I Like You For One Second

So I decided to fit one last lesson in before Ivan and Marietta headed off to Emerald Ball Wednesday afternoon.

Tangent here….congratulations to Rose and Michelle who made it to the finals in the Latin Open A Division at Emerald Ball on Thursday.  Rose got 2nd place!  Seriously, they are amazing.

Okay, back to my story.  It was a good choice to take that lesson.  Because for me it was one of the best, most enjoyable lessons I’ve had.  Most of them are pretty great, I’ll admit, but for the first time today, I think I really experienced and generated what people talk about when they say how important it is to dance with your energy.

First things first: Alaina, Ivan was thrilled when I told him that he was right about calling jellyfish medusa.  He said, “See, I so smart!”  So thanks Miss science major.  You brightened Ivan’s day.

Secondly, we began with a little Mambo to kind of warm up.  At first Ivan was being arm-y (this is an official dance term – Not! – but what it means is that the movement and leads felt like they were generated from the arms rather than the body) and forceful.  As hard as he pushes, I, as a follower, have to match that and resist. It is exhausting when he’s pushing hard.  And, I discovered something else about that as well, which I’ll get to later.  So anyways, I was really noticing the force and pushing so I actually stopped Ivan and told him to relax.  He was just being his “puppy dog” excited self, but it was making things more difficult.

So he kind of calmed down and we moved on to my favorite, Latin Rumba.  He went on automatic pilot and just grabbed my hand, but me, I love the connection stuff and wasn’t willing to settle.  I pulled my hand away and said, “Now Ivan.  You gotta invite me to dance!”  He immediately perked up and was like, “Yes.”  So we slowed down, centered ourselves, he offered me his arm, and I took a moment to raise my hand above my head and place it in his.

“I like the arm.  But what the hell (he said smilingly while laughing) is going on with the foot?  I like you for one second, but you dancing three seconds.”

Yeah, Ivan.  Thanks for the feedback.   So I corrected that detail and we started again.

But then he wanted me to wait and hold that position as he began the dance, stepping toward me so that our faces were close.  I was to wait for the lead to actually step back and hold my ground until that time, even as he was coming directly toward me.  It was a bit of a challenge.  I was unsure of where to go because normally I vacate space so he can step into it, but in this case I wasn’t supposed to do that.  Ivan explained that the Rumba (in not as eloquent words as I’m going to use here) is like breathing, in and out.  The Rumba is supposed to be a coming in close and the illusion of almost consummating close contact, and then the pushing away, moving outward at just the last moment – a dance of expansion and contraction of the space between the partners.  Well, anyways, that bit needs a bit of work but it is exciting to be thinking of things artistically in this way.

The long and short of today’s lesson was that I still need to push that button inside me that will allow me to step into complete confidence and freedom of expression.  Ivan even told me, “I know you can do it,” and it always means a lot when your mentor says something like that, you know?  He can see it in me, so he’s bothering to pull it out.  He even commented that perhaps other instructors who might be on the clock wouldn’t necessarily take the time to work on such things.  But that right there is why Ivan is my instructor.  That is why I’m so devoted to being his student.  That is the amazing value I get from learning from this particular man.  Ivan does take the time to work on this stuff.  He does slow down and try and pull the expression out of me.  It is so completely what I need.  I feel like perhaps we had a celestial contract to work with one another in this lifetime, you know?  It may sound woo woo, but really, it is a special, sacred kind of work.  And seriously, ask my mom, for whatever reason that I can’t explain, Ivan is able to tell me things and do things to me and with me that if my family or husband would do, I would absolutely have a meltdown!  Somehow he is able to bypass my programming and defenses and make it work.  Thank you God for this gift in my life.

Ivan made a point to tell me that he is not judging me.  That we’ll get enough of that with judges at competitions.  And that other instructors perhaps might not want to dance with me like he does, or be willing to dance with me at larger competitions, because of my size.  Yes, he said, yes I dance well, but other instructors might be so concerned with how things are supposed to look that they might prefer to dance with a slimmer, fitter, blonder, more traditionally-beautiful student, even if they danced worse because the truth is, the reputation of the pro is at stake when they dance with amateurs.  How the amateur student-partner performs reflects upon the teacher in the ballroom world.

Believe it or not, this totally didn’t bother me.  Actually, it just occurred to me as I’m writing this that for some people, this might be hard to hear.  I guess I just already accepted the fact that I’m not the usual ballroom dancer.  I already experienced going to studios (when I was looking for an instructor) and them just partnering me with whomever had space in their schedule, rather than seeing how I moved or asking me my goals so they could match me with the best fit.  I “get” that from just seeing me, you’d never know how deeply my motivation runs, or how well I move, or even my potential – Ron Montez, himself, was a bit flabbergasted and admitted to me that he’d kind of formed an idea of how I would move when he saw me initially but that it wasn’t the case and that I’d surprised him – so if that kind of high level champion and professional can’t tell, I can’t expect anyone else to, either.  I’ve already accepted that there will be people who will judge me and who will see my adipose tissue before all else.  I’ve already faced the music, knowing that it is possible that I could dance better than anyone else (which isn’t really where I am as a dancer but to make the point go with me here) and still be judged harshly, and scored lowly, just for presentation.

So I think that makes it even more exceptional that Ivan is willing to dance with me, and even more, that he is willing to develop me.  He so isn’t in the game of just sucking me dry financially.  He’s in the game of a person helping another person out.  Thanks Ivan.  You are the best.

Okay, back to the actual lesson….

Ivan made me play.  He put on a song and asked me just to move.  Not to dance and “steps” but rather just to be interesting, engaged, dancing.  He referenced the time at Sunburst last Decemeber when we just danced for fun.  I told him that the music informed my music – basically, whatever the music was, it told me how to move.  Fast. Slow. Crazy. Playful. Fun.  Whatever.  But it made me remember that when we were jamming that night, there was an amazing energy exchange between us.  Ivan was leading me in dances I didn’t know (the Lambada) and also just dancing like you’d dance in a club with no choreographed steps.  It was SO fun!  And, people gave me compliments on how fun it was to watch me.  My energy was in full force that night.  I was just out there, not caring what anyone thought because the floor was full and the judges panel had gone to dinner and I was just dancing to the music with my friend.  I felt free.

So, it was a good reference.

Ivan made me play around just like that.  He wanted me to “surprise” him.  He used to say that to me in our earlier lessons when he was trying to coax some expression out of me.  But he hasn’t said it in a while.  The thing is, that Ivan truly does want to have an authentic energetic exchange while we are dancing.  He wants, as far I can can discern, to have that conversation between leader and follower.  He wants to have the connection.  What I am saying, is that it would be great for him to be on the receiving end of a person “surprising” him.

The problem is, I’m shy.  The problem is, I contain myself, because part of my brain is concerned with how I look and what Ivan will think of me if I look stupid.  It’s so unconscious at this point, I don’t even realize I’m doing it.  Until Ivan had me do this exercise, that is.

He told me to dance in front of him and that he was going to be totally disinterested.  He was going to be judgemental and tell me I was a horrible dancer.  It was my job to ignore that and be interesting enough that he’d start to watch me.  I moved around a bit but it wasn’t working.  Then I stepped behind Ivan’s back where he couldn’t actually see me and went nuts!  I totally let loose because there was no one actually watching me.

“See!  This is it!”  Ivan exclaimed.


“Didn’t you feel the difference, Stefanie?  When you going behind me you completely free.  You let go.  This is what you supposed to be doing in front of me.”

Suddenly it clicked.  I “got” the difference.  I felt the difference.  It was an “Aha” moment.

So then he went even deeper.  He told me, “See, we touching the button.  It not totally pushed yet, but we hitting on it.”

He explained that there were still barriers that have to come down.  For instance, he told me that when I am concerned or worried about my body or how I’m dancing, he feels that same way.  He said he feels “shy to touching” my body when I am hating on it because he can feel my concern that he will “discover my fats” on the arms, the legs.  He could also tell that I’m struggling a little bit with touching him while dancing too.  He physically grabbed my hand and said, “Hello.  I am Ivan.  This is my leg.  This is my butt. This is my head.  This is my arm.  This is my breasts.”  He slapped my hand on each part as he named it.  “It’s okay to touching it.”

I got a bit scared.  Because what he was really asking of me was to touch him and energetically connect with him as if I wanted him physically.  That isn’t appropriate! My mind screamed.  But the thing is, this is that acting hat I’ve got to learn to put on.  Of course it isn’t how things are in “real life” but rather it’s that magic, protected bubble Aurora was talking about where the normal rules don’t apply.  Where the show happens. But there also has to be an element of authenticity to it.  Even though I don’t really want to like, oh my gosh, I’m getting so embarrassed here, but I don’t really want to “bone” my instructor but I have to act and imagine how I’d be if I were going to do that.

Before in this post Ivan told me to come at him like a tiger.  But this was pretending to be an animal.  It was supposed to help me connect with that kind of character.  But a tiger is a tiger, and a woman who is interested in a man is something different.  The tiger is less scary to play at.

But after the “Aha” moment, I was able to wrap my head around all this a little bit better.  Ivan asked me to do some Latin walks, coming toward him.  I thought to myself, how would I walk toward him if I was pursuing him?  And it’s kind of hard to put into words what happened.  I’ll try my best.

The Latin Walks were no longer just steps I was taking to move forward.  They had a purpose.  I was driving toward my “man,” coming directly at him, unabashed, confident.  My energy, usually scattered, was focused and directed to Ivan.  It’s like the light produced from a light bulb which is diffuse and harmless versus the light of a laser which is focused and can cut through cement.

And Ivan noticed the difference too.  I was coming from my core, both physically and energetically.  He was like, a little bit scared!  He was genuinely surprised.  For once I was a driving force in the partnership.  He could retreat a little.  I was showing up.  He told me, “Now I become shy!  I put you to a turn because I scary!”

So I can do it.  It is there inside me!  Wow!

Next, Ivan had me do more walks and I put my free arm out to the side, holding it still for the first four counts because on my coaching with Linda Dean she demonstrated the power of keeping the arms still to emphasize the legs.  My legs and feet are more of a strength in my dancing than my arms so it makes sense to take advantage of this way to draw attention to my assets.

Ivan was like, “You always putting your arm still because of Linda Dean.”

“Yes, Ivan, I like to do that for the first few counts.”  I explained my reasoning.

“Okay, okay.  Do it like that then change it to how Ivan would like you to do it.”

That meant I should allow my arm to undulate like the tentacles of a jellyfish.  He likes to never stop moving.

Then he got excited.  “Okay, it’s good.  Now do it like Inna!”

I was like, “Pah!”  Thinking strength and attack.

“Good, good!  Now Marietta!”

I pouted and tried to be flirty and soft and feminine.  He laughed at my impression.

But it was a really great discovery.  I cycled through the four personalities, Linda Dean (proper and elegant), Ivan’s way (moving and fun-loving), Inna’s way (powerful, aggressive), and Marietta’s way (flirty and sassy).  It was easier to imagine how these very different and amazing dancers would do the movement than to imagine a tiger.  And it created amazing contrast in the steps, making the Latin walks much more interesting.  It was fantastic.

Next we moved on to Cha Cha.  We do this one figure from a cross-over to face each other and cha cha, then I step forward and flip 180 degrees and we travel backwards doing a cha cha lock and then I flip to face him and I’m supposed to put my hand on his chest.

Well, when I do it, I look down, or to the side.  I’m focused on placing my hand.  But it’s not a very exciting moment when it really should be.

“Why you always looking to down?  NO!  You have to looking directly at me.”

Aha.  I got it!

We did the move again, and just like I came at Ivan with that directed, focused energy on the Latin walks that surprised him, I came at him like that in this move.

He was like, “Wow!  You scary.  This good.  I have to be uncomfortable dancing with you.  I have to be feeling this.”

What?  Him uncomfortable to dance with me?  This is a total reversal of the usual situation!  Huh.  But wow.  That is really asking me to be an equal partner.  That is allowing for me affect him as much as he affects me during the dance.  I’ve just assumed the submissive role being the student, you know?  But that doesn’t make for an interesting dance dynamic.

And now we come full-circle.  Back to the other thing I discovered on the lesson that I mentioned in the beginning of the post. About when he was kind of pushing me around the floor.  The thing I noticed was that when he is dancing from that place, I don’t have the space to move my own self.  All the resistance restricts my movement.  It seems like it’s helping but really it is making me more dependant on him than I should be.  I really should be on my own two feet, maybe like 98%, and using Ivan like 2%.  But when we dance like usual, it is something like 90%/10%.  When he backs off, and only gives me the merest suggestion of a lead, I am empowered.  I have to move my own ass!  But it is so much freer.  I can move more.  So as much as I need to drive forward and be more active in the dancing, Ivan needs to practice backing off!  Interesting, huh?

Sheesh! Probably one of my longest posts ever.  It was just such an “Aha” awareness that I had.  I don’t think my dancing will ever be the same.  Now maybe Ivan will like me for a whole two seconds!  Ha ha.

Alrighty.  I’ll end for now.  Good luck to Ivan and Marietta as the compete at Emerald Ball tomorrow (Sunday) night!