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

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Before Enlightenment Chop Wood, Carry Water. After Enlightenment, Chop Wood, Carry Water.

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As I continue along in my dancing journey, I continue to come into contact with the most amazing people. Dancers are a unique breed, I think, and of course there are many ways to “play the game” but most of the dancers I’ve interacted with have been, first and foremost, awesome human beings. They are humble. They are passionate. They are hard working. They are encouraging. The live life fully and fight intensely for what they want. And no person embodies these characteristics (besides my favorite Bulgarians, Ivan and Marieta) more than a gentleman I’ve recently had the honor of learning from.

I mean, dance is one of the great equalizers – because dancing takes all of a human being, every little bit! And it is a great teacher. It can teach patience, discipline, self-expression, trust, balance, self-confidence, grace, partnership, authenticity, and presence – but only when we are willing students, ready to put in the time, energy, and effort necessary. Only then will dance reveal it’s jewels. Because dancing is difficult! Sometimes I think most of us question why we are attempting this! It can be painful and tiring and frustrating. And yet when things finally click after that 10,000-and-first repetition, it is suddenly completely worth it.

Anyways, to get back to this amazing person, his name is Damir. He owns a studio, ironically probably the closest one in town to my house, and I met him at my last competition. He saw me dance a little and we chatted a little and I made friends with his receptionist. When I found out last week that they have group classes on Latin technique on Saturdays, I was hoping I would be able to attend. You know, cause I’m not an official student at the studio, but I guess that hasn’t been a problem at Imperial but I didn’t know how it would work at EuroRhythm. Well, they were as welcoming as can be and I enjoyed my first class last weekend. I am hungry to learn as much as I can and want to take advantage of every opportunity in my path. And you know that saying, when the student is ready, the master will appear, well, perhaps I’m ready to learn some new information and that is really exciting.

So this time, that master is Damir. I knew he was something special right off the bat because of his authenticity, and his kindness. Plus I could see he was a great dancer. What I didn’t know, until today, is that he and his partner and wife, Nina, were six-time National Champions for Bosnia. And that he didn’t start dancing until he was eighteen! Which is pretty darn late for a professional dancer. And I didn’t know that dancing was the one thing that didn’t come easily to him in this life but maybe that is why he decided to do it. He saw dancing for the first time, and as he put it, his “subconscious knew” he could “learn a lot” from it. Everyone thought he was joking. He’d go out dancing and be awful at it and everyone laughed at him, and he simply laughed along with them. But he perservered. It took becoming a National Champion for his father to finally “get” that he was serious about this dancing thing. And I learned that he had a lot of struggles along they way. But most importantly, for me, I learned that I could recognize the same greatness I identified in Damir inside in myself.

I don’t know about you, but in my mind I always think that other people have it easier than I do when it comes to dancing. You can totally apply this to other areas of life but since this is a blog about dancing, we’ll stick with the metaphor. Well, anyways, look, I have asthma. I’m severely overweight. This makes things tough. I tell myself that if I was thinner or more fit that I’d be a better dancer. Now to a certain extent this is absolutely true, and I am working toward it! But on another level, it is total crap! Because we ALL have our advantages and disadvantages. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I think that I don’t have it in me to dance like those I look up to – people like Ivan, Marieta, Damir, Inna, and more. I think that there is something lacking in me that makes it impossible. But today I really felt for the first time that THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE! We ALL have what it takes inside of us. That is the REAL truth. Maybe we perceive others have it better or easier because we don’t see the struggles and the sweat and the exasperation behind it – we only see the final product, paraded out on the competition floor, bedecked in crystals. It all looks so glamorous and even effortless, and if you are like me, you forget all the unglamorous pieces that went into creating that picture. It is easy to imagine, looking at that polished dancing, that these dancers are just “talented” or “special” or “hard working” and that they have some secret I don’t posess, and never could. But perhaps I am more similar to them than I ever imagined.

You see, I went to a workshop today at EuroRhythm. Ivan is out of town competing so I needed to get my ballroom fix and this opportunity arose. And it was completely incredible. I’m so glad I chose to participate and I kind of have to laugh, too, because it is about as opposite as could possibly be from the instruction at Imperial!

Damir started the lesson talking about some theory. Now this is the kind of juicy dancing I can really get into! He was talking about more than just dancing; see the photo at the beginning of this blog post. That white board was the first fifteen minutes of our time together. He was talking about how we are human beings, and we have both human and energetic or spiritual aspects. He explained that as human, we are “doing” things, and we are in the universe of form, matter, and the laws of physics. He further opined that as spirits we are “being” and in the universe of the formless, beyond limits, all connected, and basically in the realm of quantum physics. I don’t think Inna would ever start a class this way lol! But it set such an expansive tone for the work we were about to do, and I really appreciated the contextual framework Damir set up for us as we stepped into our “Dojo.”

During the workshop, we mostly talked about being grounded. We discussed being energetically connected to the floor, knowing where our body weight is every moment, and how to incorporate the arms into the picture. I personally focused more on my lats than ever before which was awkward but great. We did Rumba and Cha Cha and Jive. We did things slow and half time. We danced a little at full speed. I still feel like my arms are not fully integrated and connected to my body but it was a nice little foray into the subject beyond the norm. And even more beyond the norm was Damir’s encouragement for us to purposely try to throw ourselves off balance, to purposely mess up! To not try to be so perfect all the time! Why? Because you WANT to expose your weaknesses! Why? So you can actually ADDRESS them! Pretty radical thinking in one sense, and completely logical in another. I mean, I personally like to hide in my strengths! It’s way more comfortable and I feel better (or rather, my ego feels better) about me when I do things “well.” But this means I am haunted by the shadow of the imperfections and weaknesses I’m trying to hide. If I never expose them, I never have the opportunity to expose them to the light. And, as we all know, once shadows are exposed to light, they disappear.

It was an awesome lesson/workshop, and I got my heart rate up a little and I am always grateful for the opportunity to work and learn about this art I love so dearly. And when it was over, we all took a seat and Damir told us a story that really affected me.

He and Nina were dancing at a competition that averaged 300 couples. They wanted to make the top 48 because if they made that, they would get to dance in Albert Hall. Every day they would practice. Monday was Cha Cha, Tuesday Samba, Wednesday Jive and so on. They would, for an hour, do basics, dancing 4 minutes straight, then rest a few seconds, then go again. Physically they were as prepared as they could be. It was grueling. Apparently Nina would have tears streaming down her face, but she would not stop, which is pretty incredible. When I heard this, I found it even more incredible that I could recognize that same fire and strength inside of me. This happens to me all the time at the gym. I cry and I keep going. And it sucks and it hurts and I want to give up but I don’t.

So, anyways, apparently I have the same thing inside of me as a champion so that is a good thing! lol. But to get back to the story – Damir and Nina were prepared and they made it to the top 96 after 4 or 5 rounds of dancing. And then, it happened! Another female dancer did a forceful ronde’ and kicked Nina across both legs, creating a huge bruise on both legs that appeared in seconds and cut a gash on one leg. She was injured and couldn’t move, and it was during their best dance, Cha Cha. They weren’t seen by the judges, didn’t get the marks, and didn’t make top 48. And it was completely out of their control! This dancer, whom they nicknamed “wild horse” in their native tongue as a play on words of her actual last name, had thrown a huge, unexpected wrench into their system. They prepared themselves as best as they possibly could, and I think that is all we can ever really do. Though the story kinda sucks, and I’m sure it was really disappointing at the time, I also find it very empowering and inspiring. Because it is my job right now to prepare myself as best as I can for the challenges ahead. Things may happen that are out of my control, but I will be proud of myself and able to hold my head high no matter the result if I know I did everything in my power to prepare and left everything I could on the dancefloor on that day, with the resources and currently have.

I got so much from showing up today and participating. More than steps or technique, I feel like my spirit was nourished as well, and that is kind of what dancing is all about, ya? I had a great conversation with Damir after the workshop and left feeling happy, energized, and hungry to work even harder for my goals. As he said, when things are going on in his life, it will also show up on the dancefloor. So when he needs to figure something out, he dances. And if he is patient enough, and diligent enough, and present enough, he gets answers. Dancing is the best therapy, ever, right?! We talked about that we are all on our own journey, that we are all special. We are all magnificent in our own right and we need not compare ourselves to others but rather to ourselves yesterday (I think Baryshnikov said the same thing). We talked about how important it is to feel safe and grounded so we can expand energetically beyond our physical limits. We talked about how the struggle is important and that it is imperative to find the joy, peace, and balance in every day life. He quoted Buddha saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. And after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I’ve said it before, that dancing is a spiritual walk for me in so many ways – truly a pathway to enlightenment. And through it all I will chop my wood and carry my water – which in my life looks like doing my cardio at the gym, eating on my plan, going to my dance lessons, and embracing compassionate self-discipline, pushing myself just a little further each and every day in my pursuits.

So that’s just what I did upon leaving today. I went to the gym, banged out a leg work out (they are toast!) and even did some cardio at the end. And I just know that I picked the right theme song for myself (“Roar” by Katy Perry) because I AM a champion. I’m proving it to myself with every squat and ballet class when I struggle to lift my leg higher, with every moment my body screams to stop and I keep going, with every time I choose to stick to my plan when I want to eat chocolate and laze about all day! I’m proving it to myself that this IS possible. I’m proving that I DO have what it takes to do this. This is what a champion is, I think – what Nina and Damir did, dancing so disciplined every day, pushing through the tears, preparing themselves by doing everything humanly possible to get ready, day in and day out. Those are the times that make the champion. That is the foundational groundwork that is laid so that a champion is confident in their abilities for the few minutes they have to show themselves on the floor. Behind each minute of dancing under the spotlight there are hours upon hours behind it. That is my definition of a champion, anyways, and I’m practicing to be one every day. And I’m excited to have another incredible mentor to look up to as I continue along my journey. Dancing continues to bless and enrich my life in so many ways. I can’t wait for Ivan to come home and have my next lesson!

You Have A Strong Heart

My niece had a runny nose when we took her to the mall this weekend to Build-a-Bear and I’m convinced she gave me a slight cold. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that my allergies are horrendous at the moment and I have asthma. This compounds the inflammation in my airways and makes it that much more difficult to breathe, much less do anything that requires cardio. So yesterday I went to the gym, as I do now on Thursdays, to work out with my trainer I requested that we limit the high-intensity cardio and stick to lifting some weights.

She opted to cancel some of the kettleball swings but other than that, it was still a solid workout. I did 12 deadlifts with a 50 pound barbell and rows in between. Then I did squats with a 30 pound barbell pushing it into an upward press above my shoulders as I straightened my legs. Then I did 12 backward lunges with the 30 pound barbell on my shoulders and finished off with an incline plank. I repeated this circuit four times.

It was tough but not so tough that I wanted to cry, like I have on previous workouts. It got my heart pumping and was taxing and I always feel like the thing that limits me the most is endurance, breathing hard, the cardio part. But I was able to do it and that was good.

At the end of the work out my trainer told me, “You should be proud of yourself. You did four sets of that and it’s pretty impressive. That is not easy. You are strong. I don’t put out weights like this for everyone and I wouldn’t do it for you if I didn’t think you could do it. Good work today!” She gave me a high-five.

Me, I was like, really? Because I have a set of sunglasses on that filter how I see the world that generally point out how pathetic I’m doing – how I could be doing more, and how lame it is I can’t do a Burpee and that my belly gets in the way, and how silly I look doing all this stuff.

It’s like, I feel guilty for feeling good about myself. Somehow this is taboo, forbidden, wrong.

But I did feel strong doing those dead lifts. I banged them out pretty good and though challenging, I was up to the challenge. I felt pretty good about doing that, that it was less pathetic than usual, but here was my trainer saying that I should be proud of myself for what I had done. I’m not exactly sure that I know how that feels. I mean, I was proud of myself for completing over 120 heats at the San Diego Open a few years ago and earing Top Student. That was a goal I worked for and achieved and it felt awesome. But these everyday victories, they somehow don’t seem big enough. It’s as if I’m waiting until I’m at my goal weight to actually approve of myself, be proud of myself, love myself.

Like following my eating plan this past week. I did it successfully and that was good, but I wasn’t exactly “proud” of myself for doing that. In my mind, it is simply what I need to do to get where I want to go, and I’m focused like no kidding on that so I did what needed to be done, that’s all. In truth, I’m not even proud of myself for being down over 70 pounds from my highest weight ever (see picture below). Because it took 3 fucking years to do that and I’m still mad that I’m 100 pounds from where I want to be.

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Don’t get me wrong. I notice a difference and I do feel somewhat better about myself. I just still see that I have so very far to go and this is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take months of consistent, persistent, determined action. And though I’m anticipating victories along the way, like reaching 213 which will be 100 pounds from my highest weight, and getting under 200 pounds, and getting to 179 pounds which will mean I’m overweight and no longer obese according to my BMI, and hitting my goal weight, I’m just not all that impressed with myself for where I am.

But I am starting to question that point of view simply because it could undermine all my efforts, and I refuse to let that happen this time. This time, I’m following this through come hell or high water!

My nutritionist seemed to also think I should be so proud of myself. She was like, “Stef, you’ve already accomplished a lot, and now, if you keep what you are doing, you will get to your goal in less than a year. You’ve got this! I really hope you are proud of yourself.” And she gave me a big hug.

But I find myself having trouble letting go of my story. You know, the one about me not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I’m having trouble letting go of what I want to be so badly that I can’t seem to be satisfied with where and how I am. It is the ultimate thief, this mindset of comparison, and “not-enough.” But I swear, at the same time that I can see my face looks a little thinner, and maybe my belly too, and that when I thought I’d need a size 24 skirt I ended up purchasing a size 16, at the same time as I can see these steps of progress, I can also see my huge arms, how much larger I am than any other girls in my dance classes, how thick my legs and thighs are, the cellulite on my knees. At the same time that I feel slightly lighter, that it is maybe easier to move and more tolerable to wear heels to dance in, I also am also exhausted panting for breath and having a difficult time holding myself in yoga poses or ballet because I weigh so much or my body mass simply gets in the way.

I am still in a place where I feel the need to block out how I look and don’t feel proud of my appearance. I am longing for when I can wear this one asymmetrical dance shirt I bought and feel so beautiful and sassy in it. Right now when I put it on I just see where it hugs and tugs when it should be hanging empty, and it is frustrating and makes me feel sad.

And the thing I am up against physically that challenges me the most (besides the self-esteem and body image) is the cardio. Well, at least, it is my experience of me being out of shape. But even this I am questioning once again because of my nutritionist and trainer. Because the truth is, when I do a dance class, even though I may be panting and sweating and absolutely killing myself, and even though I may need to not do everything full-out just to stay in the game, well, the truth is, I’m working harder than anyone else out there just because of the sheer weight I carry. They’d probably be more tired too if they were carrying an extra 90 pounds.

Because I always experience myself as out of shape cardiovascular-wise, and because my dance teacher says that even skinny people can really struggle with the cardio and endurance required for dancing, I was feeling the need to add in some training to improve this. But both my trainer and nutritionist said that I was crazy active, especially compared to most people, and probably even more so for obese people. They said, “cardio isn’t the problem. Get the weight off and it will become so much easier. You won’t have to change a thing if you just keep dancing like you are. It will be enough.”

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My nutritionist said, “You have a strong heart. Cardio isn’t problem.”

My trainer said, after lifting all those weights today, “You are strong. Strength isn’t the problem.”

The problem is how I feel. The problem is the extra person I’m carrying around in my body. It makes it difficult to feel and act strong and sexy in Latin class with Rado doing the Rumba. I can do the steps, and some of my shapes look nice and all, but I’m lacking the confidence necessary because of my fat fucking arms and huge tree-trunk legs. I am the anthesis of the ideal for a Latin dancer, the complete and utter opposite, and it is a laughable farce, me dancing this dance.

Or is it awesome? Because I’m doing it anyways, because it is in my heart, regardless of external circumstances or appearances.

I don’t know. I think it is kind of a ridiculous-awesome, if there is such a thing.

What I do know is that in less than two weeks I will be dancing in a competition. I will be putting myself out there to be seen and judged. And you know what? Doing that, revealing one’s art, whether it be a painting or a dance, in writing or sharing a musical composition, and regardless of that person’s size or appearance, regardless of all those things, well, it takes a strong heart.

It All Begins And Ends With Fat

I had a really great double lesson with Ivan this morning. This is the difference having a solid goal and time frame in place makes. Because I’ve put the down payment on participating in 80 heats in People’s Choice, I know I’m going. Because I know I’m going, I know I need to do whatever I can to prepare myself in the short 4 weeks before the competition.

In only four weeks there is only so much you can do. Even while I work at it, I’m not going to lose a significant percentage of my body fat in that short of a time. However, even dropping just 5 pounds will make a difference I can feel on my body. I’m determined to be spot on with the plan my nutritionist sets forth for me. I can be motivated for one week at a time, especially with the competition looming. There is a purpose, and an urgent one, that will be behind all my choices and struggles. I need that.

And I’m determined to not lose any momentum afterwards like has happened in the past. I’ve already gotten the days off work for Desert Classic, which is also just a short time away. But the thing is, as soon as I am complete with People’s Choice, I will have another goalpost on the horizon to focus upon. This is so important for me. I will have my next competition planned before I complete Desert Classic to keep the cycle going.

Also, I probably can’t improve my cardio to where it really needs to be, but I do believe in a month’s time, especially combined with even a modest weight loss, I can make a difference. So what I need to do is practice exactly the task I need to accomplish while in the competition itself. We’ve been lazy on our lessons in this regard, indulging in long chats, stopping when it becomes a moderate effort, not doing rounds. I’ve talked in the past about making a playlist of songs for rounds of American and Latin styles with songs 1:30 each, but today I finally showed up prepared. I directed the lesson. I had an agenda. Because we have little time and I have to do what I can.

Before I fully committed to People’s Choice, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I was working toward…the vague goals of “getting better” and “losing weight” just weren’t moving me forward in any directed fashion. So I’d show up on a lesson and, as Ivan put it, say “Let’s do a Foxtrot. I’m fat.” He said I just moved and complained. That I wasn’t really dancing or doing anything.

So anyways, today I came in with a list of songs to warm up with. During this time we focused on connection. It was the perfect place to start and I told Ivan that this is how lessons need to look for a while – come in, warm up, focus on connection, then cardio, cardio, cardio doing rounds.

And guess what. It kicked my butt. I thought maybe I’d do okay since I did okay with the showcase number and that dance was pretty long. But nope. After swing I was kaput. And there are two more dances to complete. Because I was dancing full-out, pushing it during the beginning. Because that is my potential and capacity to dance like that, but I can’t sustain it. My body stops me. The asthma problems don’t help, but I honestly and truly believe that my body and physicality and lack of cardiovascular fitness are the biggest things holding me back right now. Anyways, I’m going to push during these next four weeks, doing rounds on every lesson and I do think it will get better. Oh, and it will probably feel better anyway because most likely the dances will only be 1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds at the most and I’m intentionally making it longer for conditioning.

But even with the reality of how exhausted I was after Swing, it still felt really good to be working on exactly what I need to work on and to be directed and focused. I didn’t have time to go all “poor me” and get in my head. And I have to say, for the first time, I had this moment of really being excited. I love the shapes I’m making, in Samba especially, and I could, for an instant, imagine how fierce it will be when I’m 100 pounds lighter.

And there were some funny moments that had me in stitches and it felt good to be happy and laughing on a lesson, even if my shortcomings were right in front of me. For instance, we were doing this move in Samba and I was really getting into it and so was Ivan. He wanted to spread his arms open wide, his chest puffed out like an eagle, presenting himself as very manly and strong. At the same time I was to step backwards behind, cross my feet, put one arm up in the air and the other one on his chest. We both went at it full force…but instead of connecting with his chest, my arm hit is wrist with a loud “smack!” and he was like, “Oww!” and withdrew his paw like a wounded kitten. It was so funny! Sometimes it feels good to hit your teacher, you know! lol.

And then there was some typical Ivan inappropriateness. On one step he told me to shut my clam. No, he didn’t mean for me to stop talking. He meant my, ahem, other clam, as in, keep your legs crossed daintly like a lady and don’t dance like a cowboy. Oh Ivan!

But mostly the lesson felt good because we were productive, focused, and clear. And while working on connection, I was able to control, direct, and project my energy such that at one point Ivan got goosebumps which is the ultimate in knowing I’m doing something right. I love it!

Which brings up another thing I’ve been pondering. I’ve been going to all these group classes that really emphasize technique, with Inna and Rado, and that is great. I love these classes and learning all this amazing information. However, there comes a time when you just have to dance. And that’s what I’ve got to focus on during my (expensive) time with Ivan. We have to focus on connection and actually dancing.

Ivan was so funny on our last lesson. I was telling him about what we talked about on Rado’s lesson and asking him for his take on it, thinking that I wanted him to tell me what I needed to do to “fix” things. But he basically said, “This so good you going to these classes. You learning all the different techniques but it is different with everybody. I think you open. I think your mind is open and you can listen to all these things and understand there is no one right way. Many people is wanting this, right and wrong way. So go, and learn, and now use this information. You not stupid. You no need me to tell you what to doing wrong or how to fixing it. You can do this yourself. You just need to do your routines by yourself step by step.”

Well, dang if that isn’t taking responsiblity for my own dancing on a new level, I don’t know what is. And that is another thing I was reflecting on…how much responsiblity I’ve been taking for my dancing, especially since Desert Classic last year. It is a good thing.

Anyways, getting back to how Ivan was being so funny. So he was basically saying, yes, technique is important but it’s not everything and you have to dance, like really dance, if you know what I mean – the difference between “doing” the steps, passing through the movements and “being” the dance. It’s kind of hard to explain but when you experience it or feel it, you can tell the difference. Really dancing involves, for me, like actually hearing the music (like I used to before I learned the importance of counting) instead of just saying the numbers in my head. Like actually seeing Ivan, not just blankly staring at him. Like being playful and in the moment and responding to my partner, the crowd, what feels right inside.

And so we have this conversation about technique and dancing, and Ivan slaps my butt when we are doing our Mambo routine and he says, “See! This is not technique.” And then we do rumba and he keeps me in this one position longer than unusual, and I go nuts wiggling my hips and he’s like, “Yeahhhh! See! This is not technique! But it looking so good!” I have these moments when there isn’t a conscious thought, and I just move like I feel like I should, and it is amazing…it is really dancing.

Because my truth is, I am a dancer. We know this. Everyone can see it. I’ve finally admitted to myself and I finally believe it to be true about me.

The other reality is, I’m fat. Everyone can see it. I never needed to admit it to myself, it is what it is, it is the truth about me.

I thought there was perhaps a way to see the dancing beyond the fat, but not so much. They are intimately intertwined. As Ivan told me, “It always begins or ends with fat.” You see, people know me because I move so well and it’s pretty unexpected because I’m extra large. So people will ask him, “Oh, who do you have a lesson with next?” “Stefanie,” he’ll say, and they will reply, “Oh the big one. She’s so good!” or “She’s so good! Isn’t she the fat one?”

People can’t just see me as a good dancer. They see me as a fat good dancer. Kind of like most people don’t see just a man, they see an Asian man. Or they don’t just see a woman, they see a woman with Cerebral Palsy. The fat is part of the picture, inseparable from me as being Asian or having a debilitating disease. Of course I can change this…I’m in the process of doing so…but this isn’t the point I’m making. The point I’m making is that as of this moment in time, this is part of my picture. Period.

So it was with mixed feelings that I read this post from The Reinvented Lass.  I did the showcase Cha Cha and shared the video and it affected her.  She reached out to me and asked me if I minded if she posted it on her blog and talk about how it affected her.  Of course I didn’t mind!  I think it is so amazing she was affected, and that she wanted to share and engage in a conversation.  I love it.  And I really appreciate and honor her honesty.  She was so self-reflective and kind and yet, I have to admit, it still stung.

The Lass wrote that she was proud of me.  That she’d read about my struggles and thought that I was a, wait for it….good dancer, and that she liked how I got into character.

But in my head all this was overshadowed.  She also wrote:

…she did such a great job with it – regardless of her size!

Yes, isn’t that the story of my life.  It all begins and ends with fat.

She continued:

But I started thinking about what things she can do better than me and how much better than me she can move. And to be honest, how much better than me she can move especially considering her size. Petty, right? And then I started to feel bad for myself and started thinking how bad of a dancer I must be. And I felt bad for having such thoughts about her.

All that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.

And reading this, I have compassion for both for her and for me. This stuff isn’t easy.  Petty?  I’m not sure I’d agree.  It’s just true, what she thought, but it does prick the heart.  It goes to my point that there is no way of really seeing just the dancing alone becuase it is embodied by, well, my Rubenesque physique. And still, it pisses me off. Why can’t people just see the dancing?

And it made me think that being fat, letting myself present myself this way, is me handing others a weapon to use against me, keep me down (read – a way for me to keep myself down).  They can always be superior because at least they aren’t fat like that one girl who dances well, for God’s sakes (read – other people are superior to me)!  They may not be able to dance like me, but heck, at least they don’t look like me.  The fact that they have a body fat percentage lower than mine makes them a better, more worthy person somehow. And anyways, they can get better, and at least they don’t look ridiculous trying to be sexy (read – well, you know.  All this crap is just me projecting what I don’t want to own).

How unfair and mean and separating and victim-y is that to think? And all that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.

For me it brings up thoughts of how inappropriate it is to dance in this state. That I shouldn’t dance while fat. But it also makes me think that it is important that I still get out there anyway because the stronger truth is that I am a dancer. I am a dancer now when I am fat and I will still be a dancer in the future when I am thin. Who I am is a dancer, but who I am has nothing to do with how much I weigh….and everything to do with it.

So what is there to do? I’ll take a note from the Lass:

But I also told myself that it’s not a competition. It’s a journey. She’s on her journey, and I’m on mine…

And in the meantime, I can appreciate Stef, her journey, her ability, and her dancing. I can appreciate that we share a passion and that we both think dance is so important to our lives. And I can cheer her on to be the best.

Yes. That’s right. We are on our own journeys and how much better is it to root for one another, remind one another of our greatness, and have open, honest communication, than to get stuck in the mental muck that threatens to separate us? How much better is it to appreciate that we share a passion called dancing that is important to the both of us, and that really, we are more similar than we are different?

So, Lass, I cheer for you, and for us. I appreciate you and know that you do kick-ass swivels (which I suck at!) and turns. I know you are insightful and wise. I am so glad you had the courage to share what you thought. Thank you for being my friend, warts and all.

So maybe the title of this post isn’t quite right.

Maybe it doesn’t really all begin and end with fat.

Maybe, instead, it all begins and ends with compassion and respect for ourselves and others, how we are right now, holding a vision of the best in the future. Maybe it all begins and ends with connection, not separation, recognizing our similarities rather than only seeing outer differences.

Maybe the truth is that it all begins and ends with love.

This Week So Far

I know, I know, my life is SO exciting!  Well, not really, but I still feel the need to process my experiences, and guess what, that is what I do here on the blog.  In any case, I don’t think this will be a very profound post or anything, but I guess I just wanted to jot down the latest happenings.

I guess one of the main things is that I’m back to taking ballet.  I didn’t make it to class on Sunday because of overtime at work, but I did manage to squeak in on Monday night.  I think it is going to be a permanent part of my routine.  Class feels good and it’s frustrating at the same time.  It’s good because of course it is more physical activity, and it builds strength, and flexibility.  I’m also finding my center a little bit and improving my balance because of it.  I also give myself a free pass on it.  I’m not expecting myself to really be able to do like grand jetes, but every once in a while in class, I’m able to surprise myself a bit and hit a combination well.  Of course, in the next exercise the wheels generally fall completely off the bus, but hey, it’s ballet.  I’m mostly doing it as a support for my ballroom dancing and when I goof up, I simply laugh it off.  I am not putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself in the class, though I do want to do well, and I do push to try to stretch myself to do what I can.  Just showing up and moving for an hour and a half is a worthy way to spend my time and it makes me feel better to know I’m doing this for myself.  Plus, there is an added advantage of making some more dance buddies and building another layer to my dance community.

I must say that I am so thankful to have a place to take a class like this.  It is for adults and just the right level – not too hard, like I’d find at say Ballet Arizona, but not too easy or alongside 10 year olds.  But even with this little reintroduction of ballet, I’ve already had dreams about putting my toe shoes back on.  And by dreams, I mean literal dreams, NOT as in, I’m wanting to get back into those torture devices.  No thanks.  Not really on my radar.  But I guess my subconscious mind has a different idea!

In any case, I’m pretty excited because the owner of the studio knows I do ballroom and she is involved with a charity called Dancing Classrooms here in the Phoenix area.  I got an invite via Twitter to come to a meeting about it in the coming week.  I’d love to participate in this program and share my love and passion for dance with youngsters as well as to help provide the opportunity for them to experience the healing and empowering magic that dance can be.   I’m excited to see how I can be of service and pretty psyched to have been invited.

Well anyways, ballet class on Monday went as well as can be expected in an obese body.  I have difficulty closing my legs completely in a tight fifth position because they are so massive and jumping is chore.  I do the best I can but it’s pretty hard on my ankles.  My left ankle is already weaker because of past injuries and I know the weight doesn’t help.  I’m looking forward to being significantly lighter, but you know what, every pound helps and my diet is working.  I’ve not been able to get under 250 pounds for the longest time but I’m determined to be there within the next two weeks.  It’s only a few pounds away and I feel like it will be a breakthrough.  I’ve been bouncing around with about 10 pounds and pardon my French but it’s time to stop dicking around.  The holidays are over, thank goodness, and I’ve been able to get a bit more physical activity in, and doing well with the diet.  My weight was down this morning and that is a good thing, a sign I’m doing something right!  But now more yo-yo bullshit!  What I’m doing is working and I’m ready for significant change.  I do think, looking at myself in the mirror at class tonight, that I am beginning to look a tiny bit smaller.  I will take it.  Though by far still the biggest gal in the ballroom, it’s a step in the right direction and I’m going to celebrate it.

Which, brings me to tonight.  Inna and Artem must be competing out-of-town somewhere so it was Igor who taught Latin.  I must say that I really enjoy watching him demonstrate the Latin movements.  His hip action is so clear, and he generates great fast and slow dynamic.  I always learn something new when Igor teaches and I’m grateful for all the teachers who have crossed my path and contributed to my dancing.

So tonight we began with Rumba walks.  Wow.  I just had a realization, which is pretty ironic especially considering what I’m going to say in a minute (you’ll see what I mean in a moment).  The realization is that we did a lot of rumba walks tonight, around in a really big circle.  Probably for 4 or 5 minutes straight, which may not sound like a long time, but when you are dancing it sure is!  Well, my realization is that I was able to do them the entire time.  Perhaps my arms could have been stronger, but you know what?  When I first walked into that class a little over a year ago, I could not have lasted that long.  No way.

Anyways, after our Rumba walk warm-up, Igor shared with us the proper positioning of our hips, which should be under the body and tucked under, similar to how the pelvis should be placed in ballet.  We did some plies, feeling that tucked in, pulled up and under position in our hips and then repeated our rumba walks attempting to maintain that alignment.

Next we did some Cha Cha.  We did a little routine:  Check, ronde, back-together-side, time step, time step, back basic to a hip twist and repeat.  First we just learned the steps.  Then we worked on playing with the timing, accenting the movements on the 1 and 3 counts – prolonging them with a bit of hip action/settling/twisting as a wind-up for the next movements which had to be quicker (and looked lightning fast when Igor did them) to make up the time used prolonging the 1 and 3 counts.  It created a great dynamic but man was it hard!  I was out of breath almost immediately!

But then Igor shared with us the nugget that made the biggest difference to me tonight.  It’s a concept I already “know” about, but one I still struggle to implement.  Basically its keeping my upper body/shoulders facing forward and allowing the lower body only to twist.  Igor said many of us were fighting against our own bodies, and I know that I was one of them.  In any case, seeing how he did it, along with the explanation, I was able to implement this new information (well, old information but not absorbed or integrated) and oh my goodness did it make the step easier and clearer and sharper and it even looked faster!  I am never going to forget this lesson!  Well, at least that is what I tell myself ha ha.

But just when I was beginning to feel better about this new cha cha cha, alas!  It was time for “a little” Jive.  Uh, yeah….Well, we did a little bit of what football players do, hunched over and pumping the legs as fast as we could.  The whole thing about the Jive, it seems, is to move the legs, making the knees reach the waist with every move, and jumping up and down like a bunny rabbit, all while keeping the head completely level and preventing it from moving up and down.  The knees must move up to the body but the head must stay still.

Well, Igor is pretty dang amazing.  He was jumping like the Energizer Bunny doing that basic step, his knees practically up to his throat as he caught significant air while jumping upwards.  Me, I’m baba metza, remember?  I thought I might pound through the floor and I jumped – I could hear it creaking under my weight.  Well, my Jive doesn’t look as heavy as it could, but it has a long way to go before it really looks light, airy, and athletic – it is nothing like the Jive Igor was pounding out, not even close.  The truth is that I’m in no shape to do it properly…even the basic exhausted me, made me feel sick, and I had to stop before the rest of the class.  I felt that my performance was pathetic with a capital “P.”  What business do I have competing when I can’t even dance the basic of the step properly for a measly minute by myself!?  I was totally thinking that Igor must be thinking, “These ridiculous Americans!  They have NO idea what it is really like to dance.”  And then saying “Good job” out loud because god forbid he actually tell us the truth of how crappy some of us actually looked and offending someone…I mean, I wasn’t looking at other people.  I honestly don’t know what they were doing because I was focused on me, so obviously this thought process has nothing to do with their performance and everything to do with mine.  I thought mine was pretty shoddy.  And I have no idea what Igor was really thinking.  But in my head my old dance teacher would be so disappointed in what I was doing in class and would have yelled and cajoled me until I gave more and that would still not be enough. Sigh.  I felt a little like this is an uphill battle and I’m not going to climb the mountain tonight.  I felt a little defeated and deflated.

Which makes me think of my last lesson with Ivan.  During it we worked on cleaning up more of the Cha Cha routine.  There was one step in particular that I was not able to execute and that I was always a little bit late on.  It really had me mad at myself.  And, like in the lesson tonight, I felt defeated and sad.  Well, Ivan noticed and after the lesson he talked to me about it.

“You can’t feeling so bad about this step.  It’s a hard step.  You are changing direction a lot and it is really fast.  You can’t expect yourself to do it right away.  Even the professionals, they gonna have a hard time with it.”

It sure didn’t look like Ivan was having any problem making it look awesome!

He continued, “Now I’m feeling bad because you are feeling bad.  Like, you can’t be giving up on yourself or thinking that you will never be able to do this.  It’s like I believe in you more than you believe in yourself.  You have to not be sad about this.  I see that you understanding.  You show me that you understanding this and that is the most important part.  It’s better if you can tell me that you understanding but that you can’t do it right now than to get so upset about it.  Cause you are gonna do it.”

“Don’t feel bad Ivan.  I’m just upset because I feel like I don’t practice enough.  I need to do more on my own.  I’m frustrated with myself because I still am relying on you too much when we are dancing instead of dancing on my own two feet, being on balance, and using my arms more than my feet, legs and ‘engine.’ It’s super frustrating to me because I want it so badly and I feel like I should do more.”

I mean, deep down inside I know that these routines with some more difficult steps are a really good thing for me.  I’m going to struggle and I’m going to become a better dancer because of the challenge.  I’d much rather be working really hard to reach for something than to only do what is easy and stay the same.  I am thankful to have the opportunity to break every step down so that it will be awesome eventually.  I don’t find it tedious or boring at all – I think it is awesome and it makes me feel more secure.

Just like dancing tonight, not being able to participate every second of the class, having to take a break and rest, it’s beyond my current capacity, but showing up to class and doing what I can does move me forward.  I know this because I can see the difference in my endurance with rumba walks as compared to when I took my first class at Imperial.  I trust that I will improve in stamina, in technique, in expression, because I continue to show up and do my work.

Ivan told me that he didn’t think I don’t practice enough.  Well, he conceded, “we should all be practicing 8 hours a day but even this will not be enough.  It’s never enough.  But you, Stef, you come in to dancing a lot.  I don’t think you don’t practice enough.”

Hmmm.  I’m not sure I agree.  I feel like I’m pretty lazy – meaning that unlike my friend Lady Gaga who will practice on her own at the gym, I pretty much only dance on lessons.  Maybe I will go over one tiny thing in my kitchen for a minute or two but that’s it.  How lazy am I!

Well, anyways, that’s what’s been going on the last couple of days.  Tomorrow I get to see my favorite Bulgarian instructor for a lesson in the evening.  I’m going to do everything I can to remember what I learned today in the Cha Cha and maybe he will notice a difference.  We’ll see.  Either way, I’m looking forward to it.  It’s another day, tomorrow.  And that means it’s another chance to dance, which I’m pretty happy about.

Please Inna, Can We Just Be Done!?

Let me tell you.  At Imperial Ballroom you will get value for your dollar.

First off, the instructors there are world class.  If you aren’t a dancer already, you may not realize the caliber of instructor at this studio.  Probably the highest I’ve seen so far overall.

Secondly, if you go to the Latin Advanced Group Class on Tuesday nights, more likely than not, you will end up being there beyond the promised 45 minutes!  Holy Moley, tonight we were there for an hour and 10 minutes and I was about to die.  In my head I was like, “Inna, I need you to be done, please!”

What a double-edged sword.  The positives:  I’m paying for 45 minutes and I’m getting an extra 25, I’m getting to shed more calories, absorb more technique, and dance more, plus I’m getting Inna’s teaching expertise, corrections, and extra (and much-needed) practice.

But my body is screaming at me, “STOP!  AND STOP NOW!”

Now really, I thank my lucky stars Inna pushes us so hard.  I really need the pushing.  I need to improve this cardio situation of mine.  It, besides the extra weight I’m carrying, is probably the biggest thing holding me back right now.  I hate running, I no longer have a membership to the gym, so it is such a blessing to have this class on Tuesdays where I am guaranteed to be pushed, get my heart rate up, and work my body to its limit.  It’s not that I don’t work hard with Ivan, but he lets me have little breaks a bit more and my body is getting used to the demands placed on it during a typical lesson.  This is good, but it means it’s time to turn up the heat.

Tonight in Inna’s class, however, my body was not used to the demands placed upon it.  In fact, I took myself out of some cha-cha walks because I was audibly wheezing.  I jumped back in as soon as I was able, but I just really needed to stop.  That, or pass out on the floor.  I suppose that was the other option.

Seriously, though, I have to look at this like “progress, not perfection.”  I do see progress in my cardiovascular capacity…and….it is still nowhere close to where I need it to be.

I’ve already had a conversation with Ivan about it and told him I have a plan.  My goal is to be able to dance full-out for 10 minutes.  It may be a while before I am able to accomplish this, but I’m gonna do it.  I’m going to create a playlist of songs that are 1 minute 30 seconds, 5 in a row.  I’m gonna make he and I dance it every lesson.  As soon as it becomes manageable, we are going to do 1 minute 40 seconds, and so on, until I reach 2 minutes per song with 10 seconds of rest in between.  Heck, if I’m really enterprising, I can complete this dancing prior to our lesson on my own.  Now that would be really taking the bull by the horns, wouldn’t it?  Sheesh!  It’s so much easier with a partner, I’ll admit.  Sometimes I question how deeply committed I really am.

In any case, tonight we did some Samba movements across the floor and when we got to the end of the song, and I and many other students were gasping for breath.  Inna told us that we had only danced for 2 minutes.  I think she was letting us know that it was a very short time to dance, and that more is expected from advanced dance students.  But in my head, I was all, “That is a triumph!  Woo Hoo!  Two whole minutes!”  It may be pathetic, but it is improvement from where I came from.  I can’t beat myself up for not being at the level of a professional dancer, or even an advanced student because it just doesn’t serve me.  Yes, it makes me aware of where I want to go, but I am also committed to being as kind as I can to myself on this weight loss journey.  If being mean to myself worked, I’d be rail thin and in perfect shape by now!  Might as well embrace some self-love.

So anyways, tonight it kind of reminded me of my old days at Glenda Folk’s Dance Studio where I used to take ballet, tap, and jazz as a kid.  We were always expected to be on time, but if rehearsal went late, well, too bad.  Suck it up and be there!  In a weird way, it felt comfortable and good that Inna kept us late tonight.  I actually think it is very cool that she is so into dancing, and seeing students dancing, that she wants to squeeze every last minute out of the class that she can.  I mean, by now I know to expect not to be done by 8:30pm.  Why did I think it would be any different tonight?

This is in contrast to Ivan, though, who is so punctual and ends exactly on time for every lesson.  He’ll even call me if it is 5 minutes before the lesson and I’m not there yet (C’mon Ivan!  I’m driving 129 blocks west each time I see you!  It takes time, man!)

So, at the end of all this, I’m grateful that Inna keeps the class late but I long for the day when my body is up to the challenge and instead of meekly collapsing in a puddle of sweat and seeping out the door like a bowl of pudding it cries out, “Bring it on!  I’m ready for another 45 minutes…I mean hour and 10 minutes!  Let’s go.”

Yep.  That’ll be a day to write about in my diary.