It All Begins And Ends With Fat

I had a really great double lesson with Ivan this morning. This is the difference having a solid goal and time frame in place makes. Because I’ve put the down payment on participating in 80 heats in People’s Choice, I know I’m going. Because I know I’m going, I know I need to do whatever I can to prepare myself in the short 4 weeks before the competition.

In only four weeks there is only so much you can do. Even while I work at it, I’m not going to lose a significant percentage of my body fat in that short of a time. However, even dropping just 5 pounds will make a difference I can feel on my body. I’m determined to be spot on with the plan my nutritionist sets forth for me. I can be motivated for one week at a time, especially with the competition looming. There is a purpose, and an urgent one, that will be behind all my choices and struggles. I need that.

And I’m determined to not lose any momentum afterwards like has happened in the past. I’ve already gotten the days off work for Desert Classic, which is also just a short time away. But the thing is, as soon as I am complete with People’s Choice, I will have another goalpost on the horizon to focus upon. This is so important for me. I will have my next competition planned before I complete Desert Classic to keep the cycle going.

Also, I probably can’t improve my cardio to where it really needs to be, but I do believe in a month’s time, especially combined with even a modest weight loss, I can make a difference. So what I need to do is practice exactly the task I need to accomplish while in the competition itself. We’ve been lazy on our lessons in this regard, indulging in long chats, stopping when it becomes a moderate effort, not doing rounds. I’ve talked in the past about making a playlist of songs for rounds of American and Latin styles with songs 1:30 each, but today I finally showed up prepared. I directed the lesson. I had an agenda. Because we have little time and I have to do what I can.

Before I fully committed to People’s Choice, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I was working toward…the vague goals of “getting better” and “losing weight” just weren’t moving me forward in any directed fashion. So I’d show up on a lesson and, as Ivan put it, say “Let’s do a Foxtrot. I’m fat.” He said I just moved and complained. That I wasn’t really dancing or doing anything.

So anyways, today I came in with a list of songs to warm up with. During this time we focused on connection. It was the perfect place to start and I told Ivan that this is how lessons need to look for a while – come in, warm up, focus on connection, then cardio, cardio, cardio doing rounds.

And guess what. It kicked my butt. I thought maybe I’d do okay since I did okay with the showcase number and that dance was pretty long. But nope. After swing I was kaput. And there are two more dances to complete. Because I was dancing full-out, pushing it during the beginning. Because that is my potential and capacity to dance like that, but I can’t sustain it. My body stops me. The asthma problems don’t help, but I honestly and truly believe that my body and physicality and lack of cardiovascular fitness are the biggest things holding me back right now. Anyways, I’m going to push during these next four weeks, doing rounds on every lesson and I do think it will get better. Oh, and it will probably feel better anyway because most likely the dances will only be 1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds at the most and I’m intentionally making it longer for conditioning.

But even with the reality of how exhausted I was after Swing, it still felt really good to be working on exactly what I need to work on and to be directed and focused. I didn’t have time to go all “poor me” and get in my head. And I have to say, for the first time, I had this moment of really being excited. I love the shapes I’m making, in Samba especially, and I could, for an instant, imagine how fierce it will be when I’m 100 pounds lighter.

And there were some funny moments that had me in stitches and it felt good to be happy and laughing on a lesson, even if my shortcomings were right in front of me. For instance, we were doing this move in Samba and I was really getting into it and so was Ivan. He wanted to spread his arms open wide, his chest puffed out like an eagle, presenting himself as very manly and strong. At the same time I was to step backwards behind, cross my feet, put one arm up in the air and the other one on his chest. We both went at it full force…but instead of connecting with his chest, my arm hit is wrist with a loud “smack!” and he was like, “Oww!” and withdrew his paw like a wounded kitten. It was so funny! Sometimes it feels good to hit your teacher, you know! lol.

And then there was some typical Ivan inappropriateness. On one step he told me to shut my clam. No, he didn’t mean for me to stop talking. He meant my, ahem, other clam, as in, keep your legs crossed daintly like a lady and don’t dance like a cowboy. Oh Ivan!

But mostly the lesson felt good because we were productive, focused, and clear. And while working on connection, I was able to control, direct, and project my energy such that at one point Ivan got goosebumps which is the ultimate in knowing I’m doing something right. I love it!

Which brings up another thing I’ve been pondering. I’ve been going to all these group classes that really emphasize technique, with Inna and Rado, and that is great. I love these classes and learning all this amazing information. However, there comes a time when you just have to dance. And that’s what I’ve got to focus on during my (expensive) time with Ivan. We have to focus on connection and actually dancing.

Ivan was so funny on our last lesson. I was telling him about what we talked about on Rado’s lesson and asking him for his take on it, thinking that I wanted him to tell me what I needed to do to “fix” things. But he basically said, “This so good you going to these classes. You learning all the different techniques but it is different with everybody. I think you open. I think your mind is open and you can listen to all these things and understand there is no one right way. Many people is wanting this, right and wrong way. So go, and learn, and now use this information. You not stupid. You no need me to tell you what to doing wrong or how to fixing it. You can do this yourself. You just need to do your routines by yourself step by step.”

Well, dang if that isn’t taking responsiblity for my own dancing on a new level, I don’t know what is. And that is another thing I was reflecting on…how much responsiblity I’ve been taking for my dancing, especially since Desert Classic last year. It is a good thing.

Anyways, getting back to how Ivan was being so funny. So he was basically saying, yes, technique is important but it’s not everything and you have to dance, like really dance, if you know what I mean – the difference between “doing” the steps, passing through the movements and “being” the dance. It’s kind of hard to explain but when you experience it or feel it, you can tell the difference. Really dancing involves, for me, like actually hearing the music (like I used to before I learned the importance of counting) instead of just saying the numbers in my head. Like actually seeing Ivan, not just blankly staring at him. Like being playful and in the moment and responding to my partner, the crowd, what feels right inside.

And so we have this conversation about technique and dancing, and Ivan slaps my butt when we are doing our Mambo routine and he says, “See! This is not technique.” And then we do rumba and he keeps me in this one position longer than unusual, and I go nuts wiggling my hips and he’s like, “Yeahhhh! See! This is not technique! But it looking so good!” I have these moments when there isn’t a conscious thought, and I just move like I feel like I should, and it is amazing…it is really dancing.

Because my truth is, I am a dancer. We know this. Everyone can see it. I’ve finally admitted to myself and I finally believe it to be true about me.

The other reality is, I’m fat. Everyone can see it. I never needed to admit it to myself, it is what it is, it is the truth about me.

I thought there was perhaps a way to see the dancing beyond the fat, but not so much. They are intimately intertwined. As Ivan told me, “It always begins or ends with fat.” You see, people know me because I move so well and it’s pretty unexpected because I’m extra large. So people will ask him, “Oh, who do you have a lesson with next?” “Stefanie,” he’ll say, and they will reply, “Oh the big one. She’s so good!” or “She’s so good! Isn’t she the fat one?”

People can’t just see me as a good dancer. They see me as a fat good dancer. Kind of like most people don’t see just a man, they see an Asian man. Or they don’t just see a woman, they see a woman with Cerebral Palsy. The fat is part of the picture, inseparable from me as being Asian or having a debilitating disease. Of course I can change this…I’m in the process of doing so…but this isn’t the point I’m making. The point I’m making is that as of this moment in time, this is part of my picture. Period.

So it was with mixed feelings that I read this post from The Reinvented Lass.  I did the showcase Cha Cha and shared the video and it affected her.  She reached out to me and asked me if I minded if she posted it on her blog and talk about how it affected her.  Of course I didn’t mind!  I think it is so amazing she was affected, and that she wanted to share and engage in a conversation.  I love it.  And I really appreciate and honor her honesty.  She was so self-reflective and kind and yet, I have to admit, it still stung.

The Lass wrote that she was proud of me.  That she’d read about my struggles and thought that I was a, wait for it….good dancer, and that she liked how I got into character.

But in my head all this was overshadowed.  She also wrote:

…she did such a great job with it – regardless of her size!

Yes, isn’t that the story of my life.  It all begins and ends with fat.

She continued:

But I started thinking about what things she can do better than me and how much better than me she can move. And to be honest, how much better than me she can move especially considering her size. Petty, right? And then I started to feel bad for myself and started thinking how bad of a dancer I must be. And I felt bad for having such thoughts about her.

All that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.

And reading this, I have compassion for both for her and for me. This stuff isn’t easy.  Petty?  I’m not sure I’d agree.  It’s just true, what she thought, but it does prick the heart.  It goes to my point that there is no way of really seeing just the dancing alone becuase it is embodied by, well, my Rubenesque physique. And still, it pisses me off. Why can’t people just see the dancing?

And it made me think that being fat, letting myself present myself this way, is me handing others a weapon to use against me, keep me down (read – a way for me to keep myself down).  They can always be superior because at least they aren’t fat like that one girl who dances well, for God’s sakes (read – other people are superior to me)!  They may not be able to dance like me, but heck, at least they don’t look like me.  The fact that they have a body fat percentage lower than mine makes them a better, more worthy person somehow. And anyways, they can get better, and at least they don’t look ridiculous trying to be sexy (read – well, you know.  All this crap is just me projecting what I don’t want to own).

How unfair and mean and separating and victim-y is that to think? And all that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.

For me it brings up thoughts of how inappropriate it is to dance in this state. That I shouldn’t dance while fat. But it also makes me think that it is important that I still get out there anyway because the stronger truth is that I am a dancer. I am a dancer now when I am fat and I will still be a dancer in the future when I am thin. Who I am is a dancer, but who I am has nothing to do with how much I weigh….and everything to do with it.

So what is there to do? I’ll take a note from the Lass:

But I also told myself that it’s not a competition. It’s a journey. She’s on her journey, and I’m on mine…

And in the meantime, I can appreciate Stef, her journey, her ability, and her dancing. I can appreciate that we share a passion and that we both think dance is so important to our lives. And I can cheer her on to be the best.

Yes. That’s right. We are on our own journeys and how much better is it to root for one another, remind one another of our greatness, and have open, honest communication, than to get stuck in the mental muck that threatens to separate us? How much better is it to appreciate that we share a passion called dancing that is important to the both of us, and that really, we are more similar than we are different?

So, Lass, I cheer for you, and for us. I appreciate you and know that you do kick-ass swivels (which I suck at!) and turns. I know you are insightful and wise. I am so glad you had the courage to share what you thought. Thank you for being my friend, warts and all.

So maybe the title of this post isn’t quite right.

Maybe it doesn’t really all begin and end with fat.

Maybe, instead, it all begins and ends with compassion and respect for ourselves and others, how we are right now, holding a vision of the best in the future. Maybe it all begins and ends with connection, not separation, recognizing our similarities rather than only seeing outer differences.

Maybe the truth is that it all begins and ends with love.

Good Effort

So my Tuesdays and Thursdays now look like this:

In the morning I wake up. I feel sore and tired and just plain bad. My allergies are atrocious and I have to clear out all my sinuses. And my asthma is ridiculous and I’ve made an appointment with the doctor next week because I think I’m at the point that I need a blast of steroids. My husband tells me I’m a vampire because I want no human interaction whatsoever, from talking, to making sounds, to touching me, looking at me, or even breathing on me. I am the anthesis of a morning person. Seriously, steer clear of me with a wide berth until about an hour after I’ve woken up. Throw in my moon time, and you have a perfect storm.

My husband, on the other hand, wakes up with a grin on his face, ready to take on the world, energetic, happy. It is about the opposite energy of mine and super annoying. You know, like when you are sad or grumpy and someone is just shooting rays of sunshine and rainbows out their ass? Yeah, like that.

Anyways, it is in this state that I stumble into the gym and take on some of the hardest things I will take on during the day. My poor trainer. She tries to correct my form but first off I don’t trust her so don’t try to touch me, especially in the morning (see paragraph one), and secondly, if you just ask me or tell me to put my hips parallel to the floor that is enough. I will do it. I have a good sense of my body position because, you know, I’m a dancer. Anyways, I digress….

These work outs are so difficult for me. So hard that I can barely do some of the exercises. So hard that I start panic breathing. So hard that I start crying silently. I’m already hurting and sore and then put this with a trainer who has no idea what it is like to be overweight or out of shape, who has never lost a significant amount of weight, in a room full of people who are all specimens of human perfection, and me seeing the cellulite on my knee through my workout pants, it is hard on all levels, emotional and physical. It feels like shit. Really, it does.

Woman fitness training

By MSGT Jon Nicolussi, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Yeah, I don’t look like that when I go to the gym….

Me, I feel angry when I’m working out. So very angry. Because I can barely do the hamstring bridges on the physioball and have to grunt to hover just pathetic inches above the ground. I’m angry because I’m so goddamned fat that I can’t do a proper Burpee because my goddamned belly gets in the way and even doing the modified ones I can barely complete the jump at the end. So angry because of reasons I can’t even put into words or explain to myself.

But I do it. I on some level have faith that eventually it will get easier. That it might actually feel good to be in my body. That I will maybe some day be proud of how I look and what I can do. Right now this seems like a pipe dream and all I see is the huge mammoth in the mirror and my giggly parts and all I feel is the pain, the effort, the disappointment, the anger. It’s overwhelming and sucks and I’m shaking as I’m writing this.

So anyways, I’m doing my process this morning as usual. Pushing hard. Crying. Struggling.

And just about when I’m done with my work out as I’m walking back to the area to complete my last exercise in the circuit, this older man with stark white hair steps in front of me and says, “Really good effort today. I mean it. Just keep it up.”

Well, I lost it. I’m still crying. He’s a total stranger. I have never seen him or had a conversation with him or anything. I feel so alone in this. And I consciously (or unconsciously) block out other people in the gym as much as I can because it is too hard to feel all the body shame and stay together enough to complete the tasks in front of me. So it was a total surprise. Like, I’m not there to show off (that is a laugh! I usually look like I’m flubbering around on the floor like an injured slug) or for attention (like those dudes who feel the need to grunt with every power lift, calling attention to the effort they are putting forth, making sure the world knows they are there and important). No I’m there for me.

So I’ve made no friends. I’ve made no effort to make friends. And this guy just swooped down and crashed into my world, shot a spear straight through my heart. He noticed me. He noticed my struggle, my effort, my perseverance. He pointed it out to me when I can’t see it for myself, when I focus on my shortcomings and how awful and angry I feel. I block out the strength I’m demonstrating. It just doesn’t feel like enough, somehow. It’s the ultimate in the need to be right, according to one of my friends. I can never be satisfied with what is.

No, no I can’t. I am so unsatisfied. I’m so unsatisfied with not being able to dance like I really want to dance. I’m unsatisfied with being kicked off roller coasters. I’m unsatisfied wearing frumpy clothes because I hate the way I look. You are damn right I’m unsatisfied.

But it is stealing whatever joy could be in the present moment. As Ivan told me long ago, I still have that Mental Problem. Beyond all the physical battles, this is the biggest battle I will fight – the one to set my mind healthy.

And now I’m leaning even more into it. I’ve hired Chelle, from Recipe For Fitness to hold my feet to the fire when it comes to nutrition.  Because that’s the missing element from my transformation, and I’m pretty convinced I am not successful doing this stuff on my own and need help with it.

Because I have a BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal).  I’ve decided I will do a solo at Emerald Ball next year in May 2014 an it will involve a lift.  This gives me just a few days over one year to prepare and scares the bajeezes out of me. I’ve never been to Emerald Ball, which is a pretty big deal, and to dance a solo in front of that kind of audience, well, I’ve never done a solo at a competition before either!  There will be goalposts and milestones along the way.  I’m doing People’s Choice in like 4 weeks and don’t even feel remotely ready. And I will do Desert Classic or Galaxy or both and possibly Vegas in December. I will have weekly meetings with Chelle and my sessions with my trainer. I will continue to take lessons with Inna and Ivan and Rado. I will keep a food log and weekly progress reports. I will fit into normal size clothing and have Marieta design new dresses for me. I will hold my leg at 90 degrees or higher in ballet and complete a double pirouette. I will become the champion I can be, in dancing, and in life.

So that’s the dealio peeps. Taking my life on like no kidding. Scared, angry, sad, excited, determined, and strong. It is okay to move forward even if it doesn’t feel good in the moment. Feel the crap and do it anyway and all that.

You’re Never Going to Learn How To Dance

Here’s fair warning…this post is all sorts of choppy, jumpy, and jumbled. There is nothing polished, smooth, or elegant about it. So I’ll just dive right in and hope you stay along through the choppy writing waters.

First things first, in case you missed the video of my showcase routine on the Facebook page for the blog, here is a link to it.

The good thing is I actually feel okay about sharing this. Like, it’s a lot less cringe-worthy than previous videos I’ve posted, and I do think my ronde’ is much improved from the previous showcase. So that’s a win in my book.

It was also a win that my nerves didn’t get the best of me this time around. I wasn’t hardly nervous at all. Staying relaxed like that, especially in a competition setting, would be a good thing. Ivan mentioned that he thought I was maybe a little too nonchalant about it, that I didn’t have the attack that I might want to bring forth at a competition, but I reminded him that it was still progress just because it was different, that I’ve changed. That is forward movement.

Other than that, I’ve decided to change tracks with the diet and exercise plan. I am going to continue with the gal on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the gym but it is more about just going and doing some weights, something extra, getting pushed more than I would push myself on my own, I don’t really expect more than that from her. I don’t feel like she is committed alongside me to reach my massive goals, or that she’d even really know how to assist me in that, but rather that she will do her job while on the clock and that’s it, and that’s fine.

But, well, I need help. I need support. I need more direction and accountability. I’ve decided to work with a nutritionist who herself lost 80 pounds and now competes in figure shows. I think she knows what she’s doing. She’s going to create a custom diet plan for me and I will have twice weekly accountability check-ins. I’ve committed for the next three months. I’m sure I’ll share more about that as the process unfolds but for now, I feel good making another decision to support me in getting where I want to go.

I skipped ballet this week because my ankle was bothering me and the instructor makes us always do a bunch of jumps. It tends to strain my ankle, especially since jumps are hard enough when you actually have some plie’ and don’t weigh a ton, (which I don’t, and I do), and especially with all the ballroom dancing in heels I’ve done lately, I just felt like my body needed some recovery.

Last night Inna was out of town so we had Alla teaching us instead. It wasn’t as hard as a cardio work-out as I usually get from Inna, but I do have to say I enjoyed the new, more complicated choreography. You can see Alla dancing here on DWTS – she and her partner won and were on Cheryl Burke’s team.

Tomorrow night is week three of Cha Cha with Radomir, which I’m also looking forward to. Again, he offers some more complicated choreography and also explains technique….plus we actually dance with a partner, which doesn’t happen in the other group classes I take.

But I have to say, it’s amazing the knowledge these pros have, I swear! Rado’s technique is so pristine, I think, it is an education just watching him, just like it is watching Inna or Marieta or Alla or Igor or Artem or any of the other pros move, you know? I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be influenced by so many exceptional dancers in town.

And, skipping right along in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, one thing I’ve noticed, is that when I’m feeling good about my dancing, and myself, I’m more likely to want to put my heels on because my feet and legs look more feminine and I feel stronger. If I’m feeling lower, I’m more likely to put on my practice shoes with their clunky heels. Lately, I’ve been putting my heels on more often. I can only imagine I will get to the point that they are practically all I wear, especially as I continue to drop weight, look better, and subsequently feel more confident about myself. But this week I put my heels on for both Rado’s class and Inna/Alla’s class, and even wore them on my lesson with Ivan. I guess it’s been a good week.

Wanna ride bikes?

Just kidding, except that is how A.D.D. my brain is right now. So here’s my next thought:

I can hardly believe that a fourth of the year is almost past. People’s Choice is coming right up and we are still not complete with our Samba routine. And instead of finishing that, well, on our last lesson we messed around making up a bit of a Bolero routine. Who knows if these will be presentable by People’s Choice but oh well, at least I have some new material since the last time I competed.

And guess what – apparently there will be some videographers there at People’s Choice scouting out Pro-Am couples to follow for a reality show. They’ll also be filming some of the pros as well. I seriously doubt I’d be chosen with Ivan but I do like that my friends who knew about it said, “I’d totally watch a reality show of you and Ivan!” Ha ha ha! Ivan is quite entertaining, that’s for sure.

And speaking of that, I realize the competition is coming right up, but I didn’t realize yesterday was the official deadline! Yikes! I found out by accident looking for one of the links I used in this post. I feel like the deadline for comps usually fall closer to the actual date of the competition, but maybe not? In any case this meant an urgent call Ivan to get the ball rolling, seeing as I’ve taken days off work to participate and all, and I’d really like to stay at the hotel if possible. So I guess I’d better decide how many heats I’m going to do….

So now for the title of the post. What do I mean by saying you will never really learn to dance? Well, yesterday, after Ivan and I were messing around making up Bolero steps, we chatted. He was very talkative for some reason. I told him that I had been a little rattled after our prior lesson because he had been getting genuinely agitated with me. Why? Because I’m still bottled up, holding back. He was like, “It’s no secret. We know all your problems. We know you big, and slow. I don’t caring. We (he and Marieta) are here for you, right now. No more time to prepare or think about it. I already give you so much time.” Basically, he was like, get over yourself.

And he’s right….to a point. Like in the showcase I was aware, after the fact but not during, that I didn’t actually focus on any particular person in the audience. I didn’t really open up and connect. I looked over the heads of the crowd. I don’t even know if I looked directly at Ivan, to be honest.

It’s certainly something I want to improve. I do desire to bring that presence that pros seem to exude. It’s pretty intense, though, both to experience from a pro while watching in the audience and also doing it myself.

But the thing that is difficult is being that open or to pretend like I’m totally aweseome, hot shit, the best dancer around for the purposes of a dance show or competition. It feels extremely vulnerable or like I’m a total sham. I have a feeling it will get easier the more I get the weight off, but right now it’s a challenge and very uncomfortable.

So anyways, we continued to chat and Ivan brought up a good point – the fact that I’m never really going to learn how to dance. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but simply in the way that there is so much to learn, so many schools of thought about how to execute various steps, and that a big part of actually dancing is self-expression, finding yourself in the steps while still respecting technique, that basically no one can ever really learn it all. Some people learn to dance. Others were born to dance. It’s as simple as that. I just have to find the courage to let go and live the dance beyond “learning” it.

So why would anyone ever pursue dancing, especially if it can never be 100% mastered? I don’t know exactly, but for people like Ivan and me, it’s our addiction. We can’t not dance. And when I’ve not danced for periods of time, I’ve withered inside. Dancing brings me back to life.

He was like, “Why I dancing? I should be retire. Why you dancing? What we doing? We crazy!”

“Yes but we can’t not dance. We just can’t.”

“Some people not understanding this.”

Truth be told, even I, myself, am not “understanding this.”

But who cares? It’s one of life’s mysteries why we love what we love. Dance a non-negotiable for me anymore. Even if I will never really learn how to do it. Even if I’m never satisfied. Even if I’m always in pursuit of something more and better. Even if it’s not my vocation or career or I will never be a professional, or even dance at a professional-like level, it’s still okay. It’s still worth it. I can’t even really explain why. I can’t explain why I want to become a better dancer, especially when there is no grand purpose behind that in practical terms. Why pursue this intangible, impossible art? Why do I love it?

I just do. It’s in my DNA. There is value in the practice and pursuit of dancing just for the sake of it. It’s enough and I’m grateful for it. And I guess it just seems important to share that, to share me and my process and my dancing, however it is, at whatever level it is. So this is me, dancing, living, sharing.

So Funny And Completely Inappropriate

So this morning I went in to practice the piece for the showcase at 7:45am. The practice was uneventful, which is good, except for the fact that Ivan was super tired because yesterday he did all sorts of work and intense manual labor on his farm which is up for an inspection from the county. That, and he strained his back from carrying 80 pound bags of cement all over the place, so he was like, “Please no splits today.” And I was like, “No problem!” I didn’t mind skipping that part at all….just as long as he is recovered by Saturday, which he seems to think he will be.

So the practice went well enough and at the end Ivan had another morning lesson scheduled. In came a new student who is friends with one of Ivan’s other students who I know. They asked to see what we were working on so we showed them the dance and they were kind and said it looked good, and the new gal said she had heard a lot about me from her friend, and somehow the conversation became about the blog. I didn’t mention it…I think Ivan did, but the lady I know said she didn’t know I had a blog so I fished a card for her out of my purse.

“It’s about my experiences on dance lessons, and all the funny stuff Ivan does, and sometimes helpful information about ballroom dancing, and a little bit of me complaining about trying to lose weight.”

And we’re talking about the blog and Ivan chimes in. “Ah yes. Everything that happens goes on the blog. This why I no have sex with her. because if I do, then it would be on the blog.”

Achtung

By see below. (see below.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

SAY WHAT!?! Who says something like that? And who can say that and still be likeable, especially in front of a new potential student? Only my cuckoo instructor. Good thing he is an independent agent because I can’t imagine a comment like that would ever be tolerated at a studio, and good thing that I know him and how ridiculous he is, as does his other student, who I am certain has shared about Ivan to her pal.  All I can say is that he must have been deliriously tired to randomly say something like that!

So anyways, without missing a beat, as I’m walking out the door, I simply reply, “Oh, that’s the only thing holding you back, Ivan? That it would be written about on the blog?” And Ivan’s student cracks up in a guffaw while I think her friend is sitting next to her silently in shock over what just transpired.

Ha ha ha! So here it is, I’m writing about it on the blog. Lolololol.

Why You No Pick The Phone?

I love the way Ivan says things. It’s just so funny sometimes. For instance, he never says, “Why didn’t you pick up the phone?” but rather, “Why you no pick the phone?”

Dialog gr 1972

By Holger.Ellgaard (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“Well, Ivan, I no pick the phone because I was at the gym.”

“Oh?! What?! You at the gym. You never doing this. Goooood.”

“Well, I did go for a while there but couldn’t make it work. This time I’m making it work.”

“Are you sweat?”

“Yes, I am sweat a lot.”

“I know. I can smelling it through the phone. Go take a shower. What did you do?”

“45 minutes on the stair-stepper. I got my heart rate up to 160 for most of it and pushed it to 180 for 5 minutes toward the end.”

“Goooood. And how you feeling?”

“Pretty good. I didn’t want to go today but I couldn’t bring myself not to go. So I went. I was really tired all day.”

“See. But you going then you feeling good. Ah! The stair-stepper is the worst. But I love it!”

“Yeah, it hurts my butt! But it gets my heart rate up and I need the cardio. Third time this week to make it to the gym. So can we have a lesson tomorrow morning?”

“Yes madam. See you six-thirty, krasiva.”

*krasiva = beautiful in Bulgarian.

It’s My Movie

Well, the truth is I haven’t really wanted to blog about what has been going on for me the past week or so. First off, I’m annoyed with myself for still getting so emotional about things and really letting them get me down. I didn’t want to make this blog a whine-fest.

But, as usually happens, with some time, and some tears, and some working out at the gym, and some sharing with friends, I’m feeling better. Seriously – when I read that it makes it sound like something dramatic happened, but in all honesty the only drama was that in my head.

I can’t say why exactly, but my body image issues have been getting the best of me lately. That and I’ve just felt sad like I will never be able to have/create a body I love and that looks good, and that I will never become the dancer I wish to be. For whatever reason, it was especially heavy on my heart this past week. And working on the Rumba only exacerbated the problem.

I’ve done a lot of dancing over the past days so perhaps a lot of emotion is just being shaken out. I recall that upon first taking up ballroom dancing I did shed many a tear, so sad about what I have allowed myself and my body to become. It was and is incredibly painful to really absorb the damage done by getting so large, not to mention how I feel about myself as a woman. On good days, I accept where I am and work toward what I desire, I might even find some things to find beautiful about myself. On neutral days I block it out and focus on if my clothes are fitting looser, and how my body moves and all that it can do, rather than how it looks doing it. On bad days I see my reflection in the mirror and it disgusts me, triggering a myriad of thoughts and a swirling drama that threatens to suck me down into a black abyss.

The weird thing is that all was smooth sailing for the first part of the week. I danced almost every day and even went to the gym for some cardio. I had lessons with Ivan, a great group class with Inna and I even danced around my kitchen at home just getting lost in the music and movement, not caring what it looked like and savoring the experience.

Then Saturday on my way to my lesson, I just felt sad. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I walked in and Ivan was looking good. He had dyed his hair darker because the night before he had done a performance in a local Dancing With The Stars fundraising gala. And I swear he has gotten more trim, plus he had grown some stubble. And it just hit me. Why would someone like that want to dance with someone who looks like me? And the more we danced, the more ridiculous I felt. And the more emotional I got and all the fight went out of me and I could barely focus. I didn’t really say anything, but we both knew it was just bad news. At the end of the lesson was like, “I don’t know what to telling you. I don’t knowing what is making it better. You think I gonna put on my shoes today if I knowing it gonna be like this?”

Even so, he assured me, it’s normal to have a bad lesson every once in a while. If all lessons were like that, it would definitely be a problem, but (thankfully) it’s not. So we parted hoping that the next day would be brighter.

To a certain extent it was. After a serious session of cardio on the stair-stepper and a long chat with my friend “Blue Eyes,” who has also shed a ton of weight and knows what it is like to go through this, I was more or less in a neutral space. But I was worried.

I can’t remember exactly why I thought I wanted to have a lesson with Marieta, but I believe Ivan mentioned he wanted me to see how Marieta did one move that they also have in their routine and I realized that I have another amazing resource I can call upon to grow as a dancer. I haven’t had a lesson with Marieta in a long time and so was excited to set one up and was in good spirits when I contacted her about it.

But the day of the actual lesson with all the body image issues and self-doubt raging through my system, I was already feeling fragile, and I knew just being around Martieta might trigger me. If you have never had body issues you may not understand, but I find it incredibly difficult to even stand beside Marieta sometimes. Because she has a gorgeous body. Because she is an exquisite dancer. Because she embodies so many qualities that I wish I were. I mean, I intellectually understand we are all different and beautiful and amazing in our own way. And intellectually I understand that I am where I am in my dancing and though it is great to have a vision of where I am going, I have to start where I am. There is no leaping ahead to a different reality, a different body. And my greatest beauty is going to be when I express myself, and just like no two singers’ voices sound the same, no two dancers are exactly the same either. But that seems like a small consolation in those moments when I am overcome with the very uncomfortable emotion that arises when I feel intense shame about being who and how I am.

Even so I want to find the expression inside me and to work through this body-shame. And as amazing as Ivan is, even when he does the female part, there is still something inherently different when I see a female dance it. There is a presence these women ballroom dancers have. Marieta’s presence has a very different quality to it than Inna’s but both exude an almost palpable energy just walking on the floor, much less moving. I’m searching to find my quality of presence and also learn how to project it. I have a feeling it is tied into confidence and fearlessness.

So anyways, I wanted very much to have a lesson with Marieta, and I am planning on working more with her in the coming months because what I got on the lesson was of such value. But I was a mess. Actually, Ivan and I had had a decent enough lesson prior to Marieta coming in but just as she was walking in we were starting our Rumba.

In the beginning there is about 30 seconds where I am going to dance alone. There is no choreography at the moment and Ivan was just encouraging me to move, feel the music, express. He said, “It’s your movie. Imagine there is a spotlight on you and thousands of people watching.” He turned off the lights, put a spotlight on the mirror ball in the studio, and told me to enter from across the room.

Inside, I felt scared. But I want to grow and so pushed that down and pretended as best I could and moved.

Well, anyways, Ivan and I then danced, I screwed up a bunch but it was okay and then our lesson was over. It was time to work with Miss M. And I just felt like I should tell her why I had wanted to work with her, what the purpose of our lesson was. But it turns out, that might have been a mistake.

Because it all came out in this big, overly emotional gush. I was just talking and the tears were coming, and that was exactly the wrong thing to do to set me up to have a productive lesson. I was all caught up in my longing to be thinner, more beautiful, a better dancer. And I even blabbed, “I want to be good enough that it will be hard to tell who is the student and who is the pro.” Which, although a worthy goal, and something to strive for, it is most certainly not where I am, and indeed, may never happen. I am actually okay with letting that go and working toward it at the same time, but in that moment I was wrapped up in how lacking I was feeling, how “less-than” I was as compared to Marieta or any pro, in every way.

I guess I felt like because Marieta is also a friend I could go say all this stuff but if I had scheduled a lesson with any other pro there is no way I would have said anything like this at all. Lucky for me, Marieta is a true pro through and through and she set the context right away.

But I’ll be honest, we got started and I was having a hard time concentrating. I had to excuse myself for a moment to collect myself in the bathroom but then I came back and was calmer and more focused and more able to actually absorb what she was sharing…which was really wonderful.

Marieta told me that she had come in during the last few minutes of my lesson with Ivan so she could watch on purpose. “You may have thought that your movements were very expressive, but really they were pretty insular, you were holding them inside.”

“You are right. I’m aware of that. That’s part of why I want you help…to get what is going on inside so that it is readable and expressed on the outside.”

She had me do a lot of rumba walks and some balances. I wobble more than I should. And she explained how to move to keep on balance by imagining my spine is a pole and all movement should always twist around it. She encouraged me work on strengthening my core. She also demonstrated that to go forward you have to go back first – that it is more dynamic to create a sort of whiplash to movement than to start from a static position. And just being around her presence, focus, and intensity was a lesson in itself. I still don’t understand how she is able to switch her weight between feet so quickly, or to move her limbs with superhuman speed and sharpness but I’m looking forward to observing her and working with her again in the near future and more often. It brings a whole new dimension to the dancing, as well as a new level of strong femininity. And I think she was even harder than me on Ivan usually is, which is a good thing.

So I left the lesson richer with wisdom, feeling foolish about being a blubbery emotional mess, but also with a mental adjustment in place that allowed me to finish the lesson and actually get something out of it (a lot actually) and with a stronger resolve to continue to work toward my goals.

Which meant that I made a personal goal to get 45 minutes of cardio in 5 days of this week above my normal activities. Two of those times must be on the stair-stepper. I’m just making this up, just for this week. Then next week I’m going to make up something else to do, focus on, accomplish, and count as a success. Better to focus on specific worthwhile tasks, and practice at being a winner, than to go down in the emotional torrent that can so easily present itself.

And so far I am off to a good start. I got 45 minutes on the elliptical machine in yesterday and then went to a 90 minute ballet class which is more challenging than the one I usually take on Sundays. It was a stretch and I liked it. I even began to feel like I could do a little bit more, raise my leg a little bit higher, hold my chest up a little longer, and that maybe, just maybe, the grand plies were slightly easier than before. I felt like after a month or two of going to classes just once a week has made a difference in my body alignment and strength. I even liked the lines my legs were making sometimes (probably because I came straight from the gym and had runner’s stripes on my pants!) Today I had a lesson with Ivan and shortly I’m off to Inna’s class. Which is all to say, that I’m still moving forward. That the story isn’t over. That I am not satisfied with where I am. Not by a long shot. But it’s my movie, like Ivan said. And the credits haven’t rolled yet.

You Are What You Do

Which begs the question, what the hell have I been doing?

Okay, first things first, I promise that a write-up of my experience at the Arthur Murray Winter Showcase will be forthcoming soon but there is just so much going on in my brain that I need to work it out! And the blog is where I do some of that and I’m needing a purge about now. I just have to say that I was so appreciative of the experience and felt so welcomed by everyone that I interacted with. They didn’t have to be so kind, especially since I already dance elsewhere, which made it even more especially wonderful.

But back to my drama. It’s pretty much all mental but it’s making me feel like every emotion possible all at once. Imma ’bout to explode here!

A lot has happened but I suppose it all really started this weekend. On Sunday I woke up after a very nice evening watching my dear friend dance as well as a show by Jason and Sveta Daly. And I have to say is, watching Jason and Sveta really affected me. Especially their Rumba and Bolero. I totally got chills at some points and Sveta is impeccable in her technique. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them dance better than last night. Anyways, it was gorgeous and wonderful and I loved it, so I was puzzled why I was feeling emotional on my drive in to my lesson with Ivan.

When I walked in, I just told him right away I was a mess.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I’m sad. Because I want to be like Sveta and Marieta. I want to be as good of dancers as they are. And it is painful to me that I am not. And I don’t even think it is possible. I can’t believe that it is possible for me to move like that or have a body like that. But that is what I want now, and, looking back on it, ever since I was a little girl. Back then I wanted to be a ballerina. Now the picture has changed, but it feels the same. And it is even more upsetting because I’ve buried it so deeply, stopped dancing for over 10 years, and gained such an incredible amount of weight.”

“I mean, what are we doing here, Ivan? What is our goal? What do we want to do? What is our focus? I like that we are working on some open routines but why? What is the purpose?”

“I don’t know. There is lots of goals you having,” he replied. “You is wanting to lose the weight, and dance scholarship, and all these things. But do you want to go to a competition and only doing 10 dances?”

“No.” I answered. “I wouldn’t want to travel and do all the prep that is necessary for a competition and only dance a few dances.”

“See, so you wanting things different from your friends. You having different goals. You can’t be comparing yourself to them.”

But that’s the crux of it all, isn’t it? That is the world of ballroom. Comparison. I am being compared to those on the floor at the same time. My body is being compared. My dancing is being compared. My costume and make up and hair and tan are all being compared. And judged and ranked. And pardon my French, but it can be a total mindfuck.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all say that we should only be competing against ourselves, our last performance. That we should only strive to better than we were yesterday. And, maybe that is the way to go. I just have to say that it is super hard not to look at my amazing friends, or the pro dancers I look up to, and think it is impossible for me to be any sort of champion. It is impossible for me to actually realize this dream of mine to move and look like a Latin dancer. I want to be her, not just play at it. I want it badly. But maybe not badly enough?

I expressed this sentiment to Ivan and he seems to think my biggest problem is not believing. In his Bulgarian wisdom he pretty much said, “You always wanting this. But can’t just want it. You having to believe it. You not believing it. But I believing it. I know this is gonna happen. I already see it.”

So although I scheduled a double lesson, we only danced maybe 20 minutes total of the hour and half after all the talking. But sometimes I just need to do that. I don’t know if anyone else does that, but every once in a while it just has to happen.

But then the 20 minutes we did work something amazing happened. We began to work on Rumba, just the fan. I’m not exactly sure how or why it happened, but Ivan was encouraging me to express myself more and more because in those moments when I really tune into the music and actually connect like I’m supposed to, and am centered in myself, I actually dance. (Amazing, I know!) And, it turns out, that I can be in control as the lady on some moves, slow them down, add dynamics, change the speed etcetera, according to the music and what it feels like I should be doing to interpret it and the “story” of the dance.

So anyways, I was in the space to do all that I guess after all the talking and I began to play with the music and do this leg extension thing before stepping into Sliding Doors. And after we did it, Ivan looked at me and said, ” You make me dance there.”

“What?!” I asked.

“Yes, because you dancing, you doing something, I have to doing something too. You make me actually dancing with you as a couple because I can’t just stand there while you are moving. I can’t just wait for my student to doing a turn, I have to dancing too.”

Honestly, that was the coolest thing ever in my mind. The coolest. The friggin point of dancing is dancing together, having a conversation through our bodies. And the fact that I had enough dance in me to get someone like Ivan, who I consider light years ahead of me, to join in with me, was so fulfilling and fantastic. It felt awesome. Ivan was pretty excited too. He said, “When my next student comes, we have her video it and we can see.”

So here’s the thing. I’m going to share these videos with you. But the deal is, that when I saw them, I was pretty mortified. It looks nothing like how it feels inside. And I can see a bunch of things I really don’t like, especially how slow I am at the very end. So please be gentle! I’m a work in progress. And the thing is, I went from feeling awesome about myself, to seeing the reality of what I was doing, my abilities at this moment in time, and I was pretty darn disappointed. I went from feeling great to feeling crappy in just a few seconds.

Alright. Well that was the end of the lesson and I had to get going to my ballet lesson across town. I didn’t have time to wallow, but I have to say that I didn’t exactly feel like blogging about all this. I felt drained and I needed some time to work through the feelings before I felt okay about sharing it. But I guess I do, because here I am blabbing all about it! But anyways, on to ballet.

Which was great as usual because the class is so much fun and pretty casual and as a special bonus my friend came to join me for class and coffee afterwards. So that made for a fun lesson, and even better was a chance to catch up with someone for the first time just me and her. It was so wonderful. She told me about her life and I shared a little of what was going on with me. At one point we talked about the time I went on the boat with Colette and Lady Gaga and Ivan and Marieta.

“I don’t know what kind of balls you have girl, to go on a boat with them!” Read bathing suits and hot bodies.

My answer stuck with me. It just came out of me in the moment, but now it’s been rolling around in my brain. I replied, “Well, really, it came down to a choice to participate in life or not. I made a decision a while ago to participate because I didn’t used to. I would be afraid to do anything, especially anything physical, for fear that someone might see a fat roll.”

Seriously, I did this, back when I was a normal size. I would never get in the pool at pool parties. I would not play games at camp because I was afraid my shirt would ride up and reveal my belly. I would sit alone on school field trips to water parks. It sucked. And now I’m on the reverse end of this – doing all these things, including ballroom dancing, in a body that is ridiculous, and in spite of the fact that people can see fat rolls and my shirt does occasionally ride up and reveal my Buddha belly.  I do all this now when it isn’t just in my sick head which is pretty ironic if you ask me.

So anyways, I had to end the girl date because I had another activity planned with Lady Gaga. She had arranged a class from an instructor at her studio for stretching and some ballet exercises to assist her with Latin. She invited me along and I’m game for anything once to try it out. It was another intense experience stacked right on to the other ones of the weekend in a different way. This also affected me deeply and gave me much to ponder.

When we got there, at the beginning of the class Lady Gaga mentioned, “Please help me!” to the instructor. “I have bad feet,” said Gaga. I was thinking the same  think about my feet. I don’t have the best point (but not the worst either). But our instructor responded with something that woke me up.

“Nobody has bad feet.” He said.

“Anything is possible.” He said.

And  he proceeded to tell us the story of a woman he knew who was a professional dancer. As a student, her teacher told her she would never make it as a professional because of her feet. But she stretched them and worked on them, and something like 20 years later she happened to be at the same convention as her old instructor, teaching a workshop, as the professional she became.

It was just the message I needed.

The class was a lot of stretching, and it turns out I am pretty flexible. I mean there is always more you can work for, but the thing is, I’m pretty happy with my flexibility for what I have to do in ballroom at the moment. The bigger concerns are aesthetics (read fat), cardiovascular endurance, and speed. I’d rather begin to spend more energy and time and resources on those issues that are really holding me back than to work at something I’m already decent at. It isn’t going to get me where I want to go to do that. So the long and short of it is that I won’t be continuing with the class, even though I’m really glad I went this weekend.

I gained so much just by being in the presence of this teacher. It turns out that he is Romanian. And he explained, after class, that he had been trained in both ballet and ballroom and also music as a child because that was part of the schooling there. He currently dances with a ballet company. And he was just amazing. It is evident that he has lived a life of discipline. And he just had this gentle, kind, pragmatic manner about him. He was soft-spoken and kind. He never got flustered, even when the woman in the class who was taking it with her husband was trying to correct her spouse (more than once!)

His message was consistency over being a hero. That it is better to work consistently at something, slowly, not working so hard just to prove something only to do it once.

His message was, live by the principle that you are what you do. We all have different abilities. We have to work with what we have, and not compare with others. And that comparing to others is different from being inspired to do more and be more by others who are doing more and being more. Ivan actually said something very similar to me on a lesson the day before. That it should be motivating to see someone dancing amazing and then to look at it and say, “If he/she can do it, so can I. How are they doing it? What can I work on to do it as well?” It is a more empowering and proactive response than to sink into the depths of self-loathing and deprecation, hopelessness and despondency.

I was especially affected by the instructor’s response to my question, “How often should you stretch?”

“That is a good question.” He replied. “It depends on how much time you have to devote to it and how badly you want it. Me, I stretch two hours a day. There was a time when I worked my way up to four hours a day. And when I was dancing, and where I wanted to be, I spent maybe 10 minutes on it.”

His answer blew me away and opened an entirely new paradigm about how badly I want what I say I want.

I guess the good news in all this, even though I don’t feel a lot of closure around all that has happened, is that I did figure out my “goals” with ballroom dancing. It’s probably pretty obvious to you, but I had to suss it out. My goals are actually pretty clear and simple.

I am a trim, fit, confident, trusting, consistent, expressive, and sensual woman. I love my body. I dance every moment fully present and connected to the best of my ability.  Every moment I dance feels as awesome inside as it did when Ivan was made to dance with me as a partner rather than a student.

I think everything else will fall into place if I focus on this.

So in this mindset, I threw my workout clothes and tennis shoes in my car with the idea of going to the gym after my lesson with Ivan tonight. I also had been thinking about stuff I want to work on as a dancer, including twisting more, being on balance, being faster, connecting, and as Sveta mentioned to me, “having a small base and a lot of movement.” I wanted to work on these things but guess what. I pretty much sucked at all of them during my lesson. It was disheartening. Ivan had to push and pull me because I was slow. I missed responding because I wasn’t connected. It was so disappointing! I mean, after all this talking and all this thought and all this intention, and when I show up, I still can’t perform any better. It feels hopeless and upsetting.

But then, well, even if I sucked today, and was not connected, and too damn slow, two things I noticed. One, I’ve been wearing my heels on all my lessons, even in Inna’s class. It may seem like a small thing, but I’ve been using my comfy practice shoes almost exclusively for months. It affects balance to be higher and on a smaller heel. And it takes more strength in the ankles and calves to dance in heels, especially at my size. But I must feel like I’m strong enough to do it because it hasn’t been a thought lately. I haven’t been debating which footwear to use. And it has been a few years since all I wore was heels on all my lessons. Not since I went through the first time I painfully conditioned my feet to be able to wear heels with my first instructor has this happened.

The second thing I noticed was that although I was not happy with how I performed at my lesson and was kicking myself for not doing better, I still had the motivation and determination to use the gym clothes I’d brought with me, and I know for a fact there are times when I have chosen differently in the past.  And at least for today I can say that I stuck to my diet and added 45 minutes on the stair stepper after my lesson with Ivan. And trust me, I wanted to quit about 15 times while I was on the stupid machine, and I had to bargain with myself to keep going, and I even had to slow it down a few times to recuperate. But I drew a line in the sand. It was simply this: I told myself that I would complete 45 minutes on the stair stepper tonight. I was committed to not breaking my word with myself and thus determined to not quit until I had completed the task. I could have chosen to beat myself up for not going full speed the entire time, or even for having a desire to quit. Or I could choose to celebrate that I completed it, and began to rebuild some trust with myself. I didn’t feel particularly sad or triumphant once the task was done, but I did take a moment to blast “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera on my iPod and walk very slowly on the treadmill afterwards as a little reward for myself. I lost myself completely in the music and that felt great.

So I sit here after writing 3000 words and I know that I have a long way to go. I have a long path ahead of me in terms of discipline and consistency. In terms of shedding weight and improving my cardiovascular endurance. In terms of loving myself and accepting myself as I am while striving to be better. And, of course, in terms of becoming the dancer I want to become.

But Ivan seems to think it’s possible. And if he can see that in me, why do I struggle with it so much?

I Feel Good

I just got off my lesson this morning and I have to say, I feel good.

I’m fat, and my feet are slow, and there is still so much to learn and work on and grow into, and so what… I’m satisfied.

I’m satisfied because I’m in there working on it. I’m dancing! And dancing makes me love life, and even love myself. Even when I’m flawed. Even when I mess up.

I almost don’t even know what to do with this good feeling. Isn’t that weird? It, like sadness or anger, also needs an outlet. It too, needs to be expressed.

Like today, after my lesson (well, it was a double) I still had energy. I wanted to dance even more! I wasn’t ready to be done with dancing today.

You see, last night I went to go support my friend and watch her dance in a showcase (more on this experience later). I was surrounded by all these people who love dancing and by the end of the night I just couldn’t wait to get to my lesson this morning. Seriously, it just made me want to get on the dance floor and work.

And even better was I brought some new music and that was awesome inspiration. We began with a Rumba, and I just love the way it feels. Perhaps my technique isn’t perfect, and I still miss connections or whatever, but ever since the running blindly episode, I’ve been feeling more secure than before, more confident. More able to enjoy the dance and be in the moment. More able to just feel and move and there is nothing like it in this world.  Yep, you figured it out.  Ballroom is my heroin.  But as addictions go, I think it’s a pretty good one to have!

Ivan and I had said that today would be all about creating a Samba routine, but we got a little distracted by the great new music which infused a new energy into our dancing. And I just feel so good when I’m dancing, really dancing (not thinking or analyzing or critiquing) with Ivan. It is so wonderful to have a partner that will match my energy, that I can interact with. I mean, I’m starting to feel like I’m coming into my own in some ways. Like yesterday on an impromptu lesson, I actually corrected Ivan for once! Ha! There is no thrill like reversing the tables, you know! All lesson long I hear about my shortcomings, what I should be doing, and all of it is true and right, but you know what, Ivan isn’t perfect either! His shoulder was getting out of line and I didn’t even think about it – I just saw it, didn’t say a word and started touching it, patting it like “Hey! Pay attention here buddy!” And he was all, “Yes. Thank you. You is right.” Bam!

So today when I saw my huge ass and my fat flappy arms jiggling all over the place, I wasn’t happy about it, but for once I didn’t let it get me down.  I was feeling too good.  I was feeling too strong about how awesome it felt to go “Kah! Wha! Two and three, four and one!” I was feeling the part, living the part, body be damned….and, oh boy I can’t wait until I’m thinner!

So the rest of my weekend is going to be awesome.  The Arthur Murray studios in town have gotten together for a competition and showcase thing – last night I saw the showcase part and today is a mini competition and then professional show, including dinner and a performance by Jason and Sveta Daly.  So I’m going to get myself all gussied up and go to that tonight which will be very fun, and then tomorrow morning another double with Ivan, then off to Ballet, then off to another lesson with my friend Lady Gaga – ballet and yoga stretching she said.  Then in the evening supporting another dear friend, this one a singer, who will be performing her new original works at a fundraising event.

In any case, all this is getting the bug in me.  Though I am only slightly smaller than the last time I competed, I want to show up with an even more dramatic difference, but I also want to perform or compete soon.  I mean, my routines are still in progress, and I’m not necessarily “ready,” but I still want to do it!  The last time I danced publically was back in September.  And the performer in me who has awoken and is feeling good today wants to get out there and start being seen on a more regular basis.  Life is too short, you know?

I’m thinking about San Francisco, Emerald, People’s Choice.  I kind of wish I could do Vegas in two weeks but the mandatory overtime is still in place at work.  I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to step back into the Scholarship arena just yet, but I’d love to do some open heats.  Ah well, it’s in the works.  Hopefully sooner rather than later.

I guess that’s about it for now.  I just feel good and wanted to document it!  LOL.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Whoa. I remember writing a post last Valentine’s Day! I’ve been blogging for over a year! I have to say, it flew by fast. Blogging, and dancing, have truly been enterprises fueled by love, which is fitting, since it’s Valentine’s Day and all.

So, like last year, I’m going to write about the topic of love, in the context of dancing and blogging. Here’s what I’m loving in my dance and blogging life right now:

1) I love getting my ass kicked in Inna’s Latin class on Tuesdays.

This is a real pleasure. Actually, not so much while I’m gasping for breath and leaning on the wall for support like I was last night after Jive and Paso Doble, but there is great pleasure in making it through a class, and in seeing improvement, however slowly it may seem to be happening. There is also a great rush of serious endorphins that hit my blood stream on the ride home after the grueling work-out that is Tuesday night at Imperial Ballroom Dance Center.  More than that, I love seeing my friends in class and learning from such an amazing professional.  The studio is gorgeous, it my favorite space and floor in town by far, and their Holiday Showcase is first-class as well.  Hmmm, I guess this is turning into a love-fest for the entire studio.  Well, so be it.  I love Imperial, and the people who inhabit it, and the work I am lucky enough to get to do there.

2) Getting a positive reaction out of my teacher.

Seriously, if you dance, you will know….it is like, the best, when your teacher is pleased with something you do.  It’s those moments that are really motivating to me and I have to say, I love when they happen, especially since they are far and few between! I’ve been fortunate that in the last couple of lessons, however, I’ve actually managed to get a “Wow!” and some goosebumps out of Mr. Ivan.

The “Wow!” was just this morning on a lesson when we were preparing to begin a Rumba.  I was actually listening to the music (for once) and relaxed and letting myself do whatever I wanted without editing or holding back, which is a win, and it worked just like it’s supposed to!  Gosh, I should do that more often!

The goosebumps occurred on a previous lesson. As always, Ivan was encouraging me to perform, and told me to really “sell it!” in my movement. Basically, dance with confidence and conviction. Easy to say….not so easy to execute sometimes for those of us who struggle with self-doubt. But this was after my fearless blind running (see my last post if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and so I was up for the challenge.  It was a fan, I think in Cha Cha, and I sold it baby!  At first Ivan told me I was copping out, and in his crazy mind/explanation I was accepting $90 when being offered $100.

“Excuse me!”  I replied, “$100 is cheap! I would only accept $1000.”

“Ah, yes, well this like you accepting $3000 for $5000.  Sell it for the $5000.”

I took a deep breath and went for it.  And it worked.

“Ah, you no sell $5000.  You sell $20,000!”  And the proof was the goosebumps.

Yeah, it was awesome, even if it doesn’t really make any sense, but I don’t care – I love me some goosebumps.

3) I love taking ballet class.

I also love people who follow that inner instinct and do things in this world, even when they don’t necessarily make sense to others.  One such person is this lady and it’s because of her that I have a place, as an adult, to go and feel comfortable and reconnect with one of my first dance loves – ballet.  Trust me, it’s not so easy to find a class that would work for me….I’m out of shape but a dancer inside.  I needed a class that was challenging, taught by someone who knows ballet and could coach and correct, but a class that wasn’t too challenging, if you know what I mean.  Nor did I want to dance alongside tweeners.   In a leotard.  That was definitely not gonna work for me.  Well, Anyways, that amazing lady, Teresa, created a dance studio just for people like me and it’s because of her I can go to another dance studio that I love, Abby Bella, (named after her two darling doggies!), and dance my heart out in a joyful way, in a space full of support and camaraderie, and connect with ballet and dancing like I never could as a kid.

I love how just even the few weeks of ballet classes I’ve been taking regularly have seemed to help with balance and maybe even some strength and flexibility.  I’m finding my center again and determined to tackle a double pirouette soon – they were my nemesis as a teenager, but I eventually did successfully harness them.  In any case, I love going, I love stretching and pushing myself, and I love being in the class and in the studio.  I know it’s going to help me with my ballroom dancing too!

4)  I love connecting with others (read you!) through the blog.

Seriously, y’all!  I love getting direct messages and comments and friend requests/followers on the Facebook.  It’s been amazing to meet other dancers as passionate about dancing as I am, to hear stories from others about their struggles and triumphs, to receive support and to support others.  I’ve done some guest blogs, and invited others to write guest posts, not to mention participating in the Dance Advantage Dance Blog Contest which was ah-maz-ing!!! Not only did I get a ton of exposure, and gain some new readers, but I got 3rd place overall and Editor’s Choice.  I feel like my blog is bona fide now, if you know what I mean.  So anyways, not to be cheesy or anything, but you, dear reader, the one reading this right now, I love you!  Yes, I write for me, and to process my experiences and stuff, but I also write for you.  You guys help me stay motivated and accountable.  You send me kindness and friendship.  All of this, I feel, puts me on the better end of the deal!  I appreciate you and I want to say thank you.  I feel like we have something of a community here and I love that.  I’m glad you are here and please don’t be shy to speak up and say hello, digitally or in person!

Alrighty.  It’s late, I’m tired and have a loooooong day ahead of me tomorrow.  I’m gonna sign off.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love, Stef

Running Blindly

Today was a satisfying day. First off, it was an unexpected day off. Yesterday they canceled overtime for the weekend. I’ve been needing some “off” time – time to rejuvenate, connect with life outside of a dark dance studio in the morning or night, work, and home (which means 1 hour of TV and bed!) And to have two days off in a row feels luxurious!

Next, I weighed myself and I’ve had a breakthrough. I’m below 250 pounds for the first time in years and I’ve been messing around with the last five pounds for about 3 months. Finally! I kind of couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the number. Though not anywhere near where I want to be eventually, it IS a milestone and one to be celebrated.

Plus, I had an amazing lesson with Ivan this morning, during which I had another breakthrough – Can you believe it?! I will tell you the story shortly.

After the lesson I went and got my haircut and my brows waxed. The last time I had them done was in November! Luckily the salon was able to fit me in at the last minute since I didn’t know I’d have time today with the surprise day off and all, and now my hair is healthy and ready to grow out, and my furry eyebrows are back under control. Plus I had fun talking with my stylist about some ideas for my hair around competition time. I’m pretty excited.

Then I went to Sephora to get some much-needed and belated foundation. Suddenly my skin looks flawless and I’m feeling better so I also go in for some blush and gloss and powder.

Finally I have fantastic lunch from this amazing restaurant all by myself. It’s one of those places that uses all local organic foods and man was it yummy and totally guilt-free. I savored each bite eating it in gratitude for all the work that brought it to my mouth and how it is going to give me life and be a part of my transformation into who I am becoming, the body I am going to have. On a day like today I can remember that eating can be a spiritual experience as much as a mundane one and pray with each morsel. Seriously this place has prayer-worthy food. First off, they have the most amazing starter of seared albacore drizzled with citrus and some spices and garnished with avocado and thin orange slices. After polishing that off I ate a mediterranean salad with fresh, vibrant greens, brown quinoa, salmon, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and a fantastic oregano vinaigrette. It was so satisfying and what I feel was a honoring meal – one that honored the food sources as well as myself. I wish every meal could be like that, but in my hectic life right now, I’m thankful to have my prepackaged diet meals. They are working for me too, and until I have the time to cook (or the financial resources to pay someone to cook for me – lol) I’m grateful for them.

But hey, this blog is about ballroom dancing, so let me get to that part!

So I show up for my lesson and I’m there before Ivan but a receptionist has come and opened the studio so I am waiting for Vanco when he arrives (Vanco is like a nickname for Ivan, something that maybe his mom would call him as a kid).

He’s usually always early, but today he is right on time, though I notice when he comes in that he looks a little scruffy. I can see a five-o-clock shadow beard and his eyes look a little puffy.

“Oh you early!”

“Yes, Ivan. Do you want coffee? I said I’d get you coffee last night, but I came here first to see what you wanted.” Since he is usually early, I thought I’d have time to walk down to the Starbucks in the complex.

“No. I fine. No coffee.”

“Okay.”

“You drink wine last night?” He asks.

“No.” I reply, “I’ve been battling a cold. I just came home from work and ate dinner and got the most sleep I’ve gotten in a long time last night.”

“Me neither. No wine,” he says.

I begin to say, “You’re sure? Cause you look like you might have drunk something last night…” But I never make it past, “You’re sure?”

“No wine last night. Whiskey.”

I bust up laughing. I could totally tell he was dragging! And in my book, whiskey could make for a more unpleasant morning than some red wine, but Ivan seems to think the opposite. And he’s his usual upbeat, funny self, if maybe just a little bit slow.

I joke with him. “It’s okay, Ivan. You can just lay on the floor like a few weeks ago and I will go through my routines.”

But that is not what happens. Of course, because he is crazy lunatic, he puts some super peppy music on straight away and I’m like, “Ivan! Let’s warm up with something a little slower! But before you do that, I have something to tell you! I am below 250 pounds for the first time in many years!”

“Oh! This soooo good!” He coos. “I thinking you 260 or 270 and you below 250! In a month you be 240 and then even smaller. Good job!”

Even better than Ivan’s praise was my friend’s reaction. She walked in the studio for a lesson later on in the morning. I shared the news with her as well because she has also been “the incredible shrinking woman” and down more than 40 pounds from the day I met her. She looks great and she understands what I’m going through. She almost jumped into my arms giving me a big, enthusiastic hug. “Oh Stefanie, I’m so proud of you!” I have to admit, it felt pretty nice.

So anyways, Ivan put on a Waltz, which was more to my speed (and probably his, too) and off we went.

For the first time in I-can’t-remember-when, we practiced Smooth, but it was pretty fun and a good warm up. The best part was when Ivan decided to dip me over his leg. I put my leg up in the air and he was like, “Woah! Let me do that again!” He sounded shocked. I was, like, okay, but why? So he did it again, and again, and again. About 5 times in a row. “Wow,” he says, “You feel so light! Like 140 pounds!” He couldn’t believe it – that it was so easy. So that felt awesome.

We then did a Foxtrot and a Tango and Viennese Waltz, the Foxtrot and Waltz and Viennese Waltz all being vastly superior to the Tango. Yeah, Tango isn’t my strongest dance, but that’s okay. I’m a Latin and Rhythm girl at heart.

At this point we still had the studio to ourselves (besides the receptionist, who, at one point must have thought we were completely cuckoo!) and that was a good thing because we began to work on Rumba and right away, and, as per usual, I messed up the connection. I mean, it takes a minute or two to really connect, at least it does for me. As much as I wish I would just be instantly ready, I’m not (Grrr!) and so as per usual, Ivan began talking to me about the connection.

Now here’s the thing – sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m not paying attention, that I’m not aware, and sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m afraid.

To really connect, to really be ready to follow, I have to trust. I have to trust me (and my body), entirely, which I struggle with, and on top of that, I have to trust Ivan. Listen, Ivan and I have a great rapport, and I trust him as much as I trust anybody on this Earth, and I still hold back and am afraid that he will lead me astray in the dance or something. It’s a survival-based fear, not necessarily a rational one. It’s a fear of revealing myself and really letting go, and I know I’ve talked about it before, and this time….this time, I got it on a whole other experiential level.

A few months ago Ivan told me a story about once when he was in Europe and some big-wig Latin dancer came to the club to teach. At first everyone was dancing all macho and stuff, trying to dance to impress the teacher and show him something special. But the teacher wanted them to focus on the basic steps and pointed out that the girls were dancing with fear, that the couples were dancing but holding back. He made the girls line up on one side of the room and the men on the other side. He blindfolded the girls and asked them to run across the room toward their partner. They kind of did about halfway across the floor and then slowed down or stopped. They practiced over and over, until they were running full speed into their partners and their partners caught them. Ivan said after that, everyone danced completely differently, open, expansive, bold, fearless. He also told me that one day I would be doing that with him.

It seemed like a nice story back on a cold, dark, pre-dawn morning, when I knew that I wasn’t going to be asked to do this exercise. But today was the day. We didn’t know it, at first, but it evolved into being the day.

So working on connection, Ivan asked me to close my eyes and dance with him. I did and almost immediately the panic and fear reared their ugly heads. I wasn’t freaking out so much as moving haltingly and realizing how uncomfortable it was and how very much I needed Ivan there and needed the connection.

But then, Ivan being Ivan, upped the ante. He had me do Latin walks with my eyes closed, promising me that he’d guide me backward or forward or to the side with a touch before I hit any walls. That went tolerably well, though it is difficult to stay balanced in heels, walking, with your eyes closed. It used to be a balance check we’d do in ballet to go into releve’ and then close our eyes. Try it….it’s not easy! Nor is it easy to walk, as I discovered. But anyways, I muddled through that, and then it was just time for the next step.

Ivan went to the opposite side of the studio and told me to run toward him with my eyes closed. On my first attempt, I did well about half way across the space before I began to panic. Ivan told me he could sense my energy had changed and called me on it. I felt fine as long as I knew I wouldn’t run into anything because there was lots of space, and I didn’t feel in danger, but then the panic and anxiety would begin to rise as the distance shortened and my fear that I’d run into something increased. In response, unconsciously, my steps would become smaller and less sure and less directed forward. My energy would shrink and turn from being directed forward to imploding internally. The challenge was to trust that Ivan would be able to stop my mass, running at full speed, and that I wouldn’t fall or run into the table. But I was fearful. FEARFUL I tell you!

But I want to get over this fear, for behind it, and the tears, are the joy, my true expression. Behind it is me being able to feel confident just being me, not questioning everything, or feeling like I’m not good enough. Behind the fear is the ability to be open and (eek!) vulnerable (or what feels like vulnerable to me). But that is the place where I can truly let people in through my dancing, the place I deeply desire to get to.

Anyways, Ivan let me try again. And again. Each time I would make it a little further across the room, from half way to two-thirds, to five-sixths of the way. But still, I was afraid.

“Maybe you take off the heels? Maybe you not feeling secure running blindly in the heels?”

Um, does anybody?

So I took of my shoes, running blind and barefoot and still panicking at the last bit.

“Okay, you have one, maybe two more times.”

“Alright, Ivan. No. This is it. I’m going to do it this time.” I told myself. I reminded myself that the experience of fear is physiologically the same as the physical experience of excitement so I tried a new tactic. I yelled aloud, “I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!” as I barreled toward Ivan, eyes closed. And this time I bowled right into his arms!

Do you see why that receptionist must have thought we were off our rockers?! LOLOLOL!

But I did it! I freaking did it! And it was a metaphor, like all of dance is, for life. And to me it meant that I faced my fear, and I worked with it, and I transformed it. And it meant that I pushed through it to the trust. I allowed Ivan to catch me. I didn’t hold anything back in fear, worrying about injury or that I’d crush him with my mass. I didn’t worry about what I looked like or what anyone was thinking of me as I ran like a maniac toward my goal. I, in this exercise, chose to trust completely, him, me, and the process of life. And that, my friends, is a big deal. It means, to me, that the openness I seek, the willingness to open myself to be seen, is there, just below the surface and that I am closer to it today than I was yesterday. To me, it was an act of courage. Perhaps a silly one, but a courageous one nonetheless.

And I squeaked it in just in time for as I felt my body crush into Ivan’s students and instructors began to arrive for morning lessons and group classes.

Ivan asked how I felt and I have to say I actually felt a little bit out of my body. I’m not sure how to explain that, except to say that it was a pretty intense experience, all about sensing the world around me outside myself while experiencing all that was going on internally for me. I was entirely lost in the moment and had to take a minute to ground myself back into my body. It was a lot to process.

But ground and process I did, feeling a little stronger and less fearful and we continued our double lesson. The rest of the lesson was pretty unremarkable, I suppose, but extremely enjoyable as they usually are. We danced Rumba, and Cha Cha, and Mambo. One awesome thing that happened was that Nona, Ivan’s mother-in-law, Marietta’s mom, who is a professional dancer and used to compete, came up to me just to tell me that I was looking like I was moving very good, very flexible. I noticed her watching me and smiling before she came up and she’s not the kind of person just to say something for no reason, so I felt like the changes are showing on the outside, that people can notice the growth and transformation that I’ve been working on at 6:30 in the morning week in and week out.

It was like how this week in Inna’s class she didn’t ask me to demonstrate anything like she asked other students but when I was doing my Cha Cha and Samba exercises across the floor she said, “Good, Stefanie!” in a tone that seemed almost shocked, like I was showing her something of me that she hadn’t seen before.

So, anyways, like I said at the beginning, it’s been a very satisfying day. One in which I totally understand the sentiment behind the Star Trek Klingon saying, “Today would be a good day to die!” That today I lived a day full of life and growth and experiences. I am whole and complete and glad. And indeed, if today were the day I was to leave this earthly plane, it would have been a good note to end on. Not that I have any plans for that! I have a lot of big scary hairy goals that I’m gunning for in the next two years and I’m excited to lean into that process. Today was a leap forward after a long plateau and as I bask in that achievement, I am encouraged to push forward once again.

Me at my biggest

Me at my biggest

Me today

Me today