It’s Emotional

Sorry no vlog today, ha ha!  The truth is that the past few days have been awesome as well as emotional and I’m feeling the need for some writing therapy.  I need to just “write it out” today….that or it would have been a 90 minute vlog, probably with some whining and crying, and nobody wants to watch that!  lol.

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Photo from Desert Classic – if you want to see more check out my Facebook Page where I uploaded an entire photo album of the trip.

We’ll pick up the story from Thursday when I was feeling pretty darn good.  After my snafu last Sunday, I’ve been more focused and clear and determined than ever.  One thing I’ve learned on the journey so far is how important it is to take advantage of times like this because it’s not always like this!  But for now I have an opportunity to blaze forward productively and so I’m doing just that.  I’m rocking my eating plan, I’ve been dancing and going to the gym.  I even made it there on my own to work my arms and legs on two separate days which has been an intention I’ve had for a while but this week I was finally able to put it into action.

I’ve also been reflecting on how very far I’ve come over the past three years.  And something my husband did made the changes even more recognizable than ever; he got a new digital picture frame at work so he brought the old one home and loaded it with all sorts of images, including photos from trips we took a few years ago.

The woman I see staring back at me looks so completely different.  I can’t believe that it was me, that I was ever that big.  Because I feel so entirely humongous right now.  And right now is 80 pounds or so less than what I used to be.

It made me incredibly, incredibly sad to see these pictures.  My mood changed in an instant from glad, proud, motivated and peppy, to reflective and somber (though still determined, actually, maybe even more determined – like I am NEVER going back there!!! No way, no how).

I am saddened by the reflection of me that I see in the photos.  I am so sad that I felt I was worth so little, that I disliked myself so much, that it somehow became okay to let myself become that woman staring back at me with a smile slapped on just in time for the camera flash.  Because I can see she is unhappy.  She is uncomfortably huge.  She has no fashion sense or sparkle.  She wants to hide.  She looks older.  And she isn’t even that pretty – her loveliness is covered, coated, dampened by the wall of flesh she fashioned from her silent misery as a shield between herself and the world.

It’s so weird because I, this very day, see myself as so very large.  A glance in the mirror confirms that my size dwarfs those beside me.   And let’s face it, I’m still categorized as obese. I cannot wrap my mind around this other way of being, that it was me, that it still is me.  Because even as large as I still am, and as far as I still have to go, there is a vivacity about me when I look in the mirror.  There is a sparkle in my eye, an aliveness, that is absent in those digital photos.

And it is a weird mental game this body image thing – especially when it was so messed up to begin with, and especially because I’m changing my body right now.  I am not entirely in touch, nor was I, with my actual body.  I say this because there is a certain amount of denial that has to happen to become 313 pounds.  I could say in my head that I could dance or jump even if the reflection in the mirror told a different story.  Reality hit when I noticed myself struggling to walk about 200 feet from the car to a building entrance.  It took that particular incident to notice something wasn’t right.  I’m mean, of course I’d noticed I needed larger clothing sizes, that I could barely squeeze into airplane seatbelts, that the rollercoaster safety bar didn’t close properly and that I had to be kicked off the ride.  But it was this event that woke me up.  I thought, “I used to be a dancer.  This isn’t right.  I shouldn’t be having a hard time walking.”

Anyways, here I am, three years later, and there is a lot of progress and growth and weight loss to be proud of.

But I am only halfway up the mountain.  Maybe less.  And this is a sobering reality.

Even as I am in a space to acknowledge my progress, with both my health and my dancing, I am also in a space to be in touch with reality.  I’m in that in-between, and it is truly a bizarre place to be.

All my life, as long as I can remember, the picture in my mind of my body was that it was huge.  Now, looking back at objective evidence in photographs, I was a normal-sized person, if not as lean or thin as I wanted to be.  But I couldn’t see that.  I could only see my cellulite, my bulges, my body which was larger than the other girls next to me in dance class.

So when I began to become bigger, and reality began to match my mental image of myself, I wasn’t surprised.  At first, I fought back.  After gaining the “freshman fifteen” (and then some), I worked my butt off during summer and got down to a lower weight before school began.  But after that things spiraled out of control and I gave up and gave in.  I accepted my role as a fat, frumpy girl.  The one no boys noticed.  The one who faded into the background.  Who was un-special.  And I got bigger and bigger and bigger.

So now, I’m on the other end of this pendulum.  I have a vision of my body in my head that is smaller, leaner, fitter and the reality doesn’t match.  It’s very confusing.  Plus, I still have a lingering vision of my body as it was at its largest and expect physical activities to feel as they did 50 pounds ago.

What do I mean by this?  Well today on my workout with my trainer at the gym she asked me to do some exercises I’ve never done before.  She wanted me to do “mountain climbers” and some half-pushups when all I’ve managed to do recently were on an incline and it took a long time and a lot of struggle to get to the place where those were really do-able.  Anyways, I see her do these exercises and my sensory memory creates a picture for me of what it would be to do these things…but with the body I used to have, not the one I have today.  So I panicked.  I had already told her that I might get emotional, that it just comes up sometimes, especially with physical stuff, and that it is not meant to get her to ease up on me or anything, that I am at the very least open to attempting the things asked of me, but sometimes it just comes up and I can’t control it.  I told her that my first reaction is automatically going to probably be that I can’t do something, but that even so, I will try it, and based on evidence from taking this approach, I think I’ve mentioned it before, I truly do not have a realistic picture of what I can and can’t do.  I have many times been surprised when I am able to do an exercise that in my mind appears impossible.

So anyways, the mountain climbers set off “red alert” alarms, and with that, emotion.  Enter waterworks.  But I gave it a try.  And by God, I was able to do them.  Yes, it was taxing.  Yes, I went pretty slow in places.  Yes I rested.  And, I completed the sets.  I was gobsmacked.

Same thing with the half-pushups and some weirdo planks where I had to put my leg out to the side for 15 reps.  I thought these feats outside of my abilities but they were within my reach.

It feels similar in terms of dancing when it comes to what I think I can do versus what I can actually do, and how I feel inside versus the reflection in the mirror.  But with dancing, it is even more muddied.  I think I’m both better and worse than I actually am.  I truly don’t have an accurate gague of my level or ability, and heck, it is such a subjective thing anyways, I don’t know that my reality will ever agree with anybody else’s!

In any case, I was feeling all good and happy and went to a double lesson Saturday  but then was faced with a reality check.  Basically, I’m really struggling to find the balance between emoting, feeling the dance and the music, and also being on top of all the technical aspects that must be present for excellent dancing.  I also struggle with feeling really good about it on the inside and still needing another person’s approval as validation, or feeling really rotten about it on the inside when I’m getting positive feedback from someone else’s perspective.  In terms of the emotion versus technique, it seems that I’m only able to do one thing or the other, but not both together at the same time, at least, not yet.  And for the other part, I think it comes to trusting myself and knowing my truth rather than looking for answers from the outside, while at the same time recieving feedback, especially from those I respect.

In any case, we got into one particular techincal aspect on our last lesson, namely timing and counting, which continues to be a difficulty.  Where to start about this!?  Really!  I mean, I “know” the counts of my dancing.  I don’t have the habit of counting out loud, which is not the best.  I do count in my head, which is better than nothing.  But still, there are points of confusion. And perhaps I believe the counts are one way when they are different in Ivan’s mind.  For instance, there is one move in Rumba where I thought I would go directly into a spiral but he thought I’d hold and move slowly onto my leg for preparation for four counts.  We were both counting, but we were counting different moves.  It created confusion and frustration.  Our bodies were fighting against each other, me trying to move forward, him holding me back in place.  He told me I wasn’t counting.  But I was!  But, alas, it was still my fault because it was incorrect!  Gah!

And then there is another figure where I was counting it correctly, and I even counted it out loud to Ivan but just flat and he said it was correct. But then I told him how I was saying it in my head…two, Threeeeee, four, and-one, my thinking being to draw out the three to make the four faster (which seemed like it should be right for the step in my silly head even though we all know that the emphasis in Cha Cha is on beats 1 and 3) and so I was counting it correctly, but with the wrong emphasis.  So I looked slower than him and we were not in sync.  It’s one of those little details where I can see something is amiss but it’s not (seemingly) a gross error, and so left to linger while I’m in the process figuring out the big details like which step comes next!  And plus I’m not sure how to fix it even when I do notice things like this.

Anyways, we had big discussions about all this (and more) and it’s awesome.  Maybe not easy, maybe not “fun,” exactly, but I so totally see the value in it and I want to improve my abilities.  Plus, I’m so grateful Ivan is sharing this information with me.  I don’t know that many students get into this level of detail with their pro, and consider myself extremely lucky that Ivan is doing what he can to empower me with the tools I can use to become a better dancer, as well as someone who can more effectively and efficiently practice on my own, much less become a better communicator in terms of the dance routines.

Indeed, I think this has been a huge breakthrough for how I communicate with Ivan.  Now I know that when things aren’t working we can talk about the counting and make sure we have the same understanding of what is supposed to happen.  Instead of seeing the other person as frustrating or wrong we can simply come into alignment, and our bodies will surely follow.  I’m excited that this is possible.

Well, anyways, I had this minor tiff with Ivan for about 30 seconds on our lesson yesterday when I thought I was moving forward and he thought I wasn’t, and though it was resolved and indeed led to a renewed desire to count and be accountable for my dancing, it dampened my mood.  But I focused on all I was grateful for, decided to take it in and not let it get me down, decided to let it be a tool to build me up rather than focusing on what I lack, and I was able to come back to an even keel relatively quickly.  That, and I had a visit with some ballroom friends over coffee and later at a barbecue, and so I was refreshed and motivated than ever for my lesson this morning.

I showed up ready to work and when Ivan said, “We didn’t work on Samba yesterday,” I was like, “Well, I went over my routines with the counts in my head and I have one question about this one area in the Cha Cha.  Before we start in on the Samba can we review that?”

Well, it turned into the entire lesson.  And I think some good work was done.  I was feeling strong and sassy.  I was kind of liking how I was moving in the mirror.  It was good (in my head), and we worked on this one part, adding the details of where, exactly, I’m supposed to look, where I place emphasis, and all that, and Ivan decided he needed to film me.  So I wasn’t thrilled about this, because I don’t like seeing myself in photos or videos, but I obliged, because, well, it is excellent feedback.  So he videoed me and he liked maybe 80% of it, which was an improvement, and all, but when I saw the video, I was so very sad and disappointed in how I was moving.  I went from feeling good about it, to being faced with the reality of it, and in two seconds flat once again felt badly about myself.

To me, I look so big and slow, as if my body moving underwater instead of through the air.  How am I ever going to look fast, to create contrast and dynamic, to become the dancer I wish to be?  I already feel like I’m moving as fast as physics will allow but it is still ridiculously slow in appearance.  Sigh.  The obstacles in front of me see dishearteningly insurmountable but I’m choosing to tell myself that I’m just in the part of the story where the hero seems farthest away from his goal.  It’s this that makes a tale epic, so it just means that I’m on an epic journey lol.

But epic though it may (or may not) be, for me at least, this process is extremely emotional.  I’m weathering highs and lows sometimes moment to moment.  I have a vision and dream for myself when it comes to my body and my dancing in which I’m deeply invested, but sometimes the closer I am to realizing them from where I initially started, the further away they seem.  You know, like when you are climbing a mountain and you think you are just below the summit and it turns out to be a turn in the trail revealing a whole new section you couldn’t see before – it’s like that.  I keep climbing higher and discovering just how much higher the summit is than I thought.  There’s no bones about it – it can be discouraging.  But I remind myself that I am the sky, and these passing moods are the clouds, ever-moving and changing.  The sun will come out soon enough.

Part of that “sun” and part of what has been so awesome over the past few days even amongst my lower moments, has been sharing the journey and connecting with others.  Like I said, I spent part of my weekend in fellowship with other dancers, but something very special has also happened that touched my heart.

Every once in a while I make a connection in real life through the blog and that has been the biggest and most unanticipated blessing of writing about my life experiences. I’ve made a few friends and sometimes receive messages via Facebook or Twitter, and even one letter in the mail (can you believe it!?) but today was the first time I had a phone call conversation with a very special person who reads the blog.  The conversation I had with this courageous and strong individual touched my heart profoundly.  Because this dancer shared with me that the blog had been a kind of “lifeline” during a really difficult time.  That reading it, that me putting myself “out there” and sharing authentically from my heart, had come at just the right time and had been a part of a healing process.  It was, as you might guess, emotional.  Because just like me, this person has been transformed and coaxed back to life through dance, and to have been a part of that is awesome and humbling and so very special.

Indeed, it has been an interesting couple of days, with the emotinal roller coaster only being truly alive can offer.  I’ve had much to reflect upon, I’ve experienced a wide variety of emotional ups and downs, I’ve connected with friends, and my next competition is just weeks away.  It is an interesting space, this “in-between” where I started and where I am going and I have a feeling that I’ve only just begun.  I believe and that more discoveries about myself, and my body, and my dancing are just around the corner.  It’s an exciting time, though I’m tempered with the knowledge that the road stretches long and far before me.

There’s work to do yet, but I am grateful for the people on my team helping me move forward.  Between Ivan, Chelle, and everyone who encourages me along the way, I believe my goals are possible and I’m clear and focused like never before. I am determined to keep plugging along, and so I will, however it looks, emotional and all.

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It’s My Movie

Well, the truth is I haven’t really wanted to blog about what has been going on for me the past week or so. First off, I’m annoyed with myself for still getting so emotional about things and really letting them get me down. I didn’t want to make this blog a whine-fest.

But, as usually happens, with some time, and some tears, and some working out at the gym, and some sharing with friends, I’m feeling better. Seriously – when I read that it makes it sound like something dramatic happened, but in all honesty the only drama was that in my head.

I can’t say why exactly, but my body image issues have been getting the best of me lately. That and I’ve just felt sad like I will never be able to have/create a body I love and that looks good, and that I will never become the dancer I wish to be. For whatever reason, it was especially heavy on my heart this past week. And working on the Rumba only exacerbated the problem.

I’ve done a lot of dancing over the past days so perhaps a lot of emotion is just being shaken out. I recall that upon first taking up ballroom dancing I did shed many a tear, so sad about what I have allowed myself and my body to become. It was and is incredibly painful to really absorb the damage done by getting so large, not to mention how I feel about myself as a woman. On good days, I accept where I am and work toward what I desire, I might even find some things to find beautiful about myself. On neutral days I block it out and focus on if my clothes are fitting looser, and how my body moves and all that it can do, rather than how it looks doing it. On bad days I see my reflection in the mirror and it disgusts me, triggering a myriad of thoughts and a swirling drama that threatens to suck me down into a black abyss.

The weird thing is that all was smooth sailing for the first part of the week. I danced almost every day and even went to the gym for some cardio. I had lessons with Ivan, a great group class with Inna and I even danced around my kitchen at home just getting lost in the music and movement, not caring what it looked like and savoring the experience.

Then Saturday on my way to my lesson, I just felt sad. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I walked in and Ivan was looking good. He had dyed his hair darker because the night before he had done a performance in a local Dancing With The Stars fundraising gala. And I swear he has gotten more trim, plus he had grown some stubble. And it just hit me. Why would someone like that want to dance with someone who looks like me? And the more we danced, the more ridiculous I felt. And the more emotional I got and all the fight went out of me and I could barely focus. I didn’t really say anything, but we both knew it was just bad news. At the end of the lesson was like, “I don’t know what to telling you. I don’t knowing what is making it better. You think I gonna put on my shoes today if I knowing it gonna be like this?”

Even so, he assured me, it’s normal to have a bad lesson every once in a while. If all lessons were like that, it would definitely be a problem, but (thankfully) it’s not. So we parted hoping that the next day would be brighter.

To a certain extent it was. After a serious session of cardio on the stair-stepper and a long chat with my friend “Blue Eyes,” who has also shed a ton of weight and knows what it is like to go through this, I was more or less in a neutral space. But I was worried.

I can’t remember exactly why I thought I wanted to have a lesson with Marieta, but I believe Ivan mentioned he wanted me to see how Marieta did one move that they also have in their routine and I realized that I have another amazing resource I can call upon to grow as a dancer. I haven’t had a lesson with Marieta in a long time and so was excited to set one up and was in good spirits when I contacted her about it.

But the day of the actual lesson with all the body image issues and self-doubt raging through my system, I was already feeling fragile, and I knew just being around Martieta might trigger me. If you have never had body issues you may not understand, but I find it incredibly difficult to even stand beside Marieta sometimes. Because she has a gorgeous body. Because she is an exquisite dancer. Because she embodies so many qualities that I wish I were. I mean, I intellectually understand we are all different and beautiful and amazing in our own way. And intellectually I understand that I am where I am in my dancing and though it is great to have a vision of where I am going, I have to start where I am. There is no leaping ahead to a different reality, a different body. And my greatest beauty is going to be when I express myself, and just like no two singers’ voices sound the same, no two dancers are exactly the same either. But that seems like a small consolation in those moments when I am overcome with the very uncomfortable emotion that arises when I feel intense shame about being who and how I am.

Even so I want to find the expression inside me and to work through this body-shame. And as amazing as Ivan is, even when he does the female part, there is still something inherently different when I see a female dance it. There is a presence these women ballroom dancers have. Marieta’s presence has a very different quality to it than Inna’s but both exude an almost palpable energy just walking on the floor, much less moving. I’m searching to find my quality of presence and also learn how to project it. I have a feeling it is tied into confidence and fearlessness.

So anyways, I wanted very much to have a lesson with Marieta, and I am planning on working more with her in the coming months because what I got on the lesson was of such value. But I was a mess. Actually, Ivan and I had had a decent enough lesson prior to Marieta coming in but just as she was walking in we were starting our Rumba.

In the beginning there is about 30 seconds where I am going to dance alone. There is no choreography at the moment and Ivan was just encouraging me to move, feel the music, express. He said, “It’s your movie. Imagine there is a spotlight on you and thousands of people watching.” He turned off the lights, put a spotlight on the mirror ball in the studio, and told me to enter from across the room.

Inside, I felt scared. But I want to grow and so pushed that down and pretended as best I could and moved.

Well, anyways, Ivan and I then danced, I screwed up a bunch but it was okay and then our lesson was over. It was time to work with Miss M. And I just felt like I should tell her why I had wanted to work with her, what the purpose of our lesson was. But it turns out, that might have been a mistake.

Because it all came out in this big, overly emotional gush. I was just talking and the tears were coming, and that was exactly the wrong thing to do to set me up to have a productive lesson. I was all caught up in my longing to be thinner, more beautiful, a better dancer. And I even blabbed, “I want to be good enough that it will be hard to tell who is the student and who is the pro.” Which, although a worthy goal, and something to strive for, it is most certainly not where I am, and indeed, may never happen. I am actually okay with letting that go and working toward it at the same time, but in that moment I was wrapped up in how lacking I was feeling, how “less-than” I was as compared to Marieta or any pro, in every way.

I guess I felt like because Marieta is also a friend I could go say all this stuff but if I had scheduled a lesson with any other pro there is no way I would have said anything like this at all. Lucky for me, Marieta is a true pro through and through and she set the context right away.

But I’ll be honest, we got started and I was having a hard time concentrating. I had to excuse myself for a moment to collect myself in the bathroom but then I came back and was calmer and more focused and more able to actually absorb what she was sharing…which was really wonderful.

Marieta told me that she had come in during the last few minutes of my lesson with Ivan so she could watch on purpose. “You may have thought that your movements were very expressive, but really they were pretty insular, you were holding them inside.”

“You are right. I’m aware of that. That’s part of why I want you help…to get what is going on inside so that it is readable and expressed on the outside.”

She had me do a lot of rumba walks and some balances. I wobble more than I should. And she explained how to move to keep on balance by imagining my spine is a pole and all movement should always twist around it. She encouraged me work on strengthening my core. She also demonstrated that to go forward you have to go back first – that it is more dynamic to create a sort of whiplash to movement than to start from a static position. And just being around her presence, focus, and intensity was a lesson in itself. I still don’t understand how she is able to switch her weight between feet so quickly, or to move her limbs with superhuman speed and sharpness but I’m looking forward to observing her and working with her again in the near future and more often. It brings a whole new dimension to the dancing, as well as a new level of strong femininity. And I think she was even harder than me on Ivan usually is, which is a good thing.

So I left the lesson richer with wisdom, feeling foolish about being a blubbery emotional mess, but also with a mental adjustment in place that allowed me to finish the lesson and actually get something out of it (a lot actually) and with a stronger resolve to continue to work toward my goals.

Which meant that I made a personal goal to get 45 minutes of cardio in 5 days of this week above my normal activities. Two of those times must be on the stair-stepper. I’m just making this up, just for this week. Then next week I’m going to make up something else to do, focus on, accomplish, and count as a success. Better to focus on specific worthwhile tasks, and practice at being a winner, than to go down in the emotional torrent that can so easily present itself.

And so far I am off to a good start. I got 45 minutes on the elliptical machine in yesterday and then went to a 90 minute ballet class which is more challenging than the one I usually take on Sundays. It was a stretch and I liked it. I even began to feel like I could do a little bit more, raise my leg a little bit higher, hold my chest up a little longer, and that maybe, just maybe, the grand plies were slightly easier than before. I felt like after a month or two of going to classes just once a week has made a difference in my body alignment and strength. I even liked the lines my legs were making sometimes (probably because I came straight from the gym and had runner’s stripes on my pants!) Today I had a lesson with Ivan and shortly I’m off to Inna’s class. Which is all to say, that I’m still moving forward. That the story isn’t over. That I am not satisfied with where I am. Not by a long shot. But it’s my movie, like Ivan said. And the credits haven’t rolled yet.