Before Enlightenment Chop Wood, Carry Water. After Enlightenment, Chop Wood, Carry Water.

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As I continue along in my dancing journey, I continue to come into contact with the most amazing people. Dancers are a unique breed, I think, and of course there are many ways to “play the game” but most of the dancers I’ve interacted with have been, first and foremost, awesome human beings. They are humble. They are passionate. They are hard working. They are encouraging. The live life fully and fight intensely for what they want. And no person embodies these characteristics (besides my favorite Bulgarians, Ivan and Marieta) more than a gentleman I’ve recently had the honor of learning from.

I mean, dance is one of the great equalizers – because dancing takes all of a human being, every little bit! And it is a great teacher. It can teach patience, discipline, self-expression, trust, balance, self-confidence, grace, partnership, authenticity, and presence – but only when we are willing students, ready to put in the time, energy, and effort necessary. Only then will dance reveal it’s jewels. Because dancing is difficult! Sometimes I think most of us question why we are attempting this! It can be painful and tiring and frustrating. And yet when things finally click after that 10,000-and-first repetition, it is suddenly completely worth it.

Anyways, to get back to this amazing person, his name is Damir. He owns a studio, ironically probably the closest one in town to my house, and I met him at my last competition. He saw me dance a little and we chatted a little and I made friends with his receptionist. When I found out last week that they have group classes on Latin technique on Saturdays, I was hoping I would be able to attend. You know, cause I’m not an official student at the studio, but I guess that hasn’t been a problem at Imperial but I didn’t know how it would work at EuroRhythm. Well, they were as welcoming as can be and I enjoyed my first class last weekend. I am hungry to learn as much as I can and want to take advantage of every opportunity in my path. And you know that saying, when the student is ready, the master will appear, well, perhaps I’m ready to learn some new information and that is really exciting.

So this time, that master is Damir. I knew he was something special right off the bat because of his authenticity, and his kindness. Plus I could see he was a great dancer. What I didn’t know, until today, is that he and his partner and wife, Nina, were six-time National Champions for Bosnia. And that he didn’t start dancing until he was eighteen! Which is pretty darn late for a professional dancer. And I didn’t know that dancing was the one thing that didn’t come easily to him in this life but maybe that is why he decided to do it. He saw dancing for the first time, and as he put it, his “subconscious knew” he could “learn a lot” from it. Everyone thought he was joking. He’d go out dancing and be awful at it and everyone laughed at him, and he simply laughed along with them. But he perservered. It took becoming a National Champion for his father to finally “get” that he was serious about this dancing thing. And I learned that he had a lot of struggles along they way. But most importantly, for me, I learned that I could recognize the same greatness I identified in Damir inside in myself.

I don’t know about you, but in my mind I always think that other people have it easier than I do when it comes to dancing. You can totally apply this to other areas of life but since this is a blog about dancing, we’ll stick with the metaphor. Well, anyways, look, I have asthma. I’m severely overweight. This makes things tough. I tell myself that if I was thinner or more fit that I’d be a better dancer. Now to a certain extent this is absolutely true, and I am working toward it! But on another level, it is total crap! Because we ALL have our advantages and disadvantages. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I think that I don’t have it in me to dance like those I look up to – people like Ivan, Marieta, Damir, Inna, and more. I think that there is something lacking in me that makes it impossible. But today I really felt for the first time that THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE! We ALL have what it takes inside of us. That is the REAL truth. Maybe we perceive others have it better or easier because we don’t see the struggles and the sweat and the exasperation behind it – we only see the final product, paraded out on the competition floor, bedecked in crystals. It all looks so glamorous and even effortless, and if you are like me, you forget all the unglamorous pieces that went into creating that picture. It is easy to imagine, looking at that polished dancing, that these dancers are just “talented” or “special” or “hard working” and that they have some secret I don’t posess, and never could. But perhaps I am more similar to them than I ever imagined.

You see, I went to a workshop today at EuroRhythm. Ivan is out of town competing so I needed to get my ballroom fix and this opportunity arose. And it was completely incredible. I’m so glad I chose to participate and I kind of have to laugh, too, because it is about as opposite as could possibly be from the instruction at Imperial!

Damir started the lesson talking about some theory. Now this is the kind of juicy dancing I can really get into! He was talking about more than just dancing; see the photo at the beginning of this blog post. That white board was the first fifteen minutes of our time together. He was talking about how we are human beings, and we have both human and energetic or spiritual aspects. He explained that as human, we are “doing” things, and we are in the universe of form, matter, and the laws of physics. He further opined that as spirits we are “being” and in the universe of the formless, beyond limits, all connected, and basically in the realm of quantum physics. I don’t think Inna would ever start a class this way lol! But it set such an expansive tone for the work we were about to do, and I really appreciated the contextual framework Damir set up for us as we stepped into our “Dojo.”

During the workshop, we mostly talked about being grounded. We discussed being energetically connected to the floor, knowing where our body weight is every moment, and how to incorporate the arms into the picture. I personally focused more on my lats than ever before which was awkward but great. We did Rumba and Cha Cha and Jive. We did things slow and half time. We danced a little at full speed. I still feel like my arms are not fully integrated and connected to my body but it was a nice little foray into the subject beyond the norm. And even more beyond the norm was Damir’s encouragement for us to purposely try to throw ourselves off balance, to purposely mess up! To not try to be so perfect all the time! Why? Because you WANT to expose your weaknesses! Why? So you can actually ADDRESS them! Pretty radical thinking in one sense, and completely logical in another. I mean, I personally like to hide in my strengths! It’s way more comfortable and I feel better (or rather, my ego feels better) about me when I do things “well.” But this means I am haunted by the shadow of the imperfections and weaknesses I’m trying to hide. If I never expose them, I never have the opportunity to expose them to the light. And, as we all know, once shadows are exposed to light, they disappear.

It was an awesome lesson/workshop, and I got my heart rate up a little and I am always grateful for the opportunity to work and learn about this art I love so dearly. And when it was over, we all took a seat and Damir told us a story that really affected me.

He and Nina were dancing at a competition that averaged 300 couples. They wanted to make the top 48 because if they made that, they would get to dance in Albert Hall. Every day they would practice. Monday was Cha Cha, Tuesday Samba, Wednesday Jive and so on. They would, for an hour, do basics, dancing 4 minutes straight, then rest a few seconds, then go again. Physically they were as prepared as they could be. It was grueling. Apparently Nina would have tears streaming down her face, but she would not stop, which is pretty incredible. When I heard this, I found it even more incredible that I could recognize that same fire and strength inside of me. This happens to me all the time at the gym. I cry and I keep going. And it sucks and it hurts and I want to give up but I don’t.

So, anyways, apparently I have the same thing inside of me as a champion so that is a good thing! lol. But to get back to the story – Damir and Nina were prepared and they made it to the top 96 after 4 or 5 rounds of dancing. And then, it happened! Another female dancer did a forceful ronde’ and kicked Nina across both legs, creating a huge bruise on both legs that appeared in seconds and cut a gash on one leg. She was injured and couldn’t move, and it was during their best dance, Cha Cha. They weren’t seen by the judges, didn’t get the marks, and didn’t make top 48. And it was completely out of their control! This dancer, whom they nicknamed “wild horse” in their native tongue as a play on words of her actual last name, had thrown a huge, unexpected wrench into their system. They prepared themselves as best as they possibly could, and I think that is all we can ever really do. Though the story kinda sucks, and I’m sure it was really disappointing at the time, I also find it very empowering and inspiring. Because it is my job right now to prepare myself as best as I can for the challenges ahead. Things may happen that are out of my control, but I will be proud of myself and able to hold my head high no matter the result if I know I did everything in my power to prepare and left everything I could on the dancefloor on that day, with the resources and currently have.

I got so much from showing up today and participating. More than steps or technique, I feel like my spirit was nourished as well, and that is kind of what dancing is all about, ya? I had a great conversation with Damir after the workshop and left feeling happy, energized, and hungry to work even harder for my goals. As he said, when things are going on in his life, it will also show up on the dancefloor. So when he needs to figure something out, he dances. And if he is patient enough, and diligent enough, and present enough, he gets answers. Dancing is the best therapy, ever, right?! We talked about that we are all on our own journey, that we are all special. We are all magnificent in our own right and we need not compare ourselves to others but rather to ourselves yesterday (I think Baryshnikov said the same thing). We talked about how important it is to feel safe and grounded so we can expand energetically beyond our physical limits. We talked about how the struggle is important and that it is imperative to find the joy, peace, and balance in every day life. He quoted Buddha saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. And after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I’ve said it before, that dancing is a spiritual walk for me in so many ways – truly a pathway to enlightenment. And through it all I will chop my wood and carry my water – which in my life looks like doing my cardio at the gym, eating on my plan, going to my dance lessons, and embracing compassionate self-discipline, pushing myself just a little further each and every day in my pursuits.

So that’s just what I did upon leaving today. I went to the gym, banged out a leg work out (they are toast!) and even did some cardio at the end. And I just know that I picked the right theme song for myself (“Roar” by Katy Perry) because I AM a champion. I’m proving it to myself with every squat and ballet class when I struggle to lift my leg higher, with every moment my body screams to stop and I keep going, with every time I choose to stick to my plan when I want to eat chocolate and laze about all day! I’m proving it to myself that this IS possible. I’m proving that I DO have what it takes to do this. This is what a champion is, I think – what Nina and Damir did, dancing so disciplined every day, pushing through the tears, preparing themselves by doing everything humanly possible to get ready, day in and day out. Those are the times that make the champion. That is the foundational groundwork that is laid so that a champion is confident in their abilities for the few minutes they have to show themselves on the floor. Behind each minute of dancing under the spotlight there are hours upon hours behind it. That is my definition of a champion, anyways, and I’m practicing to be one every day. And I’m excited to have another incredible mentor to look up to as I continue along my journey. Dancing continues to bless and enrich my life in so many ways. I can’t wait for Ivan to come home and have my next lesson!

Clean Eating, Challenge, Change, Consistency, Commitment

I am extremely grateful to find myself in a most clear, determined, and single-minded space after a week laden with emotional turmoil (as well as a little bit of humor.) As I continue this journey, which in my mind began three years ago, I am surprised and delighted with how much more quickly I can get through “the muck” back into a neutral or even positive mental place. Back when I was at my largest, it could days or even weeks of staying stuck, wallowing in my despair, anguish, anger, or resentment. I’d done a lot of work internally before I was ready to accept the help of a nutritionist and though my external results have been frustratingly slow (in my mind, at least), the deep roots of new coping skills and healthy tools I’ve cultivated continue to serve me well as I chip, chip, chip away at my own personal face of Mount Rushmore. Dang I wish I had some stinking dynamite!

Another reason I’ve been able to switch so quickly out of overwhelm and sadness, I believe, has been the support I am now able to receive from “my team.” No one officially signed up to be on my “team” – it’s just my own idea of people who are helping me get to where I want to go. This includes, of course, first and foremost, my awesome nutritionist, Chelle, owner of Recipe For Fitness, who wrote an amazing response to my Dear Body Letter. Seriously, go read Chelle’s blog post! I totally believe she’s got my back and that she’ll stick it out with me until I’m done. She’s the “coach” of my team….maybe I should get her a whistle! ūüôā

My “team” also includes, Ivan, he’d be the artistic director (hee hee), as well as my new trainer, Allison, who is so much better than my previous gal. I finally feel like I have a trainer who actually cares about me and my progress, and I appreciate it so much, especially with all the crap I’ve had to go through with trainers recently! Plus she, herself, trains as a MMA fighter, has 12 years of personal training experience, and is generally just a pretty awesome person.

And beyond that, I also consider you readers as part of my team. You encourage me and inspire me to keep going, even when the going gets tough. Fitocracy, a social media platform that is kinda like Facebook for people into fitness, is another resource I’ve used that is a postitive, encouraging outlet – you can find me under “loveablestef” if you ever decide to join.

Finally, many times I have people supporting me and encouraging me that I don’t even know! Like Tabitha – I’ve never met her, but she took the time to write me a powerful letter which helped me move forward, and from the feedback I’ve received, I’m not the only one she helped.

I must admit, however, that even though I understand and believe what Tabitha/my body had to say, I am still in slight resistance to certain portions of it. Rather than considering this a bad thing, I think having a little resistance is good, because it means I’m on the edge pushing against a limitation. Soon enough things will shift and I will have grown. If I had absolutely no resistance, then I’d already be done with the portion of “the work” she suggests and wouldn’t be any challenge! But, yeah, that’s not the case.

For instance, I still have a hard time swallowing the idea that my body is on my side. I’ve lived for 27 years considering my body to be a problem. It has never been a beautiful body in my eyes and it is frustratingly stubborn. It is limited in many ways and can’t do all the things I want or expect it to do. I experience it as being untrustworthy and I think of it as something that is sub-par and needs to be fixed but that it is so messed up that it’s a lost cause. Confusingly, it is also an ally in many regards, the most important of which are that it allows me to dance and to walk in this world, and sometimes it surprises me doing things beyond my expectations. Clearly my relationship with my body isn’t 100% in alignment, but I have faith that it can be.

I am also frustrated with the idea my body put forth about having to get internal affairs in order before seeing outward change. I feel like, egad! Haven’t I already done somuch?! I have been working at it for three years to get internal affairs in order but still I wait, wait, wait for the outside to match with the inside (yeah, it’s a little victim-y, I know. I’ll get over it). I am dumbfounded time and again at how very different my internal image of who I am and how I see myself in a fit, healthy body, and the reality of my current obese body are. It is beyond words the amount of internal work I’ve done and annoying that there is still more to go! Plus it is just plain incongruent with the external state of affairs. Like, last week I was eating my fish, brown rice, and asparagus, all portioned and measured, cooked clean after 90 minutes of ballet and I’m thinking to myself, “A person who eats this dinner doesn’t have a body like mine.” But I do.

I’m also in resistance to my body’s message to push and push hard. It’s not because I won’t or don’t push hard already, it’s because I’m sick of hearing it and I’m sick of having to dig down deep just to make it through Latin class with Inna or Mountain climbers with Allison, or planks on a ball with Chelle, or doing the stairstepper with asthma and my heart rate at 175 and me wanting to quit, having to talk myself into each and every step. I admit that here and there I am finally, finally, noticing small changes in the ability to do more. But again, I think it is good to be a little in resistance because it means I’m butting up against my limits and my job is to notice them and burst beyond them. Trust me, it is not in my nature to not push! If my trainer has a weight too low or I don’t feel like I’m being challenged enough I speak up! Usually, though, it’s the other edge I experience – the one where I’m being challenged beyond my perceived capacity – the place where I panic and get emotional and have to fight. I don’t enjoy that fight but again, discovering (finally, after hearing about it for so long) how to channel and transmute my negative feelings into pushing myself, has been a step forward. It may still suck at times, like when I was on my last set of mountain climber burpee thingies and Allison was like, “Go at your own pace. We can modify if you need to,” And I was like, “No!” and got I emotional, angry, teary-eyed, and grunted and groaned but I banged those bitches out, using that emotional angst instead of letting it defeat me. And there have even been moments when I’ve been up for more, that internally a desire to push myself a bit harder when working out on my own bubbled up from somewhere. Again, progress, but not the tangible, visual kind I want to see with a smaller butt, gut, and bat wings, with muscle definition and tone, seeing the definition of muscle working under the skin.

I am also in resistance to the idea that I shouldn’t use the scale. This is because I absolutely, as part of my goals, want and need to be lighter. If that means at some point I lose some muscle, so be it. To be the dancer I want to become I must be smaller, more compact, lean, and weigh significantly less. Period. I cannot stand the idea of living the rest of my life obese, over 200 pounds! Yes, I’m open to the possibility that I will look fantastic at a higher weight than most my competitors who weigh like 110 pounds, but I’m not willing to weigh over 200 pounds. This shit needs to come off. Anyways, for the sake of sanity and also to see a more complete picture, not just the one told by the scale, I’m considering getting some measurements in a Bod Pod, the gold standard for body composition testing.

As for the rest of the letter from my body, I’m totally on board with it. As you can see from the title of my post, especially for the days leading up to Galaxy, (and beyond I hope) I’m in RockStar mode. I am a clean-eating, ready-for-challenge, changing, consistent, and committed woman. This is how I am showing up in my life right now, ready to demolish this portion of the journey set before me. Like no kidding. Because I am hungry, starving, ravenous, for dramatic, transformational change in my body. I have been for a while. I’m so ready for new clothes, ones that I actually like! There is no going back and I still want more, so very much more.

To that end, I’ve made a little sign for myself that I’m hanging above my work computer so I will be staring at it for 8 hours a day to continually reinforce my committment. I have to say, however, that the decision has already strongly been made in my mind. Chelle created a new plan with lower calories and I’m following it to the letter. We also renegotiated a work out plan with cardio and weights. I’ve already been hungrier than before but thanks to the internal work I’ve already done, I’m able to weather it well. On other plans, more geared toward cultivating a healthy lifestyle, I felt over-full or would get hungry maybe once or twice near time to the next meal time. This time around, I get hungry 5 or 6 times before the next time to eat, most especially earlier in the day, but I have the skills to handle it. I can tolerate a few signals from my body where three years ago I would never even allow myself to get hungry, and if I did it was binge time. It may not be completely comfortable to experience a little hunger but I don’t care! I’m committed. And it’s a normal physiological function. I have 17 days now in which to make as much a change as possible before I step onto the ballroom again. I would rather accept the pain of discipline now than suffer the pain of regret at Galaxy, and I know that being in integrity with this plan will give me the best chance of feeling like I am awesome when it’s time to dance.

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Already I’ve had these little victories like yesterday I went to visit a friend and stayed longer than I anticipated so I was quite late for dinner and really hungry. But did I grab the first most convenient thing? No! I grabbed a cucumber, a totally free food on my plan, quickly cut some slices, and nibbled on them as I prepared my dinner. To me that was proving to myself just how very committed I am. No straying from the plan even when things don’t go perfectly. No excuses!

I also made a point to steer clear of my husband’s Fantasy Football draft party. We had over 20 men at our house, eating pizza, drinking beer and other hard libations and I didn’t even want to be around it so I volunteered to housesit for my in-laws. Truth be told, I wasn’t even tempted with the debauchery before me! In years past this would have been as irresistible as a siren’s call and laced with a dose of guilt, remorse, and recovery the following day. And I was even more pleased with my decision when I saw how annihilated my husband and his buds were the next morning.

In addition, I’ve already talked about how I’m going to handle an upcomming trip with my husband. We have a kitchen where we are staying so first priority the morning after we arrive will be to get groceries and cook! I’ll bring my breakfast along with me. He knows I’m not going to bend at this time with the eating, even though we will be around many restaurants and bars. It won’t be like this forever, but for now this is the way it has to be.

So now I guess the biggest struggle isn’t the eating, or even the exercise since I’m clear on what I’m accountable for with that, but rather the biggest battle is waiting patiently and having faith that this change I’m seeking in my body will actually happen. I still don’t entirely trust that it is possible for me to have a gorgeous body, one that I love and would be proud to show off. I still feel like I will be pudgy and that I am not ever really going to be lean. But I do believe it can be better and I know I will not to back. The only path is to push forward. I wish it were happening faster, oh God do I ever! But since I have no fairy godmother to instantly transform my adipose into thin air, I’ll have to burn it off myself.

Topical Series: Ballroom Demystified (Part Deux)

Where was part one, you may ask?  Well this post is an extension of another post by Alaina which you can read here.

I thought it was an excellent topic and told her so.  And, me being as opinionated and vociferous as I am (at least as a writer), I was inspired to continue the conversation.

I’ll use Alaina’s same format.¬† She was comparing DWTS, which probably represents how most uninitiated people think of ballroom, to what actually happens at a ballroom competition.¬† If you’ve never been to one, then you can’t possibly know, but the two are worlds apart.¬† I think pretty much the only things they have in common are spray tans, amazing outfits and hair, the fact that there are judges, and Pro/Am couples.¬† Other than that, things are really different.¬† And one housekeeping note – I’m talking about NDCA Dancesport competitions as those are the ones I have experience with.¬† There are other competitions put on through studio chains or through other independent companies like World Promotions which have their own set of rules and protocols.

Point 1: In competition, there are multiple couples on the floor at the same time

Alaina got this right.¬† The only thing I’ll add, is man, is it a different experience with all that movement going on at the same time.¬† It kind of makes more sense as to why ballroom couples try to be so ostentatious.¬† If you don’t know what they will be up against, it may seem particularly gaudy and over-the-top how they move, how they dress, how they do their hair and make up, and all that.¬† Each couple is vying for the attention of the judges and the audience and being showy, glittery, or even ridiculously cheeky, may help achieve that aim.¬† It is practically impossible to watch just one couple while they compete as each one will catch your eye at a different point.¬† This is also part of why couples rotate around the ballroom between heats – to perform for a different section of the audience and hopefully gain their support.

Point 2:  Two styles of dance

I’d argue that there are 4 categories of dance – broadly divided into American styles and International styles.¬† But it’s not just the styling that is different – it’s also the dances that are performed.¬† On the American side are the American Rhythm and Smooth Divisions, and on the International side are Standard (or Standard Ballroom) and Latin.

American

American Rhythm – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo

American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

International

Standard Ballroom – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Waltz, Quickstep

Latin – Samba, Cha cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive

As you can see, some of the dances are the same.¬† This is where that styling that Alaina was referring to fits in.¬† In general, legs are straight in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha but there is a bending and straightening action that occurs in American Rhythm.¬† In American Smooth, couples can go in and out of a dance frame hold and tend to do lots of sweeping movements, and spins with the lady, and maybe dips too, but in Standard Ballroom, the couples must remain in a¬†dance frame hold throughout the entire dance and travel in unison around the floor.¬† On DWTS, Len’s background would be more in Latin and Standard Ballroom (being from Great Britan) and this is why he often harps about couples breaking out of hold (which I think he used to do more often than he currently does).

In addition, there are also other dances that may be at competitions like country western dances, Night Club Two Step, Argentine Tango, and West Coast Swing, but generally they have different stylization as compared to the dances as danced in their traditional milieu, like a milonga, or with true “Westies.”

Furthermore, there are more types of pairings that can occur.¬† On DWTS we see a little of this – sometimes there are Pro/Pro pairings, also formation teams, both of which occur at competitions.¬† In competitions, there are also purely Amateur couples, some of which are very high level and almost as good as the pros.¬† This pairing is two amateurs and would be the equivalent of two of the “Stars” on DTWS pairing up.¬† Now that would be interesting to see on the show, but would probably result in poor dancing because instead of only 1 person not knowing what they are doing, both would be clueless!

Also, remember that the couples dancing at competition¬†do not know ahead of time which music they will be dancing to.¬† On DWTS the routines are more like those that would be presented during a showcase; the music is known and choreographed to.¬† But in competition, you may have a routine but it has to work and the timing must be correct no matter what music is played.¬† DWTS did show some of this with those “Instant dances” they have had on a few seasons.¬† Those dances test the skill set of leading and following.¬† I believe (though I don’t know for sure) that for most divisions the couples have a pre-planned routine, however they still have to remain in connection so they can react seamlessly if another couple gets in their way or something unexpected happens like one partner forgets the routine.¬† They can then fall back on lead-follow dancing¬†to get them through.¬† However, in the Standard Ballroom division, I think there is more of a chance that the couples don’t have a planned routine.¬† They probably have the basic idea of what they will do and also which steps they will want to show off, but because there is so much movement around the floor and many couples are buzzing around, floorcraft is key in this division in particular.¬† The couple has to react quickly and often to avoid collisions. (As an aside, I think Artem and Inna are particularly adept at this.¬† I’ve¬†only ever seen them almost collide once, ever, on a video,¬†and I have seen them masterfully avoid collisions multiple times¬†without missing a¬†single step.)¬† Anyways, I think in this division, and probably Smooth as well,¬†lead-follow plays a much bigger role.

Amendment:¬† Please do see the comments section of this post!¬† Why? Because Ellen so generously and eloquently¬†clarified this detail, about Standard Ballroom dancers.¬† I am incorrect, it seems!¬† Standard dancers do have planned routines, and maybe even more so than other dancers!¬† Who knew?¬† See Ellen’s explanation!¬† The main idea is that there are only certain ways to get into and exit out of various steps (very true)¬†so they have to be strung together in careful and meticulous order, which many times will require a pre-set routine.¬† And yes, I admit when I am wrong!¬†LOL!¬† Love it!¬† Thank you for interacting, Ellen!¬† I appreciate you so very much.

Point 3: Scoring and points

Yeah, there are no paddles at competitions.¬† Instead, judges mark couples, ranking them or recalling them on forms which are collected and tabulated, and then at various intervals during the day there are awards.¬† The announcer quickly calls out who made 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in a particular heat.¬† That’s it.¬† You may get some gold stickers, or you may get some coupons for $1 off rounds¬†if you compete again next year for¬†placing, and a plaque for participating, but no mirror ball trophy.¬† Medals are sometimes given for placing in a scholarship competition (I will explain that in a bit).¬† But certainly no commentary on what each couple did well or any¬†advice on how to improve like happens on DWTS.

Another difference is that because there are multiple couples competing at the same time, if there is a large heat, with many participants, it is possible that many rounds may have to be danced.¬† There can be multiple preliminary¬†rounds, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals.¬† During each iteration, a few of the couples will be eliminated.¬† In the earlier rounds where there are many couples on the floor, the judges simply vote to “recall” those couples they’d like to see more of.¬† The final round will consist of 6, maybe 7 couples, so getting to semifinals can be a real feat if there are like 24 couples entered in the competition.¬† Rounds like this can be found at bigger competitions like Ohio Star Ball, or Millennium, or USDC, but usually only happen for pros.¬† I’ve only ever had one heat large enough to require a semifinal.¬† All the other heats I’ve danced have always been a final right off the bat because there aren’t enough couples to warrant multiple rounds.

Once reaching the final, judges then place the couples as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.¬† Each judge gives his or her own individual opinion/ranking and these are tabulated.¬† This is why you see perhaps 33221 by the picture or write-up in the media of a couple¬†that¬†placed 3rd.¬† In this example, 2 judges placed the couple 3rd, two judges placed them 2nd, and 1 judge placed them 1st.¬† The couple with the most 1st’s wins and the ranking follows the same pattern.¬† Hopefully the rankings will agree somewhat, indicating that the positions were highly contested, and the the judges¬†were generally¬†on the same page as to the excellence of the the couples.¬† Sometimes, however, they may also vary widely.¬† A couple can miss a final round, or a higher placement by the opinion of just one judge.¬† Truly, for this reason,¬†I have such respect for the strength of character and perservence of the pros who put themselves out there to compete.¬† It¬†can be a¬†brutal process sometimes and very difficult to convince the majority of judges to place you highly enough to reach any level of professional success.

Often competitors can obtain their scoresheets after the competition online to see how a particular judge placed them, or if that judge recalled them.  If the competitor knows the predilections of that judge, then they may gain insight in areas to work on.  For instance, some judges are known to focus in on toplines, others footwork, others overall presentation.  In addition, competitors can see if there was a wide variation in their placements, or if the judges generally agreed upon how they were placed, again giving them more of an idea of what to focus on in the future.

Here’s where I’m going to veer off the path laid by Alaina.

Point 4: Single dances versus Scholarship Rounds, Open versus Closed heats

Okay, so in competitions there are a variety of types of heats.¬† Single dances are just what they sound like.¬† You want to dance Mambo, you dance a Mambo.¬† You will dance it at the appropriate level and age category.¬† In America, there are Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels.¬† These may be further divided into “pre-” or “full” or “intermediate” levels.¬† For instance, as a way of stretching yourself, if you are ranked as a full-Bronze student, you may also participate in a pre-Silver level heat to see how you fare against more advanced competition.¬† In addition, you dance with people your same age, and can dance against those one age category below you.¬† This makes it fair so 20-year-olds aren’t competing against octagenarians.

Scholarship rounds are kind of like a mimic of what the pros do.¬† The pros don’t dance a single dance.¬† They dance all the dances in their category.¬† Now, for us beginners, they go a little easier on us.¬† First, for the lower levels like Bronze, you may only dance 3 or 4 of the dances required by the pros.¬† Also, the length of the heats is less – 1:10 minutes to 1:2o seconds versus about 2:00 minutes for pros.¬† Thank God, I have to say, because it takes time to build up the cardiovascular capacity and skill level necessary to complete all the dances for such a (relatively) long duration.¬† So for instance, I did a closed Bronze scholarship round in Latin at Desert Classic.¬† This meant that I danced 3 dances in a row:¬†Samba, Cha cha, Rumba and was ranked on those compared to the other Pro/Am couples on the floor at the same time in my same skill level and age category.¬† No Paso Doble of Jive for me! (Thank heavens!¬† However, I did dance some single dances in Jive, separately)

Again the scholarship rounds are divided by skill level and age.  They can get very competitive, especially at the Open level.

Okay, now for the difference between Open and Closed.  Closed rounds are those that only include steps in the syllabus.  For NDCA events, this is the DVIDA syllabus.  Open rounds can include more creative choreography and include steps not strictly on the syllabus.  There can be open single dances as well as open scholarship rounds.  They can also still be divided by skill level, so for instance you can dance an open bronze Bolero or an open silver Waltz.

When pros compete, they are competing as an open.¬† Anyone can enter.¬† Though for Pro/Am and Amateur levels, the open¬†scholarship rounds are generally still¬†divided by age, but then again, you don’t usually see senior citizens in open professional competition, but you will see them in open Pro/Am scholarship rounds.

Hmm….well, that’s probably just scratching the surface of the differences between DWTS and a NDCA competition.¬† Honestly, if you’ve never been to one, it’s worth checking out.¬† The energy of the ballroom during pro heats is unbelievable.¬† And it’s so inspiring and incredible.¬† Though I love getting my DWTS fix, I love being a part of this other world and participating in the “real deal.”¬† There are a lot of ways to participate in ballroom and I’d encourage anyone to participate to any level that works for them, from social dancing, to full-on competition.¬† All are wonderful, and special, and important.¬† But for me, I’ve decided, it’s the competition route I’m interested in.¬† Yeah, I’m crazy.¬† I know.¬† Lol.

If you do happen to have anything to add, or any further questions, please¬†comment!¬† I love hearing other perspectives, and about other experiences.¬† Part of what I’m after here on the blog is to¬†build community.¬† Please join in the fun!

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…..