What’s In A Name?

Hey guys!  Thank you so much for all the feedback about the name of this blog.  I sincerely appreciate all the comments and suggestions.  I am still a little bit “in the question” around what I should call this blog so I have a little experiment that I’m going to conduct for the next week to give myself time to get clear on what the name means to me as it is, to try on a new possible name for size (haha), or to potentially land upon the perfect completely new name.

I believe that words are powerful.  And as I’m in the practice and process of transformation, both inside and out, it makes sense to me that as I evolve, things in my life will also evolve.  I want my blog to support me in this process and I am currently ready to let go of the story I’ve been replaying in my mind, heart, and body, the one in which I live as though I am a fat person, like that’s the most important part of who I am. I’m ready to let go of the part of the story where my personality is so wrapped up in claiming this physicality as my identity.  As I let it go, it is a little death.  And it creates the space simply be who I am rather than make up a story about it.

So I’ve been doing some work around this idea of the story that was imprinted upon my psyche that I claimed as my identity, and I’ve engaged in a process where I can identify where this may come from.  Once seeing that, I can then choose a quality to practice being.  That may sound a bit confusing so here’s an example of what I mean: I did this work previously some years ago and discovered that I was run by the need to be liked.  I’d compromise myself, even betray myself, not speak up for myself, and so forth all because I needed people to like me.  Of course, this rarely created the desired effect.  In fact, this “act” I engaged in pushed people away.  Yet it came from a deep need in me, so I don’t blame myself for operating this way back then.  I didn’t know better and I didn’t have the tools to cope better.  I was pretty much doing it unconsciously.  However, once I discovered this and became aware of how it was affecting my life, I gained the power of choice around it.  I could decide that I was more committed to being an honest, authentic woman of integrity and choose different.  I could then ask myself, “How would an honest, authentic woman of integrity act in this situation?”  Then, I could “show up” in my life that way.  I would practice recognizing when I was about to engage in people-pleasing behavior and then I’d practice being different – being honest, and authentic, and in integrity.  Or I’d notice when I’d fallen into the old pattern and ask myself what I could do differently the next opportunity.  I got better and better over time – and it took some time – and a bunch of practice.  It also went from being scary and overwhelming (I mean in my mind being this way could lead to total rejection and abandonment) to being second nature.  I wouldn’t say I’ve 100% let go of that need, but I will say I am much more in choice around it.

Okay, so anyways, the quality I’ve landed upon that I think would help me most to move forward in my life right now is PRECIOUS.

Why precious, you may ask.  Well, here’s one of my “acts:”  I act really capable, even over-achieving because I want to be seen, loved, valued, and acknowledged.  Well, that’s like saying to my subconscious that I’m only worth something because of what I do, what service I can perform, or what value I can add to the life of others. I think it comes from a need to be seen as important or significant or that I matter so that I can feel validated that I have a right to exist.  That’s hogwash in reality but my subconscious totally buys into it.  I mean, we all have the right to exist because we do exist! Right?  Anyways, this “act” is not necessarily good, bad, right, or wrong, and it really serves me in come contexts, like at work.  However, it doesn’t serve me in other aspects of my life, because I am not in the state of knowing and believing in my bones, on a heart level, that I’m loveable and precious just because I’m me.  And because of that, I only give myself love when I “do what I’m supposed to be doing.”  This is especially in the context of diet and exercise.  And it also results in my withholding love from myself which is just mean.  It doesn’t serve me.

The word PRECIOUS is defined as: of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly, a term of address to a beloved person, highly esteemed for some spiritual, non-material, or moral quality, cherished.

I think that works perfectly to shift my focus.  So my challenge is to incorporate a practice of treating myself as a precious person in my daily life.  It certainly works in the context of nourishing my body properly and exercising it excellently, while doing it in an encouraging and loving manner – without comparison to the journey of others, and with a dose of grace.  It becomes a process of how I’m being rather than on what I’m doing.

Also, being PRECIOUS has nothing to do with how I look, how much I weigh, how well I dance – which are all things I’ve strongly identified with as who I am, and with the persona of this blog.  In reality, these features are only a tiny part of who I am, of who any human being is.  Ergo, as I am doing the inner work to let go of this junk, and create a new, more evolved, enlightened, and expansive self, I thought perhaps changing the name of the blog was something that could support me.  Lord knows I could stand to step into more than one quality in my life.  I don’t like using Precious for the title of this blog but since I do use the words in the title to this blog quite a bit via social networks and in person, and since I know that repetition is a powerful tool for change, a new name might be just the ticket to ease me into another aspect my new self that I’d like to call forth.

Which reminds me of something Damir said.  Oh yes, we are still dancing.  And today was another wonderful lesson…more on that later.  Anyways, he said to me, “Stefanie, you are just converting physical size into energetic size.”  In other words, I’ve used my physical body as a way to claim my space in this world.  Now the process is to claim my space on the invisible plane.  His point was that I’ll still be “big” but in a totally different way, a non-physical way.

So in some ways, the name “Biggest Girl In The Ballroom” still fits.  It could fit in the context I just mentioned from the conversation with Damir.

Other comments from you guys that I got were:

Because you’re about owning your place and your space – not about size – and because people do know the blog name, maybe go with something that’s a variation of it so you don’t totally lose brand identity?

So… the reason I came across your blog is because I noticed that there weren’t really any fat chicks in the dance studio and I felt a little bit out of sorts… “Is this really for me?” “Why am I the only one?” I am grateful to have come across your blog because it was encouraging to me that even if there are only TWO starfish in the sea, at least I wasn’t alone. I have done some growing since I started following you… and you have too. Biggest girl in the ballroom isn’t about size for me any more… it’s about putting on your big girl panties and accepting who you are for what you are and accepting others too. It’s about keeping on keeping on, even when you want to give up. Due to an injury, I’m no longer able to dance, but I still keep up with you. You’re not the size you once were… life changes. BUT the lesson you teach seems to me to be about being a big girl even when the world tries to make you feel small.

We think keep the domain name the same so you don’t lose any readers or followers.  And Then Making it “The (formerly in handwriting font with an up arrow) Biggest Girl in the Ballroom”. We think will imply the journey and the success you have made of it. All of the best with whatever you decide.

I agree about the larger meaning of being Big. I was also thinking about being a Big Girl (in the being responsible for oneself idea) and also re: not losing your branding. Since comparison is the least interesting and least important part, how about “Big Girl in The Ballroom”?

Biggest isn’t just about weight. It’s about power. It’s about presence. It’s about an indomitable spirit. Why wouldn’t you want to be the biggest girl in the ballroom?

I think the biggest girl in the ballroom’s meaning can morph and change regardless of your size. Biggest can mean so many different things. My opinion is it is perfect just as it is.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?!  I feel so blessed to have this type of engagement with you!  It’s helped me re-frame my thinking about this issue and I appreciate it very much.

So here’s what I’ve settled on; I’m going to try on a potential name for one week.  I want to see how it feels.  I want you to see how it feels to you and let me know what you think.  I chose this new name because it encompasses a lot of what the people above were saying, including dropping the comparison game, which I think is especially important for me.  I’m not 100% sure just yet and still open to feedback, and, at the same time, I want to create some forward movement on this so this seemed like a great step to take.  I will make my final decision by next Thursday so make sure to make your thoughts known urgently.  All the input thus far has helped me immensely to get more clear on what I want to create. And, yes, this is ultimately my decision.

The name I’m trying on is “Big Girl In The Ballroom”

Let’s see how it goes 🙂  And Lisa, you may just be the winner of a $25 gift card 🙂  You’ll know by next Thursday.

Alrighty, now that that’s all taken care of, I want to share with you what happened on my lesson today.  I think I should talk a little bit about dancing here too! lol.

So as much as I sometimes miss Ivan, I so totally trust the teachings I’m getting from Damir at this time.  My experience of it thus far is becoming more aware of my body on a more detailed level and being present in neglected areas.  Basic areas, like feet and knees.  We haven’t really even made it up to lats and arms just yet and that’s totally okay.  When I get results like I got today, I’m grateful about going so slowly.

Damir said something pretty profound today that teaching dance was his calling.  It’s not a job, it’s not even a vocation.  He’s convinced he could do anything he’d want to do in this world as a profession.  Dance didn’t come easy to Damir.  He searched for answers for a very long time and ended up having to find them for himself.  Even though he had many instructors and coaches that influenced him, his process, from how he describes it, was him having to go so slowly in every step and breaking it down minutely and focusing just on one body part for months at a time.  Because he went through this process, he’s now able to see things in others’ bodies – alignment, energy, where their focus is.  He’s also able to adapt his language in such a way that his students understand clearly what he is asking of them – at least that’s been my experience.

It’s like, I’ve wanted these same answers.  I’ve known that my dancing didn’t look like it potentially could and all the answers I got were from the outside in – making things happen.  God bless all my instructors – they gave me the information I was ready for, that I could handle, and/or to the best of their personal understanding.  However, now I’m being coached from the inside out and it is a total game changer.

It’s also a lot more physical work!  I feel that my body will be changing soon simply from the new method from which I’m approaching dance.  It takes a lot more focus and energy and is based a ton on creating oppositions internally in the body.  It’s awesome and it ain’t easy.

Anyways, Damir focuses on a very practical method for dancing, the thought being that if you have a structure to follow, no matter what your emotional state or how your body is feeling on any particular day, you can use this structure to discover what adjustments might need to be made to still perform at an excellent level, especially in the context of a competition.

And this structure system begins with the feet.  If I thought I used my feet before, I was wrong.  They are experiencing an entirely new level of conditioning.

We are just now beginning to focus on the knees.  Being the second major joint in the leg, they affect a lot of things.  Hips are now moving as a result of the movements in my feet and knees, rather than actively “trying” to make my hips move.

I’m starting to see where the true causes of movement stem from, which is internal and not always obvious, rather than just seeing the end result, which I think a lot of us gravitate toward trying to emulate.  Both ways of approaching movement can be helpful in different contexts, by my personal dance education has been deficient in the information Damir is sharing with me.

It’s pretty wonderful.  Sometimes I may feel like I’m not doing anything on our lessons, that I’ve regressed as a dancer, or that we’re just talking too much!  Then there are moments like today and I realize that all my previous work has been valuable.  I realize that all the work I’ve done laid some foundation and that with new tiny bytes of information, new small puzzle pieces of data that I’ve not been aware of now being presented, things can shift dramatically and quickly in my dancing.

So we were working on the knees, just doing 1,2,cha cha cha, in place and focusing on really stretching the space between the knees as much as possible – like doing it with an imaginary resistance band around them. And it was hard work!  It engaged more muscles, but was controlled, and it caused proper alignment, and made me pull up in my abdomen, there were all sorts of great results from focusing on this particular aspect.  I’m learning how to utilize internal resistance, opposition, and elasticity to create a new quality of movement with stability and control.

So then Damir invited me to use this skill I’d just started practicing in Rumba walks.  Oh. My. God.  For the first time in my life Rumba walks felt GOOD!

Some iterations were better than others but that doesn’t matter.  I had a few really quality ones.  I got the feeling in my body.  It felt like my standing leg was pulling my moving leg forward, instead of the other way around.  I was (mostly) on balance.  It just felt “right,” not so forced.

I had a flashback to Inna’s class.  We’d practiced a lot of Rumba walks in there.  And her style is more aggressive in terms of coaching us to step big, to use big arms, and most of all, to push forward.  This could work great for some students.  For me, I always felt I was forcing this and it was taking way more effort than it should if I was moving ergonomically or biomechanically correct.  But I could never figure out how to do that from the language and demonstrations being used.  With Damir, I’m focusing on very different things: the back of my neck and head, staying on my standing leg as long as possible, planting it into the ground and allowing the elastic resistance between my knees to pull the walking leg forward under my body, keeping my hips under my ribs, and even a little in compressing my lats and pushing my chest forward (but that’s pretty advanced for me right now).  And it freakin’ feels better, way better, totally-different-breakthrough better, like I’m never going to dance the same way again (well, yeah, I may have some muscle memory to overcome) but now that I’ve had this visceral experience, I could never truly go completely back.  Things will never quite be the same.

It gives me hope that possibly all my dancing could feel this good.  It’s showing me I have things in my body ready from the work I’ve previously done to jump to a new level of quality with just the next right bit of information and practice.  It has been a joyful, fun process, for the most part, and although I have some urgency about my goals, I’ve also surrendered to trusting the process being laid before me by my new coach.  All will unfold in it’s proper time.  I fully trust Damir has my best interests at heart.  In fact, I feel so incredibly lucky to work with him, even more so because he told me that he hasn’t taken a new student in years and he’s totally booked with the students he has now.  I’m one lucky ducky he fit me in and I’m going to make the absolute most of my time with him.

Probably the greatest gift Damir has given me is the freedom to be me without expectations, both around my body and my dancing.  I always felt such pressure with Ivan, as well as his frustration and disappointment.  With Damir, I feel like he believes in me, like he believes in all his students, 100%.  He also believes that it’s up to the student to determine how far they really want to go with this dancing thing, and how fast.  It’s so great to be given this responsibility.  He’s totally just there to support me in my process.  It’s a precious gift of his time, attention, presence, information, guidance, and nurturing.  I’ve been able to stop beating myself up so much in this space, as well as to embrace the work required.  I’ve also become less fearful about making mistakes and not being perfect.  He’s helped me define the game I’m playing, and it’s one of personal excellence rather than comparison, authenticity rather than staged performance, deliberate internal presence rather than external forcing, one of groundedness rather than an emotional roller coaster.  He’s supporting me to become the excellent, authentic, present, consistent, grounded dancer I know I can be.  And at the same time, he places no need on me to be anything different than what I am.

I was so lit up about how excellent my lesson turned out today, that I totally thought, “I have to write a blog about this!”  And that was cool because it’s been a while since I’ve felt that way.  I think perhaps it’s because I’ve been in transition and thus the blog has been too.  The blog is going to evolve right alongside with me.  I did start this blog and journey years ago, and I’m not the person I was back then either.  Sometimes it’s okay to let old identities die and integrate their experience into the whole.  I feel like who I was cannot exist in the same space of who I am now, just like the partnership I had with Ivan could no longer live on once shifts had been made.

So life looks different now and probably the blog will too.  I’m excited to see where the journey leads me.

Love, Stef

 

Ernie Miller

When I was five and I lived in Aurora, Colorado, I had a black vinyl dance bag.  I use the term loosely, because the “bag” was actually a rectangular cardboard box covered in ink-black shiny vinyl imprinted with a pink pair of ballet toe shoes in Sous-sou.

 

Two to three times a week I made a sojourn from my home on the Army base to the doors of Ernie Miller’s dance studio to practice ballet and tap.  Again, I use the term “practice” loosely.   At the age of five through eight, I mostly flailed grossly.  And yet at the end of each dance lesson I was reward with a Dum Dum sucker, being the adorable “little peanut” I was.

Every year the studio would have a recital.  Every year Ernie and his wife would dance the very last dance in the show.  It was a lovely and vulnerable and authentic moment.  So much so that it made quite an impression on me in a time in my life when I don’t remember much detail.  It was that  special.

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The deal is, Ernie and his wife and his beautiful daughters who taught in the studio WERE the studio.

Of course there were physical walls, and spring-loaded wood floors, and barres fastened securely to the walls.  But the studio was Ernie.  He created it.  He carved out the space for it to exist.  And he and his family populated it.  They created the tone.  They created the atmosphere.  They created the philosophy.  They lived it and breathed life into it.

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So now fast forward 30 years.  I am an adult.  I’ve rediscovered dancing through the medium of ballroom.  I’ve been through three  instructors and now I’m on my fourth.  I’ve recently left my most favorite instructor (thus far) who moved me forward exponentially.  I’m now with this crazy Bosnian who is so very ORDINARY.

He emphasizes proper alignment of the bones and the body over anything flashy.  He promotes repetition, repetition, repetition of any and all steps, done properly, 10,000 times.  He is not teaching me any new figures or choreography whatsoever.  He’s simply going deeper into the most basic work.

So here I am, being serious and all about my dancing.  I don’t have much interest in being a social dancer.  I don’t care much to dance with people who are less experienced than I.

And yet, I’m invited to the annual EuroRhythm Luau.  With all manner of enthusiams!  Not only from Damir, but also from his wife.  Truth is, my hubby was out of town so what else was I going to do Friday night?  I figured there were worse ways to spend time and bought a ticket to attend what I thought would most likely be a hokey stupid party.

And so after work I took a break then got out my hair dryer and straightener.  I put on mascara and a comfortable outfit.  I got myself ready and drove over to the studio.

At first, it definitely seemed super hokey!  And then, after about 2 minutes, it seemed awesome.  It seemed like home.

It struck me as shockingly as if I had stuck my fingers into a socket – I have lived this before.  I have lived this as a five-year-old in Ernie Miller’s Studio.

It was family.  As humble as it might be, as hokey as it could be, who the hell cares.  There was joy in that space.  There were families present with grandparents and grandchildren.

And this studio, that I am now a part of, is Damir and his family.  He’s so very clear about his role as the leader of it.  He knows absolutely that he sets the tone, the rules. He knows beyond a doubt that he is the one that creates and holds the space.

I’m not going to lie.  The physical space of EuroRhythm is tiny!  It seems humble.  From the outside it is just a part of a strip mall.  On the inside there is nothing flashy.

And you know what, for me it melts away.  It’s not what I notice.  I walk into this space and I am embraced as I am, where I am, who I am in this moment.  I notice that I feel comfortable, I feel that it is safe and supported.  I know that I am surrounded by greatness, and that greatness is eagerly, generously shared with all those who walk through the doors; it’s shared with all those who seek the wisdom being offered.

I was just so singularly struck by this feeling of familiarity Friday night.  I knew that I knew this space.  It recalled and referenced my past experiences with Ernie Miller.  And wow, how very grateful I am about it all.

I got a great start with Ernie.  My mother to this day will profess the influence he and his daughters had on me in terms of molding me and shaping me to be the dancer I am today.  What a blessing and advantage I had being able to dance at such a young age.  I am especially grateful to my mother and my father for making that possible for me.

And Damir is just like Ernie.  He IS the studio.  His family IS the studio.  He sets the tone.  He creates the atmosphere.  And I’m just left agog.  What an amazing human being I have come to interact with.  He has come from a war-torn country, experienced unspeakable traumas, I’m sure, he became a world-class dancer, he immigrated, he created his own studio, and best of all, he is a JOYFUL and GIVING human being.  He has arrived on the other side of all these negative circumstances and chosen to be a compassionate, loving, generous, passionate, kind, caring, gentle, expert human being and dance coach.   He has created a home for all of us who chose to accept his brand of study and excellence.

Damir, and the results he creates, looking both at the students of his I know and his studio, are seemingly humble, simple, and, even, dare I say, boring!  And yet, they are also captivating, impeccable, and embodying excellence.   He has a quiet sort of “shouting” to the world.  And his results speak loud and clear for those with eyes to see, for those who have the clarity of mind  to understand.

So you know what?  I am so happy I went Friday.  I realized that I will never miss a party for the studio again if I can help it!  I realized that it’s about family.  And I realized, on a whole new level, what a special and excepetional human being Damir is.  God bless him for creating this space.

I am come home.

No Shortcuts To The Top

Here’s a quirky little fact about me; I love reading about mountain climbing.  Bouldering, 8000 meter peak epics, Nepal, Everest, K2, The Eiger Wall, and The White Spider are just a few of my favorite subjects.  I’m mildly obsessed.  For whatever reason I am enthralled by the journey, internally and externally, of those who risk their lives to reach the highest peaks and scale the most technical climbs in the world.

I think in many ways mountain-climbing parallels high-level dancing, maybe that’s why I’m drawn to it.  Both pursuits require determination, discipline, and practice.  Both are beautiful.  I think I like ballroom better because I don’t have to risk my very existence to explore my vulnerabilities and limitations.  I am challenged quite enough two and a half inches off the floor, thank you very much! Lol.

Anyways, one mountaineer-author I particularly enjoy (there are many) is Ed Viesturs.  You may recall him from the IMAX movie about Everest (which rocked my world in high school when I saw it on that eight-story screen – seriously, Khumbu Icefall?  You may pee your pants seeing how they traverse it using aluminum ladders lashed together to cross cravasses) and the 1996 Mount Everest disaster documented in Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air.”  He’s a world-class high-altitude athlete and he is the first American to summit all 14 of the 8000-meter-er’s – the 14 highest mountains on Earth.  As you might imagine, it’s an exclusive club.

Things I appreciate about Ed are that he is pragmatic, level-headed, he trains like a madman, he climbs with an ethos, and he lives by the credo, “Getting to the top is optional, returning home is compulsory.” He pushes his personal limits while at the same time lives in a personally responsible manner.  He even takes on further responsibility when others are in need around him because that’s who he is.

Well, anyways, I’ve enjoyed reading about Ed’s pursuits and I’ve learned a lot about being human from his books (as well as other mountaineers).  Honestly, I think that is why they do such extreme feats – to get to the core of their selves, to come right up against their limitations, demons, and boundaries, and to test their mettle, to discover who they are.

I’m no adrenaline junkie, but I can relate to the journey of self-discovery.  For me, as I’ve mentioned before, dance is my practice.  It is my walking, moving, bodily meditation.  It helps me integrate all aspects of self: mind, body, spirit, physical, anatomical, atomic, subatomic, and energetic.  It also helps me connect with myself, others, the universe, God.  I am a drop in the ocean and the entire ocean in a drop.  I can go just as deeply into myself through dance as Ed does when he climbs high into the clouds.  In a way, we are on the same journey, it just looks different externally.  Internally, we are coming up against our core selves with every step.

This is why I came to Damir.

This is the work we are doing.

It is deeply personal and internal.  And it’s a big shift.  And that’s why I haven’t felt so much like blogging about every new awareness, because they are coming at light-speed.  It’s like drinking from a fire-hydrant. And I’m not even sure I could explain or describe the work we are doing, anyways.  It’s beyond dancing.  It’s beyond the movements.  It’s the metaphor of the dancing and it is the actual dancing, and it is so much more at the same time.

Everything is changing.

It’s not obvious.

People are going to be able to tell that I have changed when I’m through on the other side of this leg of the journey, but they may not know what I did exactly.

This is the work I am doing with Damir.  It is all of the invisible stuff, all of the internal dancing that happens between sinew, muscle, bone, and energy.  It is rewiring my neurons to fire differently.  It is retraining my muscle memory and placing my awareness in long-neglected cells of my body, in forgotten pockets of DNA.  It is changing my structure, my elasticitity.  It is allowing me to be stable and to stretch.  It is helping me find beauty in opposition, for only in using opposing forces can we move.

I’m learning it isn’t actually ideal to be completely balanced 100% because if you are, there is absolutely no movement; there is only stillness.  To create movement, there must be an imbalance, even if it is ever-so-slight.  And with this new level of rooting deep into the earth, this new level of stability, my bodily movement is so much more under my control, I can be so much more deliberate about it. Trust me, there’s still lots of work to do, but already it is improved exponentially.

This work changes everything.  It is transforming me and I will emerge on a different level.  From the outside, it looks like nothing has changed, or even maybe that I’ve “regressed” because it is so “ordinary,” as Damir puts it.  But I know the truth.  I know that internally I will never be the same.

Here’s a good analogy; I don’t care if you have a Rolex dripping in diamonds if it fails to tell accurate, reliable time, if it fails to fulfill its purpose.  I’d take a practical Casio calculator watch over it any day.  The faulty Rolex, however, is shiny and appears beautiful on the outside.  Dancing can be like this.  Right now I’m working to become a Casio.

With Damir, I’m learning to balance my Yin and Yang energies, my Masculine and Feminine.

I’m learning to stand on my own feet

I’m learning to hold and control my own space.

I’m learning to be present.

I have not learned any specific new dancing technique.  I have not learned one new step or one new way to style my arms.  I have not danced anything more than Rumba boxes, forward and back steps, delayed steps, hip turns or spirals.  No new figures.  No routines.  Only fundamentals.  They apply to EVERYTHING.  It is AWESOME.

I totally trust that I’ve made the correct move. This is exactly where I need to be.

I miss Ivan and I do hope we can partner again.  That’s mostly up to him.  I’m committed to do my work regardless.  But I have a deep knowingness that Damir is a coach, not a partner, at least at this point in time.  I also have a deep knowingness that I have no need to worry about this, that the right person will show up when I’m ready and he’s ready, be it Ivan, or no.

So that’s what’s going on with me.  I’ve no competitions in my sights.  I am committed to doing the work. And the work is, well, mundane, ordinary, and basic.  It is learning my body, feeling it spatially, and understanding how it works.  I’m honing my instrument in a way I’ve never had access to before.

I feel settled. If that even makes any sense.  I feel grounded and secure.  And I need this like no kidding to stretch beyond my current limitations.  That is part of why I had to make the change.  I could go no further without finding my center.  I needed a space where it was safe to explore my shortcomings.  With Damir, it’s encouraged.  We bring my imbalances to light and in this way dissolve them.

The work I’m doing is to find and embody the paradox; to find the stillness, calmness, steadiness in the frenzied movement of a Cha-Cha.  In this way I can be my most authentic self.  What a blessing to have found a guide and coach for this next leg of the journey.  I am becoming who I am, a little closer to my authentic self every day.

Dancing cannot fail to change a person if they take it up as their practice.  It is as potent and transformative as any practice, be it Yoga, or Soccer, Bible study or Mountain climbing.

And just like in Mountain climbing, I’m discovering that there are no short cuts to the top.  This is the title of one of Ed’s books and I think it reflects his philosophy, and a truth of life.  I am grateful to be in the place where I’m ready, willing, and able to do the work.  For me, it looks like this: eating clean, getting workouts in, continuing consistent coaching with Damir, practicing the basics.  It looks like putting in the time, doing the mundane process, and repeating until complete.  There are no short cuts to a body fat percent of 20% or less, or a balanced spiral turn.  There are no elevators to the top of Mount Everest.

And you know what?  Hooray for that!  I’m coming to know who I am more and more deeply and securely with each choice, with each pitfall, with each interaction.  I am building the foundation of who I am so as to be unshakeable.  And I’m not only after knowing who I am, I’m after loving who I am, reveling in who I am!  I’m going to get to be me, 100% me and I can’t wait.

Hooray for no longer striving and pushing and going to extremes.  Hooray for settling into do the work. It may take time, but time is going to pass anyways.  It’s simply up to me to be a consistent Casio, at this point.  Tic toc tic toc tic toc…..and soon enough the humble yet reliable Casio will be worthy of adorning the trappings of a Rolex.

Last Minute Comp! Say What?

Yesterday when I went to my lesson Ivan and I had a heart to heart.  I think Tony Meredith was a good influence on him.  They talked about the fact that nobody ever feels ready but if we wait to feel ready we’d never do anything.  They talked about how important it is to practice the mental aspects of competing as much as it is to practice the technique.  They talked about how you’ll never be younger than you are now.  They talked about how important it is to not regret – the importance of going after you goals in the now.

Anyways, it shifted something in Ivan.  He’s got a new outlook and is keen to compete and be seen more often with Marieta.  It seems to be paying off.  They did so much better last week in Atlanta and, even better than their placement, were the comments from judges afterward.  They really feel like this is their year.  If they are going to do anything, their goal is to be finalists, it’s gotta be now.

And it’s lucky for me, too.  Because the shift helped Ivan re-think things with us as well.  He realized that he actually did want to dance with me.  Both of us had had the mentality that we didn’t want to show up until I was closer to “perfect” – that I was more thin, that’s the biggest hang up, but we’ve had such a good time on our lessons lately, I’ve been so mentally relaxed and moving so much more and feeling more secure in our routines because we’ve been practicing them so much, well I felt like we could dance in a competition next week if we wanted to.  The only thing stopping us was my fat.

The main reason we didn’t want to compete and haven’t was because we didn’t want to feel like we did at our most recent competition.  A lot of that had to do with feeling insecure, and, a big portion of that had to do with Ivan’s thoughts as much as they did with mine.  Because when he’s feeling proud and good about showing me off we tend to do well.  When he’s stressed out, feeling bad because I’m the fat one and we’re focusing on that, then we do more poorly.

The reality is I’m still not where I want to be physically.  But, on the flip side, I’m in better shape.  We practiced doing rounds tonight and I was able to handle it.  The Orange Theory cardio has been helping.  And last night at Inna’s class I was surprised to see some new students who obviously had some experience but were extremely out of breath with our exercises, to the point of bending over and gasping, and I was doing just fine.  And, I tried on my dress and even if it’s not how I want it to look, it does look better than the last time I donned it.

Life’s too short.  Why not dance?  I guess that’s basically what it comes down to.  And we’re only doing open heats.  I have zero expectations.  It’s all about me, my progress, my experience, my growth.  Beyond that, it’s about enjoying our dancing, and enjoying the partnership.

I’ll be honest.  I’d lost some of my fire.  Because for me, doing this dancing thing, it has importance because I am a competitive student.  It’s fine to take a break from competitions and all, but I don’t want to dance socially.  I got clear on that a while ago.  So if I’m not ever going to compete, then I should save my money and stop taking lessons.

The long and short of it is, Ivan really wanted to dance with me, even if for just a little bit. He took the conversation with Tony to heart and it changed things.  He was so cute and told me multiple times that he wasn’t doing it for the money, and that if I couldn’t get the day off or if it was too expensive that he was fine, that I didn’t have to do it.  But that he thought it might be good to get out there once again, to just even do little things, because we are both clear on my ultimate goals.  And when I told him this morning that I was in, he texted me back, “I so excited for you!” And then tonight he told me, “I told you I not care if you can not doing this, but really I do care.  I’m so glad you are doing this.”

He really took the time to talk with me yesterday and I was like, well, sure.  If I can get the day off, I’d be up for a few heats.  My biggest concern was him being proud to dance with me, to want to dance with me.  I’m a work in progress, and I’ve made some progress.  Why not live a little and show it off?  Plus, he only wanted to do open heats with me – no more Bronze – so that speaks volumes to me as well.

I love how life is a flowing river.  You can never know what might be around the next bend.  Two weeks ago we would have said we were not competing in People’s Choice.  Yesterday we discussed it.  Today I went to see if I could maybe get the day off only to realize that it was the one Friday out of every 5 that I have off because I work on that Saturday. It’s almost like it was meant to be.

And I have to laugh because not only did we not plan this, but I have decided to loan some of my dresses to a very special lady across the country who is competing at her very first competition in just a few days!  (A blog post about that is forthcoming) At least I was smart enough to save one dress for myself, but I couldn’t dance Smooth if I wanted to!  I only have a costume suitable for Rhythm or Latin.  It all seems to be working out.

So yeah, life is pretty dang good right now.  I’m blessed to be in the position where I can do this at the drop of a hat.  I’m mentally chilled, have time to get the nails done, I’m prepared enough physically, I have a dress that will work, I have an instructor that wants to dance with me, and I could think of a lot worse ways to spend a Friday off work!

I scheduled a lesson for tonight and, like I mentioned, right away I wanted to do rounds of our open routines to see if I could hack it cardiovascularly.  I did, and that is actually a major victory for me and a testament to the work I’ve been doing outside of my dancing since we rarely practice one routine after another in a lesson.  I’ve never done open scholarship at a competition so I figure it’s better to try it out now, at a local, smaller competition, with less pressure and when I am mentally relaxed.

Alright, enough with the “serious” stuff!  Now for the funny part!  So tonight we were practicing our Bolero and Ivan all the sudden stops and says, “I hear this crack!”  And he grabs his nether-regions from behind.  “I think I split my pants!” He says.  “Third time in my career,” he says.  And he then proceeds to recount other episodes of pants splitting, the worst being white cotton pants gaping up the entire back seam from crotch to lower back while teaching at a studio all day long, not being able to change them or leave to get another pair because his schedule was so full!

I laughed, as you might imagine, hysterically, and said, “Show me.  Let’s see what happened.”

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He split not one side but two!!!!   LOLOLOL.  I laughed even harder, and I love this man, because he actually let me take this photo!  OMG!!!! Never a dull moment with this guy.

I guess that’s all the news!  If you are coming to People’s Choice here in Phoenix, please do come say hello!

What’s Up Buttercup?

Heya!  I know I’ve been gone a while but I’m still alive and still dancing.

I guess I just don’t feel like I have all that much to share lately.  There is no definite competition on the horizon and my lessons are pleasant and fun but I still feel like I have to be in better cardiovascular shape and to have lost significantly more fat before I get on the competitive floor again.  Truly those are the things that are holding me back.

Thankfully Ivan is pleased with the quality of my dancing lately and even saying he’s excited to compete with me when the time comes.

I’ll be excited too.  It’s just that I want to have completely transformed and I want new dresses.  Period.  I just don’t want to compromise on this and I’m sick of being the fat one.

So, it’s really the same old same old.  Boring.  Who wants to hear about that?  It’s a broken record.

So I’ve not been writing.

On the up side, I feel like I’ve found my confidence in my dancing.  I believe I am a good dancer and can own it.  That’s a huge victory.  In fact, I was even shocked today in group class as I was asked to do the one and only demonstration in Jive.  Pretty cool to be recognized.

I’m still a little shy about it, and kind of try to hide and look at my fingernails between rounds of practice and stand to the sides or not in the front row.  I don’t feel 100% confident nor do I feel the need to pretend I’m a diva.  But there is some level of feeling like I’m somewhat competent at what I’m doing, even if there is still room for improvement.

Because, let’s face it, there’s always room for growth, with Ivan too.  But, for me, the deal is, the more confident I feel, the better I dance.  And being confident, for me, comes from practice, preparation, and the body-image stuff.  The smaller I am, the better I feel, the easier it is to move, the more I move, the better I can cope with the physical demands.  It all goes together – it’s kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg.  All parts of me from the mental to the physical and emotional are interconnected and affect one another.  I can’t wait to feel so wonderful about how I look and have that reflect in my dancing.  I can’t wait to actually create a “look” to present on the competitive floor.  I can’t wait to really love my new dress and how it flatters me.

But all that’s old news.  Now it’s about being consistent, being as active as I can, and putting in the time and effort to drive the transformation.  It’s gonna take time.

Three interesting things of note have happened, though.  The first was Tony Meredith came into town and I was lucky enough to get a coaching with him.  He created a new Mambo routine for Ivan and I.

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The second thing is that on my last lesson Ivan and I had a grand old time just goofing around toward the end of the lesson.  I put on music I enjoy and he tried to whip me around like crazy, pretending like he was “Michael Malitowski.”  He tried to spin me all these directions and then he went to drag me, so I grabbed around his neck and he began to spin at the end of the drag.  And I don’t know why, but it just felt like the natural thing to do, so I lifted my legs up!  He spun me and I was completely off the floor.  I haven’t felt like that since I was probably 8 years old.  I was flying!  It was truly incredible and I can’t wait to see all the cool stuff we might be able to do when I’m lighter.  Because I’m strong under here!  And I can’t tell you what a phobia I’ve overcome with this because even when I was in high school and 80 pounds lighter, I was terrified of how heavy I was and convinced no guy could lift me.  I had to partner with this senior guy in the school musical and he even dropped me in one of the performances, proving me right in my mind!  So anyways, I can fly and the possibilities are exciting.

And the third thing is that I’ve been going to Orange Theory.  It’s great for me because it gets my cardio in, I’ve never burned less than 540 calories in a bout, and it keeps me interested so the time goes pretty quickly – much better than hopping on the stair machine for 45 minutes (which is tedious and boring and takes a lot of mental convincing to do).  And hey, I was pretty proud of myself when I first went because I was able to hang with the crowd.  Sure I might have had a higher heart rate, and maybe I wasn’t as fast as other people, but I was stronger and faster than others and I began to think, maybe I’m in better comparative shape than I thought.  There is no way 6 months ago I would have been able to perform this well.  It was also a pretty crappy reality check because my heart rate was so high (they track it throughout the workout).  I was working really hard, ergo, I am still fat, sick and out of shape.  But I was also thinking to myself during moments, “I am magnificent!” because I’m there, I’m sucking it up, I’m doing it, I’m pushing hard because that’s how things change.

And speaking of pushing hard, I had probably the most difficult and miserable hike of my life last weekend!  It was way too hot out, there were thick, icky swarms of gnats that plagued us from our first steps to our last steps,  and I’m fat, sick, and out of shape!  My heart rate was around 174 for most of the incline during the 3.4 miles.  I wanted to give up most of the time because it was so uncomfortable, and I made a pact with myself not to do that damn hike again until I’m under 200 pounds.  It is so much work to move my mass uphill and people just have no idea what it’s like for us fatties.  For example, my husband also tracked his workout and he burned 250 calories on the way up while I burned 3 times that amount, 750 calories.  Mostly it just makes me mad and that motivates me to keep working at it.  I made a pact with myself to be as active as I can this week and to get under 200 pounds once and for all.  I’ve been playing with the same 10 pounds for 2 months – stupid “social events” and “real life” – like Easter, family obligations.  I do great when I’m in my own little bubble during the week.  Weekends and any social obligations are much more difficult.  And my stupid body is so efficient if I give it any extra, it gloms onto it.

Anyways, I’m focused and fired up and while I was suffering on the peak I really concentrated on how awful it felt.  I wish sometimes I could bottle that misery up so any time I even want to think about going off plan I can take a little sip of it and instantly I’ll know what choice I really want to make.  I guess the next best thing is to go on miserable hikes and do horrendous workouts that feel awful so I am constantly reminded of why I want to change.  For the moment it is fresh in my mind.

So that’s the deal folks.  I’m still struggling with being consistent but I’m also still plugging along, I haven’t given up or given in, I’m resolved to be as active as necessary, and I’m gunning for the 199 pound mark in the next 3 weeks.

Oh, and I was sad to hear that my ballet class on Mondays will be cancelled.  I have to find a substitute activity and I’m thinking yoga.  But I’ll miss the ballet – the people, the exercises, the balance and leg strength it’s given me.  I will be sad to lose the progress but I don’t think there is another class nearby.  Yoga seems like the next best thing, maybe it will be better, who knows.

So now you are all caught up!

Until next time, Stef

An Epic Vomit Story, Ham Hocks, And I’m Glad I Wore Tights! (Not Necessarily In That Order)

Boy am I glad I wore mostly-opaque black tights tonight!  I’m even more glad I wore my “boy shorts” underwear.  Why, you ask?  Because if I hadn’t, it could have been a very embarrassing evening.

Tonight Ivan and I had a really good lesson.  And afterwards Ivan was like, “This is your second good lesson.  I like it.  I love it.  But it is your second good lesson in two months.  Can you believe it?”

The truth is, he’s right.  It’s been a roller coaster the past two months.  Playing with the same last 10 pounds.  Other life things.  The long and the short of it is that I showed up for my lessons, sometimes sporadically, and it didn’t help that Ivan and Marieta had a full competition schedule.  I went through the motions, but that’s about it.  It’s not necessarily a “bad” thing – because there is value in repetition and showing up – but was the quality and presence there?  Not like it can be.  And consistency was lacking.  But still, I kept going, and sometimes that’s all a person can do.

I have to say that over the last few months I’ve learned some lessons.  Well, I think it is more like I’ve come to know these concepts, not as intellectual understandings, but as integrated aspects of my being.  For instance, everyone always says, “it’s the journey, not the destination,” and “trust the process” and other platitudes that I usually think are total crap.  And, well…  I am starting to see value in “the process” even when it doesn’t look exactly like I want it to or think it should.  Even when it looks exactly opposite of what I would have said I would have wanted.  Like gaining weight back.  But now after a week of consistency and being back on the program, I am back down and heading toward my goals again.  And just knowing that not all was lost was a huge win.  Instead of going into a total tailspin I talked to myself calmly, saying to myself that I know what to do, and I just need to do it.  And I chose to be gentle with myself until I had the inner resources to jump back on the horse – again, another huge triumph.

Because the deal is, that I’m the one driving the bus.  It’s all up to me.  I get the results I get from the choices I make. And sometimes there’s a lot to juggle.  And now, instead of feeling upset, put upon, indignant thinking about this, I feel empowered.  It’s my choice.  I DO have control over some things, like my food, my activity level.  And most of all, I embraced the idea that all this is a lifestyle, not a diet.  I’m in it for the long haul.  If there are blips up, that’s okay, even if it is a 10 pound blip, because that’s not the final outcome.  Because life is life.  There are choices I make because I want to enjoy things, be social, share a meal with family or my husband, or because I’m depressed and the best way I can figure to comfort myself, nurture myself, isn’t to eat what is on my plan.  And, it’s worth it.  I’m done with being a black or white, absolute right or wrong, good and bad-thinking person when it comes to my journey to health.  I can make any choice I want at any moment.  I can choose to eat cake when I feel like the benefit outweighs the price and vice versa.  That, to me, is the most empowering thing of all.  I can change my mind at any moment, nothing is off limits, and I’m going to make the choices that serve me best, holistically.  I love and value myself enough to do that.  And, truly, most of the time the best choices are to be on plan and to engage in regular activity.  And, sometimes they are not.  It’s about discretion and insight.

Maybe some people don’t understand how big these wins are if they’ve never been severely overweight.  Hell, I couldn’t even see them as wins until now.  I had to belittle any progress I made because it was never “enough,” because I was never skinny, never even close.  But from my recent experience I now believe that it’s okay to acknowledge what is going on, to see the changes that are happening.  In this case they were changes I didn’t like, but then, this time around, instead of thinking I’d completely failed, that I was a total loser, that I had slipped up for a fraction of a second and screwed everything up forever, I realized I just needed to make different choices.  And I also realized I’d made the choices I had for valid reasons.  I simply had to own all of it, and allow it to be okay that I’d not been “perfect.”  And this time, I somehow avoided the whole self-denigrating, beat-to-a-bloody-pulp punishment method and just got straight away to the next proactive step.  That, my friends, is a MAJOR victory.  Maybe some people don’t have to go there to learn this, but I did.  And that’s why I have a little more trust in “the process” no matter how it looks.   I gained wisdom, I gained a different level of confidence, I gained 10 pounds, and this week I lost 6 of them.  And I understand this entire experience like I never understood it before.

And with the proactive steps I’ve been taking comes progress and results, and, for me, self-esteem.  Because, let’s face it, it’s pretty obvious that how I feel reflects in my body – with weight and with dancing.  So it follows that with better self-esteem, goes better dancing. And thus was the case tonight.

Amazing, isn’t it?

In summary, I’m in a pretty good place overall.  Yes, my last lesson before tonight was a total bummer, but the one prior to that was just as good as the one tonight.  Things are looking up.  I’m heading in the right direction.

So, yes, tonight we had a good lesson.  Full of connection and feeling.  Full of constructive conversation and polishing.  We were in sync, we laughed, he taught me a new Bulgarian phrase – my legs are “Sfvinski crack” – ham legs, when they were moving slow.  And he confused me with his thick accent which was entertaining.

It happened like this: To begin the Rumba he puts his hand out and I’m to react and accept it.  Then we do a slow hip roll and then we’re off doing some forward Rumba walks.  Anyways, we’re to look into each other’s eyes until the moment we jet forward.  It’s actually a pretty intimate, connected moment.  It takes some presence.  And, of course, Ivan is all about the connection, and even more about the idea that the leader leads and the follower reacts.  I’m not to move until I get the “signal.”  To reiterate and further explain this notion, Ivan told me that he was the man and that he was the one that “opened the driveway gate.”  He said, “The man has the cold.”  Well, at least, that was what it sounded like, lol.

“The man has the cold?”

“Yes, the man has the cold.  Beep boop beep.”  Ivan pantomimed a finger punching a keypad.

“Oh!  The man has the code!”

“Yes, what you think I say?  The man has the cold.  You cannot open without the man cold!”

Uh huh.  Right. lol.  But really, he does so well with English!  I laugh and it’s funny and all, but I have so much respect for how well he communicates.  As a person who has been in a country that speaks a different language I understand how daunting a task it is.

But I digress.  We worked mostly on Rumba and Bolero in the jam-packed studio.  They were having a social dance party for half of the time we were on our lesson.  But you know, I didn’t even really notice it.  I was so into what we were doing, so focused on our work, it was as if we had our own separate space in an invisible bubble as we weaved in and out of the other couples.  I was happy to discover a few new details to incorporate in the dances, little moments with expanded arms, exaggerated whiplash through the body, remembering to push my hips upward as I do backbends.  It was a productive, joyful lesson.  I was mostly on balance.  Ivan told me I had never danced like I danced tonight.

However, at one point we were doing the beginning of the Bolero where Ivan runs up to me and puts his hands on my legs and I’m supposed to react, as he says, like “he’s the prince,” and I’m being “touched for the very first time.”  And that I’m supposed to enjoy it, or, at least look like I enjoy it, and he started raising his hands upwards and my skirt was raised with them, up, up, up….until you could see about 2 inches of my underwear!  OMG!!!!

There is no other context in which this would be okay in public!

And even so, when it happened I was like, 1) thinking internally that I’d made an excellent wardrobe choice and 2) yelling at Ivan that I didn’t want to show everyone all my cookies even as he was saying to me, “It’s okay!  If you love it everybody gonna love it!”

Oh what a wild life I lead!

But I do want to acknowledge that I’ve come a long way.  Because even though I don’t want to necessarily regularly show my underwear in public, I wasn’t totally mortified.  That may sound strange, but listen, I’ve developed some level of comfort with my body and that is an EXCEPTIONALLY good thing.  Also, I dress in the boy shorts and with tights or leggings because I have developes in some of my routines so I want to make sure I’m appropriately covered for those.  I have to be comfortable to do those kind of moves.  Anyways, I was prepared (I mean, I don’t even own a g-string, but if I did, and had worn it tonight, it would have been a TOTALLY different story!) and better than that, the wardrobe mishap didn’t freak me out.

So that little episode was, ahem, entertaining, but  even more entertaining was Ivan’s epic vomit story, a play in two acts.  He told me the first part a long time ago when we were reminiscing about New Year’s Eve.  Apparently one New Year’s, Ivan got blasted.  So blasted that he was going to be sick on the drive home.  He begged Marieta to stop, she urged him to hold on for just a little while longer.  He tried to roll down the window…and blew chunks.  Everywhere.  Inside. Outside.  All over.

The next morning he awoke, knowing he was blitzed but not quite remembering the events of the previous evening.

He showered.  He got ready for the day.  He got into the car.

The miasma of dried stomach contents curled his nose hairs.

He looked around.  He saw the salad he’d eaten.  Chunks of the chicken.  Red peppers.

It was epic.  Thus ends act one.

Apparently two weekends ago Ivan had a repeat performance.  Let’s call it act two.  It was hilarious hearing about it from Ivan, with all his over-the-top expressions, funny accent, and wild gesticulations.  He went to a party at his friend’s house and got hosed.  Marieta drove him home.  This time, he claims, he didn’t even have the energy to warn her or to request that she stop so he could be sick.  He struggled with massive effort to lower the window.  This time, he says, he “had learned from his previous experience” and so, he stuck his head out the window, his neck extended gracefully long like “a giraffe.”

He saw a car approaching.  The headlights were about to pass him in the next lane.  “It was amazing!” he said.  “One minute I see the lights, the next they are gone!”  Covered in his vomit, the light from the headlamps was drowned out.  He sprayed vehemently all along the outside of his car.

Once again he awoke the next morning, knowing he was hungover, and took a shower, prepared for the day, not quite remembering the exact events of the previous night.

“You’d better go check the car,” said Marieta.

“Why?” Inquired our hero, “Did the ‘check engine’ light come on?  Is there something wrong with the tires?”

“You’d better go check the car,” she repeated once again, exasperated.

He checked the car.  As he approached the side and accounted for most of the Technicolor specks of food (from where is come these carrots? He queried), so did his neighbor appear.

“Looks like you had an exciting night,” said the neighbor.

Ivan procured his garden hose.

He cleaned the car, but apparently, as he told me tonight, even after the cleaning, his mom, who is visiting from Bulgaria, opened the window and found a layer of slime that he’d missed.

“Good thing I sold the van,” he proclaimed on the lesson.

Who is the poor soul who purchased it, I wonder.  Alas, they will never know the full extent of its storied history.  And, that, my friends, is probably a good thing.

The End.

 

 

 

Mambo In Chinatown

Hello readers!

Maybe you’ve noticed – I’ve been on a little hiatus.  Things are going just fine, still dancing and all that but I guess there just doesn’t seem like much noteworthy to share recently, well, except that on my last lesson we went to a new studio and there was another couple there that Ivan and I know from competitions and they were totally having all these dramatic spats!  It was kinda uncomfortable but kinda funny at the same time because even though they’d yell at each other like cats, and storm off to opposite ends of the room, two seconds later they were smiling and dancing again.  I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s healthy, but it seems like that is how they communicate, how their relationship is set up.  To each his own.  But I digress.  This is not the main purpose of my post today.

Today I have a special treat for you!

You see, I have fans, fans far and wide.  Even fans who are bestselling authors, yes I do!  Fans who write great books about ballroom dancing and who have agents who approach me to feature their book.  This particular fan is named Jean Kwok and I know she is a fan only because I got this note:

Will you also please tell Stefanie that I actually found and read her blog when I was doing research for Mambo in Chinatown? Isn’t that a coincidence? I’m a big fan of hers! I love her voice and enthusiasm. I enjoyed hearing her insights about the world of ballroom very much, and I absolutely share her passion for ballroom!

Ha!  Too cool, right?!

Well you see, Jean is already a bestselling author for her book “Girl in Translation,” and now she has a second book coming out, poised to be another bestseller titled, “Mambo in Chinatown.”

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Yours truly was lucky enough to get an advanced copy which I really enjoyed and then, even better than that, I had the opportunity to ask Jean some questions as well as get some exclusive photos of Jean herself, dancing, which I will share with you presently.  Because guess what?  Jean is the real deal.  Not only has she danced ballroom, she was a professional and even competed both with professional and amateur partners, once upon a time even with Jose Decamps!

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So what is the book about?  To quote the book cover, it’s “a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties and her secret escapes into a more Western world.”

Charlie Wong is the main character, an American-born Chinese girl 21 years of age.  She lives pretty miserably as a dishwasher with her widower father and younger sister.  She gets a job as the receptionist of a ballroom studio and her world changes.  We follow Charlie’s journey as she blossoms through her exposure to the ballroom dancing world even as her sister becomes chronically ill.  While Charlie comes to understand more of the Western world, her father continues to be suspicious of it and insists his youngest daughter be treated only with Eastern practices.  Charlie is left to reconcile where she has come from with who she has become.

If this piques your interest, because come on, if you are like me, you are always looking for books about ballroom, and I think most of us relate to the transformative power of dancing, then you can pre-order the book here

So without further ado, here we go with the exclusive Q and A!  I’m pretty excited about it!

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom: When did you start dancing? 

Jean Kwok:  I was an immigrant child living in an unheated apartment in the slums of Brooklyn, so I didn’t have the chance to take any dance lessons when I was growing up. I desperately wanted to, though. I envied my friends who went to ballet school. It wasn’t until I was at Harvard that I started taking dance lessons on my own. I must have been terrible since I was such a late beginner, but I loved it. I took all sorts of dance classes: ballet, African, jazz, Middle Eastern. I made the decision to become a writer at around the same time, so after I graduated, I searched for a day job in New York City that would allow me to write in the evenings. I saw an ad in the paper that read, “Wanted: Professional Ballroom Dancer, Will Train.”

I was terrified but I wanted that job so much. I passed the interview and was invited to an audition. At the audition, they picked about twenty of us to join a three-week training class. At the end of that class, miraculously, they hired me at Fred Astaire and that was the beginning of my truly learning how to dance.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How long have you danced?

Jean Kwok:  I worked as a professional ballroom dancer for three years. It was so hard to learn to dance well, and yet it was one of the most exhilarating things I’d ever done. In that time, I did shows, competitions and taught students. I still love to dance but unfortunately, I am married to a wonderful man who does not dance. I guess you can’t have everything. 😉 In the process of doing research for Mambo in Chinatown, I not only came across this wonderful blog of yours, Stefanie, but I also went back into the ballroom world. I danced a salsa with Jungie Zamora at Fred Astaire East Side Studio, which is now owned by my dear friends, famous choreographer and coaches Taliat and Marina Tarsinov. We filmed this salsa and I’ll release it on my website soon.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom: What is your favorite dance style?

Jean Kwok:  I love all of the dances: the speed and precision of a Viennese waltz, for example; the poise and grace of foxtrot; the hypnotic rhythm of tango; but I have to say that my heart belongs to the Latin dances. Mambo, rumba, cha cha are so unfettered, passionate and intense, while requiring tremendous discipline at the same time. I love doing high-speed turns and I enjoy the complexity of interaction with my dance partner. Outside of ballroom, I also love just going out dancing and rocking the night away. I’ve been hoping to get a group of dancing writers together but thus far, no success.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  Do you compete?

Jean Kwok:  I competed with my students and with professional partners as well. I had some wonderful students and we competed in all dance styles as Pro-Am couples. With my professional partners, I competed in Latin. In fact, I danced briefly with Jose Decamps, now 4-time US and 3-time World Rhythm Champion. Jose and I had some great times together. I won Top Professional Female at Fred Astaire National Championships right before I left ballroom. Leaving dance broke my heart but I needed to pursue my dream of becoming a writer, so I went to Columbia to get my MFA in fiction.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  Is the story autobiographical in any way? How so?

Jean Kwok:  I think that fiction is for me, always a veiled way of telling the truth. Like my heroine Charlie, I had always been considered clumsy and not-too-bright by my family. I was dreamy and no good at any domestic skills whatsoever. I burned everything, I hated to clean, I was opinionated and stubborn. (I’m still like that, actually.) Unlike Charlie, I was born with a gift for school, which is kind of like being born with an extra toe. I’ve often thought that if my gifts had been reversed, if I were good at cooking and cleaning and not gifted at school, I would be most likely working in a restaurant somewhere today. That was the beginning of Mambo in Chinatown.

I wanted to tell the story of a seemingly talentless young woman who discovers something she loves – ballroom dance – and thereby unleashes her own gifts. I also wanted to show my readers worlds they might not have seen firsthand: the professional ballroom dance world and Chinatown.

There are so many incidents from the book that come from my own life. Charlie goes to her interview at the dance studio in an oversized red dress, a red turban around her badly-cut hair, and black pumps that she has filled in with magic marker to cover up their worn patches. That was exactly what I wore to my interview. I had learned many things in college but how to dress was not one of them!

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How has dancing enriched your life?

Jean Kwok:  If I had never discovered dance, I would be a different person today. Dance has taught me about passion, health, my body, grace, humility, beauty and discipline. For me, both writing and dance are ways of accessing the deepest parts of my spirit. Through dance, I rejoice and grieve, I stretch the boundaries of my experience as a woman and as a human being.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How do you respond when people say that they are interested in dancing but are too afraid to start?

Jean Kwok:  Well, I know all about fear and I sympathize. Years ago, I made a decision that changed my life: to never allow fear to stop me from doing something I truly wanted to do. If I had listened to my fear, I would never have stepped into the dance studio and my life would be so much poorer for it. I would also say that ballroom is extremely forgiving. It’s been designed to be easy and anyone can do it. Of course, it also grows with you and the better you become, the harder it gets. That’s why it’s so fun.

So there you go!  I’m so happy Jean allowed me to be involved with the launch of her new novel.  It’s one of the better books about ballroom dancing I’ve had the pleasure to read.

You can follow Jean on Facebook here and on Twitter here

 

Guest Post: Facing Diagonal Wall

I guess January is Guest Post Month here on the Biggest Girl In The Ballroom and I couldn’t be happier about it.  One of the biggest blessings of staring the blog has been connecting with others.  I’m so glad to be able to help get the word out about other ballroom bloggers and dancers.  
Today you are in for a special treat from Facing Diagonal Wall.  It’s a blog I began following a while ago and I was drawn to it immediately.  The author shares his trials and tribulations and goes through much of the same struggles as I do.  He also has dropped 100 pounds, a goal that I’m still working on.  Facing Diagonal Wall is authentic, sometimes raw, sometimes a triumph and I appreciate getting share the journey with a fellow dancer.  So without further ado, take it away Diagonal!
Hello,
I started a little blog several months ago to talk about my experiences with ballroom dancing which is somewhere on the border between a hobby and an obsession with me.  Through some internet magic, Stefanie discovered my effort and started following my blog and liking a few of my posts.  She graciously offered me the opportunity to post on her site as part of the Ballroom Village she is setting up.  And, after much careful consideration, I took her up on the offer.
First, you should know that I had no previous dance experience and really hadn’t been a big fan of any type of dance.  So how does a guy like that get started?  Well, probably like most men, my wife dragged me into the studio (and that is pretty close to a literal statement).  There was a studio next to a Starbucks we used to go to on weekends and she always said we should learn to dance and I would always say something noncommittal. Finally, she forced my hand by signing up and telling me I could come or stay home.  As luck (or was it really fate??) would have it, because they didn’t know if I was coming, they assigned a male instructor and we got the one who was low key and analytical just like us.  I do wonder how things would have turned out with a different instructor but we clicked with this one right away.  We danced socially for awhile and enjoyed it but she reached a point where she had gotten all she wanted out of it and was having some physical issues, so she quit.
By that time, we were working both with our original instructor and his soon to be wife so I continued working with her and things kind of stalled out until I got talked into doing a showcase which is like a comp but not really a comp.  I remember my legs shaking when I was waiting to do my first routine but it was like a switch was turned on inside me because I felt alive out there on the floor.  And the first thing I wanted to do when it was over was get back out there.
After a little while, I realized that if I was going to fully commit to my new hobby, then I had to get me act together.  I was never thin but I allowed myself to get way overweight and it was a struggle to get through the lessons and I really hated the way I looked so two years ago, I lost over 100 pounds and have kept it off.  Last year, I joined the gym at work and started working with a personal trainer to improve my upper body strength (well, to be honest to actually develop some since I was a couch potato for so long).  It has made a huge difference in my dancing.  At the last showcase, we did 14 smooth heats in a row which would have killed me before.
Unfortunately, my mental transformation has not gone as smoothly.  I am plagued by self-doubt and have a tendency to react negatively to learning each new move.  Well, to be honest, my mental image is still my old stuff and whenever I feel awkward doing a step that my instructor appears to be able to do effortlessly, some evil little voice inside me says “who you kidding fat boy, your not a dancer” and things go off the tracks quickly.  Working on killing this demon and have made progress over time but the mind still can mess with you.
So why did I start doing this?  Well, dancing stirs up a lot of emotions – both positive and negative and I really didn’t have an effective outlet to get them out.  Classic stereotype that turns out to be true – guys don’t talk about feelings and especially feelings related to ballroom dance.  So I turned to the internet where I could just vent into the world.  So you could view this blog as my alter ego allowing me to say and feel things that I would never say to people I know.   In some ways, this might be closer to the real me than the me that everyone sees (weird!)
Anyway, that is why you will not see my name attached to this blog or any real personal information.  For now, I feel more comfortable behind my curtain.  Which is why I did have to think about this for a very long time.  The ballroom community isn’t that large and the more exposure I get, the greater the chance that someone will see through my disguise.  But, since I’ve found value in reading about other people facing the same challenges, I figure that someone might find something in what I post, so it is worth the risk.
So there you go.  That’s who I am and why I started this.  My continuing quest is to be the best dancer I can be and to finally kill that hateful little demon inside me.  Come on over if you want to follow my journey from time to time.  It won’t always be pretty but from time to time it might be entertaining.
Thanks ever so much to Stefanie for allowing me to ramble across her blog like this.  Hopefully, I caused no permanent damage.
Um, no!  No permanent damage here!  Thank you for sharing your story.  I bet others WILL find value in what you have written so I’m glad you took the risk.  
Now, everyone, go on over to Facing Diagonal Wall and follow it so you can enjoy the continuing journey of this member of Ballroom Village!  You won’t want to miss a single step!

Dancing With Disabilities: Guest Post From Author Nicole Luongo!!!

Hi there friends, Stef here!  I’m super excited to share this guest blog post with you today.  I have been fortunate enough to connect with Nicole Luongo, published poet, blogger, and dancer.  She also happens to have Cerebral Palsy.  She’s a pretty awesome human being.  I discovered her because I’m always scouring the blogosphere for anything ballroom-related and I found her videos of her dancing.  Reading her blog post I was touched and inspired.  She’s overcome a lot and takes on life in a big way with gratitude, zest, and passion.  We connected and decided to do guest blog posts for each other.  I love getting the word out about inspiring ballroom dancers!  So without further ado, I’ll let Nicole take it away:  

“Disability is natural. We must stop believing that disabilities keep a person from doing something. Because that’s not true – having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”Benjamin Snow, director of the award-winning short film, Thumbs Down to Pity.

Throughout my life I can remember sitting on the sidelines watching other people dance. This happened at my prom, parties and weddings. Most of the time it was because I was alone or no one asked me to dance. Then there was the obvious: I have cerebral palsy (CP) cerebral palsy (CP), a physical disability on display 24/7.  And, while I usually never let having CP stop me from doing anything, it stopped me from dancing. I was too self-conscious, too stiff, unsure of how I would move in my shoes, afraid I couldn’t keep up (and quite possibly ruining a line dance) or that I would fall.

Nine months ago (just shy of forty years old), I had Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR), the only surgical procedure that can permanently remove tightness caused by spastic diplegia, the most common type of cerebral palsy. My four month follow-up visit in St. Louis with Dr. T.S. Park went well. He was thrilled with my results! The tightness in my legs was completely gone, I walked much straighter (no more bent knees) with heel-toe motion (instead of striking the floor with my toes first), no longer leaning heavily to one side and both legs were even (they weren’t pre-SDR) – eliminating the need for ugly shoe orthotics. I was doing so well that I didn’t have to go to physical therapy anymore. WOW!

It’s important to understand that the surgery does not cure cerebral palsy. I still have the same challenges I had before: poor balance, range of motion issues, tight hamstrings, heel cords and hip flexors. The wonderful news is that my gait is dramatically different, I can walk up and down stairs without holding on (I would never attempt this before SDR) and I balance better on my right leg. I tried rock climbing for the first time. Wow, is that hard! What’s next? I want to learn how to ride a bike. I always thought (and was told, in one form or another) it was impossible. Contrary to popular belief, people with cerebral palsy who have not had SDR, can ride a two-wheel bike. My SDR journey is teaching me to stop believing in limits – those imposed by myself or others. All of us are capable of much more than we imagine.

About five months ago, I decided to go back to ballroom dancing. I started group dancing lessons about eight years ago. I loved it! Unfortunately, my instructor was not a nice person, so I stopped after about a year and a half. I was curious about what dancing would be like with my new legs. It’s the same, yet different because I move better. I’m not so concerned about losing my balance. My legs, due to the lack of tightness, can move more freely. I still have problems with balance and turning around. Dancing is so much fun! Here I am with my instructor, William, at A Step Above Ballroom Dance Studio.

First, I chose to dance the foxtrot in honor of Dr. Park who, in addition to being a world renowned neurosurgeon, is also a competitive ballroom dancer. The foxtrot is one of his favorite dances. It’s also good for my hip flexors. Since SDR, it’s much easier to step back with my left leg, an integral part of this ballroom dance. Second, I chose to dance the salsa, my favorite of all!

William exudes charisma and kindness. He’s the reason I signed up for lessons (with him, of course) at the studio. He never lets me sit out of ANY class regardless of whether or not I think I can do it. He believes in my ability. When we dance, William leads me around the dance floor just like he would any other partner. No kid gloves. Just laughter and a great smile. All I have to do is follow his lead, try not to mess up or step on his toes! Or hit him. I feel so bad when that happens! And, in a moment that I will remember forever, when I got frustrated because he would not take no for an answer, trying to teach me to do something my body cannot do, I stopped and said, “Do you know what I really want to do? I want to learn how to ride a two-wheel bike.” William’s jaw dropped and he looked at me in amazement, the thought of me not being able to ride a bike unfathomable. I told him I don’t have a bike or a teacher, yet. Without blinking, he offered to teach me how to ride a bike. I was stunned that this young man in his early 20’s would make such a generous offer to someone he hardly knows. I put the word out on Facebook. A friend donated a bike, I bought a helmet and look forward to starting lessons very soon.

One day, I did a search looking for ballroom dancers who have cerebral palsy. I sifted through page after page on Google and came across Stefanie’s blog. It became an instant favorite! Stefanie inspires me. She has dancing disabilities. Some are similar while others are very different from mine. She slays negative thoughts and weight issue demons with every choreographed dance step. She doesn’t give up! I love her engagingly honest posts baring it all – sharing the good, bad and ugly about her journey as the biggest girl in the ballroom. I admire Stefanie’s ability on the dance floor. I’d love to compete someday. I want to perform in the next showcase, however, I am letting my dancing disabilities talk me out of it! I get frustrated (inwardly for the most part) when I can’t do something, wishing I could do the moves correctly and perfectly. Sometimes, it pains me knowing that no matter how hard I try, I can’t do certain things. Balancing on one foot is impossible. Spins are challenging. I have to modify a lot. I don’t want to modify. I want to be able to do the moves justice – and do them just like everyone else. But, I’m not like everyone else. I dance with a disability which, in a strange twist of fate, levels the dancing floor – making me just like you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my dancing journey, it’s that I’m not alone. Although sometimes it feels like I am the only person on the floor with limitations, it’s just not true. So, what’s your dancing disability? We all have limitations that can prevent us from dancing, or doing anything in life. Some we can see (balance issues, for example), others we cannot (negative thoughts telling us we can’t do it). It’s time we accept our dancing disabilities. Let’s share them and dance in spite of them! The floor is yours. Embrace it. Own it. Life is too short. If you get the chance to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance!

Nicole Luongo is the author of Naked Desires, a poignant book for everyone who is searching for love, delighting in love, or hoping to understand love. Her mission is to raise awareness for Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR). Nicole believes information about the surgery should be provided to every person living with cerebral palsy. Please help spread the word by sharing this blog post.

Connect with Nicole:

Blog – Bare Your Naked Truth

Nicole on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/NicolesNewLegs

Nicole on Twitterhttp://www.twitter.com/BareNakedAuthor

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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