Last Minute Comp! Say What?

Yesterday when I went to my lesson Ivan and I had a heart to heart.  I think Tony Meredith was a good influence on him.  They talked about the fact that nobody ever feels ready but if we wait to feel ready we’d never do anything.  They talked about how important it is to practice the mental aspects of competing as much as it is to practice the technique.  They talked about how you’ll never be younger than you are now.  They talked about how important it is to not regret – the importance of going after you goals in the now.

Anyways, it shifted something in Ivan.  He’s got a new outlook and is keen to compete and be seen more often with Marieta.  It seems to be paying off.  They did so much better last week in Atlanta and, even better than their placement, were the comments from judges afterward.  They really feel like this is their year.  If they are going to do anything, their goal is to be finalists, it’s gotta be now.

And it’s lucky for me, too.  Because the shift helped Ivan re-think things with us as well.  He realized that he actually did want to dance with me.  Both of us had had the mentality that we didn’t want to show up until I was closer to “perfect” – that I was more thin, that’s the biggest hang up, but we’ve had such a good time on our lessons lately, I’ve been so mentally relaxed and moving so much more and feeling more secure in our routines because we’ve been practicing them so much, well I felt like we could dance in a competition next week if we wanted to.  The only thing stopping us was my fat.

The main reason we didn’t want to compete and haven’t was because we didn’t want to feel like we did at our most recent competition.  A lot of that had to do with feeling insecure, and, a big portion of that had to do with Ivan’s thoughts as much as they did with mine.  Because when he’s feeling proud and good about showing me off we tend to do well.  When he’s stressed out, feeling bad because I’m the fat one and we’re focusing on that, then we do more poorly.

The reality is I’m still not where I want to be physically.  But, on the flip side, I’m in better shape.  We practiced doing rounds tonight and I was able to handle it.  The Orange Theory cardio has been helping.  And last night at Inna’s class I was surprised to see some new students who obviously had some experience but were extremely out of breath with our exercises, to the point of bending over and gasping, and I was doing just fine.  And, I tried on my dress and even if it’s not how I want it to look, it does look better than the last time I donned it.

Life’s too short.  Why not dance?  I guess that’s basically what it comes down to.  And we’re only doing open heats.  I have zero expectations.  It’s all about me, my progress, my experience, my growth.  Beyond that, it’s about enjoying our dancing, and enjoying the partnership.

I’ll be honest.  I’d lost some of my fire.  Because for me, doing this dancing thing, it has importance because I am a competitive student.  It’s fine to take a break from competitions and all, but I don’t want to dance socially.  I got clear on that a while ago.  So if I’m not ever going to compete, then I should save my money and stop taking lessons.

The long and short of it is, Ivan really wanted to dance with me, even if for just a little bit. He took the conversation with Tony to heart and it changed things.  He was so cute and told me multiple times that he wasn’t doing it for the money, and that if I couldn’t get the day off or if it was too expensive that he was fine, that I didn’t have to do it.  But that he thought it might be good to get out there once again, to just even do little things, because we are both clear on my ultimate goals.  And when I told him this morning that I was in, he texted me back, “I so excited for you!” And then tonight he told me, “I told you I not care if you can not doing this, but really I do care.  I’m so glad you are doing this.”

He really took the time to talk with me yesterday and I was like, well, sure.  If I can get the day off, I’d be up for a few heats.  My biggest concern was him being proud to dance with me, to want to dance with me.  I’m a work in progress, and I’ve made some progress.  Why not live a little and show it off?  Plus, he only wanted to do open heats with me – no more Bronze – so that speaks volumes to me as well.

I love how life is a flowing river.  You can never know what might be around the next bend.  Two weeks ago we would have said we were not competing in People’s Choice.  Yesterday we discussed it.  Today I went to see if I could maybe get the day off only to realize that it was the one Friday out of every 5 that I have off because I work on that Saturday. It’s almost like it was meant to be.

And I have to laugh because not only did we not plan this, but I have decided to loan some of my dresses to a very special lady across the country who is competing at her very first competition in just a few days!  (A blog post about that is forthcoming) At least I was smart enough to save one dress for myself, but I couldn’t dance Smooth if I wanted to!  I only have a costume suitable for Rhythm or Latin.  It all seems to be working out.

So yeah, life is pretty dang good right now.  I’m blessed to be in the position where I can do this at the drop of a hat.  I’m mentally chilled, have time to get the nails done, I’m prepared enough physically, I have a dress that will work, I have an instructor that wants to dance with me, and I could think of a lot worse ways to spend a Friday off work!

I scheduled a lesson for tonight and, like I mentioned, right away I wanted to do rounds of our open routines to see if I could hack it cardiovascularly.  I did, and that is actually a major victory for me and a testament to the work I’ve been doing outside of my dancing since we rarely practice one routine after another in a lesson.  I’ve never done open scholarship at a competition so I figure it’s better to try it out now, at a local, smaller competition, with less pressure and when I am mentally relaxed.

Alright, enough with the “serious” stuff!  Now for the funny part!  So tonight we were practicing our Bolero and Ivan all the sudden stops and says, “I hear this crack!”  And he grabs his nether-regions from behind.  “I think I split my pants!” He says.  “Third time in my career,” he says.  And he then proceeds to recount other episodes of pants splitting, the worst being white cotton pants gaping up the entire back seam from crotch to lower back while teaching at a studio all day long, not being able to change them or leave to get another pair because his schedule was so full!

I laughed, as you might imagine, hysterically, and said, “Show me.  Let’s see what happened.”

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He split not one side but two!!!!   LOLOLOL.  I laughed even harder, and I love this man, because he actually let me take this photo!  OMG!!!! Never a dull moment with this guy.

I guess that’s all the news!  If you are coming to People’s Choice here in Phoenix, please do come say hello!

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!

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I’m Baaaaaaaack!

Did you miss me?

Well, this will be a short one (for me)! There will probably be more to come after I debrief with Ivan tomorrow morning about Desert Classic and after my husband (finally) manages to send me the photos and videos he took.

So here’s the quick update about my most recent competition:

First, I had a new dress made.

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I know it is not the best picture but you can get an idea of the bright colors. That’s right….color! And I actually liked the color combo on the floor from the pictures I’ve seen so far.

What I didn’t like was my big belly. And the fact that my big belly wasn’t smoothed out/hidden with draping or ruching. I didn’t see the final product until the day before the competition so it was like, well, this is what it is and it is either wear it or don’t because there really isn’t time to fix it. I think it will look so much better on me with a flatter stomach but that was not to be on Thursday.

Thursday was Latin and I danced very inconsistently. I got marks all over the place but didn’t make the final from a semi final with 14 couples in the Latin closed bronze A scholarship. So I was kinda bummed about that but even more bummed that I was feeling really exhausted, had some balance issues, and felt like Ivan and I were pushing and pulling each other all over the floor. Basically that means I wasn’t “moving my ass” like I need to and because I’m late he tries to help to get me where I need to go which creates resistance in our hold and then, paradoxically, I move even less and also get more exhausted. It is a vicious cycle and totally sucks. So I wasn’t over my feet or moving fast enough and this caused a chain reaction which compounded the problem. And it meant Ivan was kinda disappointed in my performance because we both knew I was off and have the potential to do better. So boo! Thursday was not my best day.

And wouldn’t you know it – I did best in stupid Jive again! I hate that dance in terms of the cardio it requires but somehow, even though I only know like 3 figures, and we like never practice it, that is the dance I placed best in most consistently. Go figure! lol.

But still, there are always learning opportunities just from participating. I realized how little I had mentally prepared for the competition. I realized, in hindsight, the importance of putting energy into getting myself into a strong frame of mind before stepping on the floor. I became more aware of things I wish to improve and work on, and I also became more clear on how I wish to direct my physical fitness training in the near future.

Because I’m done with not feeling awesome about myself when I step on the ballroom floor. I don’t want to put myself through this anymore. I must change dramatically. Period. It takes a lot of energy, strength, and confidence, to really dance, and I just couldn’t muster it about myself on Thursday, especially when I was so aware of my large belly and arms. I mean, I felt like I kept myself under control in a pretty good to neutral energy, but my lack of confidence gnawed at the back of my mind. I was aware of it on some level and when I saw a picture my husband took of me from the back, I looked as large as a male trucker. Yuck! I’m over it.

It is too hard to have so much shame about how I look, to not feel feminine or pretty, and to get out on a dance floor and pretend like I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m not, and a I can’t fake it. Frankly, I find it off-putting when people think they are too cool for school so I have reservations about being or acting like that. You know, I feel like my authenticity and emotionality are some of my greatest strengths as well as weaknesses. It is why people can “feel” me when I am dancing, and why, I think, they connect with me. So when I’m feeling good and strong, it is really great. But it also means I can’t fool anybody when I’m feeling down about myself and my body. There is no question in my mind that how I feel about my body affects how I show up in dancing…and in life. And it is not my best. So I’m waiting to hear the verdict from Ivan because I know he mentally stockpiled a bunch of feedback for me about the competition and we have a lesson tomorrow. Also, I’m contemplating not doing another competition for a while, though the next one on my radar is Galaxy here locally and local comps are harder to say no to. It is in September so I think I will wait and see how I’m feeling about it at the end of August and make a decision at that time. Because it isn’t okay with me just to go through the motions and to dance just because….it is important to me to have purpose and meaning in my dancing and I wasn’t able to generate that as strongly as I did for previous competitions. I attribute this to my lack of consistent, significant progress toward my weight loss goals and the subsequent feelings of lower self-esteem thus created.

So anyways, more to come about what’s next, but Thursday was kinda blah. Friday was a day to rest, regather myself, and recuperate. My husband was along for the trip and we joined Ivan and Marieta for a little jaunt up to the top of a nearby mountain, 9000 feet high, where the temperature was a lovely 62 degrees. We got there by riding in an air tram that spun 360 degrees while traveling upwards on steel cables for 10 minutes. It was a fun and delightful day.

Saturday was Rhythm. There was more competition in terms of number of couples in my division in Latin than in American Rhythm, but I think there was maybe more chaos in the ballroom because there were tv crews filming for two separate shows in the ballroom. It is going to be very interesting to watch both shows as I personally know some of the people they are following for the one to be on TLC, and I have come to meet some of the people to be featured on the other show, I think for the A & E channel. I had to sign a release because they had me in one of the frames dancing in the background while they were filming one of their main protagonists so you may also see me on tv some time soon ha ha ha!

In any case, I did much better in American Rhythm, basically placing first in most heats and winning the scholarship round from a 7 couple final (no semi final). Also, and more importantly, Ivan felt my energy was better and I felt stronger as well. We were not pushing and pulling too much through the frame and I was more on my own feet. Well, this was after we had a bit of a come-to-Jesus meeting after he had let go of me, releasing me completely from the frame, multiple times on the floor, in front of the judges, so I would get the point about hanging on him, pushing to hard, relying on him for my balance, and all that, but also so that I could have easily fallen on my ass. Don’t get me wrong, it’s FANTASTIC kinestetic feedback. I’d welcome it on a lesson. But please don’t let me get away with things on lessons repeatedly and then do this on the floor when it counts!?! I was miffed! Anyways, we worked through it, which is the most important thing, I suppose, and I ended up with fantastic results. As Felipe Telona Jr. jibed me, “You should have brought a broom!” and, “I’m glad you are leaving now so the rest of us have a chance!”

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When I got off the floor and my husband took this picture he was like, “And you won an…..envelope?!” It contained a check, silly! Double what I got for People’s Choice, which was very nice – the equivalent of a few more lessons, because, yeah, all money gets converted to the equivalent number of dance lessons in my brain. 🙂

So I still managed to make it into the top 20 students, which surprised me with as few heats as I did, and so did Ivan’s other student, plus he was 7th place top teacher with the 2 of us, and he and Marieta placed 3rd in Pro Open Am Rhythm, second only to Emannuel and Liana and Yuki Haraguchi and her new partner.

Best of all, no injuries, I’m not exhausted, and I had the energy today to go to ballet class after work plus I went to the grocery store to replace all my perishables and pulled out the items I’d prepared last week from the freezer, which is to say that I’m baaaaaack! Back to my eating plan, and getting my fitness plan in gear, and right back into my normal activities. I didn’t run myself into the ground this time so I won’t need a week to recuperate like I did after People’s Choice.

Alright – gotta get to bed! TTFN!

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My Toes Are Numb! People’s Choice Recap

Oh me, oh my.  Another competition in the books.

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And yes, my toes are numb.  From dancing 80 heats in heels.  Ballroom isn’t all glamour behind the scenes you know….it is sweat and hard work, and smelly fake tans, and struggle, and pain, and awesome and worth it!  lol.  But seriously….I do NOT know how some of these pro/am couples do it….there were at least 3 or 4 students who did over 400 heats at People’s Choice!  My body is banged up doing a fraction of that.  It is pretty impressive they are still standing!!!

Me, with my 80 heats, I’m physically exhausted.  But satisfied.  It has been a good few days.

Wednesday night after work I made the 15 minute trek to the hotel and competition venue here in Phoenix.  I was certain I’d have an early morning Thursday as I generally dance early in the day and this means early appointments for hair and make up.  Even though the competition was local, I still find it chaotic and stressful to rush to the location, scramble to find a space in the woman’s dressing area or a public bathroom, and so I opted to stay at the hotel for two nights of the competition.  It turned out that I didn’t start dancing on Thursday until noon, but I was still glad with my choice to spend the previous night.  It gave me time to sleep in a bit, have a nice breakfast and feel collected and centered before I began dancing.

So you guys all know I hired the nutritionist and I spoke with her about how to eat during a competition.  Basically, I made my best effort to eat clean and fuel my body with good foods.  I brought protein shakes and cheese sticks and chicken mini loaves and oatmeal and fruit and almond milk and a cooler with ice.  I have to tell you, though, with all the chaos and stress, and physical effort, it was such a challenge to eat anything!  I give myself a free pass for this week and will get back on track ASAP.  And the thing is, it’s not that I ate poorly, or bad foods or anything like that, it was that I couldn’t eat enough!  I was full and nauseated and it was just hard to get any food down, even without the horrible nerves like I had last year at Desert Classic.  Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous right before I go on the dance floor – standing there at the “on deck” area I always feel like I need to pee and vomit and have a bout of diarrhea all at once…but then I get out there and start dancing and all I can focus on is the dancing.  But the nerves were short-term and didn’t last long, just in those few moments before the heats.  Anyways, I shoved almonds and mango slices and cherries and NoGii bars down my gullet as much as possible, but I’m telling you it was nowhere near enough.  And even after the dancing I had like zero appetite.  Ah well, I made it, and did the best I could, and shortly I will be back on plan 100%. I just have to continue to figure out what is going to work for me during competitions, especially when travelling!

Anyways, can I just take a pause here and say how much I adore and appreciate my instructor Ivan as well as his gorgeous wife and partner Marieta.  I mean, I think you readers already know this, but it bears repeating, especially after this competition.  It was kind of special being the only student for People’s Choice.  I honestly don’t mind to have other students along, too, and it can be fun, but this time was really neat flying solo.  I owe so much to Ivan, he has helped me and encouraged me so much during the past two years, and he believed in me from the beginning, over 50 pounds ago.  I am so incredibly proud to be his student, and so proud of how he and Marieta did last night, placing first in the American Rhythm division.  I just hope for him to be as proud of me as his student, and I very much think that at this competition I did.  I was happy with how I showed up at the competition and happy that his exemplary work as a teacher was recognized through me.

And they are just good people, Ivan and Marieta.  It is a testament to the excellent human beings they are this little anecdote I’m going to share with you.  You see, one of the ladies who was running the on deck area asked Ivan for his card.  He didn’t have one on him, as per usual, so I made a mental note and when I saw her in the bathroom I asked her if she’d gotten one yet.  She didn’t so I gave her one and she told me that as someone who runs the on deck area she sees a lot…a lot.  Things you’d be surprised to see – how pros treat students and the like.  And she observed how Ivan treats his students on and off the the floor.  She could see what a decent and kind and fun and funny and ridiculous person he is, but yeah, she wanted to maybe dance with him, not someone else.  I’m like the luckiest student ever and happy Ivan is getting noticed and possibly will have more business…though I  must say, I do think he has been the best kept secret, you know!

You see, there is always a lot that goes on during these things.  And before them, too.  Ivan has been the one who has believed in me before I believed in myself, and more than I believed in myself.   He has pulled out the performer in me.  He has helped mold me into the dancer I am today.  So when I get compliments like I did at this competition, it is a reflection upon both me and Ivan.  I just don’t seem to be able to put into words properly the full extent of my gratitude.    All I have ever wanted was to be a dancer, and this man, this crazy adorable Bulgarian, is helping me become that like no kidding.

And based on results, we did well.  I placed mostly first in single dances, with a few seconds, and got second in closed latin bronze scholarship, losing out only to my friend Colette who is the Emerald Ball champion!!!  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself – especially for my second scholarship ever.  And I won in the American Rhythm division.  Plus many people, even some judges, and Bree Watson (National American Rhythm champion with Decho Kraev!!! OMG!!!) gave me lovely compliments on my dancing.  It was astounding and I’m humbled and grateful.

The best part is that Thursday I was struggling so very badly.  My asthma has been out of control and even with steroids on board I was having a hell of a time.  My inhaler wasn’t working at all so I was dancing and couldn’t breathe.  At a certain point I told Ivan I might have to withdraw from some heats, and I am not the type of person to do that.  But I had zero energy.  Ivan could see it in my eyes – the lights were on but no one was home.  I had nothing left to give but still moved as best I could.  He and I both knew we were not dancing our best….but I still placed well.  People still had no idea how badly I was struggling.  It is a great place to be to know that I was perceived as performing well when inside both Ivan and I know there is so much more to show.

Friday went better after 40 more milligrams of prednisone and 3 breathing treatments on my nebulizer which I brought with me to the hotel and coughing up mucous for hours during the night.  I was extremely worried about 19 heats in a row but it turned out that the ballroom was split into two floors for many of them, and not everyone knew where they were supposed to be, so there ended up being a lot of little breaks where the announcer would have to call out the couples who should be in ballroom A and ballroom B and this saved me, plus I could breathe better.

At the end of the day we did a few open dances and Ivan even said…”Finally we are actually dancing!  We can never just do five heats, you and me!”  Because it took so long for us to “warm up,” even though I attribute part of that to being at battle with my lungs and body the first day.  So we completed all of our dances around 2pm on Friday except for the American Rhythm scholarship round which was scheduled for 10pm Friday night!  What?!  That was pretty brutal…to be exhausted and sore and have numb toes and a rash between my thighs from the fishnets and just wanting to be done but to have to show up 6 hours later and dance your very best.  Well, Marieta was a doll and touched up my hair and make up and Ivan and I killed it.  Happily there wasn’t a semifinal – just a final, so I only had to dance Cha Cha, Rumba, and Swing once.

medal

So participating in competitions is always an experience. And part of that is meeting new people.  And you know there were a lot of funny moments along the way.  For instance, at one point they announced the next dance would be Merengue.  I knew we had no Merengue heats but Ivan apparently didn’t hear the announcement so he rushed over to a table at the edge of the ballroom, poured out this pink drink on the floor to wet his shoes to make them sticker – the floor was pretty slippery – and another of the pros, this Hungarian guy Chaba, was like “Hey!  Ivan!  That’s my cocktail!”  And we weren’t even dancing in the heat!  Then that same pro, Chaba, was out there in his own little world, couple 106 dancing to himself and then announcer said, “We have an extra couple on the floor.”  There was a pause and he continued, announcing the numbers of the couples in the heat which didn’t include couple 106.  Then he even said, “Couple 106 you do not need to be on the floor right now.”  And Chaba was still grooving, oblivious.  So Ivan yells, “Chaba!!!”  And it was too funny.

Well, it also turned out that Ryan Seacrest productions is creating a reality show about pro/am ballroom dancing and they were filming during the competition.  One of the pros they are following happens to be Bulgarian.  His name is Rumen, like Roman with a “u.”  When I originally heard his name I thought it was “Ruben.” Anyways, while Ivan and I were enjoying some food and sparkling water Thursday night after our dancing he came to say hello to Ivan.  I impressed him with my inappropriate Bulgarian sayings and ended up lending him my phone charger.  Ivan says he is totally a crazy guy but he likes him because he is very social.  In any case, it will be so interesting to see this show whenever it comes out.  There were a few pro/am couples they filmed, but honestly they danced very little.  And it appeared to me that a lot of the “drama” was staged….the pros had conversations with their am partners as well as with each other that looked like they were planned, and I overheard producers saying stuff like, “when you come off the dance floor I will have so-and-so meet you,” and when I was arranging to get my charger back from Ruman he was all like, “Well in 10 minutes we are filming a pool scene.”  We both laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it.  I even walked in front of a camera at one point so hopefully they will edit out my head from the frame but anyways, know that the Biggest Girl was at People’s Choice and so were these soon-to-be reality stars.  I have to say, though, that they all sat at a table, and the film crew recorded them cheering for some dancers….and one of the dancers was me!  I was doing a Cha Cha and we did the splits right in front of them.  I heard a lot of cheering and all but I figured it was played up for the tv show, you know.  And they weren’t filming me so much, just the reaction of the dancers on the show.  Anyways, I didn’t give it much credence but then as I was walking around the hotel later one of the other pros on the show was walking with a person on the film crew (not being recorded or anything, just talking) and he stopped me, have me the ballroom kiss kiss on the each cheek and told me what a great dancer I was and that they had been cheering for me!  Woot!  That was pretty dang cool if you ask me!

people's choice

Well, anyways, after I was complete with my dancing, I went to go watch, support, and cheer for my friends who were still dancing.  Then it was time for evening show and pro heats.  Of course Artem and Inna won Standard ballroom and not surprisingly the Grand Slam as well, (their 5th time winning!)  Everyone in the Phoenix ballroom community was present, it seemed, which is always fun.  Local competitions are nice because of the friendly faces and extra support.

I feel like People’s Choice was a very good experience for me.  Smaller competitions are nice because there is more of a chance to be noticed, I think, and then judges will recognize you perhaps if you show up to larger comps.  I don’t think I’ll do any massive comps for a while just yet, but I do want to continue to work, to improve my technique, performance, cardio capacity, and body figure.  I want to continue to progress and show an improvement the next time I dance.  Honestly, this is my focus for the next two months before Desert Classic.  I want to see how far I can get in this time and be a better dancer than I am today.  I just want to continue to dance my best, like Ivan and I felt after our American Rhythm scholarship round and then no matter how I’m placed, I will feel good about what I’m doing, how I’m showing up on the dancefloor.  I’m excited for the coming year, my focus and energy.  I’m pleased with how I am and where I am and looking forward to the future as well.  I’m going to enjoy and savor this experience even as I prepare to forge ahead.

I think I’m finally beginning to show that I just may be a force to be reckoned with.  I may not be at my full potential just yet but Ivan and I and even other people can see it my light beginning to shine.  I have a fire burning in my belly and I’m going to go for this with all that I am.  It has taken time to muster my resources and it will take time to heal and condition my body, and that is great.  I’m up for the journey.  People’s Choice was a wonderful milestone and also just the beginning.

te adoro

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!

Coming Down From An Amazing High…

Hello there!  This is Stefanie writing in italics.  I am excited to share with you a guest blog post from my dear friend, Ivonne, who just competed in her very first ballroom competition!  She did an amazing job, and I am so excited to share her story.  There is something so special about doing something for the first time and it is wonderful to experience it vicariously “for the first time” alongside her.  

And without further ado….Ivonne! (She’s the one not using italics ha ha)

The competition was a little over aweek ago, and I still don’t feel ready to let it go. I’m still savoring every last bit of my experience from that weekend. I was warned that I might crash from the high of the competition, and that it would be totally normal, but I didn’t expect this little wave of sadness now that it is really over. With that sadness has come the realization, though, that I totally want to do it again! And often!

The experience of going to a DanceSport ballroom competition could not have been any more amazing. I couldn’t have wished for it to be better! I wouldn’t have known what to wish for! This was simply perfect: going in there without expectations, not knowing at all what it would be like, free from knowing what it “should” be like, how I “should” stack up against anyone, who is who in the industry and what students they are bringing, how the judges do their thing…I was surprisingly calm about the competition itself. I was not scared about competing. I was not concerned with anyone else’s performance. What I could not shut up about was how excited I was to be there. I am pretty sure everyone thought I was acting like a giddy 16-year-old gushing about a crush.

I can’t even put the events of the day into some kind of order to talk about the day in a way that makes sense to anyone. I barely remember being out on the competition floor and what I did, other than the fact that I enjoyed every second of it, and those minute or minute-and-a-half heats were way too short! Between heats in which we were competing, my partner and I spent the entire time dancing on the practice floor on the other side of the room. Even when others were dancing in dances in which we were not competing, like tango and Vienese waltz, we were back there doing those, too. Just having a good ol’ time! I know that I was a bundle of energy and I had to keep moving to “spend” it. But it was not nervous energy. It was pure happy energy, and I think that it showed all around us.

So how did I do in the competition? Oh yeah, because it was a competition, not just an opportunity to dance all day! Right! Well, I got a lot of first places – mostly first places, actually. And yes, that’s pretty darn cool, but honestly,the placing didn’t even matter to me. I could have gotten all last places and still it wouldn’t have changed a thing for me about this experience.

I was just so happy to be able to dance my heart out, give it the best I could, in the environment in which this is meant to be done, in my”costumes,” with my makeup, and my fancy up-do, surrounded by so many other people who also do this because they get so much joy and happiness from it. It was a great community of people – everyone I met was so positive, and happy, and supportive of one another. Oh my god… I was just in love with life that whole weekend.

I will say this about the placings and the awards. No one told me what we “get” when we place. I thought there were medals or trophies or something like that. But we got stickers. Stickers! Which we were supposed to stick on a certificate.  Like a third-grade achievement chart! That made me laugh because it just seemed so anti-climactic for “winning” anything! But hey, I’ll take it. It was just one more fun thing about the day, to look back on and smile. I am not sure if this is the norm for most competitions.

Incidentally, that pink feather in the photo is a souviner from my dress – the one Stef wrote about in this post,  It fell off on it’s own but I decided to keep it as a reminder of the day.

One other thing that I really appreciated was that we were able to meet the organizers of the event, the judges, and so many of the other dancers competing. Everyone was very approachable and friendly. I loved that part about the weekend. It was helpful to get the kind of feedback I got in conversations with any of these folks, and the amount of encouragement to keep dancing! When people would learn that I’d only been doing this since November 1st, I always got the same reaction, “WHAT?! That’s it?! I wouldn’t believe that! You are so good! Please don’t stop! You’re a natural! WOW!”

Seriously – to hear strangers tell me that, who have no reason to be nice to me, felt really good. I have been hearing it at the studio, but there was always this little lining of doubt… I always think they’re just being nice.

It was so surreal. All of it. One girl in particular which I had the biggest girl-crush on from the first time I saw her dance… I approached her after the evening show and told her how she’d given me something to work toward and what a beautiful dancer she is. Her response? “Really?! Thank you! Oh my god,we have been talking about you and your partner all day! You guys are so cute, and you dance so well together! We love you guys! Please keep dancing!” To which I could only respond, bewildered and giddy: “Really? Oh my god, I’m going to cry. Stop right now.”Hahahahahaha!

Like I said. I am still relishing the happiness I felt that weekend. So much so that it took me two days to remove my false eyelashes because that was the last bit of “magic” that was left from the event.

There will never be a first time at this again, and I am so grateful to have had this experience! There will definitely be a second, third, fourth… oh yeah, I’m hooked.

Okay, Stef here again.  I love the detail about the eyelashes!  Ivonne rocked the competition and had an amazing experience.  I’m so grateful she chose to share it here.  You can see more of Ivonne dancing using the links to YouTube below. 

Open Bronze Cha-Cha – 1st place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Piw2xZQXfJw

Int. Bronze Salsa – 1st place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81wH6GyckSU

Pre-Bronze Rumba – 1st Place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GS85WAEWYY

Pre-Bronze Waltz – 1st Place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UOVOXm4zUc

Newcomer Foxtrot – 2nd Place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-AjfE3GUBQ

Toni, You’re Awesome

I think that about 85% of life is just showing up.  What I mean by this is that when I choose to show up for various events in my life, I open myself to the possibilities of new and wonderful experiences.  Last night, I showed up for a group class.  I was the only one.  So, it ended up being a private lesson, but only because I showed up.

I decided to go to Imperial Studio last night because they are starting a new American Rhythm class and of all the studios I frequent, this one is the closest.  Also, I know the instructor, Toni, used to compete professionally so I think she has a lot of valuable knowledge that I could benefit from.  Here is a picture of the lovely Toni from the Imperial website:  http://www.imperialballroomdance.com/

So I arrive and the door is locked!  But the lights are on and in a second Toni pops up from behind the front desk and lets me in.  The studio is eerily quiet.  Usually when I come for Inna’s group class, it is very busy and full of people and music.  Toni puts the stereo on and we proceed.  She asks me if I have done American Rhythm, before (yes), who I dance with (Ivan Dishliev), and if I compete (yes).  Then she asks me to dance a little with her leading so she can check out what she’s working with.

Not bad, she says, but there is always something that can be worked on.  A person could stay in bronze for their entire life and still find fundamental technique to work on.  It is great, because she acknowledges that my footwork is there, so now its time to focus on the next layer of movement.  Another amazing thing about Toni is that she also has a background in ballet.  She really understands body mechanics and does a great job as the lesson progresses in explaining how to perform the movements to create the desired look.

We focus on the basic Rumba box.  We take each step of the box one by one and dissect it.  First we simply focus on the set up for the first step.  I’m to imagine that the floating wooden floor on which I’m standing is a sandbox.  I want to press down through the top layer into the bottom so that sand is covering my feet.  Next, Toni talks about twisting the hips opposite the shoulders so that I create a “bow and arrow” tension in my body.  This sets me up so I can spring forward from one step to the next.  Finally, she demonstrates that when stepping to the side, she allows the ankle to drop and puts weight on both the toe and the heel of her shoe.  I’ve been practicing doing it only on the ball of my foot.  I keep these new concepts in mind as we take the first step.

It quickly becomes apparent that one of my “bad habits” is to dump my hips.  I’ve never heard this terminology, but what it essentially means (I think) is that partly because my hips are so flexible and partly because I hear a constant refrain of “more hips!” from my instructors, I overshoot settling in my hip, creating a collapsing of the upper body which causes lack of balance, slower movement, getting stuck, and less aesthetically pleasing lines.  Most importantly, it causes my movements to be less grounded and less controlled.  Instead of working the hips so much side to side or up and down, I should be twisting them opposite of my upper body, wringing it around the spine as an axis like someone squeezing out a wet towel.  I get what she is saying and instantly my dancing transforms.  I love moments like this, where something suddenly becomes clear and the quality of my movement metamorphoses.

She also talks about using the back foot to help propel me forwards.  I’ve heard this one before but it is not a habit yet.  It adds a large amount of momentum to my movement so that I go off balance momentarily but it also makes the movement more grounded and clear.

Toni is bubbly and enthusiastic and we continue chatting through the lesson.  She has some interesting ways to help me remember a few pointers.  First, she shows me the “frowning bellybutton” move to help me to remember how to move my hips when transferring weight from my right foot to left foot on the side step of the Rumba box.  (By the way, there is also an X-rated name for this move, but you’ll have to take a lesson from Toni to find out what it is!)

She also talks about how to hold my midsection.  I’m to picture a fishhook going through my bellybutton and pulling it up to under my ribs.  This will help me to pull upwards and create space in the body for movement.

She explains that I should also use my “pee muscles” in the pelvis and abdomen since they are my core.  The movement should be generated from the core.  This is most dramatically exemplified when we work on a cross-over.  First she points out her pet peeve of people turning out the foot rather than keeping it parallel the step before the cross-over.  Paradoxically, already moving in the direction you will step next makes it more difficult to get there in the next step.  Then she explains that by simply generating movement from the knee and hip the swivel will be faster, more dynamic, and cleaner.  And it is.  It has never felt so easy before to do a crossover alone.  We high-five and decide to end the lesson on a high note.

Toni really knows how to create some beautiful and sexy movement in her midsection.  She tells me that watching me, the thing that catches her eye is my good footwork.  But after the lesson, I’m dancing more grounded into the floor, and generating more movement in the rest of my body rather than just my feet.  It is amazing that spending just 45 minutes with a person can transform my dancing and provide an entirely new perspective on how to do things.

At the end of the lesson, I thank Toni for her help and say I’m so glad she is now a part of the Imperial Studio.  “Thanks,” she says, “And tell everyone else how awesome I am.”

Okay.  So Toni, this blog post is dedicated to you.  You are awesome.  I’m glad I got to have a private lesson with you and found what you had to share very valuable.  And now everyone else knows it too!