Really Dancing….No, Really! I Mean Like REAL Dancing.

Hi everyone!  I’m baaaaaaaack!

I went on vacation for a week in Ireland, and the week and a half before that I was down for the count with bronchitis.  It’s been a while.

It’s been a while since I wrote and it’s been a while since I did anything physical.  It’s certainly been an eon since I last danced.  It’s also been an age since I last worked out or did any cardio.

What I have been up to is driving in a tiny car on scary one lane roads in the back country of Ireland, eating lots of food, drinking lots of cider and generally laughing, enjoying life, and getting soft.

Also, my husband took lots of amazing photos of our trip.  Below are three:  The Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, and the Cliffs of Moher.

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It’s been great and now I’m glad to be back to “real life.”  In fact, on one of the lay-overs during my sojourn home (it was a 22 hour travel extravaganza from Dublin to our doorstep) I made a point to call and schedule my dance lessons for the week.  It was a priority!

Today was the day for my reunion with Kristijan (Ivan is in Bulgaria until the end of the month) and I had a grand time on my lesson.  I began in my practice shoes.  I’m still recovering a little bit from my respiratory infection and still have congestion and a cough, plus I haven’t been “in my body” to dance for the better part of a month so I thought 3 inch heels right off the bat might be a recipe for disaster.  Anyways, we warmed up with Rumba walks and off we went.

“What do you want to dance?”  He inquired.

“Rumba!” I exclaimed, “I’m a slow starter!” I exhorted.

And it’s true.  Rumba is probably my favorite dance and I love it so much.  It’s a slow burn and a nice way to warm up and reacquaint oneself with one’s body after a long absence.

So we reviewed the choreography.

“How much did you practice while you were gone.”

“Zero,” I said.

“But there is a thing called visualization,” he retorted.  “And it can be a good form of practice,” he explained.

“I did nothing of the sort,” I replied, honestly.  “I ate and I drank and I got fat! I did not practice one iota! So let’s see how this goes,” I said.

And we danced.  And then he suggested we turn on some music.

And I really liked it.  I liked the music, I liked the dancing.  He told me he missed me and the energy I bring.  He corrected me and told me not to put my head down like a bull.  He told me my center of gravity was high and to get more settled in my hips.  He told me to fix my wonky, weak arm.

And I was in a goofy, playful mood.  I pretended like I was Latin champion on of the world and began the Rumba dramatically.  He liked it.  “That was very good,” he said.

So we did the choreography and he told me I was leaning backwards during my spiral turn (which is a bad habit of mine) so I said, “Oh, so you’re saying this wouldn’t work if I were in heels.  Maybe I should put on my heels so I could have a reality check.  These practice shoes give me the illusion that I can actually dance.”  I say this because with the lower heel I can get away with more bad habits and still stay on balance and make things work.  The moment I put on 3 inch heels the entire landscape changes and I often feel like I have strapped on not just shoes but the wobbly legs of a newborn deer.

So guess what!?  I changed into my heels!

And we danced some more.  And I emoted and I played.  And the best part was we danced!  We really danced!  I mean there were all these little gems scattered hither and thither in the routine.  I wouldn’t say the routine rounds were perfectly polished, but there were these amazing moments and sequences of moments where magic happened.

For instance, I began my Rumba with conviction and Kristijan reacted.  Somehow we started the routine totally differently.  We did a hip twist into a double spin and then began the official choreography.  None of this was planned and none of it was communicated except that we were both present and both dancing, together, and it was just the natural evolution of the next right thing to do.  I have no idea how it all was coordinated – it was from a realm beyond words.  It just worked, it just happened, we just created it out of nothing because we were both there, together, connected…which is all the more amazing since we haven’t seen each other for like 3 weeks.

Then there was this moment where I decided that I really liked the music and the movement I was doing so I delayed it.  I stretched it out and made it happen over twice the timing it usually does.  And it was awesome!  I totally took the lead and Kristijan had to react to it.  He totally did and it was so awesome!  I don’t know how this all happened but I just knew that I was planted on that spot and that I was going to finish what I was going to do and then I would move, and somehow through the ethers he got the message and figured it out and then our next move was even that much more sharp and impactful because we delayed so long.

I loved it!  I loved creating something together, from nothing, with no prior planning or scheming or communication.  I loved how it all unfolded, naturally.  I thought to myself, “If I dance like that, so relaxed and joyful and playful and open, at a competition…if we could spontaneously create something in the moment so that each time we danced a routine it was genuinely new, I would be so satisfied and happy with that!  I wouldn’t care how we were ranked!  I would be pleased.”  So I told Krisijan as much and I said, “So let’s dance like that in competition, m’kay, deal?”  And he said, “Okay, Deal!”

I mean, in my view of the world, what we did today was ACTUALLY dancing.  It was not just going through the motions.  It was connected.  It was alive and breathing.  It was co-created space.  It was magic and spontaneous and felt free and joyful.  It was the best!  Yay!

And besides that, the other big news is that Krisijan and Anja got a puppy named Don.  He’s a rescue Lab-SharPpai mix, black, cute, and exploring the world with his sharp-puppy-toothed-mouth!

Also, I’ve decided I will dance in the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Phoenix in September.  It will be my first competition back.  I don’t know if Ivan will be game, but I know Kristijan will so at the least I will do Latin, and I’m hoping I can do some Rhythm as well.

Lastly, I have a fitting for my new dress by Julia tomorrow on my lunch break.  Fingers crossed I love it!

I think that gets me caught up for now, on my end.  But in a parting note, I did wanted to give a shout out to all my Ballroom Village bretheren.  I’m getting caught up in all I’ve missed over the past couple of weeks and you all have been a busy lot, posting!  I’m working my way through your recent adventures.  Also, and importantly, I wanted to send a very special congratulations to BC Ballroom on completing chemo!!!!!  Yay!  This is cause for celebration and I’m so glad to read that you are dancing up a storm right now!  You GO girl!  You are an inspiration to me….and I’m not just talking about how consistent you are with your blog posts lol! (I could use a little of that hahaha)

Oh, and I have a guest post on Girl With The Tree Tattoo!  It’s about how I got to the place where I changed my blog name from Biggest Girl In The Ballroom to Beautiful Girl In The Ballroom….go check it out.

Come to think of it, there are at least two more pieces of exciting news in the works!  I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned!

I’m glad to be back with you all and I’m looking forward to sharing more dance adventures, insights, breakdowns and breakthroughs with you!

Love, Stef

AKA Beautiful Girl

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I Broke My Shoe Today

Where to begin?  Since my posts have been so sporadic and with much time in between them, lots has happened so there is lots to share.  Why the paucity of posts?  I’d say it’s because I’ve been in a season of taking a step back to regroup.  I’ve taken this time to go internal, to rebuild my dancing foundation, and to get mentally clean.  I’ve not competed in the better part of a year and I’ve wondered what I was doing all this for.  I don’t necessarily have all the answers but I do feel the siren song of the ballroom world calling to me once again.

I don’t regret a thing.  It has been an important piece of my journey to take this time, to get different coaching, to gain a measure of independence and being solid on my own two feet.  It was good to be separate and get centered.  From this space I can truly move, truly connect, truly be a partner.

So what happened was that PBS aired “America’s Ballroom Challenge” and I watched it and I saw all these friends and people I know and I was invigorated.  I also saw a particular instructor and amateur partner dance and I thought to myself, “I could do that better!” Boastful, I know.  And perhaps not even true!  But the deal is that it stimulated me to call my old friend, Ivan, because I wanted to have the possiblitity of it being true.  And as much as I love Latin, I also miss Rhythm.  And I missed Ivan and Marieta, too.

So I called Ivan and we talked and because we parted so amicably, going back was a possibility.  I said, “I’m thinking to do Rhythm with you and Latin with Damir.”  And he said, “Okay, no problem.”  It’s actually even better than that because Ivan and Marieta are going to start competing in Smooth so after we get our Rhythm routines squared away, I want to do Smooth as well, which Damir doesn’t offer.

As of the writing of this post we’ve had 3 lessons and the new, re-vamped Cha-Cha is complete.  I feel like all the moves in it are within my reach and I love that Marieta helped us with it as well.  She added some sections that allow me to be more expressive and feminine.  I am excited to show new aspects of myself and I was pleased that Ivan could tell that my dancing was more solid.  The best part is we are having lots of fun.  There isn’t the pressure that used to be present and I am committed to keeping things mentally healthy between us.  As much as I’m showing up differently, more positively, more joyful to Ivan, he’s also declared that he will relate to me as the Stefanie I am now, rather than drudging up the old Stef with less confidence, more worry, more story.  So great!  Things are chugging along and feeling good.

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The other exciting news is that a new couple has come to EuroRhythm.  They are really excellent and I have had one lesson with both Kristijan and Anja each.  Last week I worked with Anja on some styling and she actually reminded me of Marieta a little bit in how expressive and free she is with her body.  Today I worked with Kristijan on my Latin closed Silver Cha Cha choreography and boy was it an experience.  He certainly has a lot of energy and he gave me so much information.  The biggest thing was creating the space to really dance, expressively dance.  I’ve been so focused on getting on my legs, feeling solid, I’m overthinking everything.  I went from being overly emotional to being almost robotic. I was way out of my comfort zone on my lesson today but I embrace it.  It’s like I’ve been practicing in a small pen and now the gates have been thrown wide open and I’m being introduced to a world that is way larger and deeper than I’d previously exprienced.  Also cool was that Kristijan said that I have beautiful legs and feet and that I’m very flexible.  Plus he was blown away with the way I connected through our frame, the amount of resistance I had.  The best part of it was that I was glad to hear the good feedback but that my ego didn’t take it and blow it up bigger than it is.  Of course he also gave me some corrections, mostly about making smaller steps and working my back leg more, but again, I stayed even keel.

The way I’ve been dancing with Damir I’ve been very much in my head, thinking everything through.  My face shows it.  So one big thing Kristijan kept asking me for was to smile, to actually look at him, then to look to the audience.  It reminds me of my early days with Ivan and how he pulled so much out of me.  I think working with Anja opened it up for me a little bit and then when I was on the lesson with Ivan this weekend I showed more of that freedom, more of my personality in the sections Marieta helped choreograph.  Both of them were like, “See!  You have this in you!  Why you not showing it before?  Not everyone has this inside them.  I ask my other students, please do this, and you just doing this.”  And yet, there is still more to show and express.

For me, I think it comes down to Trust and Confidence.  Trust both in myself and my partner and Confidence in my movement.  I noticed on my lesson today I was a bit unsure.  And as Damir says, the worst thing an Artist can do is hesitate.  It is our complete committment and conviction to the Art we are creating that allows access to the Art.  I have some growing to do in this regard but now that I’m aware of it I can choose differently and practice it until it becomes my new way of being.  I was so excited to be very uncomfortable on my lesson today because that means growth.  And I just know that I’m going to become even more expressive than I ever was before.  I’m going to be able to be completely authentic about who I am in my movement and that is exciting indeed.  I also noticed that I have been working so diligently to be able to be independent and move myself that I’ve not been practicing really relying on my partner.  One thing that happened with Kristijan (we’ll call him “K”) was that he wanted me to rely on him more so that I could go a little off balance or create a bigger movement than I could do on my own – to leverage the connection to create a fuller picture.  It’s not something I’ve been practicing, to trust in this connection and my partner, but I’m excited by what’s possible beyond what I’ve been doing.  My limits expanded today.

After the lesson tonight with K, I saw Damir and said that as much as he was helping me be a robot, Kristijan was all about expression, which is what I was overdoing before, so I’ve come full circle.  And he said, well it must be time for more expression.  The entire journey is to work to find balance and just when you find balance, destablize it.  Then work to regain the new balance and just when you find it, get off balance again.  It’s funny how all this unfolds, isn’t it?

So I forsee a competition in the not too far future.  I have routines to get together so it will be a bit but maybe before the end of the year.  Maybe Galaxy, maybe Holiday in Vegas.  I do think, regardless of what’s next, that I am in a great position for next year.  Also, there is a sense of urgency without pressure.  At least when it comes to Ivan, we talked about it and we want to get out there as soon as possible but doing it joyfully, sanely, taking what time we need to set ourselves up to win (and by win I mean dance with excellence and without all the drama – the results will be what the results will be in terms of placement.  I’m clear that I’m more committed to loving me and loving my dancing and sharing that than I am to placing first.)  Of course I care about how I place and I am competitive and I do want to win, it’s just that my priorities are re-ordered.

In that same vein, I’m ready to let go of my hang ups about my body.  It hasn’t changed much in terms of how it looks in the past months and frankly, so what?  My struggles with self-esteem and body image have been such a big part of this blog but it’s time to let that be in the past and to drop all the drama.  My body is how my body is.  It’s different every day.  It changes based on the choices I make about what I eat, how I work out, how I treat it, how I dance it.  I’m discovering that I can still be an incredible dancer just as I am right now in this moment.  So much of what has kept me stuck has been feeling like I need to look different to “really” dance.  No!  This is not the truth.  I can dance right now, and in many respects, I can dance better now than I did when I was in high school and a size 8.

In fact, truth be told, my body has very little to do with dancing even as it has everything to do with it.  This weekend the People’s Choice DanceSport competition was held and I went to spectate with two dear friends.  The most moving part was a woman who came out on the floor in a wheelchair.  I’m not sure what condition she has but it looked like her body was fighting against her for every single move she made.  She was able to stand up and take some steps with the support and assitance of her dance partner even as she shook with each and every movement.  It was completely captivating.  In fact, I found it more beautiful, authentic, and engaging than many of the pro performances that evening.  That was true dancing.  She’s my new hero.  Even though her face couldn’t move to express her feelings, it appeared frozen, it was so very clear she loved dancing and she was passionate about it.  It was so incredible how she was emoting purely, and without all the usual cues like facial expression or clear, smooth body movement.

So my body isn’t important when it comes to dancing, even though it is totally important when it comes to dancing (get the paradox?)  That being said, it’s not an excuse to give up or stop working on honing my instrument.  In fact, I’m starting a new plan June 1st and comitting to 30 days of doing it.  Mostly I want to prove to myself that I can successfully complete it and I think it will support me in re-creating my future body.  But in this moment, this is the only body I have.  It is how it is.  I’ve been resisting it, I’ve been fighting reality, I’ve not wanted to choose my body, insisting in the fantasy that there is any other body to have.  Right now, this is it and this is perfect.  There is nothing to fix or change.  There is only the body I have so I might as well choose it and dance it with freedom and abandon.  It’s like, all these dancers I’m working with are reflecting to me some of my great assets as a dancer – my legs, my feet, my connection…they see it and they celebrate it.  Why shouldn’t I?  They are not as hung up about my body as I am.  They see it differently than I have chosen to see it.

So anyways, I’m the Biggest Girl In The Ballroom.  Maybe that will never change.  Maybe it will.  I’m choosing to be okay with what is so and to continue to put energy and effort towards my goals and dreams.

Finally, the title of my blog post is a true statement.  One of the straps on my heels snapped tonight so the Universe is telling me I need a new pair.  I’m going to take it as a sign that it’s finally time to try on the 3 inch heels.  I have two pairs of unused shoes that I’ve not worn because I wasn’t on balance.  I got them out and walked around in my kitchen and I actually feel like it might now be possible to work in them.  Of course it will take some adjustments but I think it was a message that my old shoes broke – that it’s time to “step up” to the next level.  Perfect timing.

So that’s the skinny in my world.  I’m excited to see what happens next.

Topical Series: What To Bring When You Are Competing

It’s on my mind.

In a few short weeks I’ll be dancing in a competition, which I haven’t done in 9 months, and my brain is aflurry with thoughts about all the preparations I’ll need to make before I go.  But what preparations do I need to make, you ask?  Besides practicing as much as possible, and getting into as best shape as possible, what else must be done?

First let me clarify: the kind of competition I’m thinking of here is a “full-glitz” one – not the kind you might find at a college with only amateur couples.  Those are absolutely great places to show off all your work, too, it’s just that I do pro-am and I personally haven’t done any competitions that weren’t geared for anything but the most over-the-top costumes, darkest tans, and craziest hair.  I don’t have experience to share around the kind of competition specifically, but I’m sure a lot of what I write will apply to any competition.  However, if any of you readers out there have advice, thoughts, experiences to share, especially about areas I miss or don’t know about, please do share!  Also, this is clearly from a feminine perspective!  I do think the guys have it easier when it comes to prepping for a dance competition – but guys, set me straight if I’m wrong!

So one of the items on my to-do list is to get a full set of pink and white nails put on.  And, they need to be longer than I’d ever seriously wear them in real life.  (You should see the set of talons Inna wears everyday.  She could paddle a boat with those suckers!  And, that gal is glamorous no matter what!)  But seriously, they add something.  Not only do they increase the length of lines you can create through your fingers, but they also draw attention as compared to natural nails.  And for me, they also make me pay more attention to what I am doing with my hands and fingers.  The devil is in the details, as they say, and to exude glamour in every way possible, including nails, helps create a fully polished look.  Plus, I just feel more feminine with a set of nails on.  I feel more girly, and that, of course, translates into how I move and interact with my partner.

The next item I’m debating is the fabled spray tan.  Why the debate?  Well, I don’t show much skin.  I pretty much cover myself completely and wear nylons and fishnets.  If I were showing more of my body, however, for me it would be a no brainer.  I do think the tans create a leaner, more toned appearance.

Okay, what else?  Well, one thing I didn’t really know about before I went to my first “real” competition, was the hair and make-up that is standard.  I did my own make up and hair the first two competitions I went to, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However, I felt a little out of place at the second one with my hair only in a bun because as I walked around I saw all these artistic hair sculptures adorning many of my competitors’ heads.  I had no idea that hair could be so elaborate!  For my third competition I discovered that you can actually hire someone to do your hair and make up for you.

Like I said, this is totally optional.  And for me, I’m more comfortable doing make-up than hair.  If I had to choose one to do myself to save some money, I’d do my own face, but you know what, at the point that you’ve committed to do a competition, it’s kind of a drop in the bucket to pay for this service.  It is a big event and one you want to enjoy.  If it makes it less stressful and more enjoyable for you to have someone pamper you and fix you up, well then, I highly recommend it!

The only issue with having your hair and/or make up done is making an appointment.  My goodness can they start early.  If the competition begins at 7am like some I’ve done, an appointment may need to start as early as 3:30am…remember you are not the only client!  There are other people who will have the same bright idea.  The earlier you can book your appointments before the competition, the better choice you are likely to have in terms of timing.

Okay, I just realized I forgot to mention one really, really big consideration!  The dress(es)!  Well, that’s cause I have one already.  But if you don’t already have your dress, you may need to have one made, purchase one, or rent one.  If you are going to have a dress custom-made, you will need to have started the process with lots of time to spare.  Dressmakers are often busy and there are usually multiple fittings necessary.  A month may not be enough time.  If you purchase a dress off the rack, you will still probably need to alter it, and you will want to have that done by someone who works with ballroom dresses regularly, not just your average tailor.  Finally, if you are renting, you will need to find a store that actually rents dresses (many don’t), and then try one the ones they have available.  In addition, sometimes dresses need to be shipped between locations so waiting to the last-minute for this is also not a good idea.

And don’t forget the jewelry!  You will want to accessorize your glamorous dress to complete the look.  This could come in the form of bedazzled earrings, a necklace, bracelets, or even hair ornaments.  It may take time to find the perfect accent piece.

Alrighty, assuming you have a dress, and you have a plan for your hair and make up, and you’ve got a tan or you are covered, what else do you need to think about for a competition?

I won’t claim to be the be-all-end-all expert on this, but here’s what I pack in my bag on the day of competition.  Again, those of you who have experience, please do share!

In my “gym bag” which I will bring with me to the competition (I’m doing a large number of heats, this may not be necessary for someone only competing in a single scholarship or something) I will have:

Ibuprofen – for aches and pains

Ace bandages – for my ankles which get swollen and sore (and in case of any pulled muscles)

bandaids, neosporin, and bandage tape.  I use the tape over bandaids if I get blisters because the bandaids will rub off and the tape is much more sturdy and will stay in place

Tums and/or Pepcid – for an upset stomach (likely to happen with nerves!)

You may laugh, but Immodium – just in case a nervous stomach turns into runny stools….the show must go on! (And can you tell I’m a pharmacist yet?)

Salted nuts – for electrolyte replacement, good fat, and energy

Gatorade – both the “fully leaded” kind with actual sugar, and the G2, sugar-free

A Gallon of water – dehydration is not your friend

A towel (I sweat A LOT).

Lipstick, mascara, eye pencil, lip liner, hairspray, bobbypins – touch-ups will be necessary

Feminine supplies…just in case

Safety pins – in case of a “wardrobe malfunction”

An extra pair of nylons and fishnets

Scissors – I’ve had the fringe on my dress go crazy and had to chop some errant strands off!

A sewing kit

Energy bars/fruit/quick easy snacks to keep energy up

Camera

Phone

Charger

Dance shoes

Those little clear plastic thingies you can put over smooth shoes to keep them from flying off your feet

A shoe brush (and shoes, of course go without saying.  It’d be interesting to see someone compete barefoot!)

A pen and highlighter – to keep track of when your heats are and which you have completed.  Some people also mark how they place.  You may also meet a friend and want to exchange information.

A Ziploc bag – to keep stickers or tickets or whatever they give you if you place in various heats

An iPod full of my favorite music with sound-cancelling headphones – to pump myself up!

A few bucks and some change for a soda or something from a vending machine if needed

Breath mints

Extra rhinestones and glue – those little gems do fall off!

Many will find this item controversial, but I’ll probably bring a Diet Rockstar (or two) or something similar in case I start to really drag and need a quick pick-me up.  I know these aren’t really that “good” for you but sometimes they are just the ticket.  Again, those who have alternatives that work, please do share.

One item I’d like to find before I go are some bedazzled slippers.  My friend Ceci had a glamorous pair that she wore between long stretches of heats to get her placements and such.  It was much better than staying in heels all day long, and still looked nice…nicer than my ratty Ugs would be!  Trust me, if you are a doing a lot of heats, you will want some shoe alternatives during your down time.

Also, a cover up is a must.  This is an item I haven’t had and always wished I did.  Many people use a silk robe and oftentimes it is embossed with their studio logo.  In any case, covered up you won’t feel like a sparkly freak if you choose to go to the cafe for a quick coffee or something and don’t have time to fully change, plus there’s less chance of damaging your dress if it’s covered.

and finally….

A BIG SMILE!  I’m going to be competing and dancing my heart out!  I’ve prepared for a long time and paid a lot of money.  I’m going to enjoy every single second!  Yay!

Paragon2Pieces, This One’s For You

Belated.  Yes.  But here goes…

About a week ago one of my readers, Paragon2Pieces, posted a comment on the blog:

Hi Stephanie, this is unrelated to DWTS, but I was wondering if you could do a post about dance shoes.  How long does a pair last?  What style works best for you?  Have you ever tried one of the more expensive brands and, if yes, was it worth it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Hope all is going well inside and outside of the dance studio!

Bad blogger that I am, I have allowed life to get in the way of a prompt response.  But I can’t express enough how much I appreciate interacting with my readers.  I originally intended to just reply to her comment but, as you know, I am a prolific writer, I love to opine, I have lots to say.  There could be no short, concise response from me.  As I began to see how long my reply was becoming, I decided it should be a blog post in its own right.

Perhaps I missed the boat, Paragon, and you’ve already purchased a new pair of shoes.  Even so, I guess late is better than never.  Here is my experience:  I have tried Dance Naturals.  They are expensive and actually made in Italy, I think.  It took about a month to get them – I bought them online.  They were, to date, my favorite shoes.  In that case, for me, they were worth the money.  I don’t remember how much they cost (probably upwards of $300 with all the shipping and everything – plus they were leather, not satin), but I do remember how amazing they felt on my feet once they were broken in, and that, if you’ve ever danced in heels (much less walked in them) is priceless.

However, I don’t know if it is absolutely necessary to purchase a top end pair of dance shoes to find a pair that you love.  I think that the shoe style that will work best for a person depends upon their feet.  It is probably best to be fitted in person.  I took a chance buying the Dance Naturals online, especially since they are in European sizes.  I was worried for a long time that they wouldn’t fit once I got them and I had to stretch them out a lot.  The top of my foot always bulged a little below the strap over the toes.  They honestly weren’t a perfect fit.  But over time they softened and it worked well enough.  So, next time around, even though I loved that pair of Dance Naturals, I’d prefer to get a pair fit in person before purchasing them again.

I recently purchased some new shoes that were not Dance Naturals.  I tried on a bunch of pairs in the store.  Some I thought were cute but when I put them on I could barely stand in them.  I don’t know if one brand is “better” than another but I do think that quality of materials and construction methods used can extend or shorten the life of a shoe.  I am really bad about wearing my shoes (and clothes too) way past when a normal person would still wear them – they just get so broken in and comfortable.  The guy at the shoe store told me I had to throw out the two pairs of shoes I’d been holding on to, they were that bad.  lol.  The other pair of shoes that worked for me are not as cute but they support my foot well and they just came from a catalog at one of the dance studios I used to go to – a no-name brand.

I will also share that my friend, Ivonne, had an experience buying shoes.  She opted for a less expensive pair before the competition she did and realized very quickly that in general you get what you pay for in terms of ballroom shoes.

I think it’s probably wise to have a few pairs of dancing shoes.  Practice shoes, for instance, are awesome.  I can dance for a long time in those suckers, they are so cushy.  However, they have a lower heel, so if I only dance in those I have to retrain my calves, ankles, and all the little accessory balance muscles in my lower leg to handle higher heels like I’d wear in a competition.  It took me a long time the first time around to acclimate my feet and legs to dancing in heels – it is not something I’d like to repeat!  It was painful, required that I ice my feet nightly, and took a long time.  So, I’m looking to have a balance between keeping my lower legs and feet trained to handle higher heels, and also giving them a break so I don’t overstress my feet by wearing the practice shoes.  It stinks to not be able to get in the cardiovascular conditioning I need to accrue because my feet hurt too much to walk.

The pair I currently have are a middle-of-the-road brand.  They are sturdy and they work well enough for everyday practice.  They aren’t particularly cute and I’ve been thinking that I want another pair of those Dance Naturals again.  Once I get my new job lined up and financially things aren’t so tight, I probably will do that for myself.  At the end of my Dance Natural shoe life-span they felt as good on my feet (with 2.5 inch heels) as my practice shoes feel now (with a 1 inch or 1.5 inch heel).

I don’t know how long ballroom shoes are “supposed” to last.  It probably depends on how often you dance.  For someone like me who tries to dance multiple times a week and doing double lessons sometimes, they won’t last as long as for someone who dances once weekly.

Also, I think because of the differences we all have in foot shape, size, and anatomy, we will all have different preferences for brands that work well for us.  I know Marietta has a particular brand she likes (I can’t remember it right now), and a lot of people like Ray Rose.  Again, it depends on what fits your foot best and what you are willing to pay.  I’ve personally used both less expensive and more expensive shoes and both have served their purpose.  Ultimately I liked the more expensive pair better.

I hope this perspective helps and good luck finding the perfect pair for you!  Maybe when you find them you can send me a picture of them and I’ll share it on the blog, or you could post them on the Dancing With Stefanie Facebook page.  You could even write a follow-up guest post to this sharing your shoe-related experience, if you like.  Consider it an open invitation.  Also, I invite you, and any other reader, to ask questions, suggest topics for future blog posts, and to generally interact on the blog.

I appreciate you!

Sincerely, Stefanie

The Healing Power of…Shoes?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Dance Starz studio (and later the mall)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, yeah.  SO OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE!

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

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

We made an appointment for the very same evening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She demonstrates how to walk on the tippy toes.

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

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

Yes, I really, really am.

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

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

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

These are the ones I finally decided upon.

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

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

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