The past three mornings, including this one, have been so, so difficult. I am tired of shedding tears over this but they won’t stop and every time I find a place to be calm, a new knife slices me open. I feel raw and ragged. My eyes are sore and puffy. This is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It’s been two weeks since the competition and my weight hasn’t budged. Actually, it may have gone up.
The kicker, the thing that pisses me off royally, is that I’ve done everything right. I’ve not cheated. If I had, I would be upset but at myself because I would know I am responsible for my results. But no, I have no time to dick around with this. I’m focused and motivated and want it so badly I can’t even tell you. I’m committed like never before. I do the cooking. I’m prepared. I follow the plan. I measure every portion. And my body is betraying me, just like it always has. We are not on the same team.
The scale silently mocks me.
What happened was this: last week I “felt” skinnier. I thought I’d weigh myself. After all I did that competition and barely ate. I HAD to have lost weight, right? WRONG!
“It was a shock to your body,” says the nutritionist. “It’s water weight from inflammation,” she claims.
I am talked off the edge and decide to give it a week eating on plan exactly and then I will weigh myself after my body has recovered and recalibrated.
Then on this Thursday, somehow my trainer and I come up with the brilliant idea to measure my body fat, because I’m certain it has to have changed with all the activity I’m doing, my new diet.
Hugely bad idea. First, the scale. Yes, I’m in my clothes and shoes and I’ve eaten breakfast, but the scale says I’m up almost 6 pounds!!!!! Then the body fat machine. It may not be a perfect way to measure it but it is the same method used originally so at least the results should be consistent. I’m down a puny, measly 3%. I’m still obese, still over 40% adipose. Disgusting.
I proceed to have a tearful breakdown in the gym. Yes, I keep doing my work-out but I lose it. I will NEVER have a body I love, much less even like. This just isn’t possible for me. It is harder for me than anyone else in the world. For sure if anyone else was doing everything I’m doing they’d have lost 20 pounds by now, probably more. Everyone says that being active should help with the weight loss, that it is an advantage. It doesn’t seem to be making the process any faster.
The absolute worst was when the trainer placed a 10 pound plate on my back while doing a plank. You just never know what will trigger you. For me, this weight pulled down on my core and all I could think of was that I have 9 of these plates pulling me down all the time. It not only weighs heavily on my frame, it weighs heavily on my soul.
I can’t tell you how very discouraged I was, and am, but “weight,” there’s more upset-ness!
I emailed my nutritionist straight away. “I’m up in weight! This is not okay,” I write.
“Breathe,” she tells me. “I have a plan,” she says. “Weigh yourself at home, naked, first thing in the morning like you normally do and we will go from there.”
Again, I table the disappointment for a few hours. Since it is Thursday, I’m supposed to go to Rado’s class in the evening but it just doesn’t feel right. I call Ivan to see if we can have a private lesson. With all this emotional stuff I know I need to really dance it out. I find a tiny island of internal calm as the hours pass so when I arrive to my lesson I am able to focus.
Last time we danced, the Rumba once again haunted me. I find it incredibly hard to portray that dance in particular especially because of my size and body image. But all day long I was thinking, thinking, and deciding ahead of time that I’m going to dance it how I feel it inside, not based on how I look on the outside. It seems like I can much more easily portray a Samba, a Cha Cha, Jive. How is it that Ivan knows when I’m “being me” in these dances but that I can’t seem to “be me” doing the Rumba?
So I meditated on being centered from within while doing the Rumba. I recalled this time that doing one of those personal growth and mastery seminars I declared in public “I am sexy,” because I was challenged to, because even then it was an issue for me, and I have a little memory lapse of what happened but after I said it, meaning it, but all of a sudden the entire room stood up and clapped and cheered for me, and people came up to me after the fact and said, “Whoah. If you weren’t married….”
I thought about where that came from, this evidence that “it” is in there somewhere inside me, and I purposefully decided to do my best to show up from that place on my lesson.
I mean, Ivan is stinking cute! I am pretty lucky to get to dance with him. I guess I should show that, show that I’m happy and enjoying the experience, in the context of the dance, instead of being all wah-boo-poor-fat-ugly-me. So I touched his chest like I meant it and we began messing around moving before dancing. I swiveled my hips and touched my neck and it was awesome.
In some ways, I’ve come quite far. The studio was full of people on lessons and I didn’t give one whit. I am there to work. I can easily claim my space, especially with Ivan at my side, and dance, even if people are staring at me. I was involved in what I was doing and it worked. First, one of the other instructors was all like, “Oh la la!” as she left for the evening. It was apparent she had been watching and my sexy moves had been sexy enough to prompt her to say something. Secondly, and most importantly, Ivan was all like, “I like it today.”
In fact, surprisingly, after the lesson Ivan and I had a conversation in which he asked me if I wanted to go and just do the Scholarship at Millennium in Florida. Financially and time-wise I’m not able to swing-it but it was an interesting development. The idea was that he noticed a big difference in my dancing that day, so much so that he thought I was ready, and should get some experience, to dance with “the big dogs” and see how I’d fare against competitors at large competitions. I agreed that it would be a good experience as I prepare for next year but commented that I wouldn’t really expect any results at this time. He actually seemed to think that getting some results was entirely possible – we’re talking making it to a semi-final or something, not winning, but that would be quite an accomplishment for me. He was feeling that I am starting to come into my confidence, that we did well at People’s Choice, that the judges began to notice me, and that we should build on this. For us, it isn’t about the placements as much as it is how we feel about how we are dancing. If we feel strong and good and get placed last, so be it. Of course, we’d like to score well, but I think it is so much healthier to think of it from our angle and better to have no expectations about things over which I have no control. In any case we will be at Desert Classic and Galaxy and I’m also contemplating Ohio, just to go to a huge competition and have that experience and to see how I stack up against some tougher competition.
So the one silver lining in this week of pain has been that I’m noticeably dancing with more soul, more groundedness, more confidence.
But back to the pain-fest. The next morning I weighed myself as instructed and the scale said I was 2 pounds up. I met with my nutritionist, very, very upset and we talked about a game plan. She talked me off the ledge, once again. She is going to “tweak” my current plan this coming week and create an entire new one the following week. We are going to be more specific with timing my nutrients. I will be taking some supplements. We are going to track my activity and calorie burns and their timing to be more efficient.
“Your body isn’t getting what it needs,” she says. “Your body doesn’t trust you, after years of not getting the nutrition it needs,” she explains.
“I don’t trust my body.” I reply.
And it is true. I don’t trust it at all. I am incredibly angry with it. It refuses to bend to my will. I feel I have no say in what it does. I feel I have no power over it. I hate it.
But what can I do about it, right now in this moment? Again, I feel powerless. Absolutely nothing. I am stuck with it, and it is stuck with me. So I do the only thing I can, agree to the new “tweaked” plan which will be forthcoming in my inbox, and stick to it with 100% adherence. And even then, my body will do what it will. I will still be a XXL. I will still have flabby bat wing arms. I will still weigh more than most grown men.
I feel somewhat better after the talk with the nutritionist and she even offers to work-out with me on Wednesday morning before we meet again to learn some routines for weight training I can do on my own on the days I don’t see my trainer. At least I have some action steps to take which gives the illusion that I’m actually doing something about this situation which feels so entirely hopeless.
Again, I calm my emotions enough to get through yesterday, eat my breakfast this morning, and open my “tweaked” plan. Once again I’m bleeding from a razor slash. The fresh wounds still weeping are assaulted anew as the first thing I see as open the attachment is butter. I check the calorie count and begin to panic, breathing in halts and gasps as I see it is UP from 2000 to 2500. DIdn’t she hear me?! I want to LOSE weight, not gain it! Are you freaking kidding me. I don’t want to do this. Every fiber of my being is against this.
“It is for a week or two at the very most,” she says. “It is a metabolic reset,” she explains. “There is good science behind it.”
Fuck science. I don’t care. I just want to starve myself until the next competition. Too much time has been wasted already. Half the year is gone and I’m down a measly 15 pounds since I began with the trainer and nutritionist. Unacceptable. And now I’m supposed to stay stagnant or even risk gaining more weight for the next week or two to reset? And I am desperate to show an improvement in my body, to be smaller and lighter at my next competition, and I feel like that is impossible and not going to happen if I follow this. I’m working so hard. I am so sad and frustrated and angry that I’m not steadily going downward. I don’t know what to do. It is stressing me out and goes against everything I know/believe about how to make a body smaller. I am asea. This doesn’t look anything like I want it to, nothing like what I expected, and I don’t want to do it.
I really, really, really, really don’t want to do it. I don’t want to eat fucking butter. I don’t want to fucking eat 2500 calories.
I would rather crawl into a hole and waste away.
what am I going to do? Somehow I have to talk myself into this when every cell in my body is screaming, “NO!!!!.” Why isn’t it working for me? Why is my body so goddamned stupid.
I am a total mess.
But I have a lesson with Inna in 2 hours so I better get myself together.
I really should. I’m exhausted after a big workout with my trainer this morning which blasted my glutes and thighs so much so that they are sore tonight already and I know tomorrow will be a pain-fest, plus I went to Inna’s class tonight which of course was hard and tiring, and to top it all off I have a double lesson tomorrow morning at 7am across town because Ivan is going to Chicago Crystal Ball this weekend and I need to get in some dancing with him at least once this week!
So yeah, I should be snoring right now but I have a few things on my mind.
First two kinda funny stories that I forgot to mention, both relating to the competition last week. Then some venting…I mean processing (lol)… of some frustrations.
So the funny stuff first:
To set the context for the first tale you have to know that while we were dancing our open routines during the competition, particularly during the Rumba, we had a few balance issues. I totally thought I was on my leg to go backward but I guess I wasn’t and leaning too much on Ivan and I just about made him topple over. I could see his eyes slowly grow as big as saucers while time froze and I was wondering what the heck was going on, why he wasn’t moving like he usually did to let me do my backbend.
So things were different than usual on our lessons (not to mention all the asthma issues and whatnot) and Ivan and I are doing the open Cha Cha routine after all these balance snafus. The routine is basically the same one as in the video I posted to “Daddy” from the showcase. The one which has splits in it. So the time comes for the splits and down I go….and I stay there. Like for an extra eight counts. And all the while I’m wondering what went wrong. Is Ivan unable to heave me up back onto my feet? Is he hurt? And then, whew! Ivan is pulling me up. I sigh with relief and off we go.
Later we are sitting at our table and I am like, “Ivan, did something go wrong during the splits?!”
“No. Don’t worry. Everything fine. You doing the splits and I seeing not everyone see you down there so I keeping you down there so everyone can see you and be like Oh! Nobody is expecting that. I want everyone to seeing. And I knowing you not going anywhere,” he smirked. “I knowing I can keep you there as long as I want!”
He’s right about that! lololol.
The other funny thing is that Ivan put Samba Rolls in our open routine. So after the entire competitions is over and we are on our lesson he tells me, “I no liking how we doing the Samba rolls at People’s Choice.”
That’s fine, I guess. Only problem is…we never freaking practiced them beforehand! He never coached me on how to properly do them! I was like, “Ivan! That’s cool. Let’s fix them, but you can’t not like them without helping me with them!” I don’t know why, but I thought this was pretty funny. I’m glad he didn’t admonish me at the competition because there would be little to no chance of actually improving it in the moment and also glad that he was honest about it and that we can work on it. So anyways, nothing like hearing how your instructor didn’t like how you danced but laughing it off became, well, you didn’t instruct me! Gah!
Now for the ranty-rant-rant. Well more like I’m just sad and angry. I wanted to cry at the end of Inna’s class today. I worked hard all class long. We did Rumba and Cha Cha. I hit it hard and pushed my cardio to the limit once again, having to use my rescue inhaler. I was sweaty and tired and just done. Like zero energy. And then we had to do Batucadas.
It was brutal. And all I could think about was how hard this was for me in particular because of how fat and huge and heavy I am. I’m so over it. I can’t get this weight of quickly enough. It is so exhausting and tiring and I am working so hard and I just feel angry about it. I know it’s hard for everybody but I want to strap 80 pound backpacks on every person in that class and see how they handle it, that’s how distressing it is to me. Yes, yes, I did this to myself. I am at responsibility for the results I’ve created in my life. It’s nobody’s fault but my own that I’m the way I am. And I’m mad about it. Especially in moments when I’m pushed to my physical limits. And usually when I’m right on the brink is when I get emotional so I was right there tonight at the end of class. I even copped out a bit and didn’t do my arms for a bit, and after a big effort I also just ended up walking backwards because I was so blasted.
And at the end of this, after Inna coached us on some pointers to make the movements cleaner and sharper, she says, “You were only dancing this for five minutes…..” and in my head I complete the sentence with… “and you are already exhausted. Pathetic!” But what she actually says is, “and already so much better.”
I was thinking about this time a while back when I first started Inna’s class. Of course it has always been difficult and pushed me to my limits. I stop less than I used to and during this particular lesson I’m referring to I know I stopped and started multiple times. Anyways, at the end of the lesson Inna says to me, “Stefanie, you the hard worker!” It felt good when she said that back then but I was pondering it lately, because, like, you know if a Ukranian dancer tells you that you are a hard worker, then maybe it’s true.
Well, yes, okay, I’m a hard worker. I’m okay with working hard for my goals. But what I’m not okay with is how much more difficult everything is for me with the fat suit on. It seriously limits me and I’m frustrated and annoyed with it. So wah-boo. I hate this feeling and it breaks my heart wide open to think about how it would feel – how it will feel – to be lighter. It makes me think that I, too, know why the caged bird sings.
Once this weight is off, I’m going to practically fly off the dance floor. But right now gravity has such a hold on me pulling my extra mass downwards. I carry the weight of an extra person on my frame and I want to lay her down. I want to not be so jiggly and twice the size of everyone. And I’m on the right track and doing all the right things but the excavation is going to take a while, longer than I want, but that’s the deal. So suck it up, Stefanie.
If I were to coach myself I’d say celebrate the little wins along the way. Acknowledge your progress. Remember, progress, not perfection. Direction, not perfection. I’d say all this and it’s all true but at the same time I’m living the reality of being obese. It ain’t pretty and it ain’t easy. And I do get down about it. I suppose angry is better than sad, better than resignation, apathy, laying down on the floor. At least with mad I can give a little fight and fire. I still don’t honestly believe that I will ever be thin. All I know is that I can’t continue to cage myself in this body and I’m doing the best I know to do to burst it wide open. I just hope it’s enough. I just hope that I’m enough.
Oh me, oh my. Another competition in the books.
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.
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!
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.
Ivan tells me I no longer look like the “Wal-Mart lady.” Or the Michelin man. No, I’ve moved up. I’m now the “Trader Joe’s lady.”
“Higher quality food,” he says. “Maybe not Dolce and Gabanna just yet,” but getting there (is the implication.)
But no matter how big or small I am today, something shifted. It’s Saturday, a mere 4 days before People’s Choice. I’ve booked a double lesson because, you know, we’re still working out kinks on the Samba and well, you never really feel prepared before a competition.
So of course instead of working on the routine that needs the most work, we begin with a warm-up waltz and I like my big frame and Ivan seems to be enjoying himself too. And then we start with the Rumba.
And seriously, I never have heard Ivan exclaim, “Perfect!” so many times. Really, it was an exceptional experience. It probably helped that my weight dropped significantly this week. Today was my weigh in day and I’m down over 5 pounds! I don’t think I’ve ever dropped that much in a week, and the funny part is, yesterday I freaked out. I had this moment, in the bathroom, and I broke down crying. I knew, I just knew, that I was up in weight for the week. I could feel I wasn’t making any progress, that all my work was for naught because it seems like that has been the pattern in the past, that I work so hard and nothing budges. Everything in my being was telling me that I had failed this week and that I was bigger than ever.
So this morning as I approached my scale I was giving myself a silent pep talk: Don’t freak out, Stef, if you are the same or even a pound higher. It’s okay. You can talk with Chelle. She can lower your calories because you know you are right that you are eating too much!
I stepped up and held my breath.
Beaming. Shocked. So happy that something is finally really working.
I don’t think that it’s been a lack of committment in the past, it was just that restricting was not fueling my body, my athlete body, which is underneath the fat suit. I’m retraining it that it will be properly fueled with the right kind of calories, that it can and should burn them efficiently, because more fuel will be coming in regular intervals. There is abundance. It’s okay to let go of the hoard on my backside.
And it almost makes me want to cry. That for years, years people, I’ve been working to be better, smaller, cut calories…that is until I gave up and gave in and lay down. It was too difficult. I was dancing 8 hours a week and eating a bagel afterwards and thought it should be enough. I couldn’t maintain the insanity. And I went from restriction to abandon, not caring, eating all the things I denied myself for years. It was like I went to sleep and woke up in a new, fat body. And then I just adapted to this new, unhealthy normal.
Well, now I’m getting a re-education about how and what to eat….like a Hobbit. And it’s working. Hallelujah!
So it is probably a little bit easier to dance with 5 pounds less on me, and I probably had a little more spring in my step with these great results, but almost right off the bat Ivan was commenting how he loved what I was doing. And the weird part is, that internally I’ve always felt like I was doing this same thing, but maybe I’m freeing myself with just a tiny bit more abandon, and whatever it was, it was working. If I can dance like I danced today at this competition and those to follow, then that will be a major triumph, of showing my insides, expressing, being seen, being connected. However I am ranked or judged, I’ll be proud of what I do on that dance floor. And that is a big win.
I was just feeling and connecting. My energy was right. Ivan said, “You con, con…what is the word? When you have a cold?”
“Congested?” I said.
“Congested,” he said. “Like you is congested and you making me congested.”
Something didn’t quite make sense.
“Ah! You mean contagious!”
“Yes! You is contagious when you dancing like that. You making me so happy dancing like this. Like I’m really dancing with you.” And he got goosebumps at least once which is always awesome.
And we were doing the Cha Cha and he was like, “Show me how much you loving your butt! Make me want to eat your butt!”
And you have to remember Ivan has like zero filter, but anyways, I had to be all “Hey! Look at my awesome butt! Touch it! No you can’t touch it!” And this is why I’m doing the Time Step beside him. Like there has to be a purpose behind every movement, not just going through the motions and all that.
And then I asked him about my fingernails because we were talking about how I was doing my hands on the Fan and showed him my latest set, which were supposed to be gold. It was a trial run before the comp to see if I could do some fancy nails that would match my black and gold dress. After they were done, I was kind of undecided about them. The didn’t come out quite as gold as I’d hoped. But I did get a few compliments on them during the week. So I asked Ivan his opinion, should I keep them or go with pink and white, and remembering that Ivan has no filter, he replies, “This looking like when you were a kid and you…” And he motions like he is cleaning out his earwax.
Well….I guess he has a point. Which meant a trip to the nail salon before the trip to the grocery store today. And don’t you know it took twice as long as I would have liked so I am so behind on my food prep for the week (but I will get it done!!!!), but at least my nails will be Ivan-approved.
And then I went to the store. As I was checking out the cashier said, “Looks like you’re buying for a decent sized family.” And I was all like…awkward silence. And then I was like, “Well, I hired a nutritionist. And you wouldn’t believe how much I’m eating….like a Hobbit!” And she was like “How is it working for you?” And I was like, “Great!” (Not that it is any of your business but well, what was I going to do?) But seriously, there is a huge lack in understanding about what I’m doing with my diet in the general population. Couple that with my size and I’m really glad that I’m mostly eating at home. I did a program once which was very similar to this plan, eating 5 to 6 times daily with a specific blend of carbs and protein and fat but with less tasty food and no awesome nutritionist who had my back, and anyways I always felt really self-conscious about pulling out a container every 3 hours at my desk..that people were thinking, “Why are you eating so much!?”
After our lesson Ivan said, “Today you showing me more. I so proud of what you doing today! I only hoping it not last only one day!” Ha ha.
Me too, Ivan, me too! Though I can only imagine that things will continue to get better and better from here.
Here’s fair warning…this post is all sorts of choppy, jumpy, and jumbled. There is nothing polished, smooth, or elegant about it. So I’ll just dive right in and hope you stay along through the choppy writing waters.
First things first, in case you missed the video of my showcase routine on the Facebook page for the blog, here is a link to it.
The good thing is I actually feel okay about sharing this. Like, it’s a lot less cringe-worthy than previous videos I’ve posted, and I do think my ronde’ is much improved from the previous showcase. So that’s a win in my book.
It was also a win that my nerves didn’t get the best of me this time around. I wasn’t hardly nervous at all. Staying relaxed like that, especially in a competition setting, would be a good thing. Ivan mentioned that he thought I was maybe a little too nonchalant about it, that I didn’t have the attack that I might want to bring forth at a competition, but I reminded him that it was still progress just because it was different, that I’ve changed. That is forward movement.
Other than that, I’ve decided to change tracks with the diet and exercise plan. I am going to continue with the gal on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the gym but it is more about just going and doing some weights, something extra, getting pushed more than I would push myself on my own, I don’t really expect more than that from her. I don’t feel like she is committed alongside me to reach my massive goals, or that she’d even really know how to assist me in that, but rather that she will do her job while on the clock and that’s it, and that’s fine.
But, well, I need help. I need support. I need more direction and accountability. I’ve decided to work with a nutritionist who herself lost 80 pounds and now competes in figure shows. I think she knows what she’s doing. She’s going to create a custom diet plan for me and I will have twice weekly accountability check-ins. I’ve committed for the next three months. I’m sure I’ll share more about that as the process unfolds but for now, I feel good making another decision to support me in getting where I want to go.
I skipped ballet this week because my ankle was bothering me and the instructor makes us always do a bunch of jumps. It tends to strain my ankle, especially since jumps are hard enough when you actually have some plie’ and don’t weigh a ton, (which I don’t, and I do), and especially with all the ballroom dancing in heels I’ve done lately, I just felt like my body needed some recovery.
Last night Inna was out of town so we had Alla teaching us instead. It wasn’t as hard as a cardio work-out as I usually get from Inna, but I do have to say I enjoyed the new, more complicated choreography. You can see Alla dancing here on DWTS – she and her partner won and were on Cheryl Burke’s team.
Tomorrow night is week three of Cha Cha with Radomir, which I’m also looking forward to. Again, he offers some more complicated choreography and also explains technique….plus we actually dance with a partner, which doesn’t happen in the other group classes I take.
But I have to say, it’s amazing the knowledge these pros have, I swear! Rado’s technique is so pristine, I think, it is an education just watching him, just like it is watching Inna or Marieta or Alla or Igor or Artem or any of the other pros move, you know? I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be influenced by so many exceptional dancers in town.
And, skipping right along in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, one thing I’ve noticed, is that when I’m feeling good about my dancing, and myself, I’m more likely to want to put my heels on because my feet and legs look more feminine and I feel stronger. If I’m feeling lower, I’m more likely to put on my practice shoes with their clunky heels. Lately, I’ve been putting my heels on more often. I can only imagine I will get to the point that they are practically all I wear, especially as I continue to drop weight, look better, and subsequently feel more confident about myself. But this week I put my heels on for both Rado’s class and Inna/Alla’s class, and even wore them on my lesson with Ivan. I guess it’s been a good week.
Wanna ride bikes?
Just kidding, except that is how A.D.D. my brain is right now. So here’s my next thought:
I can hardly believe that a fourth of the year is almost past. People’s Choice is coming right up and we are still not complete with our Samba routine. And instead of finishing that, well, on our last lesson we messed around making up a bit of a Bolero routine. Who knows if these will be presentable by People’s Choice but oh well, at least I have some new material since the last time I competed.
And guess what – apparently there will be some videographers there at People’s Choice scouting out Pro-Am couples to follow for a reality show. They’ll also be filming some of the pros as well. I seriously doubt I’d be chosen with Ivan but I do like that my friends who knew about it said, “I’d totally watch a reality show of you and Ivan!” Ha ha ha! Ivan is quite entertaining, that’s for sure.
And speaking of that, I realize the competition is coming right up, but I didn’t realize yesterday was the official deadline! Yikes! I found out by accident looking for one of the links I used in this post. I feel like the deadline for comps usually fall closer to the actual date of the competition, but maybe not? In any case this meant an urgent call Ivan to get the ball rolling, seeing as I’ve taken days off work to participate and all, and I’d really like to stay at the hotel if possible. So I guess I’d better decide how many heats I’m going to do….
So now for the title of the post. What do I mean by saying you will never really learn to dance? Well, yesterday, after Ivan and I were messing around making up Bolero steps, we chatted. He was very talkative for some reason. I told him that I had been a little rattled after our prior lesson because he had been getting genuinely agitated with me. Why? Because I’m still bottled up, holding back. He was like, “It’s no secret. We know all your problems. We know you big, and slow. I don’t caring. We (he and Marieta) are here for you, right now. No more time to prepare or think about it. I already give you so much time.” Basically, he was like, get over yourself.
And he’s right….to a point. Like in the showcase I was aware, after the fact but not during, that I didn’t actually focus on any particular person in the audience. I didn’t really open up and connect. I looked over the heads of the crowd. I don’t even know if I looked directly at Ivan, to be honest.
It’s certainly something I want to improve. I do desire to bring that presence that pros seem to exude. It’s pretty intense, though, both to experience from a pro while watching in the audience and also doing it myself.
But the thing that is difficult is being that open or to pretend like I’m totally aweseome, hot shit, the best dancer around for the purposes of a dance show or competition. It feels extremely vulnerable or like I’m a total sham. I have a feeling it will get easier the more I get the weight off, but right now it’s a challenge and very uncomfortable.
So anyways, we continued to chat and Ivan brought up a good point – the fact that I’m never really going to learn how to dance. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but simply in the way that there is so much to learn, so many schools of thought about how to execute various steps, and that a big part of actually dancing is self-expression, finding yourself in the steps while still respecting technique, that basically no one can ever really learn it all. Some people learn to dance. Others were born to dance. It’s as simple as that. I just have to find the courage to let go and live the dance beyond “learning” it.
So why would anyone ever pursue dancing, especially if it can never be 100% mastered? I don’t know exactly, but for people like Ivan and me, it’s our addiction. We can’t not dance. And when I’ve not danced for periods of time, I’ve withered inside. Dancing brings me back to life.
He was like, “Why I dancing? I should be retire. Why you dancing? What we doing? We crazy!”
“Yes but we can’t not dance. We just can’t.”
“Some people not understanding this.”
Truth be told, even I, myself, am not “understanding this.”
But who cares? It’s one of life’s mysteries why we love what we love. Dance a non-negotiable for me anymore. Even if I will never really learn how to do it. Even if I’m never satisfied. Even if I’m always in pursuit of something more and better. Even if it’s not my vocation or career or I will never be a professional, or even dance at a professional-like level, it’s still okay. It’s still worth it. I can’t even really explain why. I can’t explain why I want to become a better dancer, especially when there is no grand purpose behind that in practical terms. Why pursue this intangible, impossible art? Why do I love it?
I just do. It’s in my DNA. There is value in the practice and pursuit of dancing just for the sake of it. It’s enough and I’m grateful for it. And I guess it just seems important to share that, to share me and my process and my dancing, however it is, at whatever level it is. So this is me, dancing, living, sharing.
So this morning I went in to practice the piece for the showcase at 7:45am. The practice was uneventful, which is good, except for the fact that Ivan was super tired because yesterday he did all sorts of work and intense manual labor on his farm which is up for an inspection from the county. That, and he strained his back from carrying 80 pound bags of cement all over the place, so he was like, “Please no splits today.” And I was like, “No problem!” I didn’t mind skipping that part at all….just as long as he is recovered by Saturday, which he seems to think he will be.
So the practice went well enough and at the end Ivan had another morning lesson scheduled. In came a new student who is friends with one of Ivan’s other students who I know. They asked to see what we were working on so we showed them the dance and they were kind and said it looked good, and the new gal said she had heard a lot about me from her friend, and somehow the conversation became about the blog. I didn’t mention it…I think Ivan did, but the lady I know said she didn’t know I had a blog so I fished a card for her out of my purse.
“It’s about my experiences on dance lessons, and all the funny stuff Ivan does, and sometimes helpful information about ballroom dancing, and a little bit of me complaining about trying to lose weight.”
And we’re talking about the blog and Ivan chimes in. “Ah yes. Everything that happens goes on the blog. This why I no have sex with her. because if I do, then it would be on the blog.”
By see below. (see below.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
SAY WHAT!?! Who says something like that? And who can say that and still be likeable, especially in front of a new potential student? Only my cuckoo instructor. Good thing he is an independent agent because I can’t imagine a comment like that would ever be tolerated at a studio, and good thing that I know him and how ridiculous he is, as does his other student, who I am certain has shared about Ivan to her pal. All I can say is that he must have been deliriously tired to randomly say something like that!
So anyways, without missing a beat, as I’m walking out the door, I simply reply, “Oh, that’s the only thing holding you back, Ivan? That it would be written about on the blog?” And Ivan’s student cracks up in a guffaw while I think her friend is sitting next to her silently in shock over what just transpired.
Ha ha ha! So here it is, I’m writing about it on the blog. Lolololol.
Be warned: part of the reason I started this blog was as a way to process my emotional experiences involved with dancing (i.e. me and life). Today’s post is definately a selfish one – one in which I’m partly complaining and getting it all “out” so that I can hopefully move forward. I don’t like to be all “wah-boo” about feeling down. Pity-partys, though something I engage in, pretty-much suck. I realize this is going “victim” and denying my power. And, well, the longer I don’t address these profound feelings of sadness and powerlessness, the longer I allow them to rule. So whatever. Time to write and shed a few tears. Just due warning this is how I am feeling in the moment. Like the clouds in the sky, these feelings will dissapate soon enough. Especially since I’m going to the gym to really sweat after this post. I just really need to go do that. I’m positive that, combined with venting here through my writing it will help shift me out of this funk.
By Baker131313 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve not seen as much of Ivan as usual lately becasue he and Marieta have been competing almost weekly. This week they left on Thursday so I only got one lesson in. As they are gone during the weekends, this means a paltry 45 minutes of dancing when I’m used to 180 minutes. That, plus the opportunity to work overtime at my temp job and earn extra money, especially since I don’t get benefits and won’t be paid for days off like Thanksgiving and Christmas, means my days have been long and mentally exhausting. It’s a 45 minute drive to and from work, then 9 hours staring at a computer – that makes it a 10.5 hour day without any other activities like dancing or sleeping or cooking. I’m grateful, honestly, and happy to put in the work to save as much money as possible since I don’t know how long this gig will last – probably through mid February at least but after that, unless I get hired on, I have no idea what my life will look like. And, everything has prices and benefits. The benefits of this position are numerous, making good money for the moment, with the chance to earn a little more with overtime, and some stability. The downsides are decreased free-time, decreased energy, a long-ass commute, and the fact that a majority of my day is spent being completely sedentary.
That combined with less dance lessons, I’ve gained almost every pound I previously lost back. It sucks. I am completely at fault/responsibility for this, and it takes an emotional toll as well as a physical one. My clothes still fit, but they are more snug. Worse than that, I feel heavier, it feels much more difficult to move. And, I have worse self-esteem. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that all these facets are connected. But it is crappy – feeling bad begets feeing bad and this makes it so much more difficult for me to show up to a dance class or work out session, knowing that I look horrible, and that it is going to be very difficult to move, and it will feel crappy. Honest-to-God, I’m beginning to see what an act of courage it is every damn time I do show up. I am so very, very sick compared to everyone else in my classes. I cannot physically do what they can easily accomplish. It is really challenging to go and be “less than.” And yet, showing up to these classes is necessary if I want to heal.
So, anyways, this is all in the background of my mind as I show up to my lessons with Ivan. When on a recent lesson and working on Rumba it becamse quite difficult, mentally, physically, and emotionally. We’ve been putting together open routines for Rumba, Cha Cha and began on a Samba routine. The Rumba is a rehash of a routine I did for a showcase with new and improved moves. I really like the Cha Cha a lot and the Rumba is great too. (One bright spot – my Sliding Doors are much improved. I was able to repeat them for like 2 minutes in a row, by myself, totally on balance. That was a nice move forward). What isn’t great is how I look and feel while dancing the Rumba. Mostly I am hung up on how incredibly huge I am and how gross it looks for this gargantuan behemouth of a body to be dancing the “dance of love” with Ivan who is fit and handsome. The picture just isn’t right. I find my body image issues the most difficult to grapple with in the Rumba because it is the “love story” dance, the one where a man and a woman play out that romantic relationship through sensuality. But what man in his right mind would want to play out that story with someone who looks like me? This is the thought in my mind, all the while trying to ignore how I appear in the mirror and just dance the moves, but it isn’t enough. Not with a teacher like Ivan, who insists on the authentic emotional quality to the dancing (which is why I so adore having him as instructor – dancing is more than just the steps to me and he has really helped pull out this aspect from me into my dancing).
But when Ivan tells me, “Give me all you have,” it strikes an emotional chord with me and I have to ask him if we can change what we are working on because today, with tears in my eyes, “I am just not feeling the Rumba.” He is asking for that authenticity and I am too fragile to give it to him today. It is so completely at odds with my picture of myself as a woman that I am aftraid to get that open and vulnerable, afraid of being rejected, afraid of being so very ridiculous playing at being “sexy” when I am physically the exact opposite…I am a motherly, matronly fatty. My body moves in one way telling one story, and my flesh silently screams another.
It’s all such a disappointment. Instead of being motivated after Galaxy, I became deflated. Yes, the loss of momentum with a hurt hip didn’t help, but where did my drive go? I was on the right track, down a few pounds, and feeling like I could move somewhat better…Inna had even commented that it appeared that I had lost some weight. And then, fizzle. Back to square one. What the hell am I doing, especially after the deep talk Ivan and I had after Desert Classic here, and my honest-to-God desire to not go to a ballroom competition again until I look different??? (I set a mental goal of 50 pounds lost before I step on a competitive ballroom dance floor once again, just for me, because I want to evolve and be different and amaze others and myself) I just don’t understand what went wrong. But wrong it has gone. So very, very wrong. I feel like I am drowning. And it’s worse reading that post “You Lie Me” and seeing that at the end Ivan sent me a text saying “You so strong, girl. I believe [in] you,” because wow, I royally screwed up, once again. Epic fail. His trust was misplaced.
I am so tired of trying. Honestly, I am so tired of doing this or that, this eating plan, this exercise regimen, and it is slow going but I do progress, and then something derails me, and then I feel badly about myself and then I re-create the same damn experience over and over and over again. I fully acknolwedge the insanity of this. I have had trainers at the gym. I have had a friend that agreed to meet me mornings to do cardio. I have done a mail order diet, a physician supervised low calorie diet, Stax, Weight Watchers, and more. At some point or another, they don’t stop working….I do. I am 34 years old. I have big dreams of where my dancing could take me. And I am still embroiled in the same drama as I was when I had my first diet at age 12 and lost 60 pounds. Is it time to get a gastric bypass? Even if I did get one is that really the answer?
I am broken. In some way, I am broken. I don’t know how to fix me. I’ve been trying to “fix” me all my life since I became aware that I was larger than others and that that was not okay.
All I do know is that today I am going to the gym. It doesn’t seem like enough. And, well, in truth going to the gym once isn’t enough. But it is that or wave the white flag once again. And in truth, part of me really wants to do just that. How many times must a person fail before they just give up? But I guess there is still some fight left in me after all – honestly I’m a bit surprised because I feel so beaten down inside. It doesn’t feel like there is much fight left in this old dog, but there must be some tiny shred there or I would choose to spend my day watching TV on my ass, but the truth is, I can’t even stomach the thought of doing that right now.
So when Ivan asked me to “Give me all you have,” the honest truth is I can’t even give me all I have. Clearly, based on results, often harsh but always fair, I haven’t given physically transforming “all I have.” No, I’ve regressed. And I feel like shit about it.
Alright, pity party and rant offically done. Time to go to the gym.
Where was part one, you may ask? Well this post is an extension of another post by Alaina which you can read here.
I thought it was an excellent topic and told her so. And, me being as opinionated and vociferous as I am (at least as a writer), I was inspired to continue the conversation.
I’ll use Alaina’s same format. She was comparing DWTS, which probably represents how most uninitiated people think of ballroom, to what actually happens at a ballroom competition. If you’ve never been to one, then you can’t possibly know, but the two are worlds apart. I think pretty much the only things they have in common are spray tans, amazing outfits and hair, the fact that there are judges, and Pro/Am couples. Other than that, things are really different. And one housekeeping note – I’m talking about NDCA Dancesport competitions as those are the ones I have experience with. There are other competitions put on through studio chains or through other independent companies like World Promotions which have their own set of rules and protocols.
Point 1: In competition, there are multiple couples on the floor at the same time
Alaina got this right. The only thing I’ll add, is man, is it a different experience with all that movement going on at the same time. It kind of makes more sense as to why ballroom couples try to be so ostentatious. If you don’t know what they will be up against, it may seem particularly gaudy and over-the-top how they move, how they dress, how they do their hair and make up, and all that. Each couple is vying for the attention of the judges and the audience and being showy, glittery, or even ridiculously cheeky, may help achieve that aim. It is practically impossible to watch just one couple while they compete as each one will catch your eye at a different point. This is also part of why couples rotate around the ballroom between heats – to perform for a different section of the audience and hopefully gain their support.
Point 2: Two styles of dance
I’d argue that there are 4 categories of dance – broadly divided into American styles and International styles. But it’s not just the styling that is different – it’s also the dances that are performed. On the American side are the American Rhythm and Smooth Divisions, and on the International side are Standard (or Standard Ballroom) and Latin.
American Rhythm – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo
American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz
Standard Ballroom – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Waltz, Quickstep
Latin – Samba, Cha cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive
As you can see, some of the dances are the same. This is where that styling that Alaina was referring to fits in. In general, legs are straight in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha but there is a bending and straightening action that occurs in American Rhythm. In American Smooth, couples can go in and out of a dance frame hold and tend to do lots of sweeping movements, and spins with the lady, and maybe dips too, but in Standard Ballroom, the couples must remain in a dance frame hold throughout the entire dance and travel in unison around the floor. On DWTS, Len’s background would be more in Latin and Standard Ballroom (being from Great Britan) and this is why he often harps about couples breaking out of hold (which I think he used to do more often than he currently does).
In addition, there are also other dances that may be at competitions like country western dances, Night Club Two Step, Argentine Tango, and West Coast Swing, but generally they have different stylization as compared to the dances as danced in their traditional milieu, like a milonga, or with true “Westies.”
Furthermore, there are more types of pairings that can occur. On DWTS we see a little of this – sometimes there are Pro/Pro pairings, also formation teams, both of which occur at competitions. In competitions, there are also purely Amateur couples, some of which are very high level and almost as good as the pros. This pairing is two amateurs and would be the equivalent of two of the “Stars” on DTWS pairing up. Now that would be interesting to see on the show, but would probably result in poor dancing because instead of only 1 person not knowing what they are doing, both would be clueless!
Also, remember that the couples dancing at competition do not know ahead of time which music they will be dancing to. On DWTS the routines are more like those that would be presented during a showcase; the music is known and choreographed to. But in competition, you may have a routine but it has to work and the timing must be correct no matter what music is played. DWTS did show some of this with those “Instant dances” they have had on a few seasons. Those dances test the skill set of leading and following. I believe (though I don’t know for sure) that for most divisions the couples have a pre-planned routine, however they still have to remain in connection so they can react seamlessly if another couple gets in their way or something unexpected happens like one partner forgets the routine. They can then fall back on lead-follow dancing to get them through. However, in the Standard Ballroom division, I think there is more of a chance that the couples don’t have a planned routine. They probably have the basic idea of what they will do and also which steps they will want to show off, but because there is so much movement around the floor and many couples are buzzing around, floorcraft is key in this division in particular. The couple has to react quickly and often to avoid collisions. (As an aside, I think Artem and Inna are particularly adept at this. I’ve only ever seen them almost collide once, ever, on a video, and I have seen them masterfully avoid collisions multiple times without missing a single step.) Anyways, I think in this division, and probably Smooth as well, lead-follow plays a much bigger role.
Amendment: Please do see the comments section of this post! Why? Because Ellen so generously and eloquently clarified this detail, about Standard Ballroom dancers. I am incorrect, it seems! Standard dancers do have planned routines, and maybe even more so than other dancers! Who knew? See Ellen’s explanation! The main idea is that there are only certain ways to get into and exit out of various steps (very true) so they have to be strung together in careful and meticulous order, which many times will require a pre-set routine. And yes, I admit when I am wrong! LOL! Love it! Thank you for interacting, Ellen! I appreciate you so very much.
Point 3: Scoring and points
Yeah, there are no paddles at competitions. Instead, judges mark couples, ranking them or recalling them on forms which are collected and tabulated, and then at various intervals during the day there are awards. The announcer quickly calls out who made 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in a particular heat. That’s it. You may get some gold stickers, or you may get some coupons for $1 off rounds if you compete again next year for placing, and a plaque for participating, but no mirror ball trophy. Medals are sometimes given for placing in a scholarship competition (I will explain that in a bit). But certainly no commentary on what each couple did well or any advice on how to improve like happens on DWTS.
Another difference is that because there are multiple couples competing at the same time, if there is a large heat, with many participants, it is possible that many rounds may have to be danced. There can be multiple preliminary rounds, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals. During each iteration, a few of the couples will be eliminated. In the earlier rounds where there are many couples on the floor, the judges simply vote to “recall” those couples they’d like to see more of. The final round will consist of 6, maybe 7 couples, so getting to semifinals can be a real feat if there are like 24 couples entered in the competition. Rounds like this can be found at bigger competitions like Ohio Star Ball, or Millennium, or USDC, but usually only happen for pros. I’ve only ever had one heat large enough to require a semifinal. All the other heats I’ve danced have always been a final right off the bat because there aren’t enough couples to warrant multiple rounds.
Once reaching the final, judges then place the couples as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. Each judge gives his or her own individual opinion/ranking and these are tabulated. This is why you see perhaps 33221 by the picture or write-up in the media of a couple that placed 3rd. In this example, 2 judges placed the couple 3rd, two judges placed them 2nd, and 1 judge placed them 1st. The couple with the most 1st’s wins and the ranking follows the same pattern. Hopefully the rankings will agree somewhat, indicating that the positions were highly contested, and the the judges were generally on the same page as to the excellence of the the couples. Sometimes, however, they may also vary widely. A couple can miss a final round, or a higher placement by the opinion of just one judge. Truly, for this reason, I have such respect for the strength of character and perservence of the pros who put themselves out there to compete. It can be a brutal process sometimes and very difficult to convince the majority of judges to place you highly enough to reach any level of professional success.
Often competitors can obtain their scoresheets after the competition online to see how a particular judge placed them, or if that judge recalled them. If the competitor knows the predilections of that judge, then they may gain insight in areas to work on. For instance, some judges are known to focus in on toplines, others footwork, others overall presentation. In addition, competitors can see if there was a wide variation in their placements, or if the judges generally agreed upon how they were placed, again giving them more of an idea of what to focus on in the future.
Here’s where I’m going to veer off the path laid by Alaina.
Point 4: Single dances versus Scholarship Rounds, Open versus Closed heats
Okay, so in competitions there are a variety of types of heats. Single dances are just what they sound like. You want to dance Mambo, you dance a Mambo. You will dance it at the appropriate level and age category. In America, there are Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels. These may be further divided into “pre-” or “full” or “intermediate” levels. For instance, as a way of stretching yourself, if you are ranked as a full-Bronze student, you may also participate in a pre-Silver level heat to see how you fare against more advanced competition. In addition, you dance with people your same age, and can dance against those one age category below you. This makes it fair so 20-year-olds aren’t competing against octagenarians.
Scholarship rounds are kind of like a mimic of what the pros do. The pros don’t dance a single dance. They dance all the dances in their category. Now, for us beginners, they go a little easier on us. First, for the lower levels like Bronze, you may only dance 3 or 4 of the dances required by the pros. Also, the length of the heats is less – 1:10 minutes to 1:2o seconds versus about 2:00 minutes for pros. Thank God, I have to say, because it takes time to build up the cardiovascular capacity and skill level necessary to complete all the dances for such a (relatively) long duration. So for instance, I did a closed Bronze scholarship round in Latin at Desert Classic. This meant that I danced 3 dances in a row: Samba, Cha cha, Rumba and was ranked on those compared to the other Pro/Am couples on the floor at the same time in my same skill level and age category. No Paso Doble of Jive for me! (Thank heavens! However, I did dance some single dances in Jive, separately)
Again the scholarship rounds are divided by skill level and age. They can get very competitive, especially at the Open level.
Okay, now for the difference between Open and Closed. Closed rounds are those that only include steps in the syllabus. For NDCA events, this is the DVIDA syllabus. Open rounds can include more creative choreography and include steps not strictly on the syllabus. There can be open single dances as well as open scholarship rounds. They can also still be divided by skill level, so for instance you can dance an open bronze Bolero or an open silver Waltz.
When pros compete, they are competing as an open. Anyone can enter. Though for Pro/Am and Amateur levels, the open scholarship rounds are generally still divided by age, but then again, you don’t usually see senior citizens in open professional competition, but you will see them in open Pro/Am scholarship rounds.
Hmm….well, that’s probably just scratching the surface of the differences between DWTS and a NDCA competition. Honestly, if you’ve never been to one, it’s worth checking out. The energy of the ballroom during pro heats is unbelievable. And it’s so inspiring and incredible. Though I love getting my DWTS fix, I love being a part of this other world and participating in the “real deal.” There are a lot of ways to participate in ballroom and I’d encourage anyone to participate to any level that works for them, from social dancing, to full-on competition. All are wonderful, and special, and important. But for me, I’ve decided, it’s the competition route I’m interested in. Yeah, I’m crazy. I know. Lol.
If you do happen to have anything to add, or any further questions, please comment! I love hearing other perspectives, and about other experiences. Part of what I’m after here on the blog is to build community. Please join in the fun!
Ah, life is a never-ending opportunity for learning experiences. Fresh back from my latest competition, I have had some time to reflect upon all the lessons I received now that the fake tan has faded, and my body isn’t so sore. So I thought I’d write another piece for the topical series, and share some tips, tricks, and tidbits that might be useful to know if you are interested in competing.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking about NDCA (National Dance Council of America) events, which are a bit different from studio franchise sponsored events (which I’ve never been to) and other more commercial events like those put on by World Promotions. I will say that by no means am I a total expert (I’ve been to a total of 3 NDCA events and 1 World Promotions event), but it seems like, or my impression is, that NDCA events are the more competitive species in the competition kingdom.
Also, we are talking here about Pro/Am, although some of the information may be applicable to Amateur couples (and I won’t pretend to tell the professionals anything! Ha!). And, sorry guys, this is mostly from a girl’s perspective, because, well, I’m a girl. And, truthfully, I do think we have a few more things to worry about with make up, hair, and dresses.
1) All Hands On Deck!
When you are practicing in your studio, you don’t generally have to enter and exit the dance floor, but the situation is different at competition. This is one of those things that your instructor may tell you, but even so, for me, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for what it is like. Now, I’ve got the hang of it, but at first it was a little bit overwhelming.
Here’s the deal: there is an area roped off on one of the four corners of the ballroom that is called “on-deck.” There is always a person running the on-deck area, making sure that the people who are dancing in the next heat are either already dancing on the floor or lined up ready to enter. You line up in the on-deck area one heat before you dance.
If you are lucky, you will get to stand there with your instructor. If your instructor has multiple students and is dancing all day, you may have to walk yourself out to your instructor. Sometimes the person in charge of on-deck will walk out newer, beginning students to their instructor at least the first few times they dance, but you can’t count on this. You have to know when you are dancing, and what heat the competition is on. It’s best if you are responsible for yourself as much as possible, especially if your instructor has multiple students to keep track of….which brings me to my next point….
2) You Live And Die By Your Heat List
When you arrive to the competition you will get a big, thick book that lists all the heats, all the people in the heats, and has a bunch of advertisements, plus a letter from the organizers of the event. You can use this to keep track of when you dance but it is very cumbersome. Better is a heat list. This is usually one or two sheets of paper that lists all the heats in which you are competing, the number, the time, which dance it is, and who you are dancing with. You can keep this with you much more easily than that big book and fold the sheet to keep track of where you are, or use a pen or highlighter to track your progress.
You can also use the big book to keep track of how you place. I don’t generally see many people manually doing this in the ballroom as all results are posted online nowadays, but if you want to you can.
3) Presentation IS Important!
Another thing that your instructor may tell you about, but that you may not be fully prepared for is presentation. This is what you do after (and sometimes before) you dance. It is the curtsey, or the bow, or the spin. Sometimes it is just a step to the side, or a gesture to your partner. The point is, it’s important. It provides a bookmarked ending (and sometimes beginning) to your dancing. And let me share that I was not fully prepared for it. Even though Ivan will end dances with me in the studio, he typically does one particular spin out. So that was what I was expecting. But instead, he rarely spun me out in competition, but rather wanted me to simply step to the side and put my arms out…only I hadn’t practiced this variation! In any case, now that you are in the know, ask your instructor to practice this stuff with you before you set foot at the competition. Then you won’t feel awkward, like I did. And, your dancing will look more polished.
4) Photos And Videos
At competition there are professional photographers and videographers. The photographers you don’t have to worry so much about. They will snap tons and tons of pictures of you and everyone else throughout the competition on the dance floor. You’re not supposed to take any photos or videos of your own, and if you are completely obvious about it, the emcee will make an announcement that you are not allowed to take them.
I think they are more concerned with people taking photos and videos of the professional events, but they will still call people out for snapping pics during the amateur heats too. The truth is that people do take photos or sneaky videos if they can, but be advised that you are not supposed to. I don’t know if they’d actually take your camera away or anything, but I guess it’s possible. Consider yourself warned.
But the thing that people may not know is about getting a video. You must inform the videographers ahead of time if you want to get a video that tracks just you. You will have to fill out a form with the heats you want recorded, the number of your professional partner (if you are a girl), or your number (if you are a boy), and the color of the dress you or your partner is wearing.
When people don’t know to do this, they miss out on a video they may have wanted. Even so, not all may be lost. Sometimes the videographer can give you a video of the entire floor, showing all the couples that danced. However, a video like this won’t feature you exclusively, and may miss some of your performance.
Also it is nice to know about these options so you can budget for them ahead of time. Again, like everything else in ballroom, not cheap. For instance, I think small photo prints were about $13 each (and they offer many sizes, plus cut outs, all of which cost more), and each video of a dance heat was $15 at this particular competition, just to give you an idea. You can plan how many pictures and videos to purchase ahead of time because there will be many to choose from and it may be difficult to set a limit!
6) The Floor Is Different
I mean this in two ways: First, the floor at a competition is physically different from the floor you are used to dancing on and Second, being on the competition dance floor is a different experience than being on the floor you are used to being on at home. On the first point, all floors are different. Some are sticky, some are slippery. At competition, the floor is constructed so it will have many joints which can be tricky. There can be areas on the floor that dip down or are bumpy. The bottom line is that the competition floor will feel different and is physically different from the floor you normally dance on. Be prepared for both situations (sticky and slippery) by having a shoe brush and using it, and/or using a little castor oil or water on your shoes as necessary. Be aware that if you choose to use water or castor oil on the bottom of your shoe, this may make it more tacky and cling to the floor better temporarily, but it may change the surface of your shoe sole and even ruin it if used excessively.
If possible, get on the floor and feel it out before you have to dance. There may be social dancing you can take advantage of between heats or the floor may be open before the competition. Most competitions also provide a practice floor which should be similar to the main competition floor.
On the second point, I heard a lot of “You only remember 50% of what you know at a competition” while at Desert Classic. Who knows how valid this little adage is, but the point is that there are a lot of things going on in a competition that you have to adjust to, and that takes brain power. From keeping track of your heats, to having a genuine audience, these differences and details are things you don’t normally have to grapple with. Therefore, you may not be as relaxed as you might be in practice. For sure you can’t realistically expect yourself to dance your absolute best for every singe heat (like I did – silly me!) or else you will be sorely disappointed. And, as one of my friends shared with me, knowing that you won’t be perfect, with the adrenaline and all, can allow you to be a little kinder with yourself if you know this going in.
Along that vein, it is generally helpful to do a round or two of single dances before you do the scholarship round. Why? Your body will be warmed up, you will get the feel of the floor, the feel of the audience, and you will be able to get out some of your nerves….kind of a trial run before the “big show.” And, as my friend told me, she was surprised at how much lactic acid built up and the physicality of the 3 dances of her scholarship round. It’s just different in a competition situation than at the studio.
7) The Devil Is In The Details
Okay, actually, this is just a mishmash of some things about preparing for the competition that might be nice to know. First, the styling is different for Smooth/International Ballroom than it is for Latin/American Rhythm. One of my friends said when she first did a competition, she didn’t know about this. Yes, indeed, it is true. I don’t think I’ve seen a dress that would work for both types of styles. If you dance both styles, have a dress appropriate for each style you dance, and have hair that works for the style as well. Some people even change outfits between single dance heats and scholarship rounds. This is optional, but the higher level you are competing at, the more likely you are to see others doing it.
Another consideration is to do a trial run of your tan. Do it about two weeks before the competition. If it makes you look like an Oompa Loompa, there will be time for it to fade. If it works well, you’ll know what to use the day before the competition. Also, bring extra tanning product and bronzer with you to the competition. I was amazed at how fast the tan faded and some areas take the color better than others. You may have to cover spots that got missed or faded.
Fake nails. Get ’em bigger, thicker, and longer than you can imagine. I’m not kidding. I thought mine were pretty long but not compared to many others. Or, get them blinged out like my friend did, to really make a statement. Hardly anything is too over the top in ballroom, I’m telling you!
Also, it is a good idea to put on your dress and dance in it before the competition. It probably has a length of skirt different from your usual practice wear, or other straps, dangles, bangles, tassels and floats that you don’t usually have to cope with. Plus it can be heavy, or restrict your arms, or need one last hem or whatever. It’s best to try it out once or twice before the show.
Lastly, pack a little day bag if you will be in the ballroom competing a long time. You will want comfy shoes like slippers to change into. You will want a jumpsuit or a robe to cover up, not only to protect you clothes from damage, but to keep warm. The competition usually provides water and towels, but you may want to bring sports drinks, snacks, and hard candies if you will be doing a lot of heats. Also bring your lipstick so you can do touch-ups, especially before scholarship heats. If you wear fishnets, get the dark colored ones and have an extra pair on hand in case they tear. Also bring band-aids and tape in case you get blisters and still have to dance. Ibuprofen is handy as well.
In all honesty, there are probably a million other things to know about competing! But hopefully this article helped at least a little bit. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask! I’ll do my best to answer. Or, if you have experience and would like to share what you wish you would have known, please share here in the comments!