My oh my. It has been a whirlwind the past couple of days at the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Phoenix. I remember why I love participating in these extravagant events as I reflect on the experience which totally encompassed the full gambit of human emotions from elation to depression and everything in between – not to mention nerves! Competitions are a spectacle to behold, and an amazing way to gain a wealth of information in a short period of time. I’m always immensely glad I do competitions after the fact and this time was no exception – I always learn, I gain experience and exposure, and I generally have a good time.
The victories were many this time around. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of any negative outcomes. It was just a very special time and I’m feeling incredibly blessed, grateful, and more determined than ever to push toward my goals and dreams with dancing. After the competition, the things I previously considered impossible seem within the reach of a mere mortal like myself, if I apply myself and work diligently and consistently. I am inspired and hopeful and generally feeling pretty good about myself and where I am at.
First off, I got to dance. Secondly, I got to dance with Ivan, my favorite partner who I look up to so very much. Furthermore, I got to dance in public, in front of an audience, and I got to receive feedback about my performance in the form of heat results and audience engagement. My parents and mother-in-law came to watch, and it was even more special was that my dad came because, well, he’s not a big dance fan. He walked out of a performance of Swan Lake once at Gammage Hall hee hee hee. Even so, I think he was genuinely impressed with what he saw – as he put it, “it was worth the price of admission,” to see me dance, which was a great compliment considering the steep entry fee for the evening session! The one very funny thing, I thought, was that I pointed out to my parents how my body should look and the kind of costume I should be wearing to really compete with the high-level folks – basically a bikini but dressed up, you know? Well both my mom and my dad were basically like, “I don’t care how slim you get! Don’t EVER wear that!?” Ha ha ha! I’m an adult woman and if I do ever manage to sculpt my body to the point I could wear one of those costumes, you’d better believe I will let it ALL hang out! LOL! I don’t think I’ll ever really be THAT comfortable, but, still, I was laughing inside. I guess my family is pretty conservative and I guess I’ve gotten a little desensitized with living in the ballroom world. In any case, that choice is years off so not an issue to worry about at this time.
Also, being my hometown, I had lots of outstanding support while dancing on the floor. Many cheered for me and Ivan and I can’t tell you how much that helps me dance and perform. I feel supported and like people actually want to see what I going to share. It makes me feel more secure and less vulnerable which frees me up to let go and just emote and dance.
I placed very well, which is always a nice outcome. I placed first in both Latin and Rhythm closed Bronze scholarships and did extremely well in single dances as well.
Better than that was that Ivan was quite pleased with my dancing on Thursday night during Rhythm. That honestly meant more to me than the actual placement because I think it is the first time he’s been happy with pretty much everything I did. He said he really enjoyed dancing with me and that he even felt like he was “on another planet” that it wasn’t just “dancing the same stupid syllabus steps” or going through the motions. We were in sync and “on” and it felt great – every single step, in unison, connected. Latin was fraught with more slight mishaps but we still did well overall, though it was difficult to live up to Ivan’s expectations from the previous day when we did so well. Anyways, I’m sure he’ll have things to share with me about how to improve on our next lesson, but until then I’m going to enjoy and bask in our nice results. I’m choosing to enjoy the victories instead of dwelling on our perceived shortcomings.
Beyond that, I had some other extremely special and memorable moments during the course of the competition. I ran into Bree Watson in the ladies dressing room. If you don’t know who she is, she dances with Decho Kraev and they are the National Rhythm champions. Anyways, she knew my name! (“Stefanie, right?”) Not only that, she told me she really enjoyed my dancing. After recovering from the shock of this statement I told her how star-struck I was and asked her for a photo. She not only kindly obliged but also gave me a hug. It was a Twilight Zone moment in which I thought maybe I had been transported into an alternate universe but, yeah, that was awesome.
And can you believe there was more?! But there was. Ron Montez was one of the judges and I’ve had some coachings with him in the past so he kinda sorta knows who I am – I also attended his dance camp at the beginning of the year. In any case, as I went up to receive my placements he told me that I “looked so hot out there.” And then he touched the left side of my face and told me “You are so beautiful.”
I seriously almost started bawling out there on the floor but I held it together! It was such a powerful moment becuase he’s seen me before. He saw me when I was much bigger and he can see the progress I’ve made. I think that has to be somewhat impactful when you know the back story of a person. It was an intimate moment, like in a bubble outside of time and space amid the chaotic circus of the ballroom competition and it touched me to my core. I mean, it is so hard for me to think of myself as “hot” or “sexy” because I’m so hung up about my body issues/image but I put it aside in my head when I’m performing and just dance how I feel inside as best as I can. And yet that is the female role I’m to portray doing all these spicy Latin/Rhythm dances. When he said that, though, I believed him, and I began to believe that it was true. I began to believe I can do this – really, really do this. It was a boost in confidence in who I am in a way I’ve never allowed myself to feel before. More than that, I saw Ron later and he basically told me that I have a spark inside, that many people saw and commented on it, and that people would pay a million dollars to have it, but they can’t because you can’t buy it. And it was so honest and authentic and from the heart and I begin to accept that I have something special to offer and that drives me even more to work and fight to develop myself and my potential. After this Ron took off saying jokingly that he’d already given me too many compliments and I agreed, laughing and saying that he should get away while he could. But I tell you I feel so blessed that he took an interest and cared enough to share this with me. Truly, it’s a life changer.
I also really enjoyed having other students along for the ride. I am so proud, in particular, of one of Ivan’s new students who did Galaxy as her first competition. I consider it an act of courage to put yourself out there and participate in a big way like this and she did so great. It was really fun to kind of take her under my wing as best I could and help her have the best experience possible. I think she enjoyed it and is possibly interested in doing more competitions. Either way, I loved her company, as well as Ivan’s other two darling students. I hope we do more comps together. It’s fun, and also, I’m not gonna lie, it took some of the pressure off of me! It was more spread around to all of us which was pretty nice.
Also thrilling was meeting some readers of the blog! Not to mention the new friends I met while dancing in the competition. And it was awesome of my new trainer to come and see me dance! I can’t believe she made the trip and paid the entry fee but she is cool like that and actually cares about my goals and my progress. I appreciate her so much after all the duds I had to get through to get to her.
Of course watching the pros and even the amateur and Rising Star divisions was fabulous as well. I especially enjoyed watching Ivan and Marieta (of course!) who danced really, really well, I thought, and placed 4th from a semi-final losing out to Bree and Decho, the Perzhu’s and Yuki. I found Peter and Alexandra Perzhu especially mesmerizing to watch – they danced like hot taffy, never stopping, and it was gorgeous. Latin was also super exciting – I couldn’t keep my eyes off Roman Kutskyy and Anna Kovalova. Holy hell! How is it possible to move like that?! And I loved rooting for Roman Italyankin and his partner Tatiana who placed fourth from a semifinal because they are awesome and because I met Roman at Desert Classic and he is a genuinely spectacular person. He was kind enough to let me chat with him and his adorable student at the after-party and I just really enjoyed that so much.
And today I attended the American style congress with classes taught by Toni Redpath, Linda Dean, Tony Meredith, Ron Montez, and Marianne Nicole. You will not believe what happened. Truly, I hardly can! During Toni Redpath’s class I drew unintentional attention to myself because my practice shoe caught on one of the metal seams between the floor sections and I made a loud noise when I stepped to catch my balance. Everyone looked up and Toni saw me. Although it was one of my klutzier moments, it was totally worth it because she looked at me and said, “You are a rockstar!” and commented that my dancing was “unreal.” I thought it was uncanny that she chose the word Rockstar as that is my unofficial nickname, at least with my nutritionist. I told her she just made my entire life by saying that (because, um, if you don’t know who Toni Redpath is then you are just not alive! OMG!!!!) It was completely unexpected and I am flabbergasted even still. All I can say is, wow! And I am more motivated than ever to continue to develop myself.
It is a bit of an understatement to say that I had a really great competition. I had moments of more and less confidence, and moments of more and less self-doubt. I had moments of more stress and less stress, moments when i was “on” and hit my choreography, and moments when I was not “with it” and missed connections, steps, and had balance bobbles. I had moments when I was more on balance than ever before like in my Bolero. It was, as always, a roller coaster ride but it certainly ended on a high note. I’m interested to see Ivan’s take on the event. I’m thinking he’ll say that overall it was pretty good, though some parts were “fucked up” like during our Latin scholarship he said 50% good cha cha, he liked the samba, but Rumba was “fucked up,” but that we should build on the good things, keep on with the consistency I’ve maintained during the past few months of lessons, and push forward. But damn, when I get a comment from a judge I just happen to see in passing who is talking with friends I know, and he says “from beginning to end you danced every measure” I hear that as saying that I filled the music, and I feel proud, acknowledged, and validated. To me, in my mind, I hear that as saying my spirit expanded and inhabited my body each second… what an accomplishment that is!
The next goal for me, in my mind, is to do a big comp, and soon, for the experience more than anything as I suspect my nerves will be even more of a factor at a larger competition as well as navigating the logistics of such an event, and also to work on finishing open routines for the Rhythm category. Eventually I want to be on the floor with the “big dogs,” as Ivan puts it, and hold my own – to look like I belong there beside those dancers. For now, I am the level that I am at. There is much to be proud of and I want to enjoy my recent accomplishments even if I know there is so much yet work to be done. I’m going to bask in this glory for just the rest of the afternoon and then it is back to the real world for me! And time to dive head first right back into the hard work that will propel me forward. I know Ivan will keep me grounded so no worries about getting a big head lol! He’ll be sure to help me remain humble which is just as it should be.
I’m excited for the future. I feel so validated and I can’t express how humbling and wonderful and awesome it is – especially after I gave up being a dancer because I felt like I didn’t fit the profile. But ballroom has a space for everyone and I’m coming into my own as a performer and dancer. That is due with big, big, thanks to Ivan and Marieta both. They have poured so much into me and I just want to absorb it all like a sponge! I love dancing ballroom so very much (can you tell?) and it really shines through. I dance with feeling and others are drawn into my performance. I’m coming to own this is one of my greatest strengths. It reminds me of Fik-Shun on So You Think You Can Dance – I may not be the best dancer, but I have a ton of heart, and sometimes that trumps perfect technique. Confidence is probably my biggest hang up, still, which is a little bit insane after the experiences I had this week. I am determined to relax into and trust myself, as well as my partner, Ivan, and I think this can only accelerate my growth. In any case, after this competition, I feel that I’m 100% in my purpose, and that, my friends, is a very good place to be. I don’t think I could be more grateful or satisfied. What an amazing few days. This will be one of the experiences I re-live when I’m in heaven.