I’m Baaaaaaaack!

Did you miss me?

Well, this will be a short one (for me)! There will probably be more to come after I debrief with Ivan tomorrow morning about Desert Classic and after my husband (finally) manages to send me the photos and videos he took.

So here’s the quick update about my most recent competition:

First, I had a new dress made.

color

I know it is not the best picture but you can get an idea of the bright colors. That’s right….color! And I actually liked the color combo on the floor from the pictures I’ve seen so far.

What I didn’t like was my big belly. And the fact that my big belly wasn’t smoothed out/hidden with draping or ruching. I didn’t see the final product until the day before the competition so it was like, well, this is what it is and it is either wear it or don’t because there really isn’t time to fix it. I think it will look so much better on me with a flatter stomach but that was not to be on Thursday.

Thursday was Latin and I danced very inconsistently. I got marks all over the place but didn’t make the final from a semi final with 14 couples in the Latin closed bronze A scholarship. So I was kinda bummed about that but even more bummed that I was feeling really exhausted, had some balance issues, and felt like Ivan and I were pushing and pulling each other all over the floor. Basically that means I wasn’t “moving my ass” like I need to and because I’m late he tries to help to get me where I need to go which creates resistance in our hold and then, paradoxically, I move even less and also get more exhausted. It is a vicious cycle and totally sucks. So I wasn’t over my feet or moving fast enough and this caused a chain reaction which compounded the problem. And it meant Ivan was kinda disappointed in my performance because we both knew I was off and have the potential to do better. So boo! Thursday was not my best day.

And wouldn’t you know it – I did best in stupid Jive again! I hate that dance in terms of the cardio it requires but somehow, even though I only know like 3 figures, and we like never practice it, that is the dance I placed best in most consistently. Go figure! lol.

But still, there are always learning opportunities just from participating. I realized how little I had mentally prepared for the competition. I realized, in hindsight, the importance of putting energy into getting myself into a strong frame of mind before stepping on the floor. I became more aware of things I wish to improve and work on, and I also became more clear on how I wish to direct my physical fitness training in the near future.

Because I’m done with not feeling awesome about myself when I step on the ballroom floor. I don’t want to put myself through this anymore. I must change dramatically. Period. It takes a lot of energy, strength, and confidence, to really dance, and I just couldn’t muster it about myself on Thursday, especially when I was so aware of my large belly and arms. I mean, I felt like I kept myself under control in a pretty good to neutral energy, but my lack of confidence gnawed at the back of my mind. I was aware of it on some level and when I saw a picture my husband took of me from the back, I looked as large as a male trucker. Yuck! I’m over it.

It is too hard to have so much shame about how I look, to not feel feminine or pretty, and to get out on a dance floor and pretend like I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m not, and a I can’t fake it. Frankly, I find it off-putting when people think they are too cool for school so I have reservations about being or acting like that. You know, I feel like my authenticity and emotionality are some of my greatest strengths as well as weaknesses. It is why people can “feel” me when I am dancing, and why, I think, they connect with me. So when I’m feeling good and strong, it is really great. But it also means I can’t fool anybody when I’m feeling down about myself and my body. There is no question in my mind that how I feel about my body affects how I show up in dancing…and in life. And it is not my best. So I’m waiting to hear the verdict from Ivan because I know he mentally stockpiled a bunch of feedback for me about the competition and we have a lesson tomorrow. Also, I’m contemplating not doing another competition for a while, though the next one on my radar is Galaxy here locally and local comps are harder to say no to. It is in September so I think I will wait and see how I’m feeling about it at the end of August and make a decision at that time. Because it isn’t okay with me just to go through the motions and to dance just because….it is important to me to have purpose and meaning in my dancing and I wasn’t able to generate that as strongly as I did for previous competitions. I attribute this to my lack of consistent, significant progress toward my weight loss goals and the subsequent feelings of lower self-esteem thus created.

So anyways, more to come about what’s next, but Thursday was kinda blah. Friday was a day to rest, regather myself, and recuperate. My husband was along for the trip and we joined Ivan and Marieta for a little jaunt up to the top of a nearby mountain, 9000 feet high, where the temperature was a lovely 62 degrees. We got there by riding in an air tram that spun 360 degrees while traveling upwards on steel cables for 10 minutes. It was a fun and delightful day.

Saturday was Rhythm. There was more competition in terms of number of couples in my division in Latin than in American Rhythm, but I think there was maybe more chaos in the ballroom because there were tv crews filming for two separate shows in the ballroom. It is going to be very interesting to watch both shows as I personally know some of the people they are following for the one to be on TLC, and I have come to meet some of the people to be featured on the other show, I think for the A & E channel. I had to sign a release because they had me in one of the frames dancing in the background while they were filming one of their main protagonists so you may also see me on tv some time soon ha ha ha!

In any case, I did much better in American Rhythm, basically placing first in most heats and winning the scholarship round from a 7 couple final (no semi final). Also, and more importantly, Ivan felt my energy was better and I felt stronger as well. We were not pushing and pulling too much through the frame and I was more on my own feet. Well, this was after we had a bit of a come-to-Jesus meeting after he had let go of me, releasing me completely from the frame, multiple times on the floor, in front of the judges, so I would get the point about hanging on him, pushing to hard, relying on him for my balance, and all that, but also so that I could have easily fallen on my ass. Don’t get me wrong, it’s FANTASTIC kinestetic feedback. I’d welcome it on a lesson. But please don’t let me get away with things on lessons repeatedly and then do this on the floor when it counts!?! I was miffed! Anyways, we worked through it, which is the most important thing, I suppose, and I ended up with fantastic results. As Felipe Telona Jr. jibed me, “You should have brought a broom!” and, “I’m glad you are leaving now so the rest of us have a chance!”

first

When I got off the floor and my husband took this picture he was like, “And you won an…..envelope?!” It contained a check, silly! Double what I got for People’s Choice, which was very nice – the equivalent of a few more lessons, because, yeah, all money gets converted to the equivalent number of dance lessons in my brain. ūüôā

So I still managed to make it into the top 20 students, which surprised me with as few heats as I did, and so did Ivan’s other student, plus he was 7th place top teacher with the 2 of us, and he and Marieta placed 3rd in Pro Open Am Rhythm, second only to Emannuel and Liana and Yuki Haraguchi and her new partner.

Best of all, no injuries, I’m not exhausted, and I had the energy today to go to ballet class after work plus I went to the grocery store to replace all my perishables and pulled out the items I’d prepared last week from the freezer, which is to say that I’m baaaaaack! Back to my eating plan, and getting my fitness plan in gear, and right back into my normal activities. I didn’t run myself into the ground this time so I won’t need a week to recuperate like I did after People’s Choice.

Alright – gotta get to bed! TTFN!

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Claim Your Space

Ever since our honest conversation, things have been different on my lessons….for the better.¬† I had such a nice lesson today.¬† It wasn’t easy.¬† Actually, it means I’m taking more responsibility for my dancing.¬† It takes more energy, but overall, I’m really happy about it.

So I decided I wanted to come to my lesson with a directed agenda today and I told Ivan about it.¬† Again, another way in which I’m stepping up and taking responsibility for myself and my dancing.¬† Instead of just doing whatever, I wanted to review my Latin Rumba routine.¬† Why?¬† First, so I don’t completely forget it.¬† And boy did this turn out to be a really good thing.

The other things I told Ivan I wanted to do on our lesson, we only got to some of them.¬† But it’s all good.¬† I know that we will work on those things too, but first things first.¬† Soon I hope we will begin work on¬†a nice open Samba routine.

Anyways, for now, what we discovered is this….I’ve really been unsure of my timing.¬† I know the steps, for the most part, but even some of those I couldn’t do without Ivan.¬† It’s totally different without your partner in front of you, leading you.¬† So we broke it down, step by step, count by count.¬† It was a bit tedious, but totally awesome.¬† I’m moving myself, 100%.¬† I’m counting, and know when I’m supposed to do what.¬† It makes me feel more secure.¬† It makes me feel more confident.¬† It also exposes my weaknesses and when I don’t know exactly what I’m doing…which is perfect!¬† Once these areas are identified, I can correct them.¬† When we dance together, much of this is covered up because I can go on automatic pilot with Ivan’s lead and he can help balance me and such.

So, I’m excited.¬† I’m fired up to practice my routine, by myself.¬† I’m super excited for when we dance it together again, but with him giving me a very light lead so that I can move myself, and be on my own two feet.

It also felt good on another level that Ivan was actually giving me more responsiblity and treating me more like a partner.¬† Yes, I’m still the student and all, and he definately jumps in when I mess up to correct me, but when I hit it, he’s so happy.¬† It’s a very good thing.

We also practiced¬†presentation a bit.¬† I felt that it was quite off at the competition, along with a lot of other things.¬† The bottom line is that we weren’t connecting like we should have.¬† When we connect (and we can do it), it feels like we are one piece moving – the two puzzle pieces meld into one.¬† When we are in a hold like this, when we are connected like this, it’s hard not to follow.¬† Today, since we were conected, Ivan led me in all manner of presentations and I didn’t miss a beat.¬† He didn’t have to show me them, or instruct me in them.¬† It was kind of magically amazing.¬†Connection, connection, connection!!!

So, I’m excited for when I can dance myself, I know my routine backwards and forwards with the timing and counts, and when we can connect to dance it like we did today when all that is in place.

I’ll be honest.¬† It was a lot to absorb, a lot to keep track of.¬† It’s going to take practice on my part and I’m going to have to integrate my computer (brain) with my muscles and body.¬† I’ve been very irresponsible about practicing my routines by myself¬†but now am excited to create the space and time in my life to do this more.

Speaking of space, one thing I still need to work on is claming my¬†space on the floor.¬† Ivan is so attuned, he can zero in when I’m not 100% convicted or committed in my movements.¬† Anyways, we were doing a crossover and I was thinking I was being a bold and confident and such, but Ivan, he called my bluff.

“You can’t partially claim your space, or maybe claim it.¬† Take it!¬† It’s yours! Declare it!”

He runs over to a rack of dresses over in the corner.

“Stefanie, what If I Dore’ and I tell you all these dresses are yours!¬† What you do?”

He hugs them all in a big, exhuberant squeeze.

“You don’t doing this.”¬† He half-way hugs some of the dresses, kind of unsure.¬† Maybe touching some, avoiding others, being shy.

He’s so good at acting out these concepts.¬† It’s pretty funny.¬† No one could ever say Ivan isn’t animated.

In any case, yes, he’s right.¬† I experienced it at Desert Classic, being afraid to really claim my space and take it.¬† As my confidence grows, I will feel more and more like I have a “right” to be there on the floor, which we all do….if we are there to dance then we have the right to claim our space.¬† So, I’m looking forward do doing this more and more in the future.

In that same vein, Ivan always admonishes me to finish my movements.¬† To complete one movement, then start the next one, and finish it.¬† I got another understanding of this lesson, not only on my underarm turn and spot turns, but also when Ivan had me do a little Cha Cha combo across the floor.¬† I did Cha Cha walk, spiral, repeat.¬† After fixing my spiral by making sure I was standing up straight, lengthening my spine, and not leaning, as well as not leaning backwards, Ivan wanted me to look directly at him while I walked toward him.¬† Basically, I was supposed to direct my energy along with my movements to him, representing someone in the audience.¬† It feels awesome when the two are in sync – my body and my energy.¬† Anyways, I made it across the floor and back a few times, then Ivan leaned over sticking out his cheek and told me to come and kiss it.¬† Well, what did I do?¬† I did my walks, all directed and all, but then stopped short about two steps before his cheek.¬† I didn’t complete the movement.¬† I stopped myself just like I always do….well, let’s say did.¬† Because I’m a changed woman.¬† No more.¬† Time to complete.¬† Every time.¬† All the way.¬† No holding back.

One final thing happened today that was pretty interesting.¬† Ivan had me do swivels.¬† I struggle with those things like crazy.¬† So when he started doing them, I immediately went into the mode of knowing that I’m bad at them.

“Oh Ivan!¬† Swivels!¬† Ugh! I’m so bad at them!”

He was all, “You always like this.¬† You say this to me like you never going to be able to do them in your life.¬† And look, 20 minutes later you are doing them, doing them so much better.¬† You not allowed to say you can’t doing things anymore.¬† You have to just count to ten and do it!”

Its a new rule.  I have to shut up and dance.

Because the truth is, I generally catch on and can do most, if not all, of what is asked of me or taught to me.¬† Sometimes I’m missing a piece of information which makes it difficult, like in the swivels, I wasn’t bringing my feet together fast enough and this was making the swivels slow and cumbersome.¬† Ivan gives me this little nugget, and bam, immediately I’m dancing different.

So, I’m not allowed to say I can’t anymore. I have to count to ten and then just do it.¬† It’s probably a good rule to apply to life in general as well.

So anyways, I’m focused and directed.¬† I have a new attitude and am determined and committed.¬† I have been moving every day this week except Friday, taking extra group dance classes at a local adult dance studio.¬† I took a stretch and tone class, kind of a yoga hybrid, belly dancing, a Glee cardio fitness class, and a Zumba class (not my cup of tea, but at least I sweated a bit), and then worked out with my friend at the gym on the treadmill before my lesson today.¬† I have dropped a few pounds and notice some changes in my body, but they aren’t enough that Ivan could see just yet.

Though a bit disappointed by this, that lasted about 10 seconds because then it just fired me up to work even harder to drop more weight so it is noticible next time, or at least¬†in the very near future.¬† Also, I’m motivated because even if Ivan can’t see the changes, he can feel energetically, or whatever, that I’m serious, that my mentality has switched.

“I not feeling like you losing weight just now, but you already dancing different.¬† You already feeling different.¬† Very nice lesson today.¬† I like it.¬† I love it.¬† I like it.”

Cool.¬† I can live with that.¬† Actually, I’m excited about next week and have my next weight loss target written on my white board so I will see it every time I walk in my door at home.¬† It will remind me of what I need to do and why I am doing it.¬† Suddenly staying on my eating plan becomes easy.¬† I have to keep myself busy, and as long as I do that, I’m going to succeed.¬† Actually, I can’t possibly fail, unless I give up, which I won’t.¬† I’m still breathing so I’m still in the game.

This leads me to my last item of note – I have a confession to make.¬† I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the videos of me dancing at Desert Classic just yet.¬† It’s always been difficult for me to watch myself dancing, even at a smaller size.¬† It’s good to watch because it’s feedback – I can see how my body is moving, see where I’m not completing my momvents, see if my toes are pointed, etc, etc.¬† But esepcially because I don’t like my body right now, and because I’m not dancing like I wish I could, it’s hard to see.¬†¬†Anyways, at the end of the lesson today Ivan asked me if I had watched¬†my¬†videos¬†yet and I was like no.¬† He said to bring them next time and we will watch them together.¬† He wants to see not only how I was moving, but also the people around me.¬† If I am moving well, then we will know that the appearance issue really affected my results.¬† If I’m not moving well, I guess the jury will still be out.¬† But I do trust Ivan’s eye.¬† He knows what he’s talking about.¬† So if he decides I danced well, I’m going to be even more fired up to dramatically change my body for our next competition….whenever that is.

So, after our next lesson, I’ll let you know what he thought.¬† I’ll let you know what I thought.¬† Maybe, I’ll even share some video, if I don’t feel it is too horrid!

I guess that’s it for now.¬† I really needed to process all that happened today and that, in all honesty, is why I started the blog.¬† My husband got sick of me blabbing about it so much!¬† So,¬†I have no idea if you found this post entertaining or if you got anything from it, but, well, I sure did!¬† Ha!¬† I feel much better, re-committed, re-energized, and excited.

I’m so glad I went and did the Desert Classic.¬† I feel like going to competitions, for me, is such a growing experience which lasts even beyond the actual event.¬† I just know my dancing is on a different level and I’m exctied to explore it.

Until next time,

Committed, Consistent, Disciplined, Svelte, Powerful, and Determined Stefanie

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. ūüôā

I Love Chocolate….And My Friends, And My Mom

Sometimes I feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.¬† One of the very important (to me) things that sometimes gets put on the backburner when other responsibilities get in the way is writing a blog post.¬† You know, these things take time and between work, the commute, getting a dance lesson in, and preparing my food for my eating plan, not to mention some online writing gigs, and fitting in some time to make sure I still connect with my husband and some time to have fun and relax, well, living a balanced life is a full time prospect!¬† I don’t think I’d get even half of this done if I had kiddos!

Anyways, the short of it is that a lot has happened since my last blog post and I kind of don’t know where to start.¬† I think tonight it’s going to be a stream-of-consciousness ramble about some lessons, a boating trip (with dancing friends), and my mom’s first dance lesson, plus an update about the Desert Classic.¬† And Paragon, I would be happy to tell you about the dress – thanks for asking!

Let’s see….

I guess with Ivan I’ve probably had 3 lessons?¬† We’ve worked on all sorts of stuff, but mostly connection and expression.¬† As Ivan explains it to me, I’m not the first one to ever do a fan.¬† It’s not like people have never seen a fan before (in Cha Cha or Rumba), but how am I going to style it so I stand out?¬†¬† One of the things I’m most excited about, which may sound silly, but to me is scrumptious, is the preparation to dancing (did I really just write that?¬† OMG, Ivan’s Bulgarian English is rubbing off on me!¬† What I mean is ….preparation to dance).¬† Especially in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha we’ve been working on Ivan placing me on the floor and then a little interaction where I am like bursting, I want to dance so bad (well, the idea is to act that way), and then he approaches, we connect, and then we begin as one.¬† Of course, it doesn’t always happen that smoothly, but the idea is there and I do¬†think it will set us apart.

Also I am working on doing a better job of shifting my weight over my standing leg more quickly, and moving myself.¬† There are some “deadspots” in my dancing at times.¬† They way Ivan explains it, it’s like my engine stops working.

“You doing so good, Stefanie, to this point but then¬†your “Check Engine” light goes on.¬† You run out of gas.”

Ah yes, the car metaphors abound.¬† Hopefully I’ll show up as a Ferrari rather than a dump truck while dancing¬†at Desert Classic!¬† Ha Ha.

One thing I’m not excited about is the Jive.¬† Seriously, we haven’t even practiced it!¬† If I place last in all my Jives I will let myself off the hook!¬† We haven’t worked on it.¬† I’m just going to try and enjoy them as much as I can and let it be whatever experience it is.¬† I’ll expect more of myself once we’ve actually worked on the dang¬†dance!

I’m feeling better about the stamina issue.¬† It looks like based on the schedule at Desert Classic that I will dance Smooth Thursday morning then Latin in the afternoon.¬† Friday I’ll have off to recouperate.¬† Then Saturday is American Rhythm.¬† I will wear my red and black dress for Rhythm and Smooth and I’m having a new dress made by Marietta for Latin.¬† I had a fitting just yesterday, and although still a work in progress, I really like it – more than I thought I would from the sketches.¬† It is going to be very figure flattering for me.¬† It’s black and gold with lovely asymmetrical draping.¬† If it continues along the same lines as what I saw yesterday, I’m going to feel very sexy and sleek in this frock.¬† Once I have it in my posession, I’ll be happy to post pictures.

Also, I’ve decided that I will get a tan this go-around.¬† Yes, I’m mostly covered, but go big or go home, as they say.¬† Why not do everything to play the part?¬† And time to put on the nails as well.

Okay, so besides doing what I can to get ready for Desert Classic, because seriously, there is so much I learn every day I dance, and at a certain point you just have to show up as you are Рa work in progress, you know?  Well besides doing what I can to prepare, I also had some time for some R & R this weekend.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a pontoon boat for a few hours this past Sunday with my friend Colette (featured in¬†this post ) as well as my friend Ghada, and also Ivan and Marietta.¬† OMG!¬† It was SUCH a good time.¬† And yes, believe it or not, we do have a few lakes here in Arizona!¬† Anyways, I think we talked about dance for the entire time, which is just the way I like it.¬† The coolest part is that Ghada, Colette, and I all take from different instructors, but we are all friends and genuinely support one another.¬† Like if either of those gals won, even if they beat me in competition, I’d be happy for them and celebrate.¬† I know they’d feel the same about me too!

And we brought Ivan along for the entertainment, and he didn’t disappoint!¬† As you can see, we got into some chocolate trouble.¬† We also danced on the boat, ate, drank, posed for pictures, talked, laughed, tanned, and floated.¬† It was a most relaxing day and the entire world melted away.¬†¬† I just feel so very blessed to have such amazing friends.

Oh, and here’s Ivan making a “Bulgarian cocktail”¬† Ha Ha!¬† He actually was a bartender for a few years in Spain, believe it or not!

Anyways, best day ever…well, one of the best ever.

But then I had to come back to the real world.  *Sigh*

However,¬†back in the real world, there was another exciting event on the horizon.¬† Remember how Ivan was like, infatuated with the idea of¬†dancing with my mom?¬† Well, he convinced her to come in for a lesson!¬† He has it in his mind to do a showcase number to “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C & C Music Factory with her as the centerpiece.¬† So today she came for her very first lesson and I got to be there too!

She was really cute.

“Wow.¬† That is quite a drive!”¬† She exclaimed upon arriving.¬† We got started and it was really fun.¬† We played around making up different moves and Ivan¬†taught¬†mom the Cha Cha basic step.¬† The showcase number is going to be freestyle so we can just have a lot of fun with it and not worry too much about technique.¬† Mom showed us some moves from the 60’s like the Pony and the Twist and Ivan made her do side splits and we also lifted her up in the air, making a seat with our arms.¬† She did great for her first lesson and Ivan said she was learning quickly.¬† I had to laugh, though when Ivan suggested, “Chris, maybe you to coming by yourself for the next lesson so we not killing Stefanie’s lesson.”

The thing is, we are gearing up for the competition right now, and Ivan has a lot of choreography to figure out and teach my mom.¬† I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to pick it up pretty quickly, so this sounds like a good plan to me, but I’m really looking forward to the day we do this performance.¬† It’s going to be EPIC!

I also had to laugh when Ivan suggested to my mom, “You have to practicing.¬† Listen to the song lots at home and dance at home.¬† Discover different movements, and how the music makes you dance. ¬†Dance in front of the mirror.¬† Dance in front of your husband.”

“Oh no!” Said Mom.

“Yeah!”¬† I laughed, “Dad probably wouldn’t watch.”¬† He’s not big on the dancing.¬† This made it especially wonderful that he came to my showcase because he had to sit through a lot of dancing before I performed.

“Okay, okay.” Interjected Mr. Ivan.¬† “You not dancing in front of your husband.¬† You save it to being a surprise!”

“Okay, Ivan.¬† When do you think this showcase will be?”

“In September maybe.¬† There is a showcase the weekend before the Galaxy competition.”

“But I’ll be in Italy from August 31st through September 18.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.¬† You can practicing in Italy!”

We all laughed at that.

“But we’ll see,” he said.¬† “Maybe we can doing it¬†in September.¬† If not, there will be other events.¬† Maybe November or January.¬† It okay.”

So, the long and short of it is mom did great, Ivan is very excited about the whole thing, and at one point or another we will be performing as a trio.

Alright, last in a long list of updates, I had a lesson with Inna tonight.¬† Actually, she wasn’t even supposed to teach tonight!¬† She was supposed to be in Florida, competiting at Milennium.¬† But apparently there was a snag with her travel plans and she was there tonight.¬† I think since most people thought Inna would be gone it was a smaller class than usual.¬† There were only four of us plus Inna.¬† And you know what?¬† I’m SO glad I showed up tonight.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again…Inna is a master teacher.¬† Tonight, because the class was smaller and consisted of more experienced students,¬†she was able to get into deeper detail and explain timing in a way such that I discovered an entire new level to it.¬† I actually felt it differently in my body.¬† And as Inna explained it, when you really get the timing and rhythm of a dance it feels like the music is dancing you rather than you dancing to the music.¬† I had a tiny little taste of it tonight and it was honestly a breakthrough.¬† Like I said, at the very end, it actually felt different in my body, and it felt good.

You know, if you are a ballroom-er, then you’ve heard about timing.¬† We all “know” the counts.¬†¬† But wow, I’ve never understood the timing in this way before.¬† It took the better part of the class for Inna to get her point across, as well as many demonstrations, so I’ll probably not do the subject justice, but I’ll do my best to share what I discovered.¬† One of the things Inna does that is so very effective is that she will demonstrate two different ways of dancing the same steps.¬† This allows us to visually see two different ways of dancing.¬† And the thing that is so effective about it is that she will dance the steps well, with the correct timing and arms and all, but then she will dance it with that added flair that makes it look professional.¬† One of the hardest things to figure out as a student is how to make my movements match those of my instructors.¬† What is it, exactly, that makes the quality of their dancing so much more amazing¬†than mine?

Like I can see that it is cleaner and sharper, but try as I might, I can’t always emulate this, even if I use all my abilities.¬† But tonight, I discovered the importance of timing.¬† Holy heck!¬† It changed everything.¬† And, ha ha, I thought I knew timing before, right?¬† I also knew that one of my less-than-stellar-habits is to pass through steps, making them look sloppy, soft, mushy, because I am so concerned about getting where I need to get two steps ahead, rather than fully completing the step I am presently in in the moment.¬† Oh, Ivan’s communicated the same thing, but somehow I was able to hear it more deeply¬†from Inna tonight.

So the concept is this:¬† In Cha Cha, say, the counts are 2, 3, Cha Cha, 1.¬† There are 8¬†counts in the measure.¬† The 2, 3, and 1 are all one full beat (2 counts).¬† Each “Cha” is one half of a beat (one count).¬† Therefore, logically, the 2, 3, and 1 are movements that take more time.¬†¬† The Cha Cha part should take less time.

But in my dancing, even though I’d step on the right beats and all, everything looks even.¬† I made 2, 3 about the same length of time, but then I made the Cha Cha, 1 like 3 even beats, instead of quick, quick, full count.¬† I’d rush the 3 to get to the Cha’s, power through the Cha’s to get to the 1.¬† Okay, again, very confusing to put into words, especially without a physical demonstration.¬† So if you can’t follow what I’m trying to say, sorry!¬† The point is that conceptually I’ve known about this¬†construct called timing, but today, I think for the first time, I truly felt it IN my body.¬† Amazing.¬† And super hard!¬† OMG it takes so much concentration and energy.¬† But it’s worth it!

One final thought and then I have to sign off.¬† It’s 11:35pm and I’ve got to be up early and have a full, full day once again.¬† Anyways, that last thought is this:¬† It takes no talent to be a dancer, just discipline, and having talent as a dancer, meaning the dance comes from the inside, is paramount.

What do I mean by this?¬† Well, I’m talking about being able to embrace the paradox of two opposites and knowing that both are true.¬† The paradigm that it takes no talent to be a dancer, but it does take a mind and discipline and practice, this comes from Inna.¬† She said this herself to us tonight.¬† And I think she is right.

But also, the paradigm that having that inner dancer, being able to move and change and evolve quickly, and having the dance come from inside is more important than all the practice in the world, this comes from Ivan.  And I think he is right, too.

How can this be?¬† Well, I think both are essential.¬† There is absolutely an element of training the body and creating muscle memory through repetition and practice in the¬†study of dancing.¬† There is also absolutely an element of the dance transcending the technique, and that can’t be taught.

So my feeling is, I’m so grateful to have both teachers and both paradigms in my dancing practice.¬† I get the yin and the yang.¬† The whole shebang. (And that is my¬†poem for the night).¬† My practice is to embody both the discipline and the freedom.

Alright, I think my system is shutting down now.  My bed is calling!

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 Рfor 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 Рto 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 Рto 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!

How Does 75 Become 120???

The quick answer is, Ivan Dishliev.

Here’s the longer version:

So, if you’ve read my story, you know that I’m going to compete at the Desert Classic DanceSport¬†Competition.¬† It’s coming up in July, the 11th through the 14th to be exact.¬† And today I wrote the check.¬† I kissed a nice sum of money goodbye and also made it official.¬† I’m REALLY going.¬† It’s REALLY going to happen.

So when we started talking about the competition, I thought I’d maybe do like 75 entries.¬† That’s still no small number, maybe averaging out to be around 25 per day of the¬†3 days of the competition.¬† I’m going to do Latin (minus Paso Doble, but plus Jive, which I haven’t worked on one iota), and Smooth, and American Rhythm.¬† We’ll also throw in a Hustle or two and some West Coast Swings just for fun, just to relax and enjoy.¬† I thought this would be enough dancing that I’d feel like I was doing something while I was there, but not so much that I’d kill myself.

If you read more of my blog, you’d know that last June I did 150 heats at the San Diego DanceSport¬†Competition, and that was in two days time.¬†I had to ice my feet between heats, and had 30 in a row right off the bat which about killed me.¬† It was a Herculean feat, one I didn’t know if I could do, but I did, and even earned Top Student in the Bronze category.¬† So anyways, I’ve done a marathon.¬† I’ve done pushing my limits past what I thought I could do.¬† So I thought I wouldn’t do that this time around and 75 seemed like the reasonable number.

But not to Ivan.

“Why only 75?”

“Ivan!¬† That’s a lot!¬† That’s plenty!”

I suppose to someone who¬†once did¬†600 heats in a competition I’m small potatoes.¬† But I’m no pro.¬† I’m just me.¬† And I’m not in the best dancer’s shape either!¬† 75 sounded like a good challenge.

“How about 100?”

“I might consider 100.¬† But I want to try doing a scholarship round this time.¬† I’ve never done one of those.¬† I’d like to see how I’d do.”

“Okay, okay.¬† It’s fine.¬† You think about it.¬† Maybe if you doing 100 you can be Top Student.”

To be honest, that would be cool.¬† I would be thrilled to achieve that again.¬† But with the 150 heats I did last time, that was my clear intent.¬† I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually do it.¬† And I made sure to enter enough heats that I had a fighting chance.¬† Not a lot of people do that many heats, I don’t think.¬† But since I already did that, it’s actually about having more dance time this go-around.¬† I want to be out on the floor showing off what Ivan and I have worked on for the last 8 months.¬† I want to have time to really express myself.¬† I want enjoy my time dancing.

So the prospect of going for Top Student hasn’t really been a driving force in my decision.¬† But I know that I would rather be dancing than sitting so since I can afford it right now, I thought, well, if Ivan wants to dance with me that much, then I will say yes.

But the negotiations didn’t end there, it seems.

Today I showed up on my lesson and wrote out the check for 100 heats.  I thought that was it.  But Ivan had another surprise in store for me.

Around 10am I got a call.¬† Somehow Ivan had a way for me to dance in¬†20 more heats for the cost of only 2 more.¬† How could I say no to an opportunity like that?¬† Suddenly I was dancing in 120 heats instead of 75.¬† So I guess that’s how you get from 75 to 120!

“Now you maybe can be Top Student.”

“Maybe Ivan.¬† We’ll see.”

“Yes.¬† You have to doing all the expression, and melt the ice, and energy, and breathing, and all that.¬† Me too.¬† Me too.¬† It depending.¬† But maybe we can do it.”

It’s actually kind of exciting.¬† I think it is a longer shot and would mean more if I actually made Top Student in this upcoming¬†competition.¬† For one thing, it would be at a larger competition.¬† For another, I’d have to place really well in most heats to earn enough points to win.¬† In the other competition I had 30 more heats which meant more opportunities for points, even if I placed last.¬† We’ll see.

I’m actually more psyched about the scholarship rounds.¬† I’m excited about being introduced on the dance floor like they do with the professionals (assuming I make it to the final!¬† Just making the final would be a huge accomplishment for me!).¬† I want to put myself out there and see what happens.¬† I figure it will be some great feedback no matter what the outcome and great experience as well.

Anyways, that’s what’s going on in my world right now.¬† We moved this weekend and I’m dancing.¬† I’ve been going in at 6:30 am before work.¬† I think it’s a good thing and I’m excited to see how far I can get in terms of fitness and cardiovascular endurance with a final concerted effort in this last month before the competition.¬† Today I did 2 minutes on most dances we did and over 3 minutes of Waltz.¬† It’s brutal, but great!¬† Progress!

And one final thing.¬† I’d like to share something that made me smile.¬† I get spam links on my blog all the time. Luckily I have a program that identifies them and I can look through them, purge them, etc.¬† But every once in a while one comes along that isn’t trash.¬† There was a bona fide comment in there once, and today, it probably was spam, but I clicked the link because it had dance in the title and it turned out to be a fun thing.¬† It also made me think, if¬†this guy can¬†go out there and shake it in a tiny sequin¬†speedo, I can go out there and shake it in my bedazzled¬†ballroom dress.¬† I have to admit, I was a little worried for him doing the open-legged handstands…that could¬†have gone very¬†wrong, but I love his energy, and cool, calm confidence.¬† Hopefully I’ll be¬†like that at Desert Classic…but don’t expect to see me in a sequined speedo any time soon!¬† Enjoy!

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‚Äôm 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôs dress to compete.

I¬† love ballroom dancing. When asked about it, my response is usually ‚ÄúI‚Äôve never worked so hard at something in my life to be mediocre ‚Äď and not by choice!¬† I feel like I could study and dance for 25 years and still be in first grade.‚ÄĚ

Then again ‚Äď 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‚Äôs after school program.¬† I was sooooo excited‚ÄďI 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‚Äôt belong in the class and she should sign me up for something that required less physical coordination ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď but admittedly ‚Äď 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‚Äôt very coordinated and not very good.¬† I am a very auditory person ‚Äď I learn and remember things by hearing them ‚Äď but dance is a very tactile sport ‚Äď you learn by feeling and doing.¬† When a step was taught, changed or corrected and I was asked ‚Äúcan you feel the difference‚ÄĚ I couldn‚Äôt.¬† I mean, I get the huge differences, (especially when it‚Äôs wrong ‚Äď 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‚Äôd 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 ¬Ĺ¬† 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôs 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‚ĶI started to learn International Standard about 2 years into dancing.¬† OMG ‚Äď I didn‚Äôt 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‚Äôt as sharp as other people‚Äôs 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‚Äôve done International Standard exclusively in my lessons and my competitions.¬† My stamina has never been great though ‚Äď 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôve 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‚Äôve ever danced at a competition.¬† I was consistent (a couple of blips but nothing major) and relaxed ‚Äď 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‚Äôt smile when I dance ( I really am smiling on the inside) I was having a great time and I‚Äôm really proud and pleased with how I danced.¬† I danced my best in this moment ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôs best may not be tomorrow‚Äôs, 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 ‚Äď 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.