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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Topical Series: Money Makes The World Go ‘Round

Not one to shy away from a touchy issue, I’m going to dare to broach the subject of money in the context of ballroom.

Oh, there are group lessons you can find as inexpensive as $5, but if you are a competitive amateur student and ballroom junkie like me, private lessons with an experienced (and maybe even some less experienced) instructor can easily cost upwards of $75 a pop. Yes, there are some cheaper lessons out there….the lowest I’ve heard of is $60….but there is also the other end of the spectrum of $100 or even $125 per lesson. For a professional who is a champion or a pro on DWTS, they can probably charge whatever they want.

For someone who dances like me, ballroom rivals, and I think exceeds, the financial cost of a another expensive sport and hobby, golf.

No doubt about it, ballroom is an expensive pastime, but where does all that money go? Why are lessons so expensive? Why would anyone in their right mind (including me) pay upwards of $50 to dance for a mere minute-and-a-half in competition? Truly, it boggles the mind.

I want to tackle this topic in a sensitive way but I do think the questions are valid. Again, this is just my perspective, and I am sure there are many others. I am open to your commentary and feedback.

I guess I’ll start by explaining why I am willing to pay such a premium.

The most basic and personally compelling reason is because I enjoy doing it. But for someone new to dancing, or for someone just new to the ballroom world, even this valid reason may not be enough to justify the expense in some people’s minds.

I mean, all the ballet and jazz dancing I did in the past, though associated with a hefty price tag, still never approached the cost of ballroom. I attribute this to the fact that the classes were group, never private, and recitals were infrequent events. Even the costumes were less expensive, never being bedazzled with Swarvosky crystals.

But in ballroom, the way I dance, it is mostly private, one-on-one lessons. So part of the expense can be explained by this fact.

Next, I consider the extensive training and expertise and experience of my instructors. They, too, have poured literally thousands of hours and dollars into their own dance training. Their education, just like that of other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and pharmacists, is extensive and expensive! It’s just that their process looks different and doesn’t take place in a traditional college or university most of the time.

I have to say, that at the going rate, I consider Ivan’s rate to be a steal and I am more than happy to pay the monthly fee at Imperial for the group lessons with Inna. I have garnered great value from my money and time. So for me, even though I’m like, ugh! I wish things were less expensive overall, I am grateful to get such a comparative bargain. I feel like my ballroom dollars go a long way.

Also, I will mention one caveat here – there do exist different levels of experience and expertise when it comes to instructors. Some are worth more than they charge, and some charge more than they should! Certainly an important consideration on where to spend your money will be the level and experience of your instructor. The same $75 can buy you a varying degree of value! Make sure to do your due diligence and research your options before committing to an instructor – especially if you have to purchase a package that will entail multiple lessons with that same person.

Okay. So the process of becoming a professional dancer is expensive. Just like the process of becoming another traditionally recognized professional is.

But still, what about competing? Why is that an astronomically expensive prospect?

Okay well, on some level, that makes sense too.

First off the “daily fee” for an instructor.

I’ve heard variations from $180 to $25,000 per diem cost. Why? Well, because a dance teacher’s income is dependent upon lessons. If a person is gone say, from Thursday through Sunday, as most competition schedules would have you be, then an instructor misses out on all those lessons that would normally take place on those days. Which days do you suppose have the highest volume of lessons? Well, Thursday through the weekend, of course…that is when most people have spare time, right? And as for the variation in daily fees, that has to do with how highly ranked the professional is, how many lessons they generally conduct, and how much individual lessons cost….

For instance, in practical terms, let’s do some theoretical projections.

Say a person charges $75 per lesson and they teach 6 lessons a day…that’s $450 in lost income for each day they go to a comp.

If a person charges $100 per lesson, and teaches 10 lessons daily…that’s $1000 in lost income for each day they go to a comp.

So I, in theory, agree with the daily fee idea because it makes a bit of sense. However, as a student who bears that burden of making up the difference, I do find that it makes the decision to compete a bit harder.

I mean, to be able to afford an extra $1000 per day after also paying for airfare and hotel lodgings, not to mention $45 to $50 or perhaps even more per heat, and also considering the cost differential for scholarship rounds and solos…sheesh! It is a lot to take on. And that doesn’t even take into account purchasing or renting a dress or getting your hair and make-up done, the nails, the nylons, the shoes, the eyelashes, the spray tan.

And by the way, why are individual heats so costly? $50 per 1.5 minutes? WTH?

From what I understand, the cost is made up of two fees: the fee for the competition, and the fee for the instructor. The fee for the competition is usually around $35 to $40 and then the fee from the instructor can range from $15 to $25 or maybe even more, depending on the caliber of the instructor. So this means that one dance could cost $45 to $70 or more.

I honestly don’t know the exact rationale behind these charges, but I’m sure the cost associated with the competition covers the sunk costs: hotel space being used, the DJ, the staff, the adjudicators, etc., which can’t be cheap!

But no one really breaks down all the fees, usually. I think what normally happens is that students are presented with a lump sum. Some instructors may split the costs of housing and lodging and transportation between students if more than one goes, but I think it is possible that they could still charge separate daily fees, or also divide that cost up and share it among multiple students. But even so, it is pretty rare to know the details of the total bill.

And of course then there are the packages at the comp. Packages cover nights in the hotel, some meals, and tickets into the ballroom sessions. So even before you dance, there is a basic fee just to be present. Then it gets more expensive the more you dance.

By looking at the bill, as a student, you may then wonder at the cost and ponder why, if you are paying so much, your instructor isn’t a millionaire, already? I mean, most professionals can’t demand $75 or more for less than an hour! That is significantly more than I make as a pharmacist!

I certainly don’t have all the answers here….but here are my thoughts and guesses. First, maybe the instructor is making a good living. They have what we students want and are willing to pay for. But the volume of lessons can vary considerably. People move, or get injured, or only take lessons to prepare for their wedding. People switch instructors. The turnover in students can be very high. An instructor’s schedule may not be completely booked solid. Even at $100 per lesson, if a pro only teaches a few lessons a week, it could be hard to make ends meet.

Next, most pros are going to want to continue to hone their craft. This means they have to pay to be a student! Whether through videos or workshops or coachings, they must pay, often at an even higher premiums for high-level coaches than students pay, to participate. For especially well known coaches, this may also include hosting the coach locally – paying all traveling and lodging expenses plus showing the coach a good time.

Then, if the pro competes professionally, they have to pay the entry fees at the comp. I have no idea the pricing on that, but just like we amateurs, they have to have the clothes, and hair, etc. plus, they generally compete more frequently than students. They have to hoof it week in and week out. They have to pay all the costs associated with competing and if no students participate, they bear all that financial burden alone. Also, they must continually change their image. It may be okay to wear a dress a few times but no more than that. The pros have to maintain the illusion of effortless glamour and grandeur and this means new dresses, different hair styling, and a different “look” to keep things exciting.

I personally own just one dress and it cost more than my wedding gown. To imagine having to obtain a new dress every few months, with all it’s fringe and crystals and sequins, is a daunting prospect.

It makes me wonder if there is still a hidden agenda to keep ballroom “exclusive” meaning that only those in the upper classes can participate in it. I’m just sayin’ that ballroom dancing is not very accessible to the general public, the hoi paloi if you will. And that, I personally believe, is a shame.

I wish ballroom were more available and accessible to anyone who had an interest regardless of their socio-economic standing.

I suppose that if a person were truly and deeply motivated, they’d find a way to participate in this sport – however, the price of playing, even at a novice level, makes the chances of someone casually engaging in this particular craft pretty darn slim. And that is too bad. I’d like to see people have more options and access, at least at the beginning levels so they could discover if this was something they’d want to pursue. (For the purposes of this discussion we are only considering competitive ballroom. Yes, there are less expensive ways to dance such as doing Amateur only events or social dancing or taking classes at the local community college. For many people this works great. But for others we want that competitive experience.)

So anyways, competitive pro/am ballroom isn’t for the person without some expendable income. I personally just accept that this is the price to play as a participant in the ballroom game. Whether I agree with the fees, or not, to do this particular activity, I must pay in dollars what I must pay. I mean, every moment is a choice and every choice has prices and benefits. I guess, for me, the benefits outweigh the prices, even at $75 or more per 45 minutes. If you’ve read my blog you’ll probably be able to see the value I’ve garnered from my interactions and many times there is no dollar amount that could possibly be assigned to what I have gained.

So what is your take on the sensitive issue of money in ballroom? How does it affect your decisions to participate in various activities? Do you think it is worth the cost?