Stroking The Ego Or Simply Acknowledging My Greatness???

Tomorrow is the showcase.

I’m currently on a hunt for some nude extra-large adult fishnet stockings.  I realized that I needed them after remembering last night that I threw out my last pair after competing at Galaxy.  I have a lesson with Ivan scheduled in 2 hours and I’m hoping to have them in hand by then to do a “full dress rehearsal.”

Maybe it’s the old training from Glenda Folk, but I want to see how it feels to dance in my outfit with the nylons and all.  I don’t want any wardrobe malfunctions and usually I wear things that cover the booty completely.  Now I have to figure out if I’m going to be okay with the stockings alone since I am wearing a skirt or if I’m going to need to find some bike shorts too.  I don’t think I have a black leotard in my closet anymore but that would probably be the best thing to wear underneath.  I mean, I am doing a high leg kick and there are some dips.

The last time I danced was Tuesday.  I had a lesson with Ivan during which we pretty much warmed up and then ran the Rumba 4 times or so.  Some run-throughs were better than others.  I’m a little concerned about how it will go tomorrow evening after a full day of work and no time to warm up before we perform.  It will be in a different space than we’ve been practicing and with different elements in the space such as an audience, perhaps low lighting, and who knows how well the music will work out.  I don’t know when I perform, what order things will happen.  All I can say is, pretty good thing for me that I am a “go with the flow” type of gal in this instance.  Don’t get me wrong, I have my control issues, but in this case I’m happy enough just to let things unfold as they will.  Worrying won’t change it so I’m not going to waste one precious moment putting panic energy into the situation.

It’s not that I’m worried, per se, it’s more that I want to do an amazing job.  It’s my first time doing an actual ballroom routine in a showcase with just me and my instructor on the floor.  It’s not Dancing With The Stars, that’s for sure!  I’ll only have maybe 20 pairs of eyes on me, not 20 million!

It will be what it will be.  I’m excited but not nervous.  I usually don’t get nervous until the moment before!  Then I’m practically shaking.  But once we start moving, I’m sure it will all be okay.

Woudln’t you know it? The showcase was originally planned on a day when my husband was out-of-town and got rescheduled to another date that he is out-of-town. He left for San Francisco this morning. But that is why video cameras exist.

So anyways, after dancing with Ivan in the morning last Tuesday, I also went to class with Inna in the evening.  It was my 8 year wedding anniversary so Ty and I had some sushi and then I was off.  We made a point to watch a movie together the previous night and last night, the day after our anniversary, we also spent some quality time together.  But that class is so good, and my husband understands how important it is to me, that he gladly let me go.

Surprise, surprise, it was a night of Paso Doble!

Besides the Jive, Paso Doble is the dance in the Latin category that I’ve practiced the least.  I’m not all that familiar with the basic steps nor do I know how to count it.  But Inna gave us a few moves and made up some combinations and I did my best to follow along.

I have no idea what the figure is called, but we started with a movement pushing our hips forward, raising up on our “tippy toes,” (as Inna calls it), pushing our chest upward and outward, and pulling our arms behind our back to create a bow shape through the front of our bodies, all over a full count of eight.

It was tiring!  I kept losing my balance, bobbling on my toes.  I’m used to balancing up there with my legs straight, as in a ballet releve’ but with this awkward bow position with my chest not directly above my hips, I had a hard time finding my new center.  I got a bit better over the evening, but it was quite a challenge!  Plus, we were using back and hip muscles not normally activated in Rumba or Cha Cha.  Inna advised us that if we felt discomfort in our lower backs, then we were doing it right!  “And,” she said, “the good news is there are no hips!”

Yes, no hips, but there is stomping, and balancing, and portraying the fiery nature of the dance, being as serious as a bullfighter, holding your arms taut, doing steps you are not comfortable with….well, it’s quite a trade-off.

In any case, I did the best I could, stomping and parading, and portraying.  Some interesting things happened as I explored the movement.

At first, I tried very hard to imitate Inna, exactly how she was moving.  I mean, I got the general idea and created mostly the same shapes.  But on this one part we were raising our arms in a large circle while stepping sideways and I could not figure out how Inna was creating a twist with her shoulders.  I tried making it happen for a few minutes and royally messed up the steps but then something kind of magical happened.  I watched how I was doing it in the mirror and I figured it looked pretty good.  The lines were different than those of Inna, maybe more straight up or something, but still aesthetically pleasing.  After all, the steps are set in stone via the syllabus but the arm styling, as far as I understand it, is up to artistic interpretation.

Perhaps I was doing it completely wrong.  And if you put me next to Inna on the dance floor she’s gonna kick my butt every time.  However, I decided in that moment to that I’d forget it.  I decided, “I’m not Inna.  I’m not able to make my arms look exactly like hers.  Mine look pretty good the way I’m doing it so I’m just going to go with that…fully commit to how I, Stefanie, am interpreting the steps, and let it be enough.”

I didn’t realize it in the class but as I reflected upon the experience later that night, I realized that I had actually stood in my own space as a dancer/artist.  It kind of came up on me as a surprise.  I mean, I’ve been trained from the get-go to always look to my teachers for guidance and feedback.  I’m conditioned to look outside of myself to see how I am doing.

For whatever reason this time I looked inward and found my own answer.

The other interesting thing that happened during the lesson was that Inna had me and Rose go across the floor alone doing the combination.

At first Inna just told Rose to do it but then she added my name and Rose was so happy she didn’t have to do it by herself.  She also asked Inna to go in front of us.  Neither of us was feeling particularly confident about knowing the combination.

My trepidation was well founded.  I screwed up multiple times but I just laughed every time I messed up!  I then recommitted to the next step, doing it the best I could.

When we reached the other side of the ballroom floor Rose was smiling widely.  She told me that I had been cracking her up and that even Inna had been smiling as we made our way across the studio because she could hear me giggling the entire way.

Later she told me, “You are an awesome dancer!”  Now coming from Rose, that means a lot.  You should she how this sassy gal moves her hips!  Actually, you can, because I’ve put links to her dancing on the Dancing With Stefanie Facebook Page.

Then later, either she or someone else in the class said, “You pick things up so quickly!”  I attribute this to all my dancing with Glenda Folk.  We were expected to pick things up rather quickly and I always thought I was pretty average to slow at it.  I’d see how quickly professionals are expected to remember a routine, like the pace on SYTYCD or as a kid watching the movie A Chorus Line, and I’d be flabbergasted, thinking I could never pick things up that quickly.

Then, as we were doing our usual Cha Cha combination across the floor, I got another unexpected, unsolicited comment.  One of the males in the class told me “I love the way you move!”

Now, why am I telling you all this?  I mean, why all the “bragging on myself?”  I guess it just is so interesting to me how I perceive myself versus how others perceive me.

Of course hearing things like this feels good.  It strokes the ego.  But it is a slippery slope, as they say.  It’s like walking along the razor edge of a sword….one step to the left or right and you are off the path, and ouch!  How to hold both realities that I am amazing, great, fantabulous, and also have SO much work to do, nowhere near perfection, and still making a ton of amateur mistakes.

You know what?  I am both.  I absolutely am.  I have these momentary lapses of amazing greatness, and also a lot of screw ups, many times on the very same lesson.  And guess what…that’s okay.  I’m human, after all, right?  Oh yeah…aren’t I a spiritual being having a human experience rather than the other way around?  Who knows.  It sure as hell isn’t me!  lol.

So here’s to the flawed, imperfect, messed up part of me and also to the amazing, flawless, perfect part of me.  Both exist in my world.  Both will probably come out to play tomorrow for the showcase.

And, because of that, it is gonna be awesome.

-Stef

Advertisements

Check Your Ego At The Door

Although the breathing issues are still present, they have improved somewhat and I have been able to get back to some dancin’ with Ivan.  This is a very good thing, though I still missed class with Inna, Marieta, and Toni this week.

I’ve been mostly working on a performance piece for an upcomming showcase which was originally scheduled for February 24th.  Wouldn’t you know it but just after I sent out an email to my nearest and dearest friends and family about my very first showcase with a solo routine I got word that the date was changed.

I have to admit, I’m kinda bummed.  Yeah, they say that it is just rescheduled, not cancelled, and I will get extra time to practice my routine (and based on my lesson today I could use it), plus, my husband had a potential scheduling conflict so he was uncertain he would be able to come see me dance, but even with all these positives, I was still all geared up and excited for this thing that I had been working toward for a month to finally happen.  It knocked the wind out of my sails a little bit, if you know what I mean.

This was after my lesson this morning.

Now, as you know I love Ivan as my teacher.  He is just amazing in so many ways.  From his idiot-savant-type spiritual guidance to his knowledge of ballroom dancing and technique, and his ability to draw things out of me I didn’t know were there, to his capacity to see my potential, I just think he’s the cat’s meow.

But I’ve also mentioned that he has an intense side and boy was it out to play today.  You know what, though, I can also be very intense.  When I get focused on a task at work, for instance, I can become so set on that particular thing to the exclusion of others.  Intensity can be great, at times.  Today, however, on my lesson, I felt like when it came to my routine, I couldn’t have done anything right enough to please my instructor.

It sounds kind of harsh, maybe, but sometimes it is just what is needed.  I think it’s good to be humbled at times as a reminder of how much work there is left to do.  I have enjoyed many nice compliments on my dancing over my “career,” and even recently Nona, Ivan’s mother-in-law (Marieta’s mom) who is an excellent ballroom dancer and instructor herself, told me that I was was doing well.  I take that as a great compliment and acknowledgement of how far I’ve come.  Nona saw me when I first started dancing with Jeff back in August of last year, so she can see the difference.  She basically told me, “I don’t know what Ivan’s telling you, but it’s working.  You are looking great out there.”

Well anyways, today I needed to check my ego at the door of the dance studio.  Not that I’m like, an egotistical maniac, or that I think that I’ve “arrived,” or even that I walk around thinking, “I’m such a great dancer!” But with all the nice compliments lately, it’s easier to become complacent.  To think, “Hey!  I’m doing okay here!  I’m actually pretty good.”

But if I’m honest, I don’t want to settle for “good.”  I want to be great.  Also, I know good and well there are some major issues with my dancing…balance, being on my heels instead of my toes, my weight, my cardiovascular capacity and stamina, arm styling…just to name a few.  There is always room for improvement, as they say.

Well, anyways, I nailed the opening steps of the showcase routine and Ivan tells me “Perfect! Perfect!” This kind of feedback is what my ego likes.

It went well until the first spiral turn, which I always lose my balance while doing because I’m trying to do this arm thing and not look like a ballerina (which, when I do the ballerina arms, I can keep my balance….go figure).  So it started to downhill from there.

Then we did an underarm turn.  I freakin’ hate the arm on that – shooting my arm straight out.  I asked Ivan if there was something different I could do there.  We came up with running my arm behind my head but then like a minute later I did a turn with my arm completely down (another bad habit that occurs when I’m focusing on fixing something else) and Ivan was like, “You complain you want to do a different arm, but then you don’t even do the basic beginner arm styling! I prefer you do the simple movement and do it well than to do what you just did.”

Okay, feedback.  Okay, note to self, work on damn arms…wait didn’t I already know that?

Then I’m screwing up this walking turn thing.  I’m sure it has a name…spot turn, maybe?  Anyways, I’m giving Ivan a good frame, but according to him I’m not moving my feet enough and I’m leaning in with my upper body.

Okay, stop that.

Then on to sliding doors.  I’m doing the same leaning thing with my upper body in this step.  Ivan tells me to cut it out, to get out of his space.

Then on to this step where I go forward on my right and then flip 180 degrees, switch my weight, then step forward.  Again, my body is leaning sideways, I’m pulling on Ivan, making it difficult and sloppy and slow.

By the end of all this feedback (and more that I’m just not listing here), my brain was boggled and I felt pretty crappy about myself and my dancing abilities.  I mean, I’m still trying to remember the entire routine. It’s like 4 minutes long. So I’m not certain 100% of the time what I’m doing. And with uncertainty for me comes tensing up. So I’m thinking to myself, you not only want me to do the steps but execute them correctly, too?

I’m being facetious here! Of course I want to do the steps well! But this is a big bite to chew.

But you know what?  We danced the routine just one last time and somehow I was able to incorporate a vast majority of all the feedback I’d been given, and although I didn’t feel very good emotionally about it, I realized I’d actually danced it better, cleaner, and more on balance.

I’m grateful I have an instructor who can help me do that, even if it means my ego gets a little bruised.

At the end of the lesson another student entered the studio and asked me how I was doing.

“Pretty good,” I replied.  “But Ivan’s being a task master today.  We’re working on a routine for this showcase next week and I have a lot to work on.  Ivan’s making me dance myself, be on my own feet.  I’m like, ‘What do you mean, Ivan?  You don’t want me to hang on you?  That’s the best part!'”  We all laughed.

In all seriousness, though, I think it is such a gift to have an instructor who would rather risk bruising my ego and give me honest feedback as well as the means to correct some bad habits so that I may be empowered as a dancer than keep me dependent on him.  I just have to remember to check my ego at the door and embrace the feedback.  It got me some awesome results today.  My ego may not like the corrections or miss being told how great I am, but my spirit is glad.  And, I want to evolve into my best dancing self and I can’t let anything, not even my very own ego, get in the way of that.  I’m really grateful, too, that I just went with it today.  If my ego had really gotten out of hand such that I’d reacted emotionally and got all butt-hurt that Ivan was being more intense about fixing stuff today, it would have seriously gotten in the way and I would have missed out on the lessons and results.

It also made me realize that there is always more I could be doing.  I could be practicing more, and after today, especially on this routine, I think I will…in fact, I have a date scheduled with my friend Ivonne to do just that on Saturday.  Also, I have occasionally taken notes after my lessons to remember what we talked about or what I felt in my body or learned on the lesson but I haven’t done it for months.  That’s just lazy.  Today I immediately sat down and jotted down the main corrections.

But most of all, I was reminded that I am much more than my personality or my ego.  Yes, they are parts of me, vital parts, but they do not comprise the whole being that I am.  I was reminded that my ego may not like how things are presented sometimes but that when I can acknowledge that and yet still remain open to the feedback and find the value in it, I may benefit greatly in such a way that creates fantastic results.  Sure praise and positive attention feel great, but you know what feels better?

Improving.

Yes it sure does.

Really?

So last night I went to a  West Coast Swing (WCS) group class because my friend wanted to go.  It was a dance she explored a few years ago but hadn’t done in at least a year.  I’m so glad we went because it was actually a really good class, the instructor was clearly a “Westie” (i.e. not a person who specializes in ballroom teaching WCS, but someone who knows the WCS dance specifically), and my friend remembered how much she loved the dance.

I’ve been interested in learning WCS, really, after meeting an instructor at a competition.  He brought it to my attention that ballroom has stylized this dance and it looks really different when danced by people who know it.  I went to a class back in September and instantly understood what he meant.  It is such a smooth, sultry, down and dirty, but super creative, and fun dance.  It really depends on the connection between partners and allows the opportunity for a conversation to occur between the partners.  It was a total different experience than I’d had learning it from a ballroom instructor.

So, in any case, my interest in learning the “authentic” WCS is piqued.

Last night we learned a ton of moves and I met a lot of people as the classes progressed and leaders rotated around to followers one after an other.

Some of these dancers are amazing.  They know all the moves and they know how to lead.

Some of these guys are less experienced, but open to learning, and fun to connect with.

Then there are those who think they are there to instruct me.

Listen, it’s generally great to get to dance with a more experienced dancer.  They can teach you stuff just through the process of dancing with them.

But the worst is when they think they know what they are doing but in actuality they don’t.  Yes, perhaps the “know” how to do a figure or step, but really they don’t know how to do it properly.

It’s also super bad when a leader thinks that just because he leads something, the woman should follow.  Uh, hello!  Sometimes there’s a reason we don’t follow.  Just because you thought in your brain you did something, doesn’t mean you actually did (happens to me all the time).  And to get mad at me because of that, well that’s just rude.  You know, perhaps your lead wasn’t clear.  Perhaps your body is positioned incorrectly and blocking my way.  Perhaps I don’t trust you enough to be in an intimate hold when I just learned your name 2 minutes ago.

It is offensive to me when people try and instruct me at a social dancing lesson, unless I specifically ask for it.  I’m a pretty smart girl and a very good dancer.  I’m also open to learning.  But I paid the instructor to do that for me, not you, Mr. full-of-yourself!  Plus, the instructor of the class actually complimented me on my following skillz last night! (Yes, Skill-z with a “z,” because I’m ghetto cool like that)   Yes, I do miss the lead and try to lead from behind sometimes, but in general I try really hard to be connected and follow.  I’m pretty aware of this situation and do my best to be the best follower I can.

Last night I danced with one person in particular who really rubbed me the wrong way for all of the above reasons.  At one point he spun me around and my arm was blocked by his arm.  He placed my arm on his shoulder and told me that was where it was supposed to go.

“Oh, for that particular move?”

“No, in dance.  In dance when you turn, you put your arms up.”

Really?

I was not aware that in all of dance, anytime you ever did a turn you are supposed to put your arm up.

The way he said it was so patronizing!  OMG!  I was like, (in my head) you don’t know who you’re talking to, bub!  I’m a better dancer than you, hands down.  Maybe I don’t know all the steps you know, but in terms of creating connection, controlling my body, and doing the steps I do know, I can kick your butt!

“Oh really?” I replied, acting like he was really instructing me and I was really learning something from him, like a pedantic groupie.  In reality, I couldn’t believe this guy.  He didn’t know what he was talking about!

He had originally told me what a nice connection I had when we had danced during the class.

“Thank you.” I replied.

But here’s the thing.  I may not know WCS, specifically, but there is a reason for that ability to connect, why it felt nice.  I practice it all the time with Ivan.  I think the connection is super important and almost magical when present.  I know what connection should feel like (generally) and because of this I can do it, probably better than someone who is just taking social lessons or a beginner.

So anyways, I can make a nice connection.  Great.  This guy liked it and told me it “Felt great.”

Cool, I thought.  When he asked me to dance after the classes during the time for open dancing practice, I was glad.

But then all the cocky, instructional stuff.  Ugh!  Makes me not want to dance with you.  Makes me tense up and wish it were over.

After the arm issue, he tried the move again and again we had a problem.  He almost seemed like he was getting frustrated with me.

He told me, “I’m gonna push you because you have a good connection.  I’ll take you out on the dance floor and teach you some stuff.  So don’t cry about it.”

Really?

Who says this?

Well, that is fine and good, but mister you forgot the first thing about lead and follow.  It is an INVITATION you’re supposed to offer, not FORCING someone to do something or wanting them to submit.  The best dancers allow the conversation. Especially in WCS the woman can “hijack” the dance and take control for a time.  (I’m nowhere near good enough to do this yet) But with that possibility the dance is supposed to be a dialog, not a monologue.  Besides, dude, based on the way you were trying to bulldoze me around the dance floor, you didn’t have very nice things to say to me.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be in conversation with you.  Seriously,  in the future, if I go to this party again, I may choose to dance with him if he asks once or twice, but if he becomes bothersome I’m gonna let him have it!

Now contrast this to this other leader who was absolutely awesome.  I felt completely comfortable dancing with him.  He had a nice clear lead and we were able to dance almost an entire song with only one or two mishaps.  I came alive dancing with this fellow because he was just digging the music and inviting me to dance with him, not expecting that I bow down to his machismo ego.  He was absolutely more experienced in this dance than I, but he didn’t try to instruct me in anything.  He invited me, and most times, I happily accepted the invitation.

It felt great!  This is the magic of social dancing…when you can dance with someone you’ve never met in your entire life seamlessly.  It is fabulous!

So even if I encounter some bozos out there while learning this new amazing dance, the WCS, I think it’s worth the price.  There are also those awesome leaders out there and boy are the fun to dance with.

Here is a video of a kick-ass WCS.  Notice that it is a true conversation….a word to the wise for mr. know-it-all…and that is what makes it freakin’ awesome.

Peace!