Work It, Girl!

In case you didn’t know from all my posts on Facebook, this weekend was Emerald Ball in Los Angeles, California.  With over 1100 heats, it was a huge event with thousands of participants.  I happened to know a few people who went so I avidly watched for pictures and video posts on SuperShag.com as the results came in for my friends and for professional couples that I admire and follow.

You can see all the congratulations and who won what or placed where if you care to here and while you’re there, make sure to like the page for Dancing With Stefanie.  That way, a link to any new posts on the blog will show up in your Facebook News feed.  Plus, sometimes I post things on the Facebook page that don’t make it onto the blog.  There is also a “like” button on the upper right hand side of the blog page you can easily click.

Alright, enough with the boring housekeeping items….here’s what’s been going on.

Since Ivan and Marietta went to Emerald Ball on Thursday, I haven’t had a lesson since Wednesday and it’s kind of like going through withdrawal.  Maybe not that dramatic, but by the end of the weekend I was really missing this major part of my life.  But, as they say, nature will always fill a vacuum.  Luckily my friend Ivonne had a perfect solution.  Why not join her for some Lindy Hop and Tranky Doo (yes, that is actually the name of a dance)?  I was especially motivated to go having not danced in days and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

It was a group lesson and social dancing – and the instructors could spot us “ballroomers” a mile away.  “Relax!  No Frame!” were our constant reminders.  It was about getting the rhythm of the dance into our bodies and we were required to actually sing while we moved.  Hoooo Wah! Hoooo Wah!  Hoooo Wah Ooopty Dah!  I’m not even kidding!  But I got why they did it.  And they said that even they still sing these rhythms (different than the beats or counts in the music) while practicing as pros.

It was a nice sized class and a progressive one.  It will continue for the next four weeks, and then if I decide to progress, I’d have to repeat the basic level before they’d allow me in the intermediate class.  Kind of an interesting way of doing things.  I think it’s cool that they value the fundamentals and want their students to have a firm grasp of them before progressing on to harder steps without a proper foundation.  And it creates a strange sort of motivation of like, I want to be a “cool kid” and be in the intermediate class.  Plus it probably weeds out less motivated students.  But we’ll see.  I’m not sure how far I want to jump down this rabbit hole.

After the Lindy Hop class was a class on Tranky Doo.  I really enjoyed it.  You get to dance solo.  It’s from the 30’s.  Here’s a video – sorry the sound is bad:

Anyways, that was lots of fun, not too difficult, but I got a little dance fix and I worked up a good sweat.

But there’s nothing that compares to a lesson with Ivan so I was very excited that he agreed to have a lesson with me today, even after competing late last night (making it to the semi-final) in Professional American Rhythm and Emerald Ball with Marietta, and driving home.  Probably because of that, I had a lot of extra energy and was thinking about all we had worked on last time we met.  I tried my best to project my energy, and after about 3/4ths of the lesson, Ivan finally noticed that I was doing it.  I suppose it’d be better if he’d noticed it right away, but hey, progress.  He gave me a hug.  We had to navigate some issues because the computer through which the stereo runs wasn’t working properly and I ended up using Pandora on my phone for some music.  Not ideal – we quickly used up the maximum 6 skips per hour – but better than nothing.

After the lesson we had a little conversation.  I’m doing Desert Classic so I have to figure out how much I’m going to do, the cost, all that stuff.  I also told Ivan, “Hey!  We have like two months.  I know cardio is an issue, but what other little things can I be working on and fixing during this time?  I want to do the best I can.  But we just dance and you have to tell me!”

He basically told me that yes, there are little things to fix, but the cardio is killing me.  It’s my biggest weakness.  I can’t maintain 100% full energy for long enough.  It’s a problem.  My feet/legs are good, not perfect, and there are expression things to work on, and he put me through my paces on a cross body lead in Cha Cha and doing the Hockey Stick properly into a Fan in Latin Rumba, but the biggest problem is the cardio, and of course, secondarily, the extra weight.  He suggested I work most on those things and lose as much weight as I can before the competition so it will be easier on me.

So I kind of left my lesson feeling a little bummed.  Not a news flash, all this information.  I already know it.  I just wish I could wake up and be the size I was when I was 16 again.  Also, I was feeling insecure.  I tend to vascilate between feeling secure and good about myself and my dancing and then being dismayed that I will never be as good as I want to be, and that mabye I’m delusional about how good I even am right now!  Does anyone else cycle through these as well?

But I digress.  I found, that the dismay also kind of motivates me.  When I have a definite goal, with a definite deadline, and I know I’m not even close to where I want to be, I personally become more motivated to make changes.  So on my way home, I realized that all I would do if I went home was to sit on my fat butt and watch DWTS and maybe write a blog post.  Then I remembered that Marietta teaches a woman’s styling class at Dance Starz on Mondays.  I made a U-turn and headed over to the studio.  No time like the present to take action,right?  Plus, it meant that  I got a double dose of the Dishilev’s tonight!

Anyways, it was one of the best classes I’ve had with Marietta.

This may seem like a tangent, but follow me here – everyone is a genius at something.  From my perspective, Marietta is a genius at sensuality and femininity in ballroom dancing.  It is one of her greatest strengths.

Also, it is amazing to me, how the professional ballroom instructors I’ve experienced are so unabashed about their bodies.  There is like, no shame whatsoever.  I just can’t really relate to that.  But a part of me wants to get there and as uncomfortable as it is, especially with how I’m packaged right now, I’m willing to do the best I can in the moment with it.  These ballroom mavens like Marietta and Inna are the perfect people to model this for me, being as comfortable with themselves as they are.

In any case, Marietta is one of my favorite dancers because she really feels the movement.  She has totally permissioned herself to enjoy every sensuous movement, to touch her body, to play.  The movement she creates with her arms, for instance, as she explains it, isn’t because someone told her to do them a certain way, it’s because that’s where they want to naturally go, where they naturally extend, in a gorgeous and controlled way, because of the movement generated from her body, from her core, from her heart.  She is 100% okay with being sexy, oogled at even.  Again, I really can’t relate.

But what I can’t relate to even more, is putting on socks, taking off my shirt, putting on lotion, and looking in the mirror.   Yes, I know this makes no sense right now, but here’s what happened on the lesson.

Because the styling and movement of the body and arms comes from a natural, organic place, Marietta suggested we start with an everyday task we girls supposedly do.  Marietta suggested we begin with looking in a mirror.  Um, yeah, I generally avoid looking in mirrors, and I don’t have any hand mirrors in my possession.  She had us pretend we were grabbing a hand mirror, looking into it, and loving what we saw.  Uncomfortable.

Then she asked us how we put on socks.  I just slap those suckers on.  She was like, “Oh no!  That won’t do at all!  If I were alone and putting on socks, I’d do this.”  And she bent over, legs demurely crossed, butt up in the air, and delicately, sensually, rubbed her ankles then allowing her hands to traverse her calves, thighs, and all the way up to above her head.  By now, other people in the studio started to watch the class.  I admit, it’s difficult to keep your eyes off Marietta.  And, about this time, I noticed that my legs are at least twice as wide has hers.

She had us practice this movement a few times and then we were on to taking off our shirt.

“How would you take off your shirt?  Please demonstrate for me.”

I shrug my shoulders, cross my arms across my vast belly, and mime pulling upward.  Kind of in a manly, unconcerned way.

Again, not even close to how Marietta demonstrates.  It’s really difficult to describe this all in words!  How to get your mind’s eye to see how it all looked is kind of impossible.  But here’s the best I can do.  She crossed her arms, grabbing at her tiny waist, and drug her hands and fingers, not missing one inch, even her bosom, upwards, uncrossing them until her arms were above her head and only her wrists were entwined, creating almost like a fan out of her hands.  It was gorgeous.

Then she had us put on lotion.  I just cursorily slap that stuff on, when I even bother to use it.  Quick, functional movement.  But Marietta, oh, you’d probably already guess by now, she luxuriates in the movement.  How can a person make something that is so mundane look so interesting?

Finally we had to put it all together.  A basic Rumba box, two Cucarachas, a step back and them “Bam!” We’re supposed to project that sensual energy, reaching for something we want with all our might toward the mirror, arms reaching outward to grab this thing we want so very much.  Then we are to pull it into ourselves, caressing our necks, down through our chests.  Finally, put on a sock, rip off our shirts, rub lotion on our arms, and look at ourselves in our hand mirror.  It’s embarrassing!

It is easier just to do prescribed movement.  Rote movement.  Exact placements of arms rather than feeling it from the inside and expressing it nakedly on the outside.

It’s easier to not become the center of attention, and to avoid touching this body of mine.

It is difficult, for me, to allow myself to really enjoy any of this.

Marietta got a bit upset with me at one point because I was feeling self-conscious and shy doing all this and she wanted me to demonstrate reaching forward with all the yearning energy for that thing I want so badly for the other student in the class.  By then, I’d noticed other people watching us.  That made it even worse for me.

Marietta was like, “Go.  Do it.  Now! Move!  Go! I’m out of words!” And I was like, in my head, waiting for this person to pass behind us, that person to look away, that person to exit.  I didn’t want to be seen.  Eventually, after a lot of deep breaths and once people had moved far enough away, I did my best – enough to satisfy Marietta, but also just enough for me to think I looked like an idiot.

But I survived.  Amazing, isn’t it?

But then Marietta explained something that really stuck with me.  She said that she doesn’t really know how things look when they look good – that that is for others to judge – but rather she knows how it feels.

That, right there, is her genius.  That is why I love watching her and Ivan dance so much.  She is fascinating to watch not only because she is gorgeous and moves fantastically, but because she is actually enjoying the movement.  She revels in the sensuality of it all.  She is unabashed and confident in herself.  Her femininity exudes powerfully and draws me in as a viewer into her story, which seems like it should be a private affair, but there she is, enjoying it and sharing it with the entire crowd.

It’d be awesome to have that kind of power.

It just really affected me – her comment about that she doesn’t know how it looks but rather how it feels.  I reflected; maybe I’ve been looking in all the wrong places to find this for myself.  I realize that look to others, and compare myself to them.  That’s a losing game.  I also look to the mirror but it is not something I love or enjoy to see.  Indeed, it is an invitation to tailspin quickly.

But instead, what I can do, is put the blinders on to the outside and feel.  The Stefanie inside doesn’t feel she is 300 pounds, big, jiggly, and gross when she is in the zone just feeling and being present in the moment.  Like when Ivan and I have dance with our eyes closed and I have to really tune into my body and the leads, nothing else exists – there is no space for the insecurities or the fears or even to consider what other people might think of me, how I look, what I’m doing.  That is where I need to look to find this movement – that was the epiphany tonight.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that feedback from others or the mirror isn’t useful.  It’s just that it may not be the best place for me to find the feeling, and from that feeling the movement, that I’m looking for.

Toward the end of the lesson, Marietta asked me what I thought this lesson was about – and that if I couldn’t handle the 5 people in the studio watching me be all sensual and stuff, how would I ever handle an entire ballroom full of people?

I replied, “This lesson is about feeling really uncomfortable and doing it anyway.  It is about deciding to not care what other people are thinking of me as I do this, and to just get in my own little bubble and do whatever it is I want to do here completely.”  I didn’t say it out loud, but what it was also really about, was claiming and holding my space.  Like, really owning my space on the dance floor, as if I’d put up a fence to declare it mine – one that said,  this is my area to shine and play and do whatever I want.  Don’t come invade it, it’s mine, not yours.

So anyways, it seemed apropos after all these realizations, when I opened my mail tonight and saw a card from my crazy aunt Julie (by marriage – and I mean crazy in the most lovingly way possible – it’s kind of a term of endearment for her).  Anyways, it fits perfectly into the theme of my lesson with Marietta, the sensual genius, tonight:

Boy does that cat look stupid in a pink bikini doing a pole dance.  But you know what, that kitty is working it!  Maybe I should take a cue from this feline.  Let it all hang out…after all, I am totally about the Meow!  Lol.  I’m going to take this opportunity to pledge to myself (and publicly) that I will continue to “work it” as much as I can.  That I am willing to go to these uncomfortable places if that’s what it takes to become who I want to become.  And finally, to thank Miss Marietta for being my teacher, mentor, and friend, and for pushing me a little further out onto the branch today.  Pretty soon, just like Ivan’s new chicks, I’m gonna fly!

Well, it’s been a long day and I am pooped, especially after staying up late to watch the last night of Emerald Ball online and two amazing dance lessons – one that stressed me physically and one that stretched me emotionally and as a woman and performer.  It’s time to go collapse in bed…I’m not even going to watch DWTS tonight and that should tell you something!

How are you “working it” in your ballroom journey?  What things do you struggle with the most?  Can you describe some moments in which you had a breakthrough and let it all “hang out?”

Until next time, I’m signing off.

XOXO, Stef

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The Healing Power of…Shoes?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Dance Starz studio (and later the mall)

Woman’s styling class with Marieta and power shopping with Katie

I have this plan, see.  I’m going to be this amazing, feminine, yet sexy, and strong, and powerful, graceful, and technically excellent ballroom dancer.  That’s how I show up in my head, in any case.  But the picture in my brain differs considerably from what I see in the mirror every day.

Even though this gap between reality and the vision I have for myself is as wide as the Grand Canyon, the only way to bridge the chasm is to begin to take steps in real life to bring this vision into becoming a reality.

The Stefanie in my mind’s eye is sassy, and confident.  She wears cute outfits on her fit body and looks “put together.”  She wears make up and takes the time to style her hair.  If she feels like it, she thinks nothing of wearing leopard skin prints unabashedly, paired with fuchsia high heels, that scream, “Look at me!”

The Stefanie in the mirror wears black (it’s slimming, right?).  She rarely wears make up.  He hair is frequently found pulled back in a ponytail.  She’s pudgy and shy.  She can’t look into her own eyes in  the mirror, much less those of any audience member.  She wears flat shoes, also black, because they are easy and comfortable, and don’t draw much attention.

But luckily for me, I have friends who support me in my vision.  My friend Katie, I’ve mentioned her before in previous posts, is a fashionista!  She saw my sad black shoes and knew that something needed to be done.

“We’re going shopping,” she tells me, “you need some SOS pumps.”

To me SOS means help, and for certain I need an assist in this arena.  However, according to Katie, SOS really means, “Sex on a stick.”  ( Can I even write about this in a blog…I’m blushing as I write this!)

Um, yeah.  SO OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE!

But that vision in my head of what I could be won’t shut up.  I take a deep breath and think, yes, I’m going to do this.  I don’t know when, but we will.

Yesterday was the day.  I got an email forwarded from Katie about a shoe sale at a local store.  I look at the pictures of exotic pumps and text her back, “Holy Hell.”

We made an appointment for the very same evening.

But first its a group Latin styling class aimed at women taught by Marieta.  I swear, I get an education just by watching this woman move.  She is gorgeous.

First she warms us up, feet, ankles, legs, hips, rib cage, arms.  We are ready to go.  She teaches a little Latin Rumba combination, explaining we are to be feminine and move as though we were swimming under water, fluidly, like seaweed waving under the sea.

Next it is Cha Cha.  She explains that each dance has a different dynamic and characteristic.  We need to move in a way that will create a distinction in our movements, avoiding a monochromatic performance.  Cha Cha has pop, pizzaz, drama, and sharpness.  We do a similar combination as the one for Rumba, and surprisingly, dancing beside this beautiful dancer, I’m creating similar pictures with my body.  I pat myself on the back.  Forget the fact that prior to coming to the lesson I was having a “skinny day.”  There’s nothing like standing next to a professional ballroom dancer to shatter a “skinny day,” but hey, I’m moving, and with each shake and shimmy, I’m one calorie closer to being in shape.

Class ends and Katie is there ready to go.  We speed off toward the mall.  It is 8:05 and the mall closes at 9pm.  But we are on a mission and I intend on accomplishing it.  We park and walk across the mall to the shoe store Katie has in mind.

Remember that scene from “Pretty Woman,” where Julia Roberts in full-on hooker garb walks into the ritzy upscale boutique and the saleswomen won’t give her the time of day.  Well, it was kind of like that.  The sales girls eye me sceptically.  First off, I’m in my black dance pants and black sweater top and those sad black flat shoes.  I wear none of the make up that adorns their pretty faces.  I’m twice the size of their normal customer.  My hair is pulled back in the famous pony tail.

Katie, however, wastes no time.  She asks for Lisa, whom she spoke with earlier today requesting her to set aside a few shoe models.  Lisa hasn’t complied, but oh well.  Katie begins grabbing pumps from here and there and I begin trying them on.

I have to admit, I am so glad I had back up.  If I had attempted to go into this store by myself, I would have chickened out.  I don’t have any confidence in this arena and especially with the way the sales women were interacting with me I would have felt very out of place, very uncomfortable.  Why do I give my power away like that?  I’m not entirely sure.  But with a true friend at my side, we created our own “bubble” of fun and exploration.  We had a blast.  I’m so proud of us – we got some SOS pumps in 23 minutes flat!  Talk about the power of intention and committment.

As I was trying on one pair, walking, just walking in them mind you, I wobbled.  Katie bust out laughing.

“You can do the Cha-Cha in 2.5 inch heels but you can’t walk!  You showed me the Rumba walks, now let me show you how to do the runway walk.”

She demonstrates how to walk on the tippy toes.

The sceptical sales girl suggests that perhaps I should try a lower heel first.  Clearly she doesn’t approve of my choice of SOS heels.  But you know what?  Screw that.  This isn’t about her and what she might be thinking.  It is about me.  And I’m not going to settle for less than what we came here for.  I’m committed.

I decide on the pair I want and tell the sales girl to ring me up.  In a flash, I am almost overcome with emotion.  For one split-second, I see the vision of Stefanie completely unfolded, the Stefanie who wears shoes like this.  I see that really, I am this girl, who fears not to wear bright fire-engine-red too-high-to-be-practical heels.

Yes, I really, really am.

It may be starting with my feet, but the feet have stepped through the partition from my inner mind’s eye to real life.

One foot represents me now, the other represents what I am stepping into becoming

Who knew that buying a pair of shoes could be so healing?  I certainly didn’t!

These are the ones I finally decided upon.

Now, what the heck am I going to wear with these!?

Again, Katie to the rescue.  We are set to find an outfit on Thursday.  I think I’ve been possessed by a “body snatches pod person.”  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe the real Stefanie, the one who’s been hiding all her life, finally feels like it is safe to come out.  She needs the support of her friends and a lot of love and compassion, but little by little, I detect her flower blossoming.  And all because of the support of a friend  who helped me find the courage to go and buy some silly, red shoes.  (I mean, awesome, sexy shoes).

I just need to learn how to walk in them….