This Week So Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The River And The Desert

Sometimes life takes us in directions we didn’t think we’d go. Little did I know today when I awoke that I’d be releasing a little bit of my life and the income that went with it. It made me feel as though there was an empty hole in my middle. I had the same feeling about 20 minutes after being in my first car accident as a teenager. You know, that burst of adrenaline followed by a shaky exhaustion.

I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about. I am a woman of diverse talents. I went to school to become a pharmacist. I got completely burned out doing this and quit. I was convinced that I never wanted to be a pharmacist again! I sought other job opportunities. I began to tutor high school kids.

It was great! I loved being with them, helping them, and helping their families. I got to do math problems and science and Spanish. It was so much more fun and less stressful than my previous job. I dove right in and have been doing it part-time ever since.

But this past year, I’ve really reconnected with the part of me that has been with me since age 5 when I began dancing. I started this blog, and also getting out into my dance community. My focus has shifted. This is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but the passion that I had been pouring into my tutoring was now being applied to dancing.

I didn’t recognize it, but apparently others around me did. They were so happy at the positive changes flooding into my life, but my fire for the tutoring had waned. I was fully prepared to finish out the school year but I was called on this change in desire. I had a choice: choose in, fully commit and really show up for the kids or release it, create space in my life, and embrace this newfound passion and connection to dance, writing, and the dance community. One path was practical, and guaranteed a certain amount of income. The other was veiled and promised no obvious road to riches.

But the practical choice felt flat. I knew, if I was very honest with myself, that I couldn’t be there for the kids like I had been before. The more responsible and compassionate choice to both parties, I believe, is to get them what they need rather than to than hang on when I can feel that my passion has shifted.

It was simply time to move on. I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, it was about the least traumatic, most loving parting-of-ways I’ve ever experienced. There was mutual respect, trust, and gratitude on both sides. But I still grieve it. Sometimes we even grieve things that are gone that aren’t good for us, for heaven’s sake! This part of my life had been a Godsend.

I just know that this was the right thing to do for me now. I shed my tears and said goodbye and thank you to this portion of my life. Kinda like how I felt when graduating from high school. I knew things would never be the same. I knew the chapter was closing on one part of my life.

Yet I choose to believe that all things happen for a reason. I also believe that nature will always fill a vacuum.

I now have a vacuumed space in my life. I am believing that amazing and wondrous things, people, and opportunities now have the space to flood in. Before my life was jam-packed – every moment accounted for. Now, I have more space and time.

The flip side of that is that I don’t have as much money to put toward dancing.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling okay about this. I will need to be much more disciplined about my spending. I will need to participate in more group classes and less private classes. That, or get paid to be on a reality show that follows me and Ivan around because we are so dang entertaining! lol. Hey, it could happen!

But in all practicality, I am going to be fine. I will have to save my pennies and will probably be putting a few things on Ebay, but that is okay. I already told Ivan that we have to do single lessons from now on until I win the Power Ball. He said that the most important thing is that I just keep coming, however often that needs to be.

So after releasing this particular aspect of my existence, and processing all the emotion that came up as a result, I was left with a hole in my stomach. In my old days, I probably would have poured a glass of wine and made a nice comforting meal, and curled up with the tv remote for a nice sedentary evening. But “new” Stef, the one who wears the way-too-high-to-be-practical-cherry-red-heels-that-scream-look-at-me, she chooses differently. Even though she feels like she’s been through a battle, she grabs her gear, gets in the car, and drives to Imperial studio for a good old butt-kicking from miss Inna.

As usual, I am exhausted and shaky, sweaty and beet red, gasping, cramping, etc, etc, etc. As per usual, I’m the biggest girl in the ballroom. But not as per usual, there is a larger class than before the holidays and one of the participants is a high school kid (I think). His mom is watching the class while waiting for her son.

We do Rumba, then Samba. I mostly make it through but have to bow out during one of the last Samba exercises…something was gonna blow if I didn’t. Grabbing my water and Gatorade I glance over and smile at the mother watching her son. She smiles sympathetically at me.

Finally the class is over. I’m spent. As I’m packing up, the mother comes over to me and says, “You looked great out there. I could never do that.”

I thank her, and I really appreciate the fact that she took the time to say something. It feels great to be acknowledged, for sure. But I actually disagree with her. It’s kinda the point of my blog and, by extension, my life. If I can do it, ANYONE who wants to can do it. If that guy at the dance studio that coaches with Ivan’s mother-in-law and is an amputee can do it, ANYONE can do it. If Kristie Alley can do it….just kidding. She was great.

But don’t you see? We make up excuses as to why we can’t do something. I did it for 12 years. I abandoned dancing, this thing that feeds my soul, keeps me healthy and happy, this thing that I love, and I left it because I didn’t think it was a practical life choice. I got miserable and fat and damaged my health because I made up a story about why I wasn’t a dancer, why that couldn’t be my life path, denying my very essence, denying my true identity.

Thank God I finally woke up!

And so, life gave me a beautiful opportunity just now. I could choose to settle once more. It was even a great way to do it…seemingly. I would have gotten to be with others, help them, and make a little money on the side by continuing to tutor. But I would have been making that same choice I made so long ago to do what is expected, even if it’s not what I truly, deeply, want to be doing with my life. So this time, I chose differently.

It reminds me of a parable I once heard (I’m paraphrasing here):

There was a great river. The river could go anywhere it wanted and it wanted to return to the sea. Nothing could stop it. It could even penetrate through stone. But one day the river met the desert. The desert pleaded with the river, “please don’t try to go through me. It won’t work.” “But I am a great river. I have made my way through stone. No sand can stop me.” It replied.

So the river poured into the desert. And it poured and it poured. And it poured until it was exhausted and the desert had become a swamp.

“You are right, desert, I cannot make my way through you.”

“You are partly right, river, you cannot make your way through me in your current form.”

And then something happened. The warm air of the desert caused the river to evaporate. And it arose into the air where it became a cloud that floated over the desert. It traversed the desert and rained down into the ocean, finally arriving at its destination. The only way for the river to make it there was to transform.

My decisions in life have been like the path of the river. For a while, my mechanisms of moving in this world worked. I was able to navigate many situations. But at some point, I reached my own desert. I tried my old tactics and began to pour and pour and pour myself into it. It has gotten me exhausted and yet no closer to my dreams. It is time for me to transform, indeed it is the only way I will reach my destination. Choosing differently this time is one piece of that metamorphosis. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out just yet, but I’m trusting the process, just like the river had to trust the process of evaporation. I will make it to my destination, though I will do it as a woman transformed.

It’s even kind of exciting, huh?

Yes, I think it is.