Back To Real Life…And Beyond

There is always a bit of a transition coming back down to earth after a competition. But I must say, the pace has not lessened one iota since I’ve been home. I was right back to ballet Monday evening the day after I got home, and the rest of my week went as planned with work outs at the gym, Inna’s class, the eating plan, and fitting in some dance lessons with Ivan. Actually, there was even more activity this week because it was Imperial’s annual showcase/masquerade gala Friday night, and over at EuroRhythm Saturday morning after my double lesson with Ivan I was blessed to have attended a workshop with Latin couple Andrej Skufca & Melinda Torokgyorgy, who, according to DanceSportInfo.net are positioned 5 in the world and 1 in Slovenia.

It’s honestly been a very, very good week. I’m am clear and focused and determined. This feels really wonderful and like I have some forward momentum propelling me towards my goals. There is a fire in my belly that hasn’t been there before to power me. And I’m so grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, even the difficult ones, for they have brought me to this point.

Earlier in the week I had a nice lesson with Ivan where we focused on American Rhythm technique. I love getting back to the basics and still feel like I have so much work to do to truly demonstrate the proper movements. Especially since I do bronze, I want to be clear, prescise, and spot on with the basics. For me, the more clear and detailed and specific I can be, the more that I know what I am doing, the more confident I feel and the better I dance. I am happy we are taking some steps back to see the bigger picture and re-align. This includes finding our connection, which was the bigger issue we worked on today and Saturday. For certain Ivan and I felt disjointed at Holiday, like we were not dancing together. Well, Saturday morning, it was better. It was more about the energy and connecting properly and that always feels so much nicer and generates/allows more dancing and expression.

And we had some time to communicate and talk about how we both showed up on the dancefloor and at the competition. We discussed better ways to handle things and lessons to learn from the mistakes I made. It is such an all-around journey with opportunities for growth on all levels. And as much as I’ve grown, there is still so much more inside me. And I was actually happy when I felt uncomfortable on the lesson because it was out of my comfort zone.

It’s all tied to confidence. Confidence that I know what I am doing physically. Confidence in myself, which for me is tethered to my body and body image. Confidence in my connection to Ivan. I feel like everything will change as the fat suit comes off. For certain I will feel more beautiful, it will be easier to move, it will be less taxing, and that is why it is my primary focus at the moment, even as I continue to devour as much information about dancing as I can.

So it was a good lesson Saturday morning and we cleared the air and all that, and still it is difficult. We are two different people and sometimes we are not on the same page. It’s a challenge to come together and make it work. But I love it, and we know it’s possible. Again, on both sides of the equation, it depends more on how we feel about ourselves as a couple and what we are presenting than anything else.

So anyways, Friday I was able to attend the showcase at Imperial which was pretty fun and wonderful. But I ended up leaving early before the professional show because it was getting so late. They played a lot of games which were fun but I knew I needed to get some sleep for my big day the next morning.

So after my lesson with Ivan, I made my way to the workshop and it was awesome. It was awesome to be in the presence of these professionals. They shared so much information that my head was spinning! It was amazing to just watch them move which was a lesson in itself. They also gave specific corrections to specific people, which I thought was really wonderful. I even got one on my Samba! Woo!

We started with Rumba and the biggest takeaway I had was that the front foot is actually parallel when doing Rumba walks. It is the back foot, leg, and hip that rotate outward to create the Latin position which is turned out. I never, ever would have thought that, however, it made more biomechanical sense, and freed the hips, and I felt so much more stable walking that way. Also important was the timing. They got so specific 1 and 2 and 3 and a 4 ah! Each count = a specific movement. I am truly learning to love counting, and as Andrej said, there is something really beautiful about being exactly on the beat, not a little behind or ahead. My impression was that the extra counting made the music and movement more gooey, stretching it longer, and it again made so much sense for the release/recoil which propels the next movement, usually a step forward. They talked about torsion around the spine, especially in the upper body, which I find pretty difficult to execute. I wish I could just stand side-by-side with Melinda and do the steps over and over with specific corrections. Latin technique is just as detailed as ballet, if not more so, in my opinion. And the more I learn, the more I see how important it is to be aware and accountable for each and every little ticky-tah of movement. It’s mind-altering.

After a little break we changed to Samba. The biggest takeaway for me here was the importance of both the footwork, which involves a lot of ankle, foot, and calf strength, as well as the forward crunch/scooping of the hips forward to create the bounce. Again, when broken down, it makes more biomechanical sense, but these are details I’d never think of. From what Andrej shared you are supposed to actually begin to lift your heel even while your leg is bent during a whisk to create the movement of the back leg and when done correctly it actually causes the back leg to be placed in the right spot. It also allows a person to squeeze a tiny bit of extra movement forward into the hips to increase range of motion. Whomever sat down and figured all this out was a genius. I am very impressed with how clearly Andrej and Melinda were able to express concepts and ideas and how detailed they were.

In fact, they shared so much information, there is no way I absorbed it all! So I made up my mind to just focus on one or two tidbits in each dance and to work on those in the future.

So that brings us to Sunday which didn’t involve any dancing but does involve an interesting personal revelation about how very, very far I’ve come. You see, one of my friends from high school came into town with his adorable fat-cheeked baby and new wife and we met up to catch up. We had a wonderful visit but of course he asked about all this ballroom stuff he’s seeing on Facebook. And I realized, perhaps he didn’t know I danced in high school. He didn’t have a clue.

How strange!! It was a big part of my life, but I never really shared it. I danced outside of school hours and wasn’t confident enough to proclaim that I was a dancer. Here was this person who knew me since 7th grade, who I was next to in practically every class because of our last names and alphabetical seating, and he had no idea I danced during all that time. I am sad for the 12-16 year-old me. Sad, because I was so insecure about sharing who I was. On the flip side, I’m pretty amazed at myself because here I am now, blogging about and sharing my journey, broadcasting it to the world, all while having a body that is far from ideal and much worse than it was back in high school when I hated it even more than I do now! Actually, things have shifted around that issue as well. I’m finally, finally finding some peace in my relationship with my body. I am even grateful for all it has done and continues to do for me. And I had this weird revelation on my lesson with Ivan on Saturday. This may perhaps be a tangent off into La La land but bear with me. This is how I understand it.

I believe that dancing involves enregies. I think most people would agree it certainly involves emotional energies, which are invisible but very real. Well, anyways, when I dance with Ivan we throw and catch different energies toward one another. Well we were doing a Mambo, which involves a lot of booty shaking, and Ivan was being all interested in my ample, womanly behind, and I realized, my butt liked it! LOL! It really did. It was all happy and proud and I thought, wow, I should really take advantage of this and let my body parts enjoy this energy and attention. I mean, if I can’t give it to them, maybe this will help.

So anyways, those were some interesting realizations and now my wooojy woo tangent is complete.

And all that leaves to talk about is my lesson this morning. It was awesome. I found my mojo once again. No fear, just moving, just letting my body do what it wants to do, feeling the music, feeling good about being me. And Ivan got goosebumps and he loved the lesson and we both felt good. Even better than that was working on our connection. We had great communication around the connection and found a new one. It allows both of us to be more accountable for ourselves. Ivan realized the importance of backing off and even letting me fail so we can find the right placement for both of us. I desperately need the feedback of when I am using him too much or too little but I can’t get that if he always takes care of me (and Marieta) and neglects himself. And when it works like this, it is so nice, it feels so good! And Ivan was all, you dance the best when you just feel, why ever dance any other way? And yeah, he’s right. It’s meant to enjoy. Not to get all caught up in the right and wrong ways of doing things, – at the core dancing is actually not about “doing” anything – it’s really about “being” – being loving, and joyful, and open to sharing, connecting, growing, and evolving.

I’m energized and focused and excited about the coming year. And I want to thank you, dear readers and supporters for the part you play in that. You encourage me more than you will ever know. I appreciate you and I’m grateful to get to share my journey with you. A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. Cheers to us all as we embrace the new year! I have a feeling it’s going to be very sparkly!

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Before Enlightenment Chop Wood, Carry Water. After Enlightenment, Chop Wood, Carry Water.

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As I continue along in my dancing journey, I continue to come into contact with the most amazing people. Dancers are a unique breed, I think, and of course there are many ways to “play the game” but most of the dancers I’ve interacted with have been, first and foremost, awesome human beings. They are humble. They are passionate. They are hard working. They are encouraging. The live life fully and fight intensely for what they want. And no person embodies these characteristics (besides my favorite Bulgarians, Ivan and Marieta) more than a gentleman I’ve recently had the honor of learning from.

I mean, dance is one of the great equalizers – because dancing takes all of a human being, every little bit! And it is a great teacher. It can teach patience, discipline, self-expression, trust, balance, self-confidence, grace, partnership, authenticity, and presence – but only when we are willing students, ready to put in the time, energy, and effort necessary. Only then will dance reveal it’s jewels. Because dancing is difficult! Sometimes I think most of us question why we are attempting this! It can be painful and tiring and frustrating. And yet when things finally click after that 10,000-and-first repetition, it is suddenly completely worth it.

Anyways, to get back to this amazing person, his name is Damir. He owns a studio, ironically probably the closest one in town to my house, and I met him at my last competition. He saw me dance a little and we chatted a little and I made friends with his receptionist. When I found out last week that they have group classes on Latin technique on Saturdays, I was hoping I would be able to attend. You know, cause I’m not an official student at the studio, but I guess that hasn’t been a problem at Imperial but I didn’t know how it would work at EuroRhythm. Well, they were as welcoming as can be and I enjoyed my first class last weekend. I am hungry to learn as much as I can and want to take advantage of every opportunity in my path. And you know that saying, when the student is ready, the master will appear, well, perhaps I’m ready to learn some new information and that is really exciting.

So this time, that master is Damir. I knew he was something special right off the bat because of his authenticity, and his kindness. Plus I could see he was a great dancer. What I didn’t know, until today, is that he and his partner and wife, Nina, were six-time National Champions for Bosnia. And that he didn’t start dancing until he was eighteen! Which is pretty darn late for a professional dancer. And I didn’t know that dancing was the one thing that didn’t come easily to him in this life but maybe that is why he decided to do it. He saw dancing for the first time, and as he put it, his “subconscious knew” he could “learn a lot” from it. Everyone thought he was joking. He’d go out dancing and be awful at it and everyone laughed at him, and he simply laughed along with them. But he perservered. It took becoming a National Champion for his father to finally “get” that he was serious about this dancing thing. And I learned that he had a lot of struggles along they way. But most importantly, for me, I learned that I could recognize the same greatness I identified in Damir inside in myself.

I don’t know about you, but in my mind I always think that other people have it easier than I do when it comes to dancing. You can totally apply this to other areas of life but since this is a blog about dancing, we’ll stick with the metaphor. Well, anyways, look, I have asthma. I’m severely overweight. This makes things tough. I tell myself that if I was thinner or more fit that I’d be a better dancer. Now to a certain extent this is absolutely true, and I am working toward it! But on another level, it is total crap! Because we ALL have our advantages and disadvantages. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I think that I don’t have it in me to dance like those I look up to – people like Ivan, Marieta, Damir, Inna, and more. I think that there is something lacking in me that makes it impossible. But today I really felt for the first time that THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE! We ALL have what it takes inside of us. That is the REAL truth. Maybe we perceive others have it better or easier because we don’t see the struggles and the sweat and the exasperation behind it – we only see the final product, paraded out on the competition floor, bedecked in crystals. It all looks so glamorous and even effortless, and if you are like me, you forget all the unglamorous pieces that went into creating that picture. It is easy to imagine, looking at that polished dancing, that these dancers are just “talented” or “special” or “hard working” and that they have some secret I don’t posess, and never could. But perhaps I am more similar to them than I ever imagined.

You see, I went to a workshop today at EuroRhythm. Ivan is out of town competing so I needed to get my ballroom fix and this opportunity arose. And it was completely incredible. I’m so glad I chose to participate and I kind of have to laugh, too, because it is about as opposite as could possibly be from the instruction at Imperial!

Damir started the lesson talking about some theory. Now this is the kind of juicy dancing I can really get into! He was talking about more than just dancing; see the photo at the beginning of this blog post. That white board was the first fifteen minutes of our time together. He was talking about how we are human beings, and we have both human and energetic or spiritual aspects. He explained that as human, we are “doing” things, and we are in the universe of form, matter, and the laws of physics. He further opined that as spirits we are “being” and in the universe of the formless, beyond limits, all connected, and basically in the realm of quantum physics. I don’t think Inna would ever start a class this way lol! But it set such an expansive tone for the work we were about to do, and I really appreciated the contextual framework Damir set up for us as we stepped into our “Dojo.”

During the workshop, we mostly talked about being grounded. We discussed being energetically connected to the floor, knowing where our body weight is every moment, and how to incorporate the arms into the picture. I personally focused more on my lats than ever before which was awkward but great. We did Rumba and Cha Cha and Jive. We did things slow and half time. We danced a little at full speed. I still feel like my arms are not fully integrated and connected to my body but it was a nice little foray into the subject beyond the norm. And even more beyond the norm was Damir’s encouragement for us to purposely try to throw ourselves off balance, to purposely mess up! To not try to be so perfect all the time! Why? Because you WANT to expose your weaknesses! Why? So you can actually ADDRESS them! Pretty radical thinking in one sense, and completely logical in another. I mean, I personally like to hide in my strengths! It’s way more comfortable and I feel better (or rather, my ego feels better) about me when I do things “well.” But this means I am haunted by the shadow of the imperfections and weaknesses I’m trying to hide. If I never expose them, I never have the opportunity to expose them to the light. And, as we all know, once shadows are exposed to light, they disappear.

It was an awesome lesson/workshop, and I got my heart rate up a little and I am always grateful for the opportunity to work and learn about this art I love so dearly. And when it was over, we all took a seat and Damir told us a story that really affected me.

He and Nina were dancing at a competition that averaged 300 couples. They wanted to make the top 48 because if they made that, they would get to dance in Albert Hall. Every day they would practice. Monday was Cha Cha, Tuesday Samba, Wednesday Jive and so on. They would, for an hour, do basics, dancing 4 minutes straight, then rest a few seconds, then go again. Physically they were as prepared as they could be. It was grueling. Apparently Nina would have tears streaming down her face, but she would not stop, which is pretty incredible. When I heard this, I found it even more incredible that I could recognize that same fire and strength inside of me. This happens to me all the time at the gym. I cry and I keep going. And it sucks and it hurts and I want to give up but I don’t.

So, anyways, apparently I have the same thing inside of me as a champion so that is a good thing! lol. But to get back to the story – Damir and Nina were prepared and they made it to the top 96 after 4 or 5 rounds of dancing. And then, it happened! Another female dancer did a forceful ronde’ and kicked Nina across both legs, creating a huge bruise on both legs that appeared in seconds and cut a gash on one leg. She was injured and couldn’t move, and it was during their best dance, Cha Cha. They weren’t seen by the judges, didn’t get the marks, and didn’t make top 48. And it was completely out of their control! This dancer, whom they nicknamed “wild horse” in their native tongue as a play on words of her actual last name, had thrown a huge, unexpected wrench into their system. They prepared themselves as best as they possibly could, and I think that is all we can ever really do. Though the story kinda sucks, and I’m sure it was really disappointing at the time, I also find it very empowering and inspiring. Because it is my job right now to prepare myself as best as I can for the challenges ahead. Things may happen that are out of my control, but I will be proud of myself and able to hold my head high no matter the result if I know I did everything in my power to prepare and left everything I could on the dancefloor on that day, with the resources and currently have.

I got so much from showing up today and participating. More than steps or technique, I feel like my spirit was nourished as well, and that is kind of what dancing is all about, ya? I had a great conversation with Damir after the workshop and left feeling happy, energized, and hungry to work even harder for my goals. As he said, when things are going on in his life, it will also show up on the dancefloor. So when he needs to figure something out, he dances. And if he is patient enough, and diligent enough, and present enough, he gets answers. Dancing is the best therapy, ever, right?! We talked about that we are all on our own journey, that we are all special. We are all magnificent in our own right and we need not compare ourselves to others but rather to ourselves yesterday (I think Baryshnikov said the same thing). We talked about how important it is to feel safe and grounded so we can expand energetically beyond our physical limits. We talked about how the struggle is important and that it is imperative to find the joy, peace, and balance in every day life. He quoted Buddha saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. And after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I’ve said it before, that dancing is a spiritual walk for me in so many ways – truly a pathway to enlightenment. And through it all I will chop my wood and carry my water – which in my life looks like doing my cardio at the gym, eating on my plan, going to my dance lessons, and embracing compassionate self-discipline, pushing myself just a little further each and every day in my pursuits.

So that’s just what I did upon leaving today. I went to the gym, banged out a leg work out (they are toast!) and even did some cardio at the end. And I just know that I picked the right theme song for myself (“Roar” by Katy Perry) because I AM a champion. I’m proving it to myself with every squat and ballet class when I struggle to lift my leg higher, with every moment my body screams to stop and I keep going, with every time I choose to stick to my plan when I want to eat chocolate and laze about all day! I’m proving it to myself that this IS possible. I’m proving that I DO have what it takes to do this. This is what a champion is, I think – what Nina and Damir did, dancing so disciplined every day, pushing through the tears, preparing themselves by doing everything humanly possible to get ready, day in and day out. Those are the times that make the champion. That is the foundational groundwork that is laid so that a champion is confident in their abilities for the few minutes they have to show themselves on the floor. Behind each minute of dancing under the spotlight there are hours upon hours behind it. That is my definition of a champion, anyways, and I’m practicing to be one every day. And I’m excited to have another incredible mentor to look up to as I continue along my journey. Dancing continues to bless and enrich my life in so many ways. I can’t wait for Ivan to come home and have my next lesson!