A Rainy Day: Shoot Ivan, And Then He Goes Down To Hell

Yesterday I awoke to grey skies, frigid air, and fat wet drops beading upon my car.

Desert rain is a wonderful thing. There is nothing like the smell of creosote and wet earth. Since we get rain so infrequently I tend to really enjoy rainy days and overcast skies, even if it makes driving a little bit scary.

But I braved the weather (and traffic) so I could dance – I mean what else could propel me out of bed on a day that just begs to be spent in pajamas, under the bed sheets, with a cup of hot tea and a good book? You are right. Nothing.

But dance did rouse me and I met Ivan for a double lesson and we continued to work on our routines. And also, something kind of funny happened. We never discussed it, but all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we are working on an open Mambo routine. Actually, this started a few lessons ago, but today we took it to a new level.

Now here is a funny aside for you…from what Ivan tells me, dancers trained in Europe in the International Latin style have a very difficult time picking out the “2” count in the Mambo. For years and years, Ivan says, he and other dancers he knew danced off the timing, and started on the “1” count because that is what they could hear. In any case, these foreigners finally devised a way to locate the “2” count by pretending the song was for a Cha Cha! So, for instance, if you count a Mambo as a very fast Cha Cha you can find the “2” fairly easy. In fact, I remember Rado sharing this same tidbit at the dance camp! In any case, I find this amusing.

But I can relate. The very first partner dance I ever did was when I went to Spain. I went abroad for a summer of classes. An enterprising dance instructor talked many of my classmates into meeting at a local bar for Salsa lessons while we were at school. So for about a month and a half twice a week I went to a bar, drank Fanta orange with Malibu, and learned Salsa with my main partner who was from Algeria. Wow, when I write it like that, my life kind of sounds exciting!

salsa1

Anyways, I loved it!

Can you believe this is me?!

Can you believe this is me?!

But of course in Salsa you start on the “1” count. This is what I was used to when it came to Latin music. So when my very first ballroom instructor began teaching me Mambo, I totally thought he was off the beat! LOL. I danced along with him, but I secretly thought he couldn’t hear the music properly! It took a long time to hone in on the “2” count, but ironically enough, now that I primarily dance Mambo, it feels awkward to dance on the “1” beat!

salsa3

Okay, so back to my narrative.

We are working on this Mambo routine which is kind of exciting to me because it’s the first American Rhythm dance we’ve worked on beyond syllabus steps. I think I just asked for “cardio” in my lesson and this was the result. But anyways, just like in the Rumba and Cha Cha that we’ve already worked on, I need to know the choreography, the timing, the sequence of the steps. So the lesson was all about this, and it was pretty awesome.

Here’s the thing, though – in the beginning of the routine there are a lot of distinct steps, out of hold, and this makes them easy to remember in sequence. In the middle of the routine, however, I do about 15 left-right-left-hold (meaning balance on the left leg with the right leg free and available to move) steps. They all look different because we are doing different things with our arms and different facings in relation to the dance floor. But when it comes to remembering the routine, by myself, it gets tricky!

Seriously, the first hurdle is just knowing the steps with the proper timing. We didn’t even broach technique, character, performance, accenting, etc. But Ivan helped me. First, he laid down on the floor. You see, I was to do this by myself, and Ivan had had a late night involving wine heh heh heh. Second, we counted the steps and I did them over and over. The first few times, he’d prompt me when I was drawing a blank. By the end of the lesson, I pretty much had it. I say pretty much because I’m still slow – my brain is still working on overdrive to remember what comes next – but that is okay. Because now even if I have to pause and think, I can run through the routine on my own.

But the other thing Ivan did to help was to label certain distinguishing characteristics of the mostly similar steps. For instance, the first step, doing the left-right-left hold ends with me pointing forward with my left hand. We labeled this “Shoot Ivan.” Next in the sequence, I turn my partner lifting my left arm high and my right arm low. For whatever reason we focused on the low arm and Ivan called this move, “Send Ivan to Hell.” I laughed at these stupid names, but you know what? It helped me remember what was coming and it even makes a little bit of sense. I mean, you have to shoot Ivan first before you can send him to Hell – you know? LOL.

So anyways, the majority of my lesson was just getting clear on the what I’m supposed to be doing. Once we had done the choreography, and by “we” I mean me by myself, I asked Ivan to review the proper motion for the basic step. Why? For a few reasons. First, it’s been a long time since I reviewed the proper motion, much less danced the American Styles with any consistency. Second, because I noticed that I looked different doing it than Ivan did. Well, it was a great thing to request. More and more I find that going back to the very basics is so important and elucidating for more complicated steps and choreography. Knowing how to move properly in the basic sets me up for moving properly in every step.

So here’s what I learned. Well, probably more like “remembered” because I swear I’ve been told this stuff before but hey, if you don’t use it you lose it! (There is no Mambo in Inna’s class and Ivan and I have been focusing on Latin lately.) But anyways, what I “remembered” is that when doing the basic step you first place the foot (going forward or backward) and then even as you are changing your weight to that placed foot, you are actually propelling yourself in the opposite direction to land on the opposite foot. For instance, if you place the foot back, at the same time, as you are committing your body weight to the back foot, you are simultaneously shifting it forward to land on the next step on the opposite leg and foot which is stepping forward. The same holds true for the front step with the left foot, placing it but then shifting the body weight on to the back foot almost immediately. (One note here: the steps described are from the perspective of the lady (a.k.a. my perspective – because, after all, that is the most important perspective, no? lol).

Not only does this way of thinking about the basic Mambo step exemplify proper technique, but it also will change the look of the step, and even better, it will make dancing it with a partner easier and more in unison if both partners are doing it properly.

So I guess that’s the meat of my latest adventures. After my lesson, I made my way to a ballet class. It was pretty cool and in some parts easy but others challenging. I do believe that I will be sore tomorrow from the work I did today. And also, we worked on turns. And just by the way, turns from 5th position suck! LOL. Seriously, they are so hard, especially for someone with a tight Achilles Tendon and limited plie’ (AKA me) but we practiced them nonetheless. We did chaine’ turns across the floor which I managed fairly well, and weirdly I don’t get dizzy actually doing them, but I get extremely dizzy upon stopping (and I remember a time where I didn’t get dizzy anymore at all!), and then we did the turns from 5th. Well, mostly I did them average-like to poorly, but there was one really lovely turn! And you know what? I want to celebrate that one lovely turn because it was uplifted, and I looked like I was almost floating, and I held the posse position for just a fraction of a second longer than necessary with such beautiful control and center, placing my foot in 5th gracefully and solidly to end it. It was awesome! Of course, right after that the next 3 turns sucked ass, but hey, but you know, that’s what dancing is, right? Lots of practice to find that balanced uplifted strong space. 9 times out of 10, or even 99 out of 100, I blow it, or something is “off” – but then that 10th or 100th time it clicks and is an out-of-the-body experience of perfection. Well, at least that is how it feels to me.

So shoot Ivan and send him to hell! It’s been a good day to dance. And, to echo a Klingon sentiment (because I am a total nerd and Trekkie), it would be a good day to die. Because if I died today, well, I was in my process, doing what I love to do, working towards my potential. There is no worthier pursuit, no better way to spend my time. And for that, my friends, I am grateful.

The end.

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Just For Fun

Here is a short video of my silly instructor before I met him.  He’s the clown.  He’s dancing with his friend dressed as a cowboy who is also a pro.

If you enjoyed this Crazy Clown and Cowboy Waltz, you can see them dance a Sassy Samba together on The Facebook Page.  While there, like the page to it to add it to your Facebook feed for extra content beyond the blog, and go here to write a comment and help me get into the next round of the Dance Advantage Best Dance Blog competition.  Any comment with a date of January 22nd will count!

TTFN!  -Stef

The Joys Of Fake-Tanning

Goodness me…

The blog is getting away from me! I can’t believe how long it has been since I have been able to find a moment to sit and write. Again, so much has happened since I last posted.

Really, there is only one thing on my mind….

Though I go to work daily, and do some online writing jobs, and try to get some sleep, every spare moment my mind wanders to the Desert Classic. A jolt of excitement flushes through my stomach every time I imagine what it will feel like to be there, only a few short days from now.

But until then, there’s a lot of work to do!

The dancing is pretty much where it is going to be. Ivan and I can discuss small details at this point and work on performance, and also just continue to go through the steps and connect. I think that’s probably the most important thing right before a competition.

Ivan is actually really excited about it. I, well, I had a nightmare about it last night! I dreamt that he was late and while I was looking for him, I missed most of my dance heats. Then, I couldn’t find my dance costume. I couldn’t get the pantyhose on. I couldn’t move fast enough. We finally made it on the dance floor, but Ivan was in a foul mood, and the judges didn’t like our dancing. In fact, one was correcting us while we were competing! After that round was finished, we went to go talk, and Ivan was talking so much that we missed the last heats that I had on my ticket. Can you say anxiety much?

But Ivan, well, he says he’s going to do great with Marieta on Saturday night because he will have been dancing on the floor with me all weekend. He will have the lay of the land and feel comfortable in the space. For him, it’s worse to just show up and get thrown on the floor. It’s worse to not be dancing all day long and then have to dance from a “cold start,” if you will. Well, I do what I can to help! Just kidding. But still, I’m glad that he seems ready to enjoy the competition.

Anyways, last weekend we went to the lake again, but this time we had a speed boat. Ivan was really amazing. After only like two tries, he made it up on the wakeboard.

Me, I wasn’t so successful.

But like Marieta, I too got to ride the inner tube.

But boy were we all sore for the next few days! I was laughing with Marieta because she and Ivan couldn’t even practice Monday and Tuesday because they hurt so bad they could barely move.

But move we have, anyways. Marieta and her mom, Ivan’s mother-in-law, Nona, are making me a second dress, like I mentioned. It has evolved into something entirely different from the original sketch, but I’m liking it so much better. It has lovely draping that hides all my bulges and bumps. It is now off the shoulder because of how the arms fit when they were attached, but again, it is an improvement to the original design that just sort of happened. I think this dress has a mind of it’s own. It’s designing itself! Anyways, they’ve promised me the dress will be done by Monday so I can have it and try it on in case any last-minute fixes need to be done and I’ll share photos when I can.

Also, I have decided to tan for this competition, and not be “yogurt” as Ivan calls it. Yes, I have a pale complexion normally, but now I’m living in an alternate universe where I’m going to a tanning salon, for a spray tan, of course. And it feels funny to be darker, but Ivan really liked it when I did an at-home version by myself.

I learned a few things from my experiment which I will share with you here. Please don’t laugh too much. Well, scratch that, actually laugh tons. I’m laughing at myself, and just glad I gave myself enough lead time for my home-done tan to fade a bit.

So if you are going to purchase a spray bottle of tanning stuff to do at home, learn from my mistakes. Number one, clean your hands, especially the palms, right after you spray. Mine have looked like I have dirt on them perpetually for a week!

Next, and this one seems obvious, spray evenly. I managed to create some very straight lines on my body of where I sprayed and where I missed. Like on my fingers, there was a line of tan and a line of white. And on my arms, It was like a painted street divider from the side to the under part of my arm.

Then, there is streaking. Yeah, on the back part of my legs to the inner calf there were streaks where the liquid collected. In some areas it created dark streaks. In others, it created, well, nothing. My yogurt-y skin shone through in stark contrast to the nearby copper, like coal eyes embedded in a snowman’s face.

Finally, it did look kinda orange. But, even with all my blunders, Ivan liked it when I showed up for my lesson Wednesday. I do think it made my calves look slightly smaller.

But really, Paragon was right….it DID affect the way I felt. I felt more like a “real” ballroom dancer. Like a fat Karina Smirnoff or something. It was a little bit addicting! Not that I’d normally go around looking like that – I feel like a freak, like my face is dirty or something as I wade around in my life, but it will make a difference on the dancefloor.

So today after work I went to a real tanning salon now that the crappy job I did faded a bit and to fix the streaky errors. But that was an experience as well. I suppose it is probably best to have a person physically spray you in detail in one of those tents but honestly, I’m just not comfortable enough with my body to have someone see me like that yet. So I opted for the automatic tanning machine so I could be by myself in the room.

It made me think of this episode from the t.v. show “Friends” where Ross has an experience, shall we say, with a tanning machine. Seriously, people, this is funny. Click and watch! And, as an aside, the first tanning machine Ross enters is the exact same one that sprayed me today and it was definitely rigged for t.v….I will explain about the mist later in the post…

Well, I made sure to turn around when I was in there! No counting Mississippi for me! But even I learned a few things about those machines:

First, I closed my eyes for the first part (the front half) and when I opened them, I thought maybe my vision had changed. There was so much mist in the air that everything looked blurry. That was a little disconcerting, and not at all as clear as it was on the t.v. clip there.

Second, breathing was a bit of an issue. That stuff, whatever it is, kinda stinks, and is certainly a chemical. You can’t help but breathe it in when it is saturating the air so heavily. I personally have asthma so I’m a bit sensitive to things like that. I don’t know what a person can do about it, except maybe do the hand spraying in that tent, or have a fast-acting inhaler nearby should it trigger an asthma attack. Maybe pre-treat with albuterol before going in the machine if necessary. Oh, and just like when I go camping near dark soil, well, um, blowing my nose is colorful at the moment.

Third, they give you barrier cream to put on your nails and hands and feet, and I thought I applied it liberally…but again, my hands look like I’ve been making mudpies all day. I guess really slop that stuff on. The spray gets under your nails and looks grimy!

Lastly, they give you a cover for your hair, but make sure to keep it right at the hairline. Mine fell just a little below it and it created a line on my face. Nothing that can’t be fixed when I go in to tan again on Sunday, and nothing that couldn’t be blended with some make up, but still, it’s kind of tough to get it exactly right.

All in all, though, I should just thank my lucky stars I didn’t end up looking like Ross! You know?

Anyways, I don’t think my experience at Desert Classic will be anything at all like my dream. I fully anticipate it to be oodles of fun. I’m going to have my friend Colette there, and some other gals from Inna’s class on Tuesdays will be there too, as well as Ivan and Marieta, and Inna and Artem. I will get to meet Paragon in person, which I’m super excited about, and I have like, two local friends who are making the trek to come watch me in Palm Springs! I am so blown away by that. Truly. It feels awesome and I already feel supported and like people are rooting for me and I haven’t even taken one dance step yet! I am so blessed! Plus I can’t wait to make more friends.

So this weekend I will have a dance lesson or two, I need to get some fishnets, I want to do laundry and pack, I will get another layer of tan, I will get my fake nails put on. I will write my final checks for the dress and the entry fees. I will write as much as I can so I won’t have to complete writing assignments while I’m at the competition. In sum, it’s time for final preparations. I work Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday we all hop in the car and head off to Palm Springs. Thursday I dance all day long. I can’t hardly wait!

And Ivan….well for his final preparations, tomorrow he’s going to driving school! Ha ha! Silly man got a ticket. What a dork! But a cute one, nonetheless. 🙂

Project Kindness

My dearest readers and cyberspace friends, I need your help!

As you know by now, I’m going to the Desert Classic DanceSport Competition.  Depending on when you joined the bandwagon, you may or may not know the entire story why.

The short version is that I met Irina Suvorov and she invited me.  Well, she invited everyone at the table, but I accepted the offer.  She and another judge joined our table at dinner during a past competition because we were laughing loudly and “appeared like we were having the most fun.”  Basically, we were the most fun table.

Irina was lovely and we shared a nice conversation.  I befriended her on Facebook and liked the page for the Desert Classic Competition so I could stay up to date on the latest developments for this competition I was planning to do.  But I didn’t seriously expect her to actually remember me.  Well, I guess she did!

I think this speaks to what I am discovering about this lovely lady peripherally through various interactions online as well as that one fun conversation we shared almost nine months ago.  It is my experience that Irina really cares about others and I think this is especially demonstrated in a new project she has come up with that will be sponsored by the competition.  Basically here are the details:

PLEASE READ ABOUT “PROJECT KINDNESS.” The Desert Classic is giving “kindness awards” to recognize good deeds. We’ve experienced much kindness from others in our lives and are grateful for the blessings. We finally decided to do something about it and are calling it “Project Kindness” The plan has one simple goal: to encourage people to do something nice for someone else. There are many ways to accomplish this. Here are some ideas … buy a friend a ballroom ticket, donate a pair of shoes to a child, pay for a solo video for someone, give some sort of surprise to a friend or loved one … or anything else you can think of. We also want to hear about what you want to do so we can recognize it. (Of course, if you prefer, you may remain anonymous.) We simply want to find a way to encourage good deeds in our community—and to bring smiles to peoples’ faces. Shortly after we started thinking about this project we received a call from someone who wanted to give 20 surprise entries to a loved one. Soon after that, we received an email from someone who wants to give away books to kids on Sunday during junior events. And another person said they are planning to do something special for someone. If you have an idea about a kindness you’d like to bestow on someone, please post a private message on the Desert Classic Fan Page or on our personal Facebook pages. Please pass this on to the community by clicking “share.” Thanks, Igor & Irina.

Incidentally, Igor Suvorov happens to be one of Artem and Inna’s main coaches.  Ballroom is a small world, huh?

Anyways, I don’t necessarily want to win a kindness award, though that would be cool, I just want to participate and participate BIG!  I mean, is there any other way I’d care to do it?  Nope!

This is where you all come in!  I need ideas!  How can I spread some kindness?  What could I do on the blog, in my life, or at the competition that would be worthy of Project Kindness?  I think it is an amazing opportunity to support the ballroom community that I love, and make my little corner of the world a little brighter and more loving.

Here’s what I already know…I’ve experienced an abundance of kindness from all of you during my blogging journey thus far.  I’ve made some genuine connections and have received fountains of support, encouragement, and shared lots of fun.  It’s time to pay it forward.  How can I best do that?

Also, if you know anyone who is going to the Desert Classic DanceSport Competition, please share this information about Project Kindness with them.  You can click here to read more about it.

Alright dearies.  Another late night.  Another early morning.  But you know, I get to dance with this guy:

I guess it’s worth waking up for!   Ha ha!  Makes you want to take some dance lessons, huh?

TTFN, Stef

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

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

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

Let’s see….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was really cute.

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

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

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

“Oh no!” Said Mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all laughed at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Gonna Find My Inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer

If you haven’t been watching SYTYCD, you should be.

It’s like, my fav-o-rite dance show evarrrrr.

And it relates to the title of my post. You know, everything happens for a reason and there are signs everywhere if we have the eyes to see them. The messages in my life abound. They come via friends, conversations, encounters at the grocery store, and even while watching t.v.

Tonight something Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer said on the on the show really stuck with me. He was asked to dance for his life. This happens when the judges aren’t sure about a dancer but he still has enough support that he or she gets one final chance to win the judges over for a spot on the show. He had to perform his solo, doing the style of dance that he is best at.

While very nervous in the previous rounds, Cyrus suddenly seemed calm and centered. Peaceful. Cat Deely interviewed him before he put it all on the line and he said, “There is no better feeling than being myself. I cannot wait to show the judges what I got.”

That stopped me dead in my tracks.

It represented what I call a paradigm shift.

If you haven’t already figured it out from reading my blog, I sometimes struggle with self-esteem issues, confidence issues, and body image issues. And I am also a dancer. A ballroom dancer. You know, those super sexy and elegant creatures, very feminine, confident, love having all the attention on them. Like, the very opposite of how I generally feel inside. But that is not why I am a dancer. I am a dancer because I was born that way, even if I didn’t even realize it for portions of my life. Dance lives inside me. My job, my biggest struggle, is to simply let it out, get out of my own way. To halt my hang-ups and insecurities, and analysis to paralysis, and negative thinking from getting in the way of the expression of that greater spirit that sometimes comes out when I let it.

So when Cyrus said what he said about there being nothing better than being himself and being so excited to share that with the judges, it was like, what? That thought never occurred to me.

You see, my aim for the Desert Classic, the goal behind the goal if you will, is not just to dance well, or place high, or even to get a top student award, it is actually to allow myself to be seen. To have dances full of pure dance, connection, joy. To let myself go to the places I usually keep dammed up, closed. I guess, in the end, it’s really about being vulnerable. Like some part of me is afraid to really let that show because I don’t necessarily feel like Cyrus. I don’t always feel like it’s awesome to be me. If I don’t feel great about myself, why would I want to share it? I’d want to only reveal the polished veneer, to look good.

You know, in theory, I believe we are all special, even me. We all have our own unique greatness. But when it comes to actually feeling that way about myself I waver between delusions of grandeur and being a squashed bug. Like in my dancing, sometimes I think I’m awesome. Other times, I feel like I can’t do anything right.

But the part of me that is actually awesome is bigger than any dance technique. It’s the part that my friend Colette saw when I danced on my birthday with Ivan. She told me, “I don’t know if it was the wine, but when you danced that night you shone.” It’s the part that my mom saw that brought her to tears when I danced in the showcase. It’s the part that gives Ivan goosebumps every once in a while when we dance together, like happened this morning for no particular reason I could discern.

But OMG, do you know what he told me Monday morning? There I was, struggling through more Rumba walks (in my head concentrating on my hips, getting over my feet, not slapping them on the floor, making my arms move, not dying because of the cardio, etc, etc, etc.) I was in the space of knowing that what I was doing just wasn’t good enough. That I was lacking proper technique…something Ivan was quick to remind me of, correcting something every few steps. And he tells me some fixes, and I do the best I can to implement them and you know what he tells me? He says, “I jealous of you.”

Like, say WHAT? Back that train up!

Here is this man, this amazing dancer. This person that I look up to and wish I could move like him, or Marieta. And he’s telling me that he’s jealous of me. I couldn’t believe it.

Like, what on earth did he have to be jealous of?

He explained. “You getting it so quickly! I have to practicing years and years and I never move like this. It’s cause you have talent.”

I have always thought that it really wasn’t talent. It was the fact that I danced as a kid and had a great teacher who knew her technique in ballet, tap, and jazz. I worked really hard to be moderately good in those genres, but I knew I’d never be able to do say the kind of dancing that is performed on SYTYCD. I knew I’d never be a professional dancer.

But ballroom is different. Not only is all about connection and partnering, but it seems to fit the way my body moves like a glove. By this I mean my hips are very flexible. Apparently this is not the case for a lot of people. I never gave it a second thought because it just came naturally to me. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of technique to absorb, and a lot of working it though, but I think the base is there.

Anyways, I thought Ivan was totally off his rocker. I would give anything to move like he and Marieta or Inna…but then again, maybe I should rethink that?

You know, on Tuesday night I went to get my butt kicked in Inna’s class and we did Rumba, Cha Cha, and Samba. There is some tricky stuff in all three dances to master, and Inna often has students demonstrate what we are working on. It’s good because it gets us used to performing, being in front of others, being uncomfortable. etc. So at one point she had me do a Samba combination across the floor.

As an aside, I think I am actually doing better in the class in terms of stamina. Trust me, it’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but we had a new student in the class who looked like she was really fit. Even she was like, “When is this class gonna be over?” I had to laugh. I’ve so been there! But at least last night I was hanging in there pretty well.

So back to the Samba combo. Anyways, after class Inna said to me, “I love your Samba.”

Wow! That’s so cool. And I was like, “Thanks Inna.”

“It’s so much better!” She said.

Which is true. I actually had a lesson with her while Ivan was in Bulgaria getting married specifically to work on my Samba bounce – that tricksy movement! So she knew where I had started from.

Anyways, that felt like a pretty good acknowledgement. See, Stef, there has been progress. You are becoming a better dancer. Enough that others notice.

But every time I think about the Desert Classic, which happens multiple times during the day, I get butterflies in my stomach. Part of me is excited. Part of me is nervous.

I wonder if I will have the stamina to do what I need to do. I waver between being okay with how my body is because it isn’t going to change all that much between now and the competition, and just trusting that I move well and will be expressive and that it will be enough, and then freaking out because I am going to look so different from most of my competitors.

Well, I guess I’m deciding right now that screw it. Screw it all! Screw all the chatter in my head! It just needs to shut up!

Instead I’ll listen to Ivan and the music. I will tune into the dance.

I’m big. But I’ll be big in all ways, not just in my ass. I will be noticed. And not just for my size. I think it’s kind of unavoidable that I will be noticed for that initially. But that doesn’t have to be the main attraction. Instead, I will then begin to move. And from then on, I will be noticed because I will shine.

You know, I’ve got to get over myself and just set aside all this B.S. I will find my inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer and love being me, at least for the time that I’m dancing. I will find my inner Cyrus and be so excited to “show those judges what I’ve got.” Whatever that looks like in the moment.

I suppose I’m giving myself a little pep talk here on the blog, well so be it.

This is my time to shine. Carpe Diem and all that.

Can You Be A Little More Elegant….Not So Heil Hitler?

First blog post in the new house!  Yay!

Yes, I’m still alive, but I realize it’s been a bit since I last posted.  Well, after yesterday I finally have something to write about.

It was kind of a rough day.  One of those days, if you’ve ever had one, where I just woke up feeling low about being me.  A low self-esteem day.  No particular reason.  No event that triggered it.  But for whatever reason, it just hit me.  To the point that I was tearing up on my way into work.

But before I went in to work and realized how low I was really feeling, I had a lesson with Ivan.  He had absolutely nothing to do with this foul mood.  In fact, he provided some of the laughter I experienced during those 24 hours.  Yes, it’s true.  Even on an emotionally low day, there are moments of joy to be found.

So Ivan was just back from the Crystal Ball in Chicago where he danced with my friend Katie and another student, and of course Miss Marieta.  They placed 3rd in Professional Open American Rhythm, which is awesome, and Ivan felt like he danced really well.  This was an interesting comment because usually he focuses (like a lot of us perfectionist-prone dancers) on what was lacking, what could have been better.  I’m so proud of Ivan (and Marieta too) for doing such great work on their “mental problems.”  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you can read about it here.  Anyways, they are really coming to think like the champions I know they are.  It will be exciting to watch what happens over the next couple of competitions.

So Ivan seems pretty excited to be going to Desert Classic with me.  I know it is going to be an absolute blast.  I’ve already decided.  We are going to have fun, enjoy ourselves, and dance amazing.  It’s just my vision of what is going to happen.  I’m working on practicing owning my space, doing the (what feels like) over-the-top facial expressions, practicing the presentation and bow/curtsey portion of the performance, and fixing what technical details I can correct in the next 4 weeks.  It would feel amazing to just act as if I owned the dance floor!  Which, is a challenge, I tell you!  I have a hard time doing it with Ivan, and also in Inna’s group class.

Anyways, so Ivan was on a high from the competition and we began.

Oh arm styling, I’ve mentioned you before, and I will mention you again.  And Ivan really picked up on it that morning as well.  Doing under arm turns in Rumba, I did my usual arm and Ivan stopped me.

It was weird.  He kind of enunciated the question to me more clearly than I’ve ever heard him speak.  “Can you please be a little more elegant…”  The “t” particularly popped, like a single drumbeat.  “And not so heil Hitler.”

Well, that gives the visual.  I was thrusting my arm out in a straight line rather than developing it throughout the entire arm, using all my muscles and joints to unfold it.  But seriously, only a comment you’d hear from Ivan.

Later in the Waltz, I was reaching upwards on a side sway and I heard, “Hit the balls!”

“What?”

“Hit the balls.”  Ivan punched one of the beach balls hanging from the ceiling at the studio where we’ve been practicing.  He so totally knows he’s using a double entendre.  Yes, it was an admonition to reach upwards to my very limit, but really?

Then on the Waltz, I groaned, grunted.  Why?  The freaking effort it takes to move!  I takes so much energy!  It feels exhausting.  Maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of breaking the damn of emotion that was coming toward me on the ride to work.  I am sick and tired of it feeling like such a Herculean effort to dance.  When is it not going to feel like this anymore, I wonder?  There was a time in my life when I felt strong.  Yes, I got out of breath.  Yes, my muscles burned.  But underneath that, I felt powerful.  I don’t feel like that at my current weight.  And it sucks.  And I’m tired of whining about it.  And I’m on day 3 of my eating plan.  And, simply, I’m tired of being at war with my body.  I’m tired of all the self-hate.

Anyways, so I grunted, a grunt containing all of that angst, frustration, anger, in it, and Ivan was like, “How you have a man in you?”

Yeah…that’s graceful and elegant like I should be in a Waltz….not!

So that started me giggling.  Uncontrollably.  To the point that I bent forward.

“Are you fart?”

To translate Ivan’s Bulgarian English, he was asking me if I had farted and that was why I was losing it in the huge guffaw.

“No! I didn’t fart!” I exclaimed, after I caught my breath.

Well, anyways, we ended the lesson and Ivan was talking up Desert Classic and saying things like “I so excited to going with you!  I want to dance with you all day!”  I mean, to hear your teacher tell you things like that, how could you have a bad day?

Oh, I managed.

It’s a dark place, my mind sometimes.  Also, there are the painful realities of what I’ve done to my body.  And the grief I feel for the loss of what could have been if I had not given up dancing, if I had found ballroom sooner, if I had stuck to my diet 9 months ago.  You know, the futile, negative, voice, blah, blah, blah.  It hurts.  And it doesn’t change anything.  And in just a few weeks I’ll be at a competition.  In a body I’m not thrilled about.

So I made my way to the car and fell a little bit to pieces.

I bulldozed through work and headed home.  Convinced the best plan was to come home, prepare my food for the next day, and crawl into bed to fall asleep by 7:30 and start a new day as soon as possible, I was in the middle of packing up my last food container when I got a text.

You know, sometimes God intervenes in our lives.  Yesterday it was in the form of a text message from my friend Colette.

*Bleep* *Bleep* I heard the ringer on my cell phone.

“Are you coming to Latin?”

Oh, I was aware it was a Tuesday.  I was aware Inna’s butt-kicker was going to start in about 20 minutes.

I texted back:

“I’m not decided.  Feel fat.  Sluggish.”

She texted back:

“AW HELL NO YOU DIDN’T JUST SAY THE F WORD!”

Well, it was enough of a nudge to go to class.  I knew I’d be late, but they always seem to start a few minutes late.  And, I didn’t have any clean dance clothes, so it was black leggings and my XXL Boston t-shirt.  It was that or not go.  Not a cute outfit by any means, but functional I suppose.  You know, only one option had any chance of getting me closer to the dancer and body I want to be and have.  Painful as it was, and as much as I liked (on some level) my pity-party (as my husband called it), I knew I’d feel better if I went.  But still, part of me wanted to not go.  Crumbling into a limp lump in bed did seem somewhat attractive.

But another part of me knew better, so I went.

I made it to Inna’s butt-kicking class and got to see the blonde elfin powerhouse for the first time in a month since she left to compete with Artem in Blackpool where they placed 2nd in Rising Star and 16th in Open Professional.  They are amazing!  I feel so blessed to be learning from them and Ivan.

Artem and Inna at Blackpool

Just another reason to ask myself, what am I saying yes to (and conversely no to).  In this instance I said yes to movement, dance, the chance to burn some calories, the opportunity to learn from an internationally ranked professional, and the pleasure to see my friends Colette and Toni.  I also got to work on my arm-styling which was a topic of interest in the group class as well (it was an arm-themed day).  I definitely benefited from Inna’s perspective on this issue and feel like I have a better understanding of ways to improve my arm styling because I was present in class last night.

Yes, yes.  Logically, that all makes sense and it is the clear beneficial decision to make.  But emotionally, well, I just didn’t feel like going.

On the converse, however, by going to class even when I didn’t want to, I was saying no to wallowing in self-pity, dwelling in self-hatred, and my comfy, comfy bed.  And trust me, that bed was calling to me as sweetly as a Siren!

Ah, well, every moment is a choice, and every choice has prices and benefits.

And because I showed up, there were two wonderful moments for me.  One, I met a new friend who had just taken her second dance class!  She came to watch the group class and I gave her a card for the blog, in case she’d be interested to read it.  It is exciting to meet new dancers, and exciting to share the blog.  Two, Inna had me demonstrate a Samba combination.  Usually she has one of her more experienced students demonstrate the combinations, but every once in a while she has me do one.  I heard her saying, “Good!” as I did the combo across the floor and when I got to the other side she had me do it all by my lonesome.  It kind of gave my ego a boost.  And, whether true or not, I feel inside, that Samba is one of my stronger dances.  I can move those hips!

So thank you, Colette, for getting my ass moving last night!  You were a Godsend.  Also, you cracked me up after class when I was sharing with you my woes, deep in lamentation, and you said, “Well snap out of it, girl!”

And now it comes full circle.  Today was better and my favorite dance show is on (SYTYCD).  The last guy they showed was tubby, like me.  And in some ways it didn’t matter.  He was a good human being and a good dancer and his joy and passion shone through.  He was absolutely able to move people with his dancing.  Then, in some ways, of course his size did matter.  Clearly he wasn’t in any shape to continue on in the competition past the choreography round.

Well, I kind of think that is how it is for me, at the moment.  Tubby, but passionate and can move surprisingly well.  However, my vision is to marry that with a healthy body, and it is painful that reality is nowhere near what I can envision in my mind.

And yet, I will be there on July 12th with my sparkles on.  I will be there shaking what my momma gave me, as I am, on that day, whatever that looks like.  All I know is that I have a focus and drive like no kidding to make the most of the last four weeks before the competition.  I have this time to do what I can to best prepare myself for the upcoming challenge.

Wish me luck!