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

Being Seen

I woke up this morning and I have a soreness in my left back side, below the shoulder but above the hips.  Right where the kidneys are.  It seems muscular because it is exacerbated with certain movements and painless when sitting still.  Unfortunately the movements that make it hurt are those found in the Samba, Cha Cha, or Rumba – exactly the dances Ivan decides to work on with me today.  I try to stretch it out but it is actually still causing me some discomfort.  Probably a 6 on a scale of 10 when activated.  Thankfully it is tolerable and disappears completely when not activated.

So I ignore the ache as much as I can and Ivan wants to start right away with Samba, his favorite dance.  We get through our little routine twice pretty easily except he doesn’t like the way I’m doing this little circular back step in which I stick out my butt.  He wants me to engage more with the upper body and makes me do it like 20 times, then practice doing it actually against the wall.

I’ve decided to wear my new heels for the first time today.  The practice shoes are so comfy and cushy, but they have a thicker and shorter heel making balance much easier to find.  I won’t have this luxury for the showcase dance so I need to start conditioning my feet once again.  But Ivan doesn’t like them so much.  He says that on the left foot, the way my weight is and how the shoe fits my foot, that the heel is going to go out sideways on me.  I’m like, how can you tell that?  But guess what, it happened.  The heel slipped sideways a few steps after we started.  Seriously, I think it is weird that male ballroom dancers know so much about heels.  A previous instructor of mine knew a lot about them too.

“This the last time you buy these American Ballroom shoes.  Next time Supadance or Dance Naturals.”

That is fine and well, but I must try on the shoe first!  I’ve had a pair of Dance Naturals at one point but they didn’t really fit my feet because I purchased them online.  And this time around, when I went to an actual brick and mortar shoe store I saw some heels I liked but when I put them on my feet they just didn’t work.  For now, the ones I have will just have to be okay.  They are pretty darn comfortable, and my foot looks cute in them.  I just don’t want to hurt my ankle if the heel keeps slipping out like that.  Time will tell.

Next it is on to Latin Cha Cha.  I’m doing the steps but not dancing with Ivan.  He’s like, “Stop thinking about all the emotional stuff.”

I’m like, “I’m not thinking about emotional stuff!  I’m throwing myself off balance because I’m leaning, collapsing.  I have to rememer to keep my spine straight.”  I correct my posture and immediately the movement is easier, more controlled, and more balanced.  But I’m not looking at Ivan.  Not really looking into his eyes.  I’m so focused on all the stuff I’m thinking about (posture, the steps, balance, my feet hurt in the heels, my legs are tired, my back hurts, etc, etc, etc) that I’m not really being present.

He imitates me (exaggerating a little, I hope) kind of stumbling around looking nowhere…like a zombie trying to do a Cha Cha.  He throws me out for a fan.  I’m supposed to look at him then interact with the imaginary audience to the side, then, as I switch my weight on count 2, I’m to look at him again.  I’m to look into his eyes through that step into a Hockey Stick.  Look at him until the last second before I turn then find him directly once again.

Haven’t I heard this before?  Yes, yes.  I sure have.  But the habit of disconnection still rears its ugly head.

I refocus and look into Ivan’s eyes…for realsies.  You know, the difference between looking and seeing.  It creates an intagible but real connection.  I’m connected and we do the steps again.

“They gonna see we dancing with each other, not just doing the steps.”

You know, this is my greatest secret wish come true.  My first instructor used to tell me that he was only dancing with like 70% of his power.  That I couldn’t handle his 100%.  Now maybe this was true.  But also, it seems like he was holding back.  He wasn’t open to truly dancing with me or he didn’t consider me his equal.  In terms of dance knowledge and ability at that time, I was most certainly his inferior, but as a human being, we are all equal, and couldn’t he have danced 100% with that part?  I used to promise myself I’d get good enough that he’d dance with me 100%.  But I’m thinking now that probably he wasn’t capabale of dancing with me that way, and I’m still not capable of it, except for in very focused, present moments.

I mean, for sure Ivan is superior to me in terms of technique, practice, and experience.  But he still wants to dance with me, not just go through the motions.  I never get the feeling he is holding back or that he thinks I’m not up to the challenge.  If anything, he sees more potential in me that I can see sometimes.  Ivan sees me.  He sees the dancer in me.  And he calls her forth.  She can’t hide, even when she tries.

So the most miraculous thing happened.  I was doing a fan and I looked to the imaginary audience as I stepped to the side and this time I was facing a mirror.  As I did my little fan, I actually liked the way it looked!  I actually liked it a lot.  Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often.  I can think I look “pretty good” sometimes, and at others I just see that something isn’t quite right but I don’t know how to fix it.  Or I see my flaws, or things I don’t like about my body.  But in this moment, I saw that dancer inside.  I saw how she was confidently connecting and moving, and I liked it.  I liked me.  And it felt really good.

I was being with me, rather than the chatter in my head, the pain in my body, or any other distraction.  I was seeing me.

And for the first time in a long time, not only was it not scary, but I actually liked what I saw.