Word for word, Chomsky….word for word.

Come on, girl….you can’t hide from me and I think you are extraordinary. Period. Thanks for sharing, even if somewhat reluctantly. You have a beautiful and invaluable perspective to share.

Stef, I’m going to kill you for this (oh really? I’m still alive, sharing your amazing story. Ha ha!)…Why do you push me just like my Pro? He keeps pushing and pushing and pushing until he gets what he wants out of me, which is the best I can do (what a pain! Just kidding. How cool is it that he sees so much potential in you and wants to push you! I can’t imagine a greater gift). He keeps helping me change my ways; a part of me that’s always ashamed, that feels guilty, unaccepted, unwanted, ugly and unloved…firstand and foremost by my own self. (Yeah, I have no idea what you are referring to….NOT! I have sadly engaged in this same type of self-deprecating activity for over 20 years of my lifetime. It is so sad, so stupid, so ineffective. But, there is hope)…

You do the same; you inspire me to take it all out, to speak out freely. I sometimes feel I’m losing it. I sometimes feel I’m not losing it, just getting stronger and stronger with more and more confidence, doing things I’d never even dared to think about.

One such thing is sharing my feelings about my own dance experience. I find dance to be something extremely personal.

I have no problem dancing at socials; that’s when I let myself go and share my dance partner’s emotions, no matter who it is, a boy or a girl. For me, it’s a time for communication with another person, a stranger or an intimate friend. It makes no difference. I am there to speak with them through my dance. So, I don’t care if someone else is looking. They are not there, only my partner is.

However, that’s not how it goes when I am taking a private lesson with my Pro or when I am doing my practice on my own. That’s an entirely different thing. I hate it if people can see me. I don’t even like my own Pro watching me practice and told him about it. It’s only me, and my feelings, and my inner world and my soul, no one else. So, if someone can see me, even if that’s my Pro, I would feel ashamed. I would feel nude and exposed.

The same goes for my private [lesson]. I cannot stand anyone being there apart from my Pro (and sometimes not even my Pro!). I feel so shy. I told him I couldn’t do a figure because I couldn’t watch myself in the mirror; the reason? I was ashamed to watch myself dance like that: gracefully, sensualy, hips and all, elegance in movement…

So, the other day, my other half [my husband], the person I grew up with, the one who knows me better than anyone else on [the] planet Earth, my hubby, was the first person I invited to come and watch the choreography for my first show. I couldn’t stand the idea of total strangers setting their eyes on me. I wanted him to be the first to see my choreo[graphy] before anyone else did. It’s as if he could break the spell and not let anyone else see me like that, nude and exposed. See me from the inside.

He came, he saw me, and then my close friend also did. I was not alone. I had their lovely eyes set on me and felt their love and warmth.

I then went on to have my first show. I had no stage fright, I never had stage fright in front of the public. But I simply didn’t want to let them see in me. Even if they did, I didn’t want to let them see how I was unable to defend myself. Dancing is giving your soul. It was the first time I gave my soul to the public. Dancing is first and foremost a spiritual experience. It’s not two bodies in rhythm; it’s two souls in rhythm. And in rhythm with what? With music, with art, with what we human beings have invented to make us eternal. We know we don’t live forever, dance for ever, are beautiful forever. ..That’s why we create things that stay forever unlike us; unlike those tiny, petty, empty, body-shells. After all, they are only heavy, keeping us close to earth while we are made for unreachable heights and are born to fly; just like the Little Prince did…

So, my darling Stef, not only did my Pro make me expose all this in front of 200 persons (OMG!), you made me expose all this in front of him and my hubby and all those stupid little idiots that will not fall asleep while reading my petty little ideas (cause, that’s what they are, I’m no writer and no artist at the end of the day, I’m just an ordinary person, that is slightly depressed and confused, but all-in-all a lucky and happy person). So, I know who to blame for my fist dance show (and I keep nudging him about it) and know who I will blame for the first time I showed to people what my show meant [to me]? Do I make sense, or do I make sense? I guess I need to geta pill…

No silly, no pills needed. You are simply a courageous and fearless Lioness. You have so much to offer. You have seen the challenge of exposing yourself and taken it on like no kidding. Please keep sharing, knowing deep down that you are meant to reach unreachable heights, born to fly, as are we all.

I am honored that you have chosen to share your story here. It is inspiring and I don’t think you know or understand this, but it gives people who are in pain some hope. If you can recover, well, then, it is possible that others can recover as well.

Thanks for sharing, my worthy friend. Thanks for sharing.

P.S. – I need some pictures! I want to post picutres! Send me beautiful pictures of you! Thanks. -Stef

The Power Of Dance – The Sequel

One of the most special things about starting this blog is that I’ve connected with amazing, powerful, beautiful people.  One such person is Chomsky, who can also be found on DanceForums.com.  She reached out to me early on and has been an amazing support during my journey. 

Chomsky agreed to write a guest post for my blog, here, and I am so grateful.  Her story is nothing short of miraculous and I am so honored she chose to share it with me and with you readers as well.   As you will see, she has innate tenacity that bewilders me.  I have to ask myself, would I have continued to show up if I had started in her condition?  I’m not sure I would.  She is an inspiration.   Her journey thus far has sincerely moved me profoundly.  I can’t wait to hear more from this strong, determined, persistent, brave, precious woman.  -Stefanie

Dancing for me is like a prayer. I used to be a devout orthodox. Before I met my hubby everyone thought I was going to be a nun; I have changed since then, but deep down, I haven’t changed much.  All this change is due to dance, at least on the surface it is.

When my wonderful friend and teacher started teaching me I was something that looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was clinically obese, and couldn’t straighten up my back from the excruciating pain. I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t lie down, sit down, sneeze or cough; the pain was unbearable and non-stop.

So, someone told me to join this ballroom class ’cause the teacher is nice. During that first month, I kept attending even though I couldn’t stand up straight. And then, out of the blue, during the class, I got myself into such a state because of the pain that I left the classroom, went to the bathroom and cried my eyes out: I couldn’t believe how bad the pain was. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t move to music at the age of 37. I was handicapped and  felt my youth was gone for good, no way to get it back.

I didn’t give up; I went back to class.  The teacher asked me to do the samba figure he was showing but I refused because I couldn’t stand the pain. He said it didn’t matter, I could always sit and watch him do it with the other student.

After class he chatted with me (not such a talkative person, but there you go, he must have felt how badly I was [doing]). He told me it didn’t matter I was in pain; I would get better; I would dance the figure if not in a week, in a month or in two months time.  The the main thing was that I would. No matter what the doctors had told me, I would get better. Afterall, I was learning even if I was watching and not doing. He even said I was a slow learner but it didn’t matter; he was a slow learner too.

All this made me believe in myself. I wanted to prove him right. Guess what? I did. I lost one-third of my weight. I am standing up straight. I even run after four years of not being able to walk quickly not to miss the bus to go to work.

To me it is a miracle. I am not in a wheelchair as I was told I would be. I am not in excruciating pain and can sleep at nights. Now, what I wish for is not to wake up from this dream I am living; to grow old and still dance. I can and will never forget I have a herniated disk that badly needs an operation. If I do, I might prove the doctors right and lose the quality of life I now have. I never want to forget ’cause I will harm myself if I do.

So, obviously dancing for me is like a prayer. Still, the physical miracle is not the reason behind it. It is the emotional and social aspect of it. I am now a different person. I started changing from the inside.

I used to be, and still am in a way, someone you can easily manipulate. Dance has changed that. I still have problems saying no to people just like I told my counselor. Not as much as before, however. I still feel I am guilty for the sins of the whole world. I still am unable to put myself in front of others. I still cannot love myself if it is not through other people’s eyes. I  don’t feel good with myself, I can’t just love myself if others don’t love me first.

Yes, but all this has changed; if not radically, it still has. And all this is due to dance. Dance makes me love myself, my hands, my head, my legs. I love my body and in the end I am sure I will grow to love myself too.

The River And The Desert

Sometimes life takes us in directions we didn’t think we’d go. Little did I know today when I awoke that I’d be releasing a little bit of my life and the income that went with it. It made me feel as though there was an empty hole in my middle. I had the same feeling about 20 minutes after being in my first car accident as a teenager. You know, that burst of adrenaline followed by a shaky exhaustion.

I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about. I am a woman of diverse talents. I went to school to become a pharmacist. I got completely burned out doing this and quit. I was convinced that I never wanted to be a pharmacist again! I sought other job opportunities. I began to tutor high school kids.

It was great! I loved being with them, helping them, and helping their families. I got to do math problems and science and Spanish. It was so much more fun and less stressful than my previous job. I dove right in and have been doing it part-time ever since.

But this past year, I’ve really reconnected with the part of me that has been with me since age 5 when I began dancing. I started this blog, and also getting out into my dance community. My focus has shifted. This is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but the passion that I had been pouring into my tutoring was now being applied to dancing.

I didn’t recognize it, but apparently others around me did. They were so happy at the positive changes flooding into my life, but my fire for the tutoring had waned. I was fully prepared to finish out the school year but I was called on this change in desire. I had a choice: choose in, fully commit and really show up for the kids or release it, create space in my life, and embrace this newfound passion and connection to dance, writing, and the dance community. One path was practical, and guaranteed a certain amount of income. The other was veiled and promised no obvious road to riches.

But the practical choice felt flat. I knew, if I was very honest with myself, that I couldn’t be there for the kids like I had been before. The more responsible and compassionate choice to both parties, I believe, is to get them what they need rather than to than hang on when I can feel that my passion has shifted.

It was simply time to move on. I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, it was about the least traumatic, most loving parting-of-ways I’ve ever experienced. There was mutual respect, trust, and gratitude on both sides. But I still grieve it. Sometimes we even grieve things that are gone that aren’t good for us, for heaven’s sake! This part of my life had been a Godsend.

I just know that this was the right thing to do for me now. I shed my tears and said goodbye and thank you to this portion of my life. Kinda like how I felt when graduating from high school. I knew things would never be the same. I knew the chapter was closing on one part of my life.

Yet I choose to believe that all things happen for a reason. I also believe that nature will always fill a vacuum.

I now have a vacuumed space in my life. I am believing that amazing and wondrous things, people, and opportunities now have the space to flood in. Before my life was jam-packed – every moment accounted for. Now, I have more space and time.

The flip side of that is that I don’t have as much money to put toward dancing.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling okay about this. I will need to be much more disciplined about my spending. I will need to participate in more group classes and less private classes. That, or get paid to be on a reality show that follows me and Ivan around because we are so dang entertaining! lol. Hey, it could happen!

But in all practicality, I am going to be fine. I will have to save my pennies and will probably be putting a few things on Ebay, but that is okay. I already told Ivan that we have to do single lessons from now on until I win the Power Ball. He said that the most important thing is that I just keep coming, however often that needs to be.

So after releasing this particular aspect of my existence, and processing all the emotion that came up as a result, I was left with a hole in my stomach. In my old days, I probably would have poured a glass of wine and made a nice comforting meal, and curled up with the tv remote for a nice sedentary evening. But “new” Stef, the one who wears the way-too-high-to-be-practical-cherry-red-heels-that-scream-look-at-me, she chooses differently. Even though she feels like she’s been through a battle, she grabs her gear, gets in the car, and drives to Imperial studio for a good old butt-kicking from miss Inna.

As usual, I am exhausted and shaky, sweaty and beet red, gasping, cramping, etc, etc, etc. As per usual, I’m the biggest girl in the ballroom. But not as per usual, there is a larger class than before the holidays and one of the participants is a high school kid (I think). His mom is watching the class while waiting for her son.

We do Rumba, then Samba. I mostly make it through but have to bow out during one of the last Samba exercises…something was gonna blow if I didn’t. Grabbing my water and Gatorade I glance over and smile at the mother watching her son. She smiles sympathetically at me.

Finally the class is over. I’m spent. As I’m packing up, the mother comes over to me and says, “You looked great out there. I could never do that.”

I thank her, and I really appreciate the fact that she took the time to say something. It feels great to be acknowledged, for sure. But I actually disagree with her. It’s kinda the point of my blog and, by extension, my life. If I can do it, ANYONE who wants to can do it. If that guy at the dance studio that coaches with Ivan’s mother-in-law and is an amputee can do it, ANYONE can do it. If Kristie Alley can do it….just kidding. She was great.

But don’t you see? We make up excuses as to why we can’t do something. I did it for 12 years. I abandoned dancing, this thing that feeds my soul, keeps me healthy and happy, this thing that I love, and I left it because I didn’t think it was a practical life choice. I got miserable and fat and damaged my health because I made up a story about why I wasn’t a dancer, why that couldn’t be my life path, denying my very essence, denying my true identity.

Thank God I finally woke up!

And so, life gave me a beautiful opportunity just now. I could choose to settle once more. It was even a great way to do it…seemingly. I would have gotten to be with others, help them, and make a little money on the side by continuing to tutor. But I would have been making that same choice I made so long ago to do what is expected, even if it’s not what I truly, deeply, want to be doing with my life. So this time, I chose differently.

It reminds me of a parable I once heard (I’m paraphrasing here):

There was a great river. The river could go anywhere it wanted and it wanted to return to the sea. Nothing could stop it. It could even penetrate through stone. But one day the river met the desert. The desert pleaded with the river, “please don’t try to go through me. It won’t work.” “But I am a great river. I have made my way through stone. No sand can stop me.” It replied.

So the river poured into the desert. And it poured and it poured. And it poured until it was exhausted and the desert had become a swamp.

“You are right, desert, I cannot make my way through you.”

“You are partly right, river, you cannot make your way through me in your current form.”

And then something happened. The warm air of the desert caused the river to evaporate. And it arose into the air where it became a cloud that floated over the desert. It traversed the desert and rained down into the ocean, finally arriving at its destination. The only way for the river to make it there was to transform.

My decisions in life have been like the path of the river. For a while, my mechanisms of moving in this world worked. I was able to navigate many situations. But at some point, I reached my own desert. I tried my old tactics and began to pour and pour and pour myself into it. It has gotten me exhausted and yet no closer to my dreams. It is time for me to transform, indeed it is the only way I will reach my destination. Choosing differently this time is one piece of that metamorphosis. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out just yet, but I’m trusting the process, just like the river had to trust the process of evaporation. I will make it to my destination, though I will do it as a woman transformed.

It’s even kind of exciting, huh?

Yes, I think it is.

Ode To The Dancer

Hello, my name is Stefanie, and I am a dance addict.

I’m not kidding.

This has become a full-on obsession, a love affair.

Yesterday I began my morning by practicing Latin Rumba walks, in my socks and PJ’s, on my stone floor.  It was the first thing on my mind, and I had to do it. Immediately.  Like a chain smoker arriving in Tokyo whose last cigarette was in LA.

I played my Rumba song at least 100 times.

I stared at myself in my glass door, using it as a mirror, watching my shoulders to make sure they weren’t raising as I swiveled my hips.

I then proceeded to write about dancing for a few hours, then watch videos on YouTube of professionals for a few more.

I joined fan pages for the movie, “Ballroom Dancer,” and for the professional couple Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski.

I simply don’t know what to do with myself if I am not dancing, or writing, or working (so I can pay the bills and be dancing and writing).

I dance in my brain with any spare moment I have, and fantasize about going to competitions.

I have a sickness, and the only cure is more cowbell…I mean, dancing!

So here is my Ode To The Dancer (apologies if there is an actual proper format to an ode other than praising the subject matter – I use term ode loosely):


Give it to me in tutus and toe shoes, high heels and bedazzled bras, unitards, Nike’s, tap shoes, and skirts.  Give it to me fast or slow, jazzy or classical, modern or old-fashioned.  Show me your inner Ginger Rogers or Bob Fosse.  Leap, spin, stretch, and fly.

Dance alone or with a partner or even in a group.

Show me pictures with your body.  Make lines that extend on through forever and into my heart.

Make me smile or weep, cheer or laugh, or inflame my passion.

Amaze me as you defy gravity and the laws of physics and contort your body beyond any limitations.  Show me your strength or your vulnerability.  Dazzle me with flexibility, speed, grace.

Share your beauty or your darkside.  I don’t care.  I just want to see you embody your spirit.  Allow it to spill out of you through your very fingers and toes.

This is my quaff of choice.  No longer beer, or champagne.  No longer juice or even water.

I thirst only for dance and through dance transcendence and contact with God, The Source, The Universe.  I want to drink deeply from this well.

Dancer.  Hallowed be thy name.  You are an expression of The Almighty.

The Power Of Dance

As a dancer, I consider the body to be watercolor paint, calligraphy letters, or an ounce of liquid gold.  We dancers live, breathe, dream, stretch, and push beyond sanity to maybe, somehow, possibly, for one-moment-in-time, brush the face of perfection.

This desire lives in me for it moved me to waltz at a weight of 313 pounds.  It motivated me to put on heels and not only attempt to walk in them, but to create a rise and fall motion.  Besides the power of dance, what else could possibly fuel me as I sweat and strive and work to the point of fatigue; I am sore every day and my feet swell so that I ice them each night.  Yet still, I continue to dance for I must dance.

You see, I have discovered that my heart for dance has a breadth and profundity that surprises even me.  In calm still moments I can hear its voice ever calling.  Usually drowned out by the dizzying tornadoes and miniscule dramas of my life, it lately it strikes me that I am not fully alive or present in every moment of my life yet I always and acutely feel this vitality when I dance.

I have now embarked on a journey deep to center of self that will transform me as surely and completely as the caterpillar is metamorphosed into the butterfly.  I know that my heart is coming to life with each Samba and Quickstep.  My body is healing with each Cha-Cha and Salsa.  I feel my spirit nourished with each Rumba and Tango.  And now that I’ve had a taste of this vivacious-ness, my soul cries out, “I want to be alive in all of life!”

My message is this – don’t wait!  Dance now!  Dance how you are in this very moment!  Don’t wait until you lose the weight/have the time/feel okay and on and on and on.  Life is what happens when we making plans.  Don’t you see?  Dancing is what will get us to lose the weight/have the time/feel okay!  It is the process, the vehicle.  Don’t delay one more second.  Live your life playing the starring role.  Go out and be your true and extraordinary self regardless of how current circumstances appear.

The power of dance is that it reminds me the only place of power is in the now.  We are all one quality decision away from changing our lives.  And who knows…it could be the result of saying yes to a dance class.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To me this response is deceptively simple yet profound. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Eat Some McDonalds!

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Allegre Studio

Private Lesson With Ivan

I don’t always know what I am getting myself into when I say yes to opportunities that come my way. Today was the first day I felt bona fide fear course through my body on a dance lesson. You see, because Ivan and I sometimes practice out of Dance Starz Az (http://www.dancestarzaz.com/) and because I take some group lessons at the studio, there is a possibility that I may be able to participate in an upcomming showcase. For those of you who don’t know, (I didn’t), a showcase is like a recital. Performers can dance to any song they like and add tricks and creative choreography.

Now, I have yet to participate in a showcase performing a solo number. In fact, the last time I was on stage was probably in high school in a production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. So I’m excited. Especially because Ivan let me pick the song I wanted.

I am totally into Latin Rumba right now so I picked Volveras by Gloria Estefan. It is a sad song and I love it right now, for whatever reason. I have never claimed to understand myself!

Realistically, I’m thinking we will do pretty much just dancing because you don’t do lifts with girls my size unless you want a hernia. But Ivan starts in right away with all sorts of tricks and I’m totally out of my comfort zone. I know Ivan is strong and all, but can he really support all this weight? I am scared to find out.

The first move isn’t so bad, kind of a develope’ kick up in the air. Then another move where I lean a little and put my back leg in attitude around his hips. I’ve seen similar moves on Dancing With The Stars (forever to be known as DWTS from now on in this blog). I’m mostly on my own feet and feel pretty comfortable and on balance with a little assist from Ivan serving as my barre.

But then he really gets going. He wants me to plie with my legs in a parallel position and squirm up back onto straight lets. This is a no go – I’ll need to strengthen my legs with some serious squats before I can master this maneuver. Then he tries a half-split thing, encouraging me to put 75% of my weight onto his arms and he will attempt to spin around. Fail.

Then my heart really gets pumping. He’s gonna attempt to drag me. I’m to push down on his shoulders and he wants to drag me using no arms. We manage with one arm and I’m super impressed. I didn’t even think this kind of thing was possible at my size right now. Props to Ivan for trying all this stuff.

Then a dip. I’m to keep my legs straight and he rests me on his bent knee. Holy crap! I’m scared. How is he holding me up?

He doesn’t stop there. The scariest one for me is one in which I lean to the side, he is supporting pretty much all of my weight and I’m to develope’ and reach outward away from him.

Finally, he’s had enough. I did not know agreeing to work on a showcase number meant I’d be bent into a pretzel and risk Ivan throwing out his back! It just isn’t prudent, or so I thought, at my size.

Whew! I survived! Thanks again, Ivan, for busting through some of my self-imposed limitations. Again, I do not know what is possible and what is not. We discovered some moves that worked, others that don’t right now, but we’d not have discovered any if Ivan and I hadn’t been willing to try. I seriously thought he was crazy…but who’s the crazier one? I followed!

But now Ivan is having me count Rumba and Cha Cha. My brain is about to explode. It is really hard for me to put verbal skills together with dancing. At one point I count two, four (instead of two, three, four) and Ivan accuses me of indulging in some vodka this morning. No, Ivan. Really, my brain just becomes mush trying to talk and dance at the same time.

But it is really a good exercise. I so need to start being aware of when to move, when to pause, when I’m rushing, when to accent the movement. For instance, I am rushing on four and one counts and moving sluggishly on the two count in Rumba. I am hitting two and four hard in Cha Cha, instead of punching beats one and three with pizzaz. Ay yai yai! I totally see how I count affects how I move and also how I breathe. Again, lack of cardiovascular conditioning is not my friend. I am so winded and I hate it. When will this stop being such a burden?

“Oh, Ivan. I am so ready to feel better when dancing. I can’t wait to drop some serious weight and make this easier on myself. The cardiovascular conditioning is killing me.”

But I’m saying this just after doing a Samba. I gotta say it – I have some great hip movement, yes I do! So I’m doing this move, really dancing it, and Ivan is like, “Wow.”

He then said something unexpected.

“I thinking about this. I actually prefer you big. I see you everyday moving like this. Just imagine how other people will see it. I thinking you no need to lose weight. Yes, it not possible to do the lifts and all this, but that’s okay. You can lose the weight, you gonna be skinny. Better the people see you move like this now. They thinking, all the other peoples is skinny but they not moving like her. Let them see you now. In fact, go to McDonalds! You can spend a lot of time and energy and money to learning dancing and never move like you do. But this moving is you.”

Am I like the luckiest ballroom student, ever? I get to dance and go to McDonalds! Just kidding. But wow, what recognition of me as a dancer, no matter how I am packaged in the moment, and from someone who I think is the bee’s knees, in terms of both being an excellent dancer and human being. It means so much to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m so over the idea of staying fat just so people might possibly be impressed by how I move. It is unhealthy and I hate the way it feels. It is beyond time to change. I am happy to report that I am right back on plan after Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m also thinking about ways to intensify and augment my cardiovascular exercise as well as some weight training. The goal for January is to be 20 pounds (or more) lighter. And, update, I am down another 2.8 pounds since December 20th, current weight 265.5. Not bad for the holidays.

And…just like Linda Dean said, I have to know I am fabulous right now. So thanks, Ivan, but no McDonalds for me. I have plans of doing that split-spin-lift-thing someday, and sooner rather than later!


I’m Fabulous! I Just Don’t Know It

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Dance Starz Studio

Coaching with Linda Dean

I’ve had the good fortune to have been coached by some amazing people during my short ballroom student career.  The first person was Igor Suvorov.  Then, it was Paul Holmes.  Next it was Ron Montez.  And today it was Linda Dean.

Now as much of a fan of ballroom dancing as I am, I am still a baby beginner in this world and there is lots to learn.  I looked up each coach before I met them to know a little something about them.  Here’s a nice article I found about Linda Dean.


I have to be careful not to psych myself out when reading this stuff!  Even I know that the Blackpool ballroom competition is one of the premier competitions in the world.  To win that is a big deal.  For little ole me getting coached by a person who has achieved so much can be intimidating.  I just have to remind myself that we all put our pants on one leg at a time.

At every coaching I’ve done, I’ve gained new knowledge, a new way of doing a step, and improvement in my dancing.  It is such a blessing to benefit from the expertise of others, and so far, those I’ve interacted with have been generous and kind and helpful.

I experienced Linda as a warm, friendly woman and it was a pleasure to get to work with her.  To begin, Ivan and I danced the Rumba, Latin stye.  She was a Latin champion and I’ve recently begun studying the style in earnest so it was a perfect fit.

I am happy to report that once we completed our little performance, Linda said that I had done quite a nice job.  Of course, there were also things that I could consider that might change the way my dancing appears.

One of the interesting things she said was that she could tell I was trying so hard to do things that were good and all but that might not be that necessary.  For instance, she demonstrated how I could move my feet, brushing them through to the next step, but not focusing so much on them actually touching.  It is the asthetically pleasing line I want to create moreso than making sure that my feet touch perfectly with each step.

We also talked about remembering why we dance.  We talked about not just getting from one place to the next but how I want to look while I am going there.  It rocked my world.

It kind of goes along with my last post in which I talked about how I try to hustle to get from one step to the next but miss all the gooey goodness in between.  Thinking about how I want to look, move, and be as I am going from one place to another my carriage changed dramatically.  My back leg was straighter, longer, and my toes more pointed.  My head was held taller.  My balance was better.  The secret was being aware of how I wanted to move through space rather than focusing on getting from point A to point B on time.  I see the power of focus.  The different things I focus on create different results.

If you’ve read any of my other posts you will know I see parallels to life and in dance.  From this little exercise I realize that it is important how I do things, not just that I do them.  It matters if I am loving, kind, and compassionate while performing a task.  Yes of course, it matters if I do the task or not, just as it matters if I get to the next step on time in dancing, but the artistry, the beauty, the juciness of life and dancing is how we move through space to get there, I am discovering.  What wisdom Linda has shared with me!

We also had the opportunity to work on connection.  Again, I was at the same place and knew it for the first time.  The nuance and control in the connection is incredibly difficult to get right.  I did feel it differently than ever before – my hip was to be connected with Ivan’s latissimus dorsi via the arm connection – and it was magical.  If/When we can ever create this type of connection consistently, wow.  Dancing will feel so good once I get this stuff.  Not that it doesn’t already, but there is another eschelon of effortlessness that I’ve just tasted.  These little nibbles are incredible, and I want more!

Next, and most profound was something I’ll never forget.  Ivan is such an amazing teacher and human being.  I want to give him credit and acknowledge that he has mentioned to me all the things I discovered in the coaching today, including this next awareness.  I guess when you have a thick head like I do, you have to hear things a few times for them to sink in.  And sometimes the teacher appears when the student is ready.

Linda asked me about my arms.  Now, arm styling has been a bain of my dancing existence ever since I began to care about it.  It just always feels so awkward.  But I try.  So she asks me if I pay attention to them when dancing.  I honestly answer, well, usually not, because my focus is always on my feet or my hips or the steps or the connection with my partner.  I remember about my arms in specific places that we’ve practiced, but usually they flop around like tentacles on an octopus.

So I am open to any feedback Linda has for me regarding my upper extremities.  But her feedback is surprising.  Why not keep them still?


This doesn’t compute until she demonstrates what she means.

Linda performs Rumba walks forward.  First, she holds her arm out to the side and connects the other with Ivan.  Then she repeats the same walks but moving her free arm in a circular motion.  The effect is immediately apparent.  The arm movement draws attention to the arm (not my strongest feature).  When held still, attention is drawn to legs and feet.

It is obvious which way I want to move from now on.  My foot work is good and my leg action pretty.  This is where I want to focus attention.  This is what suits me.

Which brings up a larger idea that Ivan has mentioned before.  It is something that will make me an artist.  It is finding the way I move.  Not emulating anyone else.  Not trying to move like others.  Moving like I am meant to move, naturally.  It is having the confidence to be who I am, and love it in every movement.

Linda explains: “Now I love Yulia (referring, I think, to Yulia Zagoruychenko).  She is fabulous. And gorgeous.  But all these girls try to move like her.  She is so fast because she is as big as a toothpick and she is on balance.  She knows exactly what she is doing with her body. But it looks awful when other people try to do that.”

She’s absolutely right.

However, I feel at sea in how to do this.  My frame of reference is to look to others to see what I should be doing.  It is time to look to me to determine what I should be doing.

So before we end the session, Ivan tells Linda that we will show her American Rhythm Rumba and Cha Cha.  Alright, now it’s time for me to brag a little.  Honestly, I’d better start practicing declaring that I am fabulous.  So much of dancing in the ballroom is confidence and attitude.  I’ve just experienced in this very lesson how thinking this way about how I move through space can transform the way I dance.  I have to own this fabulous-ness before stepping foot on the floor in order to show up the way I know I can.

Linda shared a story with me that demonstrates the power of speaking positivity into our lives and the effect of a confident attitude.  She had five weeks until her first compeition with her new partner – just enough time to prepare one dance routine per week for each of five dances.  The competition was the National Championships!  Before she and her partner stepped on the floor she told him, “We’re gonna win!”  He replied, “Don’t think like that.” But she retorted, “You just watch.”  And the rest is history.  They won.

Well anyways, I’m going to declare it.  I am fabulous!  It is so.  How do I know this, well, Linda reminded me that I am fabulous regardless of my size. She related to me another story of a student who knew how fabulous she was even though she was 190 pounds. No one won with this gal on the floor.

I’ve decided that I’m going to be like this girl.

So back to the bragging on myself, since I’m so fabulous and all…

Linda’s jaw about dropped when we started dancing American style.  She told me that if I competed, I had to do both American and Latin style.

So let’s scratch the title of this post.  It should really say: I’m Fabulous and I Know It!

And you know what, I’m starting to believe that I am.

You get points for reading this post.  Bet you didn’t know that, huh?  There’s also a bonus round.  You have an amazing opportunity right here, right now to be courageous and list one or more ways in which you are fabulous.  I would love to read about it.