My Expensive Alien Hand

I’m so glad that holidays are finally over!  Why?  Because they really threw a wrench in my normal routine.  Dance classes were cancelled, or I was working extra hours to make up the time taken off.  I’ve missed two weeks of ballet, three weeks of Inna’s class, and only seen a little bit of Mr. Ivan.

But a few days ago I got back to ballet and though I screw up a lot, and it’s difficult, there are also moments where my body remembers how to be aligned properly and balance.  In those moments I feel open and free.  It’s pretty amazing.  But, sadly, I ended up straining my left calf.  It takes quite a bit of brute force to maintain some of the required positions, especially in my current body size, and my standing leg was strained to the point of shaking from fatigue while my working leg was doing what it needed to do.  I ended up bowing out of doing jumps, but did finish the class and I did go to see Ivan afterwards for a lesson.

It wasn’t actually injured, and with some ice and heat and lots of stretching, it’s already pretty much back to normal, though I skipped ballet the following night because I knew the teacher tonight does a ton of jumps and I didn’t want to risk injuring myself or having to sit out half of the class.

Otherwise, my legs feel good, worked out, slightly sore, and I can see a faint glimmer of their old dancing shape beginning to emerge.  Of course being off for over two weeks hasn’t been ideal, but I’m looking forward to the strength, flexibility, and lengthening that will be coming soon after more consistent attendance.

As far as things with Ivan go, we are continuing to work on our routines, and we began to develop the idea for a showcase number to that song “True Colors” from Glee that was really inspiring to me (http://vimeo.com/37544876) mentioned in a previous post.  I love that Ivan is so cool about stuff like this.  It means a lot to me – there is a lot of my own personal story that I want to put in the dance, and it’s really special to get to create something to express myself in this way.

And I also learned a new Cha Cha Step:

A new step in the Cha Cha

But the big thing that remains is the weight.  I’ve ordered a new diet plan which arrived early this week and the plan is to commit to that and more exercise and to show up looking different at the next competition, (which, if you haven’t seen on the Facebook page, I’m looking for advice on which competitions to go to this year).  That’s honestly my main focus (besides work) right now.

As Ivan says, I could stop dancing today but if I lost the weight than everything would change even without any practice.  Well, that isn’t gonna happen because I love it too much and dancing is part of my healing process, but I’ve had enough of my belly getting in the way of stretching, and being limited in what I can do dance-wise because of my body.  I can’t wait to not worry about what I’m going to wear and spend time finding the outfit that will make me look the least fat.  It’s for the birds.  Enough is enough.  This is my year.  It has to be.  I’ve decided.  Because I have big aspirations and this is going to get me closer. I’m drawing my line in the sand, declaring my intention, and refusing to let this hinder me any more.  And so far this diet plan is working really well for me.  I’ve been able to stick to it all week, and I don’t feel stressed out about it or like I’m starving or anything.  The biggest problem is that there is mandatory overtime right now so even without exercise or a dance lesson, I’m putting in 12 hour days, and working weekends.  Things will get better once the peak season is over, but the diet thing is a big step in the right direction and I’m going to get in whatever activity I can for now (like I’m committed to always using the stairs at work…a small thing but I think it will add up over time), with plans to make it more scheduled in the future.

Speaking of, even though I had to work today, I was able to schedule it so that I could fit a double lesson in with Ivan this morning.  I think this post is long enough so I’ll just mention two things.  First, I had a Dr. Strangelove/Alien Hand Syndrome moment this morning.

Dr strangelove peter sellers

By Directed by Stanley Kubrick, distributed by Columbia Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like for reals, yo!  We all know I have arm styling issues. As Ivan said, teasingly, “On Alemana, I never know what arms you gonna use.  It always a surprise.  And always you look dyslexic like a chicken.”  (Ivan Bulgarian-English translation of dyslexic is uncoordinated even though it doesn’t mean anything close to that!)

Well, anyways, we are working on perfecting the Cha Cha routine, still breaking down each count and movement so I will know what I am doing, and on this one part I’m supposed to pause and look back at Ivan and I decided I’d put my arm on my neck for styling but yeah, it didn’t work so well.  My arm kind of spasmed this way and that, unsure of where to place itself.  It almost had a mind of its own, but it was a very confused mind.  I just thought it was funny and it made me think of Dr. Strangelove Syndrome.  I’m weird like that.

The second thing I’ll mention has to do with a comment Ivan made while we were dancing.  I was doing a move and he was like, “No!  Why you rushing?  This is expensive movement.  Show how expensive it is.”  It was a weird way to phrase it, but it is actually a very, very true statement.  Every step I’ve learned, every step I work to perfect is expensive…in the literal sense it has cost me money and time and effort.  But just like Chanel perfume or a pair of Versace gloves, you can tell the quality, the expense that went into making it.  Well, that’s how I want to highlight my dancing, as a luxurious and beautiful expression, the quality of the movement demonstrated in a millisecond, and the money, time, and effort behind making it seem effortless recognized by those with the eyes to see.  I mean we all want to look like the pros when we dance, but are we willing to “pay our dues” and work as if we were pros, even if we are not?  I want to clothe myself in the finest metaphorical silk, but am I willing to weave the silk to make the cloth in the first place?

It makes me think of this status post from Joy In Motion.  If you haven’t liked her page, go do so.  She’s primarily about Lindy Hop but shares all sorts of wonderful dance-related thoughts, blog posts, and videos.  I’ve enjoyed following her on “the Facebook.”  Anyways, here is the quote:

“By nature, we humans shrink from anything that seems possibly painful or overtly difficult. We bring this natural tendency to our practice of any skill. Once we grow adept at some aspect of this skill, generally one that comes more easily to us, we prefer to practice this element over and over. Our skill becomes lopsided as we avoid our weaknesses. Knowing that in our practice we can let down our guard, since we are not being watched or under pressure to perform, we bring to this a kind of dispersed attention. We tend to also be quite conventional in our practice routines. We generally follow what others have done, performing the accepted exercises for these skills.

This is the path of amateurs. To attain mastery, you must adopt what we shall call Resistance Practice. The principle is simple—you go in the opposite direction of all of your natural tendencies when it comes to practice.

First, you resist the temptation to be nice to yourself. You become your own worst critic; you see your work as if through the eyes of others. You recognize your weaknesses, precisely the elements you are not good at. Those are the aspects you give precedence to in your practice. You find a kind of perverse pleasure in moving past the pain this might bring. Second, you resist the lure of easing up on your focus. You train yourself to concentrate in practice with double the intensity, as if it were the real thing times two. In devising your own routines, you become as creative as possible. You invent exercises that work upon your weaknesses. You give yourself arbitrary deadlines to meet certain standards, constantly pushing yourself past perceived limits. In this way you develop your own standards for excellence, generally higher than those of others.

In the end, your five hours of intense, focused work are the equivalent of ten for most people. Soon enough you will see the results of such practice, and others will marvel at the apparent ease in which you accomplish your deeds.”

– Robert Greene

Well, it blew my mind.  And, it made me want to work harder!  I found it extremely motivating, and it also helped me focus my intent behind my new diet.  So, weird Alien hand moves aside, I’m really excited about the coming year and where my dancing will take me.  The only caveat to the above quote is that while being a critic of my weaknesses, I pledge to hold them compassionately.   It’s way too easy for me to be hard on myself, so I intend to do the good work as suggested by this Robert Greene, but in a kind, self-loving context – this doesn’t mean being blind to my faults, denying them, or excusing them, but it does mean loving myself while pushing myself in a bold, disciplined, focused and intense manner.  With any luck, I will generate results similar to this other gem of “the Facebook,” Rick, a very inspiring dude down from 426 pounds!!

And I guess that’s it for now!  I uploaded some fun pics from the dance camp on the Facebook page for BGintheB and videos will follow shortly of the pro show from the dance camp, choreography presented, as well as video from the Imperial Ballroom Holiday Showcase (including the routine that won the Ohio Star Ball Showdance for the International Ballroom division from Artem and Inna)  – it just takes a long time to upload them from my phone, so if you haven’t liked it yet, remember I do post some extra content there.

So for now, good night!

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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…..

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!

Musicality With Master Teacher Inna

Seriously.  Every time I make it to Inna’s Latin class on Tuesdays I gain so much.

Tonight when I got there I saw Igor was teaching the International Ballroom group class instead of Artem and I had a little hope that maybe he would teach the Latin tonight as well, that maybe Inna and Artem were out of town or something.  Why?  Well, he kicks my butt…but Inna kicks it more.  I thought it might be a little bit of a reprieve.  But then Inna came out from the back and I whispered to Igor behind my hand, “I kinda wished you were teaching tonight because Inna kicks my butt.”  He laughed.  “No, tonight Inna’s going to kick your butt.”  Then louder I replied,  “I mean, I’m so glad Inna’s teaching tonight because she’s gonna kick my butt!”

Someone asked Inna what we were going to work on for the evening and she just smiled slyly saying, “Something fun.”

“Uh oh,” I muttered under my breath, imagining we’d be doing the Jive non-stop for the next hour.

After our usual welcome message and lining up in a row to bow and curtsey before the class is to begin, the blond powerhouse decided we should warm up with Samba.  Holy hell!  As I sit here writing this the muscles above my knees are aching and I know tomorrow my abs are gonna burn.  But it was good stuff.  We did the basic, front and back, working on bending our knees and thrusting our pelvis forward and back to get the bounce.  Then we added the whisk to the mix.  Then the arms.  Then she said, “And now we are gonna do this for 10 minutes.” Some people smirked, but I looked at my friend, Barb with a knowing look just as Inna said, “I’m serious.”  We were like, “We know” to one another.

But in reality I can seriously only do like three sets of the combination with the arms, they are so fast and my upper limbs are super heavy.  So, as per usual, I danced full-out doing as best I could, then resting doing the footwork sans arms, then adding them back in once more.  Next we did Samba walks across the floor.  I was warm and tingling, gasping for breath and red and wet with sweat.  Nice warm up Inna!

So then came the fun part.  And you know what….it really was.

Inna was going to teach us about musicality in the body.  The specific type of movement we were going to work on is called Impact, at least that is what I think she was saying.  To me it kind of sounded like “Em-pat” but the movement she demonstrated was to move and stop.  Sharp, staccato movements.

Pretty much we got to strike a pose.  She didn’t care if it was a dance movement.  It could be an arm, a foot, a shoulder, the head.  But we had to move on the count of three and stop.  She counted a Cha Cha rhythm.  So she called me and one other gal to stand in the front of the class after we had done it in a group for a while. I played around and even hit my behind just for fun!  And did the robot, you know, like from the 80’s?  It was super fun.

Then we got to be a clapping orchestra.  Inna separated us in to groups and we clapped parts of the Cha Cha rhythm…1,2,3, cha cha, 1,2,3, cha cha.  Then we stomped it.  Then we did it to music.  It took a while some time for people to hear the beat.  They were rushing sometimes, but eventually we all got in sync.

Next, Inna explained that we could all now hear the Cha Cha beat, and we understood Impact movement, but that there were other types of Musicality in the body.  There can be continuous movement, like in a Rumba.  And Pulsing movement, like in a Bolero, where you hit a pose but then continue extending the movement slowly.  And there is Swing, like in the Ballroom dances where the big movement is in the middle of the stride, but that is not used in Latin dances so much.  And there is Vibration, which was fun and she made us all do it….just wiggling small and fast all over the body.  She said we were all good at that one.  And then staccato movement, which is the Impact movement only faster.  We weren’t going to work on these types of movement, but it is good to know about them.  This kind of stuff is rarely discussed on lessons.

So then it was time to put the Impact body Musicality together with the Cha Cha rhythm.  I think this increased the difficulty by 150%.  We did our usual Cha Cha routine but this time extra sharp.  And, this made it extra hard.  In fact, she said, “If it is more difficult, then you are doing it right.”  I guess I was successful because man, that was a beast!  It takes so much energy to hit each pose with force and then stop myself so sharply.  I could barely do the combination two times in a row and normally, when I move softer and more continuously, I can make it across the floor.

Class ended, we bowed and curtsied, but afterwards I had to tell Inna my experience.  “Inna, every time I come to this class, I just gain so much.  I really feel like you are a master teacher.  It is so wonderful.  Thank you.”  She gave me a hug.

I mean it.  Very sincerely.  And I’m bummed I missed last week when they worked on facial expressions!  Again, invaluable stuff for the competitive dancer like me and I bet that class was a riot!  I’ve got to go as much as I possibly can.  I don’t want to miss a single minute, you know?

So at the end of the day, before I see who got the boot on DWTS tonight, I’m reflecting on my dance life.  I just feel so completely blessed to be learning not only from Ivan, but from Inna too.  I am so grateful for my teachers.  They are worth every penny and every minute.  I count myself extremely lucky to be able to learn from pros like these.

Happily Running Toward A Punch In The Face

I haven’t danced with Ivan since last Thursday which feels like an eternity to me.  If I had unlimited resources, I’d probably want to dance 5 days a week, doing double lessons each day.  That is cost prohibative at my current income level, and with the level of uncertainty surrounding my current job, I’ve had to cool my jets and am limiting myself to two single lessons weekly, plus one extra one on the weekend every other week when I am not on call.  Once I become world-famous and am featured on Oprah’s Lifeclass, that will probably change.  But until it does, such is my reality.  Ha Ha.

So it is time I respect and cherish and I am grateful to even be able to afford what I can.  I think that for another of the Topic Series I’m going address the exorbitant cost of ballroom dancing.  Now that is a juicy discussion to begin!

But for this post I’m going to describe my dance lesson since my personal experiences are one of the more “charming” aspects of the blog. 🙂

So I arrived and one of the church members where we dance was mopping the floor.  I have to take a moment and just appreciate the people who do that kind of job, and especially this young woman because she was a volunteer.  But seriously, it is so wonderful to have people who take care of the dance floor and that I don’t have to do it!

Ivan arrived just after me bearing strawberries.  Although I refused multiple times, in the end he just shoved one in my mouth.  I tasted more finger than berry.  Thanks Ivan.  I got him back though.  Later in the lesson I was spinning around and I elbowed him in the gut.  Take that you dancing Bulgarian!

Well, still, I think the joke’s on me.  At one point my foot slipped on the floor and I hit the ground.  It was kind of a slow tumble toward the floor.  I was trying to save it. But when I finally hit the wood Ivan was smiling.  Um, thanks for the compassion, dude!

“This so good!”

“What are you talking about, Ivan?  I just fell.”

“I push you.”

“How is this good?”

“We surviving your knees.”

“???”

“You falling with all your weight over one foot.  I see this happen before and the lady’s knee go sideways.  Yeow!  They call the 911.”

Apparently Ivan felt like he saved me from knee-replacement surgery.  Maybe he did.  I can’t say.  But it didn’t feel like anything too bad was going to happen.  I twisted my left ankle, my weaker one, a little bit, but I’m okay.

So anyways I hopped back up after a moment and we were off again.

Today we began with Waltz.  I get a bit frustrated with myself because I know that the way I’m dancing it looks more like walking than the sweeping, large, flowing movement that is supposed to happen.  I mean, I’ve seen how Artem and Inna do it.  Though I realize they are world-class competitors, and I’m probably not ever going to look like that, I want to at least aim to get as close to it as I can.  Ivan was challenging me to reach more with my steps and trust me, I want to do it.  I just feel completely out of control doing it, like I could fall at any moment.  As Ivan says, at this point we are doing “very nice walking,” but we need to extend and push ourselves.  I agree.  I just wish my body would get the message.  I’m supposed to stretch on the “one” count.  Ivan kept repeating “One. One. One. One.” as we danced around the periphery of the room.

Let me just say that I don’t feel like Smooth dances are my forte, but I am beginning to enjoy them more and more.  Maybe after a few more years, and some concentrated practice, I’ll be able to look better than I do today.  But then, too, another part of me is okay with being better in Latin and Rhythm if that ends up being the case.  I love those dances deeper, at least right now in my journey.

I think one of the highlights of today was dancing lead-follow in Rumba.  I love it when Ivan does that.  At a certain point he was like, “You dancing everything because you know the routine.  You not paying attention.”

But then he began to gently lead me, and I tuned in to the signals, and it was fantastic.  Seriously, this is my favorite part of ballroom dancing….and the most precarious part as well.  Why?  Because it feels so good when I am successful that I get excited and then lose concentration for a split second in my wonder, and screw up the very next thing.  As Ivan says, I need to feel that excitement but stay in control.

During this portion of the lesson he led me without touching, and then we initiated contact.  He liked it when he offered his hand but I took my time to accept the invitation.  He would pause and extend various movements that normally we brush right through.  He also took a moment to let his arm go up and around before beginning and I mirrored him without a thought because I was just that tuned in.  There is something so magical about being so in sync.  Did I mention I love that?  I know, I know….broken record.  But seriously, I hope one day we will dance like that in competition.  I hope that someday soon we will bring that level of relaxed, focused, tuned in, fantastic energy with us and make it seem as effortless as it can feel.

By the way….I’m itching to do a competition.  It’s been September since I last competed.  Competitions require such a high level of financial resources so I have to pick and choose which ones to participate in very carefully.  Again, limited resources.  It’s been over six months, though, and I’m having moments where I feel so good, that I want to put myself out there again and see if others sense the improvement too.

Anyways, back to the lesson at hand.  We then worked on Bolero.  I was proud of myself for remembering to contract before extending on the “Romantica” step….until I realized I forgot to do the set up properly, and that I’m screwing up the timing of the second part of the move.  Still, it’s improvement.  I remembered.  And I had Ivan to remind me of the other parts.

This is where the title of this post comes in.  Before going into the “Romantica,” Ivan leads me forward and I do a 180 degree turn.  I’m supposed to step straight forward and hold the pose, standing on my right leg and pointing my left behind me, to make a clear “picture” before completing the rest of the movement.  But I was slurring through it, stepping forward and turning at the same time, instead of letting the movements be distinct and clear.

So Ivan reminds me of this little detail and puts his hand up eye level as if dancing to the song, “Stop, In The Name Of Love” by Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The amazing thing is, I just went for it.  No thought about it.  I just trusted.  No fear.  Fear didn’t even cross my mind.  I was Fearless!

Ivan actually had to point this out to me.  He was pretty excited about it.

“You trusting me!  You not scary!” (scary = scared in Ivan)

So the next time we did it, he upped the ante.  He made a fist.

Again, I just went for it.  Stepping directly into his fist.  Doing so unscathed, unhurt, and unafraid.

Fantastic.

So today I’m celebrating.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the fact that I get to ballroom dance even at all, even if it costs an arm and a leg.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the people who support me, who I may not even know, but who play a role in my dancing, like the girl who was cleaning the space in which I dance.  And finally, I’m celebrating being fearless.  For someone who generally lives in a state of high-anxiety, I’m acknowledging the brave, calm, centered tiger within.

What will you celebrate today?  I want to hear about it!

Toodles, Stefanie

It Must Be The Skirt

Today was a stellar dancing day. I mean, stellar. Not only did Ivan like my dancing, but Inna did too. If they are saying I’m doing a good job, then I’m doing a good job.

I’ve decided it must be my new practice skirt. It’s magic. Kind of like the red shoes. Just kidding, but it is still fun to wear because of the movement it generates.

Marietta and Nona made it for me for the showcase but it is also intended as practice-wear. On Monday I went to the ladies’ styling class with Marietta at Dance Starz and she had it ready for me.

I have to say, it’s been quite a week. On Monday at Marietta’s class, I was having a lot of “mental problems.” They were overwhelming. Marietta is gorgeous. Absolutely, amazingly, gorgeous. Her body is perfect, from my point of view. It’s not that all different types of bodies can’t be beautiful, but she has this long, lean, yet voluptuous look. She’s so feminine, and moves so incredibly well, it’s sometimes difficult for me to stand next to her.

It’s nothing she’s doing. It’s all in my head. I totally own that. But it’s stuff I’ve been dealing with since I became aware as a kid that my body wasn’t like other girls’ bodies….that I was bigger. It’s the comparison game, and I’m always a loser. I can’t even imagine having a body like Marietta’s in my wildest dreams. But I wish I could…so incredibly badly. It is entwined with my desire to be a woman, a desirable, captivating, beautiful woman. I just don’t feel like I stack up. Ironic I chose a passion in which most of the top competitors have amazing bodies.

I kind of had a realization about this, though. I’ve been so emotional lately – there’s been some dramatic stress at work and I’m not using food as a crutch to numb myself like I used to – and it’s been hard to weather. Luckily I have dancing and friends, both of which help me stay afloat and refocus. Anyways, I realized that life can really suck whether I’m on the right path or not. What I mean by this, is that difficult emotions arise whether I am eating on a plan and doing what I need to do to lose weight or not. I can totally binge on food or drink a bottle of wine or I can stay on the compassionate self-discipline path and either way, life can really be hard, so I might as well stay on the route that leads me where I want to go.

But that was yesterday. Today I began my day with an early double lesson with Ivan. He’s planning on leaving tomorrow evening (Wednesday) so he can practice with Marietta (I discovered that I’ve been misspelling her name all this time! Ugh! It actually has two “t’s”) before they compete at the Vegas Open this Friday night. She’s going there early to do hair and make-up. I think it’s a great idea, and it shows that they want to get back to the top of their game after a lot of time off because of the wedding. So, it’s a good thing, but a bummer for me and all Ivan’s other students because we can’t have lessons until next week!

Actually, I’m pretty excited because Ivonne and I are going to make a road trip to Vegas on Friday to go watch the Dishliev’s. Katie may join us as well, which would be doubly fun. It will be Ivonne’s first time to see a “bigger” competition. The one she did in Tucson was pretty small. And, it’s her birthday. I can’t think of a better, more exciting way to spend it. The energy of the ballroom during the professional events is truly indescribable.

Also, Marietta and Ivan apparently know of a Bulgarian restaurant that they absolutely love near the hotel in Vegas. We’re planning to go there after the competition and enjoy a big meal.

Well, anyways, getting back to my narrative, since Ivan will be out of town, I elected to have a double lesson this morning even though I also have class with Inna tonight as well.

Ivan and I worked on fundamentals which was excellent. We reviewed the open hip twist step in Cha Cha and he also showed me another variation of the step. Cross-overs continue to be a challenge, but I’m starting to understand the proper movement and timing required. I’m just glad to be getting it right so that I can practice the new way and integrate it into my muscle memory.

We also worked on Swing and did a Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz. I’ve concluded that I need to work on my quadricep strength so that I can actually curtsey. Watching playback of some of my presentations during competitions, they are pretty weak. I also see how low the professionals go, and even if I can’t do that just yet, and heft myself back up, I can go deeper and work up to it.

Finally, we got to the showcase Rumba. Ivan had me do the opening sequence in which I dance by myself. It was actually really cool. I got to the place where he’s supposed to dance with me and he was still hanging out by the music controls. He said that it was good, that he enjoyed watching it. That for the first time he felt relaxed watching me, he could sense I was secure in my movement. He said that he could easily watch me dance for four minutes if I continued to dance like that.

Then he said, “You gotta dance this all by yourself. Not for the showcase on the 16th, but later. You show your balance, and your movement. You dance like you are dancing with someone but all by yourself. This is highest level. It’d be so nice you to doing it.”

Then he gave me a correction in one place (I mean, he is still my dance teacher), but then said, “Do it again because I like it.”

Go me! That is some awesome feedback, if you ask me. It didn’t really give me like a super-ego charge or anything, like it might have in the past. It would have been a “peak experience,” a “high,” to hear that. But this time around, I experienced it in a more balanced, centered way. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it was wonderful, but not like a double shot of espresso for my ego.

It just feels like, especially after Inna’s feedback today, that I’m growing, changing, and shifting closer to the excellent dancer I know I can be and that I’m therefore showing up differently enough that those who see me regularly notice a difference. I feel acknowledged. The dancer in me feels acknowledged.

So, about Inna’s class. As usual, it was a butt-kicker. I’m kind of getting to know Inna’s little peculiarities. She always does this thing. She’ll have us stand in a position, either starting position, or she’ll yell out, “Stop!” in the middle of a routine and have us hold that position. Then she’ll walk around and correct positioning having us all stand still. My God sometimes I want to kill myself! Tonight, for instance, my arm was actually shaking at the shoulder. So she has us hold these positions and then when she’s done making corrections, she says, “And now hold that position for the next 45 minutes.” She’s only half-joking. We really are supposed to hold these positions while dancing over the next 45 minutes of class.

Well, anyways, we did Rumba and Cha Cha. She had us do a Rumba box with arms (which killed my arms) and then she had us do Rumba walks. Going forward wasn’t so bad, but then she got it in her mind to have us do backward Rumba walks. Now, I’ve never done them before. She demonstrated the technique and we went across the floor backwards about 6 times. That was an interesting experience, for sure! But once again, its something I don’t think I’d learn anywhere else. These classes are just so valuable to me and I appreciate them very much.

Finally, we did a Cha Cha combination: two basics, cuban breaks, time step, then locks on both sides. It was exhausting! We worked on making our arms sharp. By this time, my left arm didn’t even want to work! The muscle was just so fatigued I could barely swing it into position, much less stick it there with force, precision, pizzaz. Whatever, I rocked it once or twice, then had floppy arms, then rested, then gave it my all once again.

Inna ended class on time tonight, probably because she had a lesson directly afterwards (thank you Jesus!) so we curtsied and exited the floor. As I was packing up my stuff I just told Inna,

“Inna, thanks for another butt-kicking class! I just appreciate them so much.”

She replied, “You did well tonight! Very good! You’re getting better and better every time.”

Well goodness me! That was an amazing thing to hear.

“Thanks, Inna! And you saw me when I first walked into Jeff’s.”

“Yes, I see it.”

Back then I was carrying around 40-plus more pounds on my body and hadn’t been dancing in over two years. I’d only danced ballroom for maybe 6 months total. It’s kind of cool that she can see my progress. Scratch that, it is very cool.

She’s a top competitor and I respect both her and Ivan as professional dancers who know their stuff. To get a double dose of recognition from them today, well, it really was quite wonderful.

I know that earlier I joked that all this must be because of the new practice skirt I got to wear today. But the truth is, this is the result of dedicated practice, sweat, lessons, and sticking with it. It is about showing up and doing the best I can in the moment. Sometimes, admittedly, it turns out better than others. Today, I guess, was one of the days where it worked out for me…twice! Yippie!

Well, I guess that’s all the news for me in my life, but I see that the new cast of DWTS has been announced. My mother-in-law and I are addicted to watching that show and I usually go to her house to watch it. They have a movie theater in their home with reclining chairs…it’s a little piece of heaven. So I go and then I tell her everything I think, and trust me, I have a lot to say!

The next season premiere is less than a month away, March 19th, and you better believe I’ll be watching.

Alright, kids, it’s time for me to sign off. I’m tired, it’s bedtime, and I’ve written upwards of 1800 words tonight! It’s been a long one.

I promise my next post will be less verbose and include more video. Funny video. In fact, I can hardly wait to share it with you – it’s Ivan at his finest and most hilarious.

Until then…now, to bed!

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.