Calculus Of The Body

Hello lovelies!

It’s hard to sit down and write a blog post when you are obsessed with the Olympics!  Seriously – they are so addicting.  And it’s so interesting watching them this year, because my perspective is different from it was before.  I’m a competitor myself these days and especially watching the figure skating I see so many similarities.  I’d never really considered the mindset necessary for performance, especially under pressure, and you may think it’s odd but I swear I’m learning by watching these athletes.  Because, well, guess what, I’m an athlete too.  I think that’s been one of the biggest changes in how I think of myself as I’ve been on this journey – I see myself and own the fact that I’m a dancer, an artist, an athlete and these were not identities I’d proclaim before.  But I had no context for how to be an effective competitor prior to ballroom dancing so it’s been a learning curve!

So anyways, I was laughing because my mom asked me if I was watching the Ice Dancing and of course I was and she was all, “Can you imagine doing all those things on skates?”  And I was like, “Um, no.  It’s hard enough on dry land in heels!”

Okay, so before I get any further in this post, I have some news.  Today I finally, finally, frickin’ finally hit 100 pounds gone from my highest weight.  It’s taken years.  It’s a milestone.  I’m glad about it.  And, I’m totally focused on where I’m going.  Because the truth is, I still have about 75 pounds more to go.  Next stop, under 200 pounds.  I’ve decided to set milestones along the way.  The one after that will be 180 pounds because then I will be officially “overweight” instead of “obese” according to my BMI.  Finally, I have an idea that my goal weight will be around 140 pounds.  That’s not set in stone.  I’m actually more concerned with achieving a body fat percentage of 20% or less even if it is at a higher (or lower) weight because that is the body fat of an athlete.

So anyways, go me.  I’ve done some calculus on my body.  I say that because if you know how calculus works, it’s taking a curve and cutting it up into infinitesimally small sections to find a sum total.  Well, that’s how losing weight works too.  It’s the sum of a ton of tiny efforts taken consistently over time that will eventually create a sum total effect.  Day in and day out.  Every meal, every workout, every bite.  If I stray, even a little, my body is such an efficient machine, it will not give anything up.  I have to be on it like no kidding.  So I am.

Okay, so now I bet you are wondering what is going on with my dancing seeing as I’ve not posted about myself in a while with the month of guest posts.  Well, things are going pretty well.  The deal is the biggest issue is losing the weight.  Ivan and I agree that it’s the bigger problem than my actual dancing.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to work on – but I have a good base and the aspect that will give me the most bang for my buck, that will change how I move the most, isn’t learning new steps or changing small details (which are also very important), but rather it’s getting the weight off.  With being lighter I’ll automatically be able to move more, have more energy and stamina, and will have more confidence.

I really believe that’s probably the biggest aspect of all – feeling good about myself.  When I feel good I dance better.  Period.  I hold my body differently.  I stand up.  I project.  I fill the music.

So anyways, right now we are kind of in a holding pattern.  It’s actually good in lots of ways.  I’ve cut back on the number of lessons I take weekly because I’m at the gym more often and again, the priority is to get smaller and lighter.  My activities have to reflect that priority.  Still, I see him about 2 times weekly, sometimes for a double lesson.  And we are going over our routines.  I’m glad about it.  Because my American Rhythm open routines were pretty new – there’s still a lot to clean up and polish.  Not to mention just making things automatic in my muscle memory so that I can add more embellishments as time goes on.  So I’m happy to do lots of repetition and just be with Ivan on my lesson.

He never fails to entertain.  Not only is he funny as hell, but I also feel so blessed to get to work with Ivan.  Let me tell you some of the funny stuff first, then I’ll tell you why I’m so glad he’s my partner.

Okay, so the funny stuff is because he’s Bulgarian.  He had a charity event here locally called Dancing With The Stars to raise money for the Kidney Foundation and he told me he had to go home and “paint his hair.”  Haha!  He meant dye it.  Also, when I was doing my “signature” Bolero move I was all, “God Ivan!  It’s a feat!” and he was all like, “What you talking about?  Feet?”  It’s different but difficult to explain.

Okay, now the mushy stuff.  Ivan’s amazing.  I love how he isn’t just about technique.  I love how he is about connection and expression.  I love how he wants me to be present and to live the dance.  I love that he can see that inside me and wants to share it with me.  I love how he wants to build a partnership with me (and with each of his students/partners) and that it has the space to breathe and be unique.  It’s like, who else could I do this work with?  Of all the other dance teachers in the area, there is maybe one other person who I could  maybe work with, who I think would possibly be a fit.  I feel so blessed to be with Ivan.  There’s no one like him.

So one thing he’s been saying lately when I have a moment where I am too much in my head about something rather than being present with him in a dance is, “You forget with who you are dancing.”  And that’s a shame.  I don’t want to miss one second of it, you know?

So one thing that has been really great on our last lesson was working on connection.  We took the time to slow down, and go through moves piece by piece so we could discover when there are gaps, places where I let go, where I’m off-balance.  It was so wonderful.  It was an opportunity for me to get my bearings, him to get his, and the for us to come together and sort of merge into one unit, moving together.  It’s pretty much the optimal, ideal situation when dancing.  It requires presence and sensitivity and flexibility and openness, vulnerability and the ability to tap into the magic “action-reaction” of connection.  And it requires me to be in the flow, to be relaxed, and that’s usually not the space I’m in before a competition.

But I did have one competition where I was brimming with confidence and relaxed, so I know it’s possible.  I think the biggest thing was just feeling prepared and ready going into it, that I’d prepared myself properly and I knew what I was doing, and that I had been moving forward consistently prior to the competition, that I was in a good space for the time that had elapsed since the previous event.  So that’s what I’m working toward during this time.  As I’m getting this weight off, getting my body into shape, I’m working on the connection, the partnership, really knowing my body and my choreography, and I’m so satisfied about it.  It’s actually been great to be working out outside of my lessons on my cardio because I feel like it’s totally okay to working on less intense aspects of dancing, that there isn’t so much pressure just to do rounds, so we can spend the time on things we can only work on together.  Increasing my cardiovascular capacity isn’t one of them.

And I have to say it’s been helping.  I can get thorough so much more so much more comfortably now that I torture myself on the stair machine regularly during the week.  I definitely notice a difference in my endurance.

I think that’s all the news that’s news!  Oh, except that tomorrow, Tuesday, Dance Advantage is running a story on me!  That’s pretty awesome 🙂 – go check it out.

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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.