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Before Enlightenment Chop Wood, Carry Water. After Enlightenment, Chop Wood, Carry Water.
As I continue along in my dancing journey, I continue to come into contact with the most amazing people. Dancers are a unique breed, I think, and of course there are many ways to “play the game” but most of the dancers I’ve interacted with have been, first and foremost, awesome human beings. They are humble. They are passionate. They are hard working. They are encouraging. The live life fully and fight intensely for what they want. And no person embodies these characteristics (besides my favorite Bulgarians, Ivan and Marieta) more than a gentleman I’ve recently had the honor of learning from.
I mean, dance is one of the great equalizers – because dancing takes all of a human being, every little bit! And it is a great teacher. It can teach patience, discipline, self-expression, trust, balance, self-confidence, grace, partnership, authenticity, and presence – but only when we are willing students, ready to put in the time, energy, and effort necessary. Only then will dance reveal it’s jewels. Because dancing is difficult! Sometimes I think most of us question why we are attempting this! It can be painful and tiring and frustrating. And yet when things finally click after that 10,000-and-first repetition, it is suddenly completely worth it.
Anyways, to get back to this amazing person, his name is Damir. He owns a studio, ironically probably the closest one in town to my house, and I met him at my last competition. He saw me dance a little and we chatted a little and I made friends with his receptionist. When I found out last week that they have group classes on Latin technique on Saturdays, I was hoping I would be able to attend. You know, cause I’m not an official student at the studio, but I guess that hasn’t been a problem at Imperial but I didn’t know how it would work at EuroRhythm. Well, they were as welcoming as can be and I enjoyed my first class last weekend. I am hungry to learn as much as I can and want to take advantage of every opportunity in my path. And you know that saying, when the student is ready, the master will appear, well, perhaps I’m ready to learn some new information and that is really exciting.
So this time, that master is Damir. I knew he was something special right off the bat because of his authenticity, and his kindness. Plus I could see he was a great dancer. What I didn’t know, until today, is that he and his partner and wife, Nina, were six-time National Champions for Bosnia. And that he didn’t start dancing until he was eighteen! Which is pretty darn late for a professional dancer. And I didn’t know that dancing was the one thing that didn’t come easily to him in this life but maybe that is why he decided to do it. He saw dancing for the first time, and as he put it, his “subconscious knew” he could “learn a lot” from it. Everyone thought he was joking. He’d go out dancing and be awful at it and everyone laughed at him, and he simply laughed along with them. But he perservered. It took becoming a National Champion for his father to finally “get” that he was serious about this dancing thing. And I learned that he had a lot of struggles along they way. But most importantly, for me, I learned that I could recognize the same greatness I identified in Damir inside in myself.
I don’t know about you, but in my mind I always think that other people have it easier than I do when it comes to dancing. You can totally apply this to other areas of life but since this is a blog about dancing, we’ll stick with the metaphor. Well, anyways, look, I have asthma. I’m severely overweight. This makes things tough. I tell myself that if I was thinner or more fit that I’d be a better dancer. Now to a certain extent this is absolutely true, and I am working toward it! But on another level, it is total crap! Because we ALL have our advantages and disadvantages. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I think that I don’t have it in me to dance like those I look up to – people like Ivan, Marieta, Damir, Inna, and more. I think that there is something lacking in me that makes it impossible. But today I really felt for the first time that THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE! We ALL have what it takes inside of us. That is the REAL truth. Maybe we perceive others have it better or easier because we don’t see the struggles and the sweat and the exasperation behind it – we only see the final product, paraded out on the competition floor, bedecked in crystals. It all looks so glamorous and even effortless, and if you are like me, you forget all the unglamorous pieces that went into creating that picture. It is easy to imagine, looking at that polished dancing, that these dancers are just “talented” or “special” or “hard working” and that they have some secret I don’t posess, and never could. But perhaps I am more similar to them than I ever imagined.
You see, I went to a workshop today at EuroRhythm. Ivan is out of town competing so I needed to get my ballroom fix and this opportunity arose. And it was completely incredible. I’m so glad I chose to participate and I kind of have to laugh, too, because it is about as opposite as could possibly be from the instruction at Imperial!
Damir started the lesson talking about some theory. Now this is the kind of juicy dancing I can really get into! He was talking about more than just dancing; see the photo at the beginning of this blog post. That white board was the first fifteen minutes of our time together. He was talking about how we are human beings, and we have both human and energetic or spiritual aspects. He explained that as human, we are “doing” things, and we are in the universe of form, matter, and the laws of physics. He further opined that as spirits we are “being” and in the universe of the formless, beyond limits, all connected, and basically in the realm of quantum physics. I don’t think Inna would ever start a class this way lol! But it set such an expansive tone for the work we were about to do, and I really appreciated the contextual framework Damir set up for us as we stepped into our “Dojo.”
During the workshop, we mostly talked about being grounded. We discussed being energetically connected to the floor, knowing where our body weight is every moment, and how to incorporate the arms into the picture. I personally focused more on my lats than ever before which was awkward but great. We did Rumba and Cha Cha and Jive. We did things slow and half time. We danced a little at full speed. I still feel like my arms are not fully integrated and connected to my body but it was a nice little foray into the subject beyond the norm. And even more beyond the norm was Damir’s encouragement for us to purposely try to throw ourselves off balance, to purposely mess up! To not try to be so perfect all the time! Why? Because you WANT to expose your weaknesses! Why? So you can actually ADDRESS them! Pretty radical thinking in one sense, and completely logical in another. I mean, I personally like to hide in my strengths! It’s way more comfortable and I feel better (or rather, my ego feels better) about me when I do things “well.” But this means I am haunted by the shadow of the imperfections and weaknesses I’m trying to hide. If I never expose them, I never have the opportunity to expose them to the light. And, as we all know, once shadows are exposed to light, they disappear.
It was an awesome lesson/workshop, and I got my heart rate up a little and I am always grateful for the opportunity to work and learn about this art I love so dearly. And when it was over, we all took a seat and Damir told us a story that really affected me.
He and Nina were dancing at a competition that averaged 300 couples. They wanted to make the top 48 because if they made that, they would get to dance in Albert Hall. Every day they would practice. Monday was Cha Cha, Tuesday Samba, Wednesday Jive and so on. They would, for an hour, do basics, dancing 4 minutes straight, then rest a few seconds, then go again. Physically they were as prepared as they could be. It was grueling. Apparently Nina would have tears streaming down her face, but she would not stop, which is pretty incredible. When I heard this, I found it even more incredible that I could recognize that same fire and strength inside of me. This happens to me all the time at the gym. I cry and I keep going. And it sucks and it hurts and I want to give up but I don’t.
So, anyways, apparently I have the same thing inside of me as a champion so that is a good thing! lol. But to get back to the story – Damir and Nina were prepared and they made it to the top 96 after 4 or 5 rounds of dancing. And then, it happened! Another female dancer did a forceful ronde’ and kicked Nina across both legs, creating a huge bruise on both legs that appeared in seconds and cut a gash on one leg. She was injured and couldn’t move, and it was during their best dance, Cha Cha. They weren’t seen by the judges, didn’t get the marks, and didn’t make top 48. And it was completely out of their control! This dancer, whom they nicknamed “wild horse” in their native tongue as a play on words of her actual last name, had thrown a huge, unexpected wrench into their system. They prepared themselves as best as they possibly could, and I think that is all we can ever really do. Though the story kinda sucks, and I’m sure it was really disappointing at the time, I also find it very empowering and inspiring. Because it is my job right now to prepare myself as best as I can for the challenges ahead. Things may happen that are out of my control, but I will be proud of myself and able to hold my head high no matter the result if I know I did everything in my power to prepare and left everything I could on the dancefloor on that day, with the resources and currently have.
I got so much from showing up today and participating. More than steps or technique, I feel like my spirit was nourished as well, and that is kind of what dancing is all about, ya? I had a great conversation with Damir after the workshop and left feeling happy, energized, and hungry to work even harder for my goals. As he said, when things are going on in his life, it will also show up on the dancefloor. So when he needs to figure something out, he dances. And if he is patient enough, and diligent enough, and present enough, he gets answers. Dancing is the best therapy, ever, right?! We talked about that we are all on our own journey, that we are all special. We are all magnificent in our own right and we need not compare ourselves to others but rather to ourselves yesterday (I think Baryshnikov said the same thing). We talked about how important it is to feel safe and grounded so we can expand energetically beyond our physical limits. We talked about how the struggle is important and that it is imperative to find the joy, peace, and balance in every day life. He quoted Buddha saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. And after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I’ve said it before, that dancing is a spiritual walk for me in so many ways – truly a pathway to enlightenment. And through it all I will chop my wood and carry my water – which in my life looks like doing my cardio at the gym, eating on my plan, going to my dance lessons, and embracing compassionate self-discipline, pushing myself just a little further each and every day in my pursuits.
So that’s just what I did upon leaving today. I went to the gym, banged out a leg work out (they are toast!) and even did some cardio at the end. And I just know that I picked the right theme song for myself (“Roar” by Katy Perry) because I AM a champion. I’m proving it to myself with every squat and ballet class when I struggle to lift my leg higher, with every moment my body screams to stop and I keep going, with every time I choose to stick to my plan when I want to eat chocolate and laze about all day! I’m proving it to myself that this IS possible. I’m proving that I DO have what it takes to do this. This is what a champion is, I think – what Nina and Damir did, dancing so disciplined every day, pushing through the tears, preparing themselves by doing everything humanly possible to get ready, day in and day out. Those are the times that make the champion. That is the foundational groundwork that is laid so that a champion is confident in their abilities for the few minutes they have to show themselves on the floor. Behind each minute of dancing under the spotlight there are hours upon hours behind it. That is my definition of a champion, anyways, and I’m practicing to be one every day. And I’m excited to have another incredible mentor to look up to as I continue along my journey. Dancing continues to bless and enrich my life in so many ways. I can’t wait for Ivan to come home and have my next lesson!
Clean Eating, Challenge, Change, Consistency, Commitment
I am extremely grateful to find myself in a most clear, determined, and single-minded space after a week laden with emotional turmoil (as well as a little bit of humor.) As I continue this journey, which in my mind began three years ago, I am surprised and delighted with how much more quickly I can get through “the muck” back into a neutral or even positive mental place. Back when I was at my largest, it could days or even weeks of staying stuck, wallowing in my despair, anguish, anger, or resentment. I’d done a lot of work internally before I was ready to accept the help of a nutritionist and though my external results have been frustratingly slow (in my mind, at least), the deep roots of new coping skills and healthy tools I’ve cultivated continue to serve me well as I chip, chip, chip away at my own personal face of Mount Rushmore. Dang I wish I had some stinking dynamite!
Another reason I’ve been able to switch so quickly out of overwhelm and sadness, I believe, has been the support I am now able to receive from “my team.” No one officially signed up to be on my “team” – it’s just my own idea of people who are helping me get to where I want to go. This includes, of course, first and foremost, my awesome nutritionist, Chelle, owner of Recipe For Fitness, who wrote an amazing response to my Dear Body Letter. Seriously, go read Chelle’s blog post! I totally believe she’s got my back and that she’ll stick it out with me until I’m done. She’s the “coach” of my team….maybe I should get her a whistle! 🙂
My “team” also includes, Ivan, he’d be the artistic director (hee hee), as well as my new trainer, Allison, who is so much better than my previous gal. I finally feel like I have a trainer who actually cares about me and my progress, and I appreciate it so much, especially with all the crap I’ve had to go through with trainers recently! Plus she, herself, trains as a MMA fighter, has 12 years of personal training experience, and is generally just a pretty awesome person.
And beyond that, I also consider you readers as part of my team. You encourage me and inspire me to keep going, even when the going gets tough. Fitocracy, a social media platform that is kinda like Facebook for people into fitness, is another resource I’ve used that is a postitive, encouraging outlet – you can find me under “loveablestef” if you ever decide to join.
Finally, many times I have people supporting me and encouraging me that I don’t even know! Like Tabitha – I’ve never met her, but she took the time to write me a powerful letter which helped me move forward, and from the feedback I’ve received, I’m not the only one she helped.
I must admit, however, that even though I understand and believe what Tabitha/my body had to say, I am still in slight resistance to certain portions of it. Rather than considering this a bad thing, I think having a little resistance is good, because it means I’m on the edge pushing against a limitation. Soon enough things will shift and I will have grown. If I had absolutely no resistance, then I’d already be done with the portion of “the work” she suggests and wouldn’t be any challenge! But, yeah, that’s not the case.
For instance, I still have a hard time swallowing the idea that my body is on my side. I’ve lived for 27 years considering my body to be a problem. It has never been a beautiful body in my eyes and it is frustratingly stubborn. It is limited in many ways and can’t do all the things I want or expect it to do. I experience it as being untrustworthy and I think of it as something that is sub-par and needs to be fixed but that it is so messed up that it’s a lost cause. Confusingly, it is also an ally in many regards, the most important of which are that it allows me to dance and to walk in this world, and sometimes it surprises me doing things beyond my expectations. Clearly my relationship with my body isn’t 100% in alignment, but I have faith that it can be.
I am also frustrated with the idea my body put forth about having to get internal affairs in order before seeing outward change. I feel like, egad! Haven’t I already done somuch?! I have been working at it for three years to get internal affairs in order but still I wait, wait, wait for the outside to match with the inside (yeah, it’s a little victim-y, I know. I’ll get over it). I am dumbfounded time and again at how very different my internal image of who I am and how I see myself in a fit, healthy body, and the reality of my current obese body are. It is beyond words the amount of internal work I’ve done and annoying that there is still more to go! Plus it is just plain incongruent with the external state of affairs. Like, last week I was eating my fish, brown rice, and asparagus, all portioned and measured, cooked clean after 90 minutes of ballet and I’m thinking to myself, “A person who eats this dinner doesn’t have a body like mine.” But I do.
I’m also in resistance to my body’s message to push and push hard. It’s not because I won’t or don’t push hard already, it’s because I’m sick of hearing it and I’m sick of having to dig down deep just to make it through Latin class with Inna or Mountain climbers with Allison, or planks on a ball with Chelle, or doing the stairstepper with asthma and my heart rate at 175 and me wanting to quit, having to talk myself into each and every step. I admit that here and there I am finally, finally, noticing small changes in the ability to do more. But again, I think it is good to be a little in resistance because it means I’m butting up against my limits and my job is to notice them and burst beyond them. Trust me, it is not in my nature to not push! If my trainer has a weight too low or I don’t feel like I’m being challenged enough I speak up! Usually, though, it’s the other edge I experience – the one where I’m being challenged beyond my perceived capacity – the place where I panic and get emotional and have to fight. I don’t enjoy that fight but again, discovering (finally, after hearing about it for so long) how to channel and transmute my negative feelings into pushing myself, has been a step forward. It may still suck at times, like when I was on my last set of mountain climber burpee thingies and Allison was like, “Go at your own pace. We can modify if you need to,” And I was like, “No!” and got I emotional, angry, teary-eyed, and grunted and groaned but I banged those bitches out, using that emotional angst instead of letting it defeat me. And there have even been moments when I’ve been up for more, that internally a desire to push myself a bit harder when working out on my own bubbled up from somewhere. Again, progress, but not the tangible, visual kind I want to see with a smaller butt, gut, and bat wings, with muscle definition and tone, seeing the definition of muscle working under the skin.
I am also in resistance to the idea that I shouldn’t use the scale. This is because I absolutely, as part of my goals, want and need to be lighter. If that means at some point I lose some muscle, so be it. To be the dancer I want to become I must be smaller, more compact, lean, and weigh significantly less. Period. I cannot stand the idea of living the rest of my life obese, over 200 pounds! Yes, I’m open to the possibility that I will look fantastic at a higher weight than most my competitors who weigh like 110 pounds, but I’m not willing to weigh over 200 pounds. This shit needs to come off. Anyways, for the sake of sanity and also to see a more complete picture, not just the one told by the scale, I’m considering getting some measurements in a Bod Pod, the gold standard for body composition testing.
As for the rest of the letter from my body, I’m totally on board with it. As you can see from the title of my post, especially for the days leading up to Galaxy, (and beyond I hope) I’m in RockStar mode. I am a clean-eating, ready-for-challenge, changing, consistent, and committed woman. This is how I am showing up in my life right now, ready to demolish this portion of the journey set before me. Like no kidding. Because I am hungry, starving, ravenous, for dramatic, transformational change in my body. I have been for a while. I’m so ready for new clothes, ones that I actually like! There is no going back and I still want more, so very much more.
To that end, I’ve made a little sign for myself that I’m hanging above my work computer so I will be staring at it for 8 hours a day to continually reinforce my committment. I have to say, however, that the decision has already strongly been made in my mind. Chelle created a new plan with lower calories and I’m following it to the letter. We also renegotiated a work out plan with cardio and weights. I’ve already been hungrier than before but thanks to the internal work I’ve already done, I’m able to weather it well. On other plans, more geared toward cultivating a healthy lifestyle, I felt over-full or would get hungry maybe once or twice near time to the next meal time. This time around, I get hungry 5 or 6 times before the next time to eat, most especially earlier in the day, but I have the skills to handle it. I can tolerate a few signals from my body where three years ago I would never even allow myself to get hungry, and if I did it was binge time. It may not be completely comfortable to experience a little hunger but I don’t care! I’m committed. And it’s a normal physiological function. I have 17 days now in which to make as much a change as possible before I step onto the ballroom again. I would rather accept the pain of discipline now than suffer the pain of regret at Galaxy, and I know that being in integrity with this plan will give me the best chance of feeling like I am awesome when it’s time to dance.
Already I’ve had these little victories like yesterday I went to visit a friend and stayed longer than I anticipated so I was quite late for dinner and really hungry. But did I grab the first most convenient thing? No! I grabbed a cucumber, a totally free food on my plan, quickly cut some slices, and nibbled on them as I prepared my dinner. To me that was proving to myself just how very committed I am. No straying from the plan even when things don’t go perfectly. No excuses!
I also made a point to steer clear of my husband’s Fantasy Football draft party. We had over 20 men at our house, eating pizza, drinking beer and other hard libations and I didn’t even want to be around it so I volunteered to housesit for my in-laws. Truth be told, I wasn’t even tempted with the debauchery before me! In years past this would have been as irresistible as a siren’s call and laced with a dose of guilt, remorse, and recovery the following day. And I was even more pleased with my decision when I saw how annihilated my husband and his buds were the next morning.
In addition, I’ve already talked about how I’m going to handle an upcomming trip with my husband. We have a kitchen where we are staying so first priority the morning after we arrive will be to get groceries and cook! I’ll bring my breakfast along with me. He knows I’m not going to bend at this time with the eating, even though we will be around many restaurants and bars. It won’t be like this forever, but for now this is the way it has to be.
So now I guess the biggest struggle isn’t the eating, or even the exercise since I’m clear on what I’m accountable for with that, but rather the biggest battle is waiting patiently and having faith that this change I’m seeking in my body will actually happen. I still don’t entirely trust that it is possible for me to have a gorgeous body, one that I love and would be proud to show off. I still feel like I will be pudgy and that I am not ever really going to be lean. But I do believe it can be better and I know I will not to back. The only path is to push forward. I wish it were happening faster, oh God do I ever! But since I have no fairy godmother to instantly transform my adipose into thin air, I’ll have to burn it off myself.
My Body, The Betrayer
The past three mornings, including this one, have been so, so difficult. I am tired of shedding tears over this but they won’t stop and every time I find a place to be calm, a new knife slices me open. I feel raw and ragged. My eyes are sore and puffy. This is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It’s been two weeks since the competition and my weight hasn’t budged. Actually, it may have gone up.
The kicker, the thing that pisses me off royally, is that I’ve done everything right. I’ve not cheated. If I had, I would be upset but at myself because I would know I am responsible for my results. But no, I have no time to dick around with this. I’m focused and motivated and want it so badly I can’t even tell you. I’m committed like never before. I do the cooking. I’m prepared. I follow the plan. I measure every portion. And my body is betraying me, just like it always has. We are not on the same team.
The scale silently mocks me.
What happened was this: last week I “felt” skinnier. I thought I’d weigh myself. After all I did that competition and barely ate. I HAD to have lost weight, right? WRONG!
“It was a shock to your body,” says the nutritionist. “It’s water weight from inflammation,” she claims.
I am talked off the edge and decide to give it a week eating on plan exactly and then I will weigh myself after my body has recovered and recalibrated.
Then on this Thursday, somehow my trainer and I come up with the brilliant idea to measure my body fat, because I’m certain it has to have changed with all the activity I’m doing, my new diet.
Hugely bad idea. First, the scale. Yes, I’m in my clothes and shoes and I’ve eaten breakfast, but the scale says I’m up almost 6 pounds!!!!! Then the body fat machine. It may not be a perfect way to measure it but it is the same method used originally so at least the results should be consistent. I’m down a puny, measly 3%. I’m still obese, still over 40% adipose. Disgusting.
I proceed to have a tearful breakdown in the gym. Yes, I keep doing my work-out but I lose it. I will NEVER have a body I love, much less even like. This just isn’t possible for me. It is harder for me than anyone else in the world. For sure if anyone else was doing everything I’m doing they’d have lost 20 pounds by now, probably more. Everyone says that being active should help with the weight loss, that it is an advantage. It doesn’t seem to be making the process any faster.
The absolute worst was when the trainer placed a 10 pound plate on my back while doing a plank. You just never know what will trigger you. For me, this weight pulled down on my core and all I could think of was that I have 9 of these plates pulling me down all the time. It not only weighs heavily on my frame, it weighs heavily on my soul.
I can’t tell you how very discouraged I was, and am, but “weight,” there’s more upset-ness!
I emailed my nutritionist straight away. “I’m up in weight! This is not okay,” I write.
“Breathe,” she tells me. “I have a plan,” she says. “Weigh yourself at home, naked, first thing in the morning like you normally do and we will go from there.”
Again, I table the disappointment for a few hours. Since it is Thursday, I’m supposed to go to Rado’s class in the evening but it just doesn’t feel right. I call Ivan to see if we can have a private lesson. With all this emotional stuff I know I need to really dance it out. I find a tiny island of internal calm as the hours pass so when I arrive to my lesson I am able to focus.
Last time we danced, the Rumba once again haunted me. I find it incredibly hard to portray that dance in particular especially because of my size and body image. But all day long I was thinking, thinking, and deciding ahead of time that I’m going to dance it how I feel it inside, not based on how I look on the outside. It seems like I can much more easily portray a Samba, a Cha Cha, Jive. How is it that Ivan knows when I’m “being me” in these dances but that I can’t seem to “be me” doing the Rumba?
So I meditated on being centered from within while doing the Rumba. I recalled this time that doing one of those personal growth and mastery seminars I declared in public “I am sexy,” because I was challenged to, because even then it was an issue for me, and I have a little memory lapse of what happened but after I said it, meaning it, but all of a sudden the entire room stood up and clapped and cheered for me, and people came up to me after the fact and said, “Whoah. If you weren’t married….”
I thought about where that came from, this evidence that “it” is in there somewhere inside me, and I purposefully decided to do my best to show up from that place on my lesson.
I mean, Ivan is stinking cute! I am pretty lucky to get to dance with him. I guess I should show that, show that I’m happy and enjoying the experience, in the context of the dance, instead of being all wah-boo-poor-fat-ugly-me. So I touched his chest like I meant it and we began messing around moving before dancing. I swiveled my hips and touched my neck and it was awesome.
In some ways, I’ve come quite far. The studio was full of people on lessons and I didn’t give one whit. I am there to work. I can easily claim my space, especially with Ivan at my side, and dance, even if people are staring at me. I was involved in what I was doing and it worked. First, one of the other instructors was all like, “Oh la la!” as she left for the evening. It was apparent she had been watching and my sexy moves had been sexy enough to prompt her to say something. Secondly, and most importantly, Ivan was all like, “I like it today.”
In fact, surprisingly, after the lesson Ivan and I had a conversation in which he asked me if I wanted to go and just do the Scholarship at Millennium in Florida. Financially and time-wise I’m not able to swing-it but it was an interesting development. The idea was that he noticed a big difference in my dancing that day, so much so that he thought I was ready, and should get some experience, to dance with “the big dogs” and see how I’d fare against competitors at large competitions. I agreed that it would be a good experience as I prepare for next year but commented that I wouldn’t really expect any results at this time. He actually seemed to think that getting some results was entirely possible – we’re talking making it to a semi-final or something, not winning, but that would be quite an accomplishment for me. He was feeling that I am starting to come into my confidence, that we did well at People’s Choice, that the judges began to notice me, and that we should build on this. For us, it isn’t about the placements as much as it is how we feel about how we are dancing. If we feel strong and good and get placed last, so be it. Of course, we’d like to score well, but I think it is so much healthier to think of it from our angle and better to have no expectations about things over which I have no control. In any case we will be at Desert Classic and Galaxy and I’m also contemplating Ohio, just to go to a huge competition and have that experience and to see how I stack up against some tougher competition.
So the one silver lining in this week of pain has been that I’m noticeably dancing with more soul, more groundedness, more confidence.
But back to the pain-fest. The next morning I weighed myself as instructed and the scale said I was 2 pounds up. I met with my nutritionist, very, very upset and we talked about a game plan. She talked me off the ledge, once again. She is going to “tweak” my current plan this coming week and create an entire new one the following week. We are going to be more specific with timing my nutrients. I will be taking some supplements. We are going to track my activity and calorie burns and their timing to be more efficient.
“Your body isn’t getting what it needs,” she says. “Your body doesn’t trust you, after years of not getting the nutrition it needs,” she explains.
“I don’t trust my body.” I reply.
And it is true. I don’t trust it at all. I am incredibly angry with it. It refuses to bend to my will. I feel I have no say in what it does. I feel I have no power over it. I hate it.
But what can I do about it, right now in this moment? Again, I feel powerless. Absolutely nothing. I am stuck with it, and it is stuck with me. So I do the only thing I can, agree to the new “tweaked” plan which will be forthcoming in my inbox, and stick to it with 100% adherence. And even then, my body will do what it will. I will still be a XXL. I will still have flabby bat wing arms. I will still weigh more than most grown men.
I feel somewhat better after the talk with the nutritionist and she even offers to work-out with me on Wednesday morning before we meet again to learn some routines for weight training I can do on my own on the days I don’t see my trainer. At least I have some action steps to take which gives the illusion that I’m actually doing something about this situation which feels so entirely hopeless.
Again, I calm my emotions enough to get through yesterday, eat my breakfast this morning, and open my “tweaked” plan. Once again I’m bleeding from a razor slash. The fresh wounds still weeping are assaulted anew as the first thing I see as open the attachment is butter. I check the calorie count and begin to panic, breathing in halts and gasps as I see it is UP from 2000 to 2500. DIdn’t she hear me?! I want to LOSE weight, not gain it! Are you freaking kidding me. I don’t want to do this. Every fiber of my being is against this.
“It is for a week or two at the very most,” she says. “It is a metabolic reset,” she explains. “There is good science behind it.”
Fuck science. I don’t care. I just want to starve myself until the next competition. Too much time has been wasted already. Half the year is gone and I’m down a measly 15 pounds since I began with the trainer and nutritionist. Unacceptable. And now I’m supposed to stay stagnant or even risk gaining more weight for the next week or two to reset? And I am desperate to show an improvement in my body, to be smaller and lighter at my next competition, and I feel like that is impossible and not going to happen if I follow this. I’m working so hard. I am so sad and frustrated and angry that I’m not steadily going downward. I don’t know what to do. It is stressing me out and goes against everything I know/believe about how to make a body smaller. I am asea. This doesn’t look anything like I want it to, nothing like what I expected, and I don’t want to do it.
I really, really, really, really don’t want to do it. I don’t want to eat fucking butter. I don’t want to fucking eat 2500 calories.
I would rather crawl into a hole and waste away.
what am I going to do? Somehow I have to talk myself into this when every cell in my body is screaming, “NO!!!!.” Why isn’t it working for me? Why is my body so goddamned stupid.
I am a total mess.
But I have a lesson with Inna in 2 hours so I better get myself together.
I Should Be In Bed Right Now
I really should. I’m exhausted after a big workout with my trainer this morning which blasted my glutes and thighs so much so that they are sore tonight already and I know tomorrow will be a pain-fest, plus I went to Inna’s class tonight which of course was hard and tiring, and to top it all off I have a double lesson tomorrow morning at 7am across town because Ivan is going to Chicago Crystal Ball this weekend and I need to get in some dancing with him at least once this week!
So yeah, I should be snoring right now but I have a few things on my mind.
First two kinda funny stories that I forgot to mention, both relating to the competition last week. Then some venting…I mean processing (lol)… of some frustrations.
So the funny stuff first:
To set the context for the first tale you have to know that while we were dancing our open routines during the competition, particularly during the Rumba, we had a few balance issues. I totally thought I was on my leg to go backward but I guess I wasn’t and leaning too much on Ivan and I just about made him topple over. I could see his eyes slowly grow as big as saucers while time froze and I was wondering what the heck was going on, why he wasn’t moving like he usually did to let me do my backbend.
So things were different than usual on our lessons (not to mention all the asthma issues and whatnot) and Ivan and I are doing the open Cha Cha routine after all these balance snafus. The routine is basically the same one as in the video I posted to “Daddy” from the showcase. The one which has splits in it. So the time comes for the splits and down I go….and I stay there. Like for an extra eight counts. And all the while I’m wondering what went wrong. Is Ivan unable to heave me up back onto my feet? Is he hurt? And then, whew! Ivan is pulling me up. I sigh with relief and off we go.
Later we are sitting at our table and I am like, “Ivan, did something go wrong during the splits?!”
“No. Don’t worry. Everything fine. You doing the splits and I seeing not everyone see you down there so I keeping you down there so everyone can see you and be like Oh! Nobody is expecting that. I want everyone to seeing. And I knowing you not going anywhere,” he smirked. “I knowing I can keep you there as long as I want!”
He’s right about that! lololol.
The other funny thing is that Ivan put Samba Rolls in our open routine. So after the entire competitions is over and we are on our lesson he tells me, “I no liking how we doing the Samba rolls at People’s Choice.”
That’s fine, I guess. Only problem is…we never freaking practiced them beforehand! He never coached me on how to properly do them! I was like, “Ivan! That’s cool. Let’s fix them, but you can’t not like them without helping me with them!” I don’t know why, but I thought this was pretty funny. I’m glad he didn’t admonish me at the competition because there would be little to no chance of actually improving it in the moment and also glad that he was honest about it and that we can work on it. So anyways, nothing like hearing how your instructor didn’t like how you danced but laughing it off became, well, you didn’t instruct me! Gah!
Now for the ranty-rant-rant. Well more like I’m just sad and angry. I wanted to cry at the end of Inna’s class today. I worked hard all class long. We did Rumba and Cha Cha. I hit it hard and pushed my cardio to the limit once again, having to use my rescue inhaler. I was sweaty and tired and just done. Like zero energy. And then we had to do Batucadas.
It was brutal. And all I could think about was how hard this was for me in particular because of how fat and huge and heavy I am. I’m so over it. I can’t get this weight of quickly enough. It is so exhausting and tiring and I am working so hard and I just feel angry about it. I know it’s hard for everybody but I want to strap 80 pound backpacks on every person in that class and see how they handle it, that’s how distressing it is to me. Yes, yes, I did this to myself. I am at responsibility for the results I’ve created in my life. It’s nobody’s fault but my own that I’m the way I am. And I’m mad about it. Especially in moments when I’m pushed to my physical limits. And usually when I’m right on the brink is when I get emotional so I was right there tonight at the end of class. I even copped out a bit and didn’t do my arms for a bit, and after a big effort I also just ended up walking backwards because I was so blasted.
And at the end of this, after Inna coached us on some pointers to make the movements cleaner and sharper, she says, “You were only dancing this for five minutes…..” and in my head I complete the sentence with… “and you are already exhausted. Pathetic!” But what she actually says is, “and already so much better.”
I was thinking about this time a while back when I first started Inna’s class. Of course it has always been difficult and pushed me to my limits. I stop less than I used to and during this particular lesson I’m referring to I know I stopped and started multiple times. Anyways, at the end of the lesson Inna says to me, “Stefanie, you the hard worker!” It felt good when she said that back then but I was pondering it lately, because, like, you know if a Ukranian dancer tells you that you are a hard worker, then maybe it’s true.
Well, yes, okay, I’m a hard worker. I’m okay with working hard for my goals. But what I’m not okay with is how much more difficult everything is for me with the fat suit on. It seriously limits me and I’m frustrated and annoyed with it. So wah-boo. I hate this feeling and it breaks my heart wide open to think about how it would feel – how it will feel – to be lighter. It makes me think that I, too, know why the caged bird sings.
Once this weight is off, I’m going to practically fly off the dance floor. But right now gravity has such a hold on me pulling my extra mass downwards. I carry the weight of an extra person on my frame and I want to lay her down. I want to not be so jiggly and twice the size of everyone. And I’m on the right track and doing all the right things but the excavation is going to take a while, longer than I want, but that’s the deal. So suck it up, Stefanie.
If I were to coach myself I’d say celebrate the little wins along the way. Acknowledge your progress. Remember, progress, not perfection. Direction, not perfection. I’d say all this and it’s all true but at the same time I’m living the reality of being obese. It ain’t pretty and it ain’t easy. And I do get down about it. I suppose angry is better than sad, better than resignation, apathy, laying down on the floor. At least with mad I can give a little fight and fire. I still don’t honestly believe that I will ever be thin. All I know is that I can’t continue to cage myself in this body and I’m doing the best I know to do to burst it wide open. I just hope it’s enough. I just hope that I’m enough.
My Toes Are Numb! People’s Choice Recap
Oh me, oh my. Another competition in the books.
And yes, my toes are numb. From dancing 80 heats in heels. Ballroom isn’t all glamour behind the scenes you know….it is sweat and hard work, and smelly fake tans, and struggle, and pain, and awesome and worth it! lol. But seriously….I do NOT know how some of these pro/am couples do it….there were at least 3 or 4 students who did over 400 heats at People’s Choice! My body is banged up doing a fraction of that. It is pretty impressive they are still standing!!!
Me, with my 80 heats, I’m physically exhausted. But satisfied. It has been a good few days.
Wednesday night after work I made the 15 minute trek to the hotel and competition venue here in Phoenix. I was certain I’d have an early morning Thursday as I generally dance early in the day and this means early appointments for hair and make up. Even though the competition was local, I still find it chaotic and stressful to rush to the location, scramble to find a space in the woman’s dressing area or a public bathroom, and so I opted to stay at the hotel for two nights of the competition. It turned out that I didn’t start dancing on Thursday until noon, but I was still glad with my choice to spend the previous night. It gave me time to sleep in a bit, have a nice breakfast and feel collected and centered before I began dancing.
So you guys all know I hired the nutritionist and I spoke with her about how to eat during a competition. Basically, I made my best effort to eat clean and fuel my body with good foods. I brought protein shakes and cheese sticks and chicken mini loaves and oatmeal and fruit and almond milk and a cooler with ice. I have to tell you, though, with all the chaos and stress, and physical effort, it was such a challenge to eat anything! I give myself a free pass for this week and will get back on track ASAP. And the thing is, it’s not that I ate poorly, or bad foods or anything like that, it was that I couldn’t eat enough! I was full and nauseated and it was just hard to get any food down, even without the horrible nerves like I had last year at Desert Classic. Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous right before I go on the dance floor – standing there at the “on deck” area I always feel like I need to pee and vomit and have a bout of diarrhea all at once…but then I get out there and start dancing and all I can focus on is the dancing. But the nerves were short-term and didn’t last long, just in those few moments before the heats. Anyways, I shoved almonds and mango slices and cherries and NoGii bars down my gullet as much as possible, but I’m telling you it was nowhere near enough. And even after the dancing I had like zero appetite. Ah well, I made it, and did the best I could, and shortly I will be back on plan 100%. I just have to continue to figure out what is going to work for me during competitions, especially when travelling!
Anyways, can I just take a pause here and say how much I adore and appreciate my instructor Ivan as well as his gorgeous wife and partner Marieta. I mean, I think you readers already know this, but it bears repeating, especially after this competition. It was kind of special being the only student for People’s Choice. I honestly don’t mind to have other students along, too, and it can be fun, but this time was really neat flying solo. I owe so much to Ivan, he has helped me and encouraged me so much during the past two years, and he believed in me from the beginning, over 50 pounds ago. I am so incredibly proud to be his student, and so proud of how he and Marieta did last night, placing first in the American Rhythm division. I just hope for him to be as proud of me as his student, and I very much think that at this competition I did. I was happy with how I showed up at the competition and happy that his exemplary work as a teacher was recognized through me.
And they are just good people, Ivan and Marieta. It is a testament to the excellent human beings they are this little anecdote I’m going to share with you. You see, one of the ladies who was running the on deck area asked Ivan for his card. He didn’t have one on him, as per usual, so I made a mental note and when I saw her in the bathroom I asked her if she’d gotten one yet. She didn’t so I gave her one and she told me that as someone who runs the on deck area she sees a lot…a lot. Things you’d be surprised to see – how pros treat students and the like. And she observed how Ivan treats his students on and off the the floor. She could see what a decent and kind and fun and funny and ridiculous person he is, but yeah, she wanted to maybe dance with him, not someone else. I’m like the luckiest student ever and happy Ivan is getting noticed and possibly will have more business…though I must say, I do think he has been the best kept secret, you know!
You see, there is always a lot that goes on during these things. And before them, too. Ivan has been the one who has believed in me before I believed in myself, and more than I believed in myself. He has pulled out the performer in me. He has helped mold me into the dancer I am today. So when I get compliments like I did at this competition, it is a reflection upon both me and Ivan. I just don’t seem to be able to put into words properly the full extent of my gratitude. All I have ever wanted was to be a dancer, and this man, this crazy adorable Bulgarian, is helping me become that like no kidding.
And based on results, we did well. I placed mostly first in single dances, with a few seconds, and got second in closed latin bronze scholarship, losing out only to my friend Colette who is the Emerald Ball champion!!! Not too shabby, if I do say so myself – especially for my second scholarship ever. And I won in the American Rhythm division. Plus many people, even some judges, and Bree Watson (National American Rhythm champion with Decho Kraev!!! OMG!!!) gave me lovely compliments on my dancing. It was astounding and I’m humbled and grateful.
The best part is that Thursday I was struggling so very badly. My asthma has been out of control and even with steroids on board I was having a hell of a time. My inhaler wasn’t working at all so I was dancing and couldn’t breathe. At a certain point I told Ivan I might have to withdraw from some heats, and I am not the type of person to do that. But I had zero energy. Ivan could see it in my eyes – the lights were on but no one was home. I had nothing left to give but still moved as best I could. He and I both knew we were not dancing our best….but I still placed well. People still had no idea how badly I was struggling. It is a great place to be to know that I was perceived as performing well when inside both Ivan and I know there is so much more to show.
Friday went better after 40 more milligrams of prednisone and 3 breathing treatments on my nebulizer which I brought with me to the hotel and coughing up mucous for hours during the night. I was extremely worried about 19 heats in a row but it turned out that the ballroom was split into two floors for many of them, and not everyone knew where they were supposed to be, so there ended up being a lot of little breaks where the announcer would have to call out the couples who should be in ballroom A and ballroom B and this saved me, plus I could breathe better.
At the end of the day we did a few open dances and Ivan even said…”Finally we are actually dancing! We can never just do five heats, you and me!” Because it took so long for us to “warm up,” even though I attribute part of that to being at battle with my lungs and body the first day. So we completed all of our dances around 2pm on Friday except for the American Rhythm scholarship round which was scheduled for 10pm Friday night! What?! That was pretty brutal…to be exhausted and sore and have numb toes and a rash between my thighs from the fishnets and just wanting to be done but to have to show up 6 hours later and dance your very best. Well, Marieta was a doll and touched up my hair and make up and Ivan and I killed it. Happily there wasn’t a semifinal – just a final, so I only had to dance Cha Cha, Rumba, and Swing once.
So participating in competitions is always an experience. And part of that is meeting new people. And you know there were a lot of funny moments along the way. For instance, at one point they announced the next dance would be Merengue. I knew we had no Merengue heats but Ivan apparently didn’t hear the announcement so he rushed over to a table at the edge of the ballroom, poured out this pink drink on the floor to wet his shoes to make them sticker – the floor was pretty slippery – and another of the pros, this Hungarian guy Chaba, was like “Hey! Ivan! That’s my cocktail!” And we weren’t even dancing in the heat! Then that same pro, Chaba, was out there in his own little world, couple 106 dancing to himself and then announcer said, “We have an extra couple on the floor.” There was a pause and he continued, announcing the numbers of the couples in the heat which didn’t include couple 106. Then he even said, “Couple 106 you do not need to be on the floor right now.” And Chaba was still grooving, oblivious. So Ivan yells, “Chaba!!!” And it was too funny.
Well, it also turned out that Ryan Seacrest productions is creating a reality show about pro/am ballroom dancing and they were filming during the competition. One of the pros they are following happens to be Bulgarian. His name is Rumen, like Roman with a “u.” When I originally heard his name I thought it was “Ruben.” Anyways, while Ivan and I were enjoying some food and sparkling water Thursday night after our dancing he came to say hello to Ivan. I impressed him with my inappropriate Bulgarian sayings and ended up lending him my phone charger. Ivan says he is totally a crazy guy but he likes him because he is very social. In any case, it will be so interesting to see this show whenever it comes out. There were a few pro/am couples they filmed, but honestly they danced very little. And it appeared to me that a lot of the “drama” was staged….the pros had conversations with their am partners as well as with each other that looked like they were planned, and I overheard producers saying stuff like, “when you come off the dance floor I will have so-and-so meet you,” and when I was arranging to get my charger back from Ruman he was all like, “Well in 10 minutes we are filming a pool scene.” We both laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it. I even walked in front of a camera at one point so hopefully they will edit out my head from the frame but anyways, know that the Biggest Girl was at People’s Choice and so were these soon-to-be reality stars. I have to say, though, that they all sat at a table, and the film crew recorded them cheering for some dancers….and one of the dancers was me! I was doing a Cha Cha and we did the splits right in front of them. I heard a lot of cheering and all but I figured it was played up for the tv show, you know. And they weren’t filming me so much, just the reaction of the dancers on the show. Anyways, I didn’t give it much credence but then as I was walking around the hotel later one of the other pros on the show was walking with a person on the film crew (not being recorded or anything, just talking) and he stopped me, have me the ballroom kiss kiss on the each cheek and told me what a great dancer I was and that they had been cheering for me! Woot! That was pretty dang cool if you ask me!
Well, anyways, after I was complete with my dancing, I went to go watch, support, and cheer for my friends who were still dancing. Then it was time for evening show and pro heats. Of course Artem and Inna won Standard ballroom and not surprisingly the Grand Slam as well, (their 5th time winning!) Everyone in the Phoenix ballroom community was present, it seemed, which is always fun. Local competitions are nice because of the friendly faces and extra support.
I feel like People’s Choice was a very good experience for me. Smaller competitions are nice because there is more of a chance to be noticed, I think, and then judges will recognize you perhaps if you show up to larger comps. I don’t think I’ll do any massive comps for a while just yet, but I do want to continue to work, to improve my technique, performance, cardio capacity, and body figure. I want to continue to progress and show an improvement the next time I dance. Honestly, this is my focus for the next two months before Desert Classic. I want to see how far I can get in this time and be a better dancer than I am today. I just want to continue to dance my best, like Ivan and I felt after our American Rhythm scholarship round and then no matter how I’m placed, I will feel good about what I’m doing, how I’m showing up on the dancefloor. I’m excited for the coming year, my focus and energy. I’m pleased with how I am and where I am and looking forward to the future as well. I’m going to enjoy and savor this experience even as I prepare to forge ahead.
I think I’m finally beginning to show that I just may be a force to be reckoned with. I may not be at my full potential just yet but Ivan and I and even other people can see it my light beginning to shine. I have a fire burning in my belly and I’m going to go for this with all that I am. It has taken time to muster my resources and it will take time to heal and condition my body, and that is great. I’m up for the journey. People’s Choice was a wonderful milestone and also just the beginning.
Looks Like You’re Buying For A Decent Size Family
Ivan tells me I no longer look like the “Wal-Mart lady.” Or the Michelin man. No, I’ve moved up. I’m now the “Trader Joe’s lady.”
“Higher quality food,” he says. “Maybe not Dolce and Gabanna just yet,” but getting there (is the implication.)
But no matter how big or small I am today, something shifted. It’s Saturday, a mere 4 days before People’s Choice. I’ve booked a double lesson because, you know, we’re still working out kinks on the Samba and well, you never really feel prepared before a competition.
So of course instead of working on the routine that needs the most work, we begin with a warm-up waltz and I like my big frame and Ivan seems to be enjoying himself too. And then we start with the Rumba.
And seriously, I never have heard Ivan exclaim, “Perfect!” so many times. Really, it was an exceptional experience. It probably helped that my weight dropped significantly this week. Today was my weigh in day and I’m down over 5 pounds! I don’t think I’ve ever dropped that much in a week, and the funny part is, yesterday I freaked out. I had this moment, in the bathroom, and I broke down crying. I knew, I just knew, that I was up in weight for the week. I could feel I wasn’t making any progress, that all my work was for naught because it seems like that has been the pattern in the past, that I work so hard and nothing budges. Everything in my being was telling me that I had failed this week and that I was bigger than ever.
So this morning as I approached my scale I was giving myself a silent pep talk: Don’t freak out, Stef, if you are the same or even a pound higher. It’s okay. You can talk with Chelle. She can lower your calories because you know you are right that you are eating too much!
I stepped up and held my breath.
Beaming. Shocked. So happy that something is finally really working.
I don’t think that it’s been a lack of committment in the past, it was just that restricting was not fueling my body, my athlete body, which is underneath the fat suit. I’m retraining it that it will be properly fueled with the right kind of calories, that it can and should burn them efficiently, because more fuel will be coming in regular intervals. There is abundance. It’s okay to let go of the hoard on my backside.
And it almost makes me want to cry. That for years, years people, I’ve been working to be better, smaller, cut calories…that is until I gave up and gave in and lay down. It was too difficult. I was dancing 8 hours a week and eating a bagel afterwards and thought it should be enough. I couldn’t maintain the insanity. And I went from restriction to abandon, not caring, eating all the things I denied myself for years. It was like I went to sleep and woke up in a new, fat body. And then I just adapted to this new, unhealthy normal.
Well, now I’m getting a re-education about how and what to eat….like a Hobbit. And it’s working. Hallelujah!
So it is probably a little bit easier to dance with 5 pounds less on me, and I probably had a little more spring in my step with these great results, but almost right off the bat Ivan was commenting how he loved what I was doing. And the weird part is, that internally I’ve always felt like I was doing this same thing, but maybe I’m freeing myself with just a tiny bit more abandon, and whatever it was, it was working. If I can dance like I danced today at this competition and those to follow, then that will be a major triumph, of showing my insides, expressing, being seen, being connected. However I am ranked or judged, I’ll be proud of what I do on that dance floor. And that is a big win.
I was just feeling and connecting. My energy was right. Ivan said, “You con, con…what is the word? When you have a cold?”
“Congested?” I said.
“Congested,” he said. “Like you is congested and you making me congested.”
Something didn’t quite make sense.
“Ah! You mean contagious!”
“Yes! You is contagious when you dancing like that. You making me so happy dancing like this. Like I’m really dancing with you.” And he got goosebumps at least once which is always awesome.
And we were doing the Cha Cha and he was like, “Show me how much you loving your butt! Make me want to eat your butt!”
And you have to remember Ivan has like zero filter, but anyways, I had to be all “Hey! Look at my awesome butt! Touch it! No you can’t touch it!” And this is why I’m doing the Time Step beside him. Like there has to be a purpose behind every movement, not just going through the motions and all that.
And then I asked him about my fingernails because we were talking about how I was doing my hands on the Fan and showed him my latest set, which were supposed to be gold. It was a trial run before the comp to see if I could do some fancy nails that would match my black and gold dress. After they were done, I was kind of undecided about them. The didn’t come out quite as gold as I’d hoped. But I did get a few compliments on them during the week. So I asked Ivan his opinion, should I keep them or go with pink and white, and remembering that Ivan has no filter, he replies, “This looking like when you were a kid and you…” And he motions like he is cleaning out his earwax.
Well….I guess he has a point. Which meant a trip to the nail salon before the trip to the grocery store today. And don’t you know it took twice as long as I would have liked so I am so behind on my food prep for the week (but I will get it done!!!!), but at least my nails will be Ivan-approved.
And then I went to the store. As I was checking out the cashier said, “Looks like you’re buying for a decent sized family.” And I was all like…awkward silence. And then I was like, “Well, I hired a nutritionist. And you wouldn’t believe how much I’m eating….like a Hobbit!” And she was like “How is it working for you?” And I was like, “Great!” (Not that it is any of your business but well, what was I going to do?) But seriously, there is a huge lack in understanding about what I’m doing with my diet in the general population. Couple that with my size and I’m really glad that I’m mostly eating at home. I did a program once which was very similar to this plan, eating 5 to 6 times daily with a specific blend of carbs and protein and fat but with less tasty food and no awesome nutritionist who had my back, and anyways I always felt really self-conscious about pulling out a container every 3 hours at my desk..that people were thinking, “Why are you eating so much!?”
After our lesson Ivan said, “Today you showing me more. I so proud of what you doing today! I only hoping it not last only one day!” Ha ha.
Me too, Ivan, me too! Though I can only imagine that things will continue to get better and better from here.
You Have A Strong Heart
My niece had a runny nose when we took her to the mall this weekend to Build-a-Bear and I’m convinced she gave me a slight cold. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that my allergies are horrendous at the moment and I have asthma. This compounds the inflammation in my airways and makes it that much more difficult to breathe, much less do anything that requires cardio. So yesterday I went to the gym, as I do now on Thursdays, to work out with my trainer I requested that we limit the high-intensity cardio and stick to lifting some weights.
She opted to cancel some of the kettleball swings but other than that, it was still a solid workout. I did 12 deadlifts with a 50 pound barbell and rows in between. Then I did squats with a 30 pound barbell pushing it into an upward press above my shoulders as I straightened my legs. Then I did 12 backward lunges with the 30 pound barbell on my shoulders and finished off with an incline plank. I repeated this circuit four times.
It was tough but not so tough that I wanted to cry, like I have on previous workouts. It got my heart pumping and was taxing and I always feel like the thing that limits me the most is endurance, breathing hard, the cardio part. But I was able to do it and that was good.
At the end of the work out my trainer told me, “You should be proud of yourself. You did four sets of that and it’s pretty impressive. That is not easy. You are strong. I don’t put out weights like this for everyone and I wouldn’t do it for you if I didn’t think you could do it. Good work today!” She gave me a high-five.
Me, I was like, really? Because I have a set of sunglasses on that filter how I see the world that generally point out how pathetic I’m doing – how I could be doing more, and how lame it is I can’t do a Burpee and that my belly gets in the way, and how silly I look doing all this stuff.
It’s like, I feel guilty for feeling good about myself. Somehow this is taboo, forbidden, wrong.
But I did feel strong doing those dead lifts. I banged them out pretty good and though challenging, I was up to the challenge. I felt pretty good about doing that, that it was less pathetic than usual, but here was my trainer saying that I should be proud of myself for what I had done. I’m not exactly sure that I know how that feels. I mean, I was proud of myself for completing over 120 heats at the San Diego Open a few years ago and earing Top Student. That was a goal I worked for and achieved and it felt awesome. But these everyday victories, they somehow don’t seem big enough. It’s as if I’m waiting until I’m at my goal weight to actually approve of myself, be proud of myself, love myself.
Like following my eating plan this past week. I did it successfully and that was good, but I wasn’t exactly “proud” of myself for doing that. In my mind, it is simply what I need to do to get where I want to go, and I’m focused like no kidding on that so I did what needed to be done, that’s all. In truth, I’m not even proud of myself for being down over 70 pounds from my highest weight ever (see picture below). Because it took 3 fucking years to do that and I’m still mad that I’m 100 pounds from where I want to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I notice a difference and I do feel somewhat better about myself. I just still see that I have so very far to go and this is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take months of consistent, persistent, determined action. And though I’m anticipating victories along the way, like reaching 213 which will be 100 pounds from my highest weight, and getting under 200 pounds, and getting to 179 pounds which will mean I’m overweight and no longer obese according to my BMI, and hitting my goal weight, I’m just not all that impressed with myself for where I am.
But I am starting to question that point of view simply because it could undermine all my efforts, and I refuse to let that happen this time. This time, I’m following this through come hell or high water!
My nutritionist seemed to also think I should be so proud of myself. She was like, “Stef, you’ve already accomplished a lot, and now, if you keep what you are doing, you will get to your goal in less than a year. You’ve got this! I really hope you are proud of yourself.” And she gave me a big hug.
But I find myself having trouble letting go of my story. You know, the one about me not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I’m having trouble letting go of what I want to be so badly that I can’t seem to be satisfied with where and how I am. It is the ultimate thief, this mindset of comparison, and “not-enough.” But I swear, at the same time that I can see my face looks a little thinner, and maybe my belly too, and that when I thought I’d need a size 24 skirt I ended up purchasing a size 16, at the same time as I can see these steps of progress, I can also see my huge arms, how much larger I am than any other girls in my dance classes, how thick my legs and thighs are, the cellulite on my knees. At the same time that I feel slightly lighter, that it is maybe easier to move and more tolerable to wear heels to dance in, I also am also exhausted panting for breath and having a difficult time holding myself in yoga poses or ballet because I weigh so much or my body mass simply gets in the way.
I am still in a place where I feel the need to block out how I look and don’t feel proud of my appearance. I am longing for when I can wear this one asymmetrical dance shirt I bought and feel so beautiful and sassy in it. Right now when I put it on I just see where it hugs and tugs when it should be hanging empty, and it is frustrating and makes me feel sad.
And the thing I am up against physically that challenges me the most (besides the self-esteem and body image) is the cardio. Well, at least, it is my experience of me being out of shape. But even this I am questioning once again because of my nutritionist and trainer. Because the truth is, when I do a dance class, even though I may be panting and sweating and absolutely killing myself, and even though I may need to not do everything full-out just to stay in the game, well, the truth is, I’m working harder than anyone else out there just because of the sheer weight I carry. They’d probably be more tired too if they were carrying an extra 90 pounds.
Because I always experience myself as out of shape cardiovascular-wise, and because my dance teacher says that even skinny people can really struggle with the cardio and endurance required for dancing, I was feeling the need to add in some training to improve this. But both my trainer and nutritionist said that I was crazy active, especially compared to most people, and probably even more so for obese people. They said, “cardio isn’t the problem. Get the weight off and it will become so much easier. You won’t have to change a thing if you just keep dancing like you are. It will be enough.”
My nutritionist said, “You have a strong heart. Cardio isn’t problem.”
My trainer said, after lifting all those weights today, “You are strong. Strength isn’t the problem.”
The problem is how I feel. The problem is the extra person I’m carrying around in my body. It makes it difficult to feel and act strong and sexy in Latin class with Rado doing the Rumba. I can do the steps, and some of my shapes look nice and all, but I’m lacking the confidence necessary because of my fat fucking arms and huge tree-trunk legs. I am the anthesis of the ideal for a Latin dancer, the complete and utter opposite, and it is a laughable farce, me dancing this dance.
Or is it awesome? Because I’m doing it anyways, because it is in my heart, regardless of external circumstances or appearances.
I don’t know. I think it is kind of a ridiculous-awesome, if there is such a thing.
What I do know is that in less than two weeks I will be dancing in a competition. I will be putting myself out there to be seen and judged. And you know what? Doing that, revealing one’s art, whether it be a painting or a dance, in writing or sharing a musical composition, and regardless of that person’s size or appearance, regardless of all those things, well, it takes a strong heart.
So my Tuesdays and Thursdays now look like this:
In the morning I wake up. I feel sore and tired and just plain bad. My allergies are atrocious and I have to clear out all my sinuses. And my asthma is ridiculous and I’ve made an appointment with the doctor next week because I think I’m at the point that I need a blast of steroids. My husband tells me I’m a vampire because I want no human interaction whatsoever, from talking, to making sounds, to touching me, looking at me, or even breathing on me. I am the anthesis of a morning person. Seriously, steer clear of me with a wide berth until about an hour after I’ve woken up. Throw in my moon time, and you have a perfect storm.
My husband, on the other hand, wakes up with a grin on his face, ready to take on the world, energetic, happy. It is about the opposite energy of mine and super annoying. You know, like when you are sad or grumpy and someone is just shooting rays of sunshine and rainbows out their ass? Yeah, like that.
Anyways, it is in this state that I stumble into the gym and take on some of the hardest things I will take on during the day. My poor trainer. She tries to correct my form but first off I don’t trust her so don’t try to touch me, especially in the morning (see paragraph one), and secondly, if you just ask me or tell me to put my hips parallel to the floor that is enough. I will do it. I have a good sense of my body position because, you know, I’m a dancer. Anyways, I digress….
These work outs are so difficult for me. So hard that I can barely do some of the exercises. So hard that I start panic breathing. So hard that I start crying silently. I’m already hurting and sore and then put this with a trainer who has no idea what it is like to be overweight or out of shape, who has never lost a significant amount of weight, in a room full of people who are all specimens of human perfection, and me seeing the cellulite on my knee through my workout pants, it is hard on all levels, emotional and physical. It feels like shit. Really, it does.
By MSGT Jon Nicolussi, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Yeah, I don’t look like that when I go to the gym….
Me, I feel angry when I’m working out. So very angry. Because I can barely do the hamstring bridges on the physioball and have to grunt to hover just pathetic inches above the ground. I’m angry because I’m so goddamned fat that I can’t do a proper Burpee because my goddamned belly gets in the way and even doing the modified ones I can barely complete the jump at the end. So angry because of reasons I can’t even put into words or explain to myself.
But I do it. I on some level have faith that eventually it will get easier. That it might actually feel good to be in my body. That I will maybe some day be proud of how I look and what I can do. Right now this seems like a pipe dream and all I see is the huge mammoth in the mirror and my giggly parts and all I feel is the pain, the effort, the disappointment, the anger. It’s overwhelming and sucks and I’m shaking as I’m writing this.
So anyways, I’m doing my process this morning as usual. Pushing hard. Crying. Struggling.
And just about when I’m done with my work out as I’m walking back to the area to complete my last exercise in the circuit, this older man with stark white hair steps in front of me and says, “Really good effort today. I mean it. Just keep it up.”
Well, I lost it. I’m still crying. He’s a total stranger. I have never seen him or had a conversation with him or anything. I feel so alone in this. And I consciously (or unconsciously) block out other people in the gym as much as I can because it is too hard to feel all the body shame and stay together enough to complete the tasks in front of me. So it was a total surprise. Like, I’m not there to show off (that is a laugh! I usually look like I’m flubbering around on the floor like an injured slug) or for attention (like those dudes who feel the need to grunt with every power lift, calling attention to the effort they are putting forth, making sure the world knows they are there and important). No I’m there for me.
So I’ve made no friends. I’ve made no effort to make friends. And this guy just swooped down and crashed into my world, shot a spear straight through my heart. He noticed me. He noticed my struggle, my effort, my perseverance. He pointed it out to me when I can’t see it for myself, when I focus on my shortcomings and how awful and angry I feel. I block out the strength I’m demonstrating. It just doesn’t feel like enough, somehow. It’s the ultimate in the need to be right, according to one of my friends. I can never be satisfied with what is.
No, no I can’t. I am so unsatisfied. I’m so unsatisfied with not being able to dance like I really want to dance. I’m unsatisfied with being kicked off roller coasters. I’m unsatisfied wearing frumpy clothes because I hate the way I look. You are damn right I’m unsatisfied.
But it is stealing whatever joy could be in the present moment. As Ivan told me long ago, I still have that Mental Problem. Beyond all the physical battles, this is the biggest battle I will fight – the one to set my mind healthy.
And now I’m leaning even more into it. I’ve hired Chelle, from Recipe For Fitness to hold my feet to the fire when it comes to nutrition. Because that’s the missing element from my transformation, and I’m pretty convinced I am not successful doing this stuff on my own and need help with it.
Because I have a BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal). I’ve decided I will do a solo at Emerald Ball next year in May 2014 an it will involve a lift. This gives me just a few days over one year to prepare and scares the bajeezes out of me. I’ve never been to Emerald Ball, which is a pretty big deal, and to dance a solo in front of that kind of audience, well, I’ve never done a solo at a competition before either! There will be goalposts and milestones along the way. I’m doing People’s Choice in like 4 weeks and don’t even feel remotely ready. And I will do Desert Classic or Galaxy or both and possibly Vegas in December. I will have weekly meetings with Chelle and my sessions with my trainer. I will continue to take lessons with Inna and Ivan and Rado. I will keep a food log and weekly progress reports. I will fit into normal size clothing and have Marieta design new dresses for me. I will hold my leg at 90 degrees or higher in ballet and complete a double pirouette. I will become the champion I can be, in dancing, and in life.
So that’s the dealio peeps. Taking my life on like no kidding. Scared, angry, sad, excited, determined, and strong. It is okay to move forward even if it doesn’t feel good in the moment. Feel the crap and do it anyway and all that.
You’re Never Going to Learn How To Dance
Here’s fair warning…this post is all sorts of choppy, jumpy, and jumbled. There is nothing polished, smooth, or elegant about it. So I’ll just dive right in and hope you stay along through the choppy writing waters.
First things first, in case you missed the video of my showcase routine on the Facebook page for the blog, here is a link to it.
The good thing is I actually feel okay about sharing this. Like, it’s a lot less cringe-worthy than previous videos I’ve posted, and I do think my ronde’ is much improved from the previous showcase. So that’s a win in my book.
It was also a win that my nerves didn’t get the best of me this time around. I wasn’t hardly nervous at all. Staying relaxed like that, especially in a competition setting, would be a good thing. Ivan mentioned that he thought I was maybe a little too nonchalant about it, that I didn’t have the attack that I might want to bring forth at a competition, but I reminded him that it was still progress just because it was different, that I’ve changed. That is forward movement.
Other than that, I’ve decided to change tracks with the diet and exercise plan. I am going to continue with the gal on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the gym but it is more about just going and doing some weights, something extra, getting pushed more than I would push myself on my own, I don’t really expect more than that from her. I don’t feel like she is committed alongside me to reach my massive goals, or that she’d even really know how to assist me in that, but rather that she will do her job while on the clock and that’s it, and that’s fine.
But, well, I need help. I need support. I need more direction and accountability. I’ve decided to work with a nutritionist who herself lost 80 pounds and now competes in figure shows. I think she knows what she’s doing. She’s going to create a custom diet plan for me and I will have twice weekly accountability check-ins. I’ve committed for the next three months. I’m sure I’ll share more about that as the process unfolds but for now, I feel good making another decision to support me in getting where I want to go.
I skipped ballet this week because my ankle was bothering me and the instructor makes us always do a bunch of jumps. It tends to strain my ankle, especially since jumps are hard enough when you actually have some plie’ and don’t weigh a ton, (which I don’t, and I do), and especially with all the ballroom dancing in heels I’ve done lately, I just felt like my body needed some recovery.
Last night Inna was out of town so we had Alla teaching us instead. It wasn’t as hard as a cardio work-out as I usually get from Inna, but I do have to say I enjoyed the new, more complicated choreography. You can see Alla dancing here on DWTS – she and her partner won and were on Cheryl Burke’s team.
Tomorrow night is week three of Cha Cha with Radomir, which I’m also looking forward to. Again, he offers some more complicated choreography and also explains technique….plus we actually dance with a partner, which doesn’t happen in the other group classes I take.
But I have to say, it’s amazing the knowledge these pros have, I swear! Rado’s technique is so pristine, I think, it is an education just watching him, just like it is watching Inna or Marieta or Alla or Igor or Artem or any of the other pros move, you know? I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be influenced by so many exceptional dancers in town.
And, skipping right along in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, one thing I’ve noticed, is that when I’m feeling good about my dancing, and myself, I’m more likely to want to put my heels on because my feet and legs look more feminine and I feel stronger. If I’m feeling lower, I’m more likely to put on my practice shoes with their clunky heels. Lately, I’ve been putting my heels on more often. I can only imagine I will get to the point that they are practically all I wear, especially as I continue to drop weight, look better, and subsequently feel more confident about myself. But this week I put my heels on for both Rado’s class and Inna/Alla’s class, and even wore them on my lesson with Ivan. I guess it’s been a good week.
Wanna ride bikes?
Just kidding, except that is how A.D.D. my brain is right now. So here’s my next thought:
I can hardly believe that a fourth of the year is almost past. People’s Choice is coming right up and we are still not complete with our Samba routine. And instead of finishing that, well, on our last lesson we messed around making up a bit of a Bolero routine. Who knows if these will be presentable by People’s Choice but oh well, at least I have some new material since the last time I competed.
And guess what – apparently there will be some videographers there at People’s Choice scouting out Pro-Am couples to follow for a reality show. They’ll also be filming some of the pros as well. I seriously doubt I’d be chosen with Ivan but I do like that my friends who knew about it said, “I’d totally watch a reality show of you and Ivan!” Ha ha ha! Ivan is quite entertaining, that’s for sure.
And speaking of that, I realize the competition is coming right up, but I didn’t realize yesterday was the official deadline! Yikes! I found out by accident looking for one of the links I used in this post. I feel like the deadline for comps usually fall closer to the actual date of the competition, but maybe not? In any case this meant an urgent call Ivan to get the ball rolling, seeing as I’ve taken days off work to participate and all, and I’d really like to stay at the hotel if possible. So I guess I’d better decide how many heats I’m going to do….
So now for the title of the post. What do I mean by saying you will never really learn to dance? Well, yesterday, after Ivan and I were messing around making up Bolero steps, we chatted. He was very talkative for some reason. I told him that I had been a little rattled after our prior lesson because he had been getting genuinely agitated with me. Why? Because I’m still bottled up, holding back. He was like, “It’s no secret. We know all your problems. We know you big, and slow. I don’t caring. We (he and Marieta) are here for you, right now. No more time to prepare or think about it. I already give you so much time.” Basically, he was like, get over yourself.
And he’s right….to a point. Like in the showcase I was aware, after the fact but not during, that I didn’t actually focus on any particular person in the audience. I didn’t really open up and connect. I looked over the heads of the crowd. I don’t even know if I looked directly at Ivan, to be honest.
It’s certainly something I want to improve. I do desire to bring that presence that pros seem to exude. It’s pretty intense, though, both to experience from a pro while watching in the audience and also doing it myself.
But the thing that is difficult is being that open or to pretend like I’m totally aweseome, hot shit, the best dancer around for the purposes of a dance show or competition. It feels extremely vulnerable or like I’m a total sham. I have a feeling it will get easier the more I get the weight off, but right now it’s a challenge and very uncomfortable.
So anyways, we continued to chat and Ivan brought up a good point – the fact that I’m never really going to learn how to dance. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but simply in the way that there is so much to learn, so many schools of thought about how to execute various steps, and that a big part of actually dancing is self-expression, finding yourself in the steps while still respecting technique, that basically no one can ever really learn it all. Some people learn to dance. Others were born to dance. It’s as simple as that. I just have to find the courage to let go and live the dance beyond “learning” it.
So why would anyone ever pursue dancing, especially if it can never be 100% mastered? I don’t know exactly, but for people like Ivan and me, it’s our addiction. We can’t not dance. And when I’ve not danced for periods of time, I’ve withered inside. Dancing brings me back to life.
He was like, “Why I dancing? I should be retire. Why you dancing? What we doing? We crazy!”
“Yes but we can’t not dance. We just can’t.”
“Some people not understanding this.”
Truth be told, even I, myself, am not “understanding this.”
But who cares? It’s one of life’s mysteries why we love what we love. Dance a non-negotiable for me anymore. Even if I will never really learn how to do it. Even if I’m never satisfied. Even if I’m always in pursuit of something more and better. Even if it’s not my vocation or career or I will never be a professional, or even dance at a professional-like level, it’s still okay. It’s still worth it. I can’t even really explain why. I can’t explain why I want to become a better dancer, especially when there is no grand purpose behind that in practical terms. Why pursue this intangible, impossible art? Why do I love it?
I just do. It’s in my DNA. There is value in the practice and pursuit of dancing just for the sake of it. It’s enough and I’m grateful for it. And I guess it just seems important to share that, to share me and my process and my dancing, however it is, at whatever level it is. So this is me, dancing, living, sharing.