Like Potatoes

Maybe the case is the same at your studio, too.  At mine, everyone is at Beach Bash.

 

A Grande Batata

By FelipeFronchetti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Why that’s important for this story is because my regular teacher, Kristijan, is out-of-town, gracing the floor in Latin probably right about now.  Maybe if you are at the competition you will get to see him dance, as well as a few people from EuroRhythm and more people from Arizona that I’m friends with, some of whom will be performing in the Showcase Fundraiser that’s happening next Saturday, April 16th to raise money for a local domestic violence shelter here in Phoenix called Chrysalis.

In any case, because Kristijan is out-of-town, I had a lesson with my old pal, Damir tonight.  It reminded me that I should make sure to schedule a lesson with Damir maybe once a month or so because what he offers me is so different and helpful and refreshing from what my other instructors, as wonderful and as contributing as they are, can provide.  I marvel at how tiny adjustments made internally make such a dramatic difference in how my movement looks and in how stable I feel.  I am even more surprised at how Damir can tell when I’m “on” and when I’m “off” even when we are talking differences in millimeters or where the pressure is in my foot (like inside edge, or not).

I got in the studio and we caught up a little bit because it’s been a while since I’ve had a significant chunk of time to chat with him one on one.  He asked me how he could help me on the lesson.  Originally I thought maybe I’d learn the Sweetheart step in Gold since it was so completely baffling to me when Shirley Ballas taught class, but then I thought the better of it.  I’m in Silver right now, after all, and learning a step is just learning a step.  I could probably find a video on Facebook if I wanted to learn it badly enough.  More valuable, I decided, was discovering how to be over my hip.

I’d discovered in previous coachings that my hips were not where they should be, especially when stepping to the side.  I have very flexible hips which is an asset and a curse.  The asset is that I can emphasize certain movements in an exaggerated way.  The curse is that I tend to move them too far forward or laterally, or even to prematurely settle backwards because I have the possibility of such freedom of movement there.  But when I do that, and it’s not intentional, I’m not exactly on balance, I’m late in timing, my movements aren’t as coordinated as they could be.  What I wanted to discover with Damir was where it was they should be optimally in a front step, side step, and cross over, so that I could feel it in my body and recreate it later.  I am definitely a kinesthetic learner when it comes to dancing.  I can see things in the mirror and recreate them up to a point, but it’s the internal stuff that you can’t visually see that eludes me.  This is why it is so incredible to have a coach like Damir in my life because he can describe these internal movements and energetic intentions and see them and provide me feedback around them.

What was also so great was that Damir began talking about the Chakra system in relation to the dance movements we were doing.  Most instruction I receive is structural in nature, speaking to the physical body.  It helps me, personally, to have the energetic perspective as well.  Damir talks about where to place my focus on various moves so that my body is then in the proper position.  For instance, for me, I have to focus on the back of my knee, the back of my neck, basically the back side of my body even as I move forward because if I don’t, I will fall forward and create a big mess.  For other people it might be opposite, but I tend to try to get ahead of the dancing and keeping my awareness in the back of my body helps me to actually stay present.

So we began simply and Damir described that what to do was to have the iliac crest of the hip directly over the ball/toes of the foot.  Then before moving, think of the crest going up and under, which also causes the pelvis to become more tucked under, before continuing the motion.  I’m to imagine that my hip bones project all the way to my armpits, they are that solid into the floor, compressed by the ribcage and scapula.  This seems to keep me in better alignment overall as well as to create a gooey, rich movement that doesn’t stop but continues to cycle throughout the body until it comes to the time to take the next step.

Tonight I actually felt the complete cycle internally from step, through the hip, upwards compressing into the spine, then to the lat which perpetuates coming onto the standing leg fully and pulling the moving leg under the body.  It’s all connected.  There were no gaps for the first time that I am aware of from foot one through the leg, hip, the entire body up the spine through the lat and back down in reverse to foot two.

So why, you might be wondering, did I title this post Like Potatoes?  Well in his description of this cycle, especially the part that we were grappling with in terms of the hip and pulling it under the ribcage before moving, he told me this analogy of planting potatoes.  He laughed, admitting that it was probably the craziest metaphor I would hear, but said that if during the winter you eat all the potatoes you have, you will have nothing left to plant come spring.  He said that the general rule is to save about 10% for the future planting.  In dancing, he contested, it is the same.  Conserve about 10% of motion to continue into and thus generate the following movement.  In this case, get on the leg, get the hip over the foot properly, then use the 10% energy left to go up internally into the body to generate the following step.

So there’s that, and also, it ties to something else that’s been happening in my life.  For just the last 3 days or so I’ve been eating vegan.  I’ve been saying that I’ve wanted to eat a more plant-based diet for a long while now, and for Christmas I got a book called “Thrive” which has a bunch of recipes and was created by a guy who is an elite athlete.  I’ve tried a few dishes here and there but for whatever reason, I went to Whole Foods last week and was completely inspired by all the gorgeous produce.  I bought a bunch and then proceeded to make a variety of recipes from the book.  I had plenty of each so I’ve been grazing from each of the 6 to 7 dishes I experimented with.  I discovered that the food prep for the vegan stuff is no more intensive than it was for when I was working with Chelle the nutritionist.  Also, and this is really surprising to me, I’ve felt more satisfied, fuller, less hungry, and have had no cravings whatsoever for meat or anything else, eating this way.

I made kale chips and a garlic broccoli mix with garlic, rutabega tiki masala, a carrot based “pizza” that tastes nothing like pizza but is very filling, Brussel’s sprouts with a Dijon sauce, roasted beets with a balsamic sauce plus fake cashew-based cream cheese, not to mention a variety of shakes with lemongrass, carob chips, cocoa, agave nectar, vegan vanilla gelato, coconut water, almond milk, banana, and cashews.

It’s been so easy to eat this way, I’ve surprised myself, and I’ve even packed my meals tomorrow as I go to a seminar for the entire day.  My body is still adjusting in the gastrointestinal department – it’s a lot more fiber, I think, than I’m used to, more veggies, of course, and maybe it’s too much info, but of course adjusting your diet adjusts how often you have to go, which seems to be a lot more.  I’m hoping things will stabilize as I continue along.  It’s a small price to pay for feeling full, satisfied, and like I’m eating fresh, healthy food, having no cravings, and sincerely enjoying what I’m eating.  I tend to think my body is getting tons of nutrients as well which is maybe why I feel like I’m actually eating less food overall while feeling more satisfied.

With this unexpected ease and success, I’ve decided to explore more options for vegan cooking.  So tonight I went to the store and bought ingredients for vegan gnocchi, which, if you didn’t know, is made from potatoes.  So there you go, it also relates to the title, even if circuitously.  Who knows if this will affect my body shape, size, or lean and fat mass content.  But what I do know is that the experience of it is satisfying and supports me right now and I like being aligned with the idea of not eating animals.  The funny thing is that I truly have told myself that nothing is off the menu.  If one day I decide that it is the time to have a Twinkie, then that is alright as well.  But I don’t even want a Twinkie eating like this.  I cooked up some Swai fish during the food prep as well in case I felt I needed more protein or whatever and I have as yet had no desire to even eat that.  We’ll see what happens but for now I’m going to play and experiment.  I’m going to find other recipes that sound good and give them a try.  I bet eventually I will find a routine that works well for me.  I would say it would be balanced for me to eat this way 80 to 90% of the time then allow some space for grace and enjoying social events, or special treats or whatever.  But so far I’m feeling anything but deprived.  I could easily skip traditional party food feeling this way.

So that’s what’s going on in my world.  Please check out the Ballroom Village page on Facebook, join it, share it with your friends, and post links to your blog when you write something new.  You can also share the page and any links on your Facebook page or on the blog.  Whatever you want to do to promote it.  I hope it will continue to grow and create another, expanded platform for us to be in community, share, and nurture our Ballroom Village.

That’s it for now!

 

 

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Approaching Dancing Newly

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I’ve discovered that for me it is time to completely reboot my orientation to dancing.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been in a bit of a downturn lately.  There was a period where I was not dancing at all.  Nor have I been exercising regularly.   I’ve come to consider this a wash-out period, like in experiments when between treatments they will have people stop taking anything for a few weeks before trying an alternate treatment so the previous therapy doesn’t influence the results of the alternate therapy.

It’s truly fascinating to watch how dancing and its place in my life has evolved.  Originally it was a completely urgent obsession.  I just knew I couldn’t live without it, that it was a non-negotiable in my life, and, I was driven to achieve results.  Now, it doesn’t have the hold on me that it once did, but in that shift away from needing dance desperately it has paradoxically freed me up to create anew my relationship with dance.

I realized, if I was honest, that I had been sucked in by the glamour of the dancing world.  Also, praise and attention garnered from dancing were potent, almost addictive “juice” to my ego, which so badly needed validation.  Only problem is that depending on external approval and praise leads to seeking it.  I became so concerned with not making a fool of myself, being worried about looking good, and feeling pressure to be exceptional with the level of my dancing so that I wouldn’t be considered a laughingstock, that I was unable to genuinely enjoy what I was doing.  I failed to be truly present and I failed to savor dancing for the sake of dancing, exactly how it is and exactly how it isn’t.

I’m now present to a new openness, a new space to express myself more authentically.  With Kristijan, we’ve been working on “just dancing” and my, what a relief it is!  Ivan and I also agreed to “just dance” for now.  No competitions are on the horizon.  I want to discover ease, fun and play in my dancing, which is probably the exact opposite way of being that I had used before to try and power my way through.  Now it’s about surrender and release.  Now it is about connecting and being so present with my dance partner in the moment that my mind is silent, that there is nothing else in the world to attend to but what I am doing right then, and it is peaceful.  The mind is  quieted and all there is is experiencing the very step I’m taking, the muscle that is contracting, the points of pressure below my feet into the floor, the signal from his hip to mine that it is time to move.

I’ve never felt more secure and free in my dancing, ever.  It’s now become about me expressing myself, nothing more and nothing less.  And I find not only is it easier to move, but also that there is a richness and a fullness that had been lacking when I was so consumed with getting everything “right!”  I’m choosing to now give myself some grace about how human I am, and this will serve me well as I rebuild myself into a dancer who desires to share her art in performance once again.

I have a way to go!  My cardio capacity is nowhere near where it was nor where I’d want it to be to perform publically.  I’ve put on weight, which doesn’t help the situation.  My diet has been erratic as have my sleeping patterns.  This is what’s so. And, I’m committed to getting myself to where I desire to be with joy, fun, play and ease this time around.  I’ve tried and I’ve tried, I’ve pushed and I’ve worked hard, and I’ve even created some results while practically forcing myself.  This time I wish to abandon the struggle.  I’m even willing to surrender the idea that I will ever dance again in a competition.  I’m willing to surrender the desire to change my body at all.  I’m willing to be in 100% acceptance and peace with what is so, right now.  Now that’s a new way of doing things in this area of my life!

So for now, I’m just dancing.  And I trust the process.  Even as I surrender the need for anything to change externally, I am committed yet unattached.  I have an inkling that applying the same space that is serving me so well around my dancing will serve me in my other goals in life, especially concerning my health.  I choose peace, joy, and acceptance.  I reject struggle, angst, and willpower.  At the end of the day I believe it comes down to trusting in a higher power than my small self that can see the bigger picture that I am blind to as I focus myopically on self-centered problems.  Really there is no problem at all, except perhaps my perception that anything is a real problem.

I feel lighter, even as my body appears larger and more fluffy.  Even as my cardio is clearly out of whack, with the lack of internal resistance to it and without the need to label it as hard, difficult, or unfair, it is miraculously easier.

It reminds me of the use of oppositions in dancing.  When moving forward, I think of my back leg and stay in it as long as possible until I’m over the forward moving leg.  I delay as long as possible in a delayed forward step to generate speed in my alemana.  Like a bowstring pulled backward to generate the arc of an arrow, I find that in my dancing, for it to be stable, comfortable, rich, and full, I often must mentally project my energy in the opposite direction of which I am physically moving.  If I think about moving forward and project my energy there while I’m physically moving forward, I am off-balance, it’s chaotic, it’s uncomfortable.  I think that’s what I have been doing with my goals around my body…constantly striving and pushing and forcing.  Now it is time for balance – it is time to take practical, consistent action in alignment with my goals while doing them in a spirit of joy, enthusiasm, peace, and love.  There is no magical thinking here to sit back and let God handle it…but there is a new willingness to take the actions I know to take, letting God guide the process, realizing I don’t have to do this alone, and actually I have been completely unsuccessful doing this alone.  It is insane to continue to perpetuate old ways of being.  Time to try something new.

Really Dancing….No, Really! I Mean Like REAL Dancing.

Hi everyone!  I’m baaaaaaaack!

I went on vacation for a week in Ireland, and the week and a half before that I was down for the count with bronchitis.  It’s been a while.

It’s been a while since I wrote and it’s been a while since I did anything physical.  It’s certainly been an eon since I last danced.  It’s also been an age since I last worked out or did any cardio.

What I have been up to is driving in a tiny car on scary one lane roads in the back country of Ireland, eating lots of food, drinking lots of cider and generally laughing, enjoying life, and getting soft.

Also, my husband took lots of amazing photos of our trip.  Below are three:  The Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, and the Cliffs of Moher.

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It’s been great and now I’m glad to be back to “real life.”  In fact, on one of the lay-overs during my sojourn home (it was a 22 hour travel extravaganza from Dublin to our doorstep) I made a point to call and schedule my dance lessons for the week.  It was a priority!

Today was the day for my reunion with Kristijan (Ivan is in Bulgaria until the end of the month) and I had a grand time on my lesson.  I began in my practice shoes.  I’m still recovering a little bit from my respiratory infection and still have congestion and a cough, plus I haven’t been “in my body” to dance for the better part of a month so I thought 3 inch heels right off the bat might be a recipe for disaster.  Anyways, we warmed up with Rumba walks and off we went.

“What do you want to dance?”  He inquired.

“Rumba!” I exclaimed, “I’m a slow starter!” I exhorted.

And it’s true.  Rumba is probably my favorite dance and I love it so much.  It’s a slow burn and a nice way to warm up and reacquaint oneself with one’s body after a long absence.

So we reviewed the choreography.

“How much did you practice while you were gone.”

“Zero,” I said.

“But there is a thing called visualization,” he retorted.  “And it can be a good form of practice,” he explained.

“I did nothing of the sort,” I replied, honestly.  “I ate and I drank and I got fat! I did not practice one iota! So let’s see how this goes,” I said.

And we danced.  And then he suggested we turn on some music.

And I really liked it.  I liked the music, I liked the dancing.  He told me he missed me and the energy I bring.  He corrected me and told me not to put my head down like a bull.  He told me my center of gravity was high and to get more settled in my hips.  He told me to fix my wonky, weak arm.

And I was in a goofy, playful mood.  I pretended like I was Latin champion on of the world and began the Rumba dramatically.  He liked it.  “That was very good,” he said.

So we did the choreography and he told me I was leaning backwards during my spiral turn (which is a bad habit of mine) so I said, “Oh, so you’re saying this wouldn’t work if I were in heels.  Maybe I should put on my heels so I could have a reality check.  These practice shoes give me the illusion that I can actually dance.”  I say this because with the lower heel I can get away with more bad habits and still stay on balance and make things work.  The moment I put on 3 inch heels the entire landscape changes and I often feel like I have strapped on not just shoes but the wobbly legs of a newborn deer.

So guess what!?  I changed into my heels!

And we danced some more.  And I emoted and I played.  And the best part was we danced!  We really danced!  I mean there were all these little gems scattered hither and thither in the routine.  I wouldn’t say the routine rounds were perfectly polished, but there were these amazing moments and sequences of moments where magic happened.

For instance, I began my Rumba with conviction and Kristijan reacted.  Somehow we started the routine totally differently.  We did a hip twist into a double spin and then began the official choreography.  None of this was planned and none of it was communicated except that we were both present and both dancing, together, and it was just the natural evolution of the next right thing to do.  I have no idea how it all was coordinated – it was from a realm beyond words.  It just worked, it just happened, we just created it out of nothing because we were both there, together, connected…which is all the more amazing since we haven’t seen each other for like 3 weeks.

Then there was this moment where I decided that I really liked the music and the movement I was doing so I delayed it.  I stretched it out and made it happen over twice the timing it usually does.  And it was awesome!  I totally took the lead and Kristijan had to react to it.  He totally did and it was so awesome!  I don’t know how this all happened but I just knew that I was planted on that spot and that I was going to finish what I was going to do and then I would move, and somehow through the ethers he got the message and figured it out and then our next move was even that much more sharp and impactful because we delayed so long.

I loved it!  I loved creating something together, from nothing, with no prior planning or scheming or communication.  I loved how it all unfolded, naturally.  I thought to myself, “If I dance like that, so relaxed and joyful and playful and open, at a competition…if we could spontaneously create something in the moment so that each time we danced a routine it was genuinely new, I would be so satisfied and happy with that!  I wouldn’t care how we were ranked!  I would be pleased.”  So I told Krisijan as much and I said, “So let’s dance like that in competition, m’kay, deal?”  And he said, “Okay, Deal!”

I mean, in my view of the world, what we did today was ACTUALLY dancing.  It was not just going through the motions.  It was connected.  It was alive and breathing.  It was co-created space.  It was magic and spontaneous and felt free and joyful.  It was the best!  Yay!

And besides that, the other big news is that Krisijan and Anja got a puppy named Don.  He’s a rescue Lab-SharPpai mix, black, cute, and exploring the world with his sharp-puppy-toothed-mouth!

Also, I’ve decided I will dance in the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Phoenix in September.  It will be my first competition back.  I don’t know if Ivan will be game, but I know Kristijan will so at the least I will do Latin, and I’m hoping I can do some Rhythm as well.

Lastly, I have a fitting for my new dress by Julia tomorrow on my lunch break.  Fingers crossed I love it!

I think that gets me caught up for now, on my end.  But in a parting note, I did wanted to give a shout out to all my Ballroom Village bretheren.  I’m getting caught up in all I’ve missed over the past couple of weeks and you all have been a busy lot, posting!  I’m working my way through your recent adventures.  Also, and importantly, I wanted to send a very special congratulations to BC Ballroom on completing chemo!!!!!  Yay!  This is cause for celebration and I’m so glad to read that you are dancing up a storm right now!  You GO girl!  You are an inspiration to me….and I’m not just talking about how consistent you are with your blog posts lol! (I could use a little of that hahaha)

Oh, and I have a guest post on Girl With The Tree Tattoo!  It’s about how I got to the place where I changed my blog name from Biggest Girl In The Ballroom to Beautiful Girl In The Ballroom….go check it out.

Come to think of it, there are at least two more pieces of exciting news in the works!  I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned!

I’m glad to be back with you all and I’m looking forward to sharing more dance adventures, insights, breakdowns and breakthroughs with you!

Love, Stef

AKA Beautiful Girl

A Blog By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

You may have noticed there’s a little something different around here, namely, well, the name!

Yes, I finally did it.  A while back I was trying on some new names but couldn’t land on the right option.  I decided to let it marinate and frankly, I forgot about it.  But the reason I wanted to change the name of the blog was because my focus has shifted.  I’m still me, but I’m no longer placing my body in the spotlight and making it the most important thing about me.  Rather, I’m focusing on who I am.

Well, as you know there are two new dancers at the EuroRhythm home and I’ve had the joy-filled opportunity to work with them both.  I honestly barely know them but they are a great addition to the family.  They bring amazing, positive, supportive energy and they are generous with their knowledge and so approachable and accessible.  So after my lesson with Kristijan, I was hanging around the studio kind of watching a friend on her lesson and struck up a conversation with Anja. We talked about a lot of things – confidence, shyness, the process of dancing.  And somehow or another my blog made its way into our chat.  I was showing her pictures and the Facebook page and told her I’d invite her to join it.  When I pulled it up and she read the name she was like, “Why this name?  You can’t have this name.  You need to change it!  I won’t join until you change the name!”

She was so sweet about it but so committed to it!  It was quite extraordinary, in my humble opinion.  I said, “You know, I wanted to change the name a while ago but couldn’t find the right thing to change it to.  And it has to be the right choice because you can only change the name of your page on Facebook one time in the life of the page.  Once it’s changed, it’s permanent.  I’m open to changing the name but I need help brainstorming.”

She said, “Well, maybe it could be something like Biggest-Hearted Girl In The Dancing World.”

And I said, laughingly, “Yes!  Of Course! I do want to be humble about it.”

And she said, “Well it’s a little too long anyway.”

So then I recruited my friend MB to assist and after overhearing our prior conversation she said, that the perfect name could be, “You wish you were me.”

To which I replied, “I don’t even wish I were me some of the time!”

And we had a good laugh over how outrageous and prideful these names seemed.

I told Anja I’d think about the name and we parted ways for the evening.  She reiterated that she would not join my Facebook page until I changed the name of the blog.

About an hour later I got a message from Anja through Facebook:

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So that’s the story.  And I have a new like!  Bonus.

Since I’ve changed the name, I’ve had one more lession with Kristijan and a double lesson with Ivan.  I have much to report…but right now I’ve got to be on my way to a family birthday celebration.  So we’ll save that for the next post, which should be completed shortly.  I’ll just say that things are moving right along, I feel like I’m having breakthroughs and growing and being stretched on each lesson and it feels so good.

TTFN, Stef

Unsung Hero

If you read my last post, it may be apparent to you, as it is to me, that there is quite a bit of forward movement in my life that has happened in a short amount of time.  To recap:  I’m dancing with Ivan again (Rhythm), I’m staying at Damir’s studio (of course!) for Latin, and he has a new high-level couple from Slovenia, Kristijan and Anja, both of whom I am working with in addition to the coaching I get from Damir, himself.

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(That’s me with Kristijan! And yes, we choreographed a wink into our Cha Cha!)

My last lesson with Ivan was on Saturday and it went so very well.  As I walked in the door, however, I was greeted with a big surprise.   Miss Linda Dean and Anna Nicole were in the studio.  I’m not much acquainted with Anna Nicole but Miss Linda came right up to me and gave me a big genuine hug. Indeed, it surprised me a bit as it was a full embrace and longer than I expected…you know how ballroom people generally are when we greet one another – kiss, kiss, hug, hug – perfunctory and devoid of meaning, authenticity, or emotion?  Well, this was not that – in my experience this particular hug was more than the usual “ballroom” greeting, and it pleasantly surprised me.

She said, “So you are dancing again?”

I said, “Yes! I’m back! I’m going to show more expression, I’m mentally in a much better place, and I feel more solid in what I’m doing!”

“I don’t care about that,” she said.  “I want to see how you were already; on your leg and with the rhythmicality in your body.”

I took a moment to process her input – to me, expression is paramount.  For me, full self-expression with complete abandon is my ultimate goal. And, also, it was incredibly elucidating and helpful to hear what she (and I imagine what other judges) are looking for.  I can deliver on this!  Be on my leg, be rhythmical.  Great!

But the funny thing is, I never stopped dancing.  In fact, Miss Linda saw me at Damir’s studio, briefly, at one point.  She knew I was dancing there.  So I find it interesting her choice of words, “You’re dancing again!”

Well, I’ll take it!  She seemed genuinely pleased and she actually said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear this [news].”  (The unsaid part is …daincing with IVAN!)

Sweet!

So I had an incredible lesson with Ivan.  We pretty much have our Cha Cha squared away, which is great.  Of course, we were moving around and dancing while we were reviewing it and finalizing it and I noticed this slim, petite lady with frizzy reddish-brown braided hair watching.  I’m not sure who she is but she is either a pro or a high-level amateur who is dancing with a recent California transplant who briefly flittered with Damir for a spot in his studio.  I’ve met him before but I’ve never seen her.  Anyways, about halfway through my lesson with Ivan she approached me and said, “Oh My God!  You have the most amazing leg action! I guess your teacher must be pretty good!” To which I smartly replied, “He’s alright,” LOLOLOL.  And Ivan turns to me and says, “See! Nobody is coming to me ever when I dancing with anybody else!”

So that was cool and all, but for me the best part was that I felt solid.  We reviewed our Cha Cha and we have it on video in case we forget.  Then we spent the rest of the lesson exploring the Rumba – we danced various pieces from previous Rumba routines as well as explored new possible movements.  It was so much fun and a little bit exhilarating.  I mean, when your dance instructor says, “Let’s try  Marieta’s routine here” that’s kind of a big deal!  She’s the professional!  And yet, suddenly, my arm is firmly grasping Ivan’s shoulder from behind his neck, I’m slowly sinking into middle splits and pointing and flirting with the imaginary audience to my diagonal.  Then I squeeze my legs and thighs together, make sure my ankles kiss, and reach my hands heavenward.   Suddenly I’m the dancer I’ve watched from afar in the audience….wishing I could be her…now I am her.

And Ivan says, “What you think is missing from this Rumba?”  And I say, “I like it all very much.  I don’t have any idea of the order of the steps but I am enjoying what we are discovering.  I feel like we have a lot of puzzle pieces and we can work on the next couple lessons to fit them together in the proper place and order to create a beautiful image.”  And then I say, “Beyond the fact that I have no idea how this Rumba goes in terms of sequence, the only thing that I want to do is touch you!”

I have to tell you, audience, this is a major breakthrough.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I had a lot of hang ups about enjoying my body, and also, enjoying anybody else’s body.  I think that I correlated “enjoying” with something prohibited or profane.  I imagined that any sort of physical enjoyment, no matter how innocuous or laid back, was something to be avoided.  I imagined that to simply enjoy one’s body was to be sexual.  And now I know that is not the case.

Anyways, I embraced the feeling and idea of the Rumba and what came up naturally, when Ivan asked me, which in and of itself is a breakthrough – because he’s involving me in the process of creating the routine we will do (in the past it just would have been assigning or dictating what the steps were)  – okay so what came up naturally was, “I want to touch you and your body more.”  And naturally I found opportunities to do so – on his neck or chest or shoulders.  And how great is that?!  Seriously?!

Okay so if you dance with a professional Ballroom dancer you know they have different body boundaries than most “normal” people.  It’s all about getting and being in their personal space.  It’s all about touching and sensuality.  It’s all about full expression.  When I first came to a lesson with Ivan, I was so completely intimidated and shy.  I pulled inward because I was afraid of what he might think of me.  I was afraid to *really* show who I am and all I feel inside.  My excuse/story for holding back was about my body/weight/size/I-don’t-look-like-a-ballroom-dancer-thererfore-I-could-never-be-one…yada yada yada….

And, that’s the past.

So how I show up now is open, authentic, and willing to be myself.  And I surprised myself by being open, authentic and confident enough to declare my truth that the only thing that was missing from the Rumba was more touching.  I was like, let’s find every opportunity we can to touch!

And it was so fun!  I mean, Ivan is a good looking cat with a good, solid body.  I enjoy touching it.  I was just afraid to admit that previously and so I didn’t touch it and I held back.  Now I’m like, whatever!  It’s another body in this world.  All bodies are miraculous and wonderful in so many ways.  And, this one in front of me is wonderful and looks nice to touch.  Because of the nature of our relationship, and the roles we play for various dances, it is appropriate to touch his body (within reason!) and so I’ve come to peace with this aspect of the dance-acting and have chosen to embrace and enjoy the sensuality of it!  Why not?

I do think it caught Ivan a little off-guard with my, ahem, enthusiasm, lol.  But of course, what I consider courageous and outrageous and acting with abandon seems middle-of-the-road to Ivan lol!  Even so, after a beat or two and a few practices of a hip roll, we got in to a position where I was directly in front of Ivan and he was like, “Now I get to touch!” as he grabbed my ample hips. Woo! Lol!  It was so lighthearted and great!  I loved it all.

But here’s the deal:

So, like, Miss Linda Dean has seen me in relation to Ivan on the dance floor.  From the feedback we’ve gotten, it is a pleasing and even, maybe, exciting show.  This is how all the judges who have taken any notice of me have seen me – in the context of dancing with Ivan.

It’s actually such an incredible gift, in my mind, that anyone remembers me…I last danced maybe a year ago.  And I find it even more incredible that others are invested in the possibility of me participating in competitions in the (near) future.

And they see me as in relation, or maybe as an extension of Ivan.  That’s fine.  That’s great, actually.  Ivan has been a major, major influence in my dancing and has pulled out so much from inside me.  I adore Ivan and I’m so grateful to be dancing with him again.  It feels like home.

And yet….there is an amazing, humble, giving, kind, compassionate, generous, extraordinary human being (who disguises himself as “ordinary”) who has contributed incredibly to my life.  He has been a support, an uplifting presence, an example, a coach, a guide, a mentor, a friend.  He has given me tools such that I can be on my own feet, solidly on my legs, independent.  And yet, I know this person has my back like no kidding.  All he has ever wanted to do was support me in becoming the dancer I have wanted to be. He has given so generously of his knowledge, his wisdom, his authentic self.  I have been truly blessed to work with this exceptional man.

And yet, this man will be an unsung hero.  He will be unseen.  He is the person who helped build me up.  He brought me back to center and sanity and balance.  He is such a genuine and humble man that he cares not who I dance with, but rather, that I am empowered to dance as I wish to dance.  It’s such an amazing gift.  He tells me, “Nothing has changed.  I am still here for you.”  And I believe him, wholeheartedly, even as many external circumstances in my dancing world are shifting.

This is a true master.  This is an extraordinary human being.  This is one who is willing to step aside, to never receive any recognition or accolades for the work he has done, to gain nothing for the wisdom he has shared, and to receive no tangible reward for the love he has poured into a person.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this person is Damir.  He is the unsung hero.  He is the humble, supportive, wise, kind man who has helped me get to where I am in attitude and technique these past 9 months.

No one will ever visibly “see” all he has done for me as I dance with Ivan, and if I end up competing with Kristijan.  Because of my previous foray into the competitive ballroom world, I am inexorably connected to Ivan (happily so!) and that is how I am seen.  I feel like many people might attribute my progress to Ivan.

And this is how amazing Damir is.  He’s totally okay with that.  He doesn’t even care where the recognition lands.  He’s that humble, that committed to being of service that he has removed any trace of his ego from the equation.

So this is why I want to publicly and formally and gratefully acknowledge the “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Damir.  I want at least some people to know how big of an influence he has been for me, how much he has helped me, how much he has loved me, and how much he has supported me…and even how much he has believed in me.   Like everything he coaches to, it’s the stuff that’s not obvious, the stuff that is internal, being with the “ordinary,” that really makes a difference in quality of a person’s life.

The trajectory of my life is profoundly changed because it intersected with Damir.  I don’t think many people will “see” that when I dance with Ivan and, perhaps, Kristijan.  But it is Damir who has helped me make a quantum leap during the past months.  He may not need or expect acknowledgement or recognition, however, I wanted to give it!  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I look up to you in so many ways, as a dancer, and as a human being.  You are incredible and I am ridiculously blessed to get to work with you.  Know that even if others outside my “story” don’t know who you are and what you’ve contributed to me, I do, and I am Grateful beyond words.

The End.

Love, Stef

 

 

I Broke My Shoe Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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