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You Know, It All Started With Just 5 Lessons….
It’s 3am in Phoenix and I just signed up for singing lessons.
But! You are a dancer! Where have you been? What the heck!?? You left us hanging – for like – years…..
Whatcha doin’ signing up for some singing lessons? Heck, your whole stupid blog is about ballroom dancing. WTF Grrrrrrllllll? What gives?
Where to start?
Yeah, we could start there.
Gaining back the weight so I’m now, as of today, 300.2 pounds, just 12.8 pounds shy of my all-time maximum.
Yeah, we could start there.
Rearranging my life to move to Kentucky for a job opportunity for 6 months and returning home just in time to be sequestered and isolated due to a global pandemic?
Yeah, that happened, too.
Shoot. It’s been rough on both my mental and physical health. And it’s time to turn a new page, starting now.
When I was a little girl, I would go out into my backyard, climb on my swing and sing to the Lord Jesus for hours! I would sing and sing and sing! I didn’t care how good or bad I was, I just wanted to sing! I would swing, and sing and climb and hang from my knees (and if I was feeling really confident from just one!) Staring at the ground upside down singing about cleanliness, or that Comet would make you vomit or any cereal jingle I could think of! I sang everything!
I would climb up to the leathery gray fig tree arm crotch, pick the fruit, nibble at the seeds, listen to the air conditioning unit and sing up high! I would sing on one knee in a triangle around the metal swingset trapeze bar.
But as an adult, I’m a closet singer. A shower singer. In-the-car-singer. I do well in choirs. Musicals suit me.
But there was always something so embarrassing to me about singing, really singing, like you meant it, out loud, in front of people.
When it was just me, the fig tree, swing set and air conditioner unit, I was channeling Aretha Franklin!
But then, the horror……! Have you ever heard that you don’t sound to others like you do to yourself? Well, the way I hear my voice was NOT how it sounded at Disneyland when I recorded myself as Snow White at one of their kiddie exhibits. It was this breathy, disgusting, and unrecognizable tone coming back at me. I never wanted to sing again!
But, oh I did – safely – in groups. Yes mom signed us up for the church choir and even though I sang in The Music Man, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Oliver! during high school musicals, I really was a dancer, you know? (There is safety in groups, just ask zebras)
And I would sing entire CDs inside the car with windows rolled up to and from Tucson and Phoenix during college for weekend home visits.
But never. Ever. In. Public. Alone.
Well, my beauties, I’m not dancing. I’m holed up in my condo working from home. I’m a cliche’ who has gained all the weight back and the worst part is, the worst part, is, I had lost my joy.
But something happened tonight. I got to thinking about when I newly moved to Phoenix and my friend’s sister was in the high school production of Grease. I couldn’t hardly contain myself in my seat, I wanted to be on that stage so badly. And I got to thinking about how when I’d had a few glasses of wine and was home alone late at night my favorite thing to do was blast show tunes and mournful ballads and sing them to the mirror. (Yes, I’m that cliche’ as well)
Enough is enough! It’s time I reconnect with my joy. My true joy is creative expression. I suppose that expression could be dancing or writing or, perhaps for me, even singing.
Fate plopped a long-forgotten book into my hands today as I was searching for some special books to pass along to my dear nephew for his birthday (you know, the kind of books you read as a kid and kept, knowing that when you had a kid you wanted to share that book with him or her).
The book fate plopped me is called Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. He basically says “The key is process, not product. Share something new every day….”
Well, I got inspired. Something inside me woke up. It rustled around like a one-legged beaver building a dam until I popped up, wide awake at 3am and signed up for singing lessons. Just five. You know, don’t want to go too crazy.
Then again…. all that ballroom business I used to write about started with just 5 lessons as well?
Motivate Me Interview
Well That Went Better Than Anticipated….
I’m now sitting in my kitchen, hearing the crunch of my dog chewing her food, the clank of her name tag against the ceramic bowl, the lap of her tongue slurping water, the click of her tiny nails on tile, and I find myself reflecting on how I feel, in my body, emotionally and mentally. How bizare it seems that I haven’t been writing on this blog, as it now occurs as the natural thing to do after dancing. Where have I been? Who am I now? I’m doing the same motions as before but the landscape inside my heart and mind is much changed.
Let me back up….
So a few weeks ago I discovered this thing called Ecstatic dance. It’s basically a group of people who go to a dance studio or other suitable space, put up sheets so people can’t stare, cover the mirrors, and play music. Then everybody moves as they feel moved to move, they dance how their body wants to express, there is no choreography, just different rhythms of music played and an understanding of how to ask permission to dance with another if that is desired as well as how to decline or accept a request, plus basic safety rules of not laying down in the middle of the floor, keeping that to the periphery of the room, and dancing into empty space. There are some groups that allow contact but this one does not without mutual agreement of the parties involved. Anyways, I went a few weeks ago and each time there is a theme. The theme was “rules” last time and it was such a relief for me. What a blessed reprieve to just let my body move how it wants to instead of needing it to adhere to rules of ballet, rules of jazz, rules of ballroom….I mean most of the dancing I’ve done in my life has been in an attempt to get my body to fit into a construct – how very freeing it was just move however I felt like moving, ugly, rag doll, slow, fast, no structure, a misstep just becomes part of the dance, going off beat is no mistake just an opportunity to get creative. There was no way to actually do it “wrong.” I don’t see many places in my life where that kind of context lives, so to have a space where wrong doesn’t, cannot even exist, is freeing, and lovely.
I was hooked! You mean, I can dance for the joy of moving, get some stretching in, do some balance poses, get the blood pumping, and it is all up to me? There’s no prescribed exercises? No external force requiring anything of me? Sign me up. All I ever wanted to do was authentically express myself, to lose myself, to forget my identity, to drop all the thoughts about how I am or should be or am not and just be present in the moment. And there is something about it being witnessed, as well…it’s not performing, people aren’t necessarily watching, but still there is witnessing happening and somehow that makes the experience different from just dancing alone in my kitchen.
I made a committment to myself to make it to that class whenever I can and I was able to get there this Sunday. This time the theme was Empty Space. I didn’t quite know what to make of that, so I danced however I danced. At one point my headband went flying because I stopped moving and it was gone lol. I was completely unaware that it had escaped, I was so absorbed in whatever I was doing, though I will say my experience of myself was that I was more in my head than last time. Oh well, I’m sure each time will be different, there will be different things to discover. It was still great and my body feels happily tired.
It’s really interesting, thinking about that whole context thing – living as if I am a dancer – and although I was moving for the better part of 2 hours, using all kinds of muscles, and my body certainly got a workout, because it was movement I wanted to do as opposed to making myself go to an orange theory class or something, I’m sore but it’s not overwhelming like that used to be. I used to do one of those workouts and it wiped me out pretty much for the rest of the day. I’m beginning to think maybe it was more stressful on my body than beneficial because I still had plenty of energy after the dancing, and I do today, as well, after the “Training Like A Pro” class I just completed.
Again, tonight I danced for the better part of 2 hours – the first half was stretching and warming up, then rounds and exercises. Boy do my feet hurt and boy was the cardio killer since I’ve not been doing it but I noticed a few things. First, it went better than I would have initially guessed. I have it that I’ve not been doing regular exercises and certainly I’m not in the same shape cardiovascularly as I was last year at this time when I had been doing rounds consistently, but I’m still surprised. I totally got out of breath when we went around the floor in the different dances but you know what, so did everyone else. Not only is my body carrying more weight but I haven’t been participating in this class like they have…although I had to recuperate a few times, I kept joining back in as soon as I could. I didn’t make myself wrong or bad for my performance, I just noted how it was for me and know that it will suck for a while until I’m getting back in condition.
The other thing about it is that I’d much rather be doing this movement than gym movements plus I’m in the space of other dancers who are up to competing how I want to compete. There is something to be said for being in the dance studio environment, surrounded by people of a similar mind, who have bodies like I want to have.
But anyways, even though it wasn’t easy per se, even though I was challenged physically, I still feel energized, overall. If it was stress on my body it was a good stress, a stress that invites growth, rather than a punishing stress that thwarts growth. Hmmmmm, maybe this dancer context thing could really make a difference for me and my body.
I guess that’s all I want to share for tonight except to say that one thing I see that has been missing from my dancing life is consistent practice. I’m committing myself to taking the “Train Like a Pro” class Mondays and Wednesdays and to do the Ecstatic dancing on Sundays plus have 1 to 2 private lessons weekly through the end of the year. I will also look at the skills and drills classes that are offered and the classes at the gym that might support me in what I’m up to, like yoga. I’d also like to be more consistent with the blog posts, as well. I’m toying with the idea of writing after each class if I am so moved but then scheduling the post so it would come out consistently once or twice a week. It might not correlate with real-time, but it would mean you could count on hearing from me at a regularly scheduled time.
And one last thing, it seemed from the comments on the last post that the idea of living as a dancer or creating a context of being a dancer resonated with some of you. Has anybody been playing with that idea? Have new actions occurred to you lately? Have you discovered something about how you operate in your life? I’d love to hear all about it if you are willing to share.
Your Friend, Stef
Hello dancing community,
I’ve been hiding out. I’ve been feeling like there wasn’t much to write about or share. I have my reasons, like I’m not competing so it’s not exciting. Or that I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m screwing it all up, I’m gaining weight, I’ve stopped working out, and I can’t live up to the persona that I created as who I am online. I have been ashamed.
But you know what, that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for me, and it doesn’t work for our community when I’m stingy with sharing myself. I’m absolutely flabbergasted that I still see traffic both on WordPress and on Facebook. I’ve been practically inactive for months, and even when I have been active, in the past, it’s always been inconsistent, sporadic. Ha! The way you do anything is the way you do everything, at least in some measure, and boy oh boy one of my favorite fixed ways to be is to be inconsistent. So it’s no surprise it’s showing up on the blog, in my diet, in my life….
In some ways, life is going swimmingly! I have an incredible job I value and where I am valued and appreciated. I recently got a raise and I continue to get opportunities to contribute to the team with trainings and pilot programs. My marriage is a miracle. I am married 13 years and I learned the county where I live has the highest divorce rate in the country, something like over 78% so that, in and of itself, is amazing. I live close to family and see them regularly. I’m in this amazing transformational education that’s impacting my life such that I have more freedom, more ease, more joy and happiness, and more friends and social connections than I’ve previously had in my life. In so many ways my life is working and expanding.
And yet, there is an area of my life that is not working. It’s the same area that hasn’t worked since I was a child. It basically comes down to a lack of integrity. I have not maintained an empowering context of health and wellbeing in the living of this life.
I recently heard a wise person say, “Organize your life around what works if you want power and freedom” as opposed to organizing it around what you want, think, don’t want, wish for, or want to avoid as a personality.
Something has shifted and I’m declaring that I’m done with the struggle. I’m letting it go. I’m done searching for the answer, out there. I’ve finally surrendered the idea that there is the one right coach, or trainer, or diet, or exercise plan that is going to give me the results I want. It’s just not going to happen that way. The answer isn’t out there, it’s in here.
I discovered today that I have spent the last 30 years of my life proving myself right that it shouldn’t matter what I look like, that people should love me anyways. I have been pretending that how I present myself doesn’t impact those I love and my community, but what’s true is that it does have an impact. I’ve also been pretending that I’m not a dancer…but that’s just bull.
I’m clear that my external world is a reflection of my internal world, the belief systems I’ve chosen to buy into. So wearing clothes with holes in them, maybe not even in public, but still, to keep such clothing, for a long time, to tolerate an obese body, one that is more and more difficult to move, to care so little about my appearance that since I’m alone and can work from home showering and brushing my teeth are optional. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, and yet, I’m curious, what kind of thinking mind is okay with this way of living?
So anyways, I’ve been participating in this transformational education and last night I completed on a 3 month seminar called Beyond Fitness. The results did not look like what I thought they should. In fact, I gained weight so of course it totally didn’t work….or did it? Actually, it did. I was able to get complete around some stuff. Suddenly there is a new level of aliveness and vitality present. New actions call to me that didn’t before.
And one new action was to go to my dance lesson and post live the routine I’m working on. I haven’t danced publicly in almost a year. My body has changed. My fitness capacity is diminished. I’m bigger. I’ve been dancing less. And yet, the thing to do was to share myself, my dancing, exactly where I am right now in this moment, exactly as I am not and to let go of looking good and saving face. This is me, here, now, imperfect, flawed, fat, beautiful, graceful, in progress, and wonderful. So I did it.
And then I got in my car and I cried. It was emotional to share that. And it was emotional to read comments….my one friend mentioned that she loved seeing me dance, and my mother-in-law mentioned seeing me dance always made her smile. And I got that me sharing my dancing has an impact. I was pretending like it didn’t matter if I danced or didn’t dance, if I shared or didn’t share, if I showed up or don’t show up. On one level it is quite inconsequential. On another level it matters greatly. I mean, there have been quite a few people who have reached out to me when they have wanted to dance but felt they couldn’t. With a little encouragement, they did and had amazing experiences. Maybe part of that was only possible because I dared to share myself and be available.
And now another miracle discovery. In conversation I was sharing about posting the dancing tonight and how it was emotional for me. Across the table from me were two fitness experts and one of them asked me….”so are you living as a dancer would live?”
My goodness! No! The clouds parted. I can see clearly now another aspect why all the training didn’t ever work. I never enjoyed going to the gym other than lifting weights. Why am I not simply dancing more, dancing every moment I possibly can? My life is not designed around being a dancer no wonder it’s not working. My friend shared with me how he used to go to the gym and run and all this stuff thinking that it would make him a better jujitsu fighter. What he discovered by talking with people he respected and looked up to as champions in that field was that they spent all their time on the mat, not the gym. Aha! So simple and obvious, right? But it seems like when bodies hold extra weight the priority is to get it off, and the world says the way to do that is diet and exercise, and exercise a lot and eat a very little.
And the other thing in giving up the struggle is that I want this fitness to be an integrated part of my life, a natural expression of who I am in the world. No more of making it a project, or putting it in place for a particular event. No! I get to have it all the time as a balanced, healthy, wholesome aspect of life. It is no longer something to fix and change. This was the most damaging and debilitating way to hold this entire experience. Actually, there is nothing wrong over here. I’m perfect, whole and complete. And standing in that place, solidly, powerfully, I get to create what it looks like to live as a dancer, even as I hold the job I do, the reality of the physicality I currently embody. Starting from this space generates a whole new realm, an entirely new undiscovered country…what on earth would it look like to live my life 24/7 as if I were a dancer. That context informs all sorts of choices, like bedtime, activity, food, beverage, what I do with my spare time….all the things.
Well friends, it’s been messy lately. I’m finally emerging from my cocoon. I’m a phoenix reborn of her ashes ready to soar. I will most likely have many breakthroughs and breakdowns in the future, and my promise is to bring fun, resilancy, and follow-through to what doesn’t work from here on out. I’m recreating myself as a dancer and as a human being. It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?
Maybe the case is the same at your studio, too. At mine, everyone is at Beach Bash.
By FelipeFronchetti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Why that’s important for this story is because my regular teacher, Kristijan, is out-of-town, gracing the floor in Latin probably right about now. Maybe if you are at the competition you will get to see him dance, as well as a few people from EuroRhythm and more people from Arizona that I’m friends with, some of whom will be performing in the Showcase Fundraiser that’s happening next Saturday, April 16th to raise money for a local domestic violence shelter here in Phoenix called Chrysalis.
In any case, because Kristijan is out-of-town, I had a lesson with my old pal, Damir tonight. It reminded me that I should make sure to schedule a lesson with Damir maybe once a month or so because what he offers me is so different and helpful and refreshing from what my other instructors, as wonderful and as contributing as they are, can provide. I marvel at how tiny adjustments made internally make such a dramatic difference in how my movement looks and in how stable I feel. I am even more surprised at how Damir can tell when I’m “on” and when I’m “off” even when we are talking differences in millimeters or where the pressure is in my foot (like inside edge, or not).
I got in the studio and we caught up a little bit because it’s been a while since I’ve had a significant chunk of time to chat with him one on one. He asked me how he could help me on the lesson. Originally I thought maybe I’d learn the Sweetheart step in Gold since it was so completely baffling to me when Shirley Ballas taught class, but then I thought the better of it. I’m in Silver right now, after all, and learning a step is just learning a step. I could probably find a video on Facebook if I wanted to learn it badly enough. More valuable, I decided, was discovering how to be over my hip.
I’d discovered in previous coachings that my hips were not where they should be, especially when stepping to the side. I have very flexible hips which is an asset and a curse. The asset is that I can emphasize certain movements in an exaggerated way. The curse is that I tend to move them too far forward or laterally, or even to prematurely settle backwards because I have the possibility of such freedom of movement there. But when I do that, and it’s not intentional, I’m not exactly on balance, I’m late in timing, my movements aren’t as coordinated as they could be. What I wanted to discover with Damir was where it was they should be optimally in a front step, side step, and cross over, so that I could feel it in my body and recreate it later. I am definitely a kinesthetic learner when it comes to dancing. I can see things in the mirror and recreate them up to a point, but it’s the internal stuff that you can’t visually see that eludes me. This is why it is so incredible to have a coach like Damir in my life because he can describe these internal movements and energetic intentions and see them and provide me feedback around them.
What was also so great was that Damir began talking about the Chakra system in relation to the dance movements we were doing. Most instruction I receive is structural in nature, speaking to the physical body. It helps me, personally, to have the energetic perspective as well. Damir talks about where to place my focus on various moves so that my body is then in the proper position. For instance, for me, I have to focus on the back of my knee, the back of my neck, basically the back side of my body even as I move forward because if I don’t, I will fall forward and create a big mess. For other people it might be opposite, but I tend to try to get ahead of the dancing and keeping my awareness in the back of my body helps me to actually stay present.
So we began simply and Damir described that what to do was to have the iliac crest of the hip directly over the ball/toes of the foot. Then before moving, think of the crest going up and under, which also causes the pelvis to become more tucked under, before continuing the motion. I’m to imagine that my hip bones project all the way to my armpits, they are that solid into the floor, compressed by the ribcage and scapula. This seems to keep me in better alignment overall as well as to create a gooey, rich movement that doesn’t stop but continues to cycle throughout the body until it comes to the time to take the next step.
Tonight I actually felt the complete cycle internally from step, through the hip, upwards compressing into the spine, then to the lat which perpetuates coming onto the standing leg fully and pulling the moving leg under the body. It’s all connected. There were no gaps for the first time that I am aware of from foot one through the leg, hip, the entire body up the spine through the lat and back down in reverse to foot two.
So why, you might be wondering, did I title this post Like Potatoes? Well in his description of this cycle, especially the part that we were grappling with in terms of the hip and pulling it under the ribcage before moving, he told me this analogy of planting potatoes. He laughed, admitting that it was probably the craziest metaphor I would hear, but said that if during the winter you eat all the potatoes you have, you will have nothing left to plant come spring. He said that the general rule is to save about 10% for the future planting. In dancing, he contested, it is the same. Conserve about 10% of motion to continue into and thus generate the following movement. In this case, get on the leg, get the hip over the foot properly, then use the 10% energy left to go up internally into the body to generate the following step.
So there’s that, and also, it ties to something else that’s been happening in my life. For just the last 3 days or so I’ve been eating vegan. I’ve been saying that I’ve wanted to eat a more plant-based diet for a long while now, and for Christmas I got a book called “Thrive” which has a bunch of recipes and was created by a guy who is an elite athlete. I’ve tried a few dishes here and there but for whatever reason, I went to Whole Foods last week and was completely inspired by all the gorgeous produce. I bought a bunch and then proceeded to make a variety of recipes from the book. I had plenty of each so I’ve been grazing from each of the 6 to 7 dishes I experimented with. I discovered that the food prep for the vegan stuff is no more intensive than it was for when I was working with Chelle the nutritionist. Also, and this is really surprising to me, I’ve felt more satisfied, fuller, less hungry, and have had no cravings whatsoever for meat or anything else, eating this way.
I made kale chips and a garlic broccoli mix with garlic, rutabega tiki masala, a carrot based “pizza” that tastes nothing like pizza but is very filling, Brussel’s sprouts with a Dijon sauce, roasted beets with a balsamic sauce plus fake cashew-based cream cheese, not to mention a variety of shakes with lemongrass, carob chips, cocoa, agave nectar, vegan vanilla gelato, coconut water, almond milk, banana, and cashews.
It’s been so easy to eat this way, I’ve surprised myself, and I’ve even packed my meals tomorrow as I go to a seminar for the entire day. My body is still adjusting in the gastrointestinal department – it’s a lot more fiber, I think, than I’m used to, more veggies, of course, and maybe it’s too much info, but of course adjusting your diet adjusts how often you have to go, which seems to be a lot more. I’m hoping things will stabilize as I continue along. It’s a small price to pay for feeling full, satisfied, and like I’m eating fresh, healthy food, having no cravings, and sincerely enjoying what I’m eating. I tend to think my body is getting tons of nutrients as well which is maybe why I feel like I’m actually eating less food overall while feeling more satisfied.
With this unexpected ease and success, I’ve decided to explore more options for vegan cooking. So tonight I went to the store and bought ingredients for vegan gnocchi, which, if you didn’t know, is made from potatoes. So there you go, it also relates to the title, even if circuitously. Who knows if this will affect my body shape, size, or lean and fat mass content. But what I do know is that the experience of it is satisfying and supports me right now and I like being aligned with the idea of not eating animals. The funny thing is that I truly have told myself that nothing is off the menu. If one day I decide that it is the time to have a Twinkie, then that is alright as well. But I don’t even want a Twinkie eating like this. I cooked up some Swai fish during the food prep as well in case I felt I needed more protein or whatever and I have as yet had no desire to even eat that. We’ll see what happens but for now I’m going to play and experiment. I’m going to find other recipes that sound good and give them a try. I bet eventually I will find a routine that works well for me. I would say it would be balanced for me to eat this way 80 to 90% of the time then allow some space for grace and enjoying social events, or special treats or whatever. But so far I’m feeling anything but deprived. I could easily skip traditional party food feeling this way.
So that’s what’s going on in my world. Please check out the Ballroom Village page on Facebook, join it, share it with your friends, and post links to your blog when you write something new. You can also share the page and any links on your Facebook page or on the blog. Whatever you want to do to promote it. I hope it will continue to grow and create another, expanded platform for us to be in community, share, and nurture our Ballroom Village.
That’s it for now!
Hello Ballroom Village!
I have created a Facbook Page for us.
My vision is that it is a page where you can put a link to your latest blog posts so everything is consolidated and easy to find and share.
Here is the link for Ballroom Village
I also believe you can just search for Ballroom Village on Facebook.
I’ve invited the very few of you I am friends with on Facebook. Many of our community write anonymously but I figure you could still follow the page and we’d be none the wiser about your true identity matching up with your online dance persona.
We need a cover photo. I was thinking we could change it every month to feature a different blog in the Village, or maybe someone could take on creating a design for it?
Please invite your readers to follow the page as well as any bloggers who you know in the Village. You can post links to your latest blog posts starting now.
I put a link to my latest post as well as Facing Diagonal Wall, Breast Cancer Ballroom Dancer, Full Tilt Diva and Girl With The Tree Tattoo. I will continue to add links to other Ballroom Villagers just to get us started. Then, after each new post you write, or if you find something dance related or inspirational that is apropos, share on the page.
I’m open to suggestions about how to grow and best utilize the page. I hope it continues to inspire expansion, connection, and communication among the Villagers as well as to expand our collective audience.
Just Call Me Stefan
It all started because I was fortunate enough to be at a studio that offered coaching and group classes with the famous Shirley Ballas. I mean, my dancing may not be at the forefront of my concerns at the moment but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to learn from a living legend.
Thursday we covered Rumba and Friday night was Cha Cha. It was strictly from the book, I mean the book…The International Dance Teachers’ Association (IDTA) Technique book. The one that breaks down each step into its components and describes how each piece can be strung together to create the step.
For instance, did you know there are 7 types of Rumba walks? There is a forward walk, backward walk, checked forward walk, forward walk turning, delayed forward walk knee either straight or compressed and a delayed back walk. We also learned how to do Alemanas 3 ways and the 9 ways to chasse’. We strung together moves to make a basic practice choreography including a checked forward walk, open hip twist, fan, hockey stick, Alemana, sliding doors, cucaracha, spiral turn, and a hockey stick back to the beginning.
But here’s the kicker, she had us switch from leader to follower, so boys danced the girl part and girls dance the boy part. That sure put a new spin on things!
It became clear to me that one of the areas in which my training is supremely lacking is in the knowledge of the counterparts of the steps I’ve been practicing for so many years. It’s an interesting situation because I believe kids trained in Europe learn both parts from the get-go, whereas in the US with our Pro/Am situation, most students rarely if ever learn the opposite steps. I felt quite inept and almost as though I’m a 12-year-old in my development as a female/follower dancing while a 2-year-old as a male/leader dancing.
There were parts of the class where I was utterly lost, especially when she had us doing gold level figures as the opposite part than we usually dance. Heck, I was even lost as the female part for some of them, too!
I’ve often thought it would be good to learn the “boy” steps for a deeper level of understanding and mastery of the material but it never seemed to be a priority, especially when preparing for competitions. Well, that has changed.
On my next lesson after the workshops I told Kristijan that I wanted to learn the boy parts. I told him it was obvious my education was lacking and incomplete in that area and I felt that having a better understanding of what my partner is doing would ultimately make me a better and more aware partner. He was happy to oblige and now we’ve had 3 lessons where I’ve been learning about all that my leaders have been providing as well as getting a new perspective on the lead and follow energy dynamic.
The best part is that I am having so much fun with it. Each lesson has come with insights and breakthroughs. I’m being challenged to move my body differently than it is accustomed to by habit, which also results in using what feels like a different and new part of my brain. It occurs to me as fresh and new and a process of exploration and discovery. It’s just what had been missing in my dancing as a girl. I was stuck in a rut, feeling like I was at the mercy of all the years of muscle memory and dancing like a robot rather than truly being present.
I am learning about how the man has been responsible for the space we occupy, not only in how he holds a frame for me, but also in how he generates facing the different walls of the room appropriately. These are things I’ve taken for granted because I’ve never had to be the one to create them. In addition, I got to experience the opposite piece of the energy flow I normally experience as a follower. What I mean by this is that normally I am attuned to be a “catcher” of the impulse given to me by the leader. I’ve only ever experienced one side of the current or loop. Now that I’m practicing being the leader, I’m the one generating the initial impulse that I send or “throw” to the follower. I see how the follower absorbs it, is responsible for moving it through his body, and then sending it back to me transformed. It is like an infinity loop and now my experience of it has been expanded. I have greater appreciation for my leaders and gratitude for all they have been doing all along that I was so unconscious about.
Playing around with this role reversal has opened up many possibilities in my dancing and I’m loving doing it. My goal is for our showcase in October to dance a piece where I am the leader for a large portion of the choreography.
And what’s even cooler, as Kristijan coaches me to be a better leader, when we switch back to our traditional roles, I can feel a marked and improved difference in how he leads me. It’s as if in coaching me he is coaching himself and thus providing and even higher level of leadership.
In sum, just call me Stefan. I recommend giving this experiment a try to anyone who is interested in elevating their dancing. So far it’s been amazing.
Approaching Dancing Newly
I’ve discovered that for me it is time to completely reboot my orientation to dancing.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been in a bit of a downturn lately. There was a period where I was not dancing at all. Nor have I been exercising regularly. I’ve come to consider this a wash-out period, like in experiments when between treatments they will have people stop taking anything for a few weeks before trying an alternate treatment so the previous therapy doesn’t influence the results of the alternate therapy.
It’s truly fascinating to watch how dancing and its place in my life has evolved. Originally it was a completely urgent obsession. I just knew I couldn’t live without it, that it was a non-negotiable in my life, and, I was driven to achieve results. Now, it doesn’t have the hold on me that it once did, but in that shift away from needing dance desperately it has paradoxically freed me up to create anew my relationship with dance.
I realized, if I was honest, that I had been sucked in by the glamour of the dancing world. Also, praise and attention garnered from dancing were potent, almost addictive “juice” to my ego, which so badly needed validation. Only problem is that depending on external approval and praise leads to seeking it. I became so concerned with not making a fool of myself, being worried about looking good, and feeling pressure to be exceptional with the level of my dancing so that I wouldn’t be considered a laughingstock, that I was unable to genuinely enjoy what I was doing. I failed to be truly present and I failed to savor dancing for the sake of dancing, exactly how it is and exactly how it isn’t.
I’m now present to a new openness, a new space to express myself more authentically. With Kristijan, we’ve been working on “just dancing” and my, what a relief it is! Ivan and I also agreed to “just dance” for now. No competitions are on the horizon. I want to discover ease, fun and play in my dancing, which is probably the exact opposite way of being that I had used before to try and power my way through. Now it’s about surrender and release. Now it is about connecting and being so present with my dance partner in the moment that my mind is silent, that there is nothing else in the world to attend to but what I am doing right then, and it is peaceful. The mind is quieted and all there is is experiencing the very step I’m taking, the muscle that is contracting, the points of pressure below my feet into the floor, the signal from his hip to mine that it is time to move.
I’ve never felt more secure and free in my dancing, ever. It’s now become about me expressing myself, nothing more and nothing less. And I find not only is it easier to move, but also that there is a richness and a fullness that had been lacking when I was so consumed with getting everything “right!” I’m choosing to now give myself some grace about how human I am, and this will serve me well as I rebuild myself into a dancer who desires to share her art in performance once again.
I have a way to go! My cardio capacity is nowhere near where it was nor where I’d want it to be to perform publically. I’ve put on weight, which doesn’t help the situation. My diet has been erratic as have my sleeping patterns. This is what’s so. And, I’m committed to getting myself to where I desire to be with joy, fun, play and ease this time around. I’ve tried and I’ve tried, I’ve pushed and I’ve worked hard, and I’ve even created some results while practically forcing myself. This time I wish to abandon the struggle. I’m even willing to surrender the idea that I will ever dance again in a competition. I’m willing to surrender the desire to change my body at all. I’m willing to be in 100% acceptance and peace with what is so, right now. Now that’s a new way of doing things in this area of my life!
So for now, I’m just dancing. And I trust the process. Even as I surrender the need for anything to change externally, I am committed yet unattached. I have an inkling that applying the same space that is serving me so well around my dancing will serve me in my other goals in life, especially concerning my health. I choose peace, joy, and acceptance. I reject struggle, angst, and willpower. At the end of the day I believe it comes down to trusting in a higher power than my small self that can see the bigger picture that I am blind to as I focus myopically on self-centered problems. Really there is no problem at all, except perhaps my perception that anything is a real problem.
I feel lighter, even as my body appears larger and more fluffy. Even as my cardio is clearly out of whack, with the lack of internal resistance to it and without the need to label it as hard, difficult, or unfair, it is miraculously easier.
It reminds me of the use of oppositions in dancing. When moving forward, I think of my back leg and stay in it as long as possible until I’m over the forward moving leg. I delay as long as possible in a delayed forward step to generate speed in my alemana. Like a bowstring pulled backward to generate the arc of an arrow, I find that in my dancing, for it to be stable, comfortable, rich, and full, I often must mentally project my energy in the opposite direction of which I am physically moving. If I think about moving forward and project my energy there while I’m physically moving forward, I am off-balance, it’s chaotic, it’s uncomfortable. I think that’s what I have been doing with my goals around my body…constantly striving and pushing and forcing. Now it is time for balance – it is time to take practical, consistent action in alignment with my goals while doing them in a spirit of joy, enthusiasm, peace, and love. There is no magical thinking here to sit back and let God handle it…but there is a new willingness to take the actions I know to take, letting God guide the process, realizing I don’t have to do this alone, and actually I have been completely unsuccessful doing this alone. It is insane to continue to perpetuate old ways of being. Time to try something new.
Ohio Star Ball
I’ve been hiding out. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s been an interesting couple of months so I have a lot to share to catch you all up to what is happening in my life, and my dancing life. Yep, you can expect a very long post.
First off, welcome our newest Ballroom Village member, Rob, from Musings For Ballroom Beginners. Looks like he offers advice for ballroom beginners in the Boston area so check it out and thanks to Katie from The Girl With The Tree Tattoo for hooking him up to our little community.
It’s been a while since I went to Ohio in November. It was seriously cool to be there and to check a few items off my bucket list! If you recall, I was invited to participate in the Best of the Best (So was our friend Katie and it was such a bummer she wasn’t able to come. I can’t wait to meet her in person and I was definitely thinking of her as the day unfolded). This was unexpected especially since I hadn’t competed for the better part of the year and just did Galaxy since it is a local competition and a nice re-entry into the dance world.
The deal was that since I won my scholarship in Bronze and then beat other scholarship winners I qualified to dance at Ohio in a 90 second solo using only Bronze figures plus up to 5 figures from the Silver level.
So here is a picture of the poster of all the competitors and a video of the routine I did with Ivan.
I did not place well in this event, nor really in any other heats or scholarship rounds. In this particular event I was rated highly by all judges but one who rated me inordinately low such that it knocked me out of the running for a placement. It’s odd that there was just one outlier but it goes to show that it is important to connect with everybody and I guess I still have room to grow, and/or I should go to the competition owned by this particular judge lol.
I mean, really I shouldn’t have been shocked by my poor performance in terms of results. I had been to exactly 1 competition for the entire year. I hadn’t been seen and it was a bold move to go to Ohio after such little preparation. Ohio attracts a lot of high level competitors so it’s already on a higher level than many other competitions. I think I made it to finals in 3 of my rhythm rounds but other than that I didn’t even make semi-finals for many heats. At first I wasn’t phased by it. I was just excited by the fact that I was actually living the dream – so many people wish to go to Ohio and some people never go. Also, I was with my friend Mytia, I had other friends from EuroRhythm there, I had Ivan and Marieta there and Damir. I saw many friends and lots of great dancing. So even though we didn’t place as highly as I would have liked in the Rhythm rounds, I was mostly focused on Best of the Best which was my reason for coming in the first place.
It was such a special opportunity I didn’t want to pass it up. To get to do a solo on one of the largest competitive stages in the country for amateur ballroom dancers might be a once in a lifetime thing so even though it totally caused me to overextend financially and I didn’t necessarily feel totally prepared, I knew I had to be there.
I’m really glad I had the presence of mind to take a moment right before we went on the floor to look Ivan in the eyes, give him a hug, tell him that I love him and appreciate our partnership, and to be grateful for the opportunity to be there doing this. So we danced and then I watched all the other dancers and some were really good and some were less good and it was interesting and fun to be a part of it.
Then I made a fatal mistake! I thought, “Maybe I have a chance of placing!” In this one thought, I generated an expectation and when there is an expectation, no matter how subtle, there is also disappointment. If only I could have stayed in the space of gratitude I would have been fine. But with that one thought a death-spiral ensued that led to a pretty big melt-down during my Latin rounds the following day.
I mean, it wasn’t all doom and gloom! There are some really neat events at Ohio unique to this competition. Besides Best of the Best, there is also Team Match, which some of the best dancers from each region in the US are invited to compete on a team representing their particular region. Each couple dances one dance against other regions in the same style and then the region teams earn points for first, second, and third placements. It’s a real party atmosphere, relaxed, and very fun to watch and cheer for. There are noisemakers provided to the crowd and the regions dress up in moustaches, wigs, vests, and hats in the color that represents their region. Ivan danced with another one of his students in the team match but alas, my region did not win.
Also excellent were the professional rounds. There is an amazing energy when so many professional couples are on the floor together! They danced like 4 or 5 rounds, and the floor was completely packed. Also totally cool were the showdances! They were lots of fun and very creative. I even got to see Yulia and Ricardo in person which I’ve always wanted to do, and even got a picture with them!
Can you believe it?! You’ll also probably see me in the audience on TV if it is on PBS this year. I was in the very front row, right on the dancefloor.
But anyways, after the disappointing results in Rhythm and Best of the Best I was less than enthused to dance my Latin rounds.
It’s weird. Normally I’m nervous, and especially right before going on the dance floor. Before these particular rounds, however, I was too grounded, too calm, there was no joy or performance quality inside me. There was only the worry of dancing it “right” and “looking good/not making a fool out of myself.” But with that attitude, I did not dance my best and my instructor and coach Damir was honest enough with me to tell me so. Worse than that was that I freaked out after it was complete. I was surprised to hear things come out of my mouth like, “I don’t belong on that dance floor.” And, “I’m not good enough.” My confidence was shot and I thought I was over that. I got a reality check that there is still more confidence for me to own and grow into. I mean, the positive side of all of this was that I got direct feedback of exactly where I was and exactly where I wasn’t. You can’t know until you actually show up and act it out, no matter how you imagine you might show up and how things might go, you never really know until you are in in it.
So it was nice to see some friendly faces from home and to know that people who knew me believe in me. Bree invited me to come work with her to really get clear on a few things with Rhythm (I have yet to take her up on the option) which is an amazing opportunity. I know with just a few tweaks I will be that much more self-assured, comfortable, and confident, which I have discovered is what creates the space inside of me to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and really show who I am in my dancing. Otherwise I get too caught up in trying to do it well, trying to look good and not look bad, trying to be technically correct, none of which allows me to actually be present and connect with my dance partner, the audience, the music, or the experience.
So Ohio was a whirlwind, total immersion experience. There was a lot of fun, a lot of self-created drama, and I was a bit burned out by the end of it. I mean, it’s weird timing. I wanted to dive right back in with dancing and handle some of what I discovered, but I had blown my financial wad so paying for lessons was a concern, and also it was the holidays. With that comes closed studios and lots of family time. In addition, our family had a major life transition. My mother’s mother, my grandmother, had a stroke in October and this marked a quick decline. She passed just after the new year. It was a big stress on my mother and truthfully the entire family system even though I had a beautiful experience saying goodbye to her and I’m so grateful for my memories of her.
So the upshot of all this is that I basically stopped dancing for about 2 months. I’ve just gotten back to it about two weeks ago. I gained about 20 pounds and I’m nowhere near the physical fitness level I was before I went to Ohio. So I’ve regressed. Also, I’m not feeling as passionate about dancing like I used to. It was such an urgent drive before, and now it’s more of a meditation. Kristijan and I have been focusing on being authentic, being very present so that a true lead and follow can occur, and dancing. I have to continue to remind myself to stay in a space of acceptance and love and joy when my monkey mind wants to go directly to attack the image I see in the mirror, the one that is larger and flabbier and out of breath. But you see, I’m determined to be kind to myself. I refuse to abuse myself like I used to…that does nothing but create stress. In fact, my goal this week is to look in the mirror and give myself one or more genuine compliments daily. I shared my intention to do this with a friend and she told me she did it daily for over a year until she stopped crying when she did it. She said it was then that she knew she believed it. So that’s my plan.
So if I’ve apparently regressed when it comes to my physicality and dancing, I’ve also been up to something really cool. I was feeling a bit stagnant a few months ago so I decided to take some courses at a personal development company. I took their entry level course, then the advanced course, and I just completed what they call the Self-Expression and Leadership Program (SELP). This lasted for 3 months during which the participants created projects for the communities in their lives that they care about. One of my peers created a game called Fit Chess which combined physical fitness and logic to connect people who normally wouldn’t come together, another one created a class for kids about connection and being in a community, another one created No Drama Baby Mama for at-risk pregnant women to teach them skills for meditation and self-advocacy so that all babies born would have a baseline of peace as their first experience in the world, and another created personalized bags for foster kids so that they didn’t have to put their belongings in trash bags when moving like she did when she was a kid. Needless to say, it has been inspiring and wonderful to be surrounded by people like this who are a contribution to society and the world.
As for me, I’ve teamed up with my dance community. With help, I’m throwing a fundraising showcase next in April that is set to raise $2000 or more for a local domestic violence shelter. Dancers from various studios across the city will be participating and all proceeds will be donated. In addition, residents at the shelter will have the opportunity to take a group ballroom dance class for 4 weeks and during the last week they will get the opportunity to have a complete ballroom makeover. They will get to wear the dresses, have their hair and make up done, and get pictures. The vision is that they will see themselves completely differently than when they were in crisis fleeing from dangerous situations. Some escaped with just the clothing on their backs. Can you imagine coming from that space to being dressed to the hilt like someone on Dancing With The Stars? If you are interested in donating, or even coming (I have a friend from Texas who is travelling to either be in the event or watch it) you can check out the Facebook page I created for it here. It is open to the public and the more money we can raise the better.
It is an interesting time in my life. I feel like I’m starting from square one with my dancing, fitness, and weight loss journey. My job is feeling less satisfying although I just got a raise and my performance couldn’t be rated any higher. I’ve agreed to coach the next SELP so I will be creating another community project over the next 3 months all while helping others to do the same. I wanted to dance in the Beach Bash in San Diego in April because I hear it is super fun, and, I’m intimidated by how much work it would take to get back into some semblance of fitness. Where is my drive? Where is my motivation? What do I want to do with myself for the next 20 years, assuming I get to live that long lol? What’s next for me?
So I guess that gets us caught up though unresolved. The winds of change are brewing. Also, I’m unsure of what to do about my dance teacher situation. Financially I can’t compete with both of them, at least not with my current job situation, but I love them both and they both add value to my life experience. So that’s another issue up in the air as to what to do about that.
As I end this blog post I’m present to how most posts have some sort of awareness or lesson or discovery that I made and can share. This time, however, there is no such purpose. If anything, it is even more “in the question” and unsure than ever before.
It is odd how life unfolds and how the journey often looks very different than we would have imagined it would go. So here I am, middle aged, married, overweight, no kids, great job, feeling a bit dissatisfied, wanting to be of contribution and to be excited about life. Things were much clearer as a kid. The entire path was laid out before me – I knew I would go to college and probably some higher education and then adult life could really begin. But without the distraction of kids and working from home alone by myself many hours each week I am left with just myself. But who am I and what am I going to do? What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? I thought I was a pharmacist, a dancer, a friend, an aunt, a wife. Each role I played the part changing hats as the situation called for it. And now? Now I’m not so sure. What will bring me joy? What gifts do I have that I can give to the world? My belief system about how reality works has been shaken lately. I don’t have it all together, not by a long shot. If anything I’m questioning life more than I ever have.
I do know that things must shift and dancing will most likely be part of that. I’m glad we have created a space to share what’s going on for us as a community. From dancers going through the process of cancer, to injuries, victories, competitions, showcases, fights with our teachers, disappointments, and sweet stories of connection and love, it is a rich landscape and I’m grateful to all of you who inhabit our virtual dancehall.