Just Call Me Stefan

 

 

It all started because I was fortunate enough to be at a studio that offered coaching and group classes with the famous Shirley Ballas.  I mean, my dancing may not be at the forefront of my concerns at the moment but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to learn from a living legend.

Thursday we covered Rumba and Friday night was Cha Cha.  It was strictly from the book, I mean the book…The International Dance Teachers’ Association (IDTA) Technique book.  The one that breaks down each step into its components and describes how each piece can be strung together to create the step.

For instance, did you know there are 7 types of Rumba walks?  There is a forward walk, backward walk, checked forward walk, forward walk turning, delayed forward walk knee either straight or compressed and a delayed back walk.  We also learned how to do Alemanas 3 ways and the 9 ways to chasse’.  We strung together moves to make a basic practice choreography including a checked forward walk, open hip twist, fan, hockey stick, Alemana, sliding doors, cucaracha, spiral turn, and a hockey stick back to the beginning.

But here’s the kicker, she had us switch from leader to follower, so boys danced the girl part and girls dance the boy part.  That sure put a new spin on things!

It became clear to me that one of the areas in which my training is supremely lacking is in the knowledge of the counterparts of the steps I’ve been practicing for so many years.  It’s an interesting situation because I believe kids trained in Europe learn both parts from the get-go, whereas in the US with our Pro/Am situation, most students rarely if ever learn the opposite steps.  I felt quite inept and almost as though I’m a 12-year-old in my development as a female/follower dancing while a 2-year-old as a male/leader dancing.

There were parts of the class where I was utterly lost, especially when she had us doing gold level figures as the opposite part than we usually dance.  Heck, I was even lost as the female part for some of them, too!

I’ve often thought it would be good to learn the “boy” steps for a deeper level of understanding and mastery of the material but it never seemed to be a priority, especially when preparing for competitions.  Well, that has changed.

On my next lesson after the workshops I told Kristijan that I wanted to learn the boy parts.  I told him it was obvious my education was lacking and incomplete in that area and I felt that having a better understanding of what my partner is doing would ultimately make me a better and more aware partner.  He was happy to oblige and now we’ve had 3 lessons where I’ve been learning about all that my leaders have been providing as well as getting a new perspective on the lead and follow energy dynamic.

The best part is that I am having so much fun with it.  Each lesson has come with insights and breakthroughs.  I’m being challenged to move my body differently than it is accustomed to by habit, which also results in using what feels like a different and new part of my brain.  It occurs to me as fresh and new and a process of exploration and discovery.  It’s just what had been missing in my dancing as a girl.  I was stuck in a rut, feeling like I was at the mercy of all the years of muscle memory and dancing like a robot rather than truly being present.

I am learning about how the man has been responsible for the space we occupy, not only in how he holds a frame for me, but also in how he generates facing the different walls of the room appropriately.  These are things I’ve taken for granted because I’ve never had to be the one to create them.  In addition, I got to experience the opposite piece of the energy flow I normally experience as a follower.  What I mean by this is that normally I am attuned to be a “catcher” of the impulse given to me by the leader.  I’ve only ever experienced one side of the current or loop.  Now that I’m practicing being the leader, I’m the one generating the initial impulse that I send or “throw” to the follower.  I see how the follower absorbs it, is responsible for moving it through his body, and then sending it back to me transformed.  It is like an infinity loop and now my experience of it has been expanded.  I have greater appreciation for my leaders and gratitude for all they have been doing all along that I was so unconscious about.

Playing around with this role reversal has opened up many possibilities in my dancing and I’m loving doing it.  My goal is for our showcase in October to dance a piece where I am the leader for a large portion of the choreography.

And what’s even cooler, as Kristijan coaches me to be a better leader, when we switch back to our traditional roles, I can feel a marked and improved difference in how he leads me.  It’s as if in coaching me he is coaching himself and thus providing and even higher level of leadership.

In sum, just call me Stefan.  I recommend giving this experiment a try to anyone who is interested in elevating their dancing. So far it’s been amazing.

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Getting Real

Howdy folks.  I thought it was time for another blog post and also a lot of crap has been going through my brain and this is one great way to sort through it.

Let’s start with the dancing, that’s probably the cheeriest part.  The big news is that I’m doing a showcase next Friday.  The routine is still incomplete and I haven’t danced a full routine, much less in public, in many many months.  Also, I only have one wardrobe option because I ended up giving my other two dresses away.  Why?  I vowed I am changing and I refuse to be seen in those old dresses again.  I wanted to get rid of them because I wanted to send a message to my subconscious that I was serious about this vow, that there was no back door, no way out, that I have excised the choice to even step backwards and present myself as I was before.   Anyways, I’m doing a cha-cha to “Boogie Shoes” because I wanted to do something fun, light, and energetic.  I don’t feel too much pressure about this since it’s not a competitive setting and pretty much I just wanted to have some fun dancing.  I’ve been focusing so much on the technique lately, and all my lessons are so early in the morning, that it hasn’t been as much fun, even though I do enjoy my lessons for the most part.  So anyways, I’m looking forward to it and it’s also a plus because now I’ll have an open routine for if/when I dance next.  Happily, my husband and parents will be in attendance and there will be a DVD.

Also in dance news, I posted it on my Facebook page, that I was a super-lucky-ducky and because Damir is friends with Andrej Skufca and Melinda Torokgyorgy, he occasionally has them coach at the studio and I got one lesson with each.  Damir ended up being really sick so I was alone with them but it was absolutely wonderful.  It was so helpful to see the way Melinda moved and she was able to work with me on Rumba on basic steps.  We talked a lot about incorporating the upper body and arms, which basically stems from using the core, squeezing and compressing between the hips and ribs, which made it easier to coordinate the lats.  It definitely elucidated some muscle memory habits I have, and it also gave me the opportunity to feel the correct postures in my body.  On my lesson with Andrej, we worked on samba and it was also excellent.  He helped me, again with principles of dancing on basic steps and it again elucidated how much more movement I can be generating with the body of mine, which is kind of exciting while at the same time daunting.  It is also just wonderful to be in the presence of greatness, to stand beside these people, see how they are moving, and compare it to what I’m doing, and getting nudged toward what I could be doing to expand, express, and hold my space even more.  Truly it was a wonderful experience and I think the best part was that I wasn’t overly intimidated.  I mean, these two compete in the top competitions in the world alongside the likes of Joanna and Michael, many times in the final.  I certainly have an immense amount of respect for them and look up to them.  However, I didn’t feel “less than” them, even though certainly I’m less experienced and on their dance level.  It was a wonderful space to be in because just a few short years ago I think I would have been so “in my head” worried about how bad I was compared to them that I would have missed being truly present with them and what they had to offer as coaches/teachers.  So that’s a big win, not to mention all the other benefits I already mentioned.  And this is especially wonderful in light of my body, my big, pudgy, large, non-dancer-looking body.  I’m still pretty embarrassed about it in general.  I’m still not proud of it, so that is a bummer and brings me to my next section…

The not-so-cheery stuff.

So I hired that guy to help me with my goals and it just didn’t work out.  What I thought I was getting, and what I had actually purchased were two very different things.  Initially I filled out all these forms with all these questions and I was very vulnerable with this guy, telling him everything, pretty much begging him to help me get this done once and for all.  I thought I would be getting coaching, but instead, I got 2 half-hour workouts with his sister as a trainer that didn’t even push me as much as I push myself when I go to the gym on my own and I sent him emails of what I ate every day.  That, plus a 20 page manifesto that was not clear and had a lot of information he never followed up on, as well as a calorie and carbohydrate limit for the day.  So after a few weeks of diligently sending my menu daily, I’d get one word feedback like, “don’t drink Diet Coke” or “Don’t use too much Bragg’s Amino Acids.”  And I was like, hey, I know Diet Coke isn’t like the best choice, however, it’s not the worst, either.  Look at the rest of the day and how awesome I did.  Thanks a lot (not!) for focusing in on the one not-so-great thing – firstly, that’s why I don’t choose it every day, it’s a once in a while (like once in a month) type choice and secondly, I am not about being perfect, and thirdly, I’m already so hard on myself, I already focus in on all my shortcomings and flaws, I don’t need this type of crap from a person who is supposed to be coaching me, ESPECIALLY since this was the only feedback for the entire day – there was NO mention of what I did well, there was no encouragement building me up….and that’s what I thought I’d be getting.  I mean, great, give me feedback about not drinking Diet Coke but, like, anything else you wanna mention?  So basically, I was doing this process on my own, like always, and so why I am I paying for that?  I communicated my true thoughts to him, which is a pretty big deal for me to really speak my truth and to really say, “hey!  This isn’t working for me!”  It’s not always easy for me to declare my needs and ask for what I want but I did.  And he was like, “Well maybe what you need is Life Coaching.”  And that was probably the best advice he gave me.  He’s right – and – based on our interactions – he’s not the coach for me.

So that’s that.  And now here I am, fatty-fat-fat.  At least that is how I am feeling right now.  It’s so disappointing to see my body in the mirror, while at the same time, I’m about 10 pounds down and can move easier, at least it seems so.  It feels like my fat tissues are thinning out, however, when I look in the mirror, I’m still as big as ever.  I don’t see changes, at least not big ones, and I’m still in my same clothing.

I’m still watching my diet and doing my orange theory cardio sessions and getting to the gym twice weekly to get in some heavy weight lifting (last week I did 90 pound deadlifts, which was a personal record and I am looking to do 100 pounds this week because I felt like I could do more.)  Oh – and one of the things the trainer said to me was that as I lost weight I’d lose strength, and that so doesn’t work for me.  No way, Jose!  I intend to continue to get stronger.  That’s totally possible!  Why would a trainer ever say something like that?   Okay so anyways, the process continues, and it feels like it is so Goddamned slow – but what’s new?  A this point it is imperative to stay consistent with the process.  However, something’s got to change, I’m not sure what, because I’m committed to changing!!!  But here’s the deal that’s really hanging me up right now:

I don’t want to compete until I look dramatically different.  On one hand, it’s my line in the sand and I know that it will be such a boost in confidence to really make a change before I dance again.  On the other hand, it’s a big bummer because how long do I not dance because I’m so hung up about my body and my appearance and miss out on something that brings me so much joy?  I don’t know that there is a “right” answer to this, it’s just the crap that is swirling around in my mind.

So Damir told me he talked with Ivan the other day, and I was so excited about it.  I think there is still hope we might dance together again, though I’m not attached to that particular outcome.  But anyways, today I decided to send him a little text just to say I miss him and I hope everything is going great for him and Marieta.  He was happy to get my text and asked me how I was and when I’d be on the dance floor.  All I could say was that I don’t know and that I don’t feel ready yet….and what I didn’t say is that the biggest reason for that (besides not having completed routines lol) is because I’m still fat.  Part of me was tempted to answer, “How are you?”  with “Still too fat to dance with you.”  Because part of me would love to dance with him, but I really want/need to be confident in myself before I do that, and to me, that means having a dramatically smaller, leaner body.

Seriously, it’s really mucking me up inside.  How much do I let my adipose rule my life?  But also, what about compromising on my vow?  That’s really important too.  The answer is seemingly simple:  Just lose the weight, dork!  Then you can dance and not break your vow.  Well, that’s what I’ve been intending to do…and it doesn’t seem to be happening. I mean, on one side it seems like it’s happening because I feel like my body is changing, slightly, but then it doesn’t seem like it’s changing because I’m still in the same clothes and my belly seems so big right now, and I just don’t want to step on the competitive floor like this.  Ugh!!!!

And my mind is so mean to me.  Like today while working out I was so bummed with myself because I can’t do all that is demonstrated, and my heart rate doesn’t get below 160 even when “resting” and it’s just so hard, and I even got my heart rate up to 192 and killed myself, and it’s like still not enough.  My body is so stubborn!  I look around the room and I’m killing myself and so what – I still look like a slob.  I sometimes go into the “It’s so unfair, pity-party, victim bullshit” for a moment or two, I’m not gonna lie.  But even with all this negative Nelly going on, I mean, I’m still there.  Double Ugh!!!  I’m just in a bummer mood lately.  I am also frustrated because it’s a choice to feel this way.  I mean, I could be loving toward myself and happy with myself regardless of my weight.  And yet, my happiness is very much tied up with this.  I know I’d feel better about me if I were thinner.  It’s so crappy!!!!!  It’s so, so crappy.  Like, I withhold love, acceptance, and approval of myself and I think I’ll give it to myself if I were thinner.  But is that even true?  It’s such a racket!  Why am I stuck in this mind spiral?  How do I get out of it?  When is what I do enough even if it is not getting the results I want?  Does that mean it is truly not enough?  When is enough, enough?  When do I just feel good about me  and feel confident about myself just as I am?  Period. Without all these requirements and conditions?  I keep thinking that if I continue to monitor my diet and workout the outcome should be inevitable…but it sure doesn’t seem to be a straight line at all. Triple UGH!!!!

success

Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily asking you for the answers to all these questions lol (Though if you have some kind encouragement or insights, I’m open to hearing that).  Mostly I’m just processing this so it gets out of me and I can move forward toward my goals and dreams.  Because one thing is certain, I’m not giving up!  And there are really big changes in who I used to be and who I am today – like how working out has become a habit and I have a totally different relationship with food, and like how I actually spoke up for myself and stated what wasn’t working for me and what I needed.  These are all good things, and I’m still trucking, damnit!  Even if the results have been disappointing to me thus far.

But speaking of goals and dreams, the showcase is a week away, then after that Damir promises me we’ll sit down and talk about “the plan.” “The plan” meaning what we will do this year.  I think it will have to be flexible, but also I think to actually put something on the calendar will create a shift in urgency and make things real again.  So, we’ll see.

I don’t know how “good” of a blog post this was tonight, but I do know that I can’t be the only one struggling with my body and questioning when I let it hold me back from experiencing joy in life.  I can’t be the only one who struggles with self-esteem, self-appreciation, self-love.  Maybe that has some value in sharing?  Who knows?  Thanks for humoring me.

-Stef

 

So Much Samba Fun!

Okay, it’s official.  I believe that Samba is currently my favorite dance.  I say “currently” because, if you dance ballroom, you will know, there are seasons to the dancing…dances you love one moment and hate the next, or, vice versa.  Well, my journey with Samba is a classic “B” rated romance starring no-name actors….starts with passionate hate, and develops into the best kind of love imaginable.

It all started on my last lesson.  Well, let me amend that.  I hated Samba  when I first started it.  Why?  Because of the dumb (I mean awesome?) bouncing action.  You know, that action that looks unbelievable on Julienne Hough but that when you see it you say to yourself, “How does a body actually do that?”

Well, I don’t know about you, but initially, I was stumped.  Over time, and with a lot of lessons and practice, I figured out some things and now feel better about my Samba action, both hip and bounce-related.  In any case, that was very important.  There was a long period of time where I never felt the dance in Samba, but it was necessary to just plug away at the technique of it.  Well, I did, and it has improved, and that set me up to begin to appreciate the dance (as it is danced in ballroom – this is just to acknowledge that it is a “ballroomized” version of the dance, not the authentic dance as found in Rio…but I digress…) – and now I am appreciating it more than ever before.

Okay, back to my long story, long (ha ha).  At the very end of my lesson with Ivan, after we had run our Rumba and Cha Cha, we began to play around with Samba.

“We have to be very delicate with the Samba.  We have to choosing the right moves for it.”

Well, no complaint here.  Look, I have lots of work to do on it, for sure, but the feeling inside…well, that’s the part I’m in love with.

So we began simply working on the beginning steps.  A back step, hit a line, repeat, batucadas, and then….magic!

Why was it magic?  Well, it’s not the actual steps.  That much is clear.  All it is, is two steps backwards and a pose.  What makes it magic is the energy behind it.  I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun on a lesson.

Before I say more, I want to acknowledge this nagging thought that if this opportunity to dance this way had occurred a year ago, or even a month ago, I do not believe that I would have been ready or that I could have embraced the expression of it with the open arms as I was able to do this week.  Upon reflection (you see, I actually do contemplate my blog posts before I write them….usually in fleeting thoughts during the day, thinking to myself, ‘Oh! I need to put that in the blog!’) well, anyways, upon reflection, I can see that I am in a different place.  A more confident, more accepting, more joyful place.  More open to actually acting out on the outside what I feel on the inside, even if it doesn’t match what I think it could/should look like in a slimmer body.  Well, whatever.  Life is too short….

Okay, diatribe complete.  Here’s why I had so much fun:

If you have dogs, then you know what pure, loving, fun, happy, upbeat energy they have when you walk in the door (and for non-dog lovers, can you imagine that greeting you when you walk in the door?).  Either way, it’s an awesome feeling.  Their cute little faces staring up at you, their tails wagging as fast as a helicopter blade….no matter how bad a day you’ve had, they are there to love you and just be happy that you exist, that you walked in the door (what an accomplishment!).  Well, it kinda felt like that.   That, plus the tension/attraction-type energy between a man and woman that should be exemplified by the Latin dances.

Okay well, we began learning the moves then ba ba ba ba BAH!  And by ba ba ba BAH I mean something.  I may not really be sure how to put this experience into words but I’ll do my best.  Actually, I suggest you attempt to experience it for yourself.  But word-wise, here goes.  It was a building energy.

Imagine you can’t wait to dance with a partner and they are near.  Imagine you are looking toward them and they are kind of looking toward you but yet still in an aloof manner.  But then that person turns towards you.  You get a little jolt inside that it is possible to dance with this amazing person that seemed out of your league just a second ago.  But not yet!  Instead, you walk around each other sizing one another up for a few more seconds.  But then, then the unthinkable happens!  He extends a hand!  An invitation!  Yes!  You get to dance!  You want to dance!  But hey – let’s be real.  You still want to seem under control, cool, regal.  So you, unhurriedly, and centered and on balance, accept the invitation.  Yeah, it’s like that.

I’m totally lying.  It’s like that in the build up, but I always screw it up!  It’s totally not like that (yet)…but it should be…it could be….and with practice it WILL be!  Eh, and for now it totally isn’t.  I have to laugh because when Ivan says “Follow me.  Be the mirror image,” I take him literally.  So when he walks left, I walk right.  I’m “dyslexic” according to the crazy Bulgarian.  Yes, I’m in tune enough now to finally react, but, frustratingly, I’m not connected enough to react appropriately.  Ugh!  Grr. Grr.

However, there is a silver lining.  This is that we practiced eye leads (I made this term up just in case you were wondering).

What are “eye leads” you may ask?  Well, most of us students/beginner/bronze dancers get let with a hand/arm lead.  The deal is, that it isn’t/shouldn’t be the arm/hand/any-kind-of-contact.  At higher levels, like I’ve experienced for minutes out of the thousands of hours I’ve had dance lessons, a person will get a body lead, like a hand on the back or hip or shoulder, but not in the arm – the usual place to look to connect.

All you get in an “eye lead” is connection via the eyes – Awesome yet scary and also revealing of your dependencies/weaknesses/where-you-rely-on-your-partner.  But, overall, very awesome.  I actually prefer it and wish we did more of it.  It’s all about the energy.  You can’t do an eye lead unless you are tuned into the energy and connection.  It’s just not possible.

Well, anyways that was what made the lesson so awesome and fun.  That and on the beginning steps Ivan and I totally get in each other’s faces and it is so funny!  I love it!

So anyways, that’s my story for now…

Creolé Show - Samba dancer 4

By Sérgio Savarese (originally posted to Flickr as Girl) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Topical Series: Deciding Whether To Do A Dance Camp

Me and Ron Montez

Me and Ron Montez

Although I’ve only attended one dance camp thus far in my ballroom “career,” I discovered some useful information that might help someone who is interested in a dance camp to decide whether or not to do it.  Choosing to do a dance camp, like participating in a competition, requires planning, money, time off work, maybe even a babysitter, and perhaps travel.  It’s a significant committment so it is a significant decision to make.  Here are my thoughts on some things to consider when deciding if a dance camp a good choice for you.

Overall I thought it was a good value.  Of course every dance camp is going to be different, but using my experience as an example, the deluxe package cost $475.  This included all the classes offered, a welcome dinner and dance mixer, and a gourmet dinner with a champagne toast and party on New Year’s Eve.  Considering private lessons cost around $75-$130 each, and I got 17 group classes led by professional dancers and adjudicators, plus two lectures, I consider this a damn good deal.  I did a lot of dancing, was able to video the choreography presented, ask questions, and even eat a bit, and all for a small fraction of what a competition usually costs.  Even if you add in the hotel (which I only opted to stay at on New Year’s Eve, I commuted the other days), gas costs, and food, it still works out well.

One major advantage of attending a dance camp, especially for competitive dancers, is face time with judges.  Not only do you get to be seen so your face is familiar, but you can also ask direct questions and have actual interactions with people who may judge you at future competitions.  You can also pick their brains for what they look for in competitive dancers.  They tend to naturally share their preferences in dancing while teaching which can also give you insight on dance styling and choreographic choices. This is not as significant a factor for those who do not compete.

One possible disadvantage of a dance camp is that they may be fluid, meaning that the schedule advertised when you sign up for the camp may not be exactly what is delivered.  For instance, when I looked at the website for this dance camp, Decho Kraev and Bree Watson were listed as teaching many of the classes.  Since they are the current American Rhythm champions, I’m sure many people were looking forward to getting to learn from this particular couple.  When I arrived at the camp and got my package, the class schedule listed different instructors.  I, personally, didn’t really mind so very much.  I got to learn from Linda Dean and Radomir Pashev, and I really enjoyed their classes and felt I got great value from what they shared.  But I could see how someone could be upset by this, especially if part of why he or she chose to attend was to learn from a particular professional, judge, or couple.

There was also one other change, which I was very happy about, and it wasn’t even listed on the schedule.  When it came time for the Night Club Two Step (not a dance I’m interested in) Rado decided to do Samba instead.  Anyways, for type A individuals this could be crazy-making, but for me, I was glad about it.

Another benefit of attending a dance camp is that the instructors are also available for private lessons.  I didn’t take advantage of this during my stint, but opportunities to learn from the experts, or have them create some choreography for you, or to work on a particular troublesome step don’t happen all the time, especially if you have an independent instructor and no home studio where coaches may visit regularly.  In any case, attending a dance camp is one great way to make contact with paragons of the ballroom dance world.

As is usually the case in ballroom dancing, there were double the amount of women than men at the camp.  Only a few of the females chose to learn the leader choreography.  This meant that for much of the time in class many female students were without a partner and the men were always dancing as a duo.  And, to make matters worse, there was little to no formal rotation set up, made doubly confusing when some of the couples danced exclusively with one another, not rotating at all.  Personally, I sometimes prefer to dance by myself so I can discover my own balance and so I know that I understand what I am doing.  I didn’t mind the times when I was partner-less.  However, by the end of the camp I was exhausted by actually dancing with partners.  Half of them were uninterested in dancing with me (or seemed that way), one felt the need to correct me and was a total joy-suck.  I don’t even care how good or unskilled a dancer is, but I do mind very much when they have a bad attitude.  I was exhausted by having to interact with some of these fellow students, and just like in social dancing situations, it is a crap shoot as to who will be available to dance with.  In fact, one of my friends was also troubled by the interactions she had with some of the males and opted to not partner at all by the end of the camp because the experience was so uncomfortable, and in her case, she felt flat-out disrespected.

The majority of dancers at the camp were social dancers.  Only a very few of us were competitive students.  Obviously we had different goals and intentions with our dancing.  It would have been more valuable for me from my perspective to have more of an opportunity to dance with other competitive students.  I did get to dance with a few darling men with happy, fun personalities, and one who was excellent in all aspects, but of course I couldn’t always dance with them even though I might have wanted to.  This might be more likely at a dance camp that occurs before or after a competition so I might have to check one of those dance camps out.  But anyways, I think I might have enjoyed the camp more and maybe even gotten more value out of it if I had a friend or amateur partner to do it with.  It’s not really something you’d do with your pro partner and I found the partnering situation to be less than stellar.

Because there was such a mix in the level of expertise, skill level, and intention of the dancing, the teachers had to address broad topics and gear their classes toward general information. They did offer two tracks of classes: Beginner/Intermediate and Intermediate/Advanced. Basically this equated to one class for baby beginners and one class for everyone else. It was up to each individual to place themselves in an appropriate level, and upon registration the lady did say that a person could switch classes within the first ten minutes if it was either too easy or too difficult.

I kind of think the intermediate business is just there to make us feel better! I’m not sure what the distinction between intermediate and beginner or intermediate and advanced is, exactly. I wonder if any dance camps require a person to “test into” a level…like in dance classes in college you can’t just sign up for advanced ballet. You must audition and an assessment of your skill level is made to determine if it is an appropriate placement, or prerequisite classes must first be completed successfully to gain entry into higher level classes. Probably impractical to do at a dance camp, but it’s a thought. And I wonder what a truly advanced class would look like – probably like Inna’s class…but I think a class like that, especially for social dancers, could be pretty shocking/intimidating if a person walked into it expecting a group class like is usually presented…not as strenuous, and filled with lots of interesting steps but less of the basics. Camp organizers have to aim to please their attendees so knowing who is attending, their level, and if they are social or competitive could help in the design of classes and tracks/levels. Like I would have loved if there were beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels (or bronze, silver, gold) in both social and competitive categories, but that would sure take a lot of staff and resources, unless the camp was specifically geared toward one type of student.

In any case, at this dance camp, during most classes a series of steps were taught and the students learned a little choreography.  I am more interested in the technique behind the steps than the steps themselves so I wanted more of that type of information – how to correctly execute the steps rather than the steps themselves.  I can always learn more steps so adding more to my repertoire was fine and good but not all that exciting to me because the chances of me actually using these little choreographies in the future are slim to none.  If I was a social dancer only, or danced socially more often, or had an amateur partner, it might have created more value for me.

One disadvantage of this camp was that because it was held in a hotel, the floors were jointed and there were no mirrors. I missed having a mirror to compare my lines to those of the professional demonstrating the steps. But having it at a different venue like a dance studio might not have been as convenient and certainly would not have had all the amenities present. I wish that mirrors could have been brought in just like the floor is.

One of the best parts of the dance camp was simply spending time with my ballroom friends and making new ones.  I had some awesome and deep conversations and laughed a ton.  I’d recommend having a partner in crime to go with if possible.

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the dance camp and feel like I did learn a lot.  Just putting myself out there and participating was a big win.  And because I showed up cool things happened – I got to dance a swing step “down and dirty” with Radomir, I got to do a mambo deal with Ron and a group of people as he spontaneously got out on the dance floor on New Year’s Eve and began calling out moves, I got to win a merengue mixer contest, I got to laugh a ton, learn a ton, watch a professional show, and toast the new year.  Well, anyways, I hope this gave you some insight into what you might want to think about when considering a dance camp.  If you have any other burning questions, please do ask and I will do my best to answer.

Stuff I Learned At Ron Montez Dance Camp

Now, it really isn’t possible to share everything I learned at dance camp.  Partly because a dance camp is experiential in nature, just like a competition, there is a lot of learning that happens by actually being present and having the experiences – a person can’t really learn how to dance (or ride a bike or paint in watercolor) by only reading about it.

I did, however, discover some nuggets that I thought were pretty interesting.  So this post is a conglomeration of information miscellany that doesn’t warrant separate posts.  Hopefully you will discover something new that adds value to your dancing.

That being said, I would share that doing this dance camp was a good choice overall.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in doing one to give it a shot.  I feel that the more a person can expose themselves to dancing, different perspectives about the dancing, and different dance instructors, the better.  A dance camp is one way to experience a variety of input from a variety of dance professionals in a short amount of time.

Now perhaps you already know some of these ballroom details.  And it’s also possible that I’d already heard these things in the past.  But there is so much to learn in ballroom, I generally can’t absorb all that is presented to me.  I have to hear things multiple times, and sometimes even hear the concepts described in a different way from a different instructor to develop a new awareness and understanding.  So for what it’s worth, here goes!

1)  In ballroom your knees always work together.  By “ballroom” I mean the Smooth or Standard dances and by “work together” I mean that both knees are bent or straight at the same time.  Conversely, in the Latin and Rhythm dances knees will often be performing opposite actions, one being bent and one being straight.

2) A Fall-away is the opposite of a Promenade.  Who knew?

3) Strictly speaking, in Rhythm Cha Cha there are no locks, only backward and forward chasses with the feet passing one another.

4)  There are 3 types of backward breaks in Bolero (video of Linda Dean demonstrating the 3 types below)

5)  Arm movement should come from the center of the chest, the sternum.

6)  There is no need for releve’ in the Bolero basic (this surprised me!) and in fact some judges prefer it be absent

7)  Always, always, always start a Bolero on a slow

8)  You can do Rumba timing in Bolero if it is on purpose and only lasts for two bars of music

9)  Everything in ballroom is a freakin’ optical illusion!  Don’t take big steps but do create big movement

10) Keep your nose over your toes!

11) Partners don’t actually connect via the back and hand in the ballroom frame, rather they connect upward through the arms

12)  The Samba is the “Brazilian Waltz” because just like a Waltz, every 2nd step is on the ball of the foot

13)  There is a difference between American Samba and International Samba!  It has to do with the timing.  In American Samba it is counted 1 & 2, or half beat, half beat, whole beat – the timing is pretty even.  In International Samba the counts are broken into fourths – the movement is less evenly spaced with 1/4th a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 1/4th a beat, whole beat, counted 1 ah 2, 3 ah 4.  International Samba appears to move more quickly and then slowly as movement is drawn out longer, then the next move is made quicker to make up the difference and to stay on the beat.

14) In swing you are supposed to emphasize the even counts

15) The “and” or “ah” count in Samba represents the time to do the Samba bounce action

16) Sharp leg extensions that occur when a dancer is at the lowest point of their movement (think foot flat on the floor, knee bent) is a Kick.  A Flick, on the other hand, is performed when a dancer is at their highest point of action (think on tippy toes with legs straight).  (Kind of like the difference between stalagmites and stalagtites!)

And there you have it.  Random but informative (hopefully)

Down And Dirty!

Okay folks, I’m tired and there is so much to say about the last two days of Dance Camp and the New Year.  I promise another, more detailed post will be forthcoming with multiple pictures, dance tips, and maybe even some video.

But there is one experience I am burning to share!  It was just too cool and makes me giggle so here goes….

First off, here is a photo of me an my new instructor:

rado

JUST KIDDING! 

Do you honestly think I’d EVER want to dance with anyone other than Ivan.  Exactly.   You are right.  Not gonna happen in this lifetime. 

But over the last weekend, Radomir was one of the excellent instructors at the dance camp and I honestly really enjoyed his sessions.  He is a technically excellent dancer, extremely disciplined and pristine in his movement, but he is also a pretty darn good teacher and communicator.  He brought a gentle warmth and humor to his classes while at the same time explaining the mechanics of steps.  In any case, he’s kind of a big deal and as an instructor and professional competitor, I, being a student, of course look up to him. 

Well, in the East Coast Swing class he taught, he introduced this one twisting move.  Imagine doing the actual “Twist” like from the song of the same name by the Beatles.  The extreme twisting action of the upper half of the body and the lower half.

In any case, after he had showed us this move in a series of steps of choreography, he stopped the class and told us he wanted it not to be so prissy, but rather “down and really dirty.” I think he expounded upon this even more but I couldn’t hear what he said because we were all laughing with embarrassment so heartily. Once he realized how he had come across, he started laughing too, but still the intention behind the move was there. He did want us to get low and feel the sultry, earthy quality inherent in the movement.

Now here is where it get’s really interesting. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Let’s show them how it’s done!”

OMG! LOL!

So he invited me to demonstrate to the class how to do this twist action “Down and Dirty” but first he explained the incorrect way of doing it…He began to panomime the same actions in a very repressed, shall I say “English-stiff-upper-lip” fashion and invited me to play along. I did and we performed the step stiffly and unemotively. He likened it to one of those middle-class gentry English dances done in the countryside at the turn of the century. We raised our hands and circled one another as if we were doing a courtship dance in the movie “A Knight’s Tale.”

But then we went for it! We twisted and we got low and we shook our katukus’ (katukasi???) Well, we shook our behinds like no kidding and it was awesome and he even gave me a high five when we finished.

You know, I think for me this was the best moment in the camp. It was just so cool to get to go to “the head of the class” with a professional like Rado and totally rock it. I danced with him a few other times for brief moments in other classes and always screwed up at least a little bit. But still, this kind of made up for it. It may sound silly, for me it meant that I had the ability to excute this move, so much so, that even being the biggest girl in the class, I was the one to demonstrate it to others.  I felt acknowledged and I also got to share my enjoyment of doing that particular move.

In any case, that’s my short story! I want to say Happy New Year and that I’m looking forward to what 2013 will bring.  I’m grateful to still be dancing and blogging. I wish you all the very best during our next orbit around the sun and I just wanted to share this little tidbit even if I don’t have the energy and patience just now to fill you in on all the other cool things that happened at Dance camp over the last two days.

Cheers!

Love, Stef