Hitting World-Ranked Pros In The Head…’Cause That Is How I Roll

I have amazing news.

I have been to ballroom hell, and I survived it!  Heck!  I even enjoyed myself a bit.

You see, ever since I began taking Inna’s Advanced International Latin class on Tuesday nights, she’s always ended the class by saying how sad she is (wink, wink), that we’ve run out of time, and that we won’t be able to do the Jive that evening.

This is where I went to “ballroom hell” by taking Inna’s Jive class….but it’s also where I find a bit of ballroom Nirvana. I’m so grateful to get to dance here!

Usually we all groan, and sigh in relief.  Jive is freakin’ hardcore cardio for 2 minutes straight!  Not easy in a fit body, much more difficult carrying the extra weight of an entire person on your frame.  So, I always dreaded the day that we would do Jive in class.  I didn’t expect it to come so soon.  But Tuesday it happened!

Not even a warm-up Rumba!  Inna went straight for the jugular.

“Oh shit!” I thought.

But…..

I coped.

I managed.

Maybe only dancing the routine one time through with any quality before my cardiovascular capacity (er…or the lack thereof) would stop me.  I’d huff and puff a minute or so and get back to it.  And, you know what, as pathetic of shape as I may be in at this point, it is a heck of a lot better than when I first began.  In fact, I was even reflecting that Inna saw me about 2 years ago at my highest weight, when I’d just come back to ballroom dancing.  She’s actually seen the entire journey so far, which is kind of cool.  And, even cooler, we both know there has been progress.  (At the end of class I told her my strategy is to go as full-out as I can until I can’t and then recover and then go at it again during class and that eventually I WILL be able to make it through the entire thing.  I commented that I did think it was better than at the beginning, and she wholeheartedly agreed.)

Anyways, Inna showed us how we were supposed to bounce on our feet and taught us a little combo that involved a basic, some kicks all around, and some chasses.  It is important to have the body forward, the arms forward and relaxed, and no hips!  That was a bid admonition!  NO HIPS IN THE JIVE!

But then, after that, Inna, being Inna, upped the ante.  It’s never just simply about the steps with her.  I always get more.  She always shares a golden nugget, and this Tuesday was no different.

She split the class in half and had the first half dance the routine while the rest of us, including her, tried to distract them.  Their object was to stay focused, calm, to stay in their performance regardless of our obnoxious intrusions.

So that was fun, of course, to try and bug my classmates.  But then, alas, it was my turn.

I did pretty well, I think.  My biggest limitation being lack of breath and inexperience with the technique of the dance.  But I didn’t let that stop me.  I did the routine with my friend up in my grill, and looked her directly in the eye until my legs and lungs gave out.

As I was breathing deeply to recover I heard the soundtrack to Jaws playing through my brain.

Inna, like a shark stalking its prey had arrived to my end of the room.  She could see I was struggling.

“Are you okay?”  She asked.  “Can you do it?”

I nodded in assent, gulped in one last breath of air, and set to it.

Inna didn’t hold back.  She got even more in my face than my friend had.  It was actually quite fun.  But it did goof me up a little bit…Inna is pretty intimidating to have in your space.  I used to be afraid of her from afar when I first saw her at my old dance studio.  She just has such a presence.  Anyways, I feel more confident now, but still, come on!  She a world-ranked pro!

So she got in my face and instead of doing two sets of the basic before launching into the kicks, I only did one set.  But I thought I recovered pretty well.  I simply smiled and told her I’d changed the choreography as I continued to dance toward her.  Then, on the way back, she danced right beside me.  As I switched my arms, my left arm hit her in the head!

LOLOLOLOLOL!

It messed up her hair, but not much more than that.  It was truly a glancing blow.  It just sounds much more dramatic if I say I hit her.  But, still, you know, well Inna….you got in my space!  This is what happens when you get in MY space!  And I’m now, after this exercise (and a lot of other background work) I’m holding my space like never before.

So that made me giggle.  And I’m glad I didn’t injure anybody, including myself.  I think I deserve a sparkly t-shirt that says “I survived Jive class with Inna!”  kind of like how my husband got an orange headband for completing a Tough Mudder.  (It’s about as hard, I think ha ha)

Anyways, as the class was about to close, Inna invited us to do the Jive routine one last time.

“Imagine it is the last round of your scholarship.  Or the last 10 minutes of the final round.  How do you want to dance?”  She asked.

“Give it all.”  She told us.  “Because, no matter how you place, if you do your very best and leave it all on the floor and know that, you won’t feel badly about it.  But if you know you gave up, gave in, didn’t give it all you have, then when you get placed lower, you will wonder if you could have made the final round, or 2nd place instead of 3rd.”

She reminded me that it’s all tough but there is the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.  I have to remember this each time I practice.

Even more so, with what she said next after we had danced.

“How did you end?”

Most of us had made it to the end of the routine and collapsed, mentally, and physically.  We immediately lost focus.  It was apparent in our body language that we were relieved to be done, that it had been a huge effort, and that we were tired.

She demonstrated for us.

I was like, ohhhhhh.  Yeah.  I so do that.

“It’s the last 10 seconds when the judges are making their decision.  Who is the last couple to be placed in the final round?  Who should be 1st and who should be 2nd?  This may be the moment they make that decision!  What do you want to show them in that moment?  How do you want to end?”

Again, a nugget of pure gold.  I appreciate Inna and her expertise so much and I’m so grateful because it is helping me transform and grow every time I go.

The only problem is…..

Inna promised more Jive next week!  AAHHHHHHHHH!

But, yo!  I’ll be there!  (With my sparkly shirt on)  Hopefully it won’t involve hitting anyone…..

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I Love Chocolate….And My Friends, And My Mom

Sometimes I feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.  One of the very important (to me) things that sometimes gets put on the backburner when other responsibilities get in the way is writing a blog post.  You know, these things take time and between work, the commute, getting a dance lesson in, and preparing my food for my eating plan, not to mention some online writing gigs, and fitting in some time to make sure I still connect with my husband and some time to have fun and relax, well, living a balanced life is a full time prospect!  I don’t think I’d get even half of this done if I had kiddos!

Anyways, the short of it is that a lot has happened since my last blog post and I kind of don’t know where to start.  I think tonight it’s going to be a stream-of-consciousness ramble about some lessons, a boating trip (with dancing friends), and my mom’s first dance lesson, plus an update about the Desert Classic.  And Paragon, I would be happy to tell you about the dress – thanks for asking!

Let’s see….

I guess with Ivan I’ve probably had 3 lessons?  We’ve worked on all sorts of stuff, but mostly connection and expression.  As Ivan explains it to me, I’m not the first one to ever do a fan.  It’s not like people have never seen a fan before (in Cha Cha or Rumba), but how am I going to style it so I stand out?   One of the things I’m most excited about, which may sound silly, but to me is scrumptious, is the preparation to dancing (did I really just write that?  OMG, Ivan’s Bulgarian English is rubbing off on me!  What I mean is ….preparation to dance).  Especially in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha we’ve been working on Ivan placing me on the floor and then a little interaction where I am like bursting, I want to dance so bad (well, the idea is to act that way), and then he approaches, we connect, and then we begin as one.  Of course, it doesn’t always happen that smoothly, but the idea is there and I do think it will set us apart.

Also I am working on doing a better job of shifting my weight over my standing leg more quickly, and moving myself.  There are some “deadspots” in my dancing at times.  They way Ivan explains it, it’s like my engine stops working.

“You doing so good, Stefanie, to this point but then your “Check Engine” light goes on.  You run out of gas.”

Ah yes, the car metaphors abound.  Hopefully I’ll show up as a Ferrari rather than a dump truck while dancing at Desert Classic!  Ha Ha.

One thing I’m not excited about is the Jive.  Seriously, we haven’t even practiced it!  If I place last in all my Jives I will let myself off the hook!  We haven’t worked on it.  I’m just going to try and enjoy them as much as I can and let it be whatever experience it is.  I’ll expect more of myself once we’ve actually worked on the dang dance!

I’m feeling better about the stamina issue.  It looks like based on the schedule at Desert Classic that I will dance Smooth Thursday morning then Latin in the afternoon.  Friday I’ll have off to recouperate.  Then Saturday is American Rhythm.  I will wear my red and black dress for Rhythm and Smooth and I’m having a new dress made by Marietta for Latin.  I had a fitting just yesterday, and although still a work in progress, I really like it – more than I thought I would from the sketches.  It is going to be very figure flattering for me.  It’s black and gold with lovely asymmetrical draping.  If it continues along the same lines as what I saw yesterday, I’m going to feel very sexy and sleek in this frock.  Once I have it in my posession, I’ll be happy to post pictures.

Also, I’ve decided that I will get a tan this go-around.  Yes, I’m mostly covered, but go big or go home, as they say.  Why not do everything to play the part?  And time to put on the nails as well.

Okay, so besides doing what I can to get ready for Desert Classic, because seriously, there is so much I learn every day I dance, and at a certain point you just have to show up as you are – a work in progress, you know?  Well besides doing what I can to prepare, I also had some time for some R & R this weekend.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a pontoon boat for a few hours this past Sunday with my friend Colette (featured in this post ) as well as my friend Ghada, and also Ivan and Marietta.  OMG!  It was SUCH a good time.  And yes, believe it or not, we do have a few lakes here in Arizona!  Anyways, I think we talked about dance for the entire time, which is just the way I like it.  The coolest part is that Ghada, Colette, and I all take from different instructors, but we are all friends and genuinely support one another.  Like if either of those gals won, even if they beat me in competition, I’d be happy for them and celebrate.  I know they’d feel the same about me too!

And we brought Ivan along for the entertainment, and he didn’t disappoint!  As you can see, we got into some chocolate trouble.  We also danced on the boat, ate, drank, posed for pictures, talked, laughed, tanned, and floated.  It was a most relaxing day and the entire world melted away.   I just feel so very blessed to have such amazing friends.

Oh, and here’s Ivan making a “Bulgarian cocktail”  Ha Ha!  He actually was a bartender for a few years in Spain, believe it or not!

Anyways, best day ever…well, one of the best ever.

But then I had to come back to the real world.  *Sigh*

However, back in the real world, there was another exciting event on the horizon.  Remember how Ivan was like, infatuated with the idea of dancing with my mom?  Well, he convinced her to come in for a lesson!  He has it in his mind to do a showcase number to “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C & C Music Factory with her as the centerpiece.  So today she came for her very first lesson and I got to be there too!

She was really cute.

“Wow.  That is quite a drive!”  She exclaimed upon arriving.  We got started and it was really fun.  We played around making up different moves and Ivan taught mom the Cha Cha basic step.  The showcase number is going to be freestyle so we can just have a lot of fun with it and not worry too much about technique.  Mom showed us some moves from the 60’s like the Pony and the Twist and Ivan made her do side splits and we also lifted her up in the air, making a seat with our arms.  She did great for her first lesson and Ivan said she was learning quickly.  I had to laugh, though when Ivan suggested, “Chris, maybe you to coming by yourself for the next lesson so we not killing Stefanie’s lesson.”

The thing is, we are gearing up for the competition right now, and Ivan has a lot of choreography to figure out and teach my mom.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to pick it up pretty quickly, so this sounds like a good plan to me, but I’m really looking forward to the day we do this performance.  It’s going to be EPIC!

I also had to laugh when Ivan suggested to my mom, “You have to practicing.  Listen to the song lots at home and dance at home.  Discover different movements, and how the music makes you dance.  Dance in front of the mirror.  Dance in front of your husband.”

“Oh no!” Said Mom.

“Yeah!”  I laughed, “Dad probably wouldn’t watch.”  He’s not big on the dancing.  This made it especially wonderful that he came to my showcase because he had to sit through a lot of dancing before I performed.

“Okay, okay.” Interjected Mr. Ivan.  “You not dancing in front of your husband.  You save it to being a surprise!”

“Okay, Ivan.  When do you think this showcase will be?”

“In September maybe.  There is a showcase the weekend before the Galaxy competition.”

“But I’ll be in Italy from August 31st through September 18.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.  You can practicing in Italy!”

We all laughed at that.

“But we’ll see,” he said.  “Maybe we can doing it in September.  If not, there will be other events.  Maybe November or January.  It okay.”

So, the long and short of it is mom did great, Ivan is very excited about the whole thing, and at one point or another we will be performing as a trio.

Alright, last in a long list of updates, I had a lesson with Inna tonight.  Actually, she wasn’t even supposed to teach tonight!  She was supposed to be in Florida, competiting at Milennium.  But apparently there was a snag with her travel plans and she was there tonight.  I think since most people thought Inna would be gone it was a smaller class than usual.  There were only four of us plus Inna.  And you know what?  I’m SO glad I showed up tonight.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again…Inna is a master teacher.  Tonight, because the class was smaller and consisted of more experienced students, she was able to get into deeper detail and explain timing in a way such that I discovered an entire new level to it.  I actually felt it differently in my body.  And as Inna explained it, when you really get the timing and rhythm of a dance it feels like the music is dancing you rather than you dancing to the music.  I had a tiny little taste of it tonight and it was honestly a breakthrough.  Like I said, at the very end, it actually felt different in my body, and it felt good.

You know, if you are a ballroom-er, then you’ve heard about timing.  We all “know” the counts.   But wow, I’ve never understood the timing in this way before.  It took the better part of the class for Inna to get her point across, as well as many demonstrations, so I’ll probably not do the subject justice, but I’ll do my best to share what I discovered.  One of the things Inna does that is so very effective is that she will demonstrate two different ways of dancing the same steps.  This allows us to visually see two different ways of dancing.  And the thing that is so effective about it is that she will dance the steps well, with the correct timing and arms and all, but then she will dance it with that added flair that makes it look professional.  One of the hardest things to figure out as a student is how to make my movements match those of my instructors.  What is it, exactly, that makes the quality of their dancing so much more amazing than mine?

Like I can see that it is cleaner and sharper, but try as I might, I can’t always emulate this, even if I use all my abilities.  But tonight, I discovered the importance of timing.  Holy heck!  It changed everything.  And, ha ha, I thought I knew timing before, right?  I also knew that one of my less-than-stellar-habits is to pass through steps, making them look sloppy, soft, mushy, because I am so concerned about getting where I need to get two steps ahead, rather than fully completing the step I am presently in in the moment.  Oh, Ivan’s communicated the same thing, but somehow I was able to hear it more deeply from Inna tonight.

So the concept is this:  In Cha Cha, say, the counts are 2, 3, Cha Cha, 1.  There are 8 counts in the measure.  The 2, 3, and 1 are all one full beat (2 counts).  Each “Cha” is one half of a beat (one count).  Therefore, logically, the 2, 3, and 1 are movements that take more time.   The Cha Cha part should take less time.

But in my dancing, even though I’d step on the right beats and all, everything looks even.  I made 2, 3 about the same length of time, but then I made the Cha Cha, 1 like 3 even beats, instead of quick, quick, full count.  I’d rush the 3 to get to the Cha’s, power through the Cha’s to get to the 1.  Okay, again, very confusing to put into words, especially without a physical demonstration.  So if you can’t follow what I’m trying to say, sorry!  The point is that conceptually I’ve known about this construct called timing, but today, I think for the first time, I truly felt it IN my body.  Amazing.  And super hard!  OMG it takes so much concentration and energy.  But it’s worth it!

One final thought and then I have to sign off.  It’s 11:35pm and I’ve got to be up early and have a full, full day once again.  Anyways, that last thought is this:  It takes no talent to be a dancer, just discipline, and having talent as a dancer, meaning the dance comes from the inside, is paramount.

What do I mean by this?  Well, I’m talking about being able to embrace the paradox of two opposites and knowing that both are true.  The paradigm that it takes no talent to be a dancer, but it does take a mind and discipline and practice, this comes from Inna.  She said this herself to us tonight.  And I think she is right.

But also, the paradigm that having that inner dancer, being able to move and change and evolve quickly, and having the dance come from inside is more important than all the practice in the world, this comes from Ivan.  And I think he is right, too.

How can this be?  Well, I think both are essential.  There is absolutely an element of training the body and creating muscle memory through repetition and practice in the study of dancing.  There is also absolutely an element of the dance transcending the technique, and that can’t be taught.

So my feeling is, I’m so grateful to have both teachers and both paradigms in my dancing practice.  I get the yin and the yang.  The whole shebang. (And that is my poem for the night).  My practice is to embody both the discipline and the freedom.

Alright, I think my system is shutting down now.  My bed is calling!

Please Inna, Can We Just Be Done!?

Let me tell you.  At Imperial Ballroom you will get value for your dollar.

First off, the instructors there are world class.  If you aren’t a dancer already, you may not realize the caliber of instructor at this studio.  Probably the highest I’ve seen so far overall.

Secondly, if you go to the Latin Advanced Group Class on Tuesday nights, more likely than not, you will end up being there beyond the promised 45 minutes!  Holy Moley, tonight we were there for an hour and 10 minutes and I was about to die.  In my head I was like, “Inna, I need you to be done, please!”

What a double-edged sword.  The positives:  I’m paying for 45 minutes and I’m getting an extra 25, I’m getting to shed more calories, absorb more technique, and dance more, plus I’m getting Inna’s teaching expertise, corrections, and extra (and much-needed) practice.

But my body is screaming at me, “STOP!  AND STOP NOW!”

Now really, I thank my lucky stars Inna pushes us so hard.  I really need the pushing.  I need to improve this cardio situation of mine.  It, besides the extra weight I’m carrying, is probably the biggest thing holding me back right now.  I hate running, I no longer have a membership to the gym, so it is such a blessing to have this class on Tuesdays where I am guaranteed to be pushed, get my heart rate up, and work my body to its limit.  It’s not that I don’t work hard with Ivan, but he lets me have little breaks a bit more and my body is getting used to the demands placed on it during a typical lesson.  This is good, but it means it’s time to turn up the heat.

Tonight in Inna’s class, however, my body was not used to the demands placed upon it.  In fact, I took myself out of some cha-cha walks because I was audibly wheezing.  I jumped back in as soon as I was able, but I just really needed to stop.  That, or pass out on the floor.  I suppose that was the other option.

Seriously, though, I have to look at this like “progress, not perfection.”  I do see progress in my cardiovascular capacity…and….it is still nowhere close to where I need it to be.

I’ve already had a conversation with Ivan about it and told him I have a plan.  My goal is to be able to dance full-out for 10 minutes.  It may be a while before I am able to accomplish this, but I’m gonna do it.  I’m going to create a playlist of songs that are 1 minute 30 seconds, 5 in a row.  I’m gonna make he and I dance it every lesson.  As soon as it becomes manageable, we are going to do 1 minute 40 seconds, and so on, until I reach 2 minutes per song with 10 seconds of rest in between.  Heck, if I’m really enterprising, I can complete this dancing prior to our lesson on my own.  Now that would be really taking the bull by the horns, wouldn’t it?  Sheesh!  It’s so much easier with a partner, I’ll admit.  Sometimes I question how deeply committed I really am.

In any case, tonight we did some Samba movements across the floor and when we got to the end of the song, and I and many other students were gasping for breath.  Inna told us that we had only danced for 2 minutes.  I think she was letting us know that it was a very short time to dance, and that more is expected from advanced dance students.  But in my head, I was all, “That is a triumph!  Woo Hoo!  Two whole minutes!”  It may be pathetic, but it is improvement from where I came from.  I can’t beat myself up for not being at the level of a professional dancer, or even an advanced student because it just doesn’t serve me.  Yes, it makes me aware of where I want to go, but I am also committed to being as kind as I can to myself on this weight loss journey.  If being mean to myself worked, I’d be rail thin and in perfect shape by now!  Might as well embrace some self-love.

So anyways, tonight it kind of reminded me of my old days at Glenda Folk’s Dance Studio where I used to take ballet, tap, and jazz as a kid.  We were always expected to be on time, but if rehearsal went late, well, too bad.  Suck it up and be there!  In a weird way, it felt comfortable and good that Inna kept us late tonight.  I actually think it is very cool that she is so into dancing, and seeing students dancing, that she wants to squeeze every last minute out of the class that she can.  I mean, by now I know to expect not to be done by 8:30pm.  Why did I think it would be any different tonight?

This is in contrast to Ivan, though, who is so punctual and ends exactly on time for every lesson.  He’ll even call me if it is 5 minutes before the lesson and I’m not there yet (C’mon Ivan!  I’m driving 129 blocks west each time I see you!  It takes time, man!)

So, at the end of all this, I’m grateful that Inna keeps the class late but I long for the day when my body is up to the challenge and instead of meekly collapsing in a puddle of sweat and seeping out the door like a bowl of pudding it cries out, “Bring it on!  I’m ready for another 45 minutes…I mean hour and 10 minutes!  Let’s go.”

Yep.  That’ll be a day to write about in my diary.

Ivonne, You’re My Hero

Yesterday was a day of friendship.

I got to spend time with my dear friend Sonya who is a powerful and compassionate woman.  She is helping me create a transformational workshop using the metaphor of dance that I’m planning for March.  She shared with me her current struggles, and I shared my with her.  She is one of those friends you can not talk to for a year and pick up right where you left off.

I also got to hang with my new friend, Ivonne.  I met Ivonne at Dance Starz and immediately liked her.  She is vibrant and inquisitive, and has an amazing zest for life.  She’s one of those people you meet and suddenly, effortlessly, you are friends.  No need to set up a coffee date, you just fall into an easy pattern of talking on the phone and meeting up for different activities.

Finally, I got to talk to another special friend, Erin, who lives across the country and has been experiencing some very difficult health issues.  I hadn’t heard from her since I heard that she was injured, so I was thrilled that she called.  She and I enjoy one of those very deep, authentic friendships in which we can share absolutely anything with one another and will receive support, even if it looks like tough love.  She brings out the best in me, and reminds me of my specialness and awesomeness.

I treasure all my friends, so if you are reading this and you aren’t mentioned, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it just means that I didn’t see you yesterday!  So call me!  Let’s hang out soon.

Being with my friends yesterday, whether in person or on the phone was just what I needed.  I am feeling much better about myself and life after sharing with my friends.  This post, however, is mostly dedicated to Ivonne because she is a dancer like me, and this blog is, of course, mostly about dancing, right?

So Ivonne is amazing.  Let’s just start there.  She has been dancing all her life.  She has a Cuban heritage and so dancing to rhythm is in her blood.  But in terms of ballroom dancing, she just started in October.  She’s already lost a partner and gained a new one.  And, get this, she’s already committed to doing a competition next month!  Can you believe it?  This girl doesn’t mess around.  I have rarely experienced this level of courage and committment in others.  But with Ivonne, it is just one of her traits.  She regularly dives head-first into experiences that may be beyond her current abilities.  Listen, she blew me away when she told me about racing a Chinese Dragon Boat.  How many people would say yes to an experience like that, especially when she just showed up because they needed one extra person on the team?  They won gold!

I think being Ivonne’s friend is going to be a rich, effervescent adventure and I can hardly wait.  It could also be very dangerous because she is comfortable with being uncomfortable.  She has made it a habit to get out of her comfort zone, something I admire greatly about her, and want to do a bit more in my own life….but that comes with a price….the price of being uncomfortable, and even, gasp! failing once in a while.  That, I have yet to experience as fun, but this I know:  If you’re not failing at anything, then you’re not doing anything.  (Hmmm, I should listen to my own advice)

So last night Ivonne came with me to Inna’s class at Imperial studio.  Inna and Artem are busy placing first in the Rising Star category of the UK championship (Congratulations, guys!) so Igor taught the class.

I personally had a great time.  It was actually pretty enjoyable for me, for once, because we wern’t doing cardio intervals in the form of Cha Cha combinations across their football-field-sized ballroom.  Rather, we focused on technique.  I especially liked the exercise he did taking each body part one at a time.  We did the same combination over and over but first we focused only on our feet, trying to make them absolutely perfect, forgetting about anything else.  Then we worked on the legs, then the hips, then the arms, then presentation.  Finally we did it (ahem, attempted) to incorporate all aspects.  He also had each student step forward and dance in front of the rest of us one-by-one.

Now, mind you, this is still an advanced level course.  When Ivonne asked me if she could come, I didn’t want to discourage her.  How many times are people passionate about something and others throw cold water on them to dampen their spirits, to tell them what is “reasonable” to do?  Well, the heck with that!  I think if Ivonne wanted to be there, then Ivonne should be there.  No matter what, she could create value for herself, even if it was just by watching, even if she wasn’t yet able to do everything presented.  Also, who am I to determine Ivonne’s limitations?  I think Ivan has proven to me that I don’t even know my own limitations, so how can I possibly presume to determine them for another human being.  So I decided to encourage Ivonne to join me.  Maybe I could have mentioned that there is another class on Wednesday that might be less intimidating, or demanding, but even if I had, I have a feeling that Ivonne wouldn’t have backed down from the challenge.

So Ivonne came and told me about a quarter of the way in that it was way over her head.  Oh well!  She hung in there, did what she could, and even got in front of the class (Igor was kind enough to stand beside her for some support) just like us regular students.

I love her courage.

At the end of the class, Ivonne shared with me that she felt a little defeated, just like I had felt after Marieta’s class on Monday.  But, also like me, she knew it would pass.

What a Samurai!

I’m just so proud of my new friend.  She is open to the full experience of life and even the threat of potentially failing in the moment doesn’t deter her.  I am excited for her as she prepares for the Dancesport Jam in Tucson, Arizona next month.  I’m also excited for me because I get to watch her journey as she kicks butt and takes names and because she is my friend.

So for Tuesday, January 17, 2012, Ivonne, you are my hero.  Just thought you should know.  Love, Stef

Toni, You’re Awesome

I think that about 85% of life is just showing up.  What I mean by this is that when I choose to show up for various events in my life, I open myself to the possibilities of new and wonderful experiences.  Last night, I showed up for a group class.  I was the only one.  So, it ended up being a private lesson, but only because I showed up.

I decided to go to Imperial Studio last night because they are starting a new American Rhythm class and of all the studios I frequent, this one is the closest.  Also, I know the instructor, Toni, used to compete professionally so I think she has a lot of valuable knowledge that I could benefit from.  Here is a picture of the lovely Toni from the Imperial website:  http://www.imperialballroomdance.com/

So I arrive and the door is locked!  But the lights are on and in a second Toni pops up from behind the front desk and lets me in.  The studio is eerily quiet.  Usually when I come for Inna’s group class, it is very busy and full of people and music.  Toni puts the stereo on and we proceed.  She asks me if I have done American Rhythm, before (yes), who I dance with (Ivan Dishliev), and if I compete (yes).  Then she asks me to dance a little with her leading so she can check out what she’s working with.

Not bad, she says, but there is always something that can be worked on.  A person could stay in bronze for their entire life and still find fundamental technique to work on.  It is great, because she acknowledges that my footwork is there, so now its time to focus on the next layer of movement.  Another amazing thing about Toni is that she also has a background in ballet.  She really understands body mechanics and does a great job as the lesson progresses in explaining how to perform the movements to create the desired look.

We focus on the basic Rumba box.  We take each step of the box one by one and dissect it.  First we simply focus on the set up for the first step.  I’m to imagine that the floating wooden floor on which I’m standing is a sandbox.  I want to press down through the top layer into the bottom so that sand is covering my feet.  Next, Toni talks about twisting the hips opposite the shoulders so that I create a “bow and arrow” tension in my body.  This sets me up so I can spring forward from one step to the next.  Finally, she demonstrates that when stepping to the side, she allows the ankle to drop and puts weight on both the toe and the heel of her shoe.  I’ve been practicing doing it only on the ball of my foot.  I keep these new concepts in mind as we take the first step.

It quickly becomes apparent that one of my “bad habits” is to dump my hips.  I’ve never heard this terminology, but what it essentially means (I think) is that partly because my hips are so flexible and partly because I hear a constant refrain of “more hips!” from my instructors, I overshoot settling in my hip, creating a collapsing of the upper body which causes lack of balance, slower movement, getting stuck, and less aesthetically pleasing lines.  Most importantly, it causes my movements to be less grounded and less controlled.  Instead of working the hips so much side to side or up and down, I should be twisting them opposite of my upper body, wringing it around the spine as an axis like someone squeezing out a wet towel.  I get what she is saying and instantly my dancing transforms.  I love moments like this, where something suddenly becomes clear and the quality of my movement metamorphoses.

She also talks about using the back foot to help propel me forwards.  I’ve heard this one before but it is not a habit yet.  It adds a large amount of momentum to my movement so that I go off balance momentarily but it also makes the movement more grounded and clear.

Toni is bubbly and enthusiastic and we continue chatting through the lesson.  She has some interesting ways to help me remember a few pointers.  First, she shows me the “frowning bellybutton” move to help me to remember how to move my hips when transferring weight from my right foot to left foot on the side step of the Rumba box.  (By the way, there is also an X-rated name for this move, but you’ll have to take a lesson from Toni to find out what it is!)

She also talks about how to hold my midsection.  I’m to picture a fishhook going through my bellybutton and pulling it up to under my ribs.  This will help me to pull upwards and create space in the body for movement.

She explains that I should also use my “pee muscles” in the pelvis and abdomen since they are my core.  The movement should be generated from the core.  This is most dramatically exemplified when we work on a cross-over.  First she points out her pet peeve of people turning out the foot rather than keeping it parallel the step before the cross-over.  Paradoxically, already moving in the direction you will step next makes it more difficult to get there in the next step.  Then she explains that by simply generating movement from the knee and hip the swivel will be faster, more dynamic, and cleaner.  And it is.  It has never felt so easy before to do a crossover alone.  We high-five and decide to end the lesson on a high note.

Toni really knows how to create some beautiful and sexy movement in her midsection.  She tells me that watching me, the thing that catches her eye is my good footwork.  But after the lesson, I’m dancing more grounded into the floor, and generating more movement in the rest of my body rather than just my feet.  It is amazing that spending just 45 minutes with a person can transform my dancing and provide an entirely new perspective on how to do things.

At the end of the lesson, I thank Toni for her help and say I’m so glad she is now a part of the Imperial Studio.  “Thanks,” she says, “And tell everyone else how awesome I am.”

Okay.  So Toni, this blog post is dedicated to you.  You are awesome.  I’m glad I got to have a private lesson with you and found what you had to share very valuable.  And now everyone else knows it too!