My Expensive Alien Hand

I’m so glad that holidays are finally over!  Why?  Because they really threw a wrench in my normal routine.  Dance classes were cancelled, or I was working extra hours to make up the time taken off.  I’ve missed two weeks of ballet, three weeks of Inna’s class, and only seen a little bit of Mr. Ivan.

But a few days ago I got back to ballet and though I screw up a lot, and it’s difficult, there are also moments where my body remembers how to be aligned properly and balance.  In those moments I feel open and free.  It’s pretty amazing.  But, sadly, I ended up straining my left calf.  It takes quite a bit of brute force to maintain some of the required positions, especially in my current body size, and my standing leg was strained to the point of shaking from fatigue while my working leg was doing what it needed to do.  I ended up bowing out of doing jumps, but did finish the class and I did go to see Ivan afterwards for a lesson.

It wasn’t actually injured, and with some ice and heat and lots of stretching, it’s already pretty much back to normal, though I skipped ballet the following night because I knew the teacher tonight does a ton of jumps and I didn’t want to risk injuring myself or having to sit out half of the class.

Otherwise, my legs feel good, worked out, slightly sore, and I can see a faint glimmer of their old dancing shape beginning to emerge.  Of course being off for over two weeks hasn’t been ideal, but I’m looking forward to the strength, flexibility, and lengthening that will be coming soon after more consistent attendance.

As far as things with Ivan go, we are continuing to work on our routines, and we began to develop the idea for a showcase number to that song “True Colors” from Glee that was really inspiring to me (http://vimeo.com/37544876) mentioned in a previous post.  I love that Ivan is so cool about stuff like this.  It means a lot to me – there is a lot of my own personal story that I want to put in the dance, and it’s really special to get to create something to express myself in this way.

And I also learned a new Cha Cha Step:

A new step in the Cha Cha

But the big thing that remains is the weight.  I’ve ordered a new diet plan which arrived early this week and the plan is to commit to that and more exercise and to show up looking different at the next competition, (which, if you haven’t seen on the Facebook page, I’m looking for advice on which competitions to go to this year).  That’s honestly my main focus (besides work) right now.

As Ivan says, I could stop dancing today but if I lost the weight than everything would change even without any practice.  Well, that isn’t gonna happen because I love it too much and dancing is part of my healing process, but I’ve had enough of my belly getting in the way of stretching, and being limited in what I can do dance-wise because of my body.  I can’t wait to not worry about what I’m going to wear and spend time finding the outfit that will make me look the least fat.  It’s for the birds.  Enough is enough.  This is my year.  It has to be.  I’ve decided.  Because I have big aspirations and this is going to get me closer. I’m drawing my line in the sand, declaring my intention, and refusing to let this hinder me any more.  And so far this diet plan is working really well for me.  I’ve been able to stick to it all week, and I don’t feel stressed out about it or like I’m starving or anything.  The biggest problem is that there is mandatory overtime right now so even without exercise or a dance lesson, I’m putting in 12 hour days, and working weekends.  Things will get better once the peak season is over, but the diet thing is a big step in the right direction and I’m going to get in whatever activity I can for now (like I’m committed to always using the stairs at work…a small thing but I think it will add up over time), with plans to make it more scheduled in the future.

Speaking of, even though I had to work today, I was able to schedule it so that I could fit a double lesson in with Ivan this morning.  I think this post is long enough so I’ll just mention two things.  First, I had a Dr. Strangelove/Alien Hand Syndrome moment this morning.

Dr strangelove peter sellers

By Directed by Stanley Kubrick, distributed by Columbia Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like for reals, yo!  We all know I have arm styling issues. As Ivan said, teasingly, “On Alemana, I never know what arms you gonna use.  It always a surprise.  And always you look dyslexic like a chicken.”  (Ivan Bulgarian-English translation of dyslexic is uncoordinated even though it doesn’t mean anything close to that!)

Well, anyways, we are working on perfecting the Cha Cha routine, still breaking down each count and movement so I will know what I am doing, and on this one part I’m supposed to pause and look back at Ivan and I decided I’d put my arm on my neck for styling but yeah, it didn’t work so well.  My arm kind of spasmed this way and that, unsure of where to place itself.  It almost had a mind of its own, but it was a very confused mind.  I just thought it was funny and it made me think of Dr. Strangelove Syndrome.  I’m weird like that.

The second thing I’ll mention has to do with a comment Ivan made while we were dancing.  I was doing a move and he was like, “No!  Why you rushing?  This is expensive movement.  Show how expensive it is.”  It was a weird way to phrase it, but it is actually a very, very true statement.  Every step I’ve learned, every step I work to perfect is expensive…in the literal sense it has cost me money and time and effort.  But just like Chanel perfume or a pair of Versace gloves, you can tell the quality, the expense that went into making it.  Well, that’s how I want to highlight my dancing, as a luxurious and beautiful expression, the quality of the movement demonstrated in a millisecond, and the money, time, and effort behind making it seem effortless recognized by those with the eyes to see.  I mean we all want to look like the pros when we dance, but are we willing to “pay our dues” and work as if we were pros, even if we are not?  I want to clothe myself in the finest metaphorical silk, but am I willing to weave the silk to make the cloth in the first place?

It makes me think of this status post from Joy In Motion.  If you haven’t liked her page, go do so.  She’s primarily about Lindy Hop but shares all sorts of wonderful dance-related thoughts, blog posts, and videos.  I’ve enjoyed following her on “the Facebook.”  Anyways, here is the quote:

“By nature, we humans shrink from anything that seems possibly painful or overtly difficult. We bring this natural tendency to our practice of any skill. Once we grow adept at some aspect of this skill, generally one that comes more easily to us, we prefer to practice this element over and over. Our skill becomes lopsided as we avoid our weaknesses. Knowing that in our practice we can let down our guard, since we are not being watched or under pressure to perform, we bring to this a kind of dispersed attention. We tend to also be quite conventional in our practice routines. We generally follow what others have done, performing the accepted exercises for these skills.

This is the path of amateurs. To attain mastery, you must adopt what we shall call Resistance Practice. The principle is simple—you go in the opposite direction of all of your natural tendencies when it comes to practice.

First, you resist the temptation to be nice to yourself. You become your own worst critic; you see your work as if through the eyes of others. You recognize your weaknesses, precisely the elements you are not good at. Those are the aspects you give precedence to in your practice. You find a kind of perverse pleasure in moving past the pain this might bring. Second, you resist the lure of easing up on your focus. You train yourself to concentrate in practice with double the intensity, as if it were the real thing times two. In devising your own routines, you become as creative as possible. You invent exercises that work upon your weaknesses. You give yourself arbitrary deadlines to meet certain standards, constantly pushing yourself past perceived limits. In this way you develop your own standards for excellence, generally higher than those of others.

In the end, your five hours of intense, focused work are the equivalent of ten for most people. Soon enough you will see the results of such practice, and others will marvel at the apparent ease in which you accomplish your deeds.”

– Robert Greene

Well, it blew my mind.  And, it made me want to work harder!  I found it extremely motivating, and it also helped me focus my intent behind my new diet.  So, weird Alien hand moves aside, I’m really excited about the coming year and where my dancing will take me.  The only caveat to the above quote is that while being a critic of my weaknesses, I pledge to hold them compassionately.   It’s way too easy for me to be hard on myself, so I intend to do the good work as suggested by this Robert Greene, but in a kind, self-loving context – this doesn’t mean being blind to my faults, denying them, or excusing them, but it does mean loving myself while pushing myself in a bold, disciplined, focused and intense manner.  With any luck, I will generate results similar to this other gem of “the Facebook,” Rick, a very inspiring dude down from 426 pounds!!

And I guess that’s it for now!  I uploaded some fun pics from the dance camp on the Facebook page for BGintheB and videos will follow shortly of the pro show from the dance camp, choreography presented, as well as video from the Imperial Ballroom Holiday Showcase (including the routine that won the Ohio Star Ball Showdance for the International Ballroom division from Artem and Inna)  – it just takes a long time to upload them from my phone, so if you haven’t liked it yet, remember I do post some extra content there.

So for now, good night!

Advertisements

My Rumba Walks Will Never Be The Same

Well folks, it’s been a busy few days what with the holidays and all. I’ve worked 14 days straight (minus Christmas day) and now I’m due for a little break! Like I said, I did get Christmas day off, which was wonderful, but ended up being exhausting to make up the necessary overtime. I also participated in the 12th annual family pinochle tournament and came in 2nd place!

But even more amazing than that are all the discoveries I’m continuing to make with my dancing. It’s been kind of slow going with Imperial closed and ballet off the docket during the holidays, but since Ivan is independent, when he’s been available, we’ve caught a few lessons before I went into work yesterday and today.

Honestly, I’m so tired right now because I had an insomniac night last night waking up at 1:30am or so and not falling back to sleep until 4am, needing to get up at 5am to meet Ivan for our 6:30am lesson. This means, especially after 9 hours of work and the 1.5 hour commute, my mind is jumbled. The perfect time to write a blog post! LOL.

But I wanted to quickly process what we covered so I don’t forget it and also to say that tomorrow is the Ron and Karla Montez Dance Camp and I’m super excited to get to go for the next three days, culminating in a gourmet dinner and dance party with a champagne toast to kick off the new year. The schedule looks very juicy but I’m not entirely sure who will be instructing. Originally Bree and Decho were part of the staff but it looks like maybe they are now not participating. Ron and Karla will be there of course, and also possibly Radomir Pashev and Linda Dean as well as Jim and Janelle Maranto. We’ll see. I’m planning on going with a notebook to write down as much as I can and I’m sure there will be much to share after 3 full days of classes!

But back to what Ivan and I have been working on, well, it’s the basics, really. But I’m coming to experience them in deeper detail and the most exciting part is that things are changing, for the better I think, in my dancing. For instance, yesterday a lot of the lesson was spent on connection. It’s something we talk about and work on a lot and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s like somebody can tell you the same thing 500 times and the 501st time you finally get it. Well, I had one of those experiences while doing a fan in the Rumba. In all honesty, it made me tear up a little bit!

So the thing is, that if someone was looking from the outside at what we were doing it wouldn’t probably appear any different from what we always do. But from the inside out, it felt completely different. I don’t know if I can truly explain the experience, it has so much to do with feeling and that nebulous concept of “energy” that we dancers hear about. Like Debbie Alvarez told me that I was allowing my “energy” to leak out behind me instead of directing it toward Ivan, my partner, on the fan. I “get it” but I also don’t entirely “get it” since I can’t execute utilizing my energy properly all the time. In any case, what happened was that I felt the connection through more than just my arms, but through my entre upper body, transferring into my hips and legs. It was a feeling of…simply put….presence. Me being present, integrated, whole and entire through my body and arms. Usually my arms end up being somewhat disconnected from my body which is probably why arm styling tends to be such a struggle for me. And it was beyond even the arms. The connection itself was intangible yet palpable. I would have been led and responded even if we hadn’t been touching physically.

This connection thing takes a while to feel, and then it is about being consistent and constant with it, whether in hold or not, being in partnership with the dancing partner and not having dead spaces whether energetically or physically, no moments of withdrawal. The moment I drop my guard, the moment I lose concentration, that is the moment that I miss the next signal and the wheels begin to fall off. Then there is a moment of overcompensation and pushing hard to reconnect. I mean, I can feel the difference when I’m really present and really paying attention so I know (theoretically) what it should feel like, but my habits run deep, not to mention the myriad of things I’m thinking about on every single step. But when I manage it, connection is the magic peanut butter in the sandwich called ballroom dancing, what holds it together and makes it so delicious!

But yeah, it’s difficult with all there is to manage when dancing. In fact, I was pondering this idea today – the idea that Ivan probably has no idea all the things I’m thinking about when we are dancing together and it’s really hard to just be present when I’m trying to remember the new step, the correction to my arms, the timing, the expression, how we tweaked this detail and that detail. It’s a lot!

But no matter! I’m addicted! I love it. Which is what caused me to go to another lesson this morning in which I had more discoveries and breakthroughs. First we worked on rumba walks. It’s not like I’ve done them badly all this time, it’s just that there is always more possibilities for movement. We broke it down and worked on it for quite a few minutes and then I began to discover how to do it in a totally new way which fills up more of the music. I tend to try to hit lines and thus get stuck as well as throw myself off-balance. I discovered that I was putting my hip into its final destination straight away instead of stepping forward with hips square, then raising the back hip, then twisting around my spine, and finally settling onto the standing leg. I began to get the hang of it, which is encouraging, however, it will take a lot of conscious practice to change my muscle memory so that I can do it automatically without thinking. But I’m excited with the possibilities.

I have the same problem going into a fan step in Rumba. I would immediately hit the final swivel position with my hip and have nowhere to go. I knew that I needed to melt into that final position but couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. Well, the change in the Rumba walks helped with this issue as well. Instead of immediately twisting my hips when switching my weight on count 2, I stopped in the middle and then could melt with the twist. Magic! I swear! I feel more and more like a “grown up” dancer when I discover these details. It’s exciting!

I guess that’s the main idea of what’s been going on. I must say that I can’t wait for my schedule to normalize a bit and to have my weekly ballet and Advanced Latin Group class as well as to fit in some gym time along with my private lessons. I have big goals for the new year and I’m looking to compete in May. I can’t wait to dive in with increased activity levels, as well as my new job training, position, and work schedule. It’s going to be a few weeks of transition, but even so, at least it will be better than the craziness of the holidays.

I’m hoping I’ll find the time to write some about my dance camp experiences but who knows how much time I will have so if I don’t get to it until after the New Year, well, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! Thanks for being a part of this experience along with me. The blog has been live for just over a year now and I’m thankful for every person who has ever read any post or made a comment or even become my friend! 2012 has been an interesting year, but I think 2013 is going to provide even more opportunities for growth, discovery, and connection. I’m looking forward to sharing it all with you!

-Stef

Only Your Face Looks Stupid

Dancing at 6:30 in the morning is kind of tough.  First off, I’m not a morning person.  Second, my body isn’t at all warmed up.  I am usually stiff and tight in the muscles and groggy in the brain.  But Ivan, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is crazy, and I guess so am I.  For a while now, we have regularly met at a dance studio on the way to my work, before work.  Location-wise it works out well because it is convenient along the drive to work which is very far from where I live.  And dancing, even at ungodly hours, is better than not dancing, so I’ve agreed to it making sure that on weekends we schedule later in the A.M. so I can get my much-needed beauty sleep.

I am trying to write a blog here but this is what keeps staring at me for a treat and she is PERSISTENT!!!!

So today was one of those early days, but surprisingly, it went pretty well.  Even though my right calf is so sore from ballet this weekend that I can’t easily create an up and down motion, Ivan and I danced the Waltz to begin.  On our last lesson I had told him that he needs to correct me all the time, at least one thing in every dance we do.  Otherwise, I will continue to practice the same habits.  Ivan must have heard my request because we actually worked on some new things before the sun came up.

Like I am aware that there is supposed to be a lot of body contact when in frame in Smooth styles.  It’s difficult to maintain and because I only do Smooth, not Standard, and we go in and out of frame frequently, I haven’t been as disciplined as I could be in regards to this detail.  Well, today, that changed.  I think we began with Ivan putting me in a twisted back-bend position, kind of the same position to set up a develope’ and Ivan told me I have to give him my hips.

Intellectually, I am aware of this.  From books, talking with friends who do more closed-frame dancing, I “know” about it.  But it is a whole other level of “getting to know” your instructor when you really have to do this body mash-up.  But that is how it’s done.  That is part of what makes it possible to move as a single unit while gliding across the floor.  And you know what…it actually felt more secure.  To put my hips in the proper position is uncomfortable on some levels, but I felt more stable.  It was almost, well, comforting.

To pull back out of fear in an attempt to maintain space between bodies, puts my body out of alignment, messes with my balance, and makes it more difficult to move.  It was especially weird when Ivan demonstrated the lady’s part, rotating around my left hip, maintaining contact all the while.  I’m pretty much supposed to stick to him (or my partner) like glue.  Though it appears classy and smooth, the dances in hold feel to me more intimate in some ways than the sexy, slinky Latin and Rhythm dances.

Regardless, it was a good notice, something specific I can focus on during practice.  I’m just glad we’ve been dancing long enough now that I feel comfortable being in the proper position.  Well….I did laugh a lot out of nervousness, but still, this is not something that has happened with either of my other two previous instructors.

So after this, we worked on our open Rumba routine.  It is coming along.  I am getting better at remembering the sequence of steps and I’m also getting more clear on the counts.  I am also really excited to do this one move which involves a double Spiral Turn, which is something I really need to practice, but it is going to be so nice when I am more comfortable doing it.  Really, smooth as melted chocolate.

I also made a discovery about how to position myself with my body weight forward on the opening move we do, kind of a reverse turn step with my leg pointed behind me.  It made it look more dramatic while at the same time I felt more secure doing it.  In addition it helped with doing the proper weight changes, not rushing through the movement to the next step, which is for sure one of my bad habits….not living in the moment, not finishing, and rushing to the next thing before the last thing is complete…no I don’t do that in real life either, ha ha.

But the best thing was a new dimension to hip movement that we discovered.  Instead of simply going side to side, front and back, or making a figure eight, my hips are going to lift up as well.  Kind of difficult to describe, but it is very feminine.  Marieta does something similar in one of Ivan and her routines, but it is one of those details you absorb while watching that makes the movement look interesting but that you might not actually be able to pinpoint.  In any case, I do this little hip wiggle after a step turn and this “lifted hip” action was added.

“It look so good!”

“Then why are you laughing at me.”

“Your hips, your legs, your arms, even your neck moving are all so feminine.  It so natural and so good.  It’s just your face that is looking stupid.”

I guess I make funny faces when I’m trying to be “sexy.”  And the way Ivan was imitating me had me in stitches.  Kind of like a slack-mouthed zombie in search of brains.  Figuring out facial expressions is definitely one of my weak points.  Smiling I can do, no problem.  But looking like I want to attack, or being “sexy” or flirty, not my forte.

Well, I do have awesome hips that work for me, though.  And we incorporated this increased dimensionality into the fan as well.  I don’t find it that challenging.  In fact, it made me feel more secure, and caused me to commit my body weight over my right foot more quickly which also helped me propel myself forward and keep my energy forward.  But Ivan seemed to think it was a special ability.  Well, I’ll take it.  It feels good.  That plus I guess another of his students liked how I styled my arms when we both danced at Galaxy and she told him she wanted to have arms like mine.  Well, that was pretty surprising and also felt good, even if I still have a long way to go with them!

In the end, Ivan said what he’s only said maybe three times before, “I like this lesson.”

“I know!  I wish all could be like this.  So happy, and fun, and discovering new things.”

Truly, it doesn’t happen all that often so when it is nice like this on a lesson I really appreciate it.  It’s not every day that only my face looks stupid!  Usually much more looks stupid!  Heh heh heh.

The end.