My Rumba Walks Will Never Be The Same

Well folks, it’s been a busy few days what with the holidays and all. I’ve worked 14 days straight (minus Christmas day) and now I’m due for a little break! Like I said, I did get Christmas day off, which was wonderful, but ended up being exhausting to make up the necessary overtime. I also participated in the 12th annual family pinochle tournament and came in 2nd place!

But even more amazing than that are all the discoveries I’m continuing to make with my dancing. It’s been kind of slow going with Imperial closed and ballet off the docket during the holidays, but since Ivan is independent, when he’s been available, we’ve caught a few lessons before I went into work yesterday and today.

Honestly, I’m so tired right now because I had an insomniac night last night waking up at 1:30am or so and not falling back to sleep until 4am, needing to get up at 5am to meet Ivan for our 6:30am lesson. This means, especially after 9 hours of work and the 1.5 hour commute, my mind is jumbled. The perfect time to write a blog post! LOL.

But I wanted to quickly process what we covered so I don’t forget it and also to say that tomorrow is the Ron and Karla Montez Dance Camp and I’m super excited to get to go for the next three days, culminating in a gourmet dinner and dance party with a champagne toast to kick off the new year. The schedule looks very juicy but I’m not entirely sure who will be instructing. Originally Bree and Decho were part of the staff but it looks like maybe they are now not participating. Ron and Karla will be there of course, and also possibly Radomir Pashev and Linda Dean as well as Jim and Janelle Maranto. We’ll see. I’m planning on going with a notebook to write down as much as I can and I’m sure there will be much to share after 3 full days of classes!

But back to what Ivan and I have been working on, well, it’s the basics, really. But I’m coming to experience them in deeper detail and the most exciting part is that things are changing, for the better I think, in my dancing. For instance, yesterday a lot of the lesson was spent on connection. It’s something we talk about and work on a lot and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s like somebody can tell you the same thing 500 times and the 501st time you finally get it. Well, I had one of those experiences while doing a fan in the Rumba. In all honesty, it made me tear up a little bit!

So the thing is, that if someone was looking from the outside at what we were doing it wouldn’t probably appear any different from what we always do. But from the inside out, it felt completely different. I don’t know if I can truly explain the experience, it has so much to do with feeling and that nebulous concept of “energy” that we dancers hear about. Like Debbie Alvarez told me that I was allowing my “energy” to leak out behind me instead of directing it toward Ivan, my partner, on the fan. I “get it” but I also don’t entirely “get it” since I can’t execute utilizing my energy properly all the time. In any case, what happened was that I felt the connection through more than just my arms, but through my entre upper body, transferring into my hips and legs. It was a feeling of…simply put….presence. Me being present, integrated, whole and entire through my body and arms. Usually my arms end up being somewhat disconnected from my body which is probably why arm styling tends to be such a struggle for me. And it was beyond even the arms. The connection itself was intangible yet palpable. I would have been led and responded even if we hadn’t been touching physically.

This connection thing takes a while to feel, and then it is about being consistent and constant with it, whether in hold or not, being in partnership with the dancing partner and not having dead spaces whether energetically or physically, no moments of withdrawal. The moment I drop my guard, the moment I lose concentration, that is the moment that I miss the next signal and the wheels begin to fall off. Then there is a moment of overcompensation and pushing hard to reconnect. I mean, I can feel the difference when I’m really present and really paying attention so I know (theoretically) what it should feel like, but my habits run deep, not to mention the myriad of things I’m thinking about on every single step. But when I manage it, connection is the magic peanut butter in the sandwich called ballroom dancing, what holds it together and makes it so delicious!

But yeah, it’s difficult with all there is to manage when dancing. In fact, I was pondering this idea today – the idea that Ivan probably has no idea all the things I’m thinking about when we are dancing together and it’s really hard to just be present when I’m trying to remember the new step, the correction to my arms, the timing, the expression, how we tweaked this detail and that detail. It’s a lot!

But no matter! I’m addicted! I love it. Which is what caused me to go to another lesson this morning in which I had more discoveries and breakthroughs. First we worked on rumba walks. It’s not like I’ve done them badly all this time, it’s just that there is always more possibilities for movement. We broke it down and worked on it for quite a few minutes and then I began to discover how to do it in a totally new way which fills up more of the music. I tend to try to hit lines and thus get stuck as well as throw myself off-balance. I discovered that I was putting my hip into its final destination straight away instead of stepping forward with hips square, then raising the back hip, then twisting around my spine, and finally settling onto the standing leg. I began to get the hang of it, which is encouraging, however, it will take a lot of conscious practice to change my muscle memory so that I can do it automatically without thinking. But I’m excited with the possibilities.

I have the same problem going into a fan step in Rumba. I would immediately hit the final swivel position with my hip and have nowhere to go. I knew that I needed to melt into that final position but couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. Well, the change in the Rumba walks helped with this issue as well. Instead of immediately twisting my hips when switching my weight on count 2, I stopped in the middle and then could melt with the twist. Magic! I swear! I feel more and more like a “grown up” dancer when I discover these details. It’s exciting!

I guess that’s the main idea of what’s been going on. I must say that I can’t wait for my schedule to normalize a bit and to have my weekly ballet and Advanced Latin Group class as well as to fit in some gym time along with my private lessons. I have big goals for the new year and I’m looking to compete in May. I can’t wait to dive in with increased activity levels, as well as my new job training, position, and work schedule. It’s going to be a few weeks of transition, but even so, at least it will be better than the craziness of the holidays.

I’m hoping I’ll find the time to write some about my dance camp experiences but who knows how much time I will have so if I don’t get to it until after the New Year, well, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! Thanks for being a part of this experience along with me. The blog has been live for just over a year now and I’m thankful for every person who has ever read any post or made a comment or even become my friend! 2012 has been an interesting year, but I think 2013 is going to provide even more opportunities for growth, discovery, and connection. I’m looking forward to sharing it all with you!

-Stef

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Project Kindness

My dearest readers and cyberspace friends, I need your help!

As you know by now, I’m going to the Desert Classic DanceSport Competition.  Depending on when you joined the bandwagon, you may or may not know the entire story why.

The short version is that I met Irina Suvorov and she invited me.  Well, she invited everyone at the table, but I accepted the offer.  She and another judge joined our table at dinner during a past competition because we were laughing loudly and “appeared like we were having the most fun.”  Basically, we were the most fun table.

Irina was lovely and we shared a nice conversation.  I befriended her on Facebook and liked the page for the Desert Classic Competition so I could stay up to date on the latest developments for this competition I was planning to do.  But I didn’t seriously expect her to actually remember me.  Well, I guess she did!

I think this speaks to what I am discovering about this lovely lady peripherally through various interactions online as well as that one fun conversation we shared almost nine months ago.  It is my experience that Irina really cares about others and I think this is especially demonstrated in a new project she has come up with that will be sponsored by the competition.  Basically here are the details:

PLEASE READ ABOUT “PROJECT KINDNESS.” The Desert Classic is giving “kindness awards” to recognize good deeds. We’ve experienced much kindness from others in our lives and are grateful for the blessings. We finally decided to do something about it and are calling it “Project Kindness” The plan has one simple goal: to encourage people to do something nice for someone else. There are many ways to accomplish this. Here are some ideas … buy a friend a ballroom ticket, donate a pair of shoes to a child, pay for a solo video for someone, give some sort of surprise to a friend or loved one … or anything else you can think of. We also want to hear about what you want to do so we can recognize it. (Of course, if you prefer, you may remain anonymous.) We simply want to find a way to encourage good deeds in our community—and to bring smiles to peoples’ faces. Shortly after we started thinking about this project we received a call from someone who wanted to give 20 surprise entries to a loved one. Soon after that, we received an email from someone who wants to give away books to kids on Sunday during junior events. And another person said they are planning to do something special for someone. If you have an idea about a kindness you’d like to bestow on someone, please post a private message on the Desert Classic Fan Page or on our personal Facebook pages. Please pass this on to the community by clicking “share.” Thanks, Igor & Irina.

Incidentally, Igor Suvorov happens to be one of Artem and Inna’s main coaches.  Ballroom is a small world, huh?

Anyways, I don’t necessarily want to win a kindness award, though that would be cool, I just want to participate and participate BIG!  I mean, is there any other way I’d care to do it?  Nope!

This is where you all come in!  I need ideas!  How can I spread some kindness?  What could I do on the blog, in my life, or at the competition that would be worthy of Project Kindness?  I think it is an amazing opportunity to support the ballroom community that I love, and make my little corner of the world a little brighter and more loving.

Here’s what I already know…I’ve experienced an abundance of kindness from all of you during my blogging journey thus far.  I’ve made some genuine connections and have received fountains of support, encouragement, and shared lots of fun.  It’s time to pay it forward.  How can I best do that?

Also, if you know anyone who is going to the Desert Classic DanceSport Competition, please share this information about Project Kindness with them.  You can click here to read more about it.

Alright dearies.  Another late night.  Another early morning.  But you know, I get to dance with this guy:

I guess it’s worth waking up for!   Ha ha!  Makes you want to take some dance lessons, huh?

TTFN, Stef

You Growing So Quickly!

Today, I must say, was a good lesson.

I don’t know why some days are just better than others and today turned out to be loads of fun, a good work out, and left me feeling as bubbly as a shaken champagne bottle.

I walked into the studio and caught Ivan doing something in front of the mirror.

“What were you doing?”

After a pause, “Looking at myself.”

That’s Ivan for you!  Unabashed.  I hope to get that comfortable with myself one day.

“I seeing how I look, if I am handsome.”

“Oh Ivan, I think like every female in my life thinks you are handsome.  My mom has mentioned it.  My mother-in-law, when we were at Galaxy, and the subject came up said, ‘I may be old, but I’m not blind!’  Yes, Ivan, I often get comments about how lucky I am to dance with someone so handsome.”

He glowed.  His inner rooster puffed out his chest.  He stood a little straighter.  I think if I can compliment him (or Marietta, or Katie, or whomever is going to dance with him) before we begin at a competition, he’d dance better, with more confidence.  There is something about having your partner compliment you, like what you are doing or how you look, that just is encouraging and invigorating.

I told him, “Maybe you should say something nice to Marietta before you dance.  And just think how you’d dance if she said something nice to you?”

“I used to.  But now, even if I say something, she not believing me.”

“Well, don’t worry about it.  Just say something nice and leave it at that.”

Maybe he’ll take my advice.  Doubtful, but maybe.  At least the took the advice in the moment.

“You so beautiful!”

“Thanks Ivan.”

So we began with Foxtrot and from the get-go I was connecting and following pretty well.  I was just not thinking, just dancing, just being, and it makes things so much simpler.  The more I get out of my head and into my body, the better I seem to do.  I didn’t even know it, but we were dancing the International Standard Foxtrot.  How could I not know this?  Well, I just thought I was doing a step in the Smooth Foxtrot where you don’t close the feet but pass them.  Silly me.

So I had a moment of brilliance.  I was tuned in, really connected and following, and Ivan moved very, very slowly, leading me into a develope’ at like half speed.  But I did it!  I had great balance.  He was like, “Wow!”

And the best part was, that wasn’t the only “Wow!” on the lesson!!!

Next was the Tango.  Again, good frame, and snap, snap, snap.  My head whipped left and right quick as if I were watching a match between Borg and McEnroe as we went into Promenade and back.  “Good!”  Said Ivan.  Only one small mishap – I kicked him on accident doing some Gauchos.  But he just kicked me back and we laughed.

Then Waltz.  Nothing really remarkable on that one, but I did get to learn a new step with a ronde’ and develope’.

Then Viennese Waltz.  “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler On The Roof” was the song.  So I started singing.

“How you know this?”  Asked Ivan.

“It’s from a musical – Fiddler On The Roof.”

“You so smart!  You know so much!”

“Don’t they have musicals in Bulgaria?”

“No.  No musicals in Bulgaria.”

I don’t know if I believe him, but whatever.  He was so impressed I knew the song.  Why, I wonder?  Most songs I don’t know and he’s never been impressed before.

All the Smooth dances complete, we moved on to Rhythm.

I was enjoying myself doing the Rumba and Ivan encouraged me to dance in 360 degrees.  To pay attention to my back, not just my front.  To make my shoulders and upper back move as much as my feet.  To style my arms so that I don’t look the same as everyone else, because as Ivan puts it, “You not like everyone else.”

I’m getting much better at the Spiral turn, which is a triumph.  It helps just to have that little extra help with balance holding on to Ivan’s hand, but I’m getting more and more independent.  It’s this weird dance between relying on my partner and yet being fully self-sufficient.  Like I could do everything I’m doing on my own, but I’m choosing to do it with a little assist from my partner.  Sometimes it’s not that centered, though, and I rely on my partner too much!  On other moves I try too hard to do it all on my own.  No wonder it takes a long time to develop a proper and good connection, but I digress.

So we were dancing and I was following so well that Ivan, I guess, felt like he could lead me into stuff I haven’t exactly learned.  He dipped me over his knee, and I bent like a wet noodle into a back bend.  It is like I got there and then I realized what was going on.  If I had thought about it, I’d probably have stiffened up, lost my balance, resisted.  But it happened so quickly – quicker than I could think about it, and I did this move I wouldn’t expect my body to do so easily first thing in the morning…or anytime during the day, really.  Once again, I don’t know my own limits.  They are much more expansive than I’d have thought.

“You’ve never done that with me before, Ivan.”  I say as he changes the music.

“I don’t want to telling you so you no thinking.”

That’s probably a good thing.

Next, the highlight of the lesson.  It rivals the time Ivan taught me the move at the end of the Rumba routine.  The one where I was like, “You want me to do what?”

It was a split.  Him holding me up.  Me giving him my left leg, him stretching me into the splits (I may be bigger, but I’m pretty dang flexible – I can still do the splits, believe it or not!), me opening my arm.

“Wow! This so good!  Why we not put this in our routine?  Fuck!”  He said.  He has that new penchant for cussing, just because he can.  It was a good-natured remark…but “Dang it!” probably would have been more to the point.

He made me do it again, and I was sure he was going to drop me.  I can’t believe he could support all this weight.  Seriously, he was holding at least 90% of me up, maybe more!

Not only did he make me do the split thing, but then he dragged me around, doing this move I’ve seen him do with Marietta.  Now she has a bit more space between her ribcage and belly so she can really collapse toward him, but still, I was impressed he was moving me at all, still holding me up.

“You have to trusting me.”

“Yeah, Ivan, you’re right.  I just can’t believe you can hold me up like that.  It makes me scared.”

On the up side, if I lose more weight then I will really not fear doing these tricks as I’m doing them now and he is handling them.

“I strong.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Wow, your dancing is growing so quickly.  You growing so much!”

“Well, you’re giving me more to do.”

So we then danced an unremarkable Cha Cha, except I was doing “Pah!” and “Sha!” expressions, practicing the performance element of the dance, and then it was on to Samba.

I ask him to review the step he taught me for the Latin Samba.  We do that and then he starts in on Samba Rolls.  He’s tried them with me once before, but its trial by fire.  He doesn’t show me the move, he just wraps is arms around me and tells me to step, front, side, together, back, side together, while dragging me where I’m supposed to go and twisting my upper body and arms around in a large circle.  It was pretty horrendous, but that’s okay.  After all I did so well today, I don’t mind not getting this one.

The lesson ends and we part with our usual bear hug.

“What are you doing the rest of the day, Ivan?”

“I’m renting a machine to plow the earth.”

Ivan was able to purchase a horse property recently and I’m so happy for him.  It was one of his dreams to have a large property like that and I guess they are putting in irrigation tomorrow so he has to till the earth in preparation.  Not your typical life for a professional dancer, I know, but there’s nothing typical about Ivan and Marietta.  She’s studying astronomy and loves the science of the cosmos.  They have a life outside of dancing, which is not something you usually see in dancers of their level, I think.

“I like this lesson today.” Ivan says as he closes the door and jumps on his Vespa.

Me too, Ivan.  Me too.

Dancing In Heaven

Finally!  Though not fully healed, I’m breathing well enough to have my first dance lesson in like two weeks.

It’s so very interesting to me how my obsession with dancing waxes and wanes over time.  There are moments when I am compulsive about it.  I want to spend every second on a dance lesson, or practicing, or watching endless hours of internet videos of both students and professionals dancing.

Then there are times when I don’t dance, like these past two weeks when I was sick, and it is somehow okay that I’m not spending every waking hour dreaming about dance.  How odd.

But one thing is certain:  it feels really good to dance, espeically after a little hiatus.  I forget how cleansing it is for me on so many levels when I am without it for a while.  Physically, psychologically, emotionally it’s like getting purified by a soft spring rain when I make the space in my life to dance.

Anyways, I showed up to my lesson kind of lukewarm about the prospect but, even so, amazing things happened.  For one, by the end of the lesson Ivan was happy.  He told me, “You give me energy.  Like the past three days have been hard to sleep.  Now, I feel good.”  That was amazing to me because I didn’t feel like my usual ebullient self.  I was just kind of neutrally present but not effervescent.  Just by dancing together, both of our spirits were lifted.

Second, we worked on our frame.  Ivan encouraged me to dance softly connected, gently holding on.  I about cried when we danced the waltz, it was so beautiful.  It reminded me of one of our first dance lessons.  Ivan told me that one day maybe we’d dance together in Heaven.  I don’t remember the context of the conversation or anything, but the comment stuck with me.  Like somewhere on a soul-level I do believe that after we die we will meet up in the afterlife and dance together once again, swirling freely in rivers of energy, unencumbered by our bodies, floating among the clouds.  And the dancing we did yesterday was probably about as close as I could come in real life to experiencing that.  We were floating across the floor on strains of music rather than clouds, but just the same, it was a little piece of Heaven here on earth.

Also, I managed to dance for a full five minutes doing a Foxtrot.  That is quite a cardiovascular accomplishment for me.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like doing a Cha Cha for five minutes, but still, pretty good, especially after a bad cold.  I was shocked.

Lastly, hugs.  Ivan and I always hug to greet one another and to say goodbye.  Not like, superficial quick squeezes, but rather full-on bear hugs.  I was like, “Ohhhhh Ivan, I missed you.”  And he was like, “Ohhhhhh Mocha, I missed you.”  He said, “I miss the hugs.”

“But Ivan, you hug all your students.  Don’t you?”

“Yes. But it’s different hugs with you.”

“Awwwww.  Well, I do have a lot of body to hug!”

We laughed.  But there is nothing better than a good, heartfelt, bear hug from a friend.

It makes me think that there are miracles everywhere in life if only I have the eyes to see them.  And a lot of them happen for me when dancing.

Yep, dancing is my Heaven.

Keep The Comments Coming!

My email box done ’bout blown up with all the comments people are posting about shoes, competitions, and dancing in general!  I love it!  I’m so excited that there are others out there in the blogosphere as passionate and excited about dancing, and in particular ballroom dancing, as I.

Thank you, all, for sharing your experiences, perspectives, opinions, and asking questions.  Thank you for being respectful in your communications.  You are giving me great things to think about and it makes me want to also jump into the conversation.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to fill you all in on a few things.

First, the blog will be getting upgraded sometime in the near future.  My dear friend, Ivonne, has graciously agreed to help me make the blog more professional and personalized.  What this means is that there may be some times where the blog is down while things are getting moved to the new server.  Don’t fret!  It is all in the name of creating a bigger, better, more beautiful blog.

Second, life is unpredictable.  Remember that job offer I had, well, yeah, not so much anymore.  After the acceptance letter and pee test, I got notice that plans had changed with the company at large and I was only one of many people geting similar news.  Also, I got a bad chest cold, and coupled with asthma this means I haven’t danced in over a week and a half.  I’m grateful I never officially quit my current job and they were glad (cheering and hugs ensued) when I notified them that my plans had changed.  They are glad to still have me on staff.  So I’m not destitute, and that is a good thing.

Third, I’d love to delve into the topic of partners.  But that is a juicy subject so I’ll leave that for a later post.  Hopefully I’ll have something to write about after dancing with Ivan, my partner, very soon.

Fourth, let’s talk competitions.

In response to Paragon’s comment (I added the bold letters):

Another line of questions that I’d love to get your take on have to do with first competitions.  My teacher and I had a chat about this tonight and it was a little overwhelming.  I already know the choreography, but it’s all the other details that I’m clueless about–from the issue of number of entries (for me, this will come down to budget), dress rental, getting a tan, to having hair and makeup done.  My teacher is recommending that I do it all.  But, if it were you doing your first competition all over again, what would you do given what you know now?  For the first two levels of bronze (latin) is it really necessary to have your hair and makeup professionally done?  Do I need a blinged-out dress (I love them, I’m just worried about budget) or could I get away with this for now: http://www.discountdance.com/dancewear/style_N7038.html?pid=9369&Shop=Style&SID=328412990 ?  My main concerns are not looking overdone for my level (I’ve never watched pro am in person) and not letting concern about expense eclipse the fun of the competition.

Of course I have thoughts – and I also loved seeing the interactions that took place in the comments of the blog.  I think those who participated had great things to say, great perspective.

As for my reply, if I were going to do my first competition all over again, what would I do given what I know now, I’m not sure I’d have done anything different. Why? I guess because it has kind of been a “learn-as-you-go” type of experience for me.  I’ve learned about the competitions by doing them, seeing how other people show up for them, and also talking with others more experienced than I am.  Also, I have to realize that I only have my experiences – there are others out there to be had, but I didn’t have them.  For instance, I’ve only danced Pro/Am and never been a part of a big studio.  I’ve never done a “studio” competition, only “real world” ones – but even those “real world” ones come in different “flavors” from what I have observed.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into by deciding to do a dance competition.  It was just something my first instructor mentioned would be a good thing to do.  I went into sticker shock when I learned how much getting a dress would cost, and because of my size, I couldn’t buy one off the rack.  So I swallowed the bullet and had one made.  I’m sure some people would have balked at the expense of it all and said no, but for whatever reason, I just decided it was an experience I wanted to have, so I made it happen.

Even so, I didn’t really understand all the ins and outs of a competition, nor the unwritten “rules.”  I kind of knew you needed to wear stage make-up on the ballroom floor, but I had no idea the extremes people go to, nor that you could hire someone to do your hair and make up, nor that the hairstyles should be as stiff as a football helmet.  I watched a video online about how to apply dark eye make-up and fake eyelashes and did my hair myself.

The first competition I did was a World Promotions event.  These competitions are fun and kind of geared toward destinations.  They play fun music, stuff like AC/DC, that you won’t hear at most “standard” ballroom competitions.  World Promotions events are not where the pros go to compete.  It was, as my then-instructor said, a “nice little competition” for a first one.  Some of their events are very large, they have one in Argentina for instance, and I think they can be great, depending on what your goals for competing are.

The second competition I did was a real eye-opener.  It was the San Diego Open.  This was a more “competitive” situation and had pro heats.  I saw how over-the-top some of the costumes and hairstyles could be.  I realized that my bun maybe wasn’t cutting it.  Again, I did my own hair and make-up, but I realized that for future competitions, I’d probably get some more competent help.

The dress you provided a link to, Paragon, would have made you feel out-of-place at this competition – everyone was blinged out.  But I realize that there are a bunch of different types of competitions where a plain dress like that would be appropriate.  It would be important to know before stepping onto the dance floor.  I don’t think there are any rules against it, or anything, but you’d feel out-of-place, I think, in a sea of sparkles at a competition like this one.  One would hope that you’d be judged more on the quality of your dancing than on your outfit, but many times, from what I understand, it is the entire package you present that the judges mark.  It really could affect your placement, so depending on what is important to you, you will have to decide how you will play the game, and also decide which type of competition will suit you best.

I think the only advice I’d give to my competition-naive-self from my perspective after a few competitions under my belt would be to remind myself that I’m creating this experience for myself.  I should do whatever I want that makes me feel best.  If I want to go big, play blinged out, do the hair, get the tan, don the nails, and get my make-up done, then do it.  If I want to play in a low-key arena, that is great too.  I would tell myself just to be clear on what I want and then to go for it with all that I am in the moment.  And, for God’s sake, to just enjoy every second of it!

I think people compete for different reasons.  All of them are valid – from just wanting to look pretty, to showing off, to testing your mettle, to winning an award, they are all great.  Some people want to just do it once before they die and to find the courage to be seen is a huge accomplishment.  Others want to travel.  Or maybe to make friends.  There is a competition to suit every desire.

I know for me doing the competitions was about setting some goals and seeing how close I could come to reaching them.  It was also about demonstrating my progress over time since I’d put in a lot of effort, time, and money to improve.  I also really just enjoy the experience of dancing in public.  It is a little bit exhilarating (and scary) to vie for the attention of onlookers, and to get a judge to see you.

If I were you, I’d start looking into local competitions.  I’d check out their websites and ask others who have participated in them how they liked them.  I’d ask for the honest opinion of other students.  I’d look for videos from the competition in past years on YouTube.  I’d decide if it was something I was interested in doing, or not.

If your instructor brought it up, there could be a number of reasons for that.  You’ll have to use your own discernment to feel out the motivation behind that.  Obviously, your instructor believes in you and thinks you could be successful on some level in a competitive arena.  If your instructor is encouraging you to stretch yourself, set goals, improve, this is all good.  When I signed up for the San Diego competition it brought focus and intensity and motivation to my lessons.  I improved in quantum jumps instead of plodding along with small incremental changes because I had a definite target I was working toward.  Signing up for a competition may light a fire under your butt and push you farther than you ever thought you’d go.

However, make no mistake, competitions are revenue generators, for everyone involved except students.  This is neither good, nor bad, right nor wrong.  I would just want to make sure I wanted to do the competition for me, not because I was being pressured into it.  I think we can all sense when someone has an agenda – it doesn’t feel good.  I suppose that even if I was aware that my instructor or my studio had an agenda (to make money) to get me to dance in a competition, even that would be okay, as long as I actually wanted to participate.

I have loved my experiences dancing in competitions.  It has deepened my passion for dancing and exposed me to a big wide world greater than I see in my daily life.  I’ve made friends, and grown as a person and a dancer because of setting goals and working toward them at competitions.  If you are at all interested, I’d encourage you to explore the possibility of dancing in a competition.  You never have to do another one again if you hate it, and you just might discover some things about yourself or find that you love competing if you at least give it a chance.

There are a lot of things to think about if you are considering competing, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  It can be an adventure.  Also, since you are connected to this community, you can interact with others who have competed and ask as many questions as you like.  A lot of life is just getting out there and doing “it” even when you don’t have all the information – we rarely do.  Life is short.  Enjoy it.  If competing is something that intrigues you, why not explore it?

I hope this helps!

Paragon2Pieces, This One’s For You

Belated.  Yes.  But here goes…

About a week ago one of my readers, Paragon2Pieces, posted a comment on the blog:

Hi Stephanie, this is unrelated to DWTS, but I was wondering if you could do a post about dance shoes.  How long does a pair last?  What style works best for you?  Have you ever tried one of the more expensive brands and, if yes, was it worth it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Hope all is going well inside and outside of the dance studio!

Bad blogger that I am, I have allowed life to get in the way of a prompt response.  But I can’t express enough how much I appreciate interacting with my readers.  I originally intended to just reply to her comment but, as you know, I am a prolific writer, I love to opine, I have lots to say.  There could be no short, concise response from me.  As I began to see how long my reply was becoming, I decided it should be a blog post in its own right.

Perhaps I missed the boat, Paragon, and you’ve already purchased a new pair of shoes.  Even so, I guess late is better than never.  Here is my experience:  I have tried Dance Naturals.  They are expensive and actually made in Italy, I think.  It took about a month to get them – I bought them online.  They were, to date, my favorite shoes.  In that case, for me, they were worth the money.  I don’t remember how much they cost (probably upwards of $300 with all the shipping and everything – plus they were leather, not satin), but I do remember how amazing they felt on my feet once they were broken in, and that, if you’ve ever danced in heels (much less walked in them) is priceless.

However, I don’t know if it is absolutely necessary to purchase a top end pair of dance shoes to find a pair that you love.  I think that the shoe style that will work best for a person depends upon their feet.  It is probably best to be fitted in person.  I took a chance buying the Dance Naturals online, especially since they are in European sizes.  I was worried for a long time that they wouldn’t fit once I got them and I had to stretch them out a lot.  The top of my foot always bulged a little below the strap over the toes.  They honestly weren’t a perfect fit.  But over time they softened and it worked well enough.  So, next time around, even though I loved that pair of Dance Naturals, I’d prefer to get a pair fit in person before purchasing them again.

I recently purchased some new shoes that were not Dance Naturals.  I tried on a bunch of pairs in the store.  Some I thought were cute but when I put them on I could barely stand in them.  I don’t know if one brand is “better” than another but I do think that quality of materials and construction methods used can extend or shorten the life of a shoe.  I am really bad about wearing my shoes (and clothes too) way past when a normal person would still wear them – they just get so broken in and comfortable.  The guy at the shoe store told me I had to throw out the two pairs of shoes I’d been holding on to, they were that bad.  lol.  The other pair of shoes that worked for me are not as cute but they support my foot well and they just came from a catalog at one of the dance studios I used to go to – a no-name brand.

I will also share that my friend, Ivonne, had an experience buying shoes.  She opted for a less expensive pair before the competition she did and realized very quickly that in general you get what you pay for in terms of ballroom shoes.

I think it’s probably wise to have a few pairs of dancing shoes.  Practice shoes, for instance, are awesome.  I can dance for a long time in those suckers, they are so cushy.  However, they have a lower heel, so if I only dance in those I have to retrain my calves, ankles, and all the little accessory balance muscles in my lower leg to handle higher heels like I’d wear in a competition.  It took me a long time the first time around to acclimate my feet and legs to dancing in heels – it is not something I’d like to repeat!  It was painful, required that I ice my feet nightly, and took a long time.  So, I’m looking to have a balance between keeping my lower legs and feet trained to handle higher heels, and also giving them a break so I don’t overstress my feet by wearing the practice shoes.  It stinks to not be able to get in the cardiovascular conditioning I need to accrue because my feet hurt too much to walk.

The pair I currently have are a middle-of-the-road brand.  They are sturdy and they work well enough for everyday practice.  They aren’t particularly cute and I’ve been thinking that I want another pair of those Dance Naturals again.  Once I get my new job lined up and financially things aren’t so tight, I probably will do that for myself.  At the end of my Dance Natural shoe life-span they felt as good on my feet (with 2.5 inch heels) as my practice shoes feel now (with a 1 inch or 1.5 inch heel).

I don’t know how long ballroom shoes are “supposed” to last.  It probably depends on how often you dance.  For someone like me who tries to dance multiple times a week and doing double lessons sometimes, they won’t last as long as for someone who dances once weekly.

Also, I think because of the differences we all have in foot shape, size, and anatomy, we will all have different preferences for brands that work well for us.  I know Marietta has a particular brand she likes (I can’t remember it right now), and a lot of people like Ray Rose.  Again, it depends on what fits your foot best and what you are willing to pay.  I’ve personally used both less expensive and more expensive shoes and both have served their purpose.  Ultimately I liked the more expensive pair better.

I hope this perspective helps and good luck finding the perfect pair for you!  Maybe when you find them you can send me a picture of them and I’ll share it on the blog, or you could post them on the Dancing With Stefanie Facebook page.  You could even write a follow-up guest post to this sharing your shoe-related experience, if you like.  Consider it an open invitation.  Also, I invite you, and any other reader, to ask questions, suggest topics for future blog posts, and to generally interact on the blog.

I appreciate you!

Sincerely, Stefanie

Damn! Maksim Looked Hot There For A Few Seconds! – DWTS Premiere Commentary

Belated, I know.  The Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) premiere was Monday and it’s Thursday, but hey, better late than never!

Watching this show has become a special ritual for me and my mother-in-law.  She loves the dancing just as much as I do and she lets me come to her house, eat her food, drink her wine, share her company, and talk my silly head off about all that is going on in the show while it plays on her movie-sized projection screen and I sit in a reclinable home theater chair.  It’s pretty close to heaven.  The only thing closer is dancing myself!

So, being someone who actually dances ballroom, I have opinions about this show.  I’m sure most people do who watch it, of course. I mean, that’s were all the fun comes in, right?  We get to pick our favorites and cheer them on, see them transform and grow, and be inspired.

Let me say this before I say anything else.  I totally honor and acknowledge the fact that these stars are willing to get out of their comfort zone and take this challenge on.  No matter how “good” or “bad” of a dancer they show up as, I give them props for being players in the game called life.  We viewers are simply spectating.  As a person who is a player (at times – such as in my recent showcase or at competitions), I can say that there are prices and benefits to being both a player and a spectator.  As a spectator you can have any opinion you want but you don’t risk anything, really, and there isn’t much opportunity to change or grow.  As a player, you risk screwing up, failing, and embarrassing yourself, but you have the opportunity to transform, learn, gain experience and wisdom.  Neither being a player or a spectator is right or wrong, good or bad, but each is a very different experience.  From a sometime player (me) to the players on the show (the stars), I salute you.

That being said, I still have lots to say on the beginning episode of this season.  Maybe you will find it entertaining.  Maybe you won’t.  Maybe you will agree with me.  Maybe you won’t.  I don’t always agree with the judges that’s for sure! Please feel free to comment as much as you like if you have something to say.  I’d love to interact with you!

So the show is following its same formula as always which is kind of annoying.  You know they do it to cover as many demographics as possible but we had our standard Disney kid, a sexagenarian, a few athletes, some singers, a tv/movie star, and someone in the media, all of which we have mostly have never heard of.

The first couple was Maria Menunos (media person) and Derek doing a Cha Cha.  Derek, in my opinion (actually everything I write is my opinion so please just mentally insert that phrase after everything I write from here on out – I mean, it’s my thought, not THE TRUTH, you know?) Well, getting back to this run-on sentence, Derek is very good at making his partners look good.  I feel like he manhandles his women a little bit sometimes, but he has been very successful highlighting his partners’ strengths and hiding their weaknesses.

From my perspective, the Cha Cha was okay.  Maria needed a few “ticky ticky ta’s” to help her hip movement and she danced a little stiff, I thought, like a two-by-four, as Ivan would say.  So, not bad, not great, and plenty of room for her to blossom and grow.

Next was Jack Wagner and Anna Trebunskaya in their bright turquoise outfits doing a Foxtrot.  I thought Jack was very stiff but coped okay.  There was a lot of “fluff” at the beginning to waste time.  The dance for me was enjoyable because of Jack’s acting and personality but the technique left something to be desired.  Again good, not great for me, so I was shocked when Jack got two 8’s from the judges.  It made me wonder if he’d made some contract that he couldn’t be kicked off the show the first week, or something.  Especially in light of some of the other performances of the night, I thought the 8’s were pretty high for his performance.  But, I really want Anna’s shoes from this number!  They were sparkly blue goodness.

Then came Donald Driver and Peta.  Oh my gosh Peta is gorgeous.  That little number she was wearing was amazing too.  Their Cha Cha was fantastic.  I think Tom Bergeron had it right about this number – it really didn’t feel like week one watching them dance.  Donald did a lot of great side-by-side dancing which I think is difficult to do…much easier to stay in frame and be guided by your professional partner.  The side-by-side work demonstrated Donald’s balance and ability to move.  It will be very interesting to see how Donald does next week with the Quickstep, being a ballroom dance and all.  He seems much more suited to the latin numbers and had great rhythm.  So to be awarded all 7’s by the judges I was like, WTH!  I’m sure he’ll be voted through, though.

Interesting side note…I’ve only voted once, ever for DWTS and never for any other show like SYTYCD, Idol, etc.  Weird, I know.  I’m quirky like that.

Gavin Degraw and Karina were up next with a Foxtrot.  I appreciated Gavin’s authenticity about feeling more confident when he has a piano between him and the audience and I genuinely enjoyed his performance, but not so much because of the dancing.  He was a weird mix of being fluid and stiff and definitely suffered from “paddle hands.”  But I really liked him anyways and see that he has a lot of potential to improve.  I was like, awwww Gavin, I like you, even if you are a two-by-four.  His rankings were about right from the judges, I thought.

Chelsea and the token Disney kid, Roshon, were slated for the Cha Cha after that.  Can he move?  Yes.  For me, he’s like, Dance ten, attitude three.  I appreciate the fact that he shared that he is a freestyler but didn’t appreciate the fact that he claimed not to be intimidated by ballroom at all.  It was nice to see he changed his tune at the end saying that he was “very wrong” and that ballroom wasn’t that difficult.  Also, it annoyed me a little bit that he did the Moonwalk like five times during the routine.  Though I totally get why Chelsea would want to choreograph the number to highlight Roshon’s abilities, even my mother-in-law asked me what dance they were doing because she couldn’t tell.  So, I’m not a fan.  He’ll probably do very well this season.  For sure I thought he danced better than Jack Wagner, but he got an equivalent score.

OMG do I love Miss Sherri! I’m going to call her “Smiles” from now on.  As my friend Ivonne said, “Sherri Shephard just made me feel so joyful and happy. It was contagious! Watching her whole segment made me feel like I was wrapped up in rainbows and puppy dogs and kittens.”  Yep.  That pretty much sums it up.  She was darling.  I loved the part where Val put her hand on his behind and she declared, “God is real!”  Smiles will be very fun to watch this season and I’m rooting for her.

The next team on the floor was M&M – Melissa Gilbert and Maksim, that is.  Damn!  Maksim looked freakin’ hot when the showed him when he first met Melissa with the long hair and scruffy beard.  I’m not normally so into him but for those few seconds, I think he was even hotter than the Cuban guy, William Levy.  Anyways, I digress.  Maksim had it right – ugly movement (at times) but correct.  I think Melissa has the opportunity to come out of her shell and I did see some nice movement mixed in there – I noticed a really nice time step.  Considering the woman has recovered from breaking her back, I think she is doing awesome.  I hope her confidence continues to grow as the season progresses.

Oh la la.  William Levy and Cheryl Burke.  Here we have the opposite of dance ten, looks three.  It was looks ten, dance three.  Well, maybe not a three, but maybe a five or six?  Sure the man has rhythm but he dances like someone who works out.  He moved, I thought, like Psycho Mike from last season who got booted after the first episode.  A little bit stiff with pigeon toes.  Plus he danced more like he was at a club than in a ballroom.  He sure had audience support, though.  And he is pretty to look at.  Also, I love, love, loved Cheryl’s green glitter outfit with matching shoes.  Again, I think he will be around for quite a while.

Martina and Tony graced us viewers next with a Foxtrot.  Martina is darling but she dances very manly, like Hope Solo did last season.  It’s just that she has such different muscle memory from the sport she plays.  However, she did look beautiful in her dress and how awesome that she was wearing it after not donning one for 20 years.  It’s her opportunity to get in touch with her femininity and I would love to see that journey unfold.  I mean, her biggest concern was wearing heels.  I’m cheering for her success but we will see how far she gets.  You never know….Hope made it very far last season dancing that manly.

Okay, so here in the show I got a little annoyed.  It was Mark and Katherine Jenkins.  She was absolutely gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but that’s probably partly because she really looks to me like she’s had ballet training in her past.  That, to me, is absolutely fine – I just wish they’d acknowledged it like they acknowledged the dancing background for Roshon.  You see, she made exquisite lines and the Foxtrot really suited her, but she was dancing it like a ballerina, on her toes (and with a gorgeous port de bras), not like a ballroom dancer.  I’m just sayin’.  It doesn’t seem fair that someone can be that beautiful and talented at both singing and dancing.  She is amazing and I think she will (and should) go far. She is a great dancer.  It will be interesting to see how she manages with the “sexy” dances.

Oh Gladys, you are darling and I want that red dress!  Gladys Knight and Tristan did a great Cha Cha and I thought Gladys was very cool, calm, and collected.  I was really impressed and she deserved that standing ovation.  But alas, she got the same score as Jack Wagner!  Can you believe it!?  She did amazing and I will enjoy watching her for weeks to come.

And last, but probably the best, was Erkel, I mean Jaleel White and Kym Johnson.  His Foxtrot was spectacular right from the start with an impressive 360 leap.  He was very light on his feet, had great flow, lots of charisma, and was even compared by Bruno to the incomparable Gregory Hines.  The show producers were right to put him last as the show ended with a bang.

All in all, a great first show and a nice, glittery escape from real life.  I will be watching!