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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Musicality With Master Teacher Inna

Seriously.  Every time I make it to Inna’s Latin class on Tuesdays I gain so much.

Tonight when I got there I saw Igor was teaching the International Ballroom group class instead of Artem and I had a little hope that maybe he would teach the Latin tonight as well, that maybe Inna and Artem were out of town or something.  Why?  Well, he kicks my butt…but Inna kicks it more.  I thought it might be a little bit of a reprieve.  But then Inna came out from the back and I whispered to Igor behind my hand, “I kinda wished you were teaching tonight because Inna kicks my butt.”  He laughed.  “No, tonight Inna’s going to kick your butt.”  Then louder I replied,  “I mean, I’m so glad Inna’s teaching tonight because she’s gonna kick my butt!”

Someone asked Inna what we were going to work on for the evening and she just smiled slyly saying, “Something fun.”

“Uh oh,” I muttered under my breath, imagining we’d be doing the Jive non-stop for the next hour.

After our usual welcome message and lining up in a row to bow and curtsey before the class is to begin, the blond powerhouse decided we should warm up with Samba.  Holy hell!  As I sit here writing this the muscles above my knees are aching and I know tomorrow my abs are gonna burn.  But it was good stuff.  We did the basic, front and back, working on bending our knees and thrusting our pelvis forward and back to get the bounce.  Then we added the whisk to the mix.  Then the arms.  Then she said, “And now we are gonna do this for 10 minutes.” Some people smirked, but I looked at my friend, Barb with a knowing look just as Inna said, “I’m serious.”  We were like, “We know” to one another.

But in reality I can seriously only do like three sets of the combination with the arms, they are so fast and my upper limbs are super heavy.  So, as per usual, I danced full-out doing as best I could, then resting doing the footwork sans arms, then adding them back in once more.  Next we did Samba walks across the floor.  I was warm and tingling, gasping for breath and red and wet with sweat.  Nice warm up Inna!

So then came the fun part.  And you know what….it really was.

Inna was going to teach us about musicality in the body.  The specific type of movement we were going to work on is called Impact, at least that is what I think she was saying.  To me it kind of sounded like “Em-pat” but the movement she demonstrated was to move and stop.  Sharp, staccato movements.

Pretty much we got to strike a pose.  She didn’t care if it was a dance movement.  It could be an arm, a foot, a shoulder, the head.  But we had to move on the count of three and stop.  She counted a Cha Cha rhythm.  So she called me and one other gal to stand in the front of the class after we had done it in a group for a while. I played around and even hit my behind just for fun!  And did the robot, you know, like from the 80’s?  It was super fun.

Then we got to be a clapping orchestra.  Inna separated us in to groups and we clapped parts of the Cha Cha rhythm…1,2,3, cha cha, 1,2,3, cha cha.  Then we stomped it.  Then we did it to music.  It took a while some time for people to hear the beat.  They were rushing sometimes, but eventually we all got in sync.

Next, Inna explained that we could all now hear the Cha Cha beat, and we understood Impact movement, but that there were other types of Musicality in the body.  There can be continuous movement, like in a Rumba.  And Pulsing movement, like in a Bolero, where you hit a pose but then continue extending the movement slowly.  And there is Swing, like in the Ballroom dances where the big movement is in the middle of the stride, but that is not used in Latin dances so much.  And there is Vibration, which was fun and she made us all do it….just wiggling small and fast all over the body.  She said we were all good at that one.  And then staccato movement, which is the Impact movement only faster.  We weren’t going to work on these types of movement, but it is good to know about them.  This kind of stuff is rarely discussed on lessons.

So then it was time to put the Impact body Musicality together with the Cha Cha rhythm.  I think this increased the difficulty by 150%.  We did our usual Cha Cha routine but this time extra sharp.  And, this made it extra hard.  In fact, she said, “If it is more difficult, then you are doing it right.”  I guess I was successful because man, that was a beast!  It takes so much energy to hit each pose with force and then stop myself so sharply.  I could barely do the combination two times in a row and normally, when I move softer and more continuously, I can make it across the floor.

Class ended, we bowed and curtsied, but afterwards I had to tell Inna my experience.  “Inna, every time I come to this class, I just gain so much.  I really feel like you are a master teacher.  It is so wonderful.  Thank you.”  She gave me a hug.

I mean it.  Very sincerely.  And I’m bummed I missed last week when they worked on facial expressions!  Again, invaluable stuff for the competitive dancer like me and I bet that class was a riot!  I’ve got to go as much as I possibly can.  I don’t want to miss a single minute, you know?

So at the end of the day, before I see who got the boot on DWTS tonight, I’m reflecting on my dance life.  I just feel so completely blessed to be learning not only from Ivan, but from Inna too.  I am so grateful for my teachers.  They are worth every penny and every minute.  I count myself extremely lucky to be able to learn from pros like these.