I Broke My Shoe Today

Where to begin?  Since my posts have been so sporadic and with much time in between them, lots has happened so there is lots to share.  Why the paucity of posts?  I’d say it’s because I’ve been in a season of taking a step back to regroup.  I’ve taken this time to go internal, to rebuild my dancing foundation, and to get mentally clean.  I’ve not competed in the better part of a year and I’ve wondered what I was doing all this for.  I don’t necessarily have all the answers but I do feel the siren song of the ballroom world calling to me once again.

I don’t regret a thing.  It has been an important piece of my journey to take this time, to get different coaching, to gain a measure of independence and being solid on my own two feet.  It was good to be separate and get centered.  From this space I can truly move, truly connect, truly be a partner.

So what happened was that PBS aired “America’s Ballroom Challenge” and I watched it and I saw all these friends and people I know and I was invigorated.  I also saw a particular instructor and amateur partner dance and I thought to myself, “I could do that better!” Boastful, I know.  And perhaps not even true!  But the deal is that it stimulated me to call my old friend, Ivan, because I wanted to have the possiblitity of it being true.  And as much as I love Latin, I also miss Rhythm.  And I missed Ivan and Marieta, too.

So I called Ivan and we talked and because we parted so amicably, going back was a possibility.  I said, “I’m thinking to do Rhythm with you and Latin with Damir.”  And he said, “Okay, no problem.”  It’s actually even better than that because Ivan and Marieta are going to start competing in Smooth so after we get our Rhythm routines squared away, I want to do Smooth as well, which Damir doesn’t offer.

As of the writing of this post we’ve had 3 lessons and the new, re-vamped Cha-Cha is complete.  I feel like all the moves in it are within my reach and I love that Marieta helped us with it as well.  She added some sections that allow me to be more expressive and feminine.  I am excited to show new aspects of myself and I was pleased that Ivan could tell that my dancing was more solid.  The best part is we are having lots of fun.  There isn’t the pressure that used to be present and I am committed to keeping things mentally healthy between us.  As much as I’m showing up differently, more positively, more joyful to Ivan, he’s also declared that he will relate to me as the Stefanie I am now, rather than drudging up the old Stef with less confidence, more worry, more story.  So great!  Things are chugging along and feeling good.

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The other exciting news is that a new couple has come to EuroRhythm.  They are really excellent and I have had one lesson with both Kristijan and Anja each.  Last week I worked with Anja on some styling and she actually reminded me of Marieta a little bit in how expressive and free she is with her body.  Today I worked with Kristijan on my Latin closed Silver Cha Cha choreography and boy was it an experience.  He certainly has a lot of energy and he gave me so much information.  The biggest thing was creating the space to really dance, expressively dance.  I’ve been so focused on getting on my legs, feeling solid, I’m overthinking everything.  I went from being overly emotional to being almost robotic. I was way out of my comfort zone on my lesson today but I embrace it.  It’s like I’ve been practicing in a small pen and now the gates have been thrown wide open and I’m being introduced to a world that is way larger and deeper than I’d previously exprienced.  Also cool was that Kristijan said that I have beautiful legs and feet and that I’m very flexible.  Plus he was blown away with the way I connected through our frame, the amount of resistance I had.  The best part of it was that I was glad to hear the good feedback but that my ego didn’t take it and blow it up bigger than it is.  Of course he also gave me some corrections, mostly about making smaller steps and working my back leg more, but again, I stayed even keel.

The way I’ve been dancing with Damir I’ve been very much in my head, thinking everything through.  My face shows it.  So one big thing Kristijan kept asking me for was to smile, to actually look at him, then to look to the audience.  It reminds me of my early days with Ivan and how he pulled so much out of me.  I think working with Anja opened it up for me a little bit and then when I was on the lesson with Ivan this weekend I showed more of that freedom, more of my personality in the sections Marieta helped choreograph.  Both of them were like, “See!  You have this in you!  Why you not showing it before?  Not everyone has this inside them.  I ask my other students, please do this, and you just doing this.”  And yet, there is still more to show and express.

For me, I think it comes down to Trust and Confidence.  Trust both in myself and my partner and Confidence in my movement.  I noticed on my lesson today I was a bit unsure.  And as Damir says, the worst thing an Artist can do is hesitate.  It is our complete committment and conviction to the Art we are creating that allows access to the Art.  I have some growing to do in this regard but now that I’m aware of it I can choose differently and practice it until it becomes my new way of being.  I was so excited to be very uncomfortable on my lesson today because that means growth.  And I just know that I’m going to become even more expressive than I ever was before.  I’m going to be able to be completely authentic about who I am in my movement and that is exciting indeed.  I also noticed that I have been working so diligently to be able to be independent and move myself that I’ve not been practicing really relying on my partner.  One thing that happened with Kristijan (we’ll call him “K”) was that he wanted me to rely on him more so that I could go a little off balance or create a bigger movement than I could do on my own – to leverage the connection to create a fuller picture.  It’s not something I’ve been practicing, to trust in this connection and my partner, but I’m excited by what’s possible beyond what I’ve been doing.  My limits expanded today.

After the lesson tonight with K, I saw Damir and said that as much as he was helping me be a robot, Kristijan was all about expression, which is what I was overdoing before, so I’ve come full circle.  And he said, well it must be time for more expression.  The entire journey is to work to find balance and just when you find balance, destablize it.  Then work to regain the new balance and just when you find it, get off balance again.  It’s funny how all this unfolds, isn’t it?

So I forsee a competition in the not too far future.  I have routines to get together so it will be a bit but maybe before the end of the year.  Maybe Galaxy, maybe Holiday in Vegas.  I do think, regardless of what’s next, that I am in a great position for next year.  Also, there is a sense of urgency without pressure.  At least when it comes to Ivan, we talked about it and we want to get out there as soon as possible but doing it joyfully, sanely, taking what time we need to set ourselves up to win (and by win I mean dance with excellence and without all the drama – the results will be what the results will be in terms of placement.  I’m clear that I’m more committed to loving me and loving my dancing and sharing that than I am to placing first.)  Of course I care about how I place and I am competitive and I do want to win, it’s just that my priorities are re-ordered.

In that same vein, I’m ready to let go of my hang ups about my body.  It hasn’t changed much in terms of how it looks in the past months and frankly, so what?  My struggles with self-esteem and body image have been such a big part of this blog but it’s time to let that be in the past and to drop all the drama.  My body is how my body is.  It’s different every day.  It changes based on the choices I make about what I eat, how I work out, how I treat it, how I dance it.  I’m discovering that I can still be an incredible dancer just as I am right now in this moment.  So much of what has kept me stuck has been feeling like I need to look different to “really” dance.  No!  This is not the truth.  I can dance right now, and in many respects, I can dance better now than I did when I was in high school and a size 8.

In fact, truth be told, my body has very little to do with dancing even as it has everything to do with it.  This weekend the People’s Choice DanceSport competition was held and I went to spectate with two dear friends.  The most moving part was a woman who came out on the floor in a wheelchair.  I’m not sure what condition she has but it looked like her body was fighting against her for every single move she made.  She was able to stand up and take some steps with the support and assitance of her dance partner even as she shook with each and every movement.  It was completely captivating.  In fact, I found it more beautiful, authentic, and engaging than many of the pro performances that evening.  That was true dancing.  She’s my new hero.  Even though her face couldn’t move to express her feelings, it appeared frozen, it was so very clear she loved dancing and she was passionate about it.  It was so incredible how she was emoting purely, and without all the usual cues like facial expression or clear, smooth body movement.

So my body isn’t important when it comes to dancing, even though it is totally important when it comes to dancing (get the paradox?)  That being said, it’s not an excuse to give up or stop working on honing my instrument.  In fact, I’m starting a new plan June 1st and comitting to 30 days of doing it.  Mostly I want to prove to myself that I can successfully complete it and I think it will support me in re-creating my future body.  But in this moment, this is the only body I have.  It is how it is.  I’ve been resisting it, I’ve been fighting reality, I’ve not wanted to choose my body, insisting in the fantasy that there is any other body to have.  Right now, this is it and this is perfect.  There is nothing to fix or change.  There is only the body I have so I might as well choose it and dance it with freedom and abandon.  It’s like, all these dancers I’m working with are reflecting to me some of my great assets as a dancer – my legs, my feet, my connection…they see it and they celebrate it.  Why shouldn’t I?  They are not as hung up about my body as I am.  They see it differently than I have chosen to see it.

So anyways, I’m the Biggest Girl In The Ballroom.  Maybe that will never change.  Maybe it will.  I’m choosing to be okay with what is so and to continue to put energy and effort towards my goals and dreams.

Finally, the title of my blog post is a true statement.  One of the straps on my heels snapped tonight so the Universe is telling me I need a new pair.  I’m going to take it as a sign that it’s finally time to try on the 3 inch heels.  I have two pairs of unused shoes that I’ve not worn because I wasn’t on balance.  I got them out and walked around in my kitchen and I actually feel like it might now be possible to work in them.  Of course it will take some adjustments but I think it was a message that my old shoes broke – that it’s time to “step up” to the next level.  Perfect timing.

So that’s the skinny in my world.  I’m excited to see what happens next.

My Body, The Betrayer

The past three mornings, including this one, have been so, so difficult. I am tired of shedding tears over this but they won’t stop and every time I find a place to be calm, a new knife slices me open. I feel raw and ragged. My eyes are sore and puffy. This is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

It’s been two weeks since the competition and my weight hasn’t budged. Actually, it may have gone up.

The kicker, the thing that pisses me off royally, is that I’ve done everything right. I’ve not cheated. If I had, I would be upset but at myself because I would know I am responsible for my results. But no, I have no time to dick around with this. I’m focused and motivated and want it so badly I can’t even tell you. I’m committed like never before. I do the cooking. I’m prepared. I follow the plan. I measure every portion. And my body is betraying me, just like it always has. We are not on the same team.

The scale silently mocks me.

What happened was this: last week I “felt” skinnier. I thought I’d weigh myself. After all I did that competition and barely ate. I HAD to have lost weight, right? WRONG!

“It was a shock to your body,” says the nutritionist. “It’s water weight from inflammation,” she claims.

I am talked off the edge and decide to give it a week eating on plan exactly and then I will weigh myself after my body has recovered and recalibrated.

Then on this Thursday, somehow my trainer and I come up with the brilliant idea to measure my body fat, because I’m certain it has to have changed with all the activity I’m doing, my new diet.

Hugely bad idea. First, the scale. Yes, I’m in my clothes and shoes and I’ve eaten breakfast, but the scale says I’m up almost 6 pounds!!!!! Then the body fat machine. It may not be a perfect way to measure it but it is the same method used originally so at least the results should be consistent. I’m down a puny, measly 3%. I’m still obese, still over 40% adipose. Disgusting.

I proceed to have a tearful breakdown in the gym. Yes, I keep doing my work-out but I lose it. I will NEVER have a body I love, much less even like. This just isn’t possible for me. It is harder for me than anyone else in the world. For sure if anyone else was doing everything I’m doing they’d have lost 20 pounds by now, probably more. Everyone says that being active should help with the weight loss, that it is an advantage. It doesn’t seem to be making the process any faster.

The absolute worst was when the trainer placed a 10 pound plate on my back while doing a plank. You just never know what will trigger you. For me, this weight pulled down on my core and all I could think of was that I have 9 of these plates pulling me down all the time. It not only weighs heavily on my frame, it weighs heavily on my soul.

I can’t tell you how very discouraged I was, and am, but “weight,” there’s more upset-ness!

I emailed my nutritionist straight away. “I’m up in weight! This is not okay,” I write.

“Breathe,” she tells me. “I have a plan,” she says. “Weigh yourself at home, naked, first thing in the morning like you normally do and we will go from there.”

Again, I table the disappointment for a few hours. Since it is Thursday, I’m supposed to go to Rado’s class in the evening but it just doesn’t feel right. I call Ivan to see if we can have a private lesson. With all this emotional stuff I know I need to really dance it out. I find a tiny island of internal calm as the hours pass so when I arrive to my lesson I am able to focus.

Last time we danced, the Rumba once again haunted me. I find it incredibly hard to portray that dance in particular especially because of my size and body image. But all day long I was thinking, thinking, and deciding ahead of time that I’m going to dance it how I feel it inside, not based on how I look on the outside. It seems like I can much more easily portray a Samba, a Cha Cha, Jive. How is it that Ivan knows when I’m “being me” in these dances but that I can’t seem to “be me” doing the Rumba?

So I meditated on being centered from within while doing the Rumba. I recalled this time that doing one of those personal growth and mastery seminars I declared in public “I am sexy,” because I was challenged to, because even then it was an issue for me, and I have a little memory lapse of what happened but after I said it, meaning it, but all of a sudden the entire room stood up and clapped and cheered for me, and people came up to me after the fact and said, “Whoah. If you weren’t married….”

I thought about where that came from, this evidence that “it” is in there somewhere inside me, and I purposefully decided to do my best to show up from that place on my lesson.

I mean, Ivan is stinking cute! I am pretty lucky to get to dance with him. I guess I should show that, show that I’m happy and enjoying the experience, in the context of the dance, instead of being all wah-boo-poor-fat-ugly-me. So I touched his chest like I meant it and we began messing around moving before dancing. I swiveled my hips and touched my neck and it was awesome.

In some ways, I’ve come quite far. The studio was full of people on lessons and I didn’t give one whit. I am there to work. I can easily claim my space, especially with Ivan at my side, and dance, even if people are staring at me. I was involved in what I was doing and it worked. First, one of the other instructors was all like, “Oh la la!” as she left for the evening. It was apparent she had been watching and my sexy moves had been sexy enough to prompt her to say something. Secondly, and most importantly, Ivan was all like, “I like it today.”

In fact, surprisingly, after the lesson Ivan and I had a conversation in which he asked me if I wanted to go and just do the Scholarship at Millennium in Florida. Financially and time-wise I’m not able to swing-it but it was an interesting development. The idea was that he noticed a big difference in my dancing that day, so much so that he thought I was ready, and should get some experience, to dance with “the big dogs” and see how I’d fare against competitors at large competitions. I agreed that it would be a good experience as I prepare for next year but commented that I wouldn’t really expect any results at this time. He actually seemed to think that getting some results was entirely possible – we’re talking making it to a semi-final or something, not winning, but that would be quite an accomplishment for me. He was feeling that I am starting to come into my confidence, that we did well at People’s Choice, that the judges began to notice me, and that we should build on this. For us, it isn’t about the placements as much as it is how we feel about how we are dancing. If we feel strong and good and get placed last, so be it. Of course, we’d like to score well, but I think it is so much healthier to think of it from our angle and better to have no expectations about things over which I have no control. In any case we will be at Desert Classic and Galaxy and I’m also contemplating Ohio, just to go to a huge competition and have that experience and to see how I stack up against some tougher competition.

So the one silver lining in this week of pain has been that I’m noticeably dancing with more soul, more groundedness, more confidence.

But back to the pain-fest. The next morning I weighed myself as instructed and the scale said I was 2 pounds up. I met with my nutritionist, very, very upset and we talked about a game plan. She talked me off the ledge, once again. She is going to “tweak” my current plan this coming week and create an entire new one the following week. We are going to be more specific with timing my nutrients. I will be taking some supplements. We are going to track my activity and calorie burns and their timing to be more efficient.

“Your body isn’t getting what it needs,” she says. “Your body doesn’t trust you, after years of not getting the nutrition it needs,” she explains.

“I don’t trust my body.” I reply.

And it is true. I don’t trust it at all. I am incredibly angry with it. It refuses to bend to my will. I feel I have no say in what it does. I feel I have no power over it. I hate it.

But what can I do about it, right now in this moment? Again, I feel powerless. Absolutely nothing. I am stuck with it, and it is stuck with me. So I do the only thing I can, agree to the new “tweaked” plan which will be forthcoming in my inbox, and stick to it with 100% adherence. And even then, my body will do what it will. I will still be a XXL. I will still have flabby bat wing arms. I will still weigh more than most grown men.

I feel somewhat better after the talk with the nutritionist and she even offers to work-out with me on Wednesday morning before we meet again to learn some routines for weight training I can do on my own on the days I don’t see my trainer. At least I have some action steps to take which gives the illusion that I’m actually doing something about this situation which feels so entirely hopeless.

Again, I calm my emotions enough to get through yesterday, eat my breakfast this morning, and open my “tweaked” plan. Once again I’m bleeding from a razor slash. The fresh wounds still weeping are assaulted anew as the first thing I see as open the attachment is butter. I check the calorie count and begin to panic, breathing in halts and gasps as I see it is UP from 2000 to 2500. DIdn’t she hear me?! I want to LOSE weight, not gain it! Are you freaking kidding me. I don’t want to do this. Every fiber of my being is against this.

“It is for a week or two at the very most,” she says. “It is a metabolic reset,” she explains. “There is good science behind it.”

Fuck science. I don’t care. I just want to starve myself until the next competition. Too much time has been wasted already. Half the year is gone and I’m down a measly 15 pounds since I began with the trainer and nutritionist. Unacceptable. And now I’m supposed to stay stagnant or even risk gaining more weight for the next week or two to reset? And I am desperate to show an improvement in my body, to be smaller and lighter at my next competition, and I feel like that is impossible and not going to happen if I follow this. I’m working so hard. I am so sad and frustrated and angry that I’m not steadily going downward. I don’t know what to do. It is stressing me out and goes against everything I know/believe about how to make a body smaller. I am asea. This doesn’t look anything like I want it to, nothing like what I expected, and I don’t want to do it.

I really, really, really, really don’t want to do it. I don’t want to eat fucking butter. I don’t want to fucking eat 2500 calories.

I would rather crawl into a hole and waste away.

what am I going to do? Somehow I have to talk myself into this when every cell in my body is screaming, “NO!!!!.”  Why isn’t it working for me? Why is my body so goddamned stupid.

I am a total mess.

But I have a lesson with Inna in 2 hours so I better get myself together.

iam

I Should Be In Bed Right Now

I really should. I’m exhausted after a big workout with my trainer this morning which blasted my glutes and thighs so much so that they are sore tonight already and I know tomorrow will be a pain-fest, plus I went to Inna’s class tonight which of course was hard and tiring, and to top it all off I have a double lesson tomorrow morning at 7am across town because Ivan is going to Chicago Crystal Ball this weekend and I need to get in some dancing with him at least once this week!

So yeah, I should be snoring right now but I have a few things on my mind.

First two kinda funny stories that I forgot to mention, both relating to the competition last week. Then some venting…I mean processing (lol)… of some frustrations.

So the funny stuff first:

To set the context for the first tale you have to know that while we were dancing our open routines during the competition, particularly during the Rumba, we had a few balance issues. I totally thought I was on my leg to go backward but I guess I wasn’t and leaning too much on Ivan and I just about made him topple over. I could see his eyes slowly grow as big as saucers while time froze and I was wondering what the heck was going on, why he wasn’t moving like he usually did to let me do my backbend.

So things were different than usual on our lessons (not to mention all the asthma issues and whatnot) and Ivan and I are doing the open Cha Cha routine after all these balance snafus. The routine is basically the same one as in the video I posted to “Daddy” from the showcase. The one which has splits in it. So the time comes for the splits and down I go….and I stay there. Like for an extra eight counts. And all the while I’m wondering what went wrong. Is Ivan unable to heave me up back onto my feet? Is he hurt? And then, whew! Ivan is pulling me up. I sigh with relief and off we go.

Later we are sitting at our table and I am like, “Ivan, did something go wrong during the splits?!”

“No. Don’t worry. Everything fine. You doing the splits and I seeing not everyone see you down there so I keeping you down there so everyone can see you and be like Oh! Nobody is expecting that. I want everyone to seeing. And I knowing you not going anywhere,” he smirked. “I knowing I can keep you there as long as I want!”

He’s right about that! lololol.

The other funny thing is that Ivan put Samba Rolls in our open routine. So after the entire competitions is over and we are on our lesson he tells me, “I no liking how we doing the Samba rolls at People’s Choice.”

That’s fine, I guess. Only problem is…we never freaking practiced them beforehand! He never coached me on how to properly do them! I was like, “Ivan! That’s cool. Let’s fix them, but you can’t not like them without helping me with them!” I don’t know why, but I thought this was pretty funny. I’m glad he didn’t admonish me at the competition because there would be little to no chance of actually improving it in the moment and also glad that he was honest about it and that we can work on it. So anyways, nothing like hearing how your instructor didn’t like how you danced but laughing it off became, well, you didn’t instruct me! Gah!

Now for the ranty-rant-rant. Well more like I’m just sad and angry. I wanted to cry at the end of Inna’s class today. I worked hard all class long. We did Rumba and Cha Cha. I hit it hard and pushed my cardio to the limit once again, having to use my rescue inhaler. I was sweaty and tired and just done.  Like zero energy.  And then we had to do Batucadas.

It was brutal.  And all I could think about was how hard this was for me in particular because of how fat and huge and heavy I am.  I’m so over it.  I can’t get this weight of quickly enough.  It is so exhausting and tiring and I am working so hard and I just feel angry about it. I know it’s hard for everybody but I want to strap 80 pound backpacks on every person in that class and see how they handle it, that’s how distressing it is to me.  Yes, yes, I did this to myself.  I am at responsibility for the results I’ve created in my life.  It’s nobody’s fault but my own that I’m the way I am.  And I’m mad about it.  Especially in moments when I’m pushed to my physical limits.  And usually when I’m right on the brink is when I get emotional so I was right there tonight at the end of class.  I even copped out a bit and didn’t do my arms for a bit, and after a big effort I also just ended up walking backwards because I was so blasted.

And at the end of this, after Inna coached us on some pointers to make the movements cleaner and sharper, she says, “You were only dancing this for five minutes…..”  and in my head I complete the sentence with… “and you are already exhausted.  Pathetic!”  But what she actually says is, “and already so much better.”

Hmmmm.

I was thinking about this time a while back when I first started Inna’s class.  Of course it has always been difficult and pushed me to my limits.  I stop less than I used to and during this particular lesson I’m referring to I know I stopped and started multiple times.  Anyways, at the end of the lesson Inna says to me, “Stefanie, you the hard worker!”  It felt good when she said that back then but I was pondering it lately, because, like, you know if a Ukranian dancer tells you that you are a hard worker, then maybe it’s true.

Well, yes, okay, I’m a hard worker. I’m okay with working hard for my goals. But what I’m not okay with is how much more difficult everything is for me with the fat suit on. It seriously limits me and I’m frustrated and annoyed with it. So wah-boo. I hate this feeling and it breaks my heart wide open to think about how it would feel – how it will feel – to be lighter. It makes me think that I, too, know why the caged bird sings.

Once this weight is off, I’m going to practically fly off the dance floor. But right now gravity has such a hold on me pulling my extra mass downwards. I carry the weight of an extra person on my frame and I want to lay her down. I want to not be so jiggly and twice the size of everyone. And I’m on the right track and doing all the right things but the excavation is going to take a while, longer than I want, but that’s the deal. So suck it up, Stefanie.

If I were to coach myself I’d say celebrate the little wins along the way. Acknowledge your progress. Remember, progress, not perfection. Direction, not perfection. I’d say all this and it’s all true but at the same time I’m living the reality of being obese. It ain’t pretty and it ain’t easy. And I do get down about it. I suppose angry is better than sad, better than resignation, apathy, laying down on the floor. At least with mad I can give a little fight and fire. I still don’t honestly believe that I will ever be thin. All I know is that I can’t continue to cage myself in this body and I’m doing the best I know to do to burst it wide open. I just hope it’s enough. I just hope that I’m enough.

flying

My Toes Are Numb! People’s Choice Recap

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

cha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

medal

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

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

people's choice

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

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

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

te adoro

Looks Like You’re Buying For A Decent Size Family

Ivan tells me I no longer look like the “Wal-Mart lady.”  Or the Michelin man.  No, I’ve moved up.  I’m now the “Trader Joe’s lady.”

“Higher quality food,” he says.  “Maybe not Dolce and Gabanna just yet,” but getting there (is the implication.)

But no matter how big or small I am today, something shifted.  It’s Saturday, a mere 4 days before People’s Choice.  I’ve booked a double lesson because, you know, we’re still working out kinks on the Samba and well, you never really feel prepared before a competition.

So of course instead of working on the routine that needs the most work, we begin with a warm-up waltz and I like my big frame and Ivan seems to be enjoying himself too.  And then we start with the Rumba.

And seriously, I never have heard Ivan exclaim, “Perfect!” so many times.  Really, it was an exceptional experience.  It probably helped that my weight dropped significantly this week.  Today was my weigh in day and I’m down over 5 pounds!  I don’t think I’ve ever dropped that much in a week, and the funny part is, yesterday I freaked out.  I had this moment, in the bathroom, and I broke down crying.  I knew, I just knew, that I was up in weight for the week.  I could feel I wasn’t making any progress, that all my work was for naught because it seems like that has been the pattern in the past, that I work so hard and nothing budges.  Everything in my being was telling me that I had failed this week and that I was bigger than ever.

So this morning as I approached my scale I was giving myself a silent pep talk:  Don’t freak out, Stef, if you are the same or even a pound higher.  It’s okay.  You can talk with Chelle.  She can lower your calories because you know you are right that you are eating too much!

I stepped up and held my breath.

Wha!?

Beaming.  Shocked.  So happy that something is finally really working.

I don’t think that it’s been a lack of committment in the past, it was just that restricting was not fueling my body, my athlete body, which is underneath the fat suit.  I’m retraining it that it will be properly fueled with the right kind of calories, that it can and should burn them efficiently, because more fuel will be coming in regular intervals.  There is abundance.  It’s okay to let go of the hoard on my backside.

And it almost makes me want to cry.  That for years, years people, I’ve been working to be better, smaller, cut calories…that is until I gave up and gave in and lay down.  It was too difficult.  I was dancing 8 hours a week and eating a bagel afterwards and thought it should be enough.  I couldn’t maintain the insanity.  And I went from restriction to abandon, not caring, eating all the things I denied myself for years.  It was like I went to sleep and woke up in a new, fat body.  And then I just adapted to this new, unhealthy normal.

Well, now I’m getting a re-education about how and what to eat….like a Hobbit.  And it’s working.  Hallelujah!

So it is probably a little bit easier to dance with 5 pounds less on me, and I probably had a little more spring in my step with these great results, but almost right off the bat Ivan was commenting how he loved what I was doing.  And the weird part is, that internally I’ve always felt like I was doing this same thing, but maybe I’m freeing myself with just a tiny bit more abandon, and whatever it was, it was working.  If I can dance like I danced today at this competition and those to follow, then that will be a major triumph, of showing my insides, expressing, being seen, being connected.  However I am ranked or judged, I’ll be proud of what I do on that dance floor.  And that is a big win.

I was just feeling and connecting.  My energy was right.  Ivan said, “You con, con…what is the word? When you have a cold?”

“Congested?” I said.

“Congested,” he said.  “Like you is congested and you making me congested.”

Something didn’t quite make sense.

“Ah!  You mean contagious!”

“Yes!  You is contagious when you dancing like that.  You making me so happy dancing like this.  Like I’m really dancing with you.”  And he got goosebumps at least once which is always awesome.

And we were doing the Cha Cha and he was like, “Show me how much you loving your butt!  Make me want to eat your butt!”

And you have to remember Ivan has like zero filter, but anyways, I had to be all “Hey!  Look at my awesome butt!  Touch it!  No you can’t touch it!”  And this is why I’m doing the Time Step beside him.  Like there has to be a purpose behind every movement, not just going through the motions and all that.

And then I asked him about my fingernails because we were talking about how I was doing my hands on the Fan and showed him my latest set, which were supposed to be gold.  It was a trial run before the comp to see if I could do some fancy nails that would match my black and gold dress.  After they were done, I was kind of undecided about them.  The didn’t come out quite as gold as I’d hoped.  But I did get a few compliments on them during the week.  So I asked Ivan his opinion, should I keep them or go with pink and white, and remembering that Ivan has no filter, he replies, “This looking like when you were a kid and you…”  And he motions like he is cleaning out his earwax.

nails1

Well….I guess he has a point.  Which meant a trip to the nail salon before the trip to the grocery store today.  And don’t you know it took twice as long as I would have liked so I am so behind on my food prep for the week (but I will get it done!!!!), but at least my nails will be Ivan-approved.

And then I went to the store.  As I was checking out the cashier said, “Looks like you’re buying for a decent sized family.”  And I was all like…awkward silence.  And then I was like, “Well, I hired a nutritionist.  And you wouldn’t believe how much I’m eating….like a Hobbit!”  And she was like “How is it working for you?”  And I was like, “Great!”  (Not that it is any of your business but well, what was I going to do?)  But seriously, there is a huge lack in understanding about what I’m doing with my diet in the general population.  Couple that with my size and I’m really glad that I’m mostly eating at home.  I did a program once which was very similar to this plan, eating 5 to 6 times daily with a specific blend of carbs and protein and fat but with less tasty food and no awesome nutritionist who had my back, and anyways I always felt really self-conscious about pulling out a container every 3 hours at my desk..that people were thinking, “Why are you eating so much!?”

After our lesson Ivan said, “Today you showing me more.  I so proud of what you doing today!  I only hoping it not last only one day!”  Ha ha.

Me too, Ivan, me too!  Though I can only imagine that things will continue to get better and better from here.

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.