Only Your Face Looks Stupid

Dancing at 6:30 in the morning is kind of tough.  First off, I’m not a morning person.  Second, my body isn’t at all warmed up.  I am usually stiff and tight in the muscles and groggy in the brain.  But Ivan, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is crazy, and I guess so am I.  For a while now, we have regularly met at a dance studio on the way to my work, before work.  Location-wise it works out well because it is convenient along the drive to work which is very far from where I live.  And dancing, even at ungodly hours, is better than not dancing, so I’ve agreed to it making sure that on weekends we schedule later in the A.M. so I can get my much-needed beauty sleep.

I am trying to write a blog here but this is what keeps staring at me for a treat and she is PERSISTENT!!!!

So today was one of those early days, but surprisingly, it went pretty well.  Even though my right calf is so sore from ballet this weekend that I can’t easily create an up and down motion, Ivan and I danced the Waltz to begin.  On our last lesson I had told him that he needs to correct me all the time, at least one thing in every dance we do.  Otherwise, I will continue to practice the same habits.  Ivan must have heard my request because we actually worked on some new things before the sun came up.

Like I am aware that there is supposed to be a lot of body contact when in frame in Smooth styles.  It’s difficult to maintain and because I only do Smooth, not Standard, and we go in and out of frame frequently, I haven’t been as disciplined as I could be in regards to this detail.  Well, today, that changed.  I think we began with Ivan putting me in a twisted back-bend position, kind of the same position to set up a develope’ and Ivan told me I have to give him my hips.

Intellectually, I am aware of this.  From books, talking with friends who do more closed-frame dancing, I “know” about it.  But it is a whole other level of “getting to know” your instructor when you really have to do this body mash-up.  But that is how it’s done.  That is part of what makes it possible to move as a single unit while gliding across the floor.  And you know what…it actually felt more secure.  To put my hips in the proper position is uncomfortable on some levels, but I felt more stable.  It was almost, well, comforting.

To pull back out of fear in an attempt to maintain space between bodies, puts my body out of alignment, messes with my balance, and makes it more difficult to move.  It was especially weird when Ivan demonstrated the lady’s part, rotating around my left hip, maintaining contact all the while.  I’m pretty much supposed to stick to him (or my partner) like glue.  Though it appears classy and smooth, the dances in hold feel to me more intimate in some ways than the sexy, slinky Latin and Rhythm dances.

Regardless, it was a good notice, something specific I can focus on during practice.  I’m just glad we’ve been dancing long enough now that I feel comfortable being in the proper position.  Well….I did laugh a lot out of nervousness, but still, this is not something that has happened with either of my other two previous instructors.

So after this, we worked on our open Rumba routine.  It is coming along.  I am getting better at remembering the sequence of steps and I’m also getting more clear on the counts.  I am also really excited to do this one move which involves a double Spiral Turn, which is something I really need to practice, but it is going to be so nice when I am more comfortable doing it.  Really, smooth as melted chocolate.

I also made a discovery about how to position myself with my body weight forward on the opening move we do, kind of a reverse turn step with my leg pointed behind me.  It made it look more dramatic while at the same time I felt more secure doing it.  In addition it helped with doing the proper weight changes, not rushing through the movement to the next step, which is for sure one of my bad habits….not living in the moment, not finishing, and rushing to the next thing before the last thing is complete…no I don’t do that in real life either, ha ha.

But the best thing was a new dimension to hip movement that we discovered.  Instead of simply going side to side, front and back, or making a figure eight, my hips are going to lift up as well.  Kind of difficult to describe, but it is very feminine.  Marieta does something similar in one of Ivan and her routines, but it is one of those details you absorb while watching that makes the movement look interesting but that you might not actually be able to pinpoint.  In any case, I do this little hip wiggle after a step turn and this “lifted hip” action was added.

“It look so good!”

“Then why are you laughing at me.”

“Your hips, your legs, your arms, even your neck moving are all so feminine.  It so natural and so good.  It’s just your face that is looking stupid.”

I guess I make funny faces when I’m trying to be “sexy.”  And the way Ivan was imitating me had me in stitches.  Kind of like a slack-mouthed zombie in search of brains.  Figuring out facial expressions is definitely one of my weak points.  Smiling I can do, no problem.  But looking like I want to attack, or being “sexy” or flirty, not my forte.

Well, I do have awesome hips that work for me, though.  And we incorporated this increased dimensionality into the fan as well.  I don’t find it that challenging.  In fact, it made me feel more secure, and caused me to commit my body weight over my right foot more quickly which also helped me propel myself forward and keep my energy forward.  But Ivan seemed to think it was a special ability.  Well, I’ll take it.  It feels good.  That plus I guess another of his students liked how I styled my arms when we both danced at Galaxy and she told him she wanted to have arms like mine.  Well, that was pretty surprising and also felt good, even if I still have a long way to go with them!

In the end, Ivan said what he’s only said maybe three times before, “I like this lesson.”

“I know!  I wish all could be like this.  So happy, and fun, and discovering new things.”

Truly, it doesn’t happen all that often so when it is nice like this on a lesson I really appreciate it.  It’s not every day that only my face looks stupid!  Usually much more looks stupid!  Heh heh heh.

The end.

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I’m Gonna Find My Inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer

If you haven’t been watching SYTYCD, you should be.

It’s like, my fav-o-rite dance show evarrrrr.

And it relates to the title of my post. You know, everything happens for a reason and there are signs everywhere if we have the eyes to see them. The messages in my life abound. They come via friends, conversations, encounters at the grocery store, and even while watching t.v.

Tonight something Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer said on the on the show really stuck with me. He was asked to dance for his life. This happens when the judges aren’t sure about a dancer but he still has enough support that he or she gets one final chance to win the judges over for a spot on the show. He had to perform his solo, doing the style of dance that he is best at.

While very nervous in the previous rounds, Cyrus suddenly seemed calm and centered. Peaceful. Cat Deely interviewed him before he put it all on the line and he said, “There is no better feeling than being myself. I cannot wait to show the judges what I got.”

That stopped me dead in my tracks.

It represented what I call a paradigm shift.

If you haven’t already figured it out from reading my blog, I sometimes struggle with self-esteem issues, confidence issues, and body image issues. And I am also a dancer. A ballroom dancer. You know, those super sexy and elegant creatures, very feminine, confident, love having all the attention on them. Like, the very opposite of how I generally feel inside. But that is not why I am a dancer. I am a dancer because I was born that way, even if I didn’t even realize it for portions of my life. Dance lives inside me. My job, my biggest struggle, is to simply let it out, get out of my own way. To halt my hang-ups and insecurities, and analysis to paralysis, and negative thinking from getting in the way of the expression of that greater spirit that sometimes comes out when I let it.

So when Cyrus said what he said about there being nothing better than being himself and being so excited to share that with the judges, it was like, what? That thought never occurred to me.

You see, my aim for the Desert Classic, the goal behind the goal if you will, is not just to dance well, or place high, or even to get a top student award, it is actually to allow myself to be seen. To have dances full of pure dance, connection, joy. To let myself go to the places I usually keep dammed up, closed. I guess, in the end, it’s really about being vulnerable. Like some part of me is afraid to really let that show because I don’t necessarily feel like Cyrus. I don’t always feel like it’s awesome to be me. If I don’t feel great about myself, why would I want to share it? I’d want to only reveal the polished veneer, to look good.

You know, in theory, I believe we are all special, even me. We all have our own unique greatness. But when it comes to actually feeling that way about myself I waver between delusions of grandeur and being a squashed bug. Like in my dancing, sometimes I think I’m awesome. Other times, I feel like I can’t do anything right.

But the part of me that is actually awesome is bigger than any dance technique. It’s the part that my friend Colette saw when I danced on my birthday with Ivan. She told me, “I don’t know if it was the wine, but when you danced that night you shone.” It’s the part that my mom saw that brought her to tears when I danced in the showcase. It’s the part that gives Ivan goosebumps every once in a while when we dance together, like happened this morning for no particular reason I could discern.

But OMG, do you know what he told me Monday morning? There I was, struggling through more Rumba walks (in my head concentrating on my hips, getting over my feet, not slapping them on the floor, making my arms move, not dying because of the cardio, etc, etc, etc.) I was in the space of knowing that what I was doing just wasn’t good enough. That I was lacking proper technique…something Ivan was quick to remind me of, correcting something every few steps. And he tells me some fixes, and I do the best I can to implement them and you know what he tells me? He says, “I jealous of you.”

Like, say WHAT? Back that train up!

Here is this man, this amazing dancer. This person that I look up to and wish I could move like him, or Marieta. And he’s telling me that he’s jealous of me. I couldn’t believe it.

Like, what on earth did he have to be jealous of?

He explained. “You getting it so quickly! I have to practicing years and years and I never move like this. It’s cause you have talent.”

I have always thought that it really wasn’t talent. It was the fact that I danced as a kid and had a great teacher who knew her technique in ballet, tap, and jazz. I worked really hard to be moderately good in those genres, but I knew I’d never be able to do say the kind of dancing that is performed on SYTYCD. I knew I’d never be a professional dancer.

But ballroom is different. Not only is all about connection and partnering, but it seems to fit the way my body moves like a glove. By this I mean my hips are very flexible. Apparently this is not the case for a lot of people. I never gave it a second thought because it just came naturally to me. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of technique to absorb, and a lot of working it though, but I think the base is there.

Anyways, I thought Ivan was totally off his rocker. I would give anything to move like he and Marieta or Inna…but then again, maybe I should rethink that?

You know, on Tuesday night I went to get my butt kicked in Inna’s class and we did Rumba, Cha Cha, and Samba. There is some tricky stuff in all three dances to master, and Inna often has students demonstrate what we are working on. It’s good because it gets us used to performing, being in front of others, being uncomfortable. etc. So at one point she had me do a Samba combination across the floor.

As an aside, I think I am actually doing better in the class in terms of stamina. Trust me, it’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but we had a new student in the class who looked like she was really fit. Even she was like, “When is this class gonna be over?” I had to laugh. I’ve so been there! But at least last night I was hanging in there pretty well.

So back to the Samba combo. Anyways, after class Inna said to me, “I love your Samba.”

Wow! That’s so cool. And I was like, “Thanks Inna.”

“It’s so much better!” She said.

Which is true. I actually had a lesson with her while Ivan was in Bulgaria getting married specifically to work on my Samba bounce – that tricksy movement! So she knew where I had started from.

Anyways, that felt like a pretty good acknowledgement. See, Stef, there has been progress. You are becoming a better dancer. Enough that others notice.

But every time I think about the Desert Classic, which happens multiple times during the day, I get butterflies in my stomach. Part of me is excited. Part of me is nervous.

I wonder if I will have the stamina to do what I need to do. I waver between being okay with how my body is because it isn’t going to change all that much between now and the competition, and just trusting that I move well and will be expressive and that it will be enough, and then freaking out because I am going to look so different from most of my competitors.

Well, I guess I’m deciding right now that screw it. Screw it all! Screw all the chatter in my head! It just needs to shut up!

Instead I’ll listen to Ivan and the music. I will tune into the dance.

I’m big. But I’ll be big in all ways, not just in my ass. I will be noticed. And not just for my size. I think it’s kind of unavoidable that I will be noticed for that initially. But that doesn’t have to be the main attraction. Instead, I will then begin to move. And from then on, I will be noticed because I will shine.

You know, I’ve got to get over myself and just set aside all this B.S. I will find my inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer and love being me, at least for the time that I’m dancing. I will find my inner Cyrus and be so excited to “show those judges what I’ve got.” Whatever that looks like in the moment.

I suppose I’m giving myself a little pep talk here on the blog, well so be it.

This is my time to shine. Carpe Diem and all that.