules and protocols.

Point 1: In competition, there are multiple couples on the floor at the same time

Alaina got this right.  The only thing I’ll add, is man, is it a different experience with all that movement going on at the same time.  It kind of makes more sense as to why ballroom couples try to be so ostentatious.  If you don’t know what they will be up against, it may seem particularly gaudy and over-the-top how they move, how they dress, how they do their hair and make up, and all that.  Each couple is vying for the attention of the judges and the audience and being showy, glittery, or even ridiculously cheeky, may help achieve that aim.  It is practically impossible to watch just one couple while they compete as each one will catch your eye at a different point.  This is also part of why couples rotate around the ballroom between heats – to perform for a different section of the audience and hopefully gain their support.

Point 2:  Two styles of dance

I’d argue that there are 4 categories of dance – broadly divided into American styles and International styles.  But it’s not just the styling that is different – it’s also the dances that are performed.  On the American side are the American Rhythm and Smooth Divisions, and on the International side are Standard (or Standard Ballroom) and Latin.

American

American Rhythm – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo

American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

International

Standard Ballroom – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Waltz, Quickstep

Latin – Samba, Cha cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive

As you can see, some of the dances are the same.  This is where that styling that Alaina was referring to fits in.  In general, legs are straight in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha but there is a bending and straightening action that occurs in American Rhythm.  In American Smooth, couples can go in and out of a dance frame hold and tend to do lots of sweeping movements, and spins with the lady, and maybe dips too, but in Standard Ballroom, the couples must remain in a dance frame hold throughout the entire dance and travel in unison around the floor.  On DWTS, Len’s background would be more in Latin and Standard Ballroom (being from Great Britan) and this is why he often harps about couples breaking out of hold (which I think he used to do more often than he currently does).

In addition, there are also other dances that may be at competitions like country western dances, Night Club Two Step, Argentine Tango, and West Coast Swing, but generally they have different stylization as compared to the dances as danced in their traditional milieu, like a milonga, or with true “Westies.”

Furthermore, there are more types of pairings that can occur.  On DWTS we see a little of this – sometimes there are Pro/Pro pairings, also formation teams, both of which occur at competitions.  In competitions, there are also purely Amateur couples, some of which are very high level and almost as good as the pros.  This pairing is two amateurs and would be the equivalent of two of the “Stars” on DTWS pairing up.  Now that would be interesting to see on the show, but would probably result in poor dancing because instead of only 1 person not knowing what they are doing, both would be clueless!

Also, remember that the couples dancing at competition do not know ahead of time which music they will be dancing to.  On DWTS the routines are more like those that would be presented during a showcase; the music is known and choreographed to.  But in competition, you may have a routine but it has to work and the timing must be correct no matter what music is played.  DWTS did show some of this with those “Instant dances” they have had on a few seasons.  Those dances test the skill set of leading and following.  I believe (though I don’t know for sure) that for most divisions the couples have a pre-planned routine, however they still have to remain in connection so they can react seamlessly if another couple gets in their way or something unexpected happens like one partner forgets the routine.  They can then fall back on lead-follow dancing to get them through.  However, in the Standard Ballroom division, I think there is more of a chance that the couples don’t have a planned routine.  They probably have the basic idea of what they will do and also which steps they will want to show off, but because there is so much movement around the floor and many couples are buzzing around, floorcraft is key in this division in particular.  The couple has to react quickly and often to avoid collisions. (As an aside, I think Artem and Inna are particularly adept at this.  I’ve only ever seen them almost collide once, ever, on a video, and I have seen them masterfully avoid collisions multiple times without missing a single step.)  Anyways, I think in this division, and probably Smooth as well, lead-follow plays a much bigger role.

Amendment:  Please do see the comments section of this post!  Why? Because Ellen so generously and eloquently clarified this detail, about Standard Ballroom dancers.  I am incorrect, it seems!  Standard dancers do have planned routines, and maybe even more so than other dancers!  Who knew?  See Ellen’s explanation!  The main idea is that there are only certain ways to get into and exit out of various steps (very true) so they have to be strung together in careful and meticulous order, which many times will require a pre-set routine.  And yes, I admit when I am wrong! LOL!  Love it!  Thank you for interacting, Ellen!  I appreciate you so very much.

Point 3: Scoring and points

Yeah, there are no paddles at competitions.  Instead, judges mark couples, ranking them or recalling them on forms which are collected and tabulated, and then at various intervals during the day there are awards.  The announcer quickly calls out who made 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in a particular heat.  That’s it.  You may get some gold stickers, or you may get some coupons for $1 off rounds if you compete again next year for placing, and a plaque for participating, but no mirror ball trophy.  Medals are sometimes given for placing in a scholarship competition (I will explain that in a bit).  But certainly no commentary on what each couple did well or any advice on how to improve like happens on DWTS.

Another difference is that because there are multiple couples competing at the same time, if there is a large heat, with many participants, it is possible that many rounds may have to be danced.  There can be multiple preliminary rounds, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals.  During each iteration, a few of the couples will be eliminated.  In the earlier rounds where there are many couples on the floor, the judges simply vote to “recall” those couples they’d like to see more of.  The final round will consist of 6, maybe 7 couples, so getting to semifinals can be a real feat if there are like 24 couples entered in the competition.  Rounds like this can be found at bigger competitions like Ohio Star Ball, or Millennium, or USDC, but usually only happen for pros.  I’ve only ever had one heat large enough to require a semifinal.  All the other heats I’ve danced have always been a final right off the bat because there aren’t enough couples to warrant multiple rounds.

Once reaching the final, judges then place the couples as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.  Each judge gives his or her own individual opinion/ranking and these are tabulated.  This is why you see perhaps 33221 by the picture or write-up in the media of a couple that placed 3rd.  In this example, 2 judges placed the couple 3rd, two judges placed them 2nd, and 1 judge placed them 1st.  The couple with the most 1st’s wins and the ranking follows the same pattern.  Hopefully the rankings will agree somewhat, indicating that the positions were highly contested, and the the judges were generally on the same page as to the excellence of the the couples.  Sometimes, however, they may also vary widely.  A couple can miss a final round, or a higher placement by the opinion of just one judge.  Truly, for this reason, I have such respect for the strength of character and perservence of the pros who put themselves out there to compete.  It can be a brutal process sometimes and very difficult to convince the majority of judges to place you highly enough to reach any level of professional success.

Often competitors can obtain their scoresheets after the competition online to see how a particular judge placed them, or if that judge recalled them.  If the competitor knows the predilections of that judge, then they may gain insight in areas to work on.  For instance, some judges are known to focus in on toplines, others footwork, others overall presentation.  In addition, competitors can see if there was a wide variation in their placements, or if the judges generally agreed upon how they were placed, again giving them more of an idea of what to focus on in the future.

Here’s where I’m going to veer off the path laid by Alaina.

Point 4: Single dances versus Scholarship Rounds, Open versus Closed heats

Okay, so in competitions there are a variety of types of heats.  Single dances are just what they sound like.  You want to dance Mambo, you dance a Mambo.  You will dance it at the appropriate level and age category.  In America, there are Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels.  These may be further divided into “pre-” or “full” or “intermediate” levels.  For instance, as a way of stretching yourself, if you are ranked as a full-Bronze student, you may also participate in a pre-Silver level heat to see how you fare against more advanced competition.  In addition, you dance with people your same age, and can dance against those one age category below you.  This makes it fair so 20-year-olds aren’t competing against octagenarians.

Scholarship rounds are kind of like a mimic of what the pros do.  The pros don’t dance a single dance.  They dance all the dances in their category.  Now, for us beginners, they go a little easier on us.  First, for the lower levels like Bronze, you may only dance 3 or 4 of the dances required by the pros.  Also, the length of the heats is less – 1:10 minutes to 1:2o seconds versus about 2:00 minutes for pros.  Thank God, I have to say, because it takes time to build up the cardiovascular capacity and skill level necessary to complete all the dances for such a (relatively) long duration.  So for instance, I did a closed Bronze scholarship round in Latin at Desert Classic.  This meant that I danced 3 dances in a row: Samba, Cha cha, Rumba and was ranked on those compared to the other Pro/Am couples on the floor at the same time in my same skill level and age category.  No Paso Doble of Jive for me! (Thank heavens!  However, I did dance some single dances in Jive, separately)

Again the scholarship rounds are divided by skill level and age.  They can get very competitive, especially at the Open level.

Okay, now for the difference between Open and Closed.  Closed rounds are those that only include steps in the syllabus.  For NDCA events, this is the DVIDA syllabus.  Open rounds can include more creative choreography and include steps not strictly on the syllabus.  There can be open single dances as well as open scholarship rounds.  They can also still be divided by skill level, so for instance you can dance an open bronze Bolero or an open silver Waltz.

When pros compete, they are competing as an open.  Anyone can enter.  Though for Pro/Am and Amateur levels, the open scholarship rounds are generally still divided by age, but then again, you don’t usually see senior citizens in open professional competition, but you will see them in open Pro/Am scholarship rounds.

Hmm….well, that’s probably just scratching the surface of the differences between DWTS and a NDCA competition.  Honestly, if you’ve never been to one, it’s worth checking out.  The energy of the ballroom during pro heats is unbelievable.  And it’s so inspiring and incredible.  Though I love getting my DWTS fix, I love being a part of this other world and participating in the “real deal.”  There are a lot of ways to participate in ballroom and I’d encourage anyone to participate to any level that works for them, from social dancing, to full-on competition.  All are wonderful, and special, and important.  But for me, I’ve decided, it’s the competition route I’m interested in.  Yeah, I’m crazy.  I know.  Lol.

If you do happen to have anything to add, or any further questions, please comment!  I love hearing other perspectives, and about other experiences.  Part of what I’m after here on the blog is to build community.  Please join in the fun!

Why Dance Matters

I was home alone on a Saturday the first time I watched the movie “A Chorus Line.”  I remember watching the cattle call, the auditions, the amazing way these people were dancing, and I just knew, as much as a person can know anything, that I would never, ever, be able to dance like that, the way I wanted.  I would never, ever, have the beautiful bodies like the women had, or be able to leap 5 feet into the air and do quadruple pirouettes like the men.  In my heart of hearts I desperately wanted to be like these people on the screen, that was my deepest wish.  But, being realistic, not having legs up to my neck, being a little pudgier than the other girls in my ballet and jazz classes, having a tight Achilles tendon that prevented deep plie and thus no spring, and battling my way to finding my center enough to complete a measly double turn, well, being a professional dancer just wasn’t in the cards for me.

Though I danced through high school, and even in some school musicals, when it was time to go to college, it was time to “grow up” and put childish things aside, which for me, meant putting dance away in a small box, up on a dusty shelf in the catacombs of my mind.

Years passed.  And then I saw a promo for this television show So You Think You Can Dance.  I was intrigued.  As a kid I lived for episodes of “Solid Gold,” “Soul Train,” and “Fame” – anything that had any dancing in it.  But when this new show appeared, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.  Something about it hurt too deeply.  It was too hard to watch, though I didn’t exactly know why.

Yes, I’d not danced for upwards of 10 years.  Yes, I’d gained about 100 pounds.  But why couldn’t I watch?  Why couldn’t I even look at this art form that I loved so dearly, even as a kid?

Well, the answer is quite simple.  Dance is the love of my life.  But I had broken up with dance.  I had abandoned it because it wasn’t “practical” and because I’d never be “good enough.”  Seeing others in the throes of their love affair with dance on a show like SYTYCD was too hard to bear….

Until I started dancing, myself, once again, that is.

Still in a battle against my body, working out at the gym laboriously on a treadmill, I saw a man giving dance lessons out of one of the group classrooms.  It looked a heck of a lot more fun than the stupid treadmill and it was ballroom dancing, something I’d never tried.  I decided to give it a shot, and the rest, well, is history.  In fact, I just returned from a dance competition a week ago.

And amazingly, ballroom, more than any other dance form I’d previously tried, fit me like a glove.  I love the partnership aspect of it, which I never had with ballet, tap, and jazz.  My hips move really well, not anything I’d ever valued since I thought everyone could do it (not so, I have discovered) and in ballet you are always trying to keep you hips square.  And I gained a kind of confidence, a confidence I’d never had when I was a smaller size, through the dancing.  I was not only allowed, but rather vigorously encouraged, to express myself through facial expressions or individualized arm styling.

A few months ago I did my first showcase performance ever, doing a Latin Rumba.  Me and my instructor, Ivan, had the entire stage.  I got to pick the music.  And I danced my little heart out.  My mom came to watch, and she, more than anybody, would know that ballroom dancing has transformed me.  She has watched me in every recital from age 5 through high school.  But this time she cried when I danced….that had never happened in the past.  It was because, she said, she had never seen me dance like that ever before.

Chances are that now at age 34, and at a weight categorized as obese, I am not going to be a professional dancer, like those people I saw in “A Chorus Line.”

But so what?

I can still dance.

Plus, I can still grow as a dancer.  I can still be challenged, set goals, and improve.  Indeed, I already have, down about 50 pounds from my all-time highest weight, and able to tolerate more cardio than I have in years.

And, I can still love dancing and make space for it in my life.  Truly, it is more non-negotiable than ever before.  Without it, something in me withers.  With it, something in me blooms.  Now more than ever, I realize I have a dancer’s soul, even if my path through life alongside dancing looks a bit different than most.

So, that’s why dance matters: Dance is transformative, it makes me want to be a better and healthier person, it stretches me and challenges me in ways nothing else in life does.  Dance matters because it makes me come vibrantly alive.  Nothing else in this world can move me (literally and emotionally) like dance can.  And I think, looking back on my convoluted journey, that one important lesson I’ve learned is that there is space for every dancer, even me.  There is a place for every kind of dancer, every shape of dancer, every age of dancer.

Dance matters because it’s who I am at my core.

Dance matters because it brings me to life.

This piece was written for a special project called Why Dance Matters.  You can check it out here.

What Is It Really Like To Be An Amateur Competitive Ballroom Dancer?

So one of my Facebook friends posted a link to a trailer for this dance show called “The Studio” that is online.  I don’t know much about the program, or if they will have any more episodes, but I found the content fascinating.  You see, the pilot was about amateur competitive ballroom dancers (like me) and their professional partners as they prepared and competed at Hotlanta Dance Challenge.  I was curious to see how they would be portrayed and hunted down episode 1, the links to which I’ve posted below so you can watch for yourself.  Each episode is about 20 minutes or so, so make sure you have time to watch!  Of course, you know me.  I’m going to have my opinions.  And, I’m really interested to hear about yours as well.  It all seems especially apropos (yes!  How many times do you get to use that word in your life?!) since I’m 10 days away from my big competition!  I’m right in the middle of the preparation and can relate to these dancers.  Anyways, click below, watch, and enjoy, and then meet back up with me for some further commentary.

Pretty interesting, huh?

What did you think?

Me, well, parts I was rooting for people!  Parts, I was rolling my eyes.   Mostly, I was feeling like there is so much missing from the story!!!

Why?

Well, every ballroom dancer I know, including me, practices for hours and hours and hours.  Also, they didn’t show the actual dancing…that you do 4 or 5 dances in a row, at a minimum.  Like in my situation, I’m not just going and doing the scholarship round, I’m dancing all day long.  I’m betting these students danced lots too, at least more than they showed.  Probably they couldn’t show it because there was a contracted videographer at the competition (there always is…remember, nothing about ballroom comes cheaply!!), but that would have added an extra dimension to the story.  Like, how did they look compared to the other dancers on the floor?  Also, the results were only revealed for a few dances.  How did they do overall?  On other heats?

This project focused a little tiny bit on the practice and preparation that actually goes into showing up for a competition.  That is mostly what we students do.  It’s not all rhinestones and glamour.  It just isn’t.  It’s sweat, and tears, and triumph, and breakthroughs, and pains, and aches, and pushing your body beyond what you think it can do.  It is hours of repetition.  It is lots of money (a subject not even broached), and lots of time.  Simply stated, and I guess there’s a reason they don’t show all the “real life” stuff, it’s not all that shiny most of the time.  Most of the time it’s sweating in plain clothes, with blisters, with frustrations, with bills to pay.

But then there are those amazing sparkly moments!  I can’t wait to have a few of my own in like, 6 days OMG!

So anyways, what do you think of these videos?  I’m personally hungry to see more.  How do you think they did showing what it’s “really” like to be an amateur competitive dancer?  How is it the same, or different, from your personal experience?

I’m Gonna Find My Inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer

If you haven’t been watching SYTYCD, you should be.

It’s like, my fav-o-rite dance show evarrrrr.

And it relates to the title of my post. You know, everything happens for a reason and there are signs everywhere if we have the eyes to see them. The messages in my life abound. They come via friends, conversations, encounters at the grocery store, and even while watching t.v.

Tonight something Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer said on the on the show really stuck with me. He was asked to dance for his life. This happens when the judges aren’t sure about a dancer but he still has enough support that he or she gets one final chance to win the judges over for a spot on the show. He had to perform his solo, doing the style of dance that he is best at.

While very nervous in the previous rounds, Cyrus suddenly seemed calm and centered. Peaceful. Cat Deely interviewed him before he put it all on the line and he said, “There is no better feeling than being myself. I cannot wait to show the judges what I got.”

That stopped me dead in my tracks.

It represented what I call a paradigm shift.

If you haven’t already figured it out from reading my blog, I sometimes struggle with self-esteem issues, confidence issues, and body image issues. And I am also a dancer. A ballroom dancer. You know, those super sexy and elegant creatures, very feminine, confident, love having all the attention on them. Like, the very opposite of how I generally feel inside. But that is not why I am a dancer. I am a dancer because I was born that way, even if I didn’t even realize it for portions of my life. Dance lives inside me. My job, my biggest struggle, is to simply let it out, get out of my own way. To halt my hang-ups and insecurities, and analysis to paralysis, and negative thinking from getting in the way of the expression of that greater spirit that sometimes comes out when I let it.

So when Cyrus said what he said about there being nothing better than being himself and being so excited to share that with the judges, it was like, what? That thought never occurred to me.

You see, my aim for the Desert Classic, the goal behind the goal if you will, is not just to dance well, or place high, or even to get a top student award, it is actually to allow myself to be seen. To have dances full of pure dance, connection, joy. To let myself go to the places I usually keep dammed up, closed. I guess, in the end, it’s really about being vulnerable. Like some part of me is afraid to really let that show because I don’t necessarily feel like Cyrus. I don’t always feel like it’s awesome to be me. If I don’t feel great about myself, why would I want to share it? I’d want to only reveal the polished veneer, to look good.

You know, in theory, I believe we are all special, even me. We all have our own unique greatness. But when it comes to actually feeling that way about myself I waver between delusions of grandeur and being a squashed bug. Like in my dancing, sometimes I think I’m awesome. Other times, I feel like I can’t do anything right.

But the part of me that is actually awesome is bigger than any dance technique. It’s the part that my friend Colette saw when I danced on my birthday with Ivan. She told me, “I don’t know if it was the wine, but when you danced that night you shone.” It’s the part that my mom saw that brought her to tears when I danced in the showcase. It’s the part that gives Ivan goosebumps every once in a while when we dance together, like happened this morning for no particular reason I could discern.

But OMG, do you know what he told me Monday morning? There I was, struggling through more Rumba walks (in my head concentrating on my hips, getting over my feet, not slapping them on the floor, making my arms move, not dying because of the cardio, etc, etc, etc.) I was in the space of knowing that what I was doing just wasn’t good enough. That I was lacking proper technique…something Ivan was quick to remind me of, correcting something every few steps. And he tells me some fixes, and I do the best I can to implement them and you know what he tells me? He says, “I jealous of you.”

Like, say WHAT? Back that train up!

Here is this man, this amazing dancer. This person that I look up to and wish I could move like him, or Marieta. And he’s telling me that he’s jealous of me. I couldn’t believe it.

Like, what on earth did he have to be jealous of?

He explained. “You getting it so quickly! I have to practicing years and years and I never move like this. It’s cause you have talent.”

I have always thought that it really wasn’t talent. It was the fact that I danced as a kid and had a great teacher who knew her technique in ballet, tap, and jazz. I worked really hard to be moderately good in those genres, but I knew I’d never be able to do say the kind of dancing that is performed on SYTYCD. I knew I’d never be a professional dancer.

But ballroom is different. Not only is all about connection and partnering, but it seems to fit the way my body moves like a glove. By this I mean my hips are very flexible. Apparently this is not the case for a lot of people. I never gave it a second thought because it just came naturally to me. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of technique to absorb, and a lot of working it though, but I think the base is there.

Anyways, I thought Ivan was totally off his rocker. I would give anything to move like he and Marieta or Inna…but then again, maybe I should rethink that?

You know, on Tuesday night I went to get my butt kicked in Inna’s class and we did Rumba, Cha Cha, and Samba. There is some tricky stuff in all three dances to master, and Inna often has students demonstrate what we are working on. It’s good because it gets us used to performing, being in front of others, being uncomfortable. etc. So at one point she had me do a Samba combination across the floor.

As an aside, I think I am actually doing better in the class in terms of stamina. Trust me, it’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but we had a new student in the class who looked like she was really fit. Even she was like, “When is this class gonna be over?” I had to laugh. I’ve so been there! But at least last night I was hanging in there pretty well.

So back to the Samba combo. Anyways, after class Inna said to me, “I love your Samba.”

Wow! That’s so cool. And I was like, “Thanks Inna.”

“It’s so much better!” She said.

Which is true. I actually had a lesson with her while Ivan was in Bulgaria getting married specifically to work on my Samba bounce – that tricksy movement! So she knew where I had started from.

Anyways, that felt like a pretty good acknowledgement. See, Stef, there has been progress. You are becoming a better dancer. Enough that others notice.

But every time I think about the Desert Classic, which happens multiple times during the day, I get butterflies in my stomach. Part of me is excited. Part of me is nervous.

I wonder if I will have the stamina to do what I need to do. I waver between being okay with how my body is because it isn’t going to change all that much between now and the competition, and just trusting that I move well and will be expressive and that it will be enough, and then freaking out because I am going to look so different from most of my competitors.

Well, I guess I’m deciding right now that screw it. Screw it all! Screw all the chatter in my head! It just needs to shut up!

Instead I’ll listen to Ivan and the music. I will tune into the dance.

I’m big. But I’ll be big in all ways, not just in my ass. I will be noticed. And not just for my size. I think it’s kind of unavoidable that I will be noticed for that initially. But that doesn’t have to be the main attraction. Instead, I will then begin to move. And from then on, I will be noticed because I will shine.

You know, I’ve got to get over myself and just set aside all this B.S. I will find my inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer and love being me, at least for the time that I’m dancing. I will find my inner Cyrus and be so excited to “show those judges what I’ve got.” Whatever that looks like in the moment.

I suppose I’m giving myself a little pep talk here on the blog, well so be it.

This is my time to shine. Carpe Diem and all that.

ABDC Episode 2

Okay. Let’s just jump right in. Another late night for me.

I feel like the energy was overall lower in the opening number with all the groups than it was last week.

Just a side note…why do all hip hop dance crews feel the need to spell things funny? I’m just sayin’…..

But first up is Elektrolytes…and they are from ARIZONA! Woo Hoo! Already I have an affinity for them. As their number progresses, I become a bigger and bigger fan. They has some excellent moments, and they kept me interested throughout the entire number. Yes, it took a bit for the routine to build from the first beat, but there were so many surprises that I was shocked with ‘Lil Mama and J.C. bashed them, but thrilled that D-Trix “absolutely loved the routine.” He “….loved everything about it.” C’mon people, Flo Rida liked them too! And they already had a setback with one member down with a knee injury but to me the group still had complete cohesion and synchronicity. They had some really sharp moments and unexpected tricks. Overall, so far, I’m a fan.

Commercial break and what is next?

Rated Next Generation. Weird name. I don’t get it. Made up of little kiddoes. They claim their “thing” is precision. Let’s see.

I think they are excited. They seem a little frantic in their dancing to me. Okay. Not bad. But also not uber-impressed. Let’s see what the judges think…

‘Lil Mama didn’t say much but boy does she look wan and thin.

J.C. took the opportunity to coach them. I agree they seem older when dancing.

D-Trix…good choreo, but stunts/illusions are not their strengths.

Flo Rida – blown away…has to check ID’s.

Okay, so I think the judges generally agree with me….good, not great. They were coaching the team on how they could become better.

Commerical.

Next up, club dancers who have been in a car accident that they survived.

Collizion crew with a big huge jump and boxer short exposure and some very sharp movement. I think the kiddie group needs to take some notes watching this team. So far, the best of the night. Amazing tricks, good illusions, and in sync with sharp, defined, precise movement. Loved the down and dirty movement with athleticism, and they are great, as J.C. said, at playing to the crowd. Love. Stronger, I hate to say, than the AZ team. Mac Daddy.

More stupid commercials and my new best friend is the fast forward button. On the other side of this break we have….

History-making Mexican crew, Funkdation.

Wow. They speak impeccable English. The gymnast gal looks cool…too bad her flip in the actual routine was a little underwheliming to me. I hate to say that…but it looked kind of low and didn’t have the explosive energy she showed on the prep reel. boo.

Anyways, loved the opening “leg piano.” Good energy. Fun group dynamics – they have great interplay between team members. Wish it was a little bit sharper. I give them props for doing the locking, wacking, and popping as per D-Trix’s comments. Still, left me wanting a little something more. Perhaps J.C. was right in that it didn’t look entirely effortless. But love the emotion they have behind being there.

Another commercial break. Sheesh!

Final crew is dance teachers! Let’s see….hmmmm. Mos Wanted Crew from LA. “A brotherhood of choreographers.”

M.O.S. – Movement Over Sound style movement. Never heard of it. Let’s see what they mean.

Good stuff! Sharp. I enjoy and appreciate the quality of dancing off the bat. Cool pump up trick. I’m bobbing my head. Go team! Very cool with the hands creating drama. Favorite of the night so far. For sure. Slam! As D-Trix says…the “defniniton of great dancing.” Amazing movement for sure. Not what they are doing but how they are doing it. I agree. For once J.C. and I agree…the producers saved the best for last. Flo Rida even took off his “shades” in homage to their performance. I hope the AZ team makes it through tonight!

Again, more damn commercials. Who will be in the elimination?

I can’t believe Rated Next Generation made it through. Yikes! I think it is because they are kids. Like the Jersey Boys from a previous season with their airbrushed abs painted on. Gimmicky. Cringe.

Anywhoo…glad Electrolytes made it through (from AZ).

So, Mix’d Elements and the Mexican team, Funkdation are up to battle.

Let’s see how it goes….

I think both teams needed more unity. They both had moments when they were not hitting the same lines. They also both got better and the energy rose over the course of the dance. Overall, I think I side with Funk Nation. Glad they made it through…and I think they have a lot of work to do to get up to the level of Mos Wanted Crew.

Alright. Good night!

I’m Being A Good Little Blogger And Keeping Up With DWTS!

If you read my blog and you are are a fan of DWTS, then you might recognize the people in this photo.  From left to right is Marietta Nedyalkova-Dishileva, Maksism Chmerkovskiy, and Ivan Dishliev, my instructor.

I post this photo just for fun because Maksism is on DWTS.  If you continue to tune in to my posts over the next weeks, I’ll share a few more pictures with a more DWTS professionals.

So tonight I had the pleasure of watching DWTS with my dear mother-in-law as is our customary ritual on Monday nights, but I also had the pleasure of sharing dinner (delicious spaghetti with homemade sauce and salad) with my husband and father-in-law.

After a decadent meal, even more appreciated and enjoyed because I didn’t have to make it and because Debbie is a phenomenal cook, we settled into the home theater and turned the volume up for our favorite dance show.

It was Latin night and I actually liked Brooke’s dress for a change.  I guess the new format is to open with a little routine from the dance troupe.  They shook their booties to the legend Santana.  It was immensely enjoyable to watch.  However, if I were to name this opening number, I’d name it “banana split.”  Why?  Did you see the couple in yellow?  The gentleman jumped into a spread eagle and did a trick, catching his lady between his legs.  I was like, WOAH!  That woman has some serious guts!  I don’t know how I’d react if some guy was flying through the air toward me, his crotch eye level, the force of his pelvis soaring toward my face pulling me backwards into a back bend, but I’d probably freak out.  Yeah, just a little.  No.  A lot.  That is some serious trust, I must say!  I’ll leave that move to the professionals!

First up was Kym and Jaleel doing the Samba.  The fire was pretty captivating, but in my view, it outshone the actual dancing.  I have to admit that Samba is one of the most difficult dances to master.  Although the judges gave the couple three 8’s, I found the routine a little bit lackluster and wished Jaleel (and even Kym) had more hips.  Jaleel was certainly on the beat and I give him props for that.  The man can move well.  I may be a tough critic, but I just wasn’t that impressed.  However, I was very entertained by Len’s comment that Jaleel’s bum was moving like it was “chewing toffee.”  TMI, Len, TMI.

I guess for me the thing about Jaleel is that I’m not emotionally connecting with him.  His movement is pretty good, and I acknowledge that.  I just personally prefer emotional dynamics, even over excellence in dancing.  For instance, I love Gavin, but technically Jaleel is a better dancer.  Whatever.  To each his own.  The man did well.  This is just my opinion.

Next was Team M & M – Maksism and Melissa, that is.  First let me say that I want the pink sparkly shoes Melissa was wearing.  Such a pretty color.  Look, I admire Melissa’s gumption.  I love that she “got back on the horse” and asked Maksism to put the same trick that went awry last week in this week’s routine.  I’m super glad to see that she is okay.  But dance-wise, I think the judges had it right with three 7’s.  It just isn’t that technically strong.  Melissa hopped around a bit, and still has areas of stiffness in her body.  On the flip side, I agree with Carrie Ann that it is wonderful to see her beginning to embody her womanly power and sexiness.  She is hot and cold, with moments of great movement and lines, and then moments of hot mess.  I think she is adorable overall but don’t think she is going to win the Mirror Ball.

On to Maria and Derek dancing Salsa.  So much amazing stuff to write about with this couple (the kiss in the routine NOT being one of them).  First off, my heart jumped into my throat when Maria hit the floor and hurt her chin.  I’m so glad that she seems to be somewhat recovered from her injuries and that they weren’t made worse by this week’s rehearsal mishap.  Second, I loved the practice session with full-body bubble wrap plus the helmet!  LOL.  Third, wow, Dr. Drew got a show tonight!  I about lost it when Maria began the dance, slithering in front of my favorite Hollywood rehab doctor like an unmanned fire hose!  But the gimmicks in the routine, like Derek shedding his shirt, and the prolonged kiss, were probably entertaining to the masses, but I found them cheesy, kind of annoying even.  I’m a sucker for authenticity, and although I felt like Maria enjoyed what she was doing, I didn’t think it deserved a score of three 9’s.  Maybe like a 9,8,9 or something.  It just wasn’t “all that” to me – especially reflecting upon routines debuted later in the evening.

Holy crap this is turning into a long post!  And I thought I didn’t take many notes on the episode tonight! Ha ha.

Okay, so Mark and Catherine danced an exquisite Argentine Tango next.  I knew this would suit Catherine because of her beautiful ballet feet and legs, and I was right.  With a score of 10,9,10, they tied with William and Cheryl for the highest score of the evening.  The drama was there.  The intensity was there.  The gorgeous dancing was there.  I just wish they hadn’t danced in pink.  A weird detractor for me, I know, but pink isn’t a fiery, passionate color to me.  That, seriously, was my biggest criticism (which is pretty weak – indeed, I felt like they deserved three 10’s).  Mark and Catherine were sharp, on time, and in sync.  They created the exact same lines side by side.  I really thought Catherine looked as good as a professional dancing this number.  So  just as with  Mr. Bruno, this number made me “tingle.”

Oh sweet baby Jesus.  Gavin and Karina.  What shall I say about you?  Samba, or “Shamba,” or “struggle” as touted by the show, Len, and Gavin, respectively, I can only say that Gavin, you are a “white boy” if ever there was one.  First off, he looked pale next to tan Karina, and it didn’t help.  Secondly, the cool effect of him rowing in the canoe in the beginning of the number pretty much upstaged the actual dancing.  Thirdly, I kept wondering why Gavin’s shirt was so dirty – it was very distracting for me.  As my mother-in-law mentioned, Gavin looked like “a fish out of water” doing this dance.  But the thing is, I enjoyed it!  I just see Gavin’s personality shining through and for me that trumps technique.  Gavin comes across as self-deprecating, humble, joyful, and charming.  I hope to see more of him, even if I think it is unlikely.  Scores of 6,6,7 are probably appropriate.

Okay, we are reaching the home stretch now.

How did the show have time to fit all this in?  Next was a number with Anna and Louis which was FANTASTIC and FAST!  I sincerely yelled aloud, “Stop!” they were going so fast!  I was amazed with the dang footwork and in wonder of how the human body can move that speedily….actually, I am wondering if it is even possible for my human body to move that fast.  So far, that has not been the case.  They were Ah-maze-ing.

Back to the Pro/Am couples and William and Cheryl were next up with an Argentine Tango.  Talk about sex, intensity, and good dancing.  I didn’t write many notes for this number because I was so mesmerized and engaged in the performance.  It may seem weird, but I was particularly captivated by the intensity with which William threw away the towel they were using.  I observed William as playing the part exceptionally well and having sharp, staccato movement.  It was fantastic and the scores tying for the top spot on the leaderboard were appropriate.

Now we travel to Irelenad and Motown – Tristan and Gladys.  They are cutie patooties, no matter how you cut it, both of them!  Gladys’ personality never fails to radiate through her dancing out to the farest reaches of the audience.  She is genuine and a born entertainer.  She has great musicality.  However, the scores of 7,7,8 I agree with.  The movement was simple, the technique is lackluster, and she just can’t move like William, Donald, Catherine, or Maria.  I really enjoy watching her, but again, don’t think she will ultimately win.

On to my least favorite couple – Roshon and Chelsea.  This is just my bias, but I just don’t like the kid.  I think it was horrible to try and make him be “sexy” in the Samba routine.  He’s about as sexy as a beanpole.  He did generate great excitement with his movement and he is very quick, very sharp, and on time.  But I agree with Len – he dances like a young man with his first car…a bit out of control and overly confident/cocky.  Scores of 9,8,9 position him appropriately in terms of dancing, in my mind, but again, I’d have liked a bit lower scores.  What I saw lacking were fluidity, hip movement, and dancing down into the floor instead of hopping atop it.  Sorry Disney fans – this is just my personal appriasal.  I acknowledg that it is not “the truth.”

And last, but not least, Granny Sweater and Peta.  OMG, Peta is Ah-maze-ing.  I will say it again, I want to grow up to be her.  I wrote nothing but “Holy Shit” for this number because I was watching their captivating Argentine Tango every second.  I couldn’t even look away to write something.  I felt like Len was a poopy pants giving them a 8.  They are positioned high enough that I think they are safe and I personally hope to see them in weeks to come.  I agreed with the audience as they booed the overall scores of 10,8,9.  This score put them below William and Cheryl and Mark and Catherine when I feel they were on par with those two couples.  I’d have preferred to have seen a three-way tie.  However, I am no Argentine Tango expert.  Perhaps Len was justified in his scoring.  I rarely see much of the basic AT step (which I do know) in DWTS routines.

If you’ve read this far, you are awesome.  So far my word count tops 1700.  I know this is a long one!

Please feel free to opine!  Whether you agree or disagree, the point is to generate discussion!

XOXO, Stef