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.

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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.”

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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.

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This Dancer’s Heart: How This Blog Is Saving My Life

Well today folks, I don’t have a dance lesson.  I won’t have one for the next two days at least.  But I thought it was an opportunity to write about some dance related topics that are on my heart.

First off, I wanted to say that there are some amazing people out there in the blogosphere.  I’ve just begun the search for kindred spirits and have already found a few.  Please click on the sites in my Blogroll and check them out.  From side-splitting hilarity, to beautiful artwork, to inspiring stories and some deep insights, these sites are all “the bomb.”

Has anyone else had trouble finding dancer blogs?  I have found a lot of “how-to” type blogs but I’m more interested in the personal stories behind dancers.  Also, I have yet to find more than a handful of personal blogs about ballroom dancing.  Most of the ones I’ve found are about ballet, which I also love, and I want to connect with others who share my current passion too.  If you have a personal ballroom blog, or know about any, please let me know!

Next, since it is New Year’s Eve Day, and all, I thought I’d reflect on the last year.

I found a list of goals from 2011 and discovered that I had made progress in most areas, but not in the exponential manner I would have liked.  For instance, last year I was at 298 pounds.  One of my goals was weight loss.  I’m starting this year at 265.5.  So, I’m down 30 pounds, which is better than going up, but really, this is not the type of transformational change I’d like to see in myself.

It was also right around this time last year that I began dancing again.  So it has been almost one solid year of ballroom.  During this time I danced in two competitions with two different instructors and earned Top Student bronze level at one of them.

Things have really exploded starting 5 months ago.  That was when I transitioned from one teacher to the next and also began exploring the larger dance community in my area.  I now have friends at 3 different studios and take classes across the valley.  I love being connected.

Also, I started this blog.  I believe it is going to save my life.  You see, I was driving home from my lessons and had 30 minutes or more to process all that transpired. I noticed many things about myself and my dancing.  In order to not drive my husband batty by talking his ear off and also to fuel my passion for writing, I took the suggestion of my friend Jess and began writing the blog.  I had no idea that anyone but my very closest 10 friends in the world would ever care to read about my dancing life.

Within a week, an instructor I had met at a competition shared one of my posts https://dancingwithstefanie.com/2011/12/20/you-have-a-mental-problem/ and it went a little bit viral.  Over 1600 people have now viewed my blog at its old Blogger address.  So I began to believe that I had something valuable to say that resonated with others and made the move to WordPress.

I can’t express how honored, humbled, and grateful I feel to see that people across the world have read some of my words.  It is awe-inspiring to think that one person really can affect many others.  I don’t think I ever truly understood that, and certainly not in regards to someone like little ole me, but there it was for me to see.  I’d touched people I’ll never even meet doing something that I love.  There’s nothing better in life…unless it is having an authentic exchange with even just one person via this blog or via their personal dancing blogs.

So back to how this is saving my life.  I now have something to pour myself into.  I no longer have to numb with food, or television, or any other distraction in order to tune out.  I no longer hate my life which used to look like working at a very stressful job with no creative outlets.  I was dying inside, and it was showing up on the outside with my significant weight gain.

I tried working out at the gym.  I tried diets.  I tried ignoring it completely, giving up, and saying, the hell with this, this is all there is in life and it is drab, and dull, and miserable.  I’m destined to be fat (No, no victim language here, hah!)  I’m slaving away for what?  Waiting to die?  I self-destructed a little every day.

But there was a reason none of this worked.  The problem wasn’t me overeating and not exercising, the problem was I wasn’t engaged in my purpose or my passion.  I am hardwired to connect and wasn’t plugged in.  The problem was compounded by lack of self-worth, and extreme shame about my body, with which I identified so strongly.

But the dancer’s heart that beats inside me, though buried deeply, and locked away in a box, could not be entirely quelled.

When I first took up ballroom dancing, I wrote this:

 I am a dancer.  I am one who uses my body to tell her story.  The emotions I feel flow through me as I seductively sway my hips or gracefully lift my arms. 

Sounds poetic, but the reality is that I am usually desperately out of breath.  With each laborious step, thick sweat drips off my already sopping wet hair.  My excess mass gets in the way and weighs me down.  Each salsa step brings jiggling to all the wrong places.  Carrying over 100 pounds of extra body on my five-foot-five frame, I feel like the hippo ballerina dancing with the alligator in Fantasia. 

Last Monday, after working a nine hour day on my feet with a one-hour commute at a passionless job that pays the bills but feels unsatisfying, I went to my salsa lesson.  This was supposed to be my release from the mundane, my gateway to feeling truly, zestfully alive.  Instead, I was meek and apologetic.  First off, I couldn’t do anything but the most light or basic choreography because my lungs and heart simply couldn’t keep up.  I couldn’t yet wear the sexy high-heeled shoes because my feet hurt and went numb while balanced upon my tippy-toes.  My body just wasn’t cooperating with what my mind wanted it to do.  I couldn’t perform to the level I thought I should and I started to despair.

I finally told my instructor, “Matt, let’s face it.  I just don’t have a dancer’s body.”  In that moment, I was choosing to base my decision of whether or not I am a dancer on what my body looked like in the moment.  I was ready to use it as an excuse for why I could never be a great dancer, why I shouldn’t even try.  He replied to me, “Stefanie, everybody has a dancer’s body.” 

To me this response is deceptively simple yet profound. 

What if everyone really does have a dancer’s body? 

What if, whatever it looks like right now, it is a beautiful instrument of expression?  

If I really believe this statement, then anyone who feels she is a dancer, is a dancer.  It seems especially hard for me to believe this as I have grown up in a society where the perfect body is highly valued.  Through the years of exposure, I have come to accept the idea that my worth as a human being is based in some measure on the size of my clothing.  So really, how could I, an obese pharmacist, truly be a dancer?

I could choose to say that I used to be a dancer.  I used to weigh a lot less, had better cardiovascular capacity, and even practiced regularly, but there was one vital missing ingredient.  I wasn’t a real dancer because I had no passion.  For me, dancing was technique, criticism, and judgment, never being good enough, and being miserable.  I did it because it was what was expected and then I beat myself up inside because I wasn’t ever enough; never good enough, thin enough, strong enough, tall enough, enough, enough, enough! 

If I am honest with myself, the truth is that I used to be a machine who looked like a dancer, and now, even though I don’t look the part just yet, I am a dancer. 

 I am not here to justify being overweight.  I am not healthy at this size and I would like it to change.  What I am here to say is that I am a valuable, worthy, and beautiful person regardless.  I have contributions to make and talents and gifts to share.  I believe that the passion, emotion, and joy I now choose to bring to my dancing will get me one step closer to the physically healthy state I desire.

I may perform the functions of a pharmacist and tutor in my working life these days, but who I am, well, I’m a dancer.  I’ve finally acknowledged it and owned it.  For the longest time I couldn’t, especially when I didn’t “look like” a dancer.  I got so supremely caught up in that idea early on.  I still have trouble looking at myself directly in the mirror when practicing. But being a dancer, really, is not about how you look.  It is about who you are inside.

Yes, the health issues are grave and real.  Yes, being in better shape will hone my instrument of expression.  Yes, most dancers are not clinically obese…and soon this one won’t be either.

But regardless, underneath the “fat suit” I’m currently wearing, regardless of the outside packaging, I am a dancer.  Period.

I could talk about dancing all day and all night.  I could watch it every second of the day.  I love it at its highest level of technique, and when grandma, old and bent, shuffles clumsily on the floor but her joyous spirit shines through.  It engages me like nothing else in this world.  It makes me want to be a better person and partner.  It makes me want to take care of myself, be feminine, be beautiful, value my body.  It is saving my life.

Although the changes may not be as dramatic (yet) as I would like, there has been significant progress.  I can now wear heels pretty well.  I still struggle with breathing and cardiovascular capacity, but it is improving over time.  I am shedding the pounds and have the motivation and a plan to finally get this done.  Who knows how many years I am adding to my life because I am on a healthier trajectory both physically and mentally than I was when I wrote that post so long ago.  I’ve flipped the switch through dancing; I had been speeding up my demise and now I’m slowing it down.

So, literally, dancing and then blogging about my experiences is saving my life.  This dancer’s heart is grateful.