Good news is, I’ve begun a new job.  It’s a contract job and guaranteed for six months.  After that, who knows, but I’m really hoping it might turn into a “real” job.  They have to put a lot of resources into training us newbies and I can’t imagine they’d want to mobilize the resources again in a few months, except for in extreme cases of workers with poor performance or a hiring freeze or financial cutbacks.  But again, not something I have control over and I am just extremely thankful for what is, right now.

The bad news is, the learning curve is steep.  Not the normal pharmacist stuff…that’s fine…it’s all the company-specific computer and operational stuff.  It is just a LOT of information to absorb (not unlike learning the entire Bronze syllabus for the Rumba or something in just a few days).  In any case, it was so much info that I dreamt about it last night!  I just know my little brain was assimilating all it could.

You see, I’m playing catch-up because I was added to the job a week after everyone else started.  I’ve had 2 days.  They’ve had 9.  AHHH!  Luckily, I got some one-on-one training to help with all that, but it is still a lot to absorb.  So, all-in-all, not bad news, really – not even close!  After all I’ve been through in the job/financial/work environment categories, I’m GRATEFUL!  It’s just that my mind is spent.  I have the IQ of a wombat by the end of my 8 hour shift (no offense to wombats! Perhaps they are very smart, like parrots.  But I wouldn’t know about that, especially right now.)  And this showed up in my lesson tonight….not to mention the fact that yes, I did watch DWTS this week, and yes, the topical series articles are still in process, but I just haven’t had the mental fortitude to actually complete posts about them with real words and sentences and paragraphs in English and all that.

So anyways, I finished work for the day as a mental case and headed to meet with Ivan.

Even from the beginning he noticed a difference.  I told him, “Ivan!  I’m so tired.  I’m stupid right now.  Seriously.  It’s just that I’m starting a new job and have a lot to learn.  Let’s just dance something socially, kay?”

He was amenable and we began with a nice, soft, sloppy West Coast Swing.  Seriously, I was just barely moving as compared to how I normally show up, but it was about all I could physically and mentally muster.

“Stefanie?  What happen?  You dancing like Medusa?”

“Huh?  The woman with snakes for hair? The one who turned men to stone?  Also known as a Gorgon?  What the hell are you talking about, Ivan?”

“No, a medusa.”

“????”  Arms spread outward to the sides, palms up, shoulders shrugged.

“I make a picture later.”

“Okay Ivan.”

So before I get to that…this is/was the other “bad” news of the night.  I was pretty much worthless on my lesson.  First, I was exhausted mentally.  Secondly, the energy in my body seemed to be completely sapped after about 15 seconds of any dance we worked on.  And, finally I was laughing so much my belly hurt, I almost peed my pants, and because I was guffaw-ing so hard, I couldn’t breathe to dance properly.  It didn’t help that Ivan made fun of every little noise I made.  Yes, I admit, they weren’t what you’d usually hear on the dance floor, but I was so tired that I sighed, or grunted, or squealed depending on if I was trying to push through a move or scared or whatever.

Seriously, my stomach hurt from giggling so much, especially when I tried to “be serious” and then made a noise out of frustration or effort or just to try and breathe and Ivan imitated it which, like a row of dominoes, cascaded into a collapsing heap of me folding inward into a belly laugh.

In any case, we continued to dance and Ivan decided that Bolero was appropriate. Somehow this morphed into Latin Rumba and my Bulgarian dance instructor then decided that it was a prime opportunity to practice crazy stupid lifts and dips for someone as large as I am. We did a few leans with developes and some dips with me lifting my left leg into the air.  But Ivan was making me place all my body weight on his knee while he was in a deep lunge.  It freaked me out.  I actually felt my foot leave the floor for a second, realized that for that moment he was bearing all my body weight, and immediately broke the position so I could plant my feet firmly on the ground.  How can that man hold me up like that?!  I am just so insecure about it I wish he wouldn’t do it.

I have to admit this is not a new fear.  Even when I was 16 and weighed 116 pounds I was concerned about this.  Not logical, I know.  But I was in a production of “The Music Man” in my high school and cast as a dancer and member of the chorus.  There was one move in which I was partnered with a senior theater “god” which made me feel horribly insecure because 1) he was a Thespian paragon and 2) he had to pick me up at the waist and place me on a table.  But then again, looking back on it, it might not have been because of my weight that he failed to get me up there on the table that night.  Truly, he was a slight young man, and not at all muscular in the upper limbs.  In addition, he never practiced the particular move but once with me, and it had absolutely been ingrained in me to practice piano/ballet/anything if it was to be performed to the point where you can do it mindlessly, because when the moment comes to perform, all kinds of things can go wrong.  (And also, once I didn’t practice appropriately and bombed my piano recital.  Not a good feeling! But that is another story).  Anyways, I had a high anxiety level about this move knowing how un-practiced it was, and not having any connection to the person who was responsible for lifting me aloft except for a fearful and reverent adoration from afar, and so, my big fear did come to fruition.  He went to lift me up and I just fell right down.  At least I landed upright, on my feet (so that was good), and he had the theatrical training to grab me and sway side to side to cover the mishap – but I’m pretty sure the audience noticed the gaffe because 1) I made a big loud BOOM! when my character shoes hit the wooden stage floor instead of the table and 2) my dancing counterpart was on a table on stage right doing the same choreography I was supposed to be doing on stage left so things didn’t look symmetrical.  This, plus the fact that the bench I sat on during “Oliver!” while singing “Food, Glorious Food,” collapsed on stage while I (and about 19 other people) were sitting on it, confirmed my fear that I was horribly huge and fat.  See, all along, I really DID have a mental problem.  It just now has manifested into my physical reality, not just my mental reality.

Okay, back now from that psychological detour.  Interestingly, I actually thought this post would be quick because not much happened on the lesson – but clearly my complexes are rooted deeply!  Ahhh!

So a brilliant thing did actually happen on this very-low-energy lesson.  Ivan and I did all our basic Latin Rumba stuff and then I asked him about a step I’ve seen others do, and one that I *think* Igor may have been trying to lead me into last Friday, but that I didn’t know how to do.  What happened next may or may not be the same move, but it was damn cool, whatever it was.  Pretty much from an Alemana I then step forward into a double spiral turn and complete with two walks around the back of Ivan to fan position.  But I didn’t know this at the time.  All I knew was I’d seen this turn-y thing done on YouTube videos by professionals and Igor tried to lead me into something I wasn’t familiar with.

After two tries to decipher which step I meant, Ivan demonstrated what I *thought* I wanted to know so I said, “Ivan, teach me this step.”

At first he seemed a little reluctant but then he was like, okay.

“Is this a Bronze or Silver step?”

“No.  It’s an Ivan step.”


“It not in the syllabus.  You do it, they kicking you off the floor.  You know who doing this?  It Joanna Leunis.”

“Really!?!  I LOVE her.  She’s amazing.  But okay.  I’m clear. So if we get to do it, we do it in an open heat.”

“Yes, open.”

He led me into it, but only indicated one spiral turn.  I did this successfully then he said, “Oh.  It better if you can do a double.  Can you do a double?”

I didn’t know if I could but I wanted to try.

Bam!  I totally did it.

Ivan and I gave each other a double “Hi Five” and a hug.  I was so excited.  In fact, it was probably the most animated part of my lesson, succeeding at this maneuver.  He told me, “Most people doing this step and can’t even do a single turn.”  He demonstrated, in his Ivan-exaggerated way of how people fall out of the turn (normally), leaning and listing to this side or the other and causing a big problem.  So he wanted me to try it again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

But me, woot! I easily did the double again! Maybe I’m finally finding my center, once again, and also remembering to spot, plus I had the added advantage of just that little assist in balance from connecting with Ivan – for me that little bit of support makes all the difference, I have to say. So yay.

“See.  I no have to teach you the step.  You already doing it.”

“Let’s try it again, Ivan.”

We did.  And it was successful for the next 3 tries.  On the 4th try I fell to the floor.  I swear the wooden floor at the church is so slippery!  I need new shoes and that floor is difficult.  I love the sticky/tacky floor at Imperial.  It spoils me and I wish it were everywhere!  Anywhoo….I fell.  But I am uninjured and overall the move was a rousing success.

Next onto a Samba.  For some reason, Ivan keeps calling it “Sambera” lately.  Whatever.  He put on the music and since I had suggested we dance socially, we decided to do the Samba in that character.  Oh my gosh, I can’t remember when I ever laughed so hard.  I told Ivan that it is sometimes painfully difficult to watch social dancers do the Samba.  Some of them hop, and jolt, and have no hip movement.  They dance like 2 x 4’s as Ivan calls it when he means people are stiff.  This isn’t to generalize or degrade people who socially dance the Samba, I promise, it’s just that I’ve seen some couples and I’m like, wow, why are you dancing this dance this way?  It is awkward.  Probably the same reaction someone had to me dancing West Coast Swing (as taught by a ballroom instructor) before I knew about the dance.  I promise, we all have stuff to work on, you know?!

So Ivan and I danced this way – no hips, stiff, 2×4, wooden.  It was hilarious!  It looked ridiculous.  And such a contrast from Ivan, who normally dances it so amazingly, and from me, who works so dang hard to create a proper Samba bounce plus hip motion.  I truly wish I had that s*@t on film!  It was too funny.

Honestly though, besides that, the rest of my lesson was unremarkable.  We did Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, and Cha Cha.  I dragged.  Ivan poured as much Chi energy my way as he could.  It felt a little like an energetic transfusion of sorts.  I did feel somewhat better by the end of the lesson, but still, I’m drained.  Oh well.  Glad I did have one “triumph.”

So please root for Ivan and Marietta as they compete this weekend at the Emerald Ball in LA.  There is live streaming of the entire event (though a pay-per-view) here if you want to watch from home.  It is a big and prestigious and competitive event.  I really, really hope my favorite couple (besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski) does well.  Ivan seemed to think they wouldn’t even make the final at such a large comp, but I reminded him to look into his mirror, remember the champion he already is, and have an optomistic attitude.  Because you know what? I believe in him and Marietta.  I enjoy watching them dance because they have an real and emotional connection.  And to me, that makes things interesting.  As I’ve said before – I’d prefer to watch a couple that is less technically excellent with an authentic connection than an impeccably technically excellent couple with no emotion or connection any day of the week.

So anyways, as I pumped this positive support Ivan’s way, he rebutted my support by asking me to jump on the roof.  So I jumped.  Not high, not impressively, and certainly not onto the roof, but happily.

He about peed his pants laughing at me.  He said, “Being in the final of Emerald Ball for me is like jumping on the roof right now.  Can people do it?  Yes.  But they need to practice.  You have to remember, I lazy.  And I should be practicing jumping and little by little I jump on the roof like it easy.”

“So what?!” I replied. I jumped up again.  Again, not graceful, not impressive, but to illustrate a point that I hope Ivan got.

The point is, GO FOR IT.  Wherever I am/he is/you are right now, go for it.  Why not?

“You can’t controlling how the judging goes in competitions so you might as well have fun.” Said Ivan.  And I agreed.

“So go have fun at Emerald Ball, Ivan, damnit!  Go have fun!  I will be watching and rooting for you.  You know you are my favorite couple? Right?  Well, if I am honest, besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski….they I like them best, and you guys (Ivan and Marietta) the second best.”

Ivan was so excited by my comment he said laughingly, “I tell Marietta this.  You know her favorite dancer?”

“Yes, Ivan.  I know it’s Joanna.”

“Yes.  She gonna get a kick that your two favorite couples are Joanna Leunis with Michael Malitowski and us!”

But I mean it.  And so you must be wondering why?  Well, my response is, why not love these two couples?  Because for me, when I watch them, there actually seems to be a connection and that makes the interaction between man and woman interesting to watch.  And Joanna is immaculate.  Truly.  From my perspective, all the high level competitors are technically excellent in their dancing, no doubt about it, but I love the drama, the connection, the emotion.  I personally prefer that above perfect technique, and I guess Ivan does too, based on our conversation which is interesting and makes it no mystery why he ended up being my instructor since we both value the same things in dancing.  I do believe Joanna and Michael to be superior to Ivan and Marietta in terms of experience, ranking, technicque, and even, I hate to say it, connection, but I also happen to believe Ivan and Maretta have the potential to forge an excellence and connection strong enough of their own to compete with the best in the world.  Of course, I’m biased.  But as a dancer and human being, I also happen to see that potential in them.

Whew!  Have I said everything I wanted to say?  Yep.  A brief post – just another 2800-word (and change) post.  Ha ha. Not!

Oh – and before I sign off, I have to explain the title of this post.  Medusa. Well, Ivan “made” me a picture of what “the hell” he was talking about….a jellyfish.  Apparently I was dancing like a boneless, blubbery, soft jellyfish.  The interesting part is that how Ivan described “medusa” to me was that it “90% water.”  Uh huh.  How do you know how to communicate something like that but you don’t know the word for jellyfish?  I’ll never know.  And also, once I figured out that medusa meant jellyfish, I asked Ivan, “Is that the word in Polish or Bulgarian?”

” Bulgarian,” he replied.

“Well great.  ‘Cause that is a useful word, if I ever go to visit there….now I know how to say jellyfish.”  Probably “bathroom” and “beer” and “I’m sorry” would actually be more useful, right?


Watch out you Bulgarians.  I am now armed with the word for jellyfish.  Kind of like a Marine armed with a banana.  Sheesh!

It’s way past bedtime.

Gute Nacht,  Stefanie

Vegas, Baby!

It seems like ages since I’ve created the time to sit and write a post and oh my goodness do I have a backlog of things to share with you today.

So let’s start in chronological order – but I don’t guarantee that I won’t wander. I’ve got lots to cover including a trip to the Vegas Open with Ivan, Marietta, Katie, and Ivonne, maybe 3 lessons with Ivan, a class with Inna, and other adventures in the game called, “my life.”

So, last Friday after work, I hopped in my car and picked up Ivonne. We made the 4.5 hour drive to Las Vegas talking all things ballroom and listening to fun music the entire time. We finally arrived at the Las Vegas Hilton, checked in, and gussied ourselves up for an evening in the ballroom and out on the town. It was Ivonne’s birthday, too! Definitely cause for fun and celebration.

Ivonne and me before the competition

We made our way down to the ballroom and saw Ivan and Marietta briefly for a quick hello.

Ivan and me before the Vegas Open

Ivan and me before the Vegas Open

You know, people who are new to the ballroom world are so fun to be around. Why? Because they say the darndest things! I mean, it can be a little overwhelming to walk into a competitive ballroom for the first time. There is glitz, and glamour, and bright lights, and all this movement and noise.

Here’s what it looked like in the Las Vegas Open ballroom that night

So anyways, Katie finally made it into town and joined us in the ballroom. Ivan and Marietta were competing in the Open Professional American Rhythm Division, which was scheduled to begin at 10:29pm, one of the last events of the evening. Before that were some higher-level Pro/Am heats, as well as the Open Professional Smooth heats.

We girls settled in to watch the dancing and I’ll never forget some of the funny comments from my newbie compatriots. For instance, during one of the Pro/Am heats Ivonne and I were watching, she blurted out, “They are a hot mess!” I had to giggle. This Asian lady and her professional partner were dancing the Jive. I would have given them a “ten” for excitement and energy, but maybe a “2” for control. They were dancing wildly, off-balance, but man, they were into it!

Then, during the Professional Smooth, Ivonne turns to me and says, “Isn’t there supposed to be a line of dance?” Now, if you’ve ever seen Rising Star or Open Professional Smooth heats, you’ll know what she’s talking about. I had to laugh out loud and even Ivan snickered when I conveyed the comment later on a lesson. You see, the dancing done by professionals looks completely different than that done by amateur students. We students learn syllabus steps. In Smooth, we are often in hold for most of the dancing and we perform steps like the basic, twinkles, chasses, etc. Well, those professionals are interpreting the “feeling” of the dance. They go in and out of hold and do a lot of interpretive steps. Especially in American Rhythm these days there can be a lot of gymnastics going on and hardly any of the basic foundational steps in the dance.

In any case, Ivonne made an astute observation. Those couples were bouncing around the ballroom floor like bonus balls in a pinball machine! Perhaps they were vaguely moving in a counter-clockwise fashion, but truthfully, it was pretty difficult to see.

Katie induced my next guffaw. “What dance was that?!” She exclaimed. Once again, the dance being performed bore little resemblance to the Waltz she has seen and knows. I told her she could tell by the music which dance it was, but without that cue, she’s right. It might have been very difficult for someone who learns syllabus steps to decipher what was going on.

Me and Katie in Vegas

But finally it was time for Ivan and Marietta to compete!

Here they are in the semi-final

Of course they made it to the final.

My favorite couple ended up placing 3rd. They were ranked 3rd in all dances, behind Rado and Devora Pashev and Jason and Sveta Daly.

But, I’m not surprised.

I may be getting a little controversial here, but hey, this is my blog, and I’m allowed to express my opinion. I could have predicted the results. I could have told you before anybody took one step on the dance floor who was going to win and what the placement would be, at least for the top 3 couples.

This is one of the aspects of competitive ballroom dancing that I am hardly enamored with. The part where couples are ranked not always on how they are dancing that particular night, but on a bunch of pre-determined factors. I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of judging, but even I, novice that I am, know that it gets political. Even I know that it is partially based on past rankings, who is poised to be the next champion as decided by those in power. Get in with the right people, and you have a much better chance at actually winning a competition.

Now this isn’t to degrade the dancing abilities of all the competitors. They have to be amazing to compete on this level. However, no one can always be at their absolute best and if the competitions were based on the dancing exclusively, then maybe the results would vary once in a while, you know?

Anyways, it is what it is. Ivan and Marietta got 3rd. At least they got to stand on one of the giant stacks of poker chips!

You’d think the adventure would end there – but no! We were in Vegas! It was Ivonne’s birthday. Even if was midnight by the time things were done, we had to go out on the town, right?

Ivan and Marietta quickly changed clothes and we were off, to a restaurant called the Peppermill. I guess it is pretty well known. We noshed on salads and cocktails and shared some very entertaining conversation. Even just getting there, the cab ride, was an adventure. I managed to entertain everyone after 3 glasses of wine by interacting with Lee, our codgy old taxi driver. He was pretty resistant to my questioning about his life at first, but by the end of it, everyone was having a good time. I think Ivonne or Katie even got it on video, which, I’m embarrassed to see, I think. But they thought it was hilarious. And I just won’t tell you what Ivan talked about….TMI! It involved chickens. Have I mentioned that Ivan keeps chickens? Well, they are not very good at “bringing him eggs.” He discussed various ways he had attempted to increase their egg production. Nuff said.

We must have looked an odd group at the diner. As Marietta commented on my Facebook page, she and Ivan looked like “orange weirdos.” See for yourself:

This one is of all of us looking nice.

They were like tan bookends for us “palefaces.”

And this is the one of Ivan being Ivan.

We finally made it to bed at 3:30 am with plans for breakfast around 9 am the next morning. Surprisingly we weren’t dragging all that badly. Some food at Ihop, dessert in Paris, Paris, and we hit the road for the drive back to Phoenix.

It’s times like this with friends, doing things I love, that I really appreciate life. I’m so glad I decided to go, “just because,” to support Ivan and Marietta, and that both Ivonne and Katie were able and amenable to coming along for the adventure as well. I hope there will be more joint ventures in the future. This is a special part of my “ballroom family,” and I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than to share it with those I cherish having in my life.

Well, I guess that’s enough story for now. It seems like a good place to stop. But like I said at the beginning of this post, I have a lot more to tell you about. I’ll end here for the time being but stay tuned – more to follow shortly!