Back To Real Life…And Beyond

There is always a bit of a transition coming back down to earth after a competition. But I must say, the pace has not lessened one iota since I’ve been home. I was right back to ballet Monday evening the day after I got home, and the rest of my week went as planned with work outs at the gym, Inna’s class, the eating plan, and fitting in some dance lessons with Ivan. Actually, there was even more activity this week because it was Imperial’s annual showcase/masquerade gala Friday night, and over at EuroRhythm Saturday morning after my double lesson with Ivan I was blessed to have attended a workshop with Latin couple Andrej Skufca & Melinda Torokgyorgy, who, according to DanceSportInfo.net are positioned 5 in the world and 1 in Slovenia.

It’s honestly been a very, very good week. I’m am clear and focused and determined. This feels really wonderful and like I have some forward momentum propelling me towards my goals. There is a fire in my belly that hasn’t been there before to power me. And I’m so grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, even the difficult ones, for they have brought me to this point.

Earlier in the week I had a nice lesson with Ivan where we focused on American Rhythm technique. I love getting back to the basics and still feel like I have so much work to do to truly demonstrate the proper movements. Especially since I do bronze, I want to be clear, prescise, and spot on with the basics. For me, the more clear and detailed and specific I can be, the more that I know what I am doing, the more confident I feel and the better I dance. I am happy we are taking some steps back to see the bigger picture and re-align. This includes finding our connection, which was the bigger issue we worked on today and Saturday. For certain Ivan and I felt disjointed at Holiday, like we were not dancing together. Well, Saturday morning, it was better. It was more about the energy and connecting properly and that always feels so much nicer and generates/allows more dancing and expression.

And we had some time to communicate and talk about how we both showed up on the dancefloor and at the competition. We discussed better ways to handle things and lessons to learn from the mistakes I made. It is such an all-around journey with opportunities for growth on all levels. And as much as I’ve grown, there is still so much more inside me. And I was actually happy when I felt uncomfortable on the lesson because it was out of my comfort zone.

It’s all tied to confidence. Confidence that I know what I am doing physically. Confidence in myself, which for me is tethered to my body and body image. Confidence in my connection to Ivan. I feel like everything will change as the fat suit comes off. For certain I will feel more beautiful, it will be easier to move, it will be less taxing, and that is why it is my primary focus at the moment, even as I continue to devour as much information about dancing as I can.

So it was a good lesson Saturday morning and we cleared the air and all that, and still it is difficult. We are two different people and sometimes we are not on the same page. It’s a challenge to come together and make it work. But I love it, and we know it’s possible. Again, on both sides of the equation, it depends more on how we feel about ourselves as a couple and what we are presenting than anything else.

So anyways, Friday I was able to attend the showcase at Imperial which was pretty fun and wonderful. But I ended up leaving early before the professional show because it was getting so late. They played a lot of games which were fun but I knew I needed to get some sleep for my big day the next morning.

So after my lesson with Ivan, I made my way to the workshop and it was awesome. It was awesome to be in the presence of these professionals. They shared so much information that my head was spinning! It was amazing to just watch them move which was a lesson in itself. They also gave specific corrections to specific people, which I thought was really wonderful. I even got one on my Samba! Woo!

We started with Rumba and the biggest takeaway I had was that the front foot is actually parallel when doing Rumba walks. It is the back foot, leg, and hip that rotate outward to create the Latin position which is turned out. I never, ever would have thought that, however, it made more biomechanical sense, and freed the hips, and I felt so much more stable walking that way. Also important was the timing. They got so specific 1 and 2 and 3 and a 4 ah! Each count = a specific movement. I am truly learning to love counting, and as Andrej said, there is something really beautiful about being exactly on the beat, not a little behind or ahead. My impression was that the extra counting made the music and movement more gooey, stretching it longer, and it again made so much sense for the release/recoil which propels the next movement, usually a step forward. They talked about torsion around the spine, especially in the upper body, which I find pretty difficult to execute. I wish I could just stand side-by-side with Melinda and do the steps over and over with specific corrections. Latin technique is just as detailed as ballet, if not more so, in my opinion. And the more I learn, the more I see how important it is to be aware and accountable for each and every little ticky-tah of movement. It’s mind-altering.

After a little break we changed to Samba. The biggest takeaway for me here was the importance of both the footwork, which involves a lot of ankle, foot, and calf strength, as well as the forward crunch/scooping of the hips forward to create the bounce. Again, when broken down, it makes more biomechanical sense, but these are details I’d never think of. From what Andrej shared you are supposed to actually begin to lift your heel even while your leg is bent during a whisk to create the movement of the back leg and when done correctly it actually causes the back leg to be placed in the right spot. It also allows a person to squeeze a tiny bit of extra movement forward into the hips to increase range of motion. Whomever sat down and figured all this out was a genius. I am very impressed with how clearly Andrej and Melinda were able to express concepts and ideas and how detailed they were.

In fact, they shared so much information, there is no way I absorbed it all! So I made up my mind to just focus on one or two tidbits in each dance and to work on those in the future.

So that brings us to Sunday which didn’t involve any dancing but does involve an interesting personal revelation about how very, very far I’ve come. You see, one of my friends from high school came into town with his adorable fat-cheeked baby and new wife and we met up to catch up. We had a wonderful visit but of course he asked about all this ballroom stuff he’s seeing on Facebook. And I realized, perhaps he didn’t know I danced in high school. He didn’t have a clue.

How strange!! It was a big part of my life, but I never really shared it. I danced outside of school hours and wasn’t confident enough to proclaim that I was a dancer. Here was this person who knew me since 7th grade, who I was next to in practically every class because of our last names and alphabetical seating, and he had no idea I danced during all that time. I am sad for the 12-16 year-old me. Sad, because I was so insecure about sharing who I was. On the flip side, I’m pretty amazed at myself because here I am now, blogging about and sharing my journey, broadcasting it to the world, all while having a body that is far from ideal and much worse than it was back in high school when I hated it even more than I do now! Actually, things have shifted around that issue as well. I’m finally, finally finding some peace in my relationship with my body. I am even grateful for all it has done and continues to do for me. And I had this weird revelation on my lesson with Ivan on Saturday. This may perhaps be a tangent off into La La land but bear with me. This is how I understand it.

I believe that dancing involves enregies. I think most people would agree it certainly involves emotional energies, which are invisible but very real. Well, anyways, when I dance with Ivan we throw and catch different energies toward one another. Well we were doing a Mambo, which involves a lot of booty shaking, and Ivan was being all interested in my ample, womanly behind, and I realized, my butt liked it! LOL! It really did. It was all happy and proud and I thought, wow, I should really take advantage of this and let my body parts enjoy this energy and attention. I mean, if I can’t give it to them, maybe this will help.

So anyways, those were some interesting realizations and now my wooojy woo tangent is complete.

And all that leaves to talk about is my lesson this morning. It was awesome. I found my mojo once again. No fear, just moving, just letting my body do what it wants to do, feeling the music, feeling good about being me. And Ivan got goosebumps and he loved the lesson and we both felt good. Even better than that was working on our connection. We had great communication around the connection and found a new one. It allows both of us to be more accountable for ourselves. Ivan realized the importance of backing off and even letting me fail so we can find the right placement for both of us. I desperately need the feedback of when I am using him too much or too little but I can’t get that if he always takes care of me (and Marieta) and neglects himself. And when it works like this, it is so nice, it feels so good! And Ivan was all, you dance the best when you just feel, why ever dance any other way? And yeah, he’s right. It’s meant to enjoy. Not to get all caught up in the right and wrong ways of doing things, – at the core dancing is actually not about “doing” anything – it’s really about “being” – being loving, and joyful, and open to sharing, connecting, growing, and evolving.

I’m energized and focused and excited about the coming year. And I want to thank you, dear readers and supporters for the part you play in that. You encourage me more than you will ever know. I appreciate you and I’m grateful to get to share my journey with you. A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. Cheers to us all as we embrace the new year! I have a feeling it’s going to be very sparkly!

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Happily Running Toward A Punch In The Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This so good!”

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

“I push you.”

“How is this good?”

“We surviving your knees.”

“???”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic.

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

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

Toodles, Stefanie

The Anatomy of a Lesson In Ten Parts

Ok folks!  I’ve got some funny clips from a previous lesson.  Once again, (arrgh!) the timing of the sound is shifted such that it is not in sync with the action.  I don’t know why this is happening, but I’m going to use a different recording device in the future.

In any case, I’ve decided that I will write a little bit about each snippet so you can know what I meant to draw your attention to.

Also, writing can only convey so much.  In these clips you’ll get to hear Ivan’s funny remarks in his “Arnold Schwarzenegger” voice.  Describing it in words sometimes just doesn’t do the comedy he naturally creates proper justice.

Thanks to Ivonne who came early before her lesson to record Ivan and me.  You’ll hear her laughing along, and even coaching me at one point with some very valuable feedback.  You’ll probably also notice Nona with her student Randall in the background.  Sometimes you can hear her explaining a step too!

So, without further ado, here’s what’s going on in this first clip:

We were working on connecting with the audience.  Ivan wanted me to oscillate between seeing him and the audience.  Over and over he repeats, “Me!  Audience!  Me! Audience!”  But the instruction doesn’t end there.  As you will see, he gets more in-depth with it and also coaches me on my facial expression.  He’s telling me not to be “Chinese.”  HE said it!  NOT me!  But I squint when I smile really big and he’s always telling me to open my eyes wider.  He also demonstrates how I am being like a bobble head doll….not focusing immediately on him or the audience, but letting my head wander around without definite focus.  You can hear Ivonne snicker as he demonstrates, “what you call?  Head bobble?”  Finally, added treat, you’ll get to hear me groan in frustration right at the very end.

This next video I’m just including for vanity reasons.  Well, you know, I was kind of, like, surprised at how I looked doing swivels.  They are one of the bains of my existence as a ballroom dancer.  I just never feel like I’m doing them right and I think they are one of my worst steps.  Clearly I need to work on remembering to keep my shoulders down while doing them, and I see a little up and down action that is choppy…I need to press more into the floor, but overall I like the picture it creates.  So, here are my swivels.

Part 3 of our saga opens with an exclamation of, “Perfect!”  Yes!  I got it on video!  I did something right….which was short lived.  You’ll hear how quickly we move on to learning the next thing.  On this clip the sound is way off.  The actions come before the sound so it looks a little weird.  However, during this little stretch there are a few gems including Ivan stepping on my toe, then telling me to dance with passion to which I respond by slapping him in the face with my very wet, sweaty hair.  Also, at the end Ivonne tells Ivan, “No more tequila for you.”  This was the lesson the day after he stayed up late drinking that rakia (some homemade Bulgarian liquor).

Moving on to clip 4, you get to hear Ivan saying, “Push your butt,” and demonstrating how I should hug him….like I actually like him, not like “Ivan, you smell bad.”  One comment I make in the clip deserves explanation.  At one point I tell him he is worse than my grandpa.  This is because Ivan squeezed me silly.  My grandpa DeGregori always gives the biggest, strongest bear-hugs in the world…ones in which I feel like my eyes may pop out of my head.  But Ivan topped even that big of a squeeze.  Without that explanation, you’d probably think I was making no sense at all.

Added bonus in this clip is a cramp in my calf.  Ivan decided to change one move where I bend backwards from being on two feet to being on one foot.  Although it has since been changed back, I bargain with him for the use of two feet, claiming that I can’t hold my 300 pounds on one foot.  To which, God bless him, Ivan replies, “Liar!  You not 300 pounds!  You 260.  300 long time ago.”

And now part 5. It’s just Ivan singing. I find that funny.

Our sixth installment consists of me attempting to be sexy. Bonuses include hearing Ivan say “Oh my God, yeah!” “Touch yourself.” And the infamous, “Don’t be scary.” Again the sound is off kilter.

Our septimal segment (like that alliteration?) I continue to work on bringing the sexy out. The sound is horribly off time, but you’ll get the idea. Ivan tells me that I’m moving like a mummy…but what he means is a zombie. He tells me that I’m doing nothing, that even zombies like froth at the mouth and groan. Also, you get to hear that coaching from Ivonne which is dead on. Finally, you hear me get a little whiny. I was thinking Ivan had led me into the next move, but clearly he hadn’t. “I gonna send you there!” is his manly refrain. I shriek in frustration.

Rounding out our lesson, part 8 examines the meaning of life. Just kidding. I’m just going to title it, “Touch my face.”

Our penultimate clip is basically Ivan showing me how the lady should do this part of the routine versus how I’m actually doing it. Yeah, you’ll see…not a very feminine choice I made.

You’ve made it! We are at our last clip. It contains more refrains of, “Touch yourself! Touch your butt.” Also, I get whiny once again because not all of us began dancing at age 6, like Ivan did. On the last move, Ivan tells me I have to be like an American Eagle and stand proudly over him. Still working on that one… Finally a high five and a hug and we are finito!

I hope you enjoyed this little blog post, even if the sound was really screwy. It would probably have been funnier if the audio and video had been in sync but alas, they were not. Hopefully you’ll now have a clearer picture in your head of what I’m describing that happens on my lessons since you’ve seen Ivan in action on video.

Until next time, I’m going to sign off like Ivan always does with a “Ciao!”