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!

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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!

Dancing With Lady Gaga

My goodness.  Lots has happened in my dancing life in the last 72 hours.

First, USDC has been going on.  I have many friends who danced there and it was exciting to hear how they did, as well as to watch some of the professional performances via live streaming on the web.  It is amazing to feel connected to the dancers.  Lots of them I just admire from afar, but others I have a personal connection to, or, since ballroom is a small world, sometimes I am just one person removed.  For instance, my friend “Lady Gaga” is a student of the current national American Rhythm champion, Decho, and of course I have personal ties to Ivan and Marieta and Artem and Inna.  I also am aware of other pro dancers and have briefly interacted with many in the Phoenix area or at other competitions I attended, all of which makes me feel connected in a personal way.  (By the way, I call my friend Lady Gaga for two reasons: first, to protect her anonymity, and second, because Ivan had trouble saying her actual name and dubbed her Lady Gaga.)

Me and Lady Gaga – a new partnership!

Anyways, it is exciting to see my classmates be recognized for their amazing dancing, and to get to watch the pros.  I was especially intrigued by something that happened in the American Rhythm final.  The couple who got second place, Emmanuel and Liana, got a standing ovation from the crowd and they even did a victory lap, grandstanding.  Then very interestingly, the champions received only polite clapping.  It seems perhaps the audience disagreed with the judges’ decision.  I have to say that personally, I did feel that Emmanuel and Liana danced stronger that particular evening than the winners, though all the couples in the final, as well as many other who were cut in earlier rounds, were pretty darn amazing.  Is this just a case of an uninformed audience who doesn’t understand what they are seeing?  I doubt it considering most of that audience are dancers themselves and have some level of expertise.  It begs the question why was the judges evaluation so at odds with what the audience ascertained from the performances? Of course flashy moves that may not be executed with as high a level of technique may capture the audience attention, but hey, that is partly what ballroom is all about.  I just think it was very interesting.

I loved the ability to stream the competition online though I wish it were televised.  I suppose it’s a pretty niche market here in the US, kind of like Rugby or Lacrosse, but I think especially in Europe, it is much more followed and they do televise the bigger competitions.  I’d love to see this available in the US as well, but at least I can stream the “real deal.”  I enjoy DWTS and all, but it is like a cotton candy, cream puff version of ballroom.  I give the stars and pros on that show props for the hard work they do and the good dancing they produce, but the parts I especially love are when they showcase what the pros can do.  However, it’s still worlds apart from an actual ballroom competition.

I don’t think the average American viewer of DWTS has any concept of what ballroom is really like.  And, on the world/European stage it is even more different.  I do think it takes some education to actually understand what you are seeing in the case of say, watching International Standard Ballroom.  Plus, if you have no idea how difficult it is to execute these moves, it might not be as exciting, to a general viewer, than the “flash and trash” shown on DWTS.  Me, I love all dance, pretty much and appreciate different aspects of it in different contexts, but still, I’d personally love to see competitions broadcast live.  I wish that PBS show of the Ohio Star Ball was still going on.  In fact, I’m so “into” all this stuff, that I hunt down pictures and results of people I know and share them on the Facebook page for the blog.  It’s fun pretending to be a “ballroom correspondent!”  I don’t know who, if anyone, actually cares about this stuff they obsessive way I do, but oh well.  It floats my boat.

In any case, watching the USDC added some excitement to my mundane week and it also motivated me once again to get with the program and live up to my dance manifesto.  Why?  Well, because I want to be there next year!  I want to be at the bigger competitions, and not just as a spectator.  I want to be a fierce competitor.  So, I have a year.  Let’s see what progress I can make in that time.  I’ve made a deal with myself.  After Galaxy, I am not going to even think about competing until I shed 50 pounds.  I just have to, for myself, be different the next time I take the floor.  I just won’t do it if I don’t look significantly different.  It’s important to me.  I’m not going to like, wait to be “perfect” or at my final goal before I play, but there needs to be significant, apparent, progress.  It’s just something I’ve got to do for me.  I believe in my potential too much to just lay down or settle for less than my best, and being my best in terms of ability, athleticism, artistry, will greatly have to do with my physical body and it’s health.

Alright, enough of that!  That’s looking a bit ahead.  And Galaxy is in just a few short days.  In fact, I’ve already gotten my nails put on and the first layer of the spray tan.  I’m meeting Marieta about some accessories tomorrow, and making the hair and makeup appointments.  Just a short 3 day work week then dancing for 4 days in a row!  Woo!

And probably the very best part is that I’m on home turf this time.  I have friends who will also be dancing, more so than at Desert Classic.  Also, there will be other students of Ivan to share the table with, and my family will be able to attend.

Two of those friends who will be dancing at Galaxy are Lady Gaga and my friend who I will call “Skinny Blue Eyes.”  We went out dancing last night and, I have to say, it was magical.  I happened to see a post on Facebook for a Dance Phoenix group to which I’m subscribed advertising a guest instructor for a Rumba lesson at Lady Gaga’s home studio.  I put a shout out to my buds spontaneously, and both said “yes!” to going.  We were kind of hoping, from the course description, that maybe the class would be something similar to Inna’s class, but alas, it was another social dancing class.  However, since I already knew the steps as a girl, I chose to attempt to learn the boy part.  That was an excellent choice for two reasons, one, I got to practice being the man with my guinea pig Skinny Blue Eyes, a process in which and hilarity and fun ensued, and two, I got to appreciate the tough job of the man in ballroom dancing.

It felt so completely awkward to reverse the hold in rumba.  Plus I lacked a basic boy skill which would be leading a cross-body lead.  It was challenging, but super fun.  It actually made me more motivated to learn the guy part on more steps.  One day I think it’d be awesome to be a Dancing Classrooms instructor or something.  Plus, it might give me more insight in the mechanics of the dance and help me to be a stronger partner.  Anyways, it was very fun, even if it felt completely  weird.

But after the class, we were hungry for more.  The three of us went to an open dance party at another local studio, and I braved the social dancing scene once again.  Previously, at other studios, I’ve had fairly disappointing experiences, even getting injured once.  So I was wary, but I was with friends and figured I’d risk it.  Boy am I glad I did.  It reminded me of how magical it can be to social dance.  The fact that you can not know a person’s name and then move in unison with them is mind-blowing.  I had the pleasure of dancing with a lot of leaders last night who gave clear, confident leads.  I floated across the floor in some lovely Waltzes, did the Merengue with men older than my grandpa, and especially enjoyed some frantic Swing and Mambo with an older gentleman who was an instructor in the past and knew all the moves.  I spun for most of the songs and it was ever so much fun!  I do think I will be back to do it again, which is a first for me, because it was so comfortable and safe.  It was a great, friendly crowd for the most part and I even enjoyed dancing the Cha Cha on the wrong beat because the leader was respectful.  Oh, and I learned the Night Club Two Step.   It helped that my friends could make some introductions so that I could dance but once I did, and people could see that I moved well, then others felt more confident asking me.  I think it would be a great way to burn some more calories while enjoying myself!

Skinny Blue Eyes, Me, and Lady Gaga

So I got home around 1am which is super late for me, but I got enough sleep in to be well rested for my double lesson this morning with Mr. Ivan.  And what a lesson it was.  I am feeling more confident in my dancing, overall, though it was quite challenging to dance in my new heels, which feel less secure and maybe have a slightly higher heel than my other heels (and are certainly more difficult to wear than my comfy practice shoes!)  But I coped pretty well, and I think it makes my movement look more feminine and delicate.  I definitely need to practice more in my heels, but my feet need more conditioning, as well as my ankles and calves, and of course losing more weight can only make it all easier.  So my plan for the competition and on future lessons is to see how much I can do in my new, snazzy, sexy shoes, and then put my old heels on if necessary.  My smooth heels are considerably shorter and much easier to move in, and this time I have ones with actual straps on them so they shouldn’t fly off my feet or cause me to fall like has happened in my last two competitions.

And, today on my lesson, I’m happy to report I had a Tango breakthrough.  I find it hilariously frustrating that a tiny little fix can change the entire quality of a dance.  Tango has been a struggle for me, and the dance that Ivan says I was hanging on him the most.  All it took was for me to do the movement by myself.  Ivan prompted me to lift my toe and drag my heel of the front foot when I stepped backward and bam!  Everything changed.  I mean everything.  It’s not like I didn’t “know” this, oh I did.  I’d heard it before and even practiced it.  But after doing it alone a bit Ivan partnered up with me and it was as light as a feather!  He was pleased and so was I.

It goes back to the idea that I need to be able to dance every step by myself, then partner with Ivan (or any other leader).  It happened in the Bolero as well.  And Ivan needs to work on pulling back, not holding me up so much because when he does that I’m allowed/forced to be on my own feet and hold my own balance and I actually tend to do better.  Of course there are steps still where I need an assist, but I can’t know what those steps are without the kinetic feedback of having to “dance myself.”

Anyways, It was a great, empowered feeling, and I’m really motivated about dancing right now.  I’m excited just to dance and reveal myself at Galaxy, in my present incarnation.  I’ve decided it will be fun.  Period.  I am going to do my darndest to live my dance manifesto and enjoy the experience.  That is all that is required…this time around.  Then, the work of transforming my body and really stepping into the competitor I know I can be, because that is what I want to do.

I’m excited.  I’m excited about my stupid fake tan, and about my new shoes, and about social dancing.  I’m full of vivacity, and looking forward to my lesson tomorrow, and to the competition.  I’m looking forward to the next one after that, too!  I’m looking forward to Inna’s class, and to meeting more ballroom friends, and cheering them on.  I’m also excited to go watch some professional Swing dancing tonight at the convention that’s in town.  Benji Schwimmer is here and hopefully I’ll get to see him bust a move!

Ta-ta for now.  I’m sure another I’ll have another post soon with all that is going on!  And a special thanks to my dear ballroom friends Skinny Blue Eyes and Lady Gaga for being so awesome and sharing a spectacular night alongside me.  I treasure having you in my life.

Happily Running Toward A Punch In The Face

I haven’t danced with Ivan since last Thursday which feels like an eternity to me.  If I had unlimited resources, I’d probably want to dance 5 days a week, doing double lessons each day.  That is cost prohibative at my current income level, and with the level of uncertainty surrounding my current job, I’ve had to cool my jets and am limiting myself to two single lessons weekly, plus one extra one on the weekend every other week when I am not on call.  Once I become world-famous and am featured on Oprah’s Lifeclass, that will probably change.  But until it does, such is my reality.  Ha Ha.

So it is time I respect and cherish and I am grateful to even be able to afford what I can.  I think that for another of the Topic Series I’m going address the exorbitant cost of ballroom dancing.  Now that is a juicy discussion to begin!

But for this post I’m going to describe my dance lesson since my personal experiences are one of the more “charming” aspects of the blog. 🙂

So I arrived and one of the church members where we dance was mopping the floor.  I have to take a moment and just appreciate the people who do that kind of job, and especially this young woman because she was a volunteer.  But seriously, it is so wonderful to have people who take care of the dance floor and that I don’t have to do it!

Ivan arrived just after me bearing strawberries.  Although I refused multiple times, in the end he just shoved one in my mouth.  I tasted more finger than berry.  Thanks Ivan.  I got him back though.  Later in the lesson I was spinning around and I elbowed him in the gut.  Take that you dancing Bulgarian!

Well, still, I think the joke’s on me.  At one point my foot slipped on the floor and I hit the ground.  It was kind of a slow tumble toward the floor.  I was trying to save it. But when I finally hit the wood Ivan was smiling.  Um, thanks for the compassion, dude!

“This so good!”

“What are you talking about, Ivan?  I just fell.”

“I push you.”

“How is this good?”

“We surviving your knees.”

“???”

“You falling with all your weight over one foot.  I see this happen before and the lady’s knee go sideways.  Yeow!  They call the 911.”

Apparently Ivan felt like he saved me from knee-replacement surgery.  Maybe he did.  I can’t say.  But it didn’t feel like anything too bad was going to happen.  I twisted my left ankle, my weaker one, a little bit, but I’m okay.

So anyways I hopped back up after a moment and we were off again.

Today we began with Waltz.  I get a bit frustrated with myself because I know that the way I’m dancing it looks more like walking than the sweeping, large, flowing movement that is supposed to happen.  I mean, I’ve seen how Artem and Inna do it.  Though I realize they are world-class competitors, and I’m probably not ever going to look like that, I want to at least aim to get as close to it as I can.  Ivan was challenging me to reach more with my steps and trust me, I want to do it.  I just feel completely out of control doing it, like I could fall at any moment.  As Ivan says, at this point we are doing “very nice walking,” but we need to extend and push ourselves.  I agree.  I just wish my body would get the message.  I’m supposed to stretch on the “one” count.  Ivan kept repeating “One. One. One. One.” as we danced around the periphery of the room.

Let me just say that I don’t feel like Smooth dances are my forte, but I am beginning to enjoy them more and more.  Maybe after a few more years, and some concentrated practice, I’ll be able to look better than I do today.  But then, too, another part of me is okay with being better in Latin and Rhythm if that ends up being the case.  I love those dances deeper, at least right now in my journey.

I think one of the highlights of today was dancing lead-follow in Rumba.  I love it when Ivan does that.  At a certain point he was like, “You dancing everything because you know the routine.  You not paying attention.”

But then he began to gently lead me, and I tuned in to the signals, and it was fantastic.  Seriously, this is my favorite part of ballroom dancing….and the most precarious part as well.  Why?  Because it feels so good when I am successful that I get excited and then lose concentration for a split second in my wonder, and screw up the very next thing.  As Ivan says, I need to feel that excitement but stay in control.

During this portion of the lesson he led me without touching, and then we initiated contact.  He liked it when he offered his hand but I took my time to accept the invitation.  He would pause and extend various movements that normally we brush right through.  He also took a moment to let his arm go up and around before beginning and I mirrored him without a thought because I was just that tuned in.  There is something so magical about being so in sync.  Did I mention I love that?  I know, I know….broken record.  But seriously, I hope one day we will dance like that in competition.  I hope that someday soon we will bring that level of relaxed, focused, tuned in, fantastic energy with us and make it seem as effortless as it can feel.

By the way….I’m itching to do a competition.  It’s been September since I last competed.  Competitions require such a high level of financial resources so I have to pick and choose which ones to participate in very carefully.  Again, limited resources.  It’s been over six months, though, and I’m having moments where I feel so good, that I want to put myself out there again and see if others sense the improvement too.

Anyways, back to the lesson at hand.  We then worked on Bolero.  I was proud of myself for remembering to contract before extending on the “Romantica” step….until I realized I forgot to do the set up properly, and that I’m screwing up the timing of the second part of the move.  Still, it’s improvement.  I remembered.  And I had Ivan to remind me of the other parts.

This is where the title of this post comes in.  Before going into the “Romantica,” Ivan leads me forward and I do a 180 degree turn.  I’m supposed to step straight forward and hold the pose, standing on my right leg and pointing my left behind me, to make a clear “picture” before completing the rest of the movement.  But I was slurring through it, stepping forward and turning at the same time, instead of letting the movements be distinct and clear.

So Ivan reminds me of this little detail and puts his hand up eye level as if dancing to the song, “Stop, In The Name Of Love” by Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The amazing thing is, I just went for it.  No thought about it.  I just trusted.  No fear.  Fear didn’t even cross my mind.  I was Fearless!

Ivan actually had to point this out to me.  He was pretty excited about it.

“You trusting me!  You not scary!” (scary = scared in Ivan)

So the next time we did it, he upped the ante.  He made a fist.

Again, I just went for it.  Stepping directly into his fist.  Doing so unscathed, unhurt, and unafraid.

Fantastic.

So today I’m celebrating.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the fact that I get to ballroom dance even at all, even if it costs an arm and a leg.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the people who support me, who I may not even know, but who play a role in my dancing, like the girl who was cleaning the space in which I dance.  And finally, I’m celebrating being fearless.  For someone who generally lives in a state of high-anxiety, I’m acknowledging the brave, calm, centered tiger within.

What will you celebrate today?  I want to hear about it!

Toodles, Stefanie