My Toes Are Numb! People’s Choice Recap

Oh me, oh my.  Another competition in the books.

cha

And yes, my toes are numb.  From dancing 80 heats in heels.  Ballroom isn’t all glamour behind the scenes you know….it is sweat and hard work, and smelly fake tans, and struggle, and pain, and awesome and worth it!  lol.  But seriously….I do NOT know how some of these pro/am couples do it….there were at least 3 or 4 students who did over 400 heats at People’s Choice!  My body is banged up doing a fraction of that.  It is pretty impressive they are still standing!!!

Me, with my 80 heats, I’m physically exhausted.  But satisfied.  It has been a good few days.

Wednesday night after work I made the 15 minute trek to the hotel and competition venue here in Phoenix.  I was certain I’d have an early morning Thursday as I generally dance early in the day and this means early appointments for hair and make up.  Even though the competition was local, I still find it chaotic and stressful to rush to the location, scramble to find a space in the woman’s dressing area or a public bathroom, and so I opted to stay at the hotel for two nights of the competition.  It turned out that I didn’t start dancing on Thursday until noon, but I was still glad with my choice to spend the previous night.  It gave me time to sleep in a bit, have a nice breakfast and feel collected and centered before I began dancing.

So you guys all know I hired the nutritionist and I spoke with her about how to eat during a competition.  Basically, I made my best effort to eat clean and fuel my body with good foods.  I brought protein shakes and cheese sticks and chicken mini loaves and oatmeal and fruit and almond milk and a cooler with ice.  I have to tell you, though, with all the chaos and stress, and physical effort, it was such a challenge to eat anything!  I give myself a free pass for this week and will get back on track ASAP.  And the thing is, it’s not that I ate poorly, or bad foods or anything like that, it was that I couldn’t eat enough!  I was full and nauseated and it was just hard to get any food down, even without the horrible nerves like I had last year at Desert Classic.  Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous right before I go on the dance floor – standing there at the “on deck” area I always feel like I need to pee and vomit and have a bout of diarrhea all at once…but then I get out there and start dancing and all I can focus on is the dancing.  But the nerves were short-term and didn’t last long, just in those few moments before the heats.  Anyways, I shoved almonds and mango slices and cherries and NoGii bars down my gullet as much as possible, but I’m telling you it was nowhere near enough.  And even after the dancing I had like zero appetite.  Ah well, I made it, and did the best I could, and shortly I will be back on plan 100%. I just have to continue to figure out what is going to work for me during competitions, especially when travelling!

Anyways, can I just take a pause here and say how much I adore and appreciate my instructor Ivan as well as his gorgeous wife and partner Marieta.  I mean, I think you readers already know this, but it bears repeating, especially after this competition.  It was kind of special being the only student for People’s Choice.  I honestly don’t mind to have other students along, too, and it can be fun, but this time was really neat flying solo.  I owe so much to Ivan, he has helped me and encouraged me so much during the past two years, and he believed in me from the beginning, over 50 pounds ago.  I am so incredibly proud to be his student, and so proud of how he and Marieta did last night, placing first in the American Rhythm division.  I just hope for him to be as proud of me as his student, and I very much think that at this competition I did.  I was happy with how I showed up at the competition and happy that his exemplary work as a teacher was recognized through me.

And they are just good people, Ivan and Marieta.  It is a testament to the excellent human beings they are this little anecdote I’m going to share with you.  You see, one of the ladies who was running the on deck area asked Ivan for his card.  He didn’t have one on him, as per usual, so I made a mental note and when I saw her in the bathroom I asked her if she’d gotten one yet.  She didn’t so I gave her one and she told me that as someone who runs the on deck area she sees a lot…a lot.  Things you’d be surprised to see – how pros treat students and the like.  And she observed how Ivan treats his students on and off the the floor.  She could see what a decent and kind and fun and funny and ridiculous person he is, but yeah, she wanted to maybe dance with him, not someone else.  I’m like the luckiest student ever and happy Ivan is getting noticed and possibly will have more business…though I  must say, I do think he has been the best kept secret, you know!

You see, there is always a lot that goes on during these things.  And before them, too.  Ivan has been the one who has believed in me before I believed in myself, and more than I believed in myself.   He has pulled out the performer in me.  He has helped mold me into the dancer I am today.  So when I get compliments like I did at this competition, it is a reflection upon both me and Ivan.  I just don’t seem to be able to put into words properly the full extent of my gratitude.    All I have ever wanted was to be a dancer, and this man, this crazy adorable Bulgarian, is helping me become that like no kidding.

And based on results, we did well.  I placed mostly first in single dances, with a few seconds, and got second in closed latin bronze scholarship, losing out only to my friend Colette who is the Emerald Ball champion!!!  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself – especially for my second scholarship ever.  And I won in the American Rhythm division.  Plus many people, even some judges, and Bree Watson (National American Rhythm champion with Decho Kraev!!! OMG!!!) gave me lovely compliments on my dancing.  It was astounding and I’m humbled and grateful.

The best part is that Thursday I was struggling so very badly.  My asthma has been out of control and even with steroids on board I was having a hell of a time.  My inhaler wasn’t working at all so I was dancing and couldn’t breathe.  At a certain point I told Ivan I might have to withdraw from some heats, and I am not the type of person to do that.  But I had zero energy.  Ivan could see it in my eyes – the lights were on but no one was home.  I had nothing left to give but still moved as best I could.  He and I both knew we were not dancing our best….but I still placed well.  People still had no idea how badly I was struggling.  It is a great place to be to know that I was perceived as performing well when inside both Ivan and I know there is so much more to show.

Friday went better after 40 more milligrams of prednisone and 3 breathing treatments on my nebulizer which I brought with me to the hotel and coughing up mucous for hours during the night.  I was extremely worried about 19 heats in a row but it turned out that the ballroom was split into two floors for many of them, and not everyone knew where they were supposed to be, so there ended up being a lot of little breaks where the announcer would have to call out the couples who should be in ballroom A and ballroom B and this saved me, plus I could breathe better.

At the end of the day we did a few open dances and Ivan even said…”Finally we are actually dancing!  We can never just do five heats, you and me!”  Because it took so long for us to “warm up,” even though I attribute part of that to being at battle with my lungs and body the first day.  So we completed all of our dances around 2pm on Friday except for the American Rhythm scholarship round which was scheduled for 10pm Friday night!  What?!  That was pretty brutal…to be exhausted and sore and have numb toes and a rash between my thighs from the fishnets and just wanting to be done but to have to show up 6 hours later and dance your very best.  Well, Marieta was a doll and touched up my hair and make up and Ivan and I killed it.  Happily there wasn’t a semifinal – just a final, so I only had to dance Cha Cha, Rumba, and Swing once.

medal

So participating in competitions is always an experience. And part of that is meeting new people.  And you know there were a lot of funny moments along the way.  For instance, at one point they announced the next dance would be Merengue.  I knew we had no Merengue heats but Ivan apparently didn’t hear the announcement so he rushed over to a table at the edge of the ballroom, poured out this pink drink on the floor to wet his shoes to make them sticker – the floor was pretty slippery – and another of the pros, this Hungarian guy Chaba, was like “Hey!  Ivan!  That’s my cocktail!”  And we weren’t even dancing in the heat!  Then that same pro, Chaba, was out there in his own little world, couple 106 dancing to himself and then announcer said, “We have an extra couple on the floor.”  There was a pause and he continued, announcing the numbers of the couples in the heat which didn’t include couple 106.  Then he even said, “Couple 106 you do not need to be on the floor right now.”  And Chaba was still grooving, oblivious.  So Ivan yells, “Chaba!!!”  And it was too funny.

Well, it also turned out that Ryan Seacrest productions is creating a reality show about pro/am ballroom dancing and they were filming during the competition.  One of the pros they are following happens to be Bulgarian.  His name is Rumen, like Roman with a “u.”  When I originally heard his name I thought it was “Ruben.” Anyways, while Ivan and I were enjoying some food and sparkling water Thursday night after our dancing he came to say hello to Ivan.  I impressed him with my inappropriate Bulgarian sayings and ended up lending him my phone charger.  Ivan says he is totally a crazy guy but he likes him because he is very social.  In any case, it will be so interesting to see this show whenever it comes out.  There were a few pro/am couples they filmed, but honestly they danced very little.  And it appeared to me that a lot of the “drama” was staged….the pros had conversations with their am partners as well as with each other that looked like they were planned, and I overheard producers saying stuff like, “when you come off the dance floor I will have so-and-so meet you,” and when I was arranging to get my charger back from Ruman he was all like, “Well in 10 minutes we are filming a pool scene.”  We both laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it.  I even walked in front of a camera at one point so hopefully they will edit out my head from the frame but anyways, know that the Biggest Girl was at People’s Choice and so were these soon-to-be reality stars.  I have to say, though, that they all sat at a table, and the film crew recorded them cheering for some dancers….and one of the dancers was me!  I was doing a Cha Cha and we did the splits right in front of them.  I heard a lot of cheering and all but I figured it was played up for the tv show, you know.  And they weren’t filming me so much, just the reaction of the dancers on the show.  Anyways, I didn’t give it much credence but then as I was walking around the hotel later one of the other pros on the show was walking with a person on the film crew (not being recorded or anything, just talking) and he stopped me, have me the ballroom kiss kiss on the each cheek and told me what a great dancer I was and that they had been cheering for me!  Woot!  That was pretty dang cool if you ask me!

people's choice

Well, anyways, after I was complete with my dancing, I went to go watch, support, and cheer for my friends who were still dancing.  Then it was time for evening show and pro heats.  Of course Artem and Inna won Standard ballroom and not surprisingly the Grand Slam as well, (their 5th time winning!)  Everyone in the Phoenix ballroom community was present, it seemed, which is always fun.  Local competitions are nice because of the friendly faces and extra support.

I feel like People’s Choice was a very good experience for me.  Smaller competitions are nice because there is more of a chance to be noticed, I think, and then judges will recognize you perhaps if you show up to larger comps.  I don’t think I’ll do any massive comps for a while just yet, but I do want to continue to work, to improve my technique, performance, cardio capacity, and body figure.  I want to continue to progress and show an improvement the next time I dance.  Honestly, this is my focus for the next two months before Desert Classic.  I want to see how far I can get in this time and be a better dancer than I am today.  I just want to continue to dance my best, like Ivan and I felt after our American Rhythm scholarship round and then no matter how I’m placed, I will feel good about what I’m doing, how I’m showing up on the dancefloor.  I’m excited for the coming year, my focus and energy.  I’m pleased with how I am and where I am and looking forward to the future as well.  I’m going to enjoy and savor this experience even as I prepare to forge ahead.

I think I’m finally beginning to show that I just may be a force to be reckoned with.  I may not be at my full potential just yet but Ivan and I and even other people can see it my light beginning to shine.  I have a fire burning in my belly and I’m going to go for this with all that I am.  It has taken time to muster my resources and it will take time to heal and condition my body, and that is great.  I’m up for the journey.  People’s Choice was a wonderful milestone and also just the beginning.

te adoro

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Topical Series: Deciding Whether To Do A Dance Camp

Me and Ron Montez

Me and Ron Montez

Although I’ve only attended one dance camp thus far in my ballroom “career,” I discovered some useful information that might help someone who is interested in a dance camp to decide whether or not to do it.  Choosing to do a dance camp, like participating in a competition, requires planning, money, time off work, maybe even a babysitter, and perhaps travel.  It’s a significant committment so it is a significant decision to make.  Here are my thoughts on some things to consider when deciding if a dance camp a good choice for you.

Overall I thought it was a good value.  Of course every dance camp is going to be different, but using my experience as an example, the deluxe package cost $475.  This included all the classes offered, a welcome dinner and dance mixer, and a gourmet dinner with a champagne toast and party on New Year’s Eve.  Considering private lessons cost around $75-$130 each, and I got 17 group classes led by professional dancers and adjudicators, plus two lectures, I consider this a damn good deal.  I did a lot of dancing, was able to video the choreography presented, ask questions, and even eat a bit, and all for a small fraction of what a competition usually costs.  Even if you add in the hotel (which I only opted to stay at on New Year’s Eve, I commuted the other days), gas costs, and food, it still works out well.

One major advantage of attending a dance camp, especially for competitive dancers, is face time with judges.  Not only do you get to be seen so your face is familiar, but you can also ask direct questions and have actual interactions with people who may judge you at future competitions.  You can also pick their brains for what they look for in competitive dancers.  They tend to naturally share their preferences in dancing while teaching which can also give you insight on dance styling and choreographic choices. This is not as significant a factor for those who do not compete.

One possible disadvantage of a dance camp is that they may be fluid, meaning that the schedule advertised when you sign up for the camp may not be exactly what is delivered.  For instance, when I looked at the website for this dance camp, Decho Kraev and Bree Watson were listed as teaching many of the classes.  Since they are the current American Rhythm champions, I’m sure many people were looking forward to getting to learn from this particular couple.  When I arrived at the camp and got my package, the class schedule listed different instructors.  I, personally, didn’t really mind so very much.  I got to learn from Linda Dean and Radomir Pashev, and I really enjoyed their classes and felt I got great value from what they shared.  But I could see how someone could be upset by this, especially if part of why he or she chose to attend was to learn from a particular professional, judge, or couple.

There was also one other change, which I was very happy about, and it wasn’t even listed on the schedule.  When it came time for the Night Club Two Step (not a dance I’m interested in) Rado decided to do Samba instead.  Anyways, for type A individuals this could be crazy-making, but for me, I was glad about it.

Another benefit of attending a dance camp is that the instructors are also available for private lessons.  I didn’t take advantage of this during my stint, but opportunities to learn from the experts, or have them create some choreography for you, or to work on a particular troublesome step don’t happen all the time, especially if you have an independent instructor and no home studio where coaches may visit regularly.  In any case, attending a dance camp is one great way to make contact with paragons of the ballroom dance world.

As is usually the case in ballroom dancing, there were double the amount of women than men at the camp.  Only a few of the females chose to learn the leader choreography.  This meant that for much of the time in class many female students were without a partner and the men were always dancing as a duo.  And, to make matters worse, there was little to no formal rotation set up, made doubly confusing when some of the couples danced exclusively with one another, not rotating at all.  Personally, I sometimes prefer to dance by myself so I can discover my own balance and so I know that I understand what I am doing.  I didn’t mind the times when I was partner-less.  However, by the end of the camp I was exhausted by actually dancing with partners.  Half of them were uninterested in dancing with me (or seemed that way), one felt the need to correct me and was a total joy-suck.  I don’t even care how good or unskilled a dancer is, but I do mind very much when they have a bad attitude.  I was exhausted by having to interact with some of these fellow students, and just like in social dancing situations, it is a crap shoot as to who will be available to dance with.  In fact, one of my friends was also troubled by the interactions she had with some of the males and opted to not partner at all by the end of the camp because the experience was so uncomfortable, and in her case, she felt flat-out disrespected.

The majority of dancers at the camp were social dancers.  Only a very few of us were competitive students.  Obviously we had different goals and intentions with our dancing.  It would have been more valuable for me from my perspective to have more of an opportunity to dance with other competitive students.  I did get to dance with a few darling men with happy, fun personalities, and one who was excellent in all aspects, but of course I couldn’t always dance with them even though I might have wanted to.  This might be more likely at a dance camp that occurs before or after a competition so I might have to check one of those dance camps out.  But anyways, I think I might have enjoyed the camp more and maybe even gotten more value out of it if I had a friend or amateur partner to do it with.  It’s not really something you’d do with your pro partner and I found the partnering situation to be less than stellar.

Because there was such a mix in the level of expertise, skill level, and intention of the dancing, the teachers had to address broad topics and gear their classes toward general information. They did offer two tracks of classes: Beginner/Intermediate and Intermediate/Advanced. Basically this equated to one class for baby beginners and one class for everyone else. It was up to each individual to place themselves in an appropriate level, and upon registration the lady did say that a person could switch classes within the first ten minutes if it was either too easy or too difficult.

I kind of think the intermediate business is just there to make us feel better! I’m not sure what the distinction between intermediate and beginner or intermediate and advanced is, exactly. I wonder if any dance camps require a person to “test into” a level…like in dance classes in college you can’t just sign up for advanced ballet. You must audition and an assessment of your skill level is made to determine if it is an appropriate placement, or prerequisite classes must first be completed successfully to gain entry into higher level classes. Probably impractical to do at a dance camp, but it’s a thought. And I wonder what a truly advanced class would look like – probably like Inna’s class…but I think a class like that, especially for social dancers, could be pretty shocking/intimidating if a person walked into it expecting a group class like is usually presented…not as strenuous, and filled with lots of interesting steps but less of the basics. Camp organizers have to aim to please their attendees so knowing who is attending, their level, and if they are social or competitive could help in the design of classes and tracks/levels. Like I would have loved if there were beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels (or bronze, silver, gold) in both social and competitive categories, but that would sure take a lot of staff and resources, unless the camp was specifically geared toward one type of student.

In any case, at this dance camp, during most classes a series of steps were taught and the students learned a little choreography.  I am more interested in the technique behind the steps than the steps themselves so I wanted more of that type of information – how to correctly execute the steps rather than the steps themselves.  I can always learn more steps so adding more to my repertoire was fine and good but not all that exciting to me because the chances of me actually using these little choreographies in the future are slim to none.  If I was a social dancer only, or danced socially more often, or had an amateur partner, it might have created more value for me.

One disadvantage of this camp was that because it was held in a hotel, the floors were jointed and there were no mirrors. I missed having a mirror to compare my lines to those of the professional demonstrating the steps. But having it at a different venue like a dance studio might not have been as convenient and certainly would not have had all the amenities present. I wish that mirrors could have been brought in just like the floor is.

One of the best parts of the dance camp was simply spending time with my ballroom friends and making new ones.  I had some awesome and deep conversations and laughed a ton.  I’d recommend having a partner in crime to go with if possible.

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the dance camp and feel like I did learn a lot.  Just putting myself out there and participating was a big win.  And because I showed up cool things happened – I got to dance a swing step “down and dirty” with Radomir, I got to do a mambo deal with Ron and a group of people as he spontaneously got out on the dance floor on New Year’s Eve and began calling out moves, I got to win a merengue mixer contest, I got to laugh a ton, learn a ton, watch a professional show, and toast the new year.  Well, anyways, I hope this gave you some insight into what you might want to think about when considering a dance camp.  If you have any other burning questions, please do ask and I will do my best to answer.

Stuff I Learned At Ron Montez Dance Camp

Now, it really isn’t possible to share everything I learned at dance camp.  Partly because a dance camp is experiential in nature, just like a competition, there is a lot of learning that happens by actually being present and having the experiences – a person can’t really learn how to dance (or ride a bike or paint in watercolor) by only reading about it.

I did, however, discover some nuggets that I thought were pretty interesting.  So this post is a conglomeration of information miscellany that doesn’t warrant separate posts.  Hopefully you will discover something new that adds value to your dancing.

That being said, I would share that doing this dance camp was a good choice overall.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in doing one to give it a shot.  I feel that the more a person can expose themselves to dancing, different perspectives about the dancing, and different dance instructors, the better.  A dance camp is one way to experience a variety of input from a variety of dance professionals in a short amount of time.

Now perhaps you already know some of these ballroom details.  And it’s also possible that I’d already heard these things in the past.  But there is so much to learn in ballroom, I generally can’t absorb all that is presented to me.  I have to hear things multiple times, and sometimes even hear the concepts described in a different way from a different instructor to develop a new awareness and understanding.  So for what it’s worth, here goes!

1)  In ballroom your knees always work together.  By “ballroom” I mean the Smooth or Standard dances and by “work together” I mean that both knees are bent or straight at the same time.  Conversely, in the Latin and Rhythm dances knees will often be performing opposite actions, one being bent and one being straight.

2) A Fall-away is the opposite of a Promenade.  Who knew?

3) Strictly speaking, in Rhythm Cha Cha there are no locks, only backward and forward chasses with the feet passing one another.

4)  There are 3 types of backward breaks in Bolero (video of Linda Dean demonstrating the 3 types below)

5)  Arm movement should come from the center of the chest, the sternum.

6)  There is no need for releve’ in the Bolero basic (this surprised me!) and in fact some judges prefer it be absent

7)  Always, always, always start a Bolero on a slow

8)  You can do Rumba timing in Bolero if it is on purpose and only lasts for two bars of music

9)  Everything in ballroom is a freakin’ optical illusion!  Don’t take big steps but do create big movement

10) Keep your nose over your toes!

11) Partners don’t actually connect via the back and hand in the ballroom frame, rather they connect upward through the arms

12)  The Samba is the “Brazilian Waltz” because just like a Waltz, every 2nd step is on the ball of the foot

13)  There is a difference between American Samba and International Samba!  It has to do with the timing.  In American Samba it is counted 1 & 2, or half beat, half beat, whole beat – the timing is pretty even.  In International Samba the counts are broken into fourths – the movement is less evenly spaced with 1/4th a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 1/4th a beat, whole beat, counted 1 ah 2, 3 ah 4.  International Samba appears to move more quickly and then slowly as movement is drawn out longer, then the next move is made quicker to make up the difference and to stay on the beat.

14) In swing you are supposed to emphasize the even counts

15) The “and” or “ah” count in Samba represents the time to do the Samba bounce action

16) Sharp leg extensions that occur when a dancer is at the lowest point of their movement (think foot flat on the floor, knee bent) is a Kick.  A Flick, on the other hand, is performed when a dancer is at their highest point of action (think on tippy toes with legs straight).  (Kind of like the difference between stalagmites and stalagtites!)

And there you have it.  Random but informative (hopefully)

Down And Dirty!

Okay folks, I’m tired and there is so much to say about the last two days of Dance Camp and the New Year.  I promise another, more detailed post will be forthcoming with multiple pictures, dance tips, and maybe even some video.

But there is one experience I am burning to share!  It was just too cool and makes me giggle so here goes….

First off, here is a photo of me an my new instructor:

rado

JUST KIDDING! 

Do you honestly think I’d EVER want to dance with anyone other than Ivan.  Exactly.   You are right.  Not gonna happen in this lifetime. 

But over the last weekend, Radomir was one of the excellent instructors at the dance camp and I honestly really enjoyed his sessions.  He is a technically excellent dancer, extremely disciplined and pristine in his movement, but he is also a pretty darn good teacher and communicator.  He brought a gentle warmth and humor to his classes while at the same time explaining the mechanics of steps.  In any case, he’s kind of a big deal and as an instructor and professional competitor, I, being a student, of course look up to him. 

Well, in the East Coast Swing class he taught, he introduced this one twisting move.  Imagine doing the actual “Twist” like from the song of the same name by the Beatles.  The extreme twisting action of the upper half of the body and the lower half.

In any case, after he had showed us this move in a series of steps of choreography, he stopped the class and told us he wanted it not to be so prissy, but rather “down and really dirty.” I think he expounded upon this even more but I couldn’t hear what he said because we were all laughing with embarrassment so heartily. Once he realized how he had come across, he started laughing too, but still the intention behind the move was there. He did want us to get low and feel the sultry, earthy quality inherent in the movement.

Now here is where it get’s really interesting. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Let’s show them how it’s done!”

OMG! LOL!

So he invited me to demonstrate to the class how to do this twist action “Down and Dirty” but first he explained the incorrect way of doing it…He began to panomime the same actions in a very repressed, shall I say “English-stiff-upper-lip” fashion and invited me to play along. I did and we performed the step stiffly and unemotively. He likened it to one of those middle-class gentry English dances done in the countryside at the turn of the century. We raised our hands and circled one another as if we were doing a courtship dance in the movie “A Knight’s Tale.”

But then we went for it! We twisted and we got low and we shook our katukus’ (katukasi???) Well, we shook our behinds like no kidding and it was awesome and he even gave me a high five when we finished.

You know, I think for me this was the best moment in the camp. It was just so cool to get to go to “the head of the class” with a professional like Rado and totally rock it. I danced with him a few other times for brief moments in other classes and always screwed up at least a little bit. But still, this kind of made up for it. It may sound silly, for me it meant that I had the ability to excute this move, so much so, that even being the biggest girl in the class, I was the one to demonstrate it to others.  I felt acknowledged and I also got to share my enjoyment of doing that particular move.

In any case, that’s my short story! I want to say Happy New Year and that I’m looking forward to what 2013 will bring.  I’m grateful to still be dancing and blogging. I wish you all the very best during our next orbit around the sun and I just wanted to share this little tidbit even if I don’t have the energy and patience just now to fill you in on all the other cool things that happened at Dance camp over the last two days.

Cheers!

Love, Stef

Medusa

Good news is, I’ve begun a new job.  It’s a contract job and guaranteed for six months.  After that, who knows, but I’m really hoping it might turn into a “real” job.  They have to put a lot of resources into training us newbies and I can’t imagine they’d want to mobilize the resources again in a few months, except for in extreme cases of workers with poor performance or a hiring freeze or financial cutbacks.  But again, not something I have control over and I am just extremely thankful for what is, right now.

The bad news is, the learning curve is steep.  Not the normal pharmacist stuff…that’s fine…it’s all the company-specific computer and operational stuff.  It is just a LOT of information to absorb (not unlike learning the entire Bronze syllabus for the Rumba or something in just a few days).  In any case, it was so much info that I dreamt about it last night!  I just know my little brain was assimilating all it could.

You see, I’m playing catch-up because I was added to the job a week after everyone else started.  I’ve had 2 days.  They’ve had 9.  AHHH!  Luckily, I got some one-on-one training to help with all that, but it is still a lot to absorb.  So, all-in-all, not bad news, really – not even close!  After all I’ve been through in the job/financial/work environment categories, I’m GRATEFUL!  It’s just that my mind is spent.  I have the IQ of a wombat by the end of my 8 hour shift (no offense to wombats! Perhaps they are very smart, like parrots.  But I wouldn’t know about that, especially right now.)  And this showed up in my lesson tonight….not to mention the fact that yes, I did watch DWTS this week, and yes, the topical series articles are still in process, but I just haven’t had the mental fortitude to actually complete posts about them with real words and sentences and paragraphs in English and all that.

So anyways, I finished work for the day as a mental case and headed to meet with Ivan.

Even from the beginning he noticed a difference.  I told him, “Ivan!  I’m so tired.  I’m stupid right now.  Seriously.  It’s just that I’m starting a new job and have a lot to learn.  Let’s just dance something socially, kay?”

He was amenable and we began with a nice, soft, sloppy West Coast Swing.  Seriously, I was just barely moving as compared to how I normally show up, but it was about all I could physically and mentally muster.

“Stefanie?  What happen?  You dancing like Medusa?”

“Huh?  The woman with snakes for hair? The one who turned men to stone?  Also known as a Gorgon?  What the hell are you talking about, Ivan?”

“No, a medusa.”

“????”  Arms spread outward to the sides, palms up, shoulders shrugged.

“I make a picture later.”

“Okay Ivan.”

So before I get to that…this is/was the other “bad” news of the night.  I was pretty much worthless on my lesson.  First, I was exhausted mentally.  Secondly, the energy in my body seemed to be completely sapped after about 15 seconds of any dance we worked on.  And, finally I was laughing so much my belly hurt, I almost peed my pants, and because I was guffaw-ing so hard, I couldn’t breathe to dance properly.  It didn’t help that Ivan made fun of every little noise I made.  Yes, I admit, they weren’t what you’d usually hear on the dance floor, but I was so tired that I sighed, or grunted, or squealed depending on if I was trying to push through a move or scared or whatever.

Seriously, my stomach hurt from giggling so much, especially when I tried to “be serious” and then made a noise out of frustration or effort or just to try and breathe and Ivan imitated it which, like a row of dominoes, cascaded into a collapsing heap of me folding inward into a belly laugh.

In any case, we continued to dance and Ivan decided that Bolero was appropriate. Somehow this morphed into Latin Rumba and my Bulgarian dance instructor then decided that it was a prime opportunity to practice crazy stupid lifts and dips for someone as large as I am. We did a few leans with developes and some dips with me lifting my left leg into the air.  But Ivan was making me place all my body weight on his knee while he was in a deep lunge.  It freaked me out.  I actually felt my foot leave the floor for a second, realized that for that moment he was bearing all my body weight, and immediately broke the position so I could plant my feet firmly on the ground.  How can that man hold me up like that?!  I am just so insecure about it I wish he wouldn’t do it.

I have to admit this is not a new fear.  Even when I was 16 and weighed 116 pounds I was concerned about this.  Not logical, I know.  But I was in a production of “The Music Man” in my high school and cast as a dancer and member of the chorus.  There was one move in which I was partnered with a senior theater “god” which made me feel horribly insecure because 1) he was a Thespian paragon and 2) he had to pick me up at the waist and place me on a table.  But then again, looking back on it, it might not have been because of my weight that he failed to get me up there on the table that night.  Truly, he was a slight young man, and not at all muscular in the upper limbs.  In addition, he never practiced the particular move but once with me, and it had absolutely been ingrained in me to practice piano/ballet/anything if it was to be performed to the point where you can do it mindlessly, because when the moment comes to perform, all kinds of things can go wrong.  (And also, once I didn’t practice appropriately and bombed my piano recital.  Not a good feeling! But that is another story).  Anyways, I had a high anxiety level about this move knowing how un-practiced it was, and not having any connection to the person who was responsible for lifting me aloft except for a fearful and reverent adoration from afar, and so, my big fear did come to fruition.  He went to lift me up and I just fell right down.  At least I landed upright, on my feet (so that was good), and he had the theatrical training to grab me and sway side to side to cover the mishap – but I’m pretty sure the audience noticed the gaffe because 1) I made a big loud BOOM! when my character shoes hit the wooden stage floor instead of the table and 2) my dancing counterpart was on a table on stage right doing the same choreography I was supposed to be doing on stage left so things didn’t look symmetrical.  This, plus the fact that the bench I sat on during “Oliver!” while singing “Food, Glorious Food,” collapsed on stage while I (and about 19 other people) were sitting on it, confirmed my fear that I was horribly huge and fat.  See, all along, I really DID have a mental problem.  It just now has manifested into my physical reality, not just my mental reality.

Okay, back now from that psychological detour.  Interestingly, I actually thought this post would be quick because not much happened on the lesson – but clearly my complexes are rooted deeply!  Ahhh!

So a brilliant thing did actually happen on this very-low-energy lesson.  Ivan and I did all our basic Latin Rumba stuff and then I asked him about a step I’ve seen others do, and one that I *think* Igor may have been trying to lead me into last Friday, but that I didn’t know how to do.  What happened next may or may not be the same move, but it was damn cool, whatever it was.  Pretty much from an Alemana I then step forward into a double spiral turn and complete with two walks around the back of Ivan to fan position.  But I didn’t know this at the time.  All I knew was I’d seen this turn-y thing done on YouTube videos by professionals and Igor tried to lead me into something I wasn’t familiar with.

After two tries to decipher which step I meant, Ivan demonstrated what I *thought* I wanted to know so I said, “Ivan, teach me this step.”

At first he seemed a little reluctant but then he was like, okay.

“Is this a Bronze or Silver step?”

“No.  It’s an Ivan step.”

“Huh?”

“It not in the syllabus.  You do it, they kicking you off the floor.  You know who doing this?  It Joanna Leunis.”

“Really!?!  I LOVE her.  She’s amazing.  But okay.  I’m clear. So if we get to do it, we do it in an open heat.”

“Yes, open.”

He led me into it, but only indicated one spiral turn.  I did this successfully then he said, “Oh.  It better if you can do a double.  Can you do a double?”

I didn’t know if I could but I wanted to try.

Bam!  I totally did it.

Ivan and I gave each other a double “Hi Five” and a hug.  I was so excited.  In fact, it was probably the most animated part of my lesson, succeeding at this maneuver.  He told me, “Most people doing this step and can’t even do a single turn.”  He demonstrated, in his Ivan-exaggerated way of how people fall out of the turn (normally), leaning and listing to this side or the other and causing a big problem.  So he wanted me to try it again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

But me, woot! I easily did the double again! Maybe I’m finally finding my center, once again, and also remembering to spot, plus I had the added advantage of just that little assist in balance from connecting with Ivan – for me that little bit of support makes all the difference, I have to say. So yay.

“See.  I no have to teach you the step.  You already doing it.”

“Let’s try it again, Ivan.”

We did.  And it was successful for the next 3 tries.  On the 4th try I fell to the floor.  I swear the wooden floor at the church is so slippery!  I need new shoes and that floor is difficult.  I love the sticky/tacky floor at Imperial.  It spoils me and I wish it were everywhere!  Anywhoo….I fell.  But I am uninjured and overall the move was a rousing success.

Next onto a Samba.  For some reason, Ivan keeps calling it “Sambera” lately.  Whatever.  He put on the music and since I had suggested we dance socially, we decided to do the Samba in that character.  Oh my gosh, I can’t remember when I ever laughed so hard.  I told Ivan that it is sometimes painfully difficult to watch social dancers do the Samba.  Some of them hop, and jolt, and have no hip movement.  They dance like 2 x 4’s as Ivan calls it when he means people are stiff.  This isn’t to generalize or degrade people who socially dance the Samba, I promise, it’s just that I’ve seen some couples and I’m like, wow, why are you dancing this dance this way?  It is awkward.  Probably the same reaction someone had to me dancing West Coast Swing (as taught by a ballroom instructor) before I knew about the dance.  I promise, we all have stuff to work on, you know?!

So Ivan and I danced this way – no hips, stiff, 2×4, wooden.  It was hilarious!  It looked ridiculous.  And such a contrast from Ivan, who normally dances it so amazingly, and from me, who works so dang hard to create a proper Samba bounce plus hip motion.  I truly wish I had that s*@t on film!  It was too funny.

Honestly though, besides that, the rest of my lesson was unremarkable.  We did Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, and Cha Cha.  I dragged.  Ivan poured as much Chi energy my way as he could.  It felt a little like an energetic transfusion of sorts.  I did feel somewhat better by the end of the lesson, but still, I’m drained.  Oh well.  Glad I did have one “triumph.”

So please root for Ivan and Marietta as they compete this weekend at the Emerald Ball in LA.  There is live streaming of the entire event (though a pay-per-view) here if you want to watch from home.  It is a big and prestigious and competitive event.  I really, really hope my favorite couple (besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski) does well.  Ivan seemed to think they wouldn’t even make the final at such a large comp, but I reminded him to look into his mirror, remember the champion he already is, and have an optomistic attitude.  Because you know what? I believe in him and Marietta.  I enjoy watching them dance because they have an real and emotional connection.  And to me, that makes things interesting.  As I’ve said before – I’d prefer to watch a couple that is less technically excellent with an authentic connection than an impeccably technically excellent couple with no emotion or connection any day of the week.

So anyways, as I pumped this positive support Ivan’s way, he rebutted my support by asking me to jump on the roof.  So I jumped.  Not high, not impressively, and certainly not onto the roof, but happily.

He about peed his pants laughing at me.  He said, “Being in the final of Emerald Ball for me is like jumping on the roof right now.  Can people do it?  Yes.  But they need to practice.  You have to remember, I lazy.  And I should be practicing jumping and little by little I jump on the roof like it easy.”

“So what?!” I replied. I jumped up again.  Again, not graceful, not impressive, but to illustrate a point that I hope Ivan got.

The point is, GO FOR IT.  Wherever I am/he is/you are right now, go for it.  Why not?

“You can’t controlling how the judging goes in competitions so you might as well have fun.” Said Ivan.  And I agreed.

“So go have fun at Emerald Ball, Ivan, damnit!  Go have fun!  I will be watching and rooting for you.  You know you are my favorite couple? Right?  Well, if I am honest, besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski….they I like them best, and you guys (Ivan and Marietta) the second best.”

Ivan was so excited by my comment he said laughingly, “I tell Marietta this.  You know her favorite dancer?”

“Yes, Ivan.  I know it’s Joanna.”

“Yes.  She gonna get a kick that your two favorite couples are Joanna Leunis with Michael Malitowski and us!”

But I mean it.  And so you must be wondering why?  Well, my response is, why not love these two couples?  Because for me, when I watch them, there actually seems to be a connection and that makes the interaction between man and woman interesting to watch.  And Joanna is immaculate.  Truly.  From my perspective, all the high level competitors are technically excellent in their dancing, no doubt about it, but I love the drama, the connection, the emotion.  I personally prefer that above perfect technique, and I guess Ivan does too, based on our conversation which is interesting and makes it no mystery why he ended up being my instructor since we both value the same things in dancing.  I do believe Joanna and Michael to be superior to Ivan and Marietta in terms of experience, ranking, technicque, and even, I hate to say it, connection, but I also happen to believe Ivan and Maretta have the potential to forge an excellence and connection strong enough of their own to compete with the best in the world.  Of course, I’m biased.  But as a dancer and human being, I also happen to see that potential in them.

Whew!  Have I said everything I wanted to say?  Yep.  A brief post – just another 2800-word (and change) post.  Ha ha. Not!

Oh – and before I sign off, I have to explain the title of this post.  Medusa. Well, Ivan “made” me a picture of what “the hell” he was talking about….a jellyfish.  Apparently I was dancing like a boneless, blubbery, soft jellyfish.  The interesting part is that how Ivan described “medusa” to me was that it “90% water.”  Uh huh.  How do you know how to communicate something like that but you don’t know the word for jellyfish?  I’ll never know.  And also, once I figured out that medusa meant jellyfish, I asked Ivan, “Is that the word in Polish or Bulgarian?”

” Bulgarian,” he replied.

“Well great.  ‘Cause that is a useful word, if I ever go to visit there….now I know how to say jellyfish.”  Probably “bathroom” and “beer” and “I’m sorry” would actually be more useful, right?

Damn.

Watch out you Bulgarians.  I am now armed with the word for jellyfish.  Kind of like a Marine armed with a banana.  Sheesh!

It’s way past bedtime.

Gute Nacht,  Stefanie

Connection, Connection, Connection

On my lesson yesterday there was one main theme and that was connection!

I’ve written about this aspect of my dancing/ballroom dancing before but once again we revisited the topic.

I kind of wonder sometimes how Ivan decides what we will work on during lessons.  Since he’s independent and doesn’t follow a particular syllabus, it’s free form.  It’s great in my opinion, though I still have no idea what “level” dancer I am.  I guess we’ll find out when we go do our next comp.  Ivan did tell me that at the next one it would be the last time I dance in bronze.  Who knows, though.  I certainly have no idea which steps are what level….I just know our little routines or possible steps, and every once in a while Ivan throws in another new one.

In any case, unlike at chain studios where you buy packages and are promised to learn say, Bronze I, in a certain amount of lessons, or you buy a package of lessons to learn a showcase number, or whatever, I pay as I go.  If I have extra money one week, I can have an extra lesson.  If things are tight, I can cut back.  It works great for me!

But because of this, there is no particular agenda for the lessons.  When I came in the studio, Ivan was working with another one of his students on a particular step in Cha Cha.  When we started, he wanted to work on that step with me right away.  It was like, he needed to be complete with it or something.  He’s shown me it once before so it was good to refresh my memory, but it still needs a LOT of work.  It’s just a very fast step.

So we worked on that particular step, open hip twist, I think he told me, and then we danced some swing.  I mentioned to him that I’d seen how Marieta did it on Monday’s class and it was different than I was doing it.  She created much more up and down swing in her movement than I’ve ever created.  I was like, “Ivan, tell me what’s right, here.  Let’s go over the basic.  Because if you don’t correct it, I will keep practicing it this way and it’s not right.”  It’s almost like I’m going to have to continue to ask him to push me more, correct me more.  This is not necessary when Intense-diva-Ivan is out to play.  That bitch will just take control and put me in the right position.  But most days it’s puppy-dog-Ivan.  We have lots of fun, and he still makes corrections, but I think maybe there is more he could be telling me but isn’t.  Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings or something.  But I addressed it specifically with him that I want corrections.  Lots of ’em!

Anyways, the lesson then became about connection.  Of the three instructors I’ve had, I think only Ivan really knows what connection feels like.  I almost wonder if it is a little bit of a lost art among most instructors.  But it is one of the defining characteristics of ballroom dancing, in my opinion.  It is the thing that makes it possible for two pieces to move as one.  Without it, you have two people dancing alongside one another doing their own thing.  With it, magic, unity, synergy.

I think the biggest issue I encounter with connection is that I’ll have it, then lose it.  I’ll relax and release the tone in my arms that makes the connection possible.  Break at any joint, my wrist, my elbow, or my shoulder, and the connection fizzles out, even for just one second.  I then overreach to find it again.  I’m so new at it, I don’t always feel when the connection has been severed.  To really be connected is much more than just the physical touching, but includes eye connection, and body connection.

Ivan can and has lead me using just his eyes or his body language but this is much more challenging and I have to be completely focused on him, his energy to make it work.  One lapse in concentration, one errant thought about what I’m supposed to be doing, and poof! It’s gone.

I’m still sussing out exactly how every move is supposed to feel when connected.  I’m noticing that there is a huge difference between how dancing the Cha Cha feels alone in Inna’s class and connected with Ivan on my private lesson in my very own body.  It’s like I have to find the sweet spot between dancing myself and my body (which takes a lot of energy), and being connected to Ivan, but not hanging on him, not making him push me around the floor, and basically “moving my ass.”

Connection, as far as I understand it, isn’t about him moving me.  I’m supposed to move myself but I think I’m late, slow, stuck, a lot of the time so he helps me out.  The thing is, if he always helps me out then I think things are right because we make it to the next step.  If he wasn’t there, however, I’d be sunk.  He did once pull away during a spot turn and I immediately understood what I was doing wrong.  I was leaning in too much, thus off-balance, and creating extra force on Ivan.  So sometimes I try to connect too much!  It seems to oscillate between the extremes of being completely absent, such as when I break at my shoulder, to being too forceful, creating extra work.

Ivan likens it to driving.  When we are connected properly, he’s driving a Ferrari.  He gently invites, asks me to rev my engine, and I move.  When we are not connected properly, he’s driving a truck.  Each gear shift is clunky and slow.

I’ll admit it – sometimes I’m a Ferrari and sometimes I’m a truck, and both can be true in one single dance.

By the end of the lesson Ivan said that I was doing so much better.  That is true, but I also wondered if that was partially because Ivan was so focused on connection.  Sometimes I think he isn’t really being connected to me, either.  I mean, we are all human.  I still look to him as my leader, superior, teacher, and if he isn’t present enough to connect, my connection is probably going to be lacking as well.  But I can be responsible for my own dancing, too.  When something is asked of me, I respond.  I feel differences in Ivan’s lead all the time.  If he is especially excited, he can get forceful (especially in Samba).  We’ve also danced without touching, or even with just a gentle lead.  So part of how I show up as a partner depends on how Ivan shows up in the moment as a partner.

It makes me realize that I can come to class with my own agenda.  If connection is important to me, I can set that context by taking a few breaths and a moment to center before we begin moving.  I can invite Ivan to connect with me from that space, instead of always expecting him to do it all.  I mean, it is supposed to be a 50/50 partnership in an ideal world, right?  That may not be possible just yet at my level of dancing versus his level of dancing, but I still think it is a goal to strive for.

At this point,  I just feel like I am rambling because I’m still trying to figure out what connection means.  There are so many aspects to it – from feeling it physically, to tuning into it if all I get is a body lead with no touching, to how I’m showing up as a partner on one end of the connection.  Just like all the fundamentals (swing, sway, basic steps in every dance, etc), I feel like a person can revisit them over and over and over and discover a new aspect to something he’s been doing for a long time.  There is always a way to go deeper and arrive at the same place but see it with new eyes, knowing it for the first time.

So, what did I learn on my lesson yesterday?  I’m not entirely sure.  Maybe not every lesson has to end it a neat little package of learning.  What I did find is that the process continues.  The adventure goes on and on.

But this I know: connection is a vital part of ballroom dancing and I’m going to work to be great at it!  When it works right, it feels awesome.  I want more of that and I’m thrilled that I get to practice it on each and every lesson.