Give Me All You Have

Be warned: part of the reason I started this blog was as a way to process my emotional experiences involved with dancing (i.e. me and life).  Today’s post is definately a selfish one – one in which I’m partly complaining and getting it all “out” so that I can hopefully move forward.  I don’t like to be all “wah-boo” about feeling down.  Pity-partys, though something I engage in, pretty-much suck.  I realize this is going “victim” and denying my power.  And, well, the longer I don’t address these profound feelings of sadness and powerlessness, the longer I allow them to rule.  So whatever.  Time to write and shed a few tears.  Just due warning this is how I am feeling in the moment.  Like the clouds in the sky, these feelings will dissapate soon enough.  Especially since I’m going to the gym to really sweat after this post.  I just really need to go do that.  I’m positive that, combined with venting here through my writing it will help shift me out of this funk.

Depression-loss of loved one

By Baker131313 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve not seen as much of Ivan as usual lately becasue he and Marieta have been competing almost weekly.  This week they left on Thursday so I only got one lesson in.  As they are gone during the weekends, this means a paltry 45 minutes of dancing when I’m used to 180 minutes.  That, plus the opportunity to work overtime at my temp job and earn extra money, especially since I don’t get benefits and won’t be paid for days off like Thanksgiving and Christmas, means my days have been long and mentally exhausting.  It’s a 45 minute drive to and from work, then 9 hours staring at a computer – that makes it a 10.5 hour day without any other activities like dancing or sleeping or cooking.  I’m grateful, honestly, and happy to put in the work to save as much  money as possible since I don’t know how long this gig will last – probably through mid February at least but after that, unless I get hired on, I have no idea what my life will look like.  And, everything has prices and benefits.  The benefits of this position are numerous, making good money for the moment, with the chance to earn a little more with overtime, and some stability.  The downsides are decreased free-time,  decreased energy, a long-ass commute, and the fact that a majority of my day is spent being completely sedentary.

That combined with less dance lessons, I’ve gained almost every pound I previously lost back.  It sucks.  I am completely at fault/responsibility for this, and it takes an emotional toll as well as a physical one.  My clothes still fit, but they are more snug.  Worse than that, I feel heavier, it feels much more difficult to move.  And, I have worse self-esteem.  I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that all these facets are connected.  But it is crappy – feeling bad begets feeing bad and this makes it so much more difficult for me to show up to a dance class or work out session, knowing that I look horrible, and that it is going to be very difficult to move, and it will feel crappy.  Honest-to-God, I’m beginning to see what an act of courage it is every damn time I do show up.  I am so very, very sick compared to everyone else in my classes.  I cannot physically do what they can easily accomplish.  It is really challenging to go and be “less than.”  And yet, showing up to these classes is necessary if I want to heal.

So, anyways, this is all in the background of my mind as I show up to my lessons with Ivan.  When on a recent lesson and working on Rumba it becamse quite difficult, mentally, physically, and emotionally.  We’ve been putting together open routines for Rumba, Cha Cha and began on a Samba routine.  The Rumba is a rehash of a routine I did for a showcase with new and improved moves.  I really like the Cha Cha a lot and the Rumba is great too.  (One bright spot – my Sliding Doors are much improved.  I was able to repeat them for like 2 minutes in a row, by myself, totally on balance.  That was a nice move forward).  What isn’t great is how I look and feel while dancing the Rumba.  Mostly I am hung up on how incredibly huge I am and how gross it looks for this gargantuan behemouth of a body to be dancing the “dance of love” with Ivan who is fit and handsome.  The picture just isn’t right.  I find my body image issues the most difficult to grapple with in the Rumba because it is the “love story” dance, the one where a man and a woman play out that romantic relationship through sensuality.  But what man in his right mind would want to play out that story with someone who looks like me?  This is the thought in my mind, all the while trying to ignore how I appear in the mirror and just dance the moves, but it isn’t enough.  Not with a teacher like Ivan, who insists on the authentic emotional quality to the dancing (which is why I so adore having him as instructor – dancing is more than just the steps to me and he has really helped pull out this aspect from me into my dancing).

But when Ivan tells me, “Give me all you have,” it strikes an emotional chord with me and I have to ask him if we can change what we are working on because today, with tears in my eyes, “I am just not feeling the Rumba.”  He is asking for that authenticity and I am too fragile to give it to him today.  It is so completely at odds with my picture of myself as a woman that I am aftraid to get that open and vulnerable, afraid of being rejected, afraid of being so very ridiculous playing at being “sexy” when I am physically the exact opposite…I am a motherly, matronly fatty.  My body moves in one way telling one story, and my flesh silently screams another.

It’s all such a disappointment.  Instead of being motivated after Galaxy, I became deflated.  Yes, the loss of momentum with a hurt hip didn’t help, but where did my drive go?  I was on the right track, down a few pounds, and feeling like I could move somewhat better…Inna had even commented that it appeared that I had lost some weight.  And then, fizzle.  Back to square one.  What the hell am I doing, especially after the deep talk Ivan and I had after Desert Classic here, and my honest-to-God desire to not go to a ballroom competition again until I look different??? (I set a mental goal of 50 pounds lost before I step on a competitive ballroom dance floor once again, just for me, because I want to evolve and be different and amaze others and myself)  I just don’t understand what went wrong.  But wrong it has gone.  So very, very wrong.  I feel like I am drowning.  And it’s worse reading that post “You Lie Me” and seeing that at the end Ivan sent me a text saying “You so strong, girl.  I believe [in] you,” because wow, I royally screwed up, once again.  Epic fail.  His trust was misplaced.

I am so tired of trying.  Honestly, I am so tired of doing this or that, this eating plan, this exercise regimen, and it is slow going but I do progress, and then something derails me, and then I feel badly about myself and then I re-create the same damn experience over and over and over again.  I fully acknolwedge the insanity of this.  I have had trainers at the gym.  I have had a friend that agreed to meet me mornings to do cardio.  I have done a mail order diet, a physician supervised low calorie diet, Stax, Weight Watchers, and more.  At some point or another, they don’t stop working….I do.  I am 34 years old.  I have big dreams of where my dancing could take me.  And I am still embroiled in the same drama as I was when I had my first diet at age 12 and lost 60 pounds.  Is it time to get a gastric bypass?  Even if I did get one is that really the answer?

I am broken.  In some way, I am broken.  I don’t know how to fix me.  I’ve been trying to “fix” me all my life since I became aware that I was larger than others and that that was not okay.

All I do know is that today I am going to the gym.  It doesn’t seem like enough.  And, well, in truth going to the gym once isn’t enough.  But it is that or wave the white flag once again.  And in truth, part of me really wants to do just that.  How many times must a person fail before they just give up?  But I guess there is still some fight left in me after all – honestly I’m a bit surprised because I feel so beaten down inside.  It doesn’t feel like there is much fight left in this old dog, but there must be some tiny shred there or I would choose to spend my day watching TV on my ass, but the truth is, I can’t even stomach the thought of doing that right now.

So when Ivan asked me to “Give me all you have,” the honest truth is I can’t even give me all I have.  Clearly, based on results, often harsh but always fair, I haven’t given physically transforming “all I have.”  No, I’ve regressed.  And I feel like shit about it.

Alright, pity party and rant offically done.  Time to go to the gym.

Where To Begin? Galaxy Dance Festival

Oh man.  The past four days have been amazingly special.  Quite a shift from my last competition, and I’m so grateful.  I don’t think it is actually possible to jam everything that happened in one blog post, and I’m pretty certain I will have lots to ponder and process over the next few days.  I’m sure many of the experiences will continue to leak into future blog posts.  I will just try to put some of the main highlights here for now.

First, I was way more relaxed at this competition.  Not having the pressure of a scholarship really worked for me.  I was able to enjoy what I was doing, and I think that made all the difference.  I feel like I really “got noticed” this time around.  I absolutely had more confidence and this allowed me to connect with the audience, and even some of the judges.  For instance, I got a smirk out of Tony Meredith.  I got Toni Redpath to totally crack up.  I got people in the audience to cheer and clap for me even if they weren’t a friend who knew me.  I achieved my goal for this competition in spades.

I was even able to find the confidence to pull off touching Ivan’s butt during one Rumba – something we had discussed prior to the competition which we thought would be awesome.  And it was.  And my friend Randall even got it on video!  This is what got Toni Redpath to bust up laughing.  I rock!

I strained something in my hip on the second heat which sucked.  Thanks to ibuprofen and not wanting to miss out on anything, I pushed through, even after re-tweaking it again during Latin rounds.  But my family surprised me, and that was so awesome.  My parents were traveling but my husband and mother-in-law and my brother and sister-in-law and my 4-year-old niece and 2-year-old nephew came to see me dance.  It was unexpected and so special to get to share some of my dancing with them.  Now I just need to lay low for a few days to allow my hip to recover.

One of the moments I will treasure forever was Debbie Avalos Kusumi telling me that she enjoyed watching me dance and that she could feel me through my dancing.  God, isn’t that the best compliment you could ever get?  It really made my day.  But poor Ivan, he was jokingly sad that everyone said things about his students, but not him.  Well, really they were complimenting him too because he was the one who worked with us to create the performance.

I had so much fun watching my friends and acquaintances dance, watching the pros dance, just hanging out with Ivan and Marieta which is always very entertaining and full of laughter, chilling with my bud Randall, making new friends, and more it was a delightful break from reality and I love feeling so connected to the wacky world of ballroom.

Today was special as well.  After the competition the event organizers had an American style congress with some of the top teachers and coaches in the American Rhythm and Smooth styles.  I was frankly shocked at how few people attended because from my perspective it was an amazing opportunity to learn.  And I’m so glad I went because boy was it fun!  Especially the lectures by Ron Montez, Toni Redpath, and Bob Powers.  I’m sure I’ll write more about that in a later post, but I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from these greats!

I’ll share more once I’ve had a chance to rest a bit.  Thanks for all the well-wishes and support.  I had a fantastic experience and am even more fired-up to work diligently toward my dancing and body goals.  I refuse to settle when I now have confidence in my dancing abilities and confidence that I can work to improve the technique toward excellence.  Hey, I’m a work in progress, you know?  My dancing nor my appearance aren’t where I would like it to be, but I’m proud of putting myself out there again and proud that I was able to loosen up and enjoy the dancing.

To be continued….

Things I Tell Myself

How to begin this post?  I suppose I’ll be direct and to the point.

I’m going to dance at the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Phoenix in about a month.

(For those of you who haven’t liked my Facebook Page you could have known this days ago as I posted it there first.  I’ve decided I’m going to continue to put “bonus” material on there and my goal is to get to 100 likes.  I’m only 5 away!  So if you know anyone who might be interested in the blog, please share it.)

If you’ve been following the blog, well, then, you’ve probably gathered that this is kind of a big deal, personally, for me.  It’s one of those “get back in the saddle” deals – I’ve got to get back up and just do it.  No, I’m not at my ideal body weight after just a month, but there has been progress.  More important than that, though, is the different head-space I find myself in.  Additionally, and equally important, Ivan is coming from a different perspective as well.

Honestly, there is just so much to write about now that I’ve finally made the time and space to do it.  But I guess it boils down to a few main things:

1) When it comes to dancing, ballroom dancing specifically for me, it’s who I am and who I want to become.  Period.  Regardless of how others perceive me or judge me or place me against other dancers on the dance floor, this is my undeniable truth, and it’s none of my business what other people think of me anyways, unless they choose to tell me.  To cower in shame about my body and refuse to dance does no good – indeed, the opposite is true.  To refuse to dance for this reason is to give away my power to others and their perceptions of me.  Better to get out there and let my spirit shine through my current, latest, greatest, version of myself.  This is to stand in my personal power.  And, as I am constantly evolving, growing, and changing, as well as changing the composition of my body these days, tomorrow I will be a different version.

2) It’s all about connection.  I feel like a broken record here, folks.  No matter how many times on a lesson, or in life, I get a reminder of this, I still (frustratingly) blank out, withdraw, fail to be present.  I still struggle with looking directly at myself in the mirror (connecting with myself), directly at Ivan, directly at anyone who happens to be watching.  Two things have been happening on lessons which demonstrate my lack of connecting.  First, especially through my shoulders, I am weak.  My core is not connected with my arms and this causes me to misread leads, be off-balance, and generally foul up.  Second, since I’m not looking directly at anything when I dance, my dancing is unfocused.  Ironically this point was emphasized in Inna’s class this past week as we did Paso Doble.  She danced the same steps mechanically the same for us, the only variable nuance being her direct focus, and it made all the difference.  It was like two different dancers.

3) I’ve got to surrender my white flag.  (Like the double entendre here?)  What I mean by this is that there is a part of me that gives up on a regular basis.  Sometimes before even trying.  Like my psyche finds it easier to say I can’t do something so that when I fail at it its okay because I wasn’t trying my very best, right?  Like if I already know I’m a failure it won’t hurt as much when that turns out to be true.  Whether in the context of dieting or learning a new dance step, it’s a deeply ingrained habit, and one I’ve got to replace.

Ivan, being the intuitive being that he is, has called me on this, and honestly he’s looking for me to fight for it.  To fight for my improved physique.  To fight to finish a 3 minute dance.  To fight to own the potential inside and manifest it into real life.  He has told me on multiple occasions to stop “how do you say?  Do you understand?  The white flag?  Waving the white flag.”

It’s kind of difficult to realize what a coward you are.  To realize that you give up so easily at the slightest suggestion of difficulty.  But actually, from that recognition comes choice.  And I guess I’m choosing to not give up after all.  I’m choosing not to settle.  The trick is catching myself each time I backside, or give up (which happens fairly unconsciously sometimes), and course-correct.

You know, the funny thing is, that I tell myself some of these things before a dance lesson.  I vow to myself that I will be connected, every moment.  I promise myself that I will be sure to focus on my shoulders so that my body and my arms are connected and that I will be able to follow as an active partner.  I tell myself I will dance with strength and energy every second of the lesson.  And then I am upset and frustrated with myself when I fail at these endeavors, which inevitably happens, even if just for a moment.

But still I dance.  And still, I want to work at it.  I mean, on some level, it’s fun because of the challenge.  If it was easy, I wouldn’t value the journey like I do when I have to work for every ounce of improvement.

And doing the Galaxy competition is part of that.  It’s me refusing to wave the white flag.  It’s me risking putting myself “out there” once again, because, well, I’m a masochist.  Just kidding.  I’m doing it because there is growth to be had from taking this challenge on and because I love dancing.

So, this time around, things will be different.  Ivan and I have had conversations about our aim dancing together at this particular competition, and how we will both work at communicating differently during the event.  First off, I’m only going to do single dances.  No scholarship rounds, at least for now.  Ivan’s so awesome, though, that this could be a possibility on the day of the event depending on how he and I are feeling.  If we are really feeling strong and good, we can always add it in.  But for now, it’s less pressure, and I can just go and not take everything so seriously.

Also, we are focusing on the performance aspect this go-around.  We are going to pay attention to how the dancing feels – and our goal is to have it feel strong, powerful, beautiful, in unison.  If we achieve that, that will be a big win.  We are going to focus on the dancing rather than the outcome.  It is a much healthier stance to take, I think, and this time I am deliberately choosing it.  I think at Desert Classic I still had some expectations in the back of my mind that I’d do well.  By doing poorly in terms of placements, I am now able to let go of this, come from the space that I will probably place poorly, and this becomes so very freeing.  I’ve released the deep desire to be liked and approved of, because there is a very good chance I won’t be, and in that recognition, I can really go out there and be myself 100% in a carefree manner.  I am grateful for the gift.

So that’s the deal, folks.  I’m in.

And one final note…off topic, but in recognition of a fellow blogger who kindly likes and comments on my posts occasionally, caityrosey, this one’s for you.  Check out her blog All She Wants To Do Is Knit here.

Bet you didn’t know I was a knitter, too!  This is my latest project.  Fingerless gloves.  My hands are perpetually freezing at work so I thought I’d make myself a pair.  I’m using a merino, cashmere, possum blend I picked up in New Zealand when we visited there in November.   I thought I’d splurge and use a nice yarn since I will be using these suckers daily.  And, it’s my first project doing a cable knit.  So, there you go.  Ballroom dancer and knitter extrordinare!  My next ambitious project will be to make a shrug to cover my arms for dancing.  I’ve never made anything that has had to actually fit so far – just pillows, and hats, and purses, and toys – you know, projects where you don’t actually have to find your gague.  Well, anyways, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Peace!

You Lie Me

Alright readers.  I really debated about whether to post this one or not.  But you know what, I’m nothing if not honest, authentic, and transparent.  So, to honor these aspects of myself, I’ve chosen to share what has happened in the aftermath of the Desert Classic for me. 

Please know that I wrote this a few days ago and have already processed a lot of it.  I feel very strong, very focused, very motivated.  Really, everything is quite positive at the moment and I’m excited about the future.  Sometimes growth and change is painful.  Sometimes facing ourselves and our shortcomings is painful.  But only in facing these truths, being objective about ourselves, can we then make the conscious choice to change.

And in the days this past week after this conversation, change I have!  I have been on my eating plan like no kidding.  I have been going to more dance classes.  I am down more weight, making it a total of 52 pounds less than my life-time highest.  And I’m just getting started.

I hope that you will see, as I do, the love behind all of this.  I hope you will see that the universe is providing exactly what I need to get me to where my heart really wants to go.  

I’m grateful.

“I don’t want to dance with you again competitively until you look different.  You lie me.  You lie yourself.  They was thinking of us like they did that one couple that did the solo.”

My stomach twisted as if someone were wringing a wet towel.  I remembered the couple of which he spoke.  They were so inappropriate, so ignorant, so atrocious.  The man had poked his female partner on the shoulder to ask her to dance.  It was so odd that many people began laughing, including the men in charge of music for the competition on the stage, and a pro at the table beside me.  I heard a snicker barely disguised as a cough.  If that wasn’t enough, the couple then proceeded to perform a Rumba which I’m sure in their minds was the sexiest thing on this earth, but from where I watched was just plain awkward.  You don’t grab the lady through the crotch to lift her aloft.  It’s bad form.

In any case, I got the analogy.  Ivan and I had tabled our discussion until after the competition.  I knew something was amiss, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I knew we were placing poorly, generally last, no matter what.  But whatever.  I mean, I know I look different from the rest of the dancers.  I know that it is part of the package.  This is the game I signed up for.  These are the rules I agreed to when I decided to play.  I am responsible for my choice.

I was more unsettled by vague feeling that Ivan just didn’t really want to dance with me out there.  I was really concerned that I am a poorer dancer than I thought.  Like, do I have a completely inaccurate idea of myself?  That sucks.

Because, you see, I got the impression, from Ivan, that I’d probably do pretty well in the competition.  Based on the way I move.  I honestly believe he thought I’d do well, or else I do not believe he would have let me go to competition.

But I didn’t.  Not at all.

“What I thinking to be happen, it happen zero.  Nothing.”

“What did you think would happen, Ivan?”

“I thought maybe you’d win some silver level.”

Suddenly I feel better.

“Oh, I thought I was dancing really poorly.”

“No, it not this.  You dancing fine.”

But at the competition, when it became apparent I wasn’t going to be placed well, I think it really affected Ivan.  Me, I was like, well, that kind of sucks, but whatever.  I can’t do anything about it.  Disappointing, maybe, but let it go.  I told Ivan at the time to “just do some fun stuff in the open dances,” thinking, “I’m probably not going to place well so just go out there and have as much fun as possible, to just dance the best I can and let it be.  I’m just not dancing as well as I thought I would.”  But to him, he began to feel bad about it, and then so did I.  And it isn’t so fun to dance with someone who you think is embarrassed to be dancing with you. (Which, for the record, he wasn’t – we had another conversation later and cleared all that up.  The voices in my head are pretty nasty sometimes!)

“They tell me, other people in the bathroom or wherever, ‘She dancing so well.’  The last one I want to punch him.”

“I am seeing we are not placing well, and I am thinking, thinking, what could it be?  I am thinking and thinking, and then I know, but I don’t want to know.  So I think some more.”

We both know.

It’s my weight.

It’s my fat.

The message between the lines was, “Ivan, your student is dancing so well, but what a shame she is so fat.  You kind of look ridiculous out there.”  I don’t think anyone actually said this out loud, but it was implied.

“We doing something artistic.  We doing dancing.  You have to making lines.  It’s aesthetic.”

My lines are muddled by the mass.

“And you not ready.  You can’t doing the dances.  You too tired.  You start strong then poop out.  You not even ready for dancing in the studio.  You have to be able to sweat and go there first.”

It’s humbling, but true, all of it.

“If I no care, I no say anything.  Just let you do any competitions you want, get the money.  But I do care.  I want to going to Emerald Ball with you, I don’t want to wait, but I want to know who I am going with.  We so competitive.  But you lie me.  You no change.  You look the same.  You lie yourself.”

It may seem harsh, but you had to be there.  This was not said to make me feel bad or with any sort of negativity.  I actually really appreciate Ivan for being so honest.  I appreciate that he spoke his truth.  I genuinely believe we will be a better partnership because of this conversation.  I don’t think many people could have a conversation like this.

And boy did it hurt.

His words, “You lie me,” cut me to the bone.  But, he’s absolutely right.  I’ve not created results in my body.  But staring into his eyes as he said this, man, it was so uncomfortable, so painful.  It’s hard to face myself straight in the mirror sometimes.  But this hasn’t been a secret.  I’ve been coming to lessons the same size for a while now.

“You have to showing me you changing.  Maybe just 20 pounds.  Maybe this isn’t the best place to be talking about this?”  We both laugh.  We’d walked over to the McDonald’s by the studio for coffee.  Even at a time like this, Ivan has a sense of humor.  But he’s serious.  And I know it.

The bottom line is this:  Ivan’s not going to dance with me competitively until I show him I am changing.  My body has to change or he will not play.  Oh, he’ll dance with me.  We will still do lessons and all that, but at an NDCA competition, no.  Again, it may seem harsh, but really, it’s just what I needed, and it was said with pure intentions.  Ivan knows how competitive we both are, and how good we could be.  Even when facing these tough truths, Ivan really made me still feel like we are a team.  That it’s not just me that has to change.  We have to change.  Both of us.

And I love him for it.

Why?  Well, I checked in with myself.  I thought about what I really want to do with this ballroom dancing thing.  I could totally just do it for myself.  I could do it for fitness.  I could do a showcase here and there.  But I really asked myself, and the truth is, I want more than that.  The truth is, I want to be a strong competitor.  And, the truth is, to be a true contender, some things have got to change.  This is just fact.  And the truth is, it’s important.  I’ve tried to deny how important my body is, to cover it up with dancing well, and technique, and expression.  But none of this can compensate for my fatal flaw.  It’s the thing that will be noticed first about me when I walk into a ballroom….until it isn’t.

So anyways, I want to be something more.  I want to change.  And, also, I need something from Ivan too.  I will not dance competitively with him again, not until he can be proud to be dancing beside me, no matter if I am not as thin as the other dancers, no matter how the judges place me. Just as his is, my line in the sand is also lovingly yet firmly drawn.

So, I don’t know when my next competition will be.

Prior to the Desert Classic I thought it would be Galaxy.  Now, I’m not sure.  First, I have to change physically enough that Ivan sees it and becomes willing to dance (this doesn’t mean I have to reach my ultimate goal, just make a noticible change – Ivan is interested in competing ASAP).  Then I have to be convinced that he will not be ashamed of me whatsoever.  I must feel that he will be proud to dance alongside me period end.  That may or may not happen in a month and a half.

But this I also know:  When we do show up, we will be a force to be reckoned with and we will both be transformed.

I am grateful that the universe is providing exactly what I need to get where I need to go, even if it smarts.

I can still feel the love behind it.

And looking back on dancing at the Desert Classic this year, I have mixed feelings.  Part of me feels completely embarrassed, like, of course we were stupid to show up in the shape that I am (not) in.  What delusional world were we living in?  What were we thinking?  We absolutely were like that strange couple that did the Rumba, awkward and atrocious.  How ignorant I was, he was.

And the other part of me is a little bit sad Ivan didn’t realize how much my weight might affect things before we went.  Part of me wishes he could have continued to believe I’m awesome like he does in practice, and be supportive of how I move, regardless of what others might think.  Part of me thinks I’m courageous for getting out there and dancing, anyways, because I love it and it makes me come alive.  How many people would go do this if they were 100 pounds overweight?  It’s hard enough to do when you are a string bean.

Perhaps I’m a fool.  Perhaps, I’m an inspiring example.  Perhaps I’m a little bit of both.

And regardless, I am thankful for the message.  I get it.  Finally, a lot is at stake.  Finally, enough of a price is being paid that I am moving.  As Ivan said, I have to “do something drastic.”

We will see how drastic (healthfully) I can get in the next weeks and months because now finally my butt is on the line like never before…and honestly, for me, this is something to celebrate.  For too long I have been in my comfort zone and settling.  I have not striven to improve my instrument (my body), I have not taken this thing on with all that I am.  But now, the thing I love doing most will be withheld from me unless I change.  So I must change.  Because I am not willing to give this up.  I could just do showcases and practice.  I could just dance for myself.  But I want more.  I do want to compete.  I want to be a competitive ballroom dancer, even if only amateur (some of the high level amateurs are dang good!), and to truly be competitive, my body needs a real makeover.  And if this is the price to play, I am finally, honestly, willing to pay it.

Hallelujah!  And can I have a band-aid for my heart, please?  lol.

Actually folks, my heart is already healed.  I had a great lesson today, the subject of a future post.  I will keep you abreast of my progress and continue to share my journey….warts and all.  And know this too.  After parting, later in the day of this conversation, I got a text message from my favorite Bulgarian.  It simply said “You so strong girl.  I believe you.”  And you know what?  I’m finally starting to “believe me” too.

Love, Stef

Topical Series: Tips For Competing

Ah, life is a never-ending opportunity for learning experiences.  Fresh back from my latest competition, I have had some time to reflect upon all the lessons I received now that the fake tan has faded, and my body isn’t so sore.  So I thought I’d write another piece for the topical series, and share some tips, tricks, and tidbits that might be useful to know if you are interested in competing.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking about NDCA (National Dance Council of America) events, which are a bit different from studio franchise sponsored events (which I’ve never been to) and other more commercial events like those put on by World Promotions.  I will say that by no means am I a total expert (I’ve been to a total of 3 NDCA events and 1 World Promotions event), but it seems like, or my impression is, that NDCA events are the more competitive species in the competition kingdom.

Also, we are talking here about Pro/Am, although some of the information may be applicable to Amateur couples (and I won’t pretend to tell the professionals anything!  Ha!).  And, sorry guys, this is mostly from a girl’s perspective, because, well, I’m a girl.  And, truthfully, I do think we have a few more things to worry about with make up, hair, and dresses.

1) All Hands On Deck!

When you are practicing in your studio, you don’t generally have to enter and exit the dance floor, but the situation is different at competition.  This is one of those things that your instructor may tell you, but even so, for me, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for what it is like.  Now, I’ve got the hang of it, but at first it was a little bit overwhelming.

Here’s the deal:  there is an area roped off on one of the four corners of the ballroom that is called “on-deck.”  There is always a person running the on-deck area, making sure that the people who are dancing in the next heat are either already dancing on the floor or lined up ready to enter.  You line up in the on-deck area one heat before you dance.

If you are lucky, you will get to stand there with your instructor.  If your instructor has multiple students and is dancing all day, you may have to walk yourself out to your instructor.  Sometimes the person in charge of on-deck will walk out newer, beginning students to their instructor at least the first few times they dance, but you can’t count on this.  You have to know when you are dancing, and what heat the competition is on.  It’s best if you are responsible for yourself as much as possible, especially if your instructor has multiple students to keep track of….which brings me to my next point….

2) You Live And Die By Your Heat List

When you arrive to the competition you will get a big, thick book that lists all the heats, all the people in the heats, and has a bunch of advertisements, plus a letter from the organizers of the event.  You can use this to keep track of when you dance but it is very cumbersome.  Better is a heat list.  This is usually one or two sheets of paper that lists all the heats in which you are competing, the number, the time, which dance it is, and who you are dancing with.  You can keep this with you much more easily than that big book and fold the sheet to keep track of where you are, or use a pen or highlighter to track your progress.

You can also use the big book to keep track of how you place.  I don’t generally see many people manually doing this in the ballroom as all results are posted online nowadays, but if you want to you can.

3) Presentation IS Important!

Another thing that your instructor may tell you about, but that you may not be fully prepared for is presentation.  This is what you do after (and sometimes before) you dance.  It is the curtsey, or the bow, or the spin.  Sometimes it is just a step to the side, or a gesture to your partner.  The point is, it’s important.  It provides a bookmarked ending (and sometimes beginning) to your dancing.  And let me share that I was not fully prepared for it.  Even though Ivan will end dances with me in the studio, he typically does one particular spin out.  So that was what I was expecting.  But instead, he rarely spun me out in competition, but rather wanted me to simply step to the side and put my arms out…only I hadn’t practiced this variation!  In any case, now that you are in the know, ask your instructor to practice this stuff with you before you set foot at the competition.  Then you won’t feel awkward, like I did.  And, your dancing will look more polished.

4) Photos And Videos

At competition there are professional photographers and videographers.  The photographers you don’t have to worry so much about.  They will snap tons and tons of pictures of you and everyone else throughout the competition on the dance floor.  You’re not supposed to take any photos or videos of your own, and if you are completely obvious about it, the emcee will make an announcement that you are not allowed to take them.

I think they are more concerned with people taking photos and videos of the professional events, but they will still call people out for snapping pics during the amateur heats too.  The truth is that people do take photos or sneaky videos if they can, but be advised that you are not supposed to.  I don’t know if they’d actually take your camera away or anything, but I guess it’s possible.  Consider yourself warned.

But the thing that people may not know is about getting a video.  You must inform the videographers ahead of time if you want to get a video that tracks just you.  You will have to fill out a form with the heats you want recorded, the number of your professional partner (if you are a girl), or your number (if you are a boy), and the color of the dress you or your partner is wearing.

When people don’t know to do this, they miss out on a video they may have wanted.  Even so, not all may be lost.  Sometimes the videographer can give you a video of the entire floor, showing all the couples that danced.  However, a video like this won’t feature you exclusively, and may miss some of your performance.

Also it is nice to know about these options so you can budget for them ahead of time.  Again, like everything else in ballroom, not cheap.  For instance, I think small photo prints were about $13 each (and they offer many sizes, plus cut outs, all of which cost more), and each video of a dance heat was $15 at this particular competition, just to give you an idea.  You can plan how many pictures and videos to purchase ahead of time because there will be many to choose from and it may be difficult to set a limit!

6) The Floor Is Different

I mean this in two ways:  First, the floor at a competition is physically different from the floor you are used to dancing on and Second, being on the competition dance floor is a different experience than being on the floor you are used to being on at home.  On the first point, all floors are different.  Some are sticky, some are slippery.  At competition, the floor is constructed so it will have many joints which can be tricky.  There can be areas on the floor that dip down or are bumpy.  The bottom line is that the competition floor will feel different and is physically different from the floor you normally dance on.  Be prepared for both situations (sticky and slippery) by having a shoe brush and using it, and/or using a little castor oil or water on your shoes as necessary.  Be aware that if you choose to use water or castor oil on the bottom of your shoe, this may make it more tacky and cling to the floor better temporarily, but it may change the surface of your shoe sole and even ruin it if used excessively.

If possible, get on the floor and feel it out before you have to dance.  There may be social dancing you can take advantage of between heats or the floor may be open before the competition.  Most competitions also provide a practice floor which should be similar to the main competition floor.

On the second point, I heard a lot of “You only remember 50% of what you know at a competition” while at Desert Classic.  Who knows how valid this little adage is, but the point is that there are a lot of things going on in a competition that you have to adjust to, and that takes brain power.  From keeping track of your heats, to having a genuine audience, these differences and details are things you don’t normally have to grapple with.  Therefore, you may not be as relaxed as you might be in practice.  For sure you can’t realistically expect yourself to dance your absolute best for every singe heat (like I did – silly me!) or else you will be sorely disappointed.  And, as one of my friends shared with me, knowing that you won’t be perfect, with the adrenaline and all, can allow you to be a little kinder with yourself if you know this going in.

Along that vein, it is generally helpful to do a round or two of single dances before you do the scholarship round.  Why?  Your body will be warmed up, you will get the feel of the floor, the feel of the audience, and you will be able to get out some of your nerves….kind of a trial run before the “big show.”  And, as my friend told me, she was surprised at how much lactic acid built up and the physicality of the 3 dances of her scholarship round.  It’s just different in a competition situation than at the studio.

7) The Devil Is In The Details

Okay, actually, this is just a mishmash of some things about preparing for the competition that might be nice to know.  First, the styling is different for Smooth/International Ballroom than it is for Latin/American Rhythm.  One of my friends said when she first did a competition, she didn’t know about this.  Yes, indeed, it is true.  I don’t think I’ve seen a dress that would work for both types of styles.  If you dance both styles, have a dress appropriate for each style you dance, and have hair that works for the style as well.  Some people even change outfits between single dance heats and scholarship rounds.  This is optional, but the higher level you are competing at, the more likely you are to see others doing it.

Another consideration is to do a trial run of your tan.  Do it about two weeks before the competition.  If it makes you look like an Oompa Loompa, there will be time for it to fade.  If it works well, you’ll know what to use the day before the competition.  Also, bring extra tanning product and bronzer with you to the competition.  I was amazed at how fast the tan faded and some areas take the color better than others.  You may have to cover spots that got missed or faded.

Fake nails.  Get ’em bigger, thicker, and longer than you can imagine.  I’m not kidding.  I thought mine were pretty long but not compared to many others.  Or, get them blinged out like my friend did, to really make a statement.  Hardly anything is too over the top in ballroom, I’m telling you!

My friend’s Nails for Desert Classic

Also, it is a good idea to put on your dress and dance in it before the competition.  It probably has a length of skirt different from your usual practice wear, or other straps, dangles, bangles, tassels and floats that you don’t usually have to cope with.  Plus it can be heavy, or restrict your arms, or need one last hem or whatever.  It’s best to try it out once or twice before the show.

Lastly, pack a little day bag if you will be in the ballroom competing a long time.  You will want comfy shoes like slippers to change into.  You will want a jumpsuit or a robe to cover up, not only to protect you clothes from damage, but to keep warm.  The competition usually provides water and towels, but you may want to bring sports drinks, snacks, and hard candies if you will be doing a lot of heats.  Also bring your lipstick so you can do touch-ups, especially before scholarship heats.  If you wear fishnets, get the dark colored ones and have an extra pair on hand in case they tear.  Also bring band-aids and tape in case you get blisters and still have to dance.  Ibuprofen is handy as well.

In all honesty, there are probably a million other things to know about competing!  But hopefully this article helped at least a little bit.  If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask!  I’ll do my best to answer.  Or, if you have experience and would like to share what you wish you would have known, please share here in the comments!

The Joys Of Fake-Tanning

Goodness me…

The blog is getting away from me! I can’t believe how long it has been since I have been able to find a moment to sit and write. Again, so much has happened since I last posted.

Really, there is only one thing on my mind….

Though I go to work daily, and do some online writing jobs, and try to get some sleep, every spare moment my mind wanders to the Desert Classic. A jolt of excitement flushes through my stomach every time I imagine what it will feel like to be there, only a few short days from now.

But until then, there’s a lot of work to do!

The dancing is pretty much where it is going to be. Ivan and I can discuss small details at this point and work on performance, and also just continue to go through the steps and connect. I think that’s probably the most important thing right before a competition.

Ivan is actually really excited about it. I, well, I had a nightmare about it last night! I dreamt that he was late and while I was looking for him, I missed most of my dance heats. Then, I couldn’t find my dance costume. I couldn’t get the pantyhose on. I couldn’t move fast enough. We finally made it on the dance floor, but Ivan was in a foul mood, and the judges didn’t like our dancing. In fact, one was correcting us while we were competing! After that round was finished, we went to go talk, and Ivan was talking so much that we missed the last heats that I had on my ticket. Can you say anxiety much?

But Ivan, well, he says he’s going to do great with Marieta on Saturday night because he will have been dancing on the floor with me all weekend. He will have the lay of the land and feel comfortable in the space. For him, it’s worse to just show up and get thrown on the floor. It’s worse to not be dancing all day long and then have to dance from a “cold start,” if you will. Well, I do what I can to help! Just kidding. But still, I’m glad that he seems ready to enjoy the competition.

Anyways, last weekend we went to the lake again, but this time we had a speed boat. Ivan was really amazing. After only like two tries, he made it up on the wakeboard.

Me, I wasn’t so successful.

But like Marieta, I too got to ride the inner tube.

But boy were we all sore for the next few days! I was laughing with Marieta because she and Ivan couldn’t even practice Monday and Tuesday because they hurt so bad they could barely move.

But move we have, anyways. Marieta and her mom, Ivan’s mother-in-law, Nona, are making me a second dress, like I mentioned. It has evolved into something entirely different from the original sketch, but I’m liking it so much better. It has lovely draping that hides all my bulges and bumps. It is now off the shoulder because of how the arms fit when they were attached, but again, it is an improvement to the original design that just sort of happened. I think this dress has a mind of it’s own. It’s designing itself! Anyways, they’ve promised me the dress will be done by Monday so I can have it and try it on in case any last-minute fixes need to be done and I’ll share photos when I can.

Also, I have decided to tan for this competition, and not be “yogurt” as Ivan calls it. Yes, I have a pale complexion normally, but now I’m living in an alternate universe where I’m going to a tanning salon, for a spray tan, of course. And it feels funny to be darker, but Ivan really liked it when I did an at-home version by myself.

I learned a few things from my experiment which I will share with you here. Please don’t laugh too much. Well, scratch that, actually laugh tons. I’m laughing at myself, and just glad I gave myself enough lead time for my home-done tan to fade a bit.

So if you are going to purchase a spray bottle of tanning stuff to do at home, learn from my mistakes. Number one, clean your hands, especially the palms, right after you spray. Mine have looked like I have dirt on them perpetually for a week!

Next, and this one seems obvious, spray evenly. I managed to create some very straight lines on my body of where I sprayed and where I missed. Like on my fingers, there was a line of tan and a line of white. And on my arms, It was like a painted street divider from the side to the under part of my arm.

Then, there is streaking. Yeah, on the back part of my legs to the inner calf there were streaks where the liquid collected. In some areas it created dark streaks. In others, it created, well, nothing. My yogurt-y skin shone through in stark contrast to the nearby copper, like coal eyes embedded in a snowman’s face.

Finally, it did look kinda orange. But, even with all my blunders, Ivan liked it when I showed up for my lesson Wednesday. I do think it made my calves look slightly smaller.

But really, Paragon was right….it DID affect the way I felt. I felt more like a “real” ballroom dancer. Like a fat Karina Smirnoff or something. It was a little bit addicting! Not that I’d normally go around looking like that – I feel like a freak, like my face is dirty or something as I wade around in my life, but it will make a difference on the dancefloor.

So today after work I went to a real tanning salon now that the crappy job I did faded a bit and to fix the streaky errors. But that was an experience as well. I suppose it is probably best to have a person physically spray you in detail in one of those tents but honestly, I’m just not comfortable enough with my body to have someone see me like that yet. So I opted for the automatic tanning machine so I could be by myself in the room.

It made me think of this episode from the t.v. show “Friends” where Ross has an experience, shall we say, with a tanning machine. Seriously, people, this is funny. Click and watch! And, as an aside, the first tanning machine Ross enters is the exact same one that sprayed me today and it was definitely rigged for t.v….I will explain about the mist later in the post…

Well, I made sure to turn around when I was in there! No counting Mississippi for me! But even I learned a few things about those machines:

First, I closed my eyes for the first part (the front half) and when I opened them, I thought maybe my vision had changed. There was so much mist in the air that everything looked blurry. That was a little disconcerting, and not at all as clear as it was on the t.v. clip there.

Second, breathing was a bit of an issue. That stuff, whatever it is, kinda stinks, and is certainly a chemical. You can’t help but breathe it in when it is saturating the air so heavily. I personally have asthma so I’m a bit sensitive to things like that. I don’t know what a person can do about it, except maybe do the hand spraying in that tent, or have a fast-acting inhaler nearby should it trigger an asthma attack. Maybe pre-treat with albuterol before going in the machine if necessary. Oh, and just like when I go camping near dark soil, well, um, blowing my nose is colorful at the moment.

Third, they give you barrier cream to put on your nails and hands and feet, and I thought I applied it liberally…but again, my hands look like I’ve been making mudpies all day. I guess really slop that stuff on. The spray gets under your nails and looks grimy!

Lastly, they give you a cover for your hair, but make sure to keep it right at the hairline. Mine fell just a little below it and it created a line on my face. Nothing that can’t be fixed when I go in to tan again on Sunday, and nothing that couldn’t be blended with some make up, but still, it’s kind of tough to get it exactly right.

All in all, though, I should just thank my lucky stars I didn’t end up looking like Ross! You know?

Anyways, I don’t think my experience at Desert Classic will be anything at all like my dream. I fully anticipate it to be oodles of fun. I’m going to have my friend Colette there, and some other gals from Inna’s class on Tuesdays will be there too, as well as Ivan and Marieta, and Inna and Artem. I will get to meet Paragon in person, which I’m super excited about, and I have like, two local friends who are making the trek to come watch me in Palm Springs! I am so blown away by that. Truly. It feels awesome and I already feel supported and like people are rooting for me and I haven’t even taken one dance step yet! I am so blessed! Plus I can’t wait to make more friends.

So this weekend I will have a dance lesson or two, I need to get some fishnets, I want to do laundry and pack, I will get another layer of tan, I will get my fake nails put on. I will write my final checks for the dress and the entry fees. I will write as much as I can so I won’t have to complete writing assignments while I’m at the competition. In sum, it’s time for final preparations. I work Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday we all hop in the car and head off to Palm Springs. Thursday I dance all day long. I can’t hardly wait!

And Ivan….well for his final preparations, tomorrow he’s going to driving school! Ha ha! Silly man got a ticket. What a dork! But a cute one, nonetheless. 🙂

Topical Series: What To Bring When You Are Competing

It’s on my mind.

In a few short weeks I’ll be dancing in a competition, which I haven’t done in 9 months, and my brain is aflurry with thoughts about all the preparations I’ll need to make before I go.  But what preparations do I need to make, you ask?  Besides practicing as much as possible, and getting into as best shape as possible, what else must be done?

First let me clarify: the kind of competition I’m thinking of here is a “full-glitz” one – not the kind you might find at a college with only amateur couples.  Those are absolutely great places to show off all your work, too, it’s just that I do pro-am and I personally haven’t done any competitions that weren’t geared for anything but the most over-the-top costumes, darkest tans, and craziest hair.  I don’t have experience to share around the kind of competition specifically, but I’m sure a lot of what I write will apply to any competition.  However, if any of you readers out there have advice, thoughts, experiences to share, especially about areas I miss or don’t know about, please do share!  Also, this is clearly from a feminine perspective!  I do think the guys have it easier when it comes to prepping for a dance competition – but guys, set me straight if I’m wrong!

So one of the items on my to-do list is to get a full set of pink and white nails put on.  And, they need to be longer than I’d ever seriously wear them in real life.  (You should see the set of talons Inna wears everyday.  She could paddle a boat with those suckers!  And, that gal is glamorous no matter what!)  But seriously, they add something.  Not only do they increase the length of lines you can create through your fingers, but they also draw attention as compared to natural nails.  And for me, they also make me pay more attention to what I am doing with my hands and fingers.  The devil is in the details, as they say, and to exude glamour in every way possible, including nails, helps create a fully polished look.  Plus, I just feel more feminine with a set of nails on.  I feel more girly, and that, of course, translates into how I move and interact with my partner.

The next item I’m debating is the fabled spray tan.  Why the debate?  Well, I don’t show much skin.  I pretty much cover myself completely and wear nylons and fishnets.  If I were showing more of my body, however, for me it would be a no brainer.  I do think the tans create a leaner, more toned appearance.

Okay, what else?  Well, one thing I didn’t really know about before I went to my first “real” competition, was the hair and make-up that is standard.  I did my own make up and hair the first two competitions I went to, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However, I felt a little out of place at the second one with my hair only in a bun because as I walked around I saw all these artistic hair sculptures adorning many of my competitors’ heads.  I had no idea that hair could be so elaborate!  For my third competition I discovered that you can actually hire someone to do your hair and make up for you.

Like I said, this is totally optional.  And for me, I’m more comfortable doing make-up than hair.  If I had to choose one to do myself to save some money, I’d do my own face, but you know what, at the point that you’ve committed to do a competition, it’s kind of a drop in the bucket to pay for this service.  It is a big event and one you want to enjoy.  If it makes it less stressful and more enjoyable for you to have someone pamper you and fix you up, well then, I highly recommend it!

The only issue with having your hair and/or make up done is making an appointment.  My goodness can they start early.  If the competition begins at 7am like some I’ve done, an appointment may need to start as early as 3:30am…remember you are not the only client!  There are other people who will have the same bright idea.  The earlier you can book your appointments before the competition, the better choice you are likely to have in terms of timing.

Okay, I just realized I forgot to mention one really, really big consideration!  The dress(es)!  Well, that’s cause I have one already.  But if you don’t already have your dress, you may need to have one made, purchase one, or rent one.  If you are going to have a dress custom-made, you will need to have started the process with lots of time to spare.  Dressmakers are often busy and there are usually multiple fittings necessary.  A month may not be enough time.  If you purchase a dress off the rack, you will still probably need to alter it, and you will want to have that done by someone who works with ballroom dresses regularly, not just your average tailor.  Finally, if you are renting, you will need to find a store that actually rents dresses (many don’t), and then try one the ones they have available.  In addition, sometimes dresses need to be shipped between locations so waiting to the last-minute for this is also not a good idea.

And don’t forget the jewelry!  You will want to accessorize your glamorous dress to complete the look.  This could come in the form of bedazzled earrings, a necklace, bracelets, or even hair ornaments.  It may take time to find the perfect accent piece.

Alrighty, assuming you have a dress, and you have a plan for your hair and make up, and you’ve got a tan or you are covered, what else do you need to think about for a competition?

I won’t claim to be the be-all-end-all expert on this, but here’s what I pack in my bag on the day of competition.  Again, those of you who have experience, please do share!

In my “gym bag” which I will bring with me to the competition (I’m doing a large number of heats, this may not be necessary for someone only competing in a single scholarship or something) I will have:

Ibuprofen – for aches and pains

Ace bandages – for my ankles which get swollen and sore (and in case of any pulled muscles)

bandaids, neosporin, and bandage tape.  I use the tape over bandaids if I get blisters because the bandaids will rub off and the tape is much more sturdy and will stay in place

Tums and/or Pepcid – for an upset stomach (likely to happen with nerves!)

You may laugh, but Immodium – just in case a nervous stomach turns into runny stools….the show must go on! (And can you tell I’m a pharmacist yet?)

Salted nuts – for electrolyte replacement, good fat, and energy

Gatorade – both the “fully leaded” kind with actual sugar, and the G2, sugar-free

A Gallon of water – dehydration is not your friend

A towel (I sweat A LOT).

Lipstick, mascara, eye pencil, lip liner, hairspray, bobbypins – touch-ups will be necessary

Feminine supplies…just in case

Safety pins – in case of a “wardrobe malfunction”

An extra pair of nylons and fishnets

Scissors – I’ve had the fringe on my dress go crazy and had to chop some errant strands off!

A sewing kit

Energy bars/fruit/quick easy snacks to keep energy up

Camera

Phone

Charger

Dance shoes

Those little clear plastic thingies you can put over smooth shoes to keep them from flying off your feet

A shoe brush (and shoes, of course go without saying.  It’d be interesting to see someone compete barefoot!)

A pen and highlighter – to keep track of when your heats are and which you have completed.  Some people also mark how they place.  You may also meet a friend and want to exchange information.

A Ziploc bag – to keep stickers or tickets or whatever they give you if you place in various heats

An iPod full of my favorite music with sound-cancelling headphones – to pump myself up!

A few bucks and some change for a soda or something from a vending machine if needed

Breath mints

Extra rhinestones and glue – those little gems do fall off!

Many will find this item controversial, but I’ll probably bring a Diet Rockstar (or two) or something similar in case I start to really drag and need a quick pick-me up.  I know these aren’t really that “good” for you but sometimes they are just the ticket.  Again, those who have alternatives that work, please do share.

One item I’d like to find before I go are some bedazzled slippers.  My friend Ceci had a glamorous pair that she wore between long stretches of heats to get her placements and such.  It was much better than staying in heels all day long, and still looked nice…nicer than my ratty Ugs would be!  Trust me, if you are a doing a lot of heats, you will want some shoe alternatives during your down time.

Also, a cover up is a must.  This is an item I haven’t had and always wished I did.  Many people use a silk robe and oftentimes it is embossed with their studio logo.  In any case, covered up you won’t feel like a sparkly freak if you choose to go to the cafe for a quick coffee or something and don’t have time to fully change, plus there’s less chance of damaging your dress if it’s covered.

and finally….

A BIG SMILE!  I’m going to be competing and dancing my heart out!  I’ve prepared for a long time and paid a lot of money.  I’m going to enjoy every single second!  Yay!

Fluffy

Well friends,  I’m tired and have to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow, but I’m committed to this blog, right, so I thought I’d at least write a little something about my lesson today.

I went after work and wore a dress with bike pants underneath.  A conscious choice to wear something better than on my last lesson.  I guess it worked because when Ivan saw me he told me I looked “fluffy.”

Oh Ivan, I will never truly understand you, even though sometimes I feel like I totally “get” you!  Anyways, he said, “Is that the word?  Fluffy?  Puffy?”

“I don’t know, Ivan.  What are you trying to say?  Am I retaining water?”

“No, you so cute today.  Like fluffy.  It not mean fat.”

I imagine the little cute fluffy chick named Stefanie that I gifted to Ivan not long ago.  I have a feeling this is the kind of “fluffy” he’s referrring to.  Even if it isn’t, it’s put me in a good mood and started the lesson of to a nice beginning.

But there’s a problem.  The music computer is kaput.  Completely.  It was already on it’s last leg.  Luckily, I have my trusty iPad today and we are able to plug it in to the speakers.  On the downside, I have a weird mish-mash of music, and not a ton of ballroom music.  But there is this one cool song I have from Frank Sinatra called the “Coffee Song.”  It starts out as a Samba and progresses into a Foxtrot.  It’s just darling and I wanted to share it with Ivan.  So we start there and the mood is light, ebullient.

Next we decide to do a Rumba.  But with my weird mix of music, I spend a lot of time trying to find something that will work to do a Rumba but it takes so long Ivan gets frustrated.  He walks over and just randomly picks something.  It’s Lisa Loeb.  These slow kind of whiney songs but Ivan says it’ll work for a Bolero.

“See.  You crazy.  You working so hard to find a song.  I just two tries and find one.  I feel the music.”

I don’t say it but I was like, well, I thought there were, you know, rules, about what song you can dance to.  Clearly not a lot of the music they generally play on the radio is going to be suitable for a ballroom dance.  But maybe that’s not as true as I thought.  Oh, I’m pretty sure there are rules about the beats per minute that are necessary for regulation Cha Cha and all that, but we’re just practicing in a church rec room, here.  We can be flexible.

It begins an avalance of unlikely dancing songs.  And it is so much fun!

We do those Lisa Loeb songs, then “Bulletproof” by Le Roux, and then “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk.  And then “Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge which I totally blast at the highest volume possible.

Interspersed with bronze and silver syllabus steps are bits and pieces of complete freestyle dancing.  No rules except having fun.  And Ivan’s trying to sing along with me, off-key, like a baying dog in pain, to songs he doesn’t know at all.  He really dives into things with everything he has.

We even did a little ballet.  Ivan sticks his butt out.  It’s kind of funny being the more experienced person in the room for a minute.  And though I’m no true ballerina, I still have more technique in my little pinky toe when it comes to a plie’ or bourre’ or pique’ or posse than Ivan does.

It was exciting.  He told me that there is another showcase coming up the weekend before the Galaxy dance competition here in Phoenix and asked me if I’d be interested in doing it.

“If it nice, we can doing it at Galaxy as a solo.”

Woo….that would be a stretch for me.  I’m interested.

Even better, he then said, “We maybe do some freestyle dancing in it.  You can help with the choreography.”

Oh, well, goodness now.  I am feeling more and more like a grown up every minute here.  To have more creative control over what I perform.  I’m enticed.

And, about this time, Ivan began reminiscing about dancing with my mom last weekend at my birthday party.  He really enjoyed it, I think.  He was fantasizing that maybe my mom would join Ivan and I for a little routine.  I’m not so sure she’d be willing to do that, but it’d be pretty fun and cool if she was.  But I do think he enjoyed the mambo they did because she was smiling and having so much fun during the entire thing.  It was pretty cool to watch!

Isn’t my mom the cutest thing ever?!

Anyways, Ivan said I could do anything I wanted for the upcoming showcase.  And, if it is good enough, he’d be willing to do it with me at competition.

So, what do you think I should tackle?  A Samba?  A Mambo?  A Swing?  A Foxtrot?

Is there any song that you are really digging right now that might be good to do a routine to?

I think I got my mojo back.  That was quick!  It helped to see my mom dancing like that!  Who wouldn’t want to jump up and dance after seeing her bust a move?  Best birthday evarrrr!

Love, Stef

Keep The Comments Coming!

My email box done ’bout blown up with all the comments people are posting about shoes, competitions, and dancing in general!  I love it!  I’m so excited that there are others out there in the blogosphere as passionate and excited about dancing, and in particular ballroom dancing, as I.

Thank you, all, for sharing your experiences, perspectives, opinions, and asking questions.  Thank you for being respectful in your communications.  You are giving me great things to think about and it makes me want to also jump into the conversation.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to fill you all in on a few things.

First, the blog will be getting upgraded sometime in the near future.  My dear friend, Ivonne, has graciously agreed to help me make the blog more professional and personalized.  What this means is that there may be some times where the blog is down while things are getting moved to the new server.  Don’t fret!  It is all in the name of creating a bigger, better, more beautiful blog.

Second, life is unpredictable.  Remember that job offer I had, well, yeah, not so much anymore.  After the acceptance letter and pee test, I got notice that plans had changed with the company at large and I was only one of many people geting similar news.  Also, I got a bad chest cold, and coupled with asthma this means I haven’t danced in over a week and a half.  I’m grateful I never officially quit my current job and they were glad (cheering and hugs ensued) when I notified them that my plans had changed.  They are glad to still have me on staff.  So I’m not destitute, and that is a good thing.

Third, I’d love to delve into the topic of partners.  But that is a juicy subject so I’ll leave that for a later post.  Hopefully I’ll have something to write about after dancing with Ivan, my partner, very soon.

Fourth, let’s talk competitions.

In response to Paragon’s comment (I added the bold letters):

Another line of questions that I’d love to get your take on have to do with first competitions.  My teacher and I had a chat about this tonight and it was a little overwhelming.  I already know the choreography, but it’s all the other details that I’m clueless about–from the issue of number of entries (for me, this will come down to budget), dress rental, getting a tan, to having hair and makeup done.  My teacher is recommending that I do it all.  But, if it were you doing your first competition all over again, what would you do given what you know now?  For the first two levels of bronze (latin) is it really necessary to have your hair and makeup professionally done?  Do I need a blinged-out dress (I love them, I’m just worried about budget) or could I get away with this for now: http://www.discountdance.com/dancewear/style_N7038.html?pid=9369&Shop=Style&SID=328412990 ?  My main concerns are not looking overdone for my level (I’ve never watched pro am in person) and not letting concern about expense eclipse the fun of the competition.

Of course I have thoughts – and I also loved seeing the interactions that took place in the comments of the blog.  I think those who participated had great things to say, great perspective.

As for my reply, if I were going to do my first competition all over again, what would I do given what I know now, I’m not sure I’d have done anything different. Why? I guess because it has kind of been a “learn-as-you-go” type of experience for me.  I’ve learned about the competitions by doing them, seeing how other people show up for them, and also talking with others more experienced than I am.  Also, I have to realize that I only have my experiences – there are others out there to be had, but I didn’t have them.  For instance, I’ve only danced Pro/Am and never been a part of a big studio.  I’ve never done a “studio” competition, only “real world” ones – but even those “real world” ones come in different “flavors” from what I have observed.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into by deciding to do a dance competition.  It was just something my first instructor mentioned would be a good thing to do.  I went into sticker shock when I learned how much getting a dress would cost, and because of my size, I couldn’t buy one off the rack.  So I swallowed the bullet and had one made.  I’m sure some people would have balked at the expense of it all and said no, but for whatever reason, I just decided it was an experience I wanted to have, so I made it happen.

Even so, I didn’t really understand all the ins and outs of a competition, nor the unwritten “rules.”  I kind of knew you needed to wear stage make-up on the ballroom floor, but I had no idea the extremes people go to, nor that you could hire someone to do your hair and make up, nor that the hairstyles should be as stiff as a football helmet.  I watched a video online about how to apply dark eye make-up and fake eyelashes and did my hair myself.

The first competition I did was a World Promotions event.  These competitions are fun and kind of geared toward destinations.  They play fun music, stuff like AC/DC, that you won’t hear at most “standard” ballroom competitions.  World Promotions events are not where the pros go to compete.  It was, as my then-instructor said, a “nice little competition” for a first one.  Some of their events are very large, they have one in Argentina for instance, and I think they can be great, depending on what your goals for competing are.

The second competition I did was a real eye-opener.  It was the San Diego Open.  This was a more “competitive” situation and had pro heats.  I saw how over-the-top some of the costumes and hairstyles could be.  I realized that my bun maybe wasn’t cutting it.  Again, I did my own hair and make-up, but I realized that for future competitions, I’d probably get some more competent help.

The dress you provided a link to, Paragon, would have made you feel out-of-place at this competition – everyone was blinged out.  But I realize that there are a bunch of different types of competitions where a plain dress like that would be appropriate.  It would be important to know before stepping onto the dance floor.  I don’t think there are any rules against it, or anything, but you’d feel out-of-place, I think, in a sea of sparkles at a competition like this one.  One would hope that you’d be judged more on the quality of your dancing than on your outfit, but many times, from what I understand, it is the entire package you present that the judges mark.  It really could affect your placement, so depending on what is important to you, you will have to decide how you will play the game, and also decide which type of competition will suit you best.

I think the only advice I’d give to my competition-naive-self from my perspective after a few competitions under my belt would be to remind myself that I’m creating this experience for myself.  I should do whatever I want that makes me feel best.  If I want to go big, play blinged out, do the hair, get the tan, don the nails, and get my make-up done, then do it.  If I want to play in a low-key arena, that is great too.  I would tell myself just to be clear on what I want and then to go for it with all that I am in the moment.  And, for God’s sake, to just enjoy every second of it!

I think people compete for different reasons.  All of them are valid – from just wanting to look pretty, to showing off, to testing your mettle, to winning an award, they are all great.  Some people want to just do it once before they die and to find the courage to be seen is a huge accomplishment.  Others want to travel.  Or maybe to make friends.  There is a competition to suit every desire.

I know for me doing the competitions was about setting some goals and seeing how close I could come to reaching them.  It was also about demonstrating my progress over time since I’d put in a lot of effort, time, and money to improve.  I also really just enjoy the experience of dancing in public.  It is a little bit exhilarating (and scary) to vie for the attention of onlookers, and to get a judge to see you.

If I were you, I’d start looking into local competitions.  I’d check out their websites and ask others who have participated in them how they liked them.  I’d ask for the honest opinion of other students.  I’d look for videos from the competition in past years on YouTube.  I’d decide if it was something I was interested in doing, or not.

If your instructor brought it up, there could be a number of reasons for that.  You’ll have to use your own discernment to feel out the motivation behind that.  Obviously, your instructor believes in you and thinks you could be successful on some level in a competitive arena.  If your instructor is encouraging you to stretch yourself, set goals, improve, this is all good.  When I signed up for the San Diego competition it brought focus and intensity and motivation to my lessons.  I improved in quantum jumps instead of plodding along with small incremental changes because I had a definite target I was working toward.  Signing up for a competition may light a fire under your butt and push you farther than you ever thought you’d go.

However, make no mistake, competitions are revenue generators, for everyone involved except students.  This is neither good, nor bad, right nor wrong.  I would just want to make sure I wanted to do the competition for me, not because I was being pressured into it.  I think we can all sense when someone has an agenda – it doesn’t feel good.  I suppose that even if I was aware that my instructor or my studio had an agenda (to make money) to get me to dance in a competition, even that would be okay, as long as I actually wanted to participate.

I have loved my experiences dancing in competitions.  It has deepened my passion for dancing and exposed me to a big wide world greater than I see in my daily life.  I’ve made friends, and grown as a person and a dancer because of setting goals and working toward them at competitions.  If you are at all interested, I’d encourage you to explore the possibility of dancing in a competition.  You never have to do another one again if you hate it, and you just might discover some things about yourself or find that you love competing if you at least give it a chance.

There are a lot of things to think about if you are considering competing, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  It can be an adventure.  Also, since you are connected to this community, you can interact with others who have competed and ask as many questions as you like.  A lot of life is just getting out there and doing “it” even when you don’t have all the information – we rarely do.  Life is short.  Enjoy it.  If competing is something that intrigues you, why not explore it?

I hope this helps!

Inspiring Ellen

Howdy ya’ll!  It’s me again in italics.  Why? I have another amazing guest blog post! 

This time it is Ellen from If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit, who borrowed my dress,  as she writes about her latest competition.  Ellen does the International Ballroom style of dancing.  It was so fun to watch her videos of this style which I’ve personally put on the back-burner for the moment.  When done well, however, it is gorgeous, and Ellen does a great job here as you will see. 

Ellen is inspiring to me.  You’ll understand why once you read her post.  She’s overcome a lot to get where she is in her dancing.  Honestly, I question if I would have the stick-to-it-iveness that Ellen displays.  Truly, it blows my mind.  She sets a fantastic example for all dancers of perserverence, beauty, and determination.

So, Ellen is another amazing gift brought to me by starting this blog.  We have kindled a nice little long-distance friendship all because of our love of dancing!  I hope you’ll enjoy her post!

The first thing I want to do is thank Stef for being :

·         an inspiration by being willing to sharing her struggles and triumphs

·         open to friendship and communication

·         generous beyond belief in allowing me to wear her beautiful dress and share my story in a guest post

I found Stefanie’s blog by accident because of a post she did about shoes…I couldn’t pass it by.  As soon as I realized she was a ballroom dancer, I went through and read every post  and I was hooked! It was strange because a part of me felt like I was reading about a version of myself in an alternate universe.

You see, although I am older than Stef, (I’m 50) I am a writer and a pharmacist as Stef is, and have many of the same life and health issues; asthma and weight struggles to name a few.  It was like looking into an odd mirror.  So I started following and commenting on the blog, and Stef and I started emailing; I became blessed with a kind, generous and supportive friend. Stef was even willing to let me wear her amazing ballroom dress to my competition – so I promised to write this post to share a bit about my dance background for perspective, my recent competition and the blessing of wearing Stefanie’s dress to compete.

I  love ballroom dancing. When asked about it, my response is usually “I’ve never worked so hard at something in my life to be mediocre – and not by choice!  I feel like I could study and dance for 25 years and still be in first grade.”

Then again – first grade was when I first started and stopped dancing.  At 6 years old, my mom signed me up for ballet at the community center’s after school program.  I was sooooo excited–I wanted to be a ballerina!  Unfortunately for me, after the first dance class, the teacher talked to my mom when she came to pick me up and told her that I didn’t belong in the class and she should sign me up for something that required less physical coordination – and mom did!  I was devastated! I spent my afternoons learning to crochet with a great big hook instead of learning how to dance.  Kind of a silly story – but admittedly – it had an impact on me that shows up even today.

At 43 years old, I  decided to take ballroom dancing, signed up for lessons at the local Fred Astaire and quickly became obsessed, taking 2 privates and 1 group a week.   But at the same time, a lot of my old demons came up.  I wasn’t very coordinated and not very good.  I am a very auditory person – I learn and remember things by hearing them – but dance is a very tactile sport – you learn by feeling and doing.  When a step was taught, changed or corrected and I was asked “can you feel the difference” I couldn’t.  I mean, I get the huge differences, (especially when it’s wrong – like being way off-balance) but not the subtleties of frame  or being over my foot or not.

Another issue that had a big impact on my dancing and my confidence was that I’d had a bad accident years earlier in January of 1989.  I went out one morning to run with my puppy 2 doors from my house and were crossing a small side street when a 1 ½  ton masonry truck took a right turn on red without stopping.  It drove into me hitting me on my right side. I was thrown 6 feet, landed on my head (contracoup brain injury – which means my brain bounced back and forth in my skull), my right arm and leg had muscles cut through to the bone (what they call a sausage cut  – all internal injury but no external cut) my right kidney was bruised and torn, etc.  I spent 4 months learning to walk and talk again, I was out of work for 9 months and I had seizures that required me to give up my driver’s license for a year.

To look at me today you can’t tell about the accident, except for the extra weight I carry from the medicinal studies I did on the healing properties of M&Ms at the time! J Any remaining speech issue I cover with pauses or by rambling long enough to find the right words so people don’t notice much.

But my back and neck are both in constant pain and have muscle spasms to this day as well as range of motion issues. This means I cannot whip my head around to spot.  Rhythm and Latin are very difficult for me with all the spins and turns.  Even American Smooth presented challenges; every time I did an underarm turn and came out of frame, I’d lose my balance because I could not spot, and then I’d lose my confidence and it was a downward spiral.

I practiced, took lessons, had coaching, you name it.  I went to competitions religiously and placed last in every heat more times than I can count.  Once I even placed 2nd in Rumba and Cha Cha proficiencies (87 and 84 respectively); it’s pretty depressing to place 2nd against yourself!   Between the head games from first grade and my physical issues, I felt defeated, but I stuck with it.

And then something wonderful happened…I started to learn International Standard about 2 years into dancing.  OMG – I didn’t have to let go of anyone!  I could stay in frame all the time!  No spins and no spotting!! Well, there is Viennese, but I am in frame and can hold onto someone!  YAHOOOO!  My world of dance changed!

I still learn more slowly than many people because of how I learn, and my head snaps in tango aren’t as sharp as other people’s because of my neck, etc. but I found my niche and my comfort level and confidence as well as my ability has improved!  For the last 5 years I’ve done International Standard exclusively in my lessons and my competitions.  My stamina has never been great though – I have asthma and at 210lbs I get winded easily, especially with Viennese and Quickstep.

Like everyone, I have my good days and bad days in dance.  There are days when I get it and days when I feel like I never will.  Sometimes it’s frustrating to see the newbies in the studio, many of whom dance better after 1 year, than I do after 7 years!  But I remind myself that I cannot compare myself to anyone else – only to where I was yesterday, or the day/week/month/year before that.  And when I am clear headed, I know I have improved.

So now you know a lot about me and how I got to know Stef. When I told her I had a competition coming up March 1, and that since I am having foot surgery just days after my showcase in June later this year, I don’t know when I’ll be competing again, she was generous enough to let me wear her incredible dress, custom made by Julia Gorchakova.

At competition I danced 20 heats and a 5-dance championship – the first time I did a Silver level championship.  When I saw my heat sheet a couple of days before, I realized I was starting with 10 heats in row, 1 off, then 2 more and so on.  Basically I had all 20 heats and the championship in an hour and 20 minutes!  While it may not seem like a lot to some-I was nervous about my ability to even make it through the heats, let alone how I danced!  I sent Stef an email asking for advice and she sent me words of wisdom and an inspirational link http://youtu.be/-vB59PkB0eQ that made the difference.

Wearing such an amazing dress made a huge difference in how I felt and how I danced. I received more compliments on Stefanie’s dress than on any dress I’ve ever worn in 7 years of competing! Even one of the judges told me how nice I looked when he saw me in the hall!  Everyone loved the way it showed on the floor and the way it moved.

So how did I do? My placements were good – not the best I’ve ever done but very good, and I am ok with that.  I not only survived the 10 dances in a row, I did them decently.  More importantly I feel like overall, I danced the best I’ve ever danced at a competition.  I was consistent (a couple of blips but nothing major) and relaxed – which is huge for me; I tend to let nerves take over on the floor. Despite the fact that people always give me grief that I don’t smile when I dance ( I really am smiling on the inside) I was having a great time and I’m really proud and pleased with how I danced.  I danced my best in this moment – and that is the most I could have asked for.

My goals in dance are first and foremost to do this for the joy and fun in it – when I get to the point of tears or stress I have to remind myself why I am dancing.  Second I want to learn and grow and become the best that I can be in this moment.  Today’s best may not be tomorrow’s, but I want to allow myself to appreciate where I am today, and what I have accomplished in this moment before I move to the next thing/moment.  And I want to dance to enhance my health-my heart, my limbs, my mind, my weight, etc.

So all in all – I accomplished my goals at competition with the support of a wonderful friend and beautiful dress.  Thank you Stef!

Thank you Ellen!  I hope the foot surgery goes well and you have a very speedy recovery! I hope to hear that you are dancing once again very soon.  Thanks for being my friend.