Howdy ya’ll! It’s me again in italics. Why? I have another amazing guest blog post!
This time it is Ellen from If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit, who borrowed my dress, as she writes about her latest competition. Ellen does the International Ballroom style of dancing. It was so fun to watch her videos of this style which I’ve personally put on the back-burner for the moment. When done well, however, it is gorgeous, and Ellen does a great job here as you will see.
Ellen is inspiring to me. You’ll understand why once you read her post. She’s overcome a lot to get where she is in her dancing. Honestly, I question if I would have the stick-to-it-iveness that Ellen displays. Truly, it blows my mind. She sets a fantastic example for all dancers of perserverence, beauty, and determination.
So, Ellen is another amazing gift brought to me by starting this blog. We have kindled a nice little long-distance friendship all because of our love of dancing! I hope you’ll enjoy her post!
The first thing I want to do is thank Stef for being :
· an inspiration by being willing to sharing her struggles and triumphs
· open to friendship and communication
· generous beyond belief in allowing me to wear her beautiful dress and share my story in a guest post
I found Stefanie’s blog by accident because of a post she did about shoes…I couldn’t pass it by. As soon as I realized she was a ballroom dancer, I went through and read every post and I was hooked! It was strange because a part of me felt like I was reading about a version of myself in an alternate universe.
You see, although I am older than Stef, (I’m 50) I am a writer and a pharmacist as Stef is, and have many of the same life and health issues; asthma and weight struggles to name a few. It was like looking into an odd mirror. So I started following and commenting on the blog, and Stef and I started emailing; I became blessed with a kind, generous and supportive friend. Stef was even willing to let me wear her amazing ballroom dress to my competition – so I promised to write this post to share a bit about my dance background for perspective, my recent competition and the blessing of wearing Stefanie’s dress to compete.
I love ballroom dancing. When asked about it, my response is usually “I’ve never worked so hard at something in my life to be mediocre – and not by choice! I feel like I could study and dance for 25 years and still be in first grade.”
Then again – first grade was when I first started and stopped dancing. At 6 years old, my mom signed me up for ballet at the community center’s after school program. I was sooooo excited–I wanted to be a ballerina! Unfortunately for me, after the first dance class, the teacher talked to my mom when she came to pick me up and told her that I didn’t belong in the class and she should sign me up for something that required less physical coordination – and mom did! I was devastated! I spent my afternoons learning to crochet with a great big hook instead of learning how to dance. Kind of a silly story – but admittedly – it had an impact on me that shows up even today.
At 43 years old, I decided to take ballroom dancing, signed up for lessons at the local Fred Astaire and quickly became obsessed, taking 2 privates and 1 group a week. But at the same time, a lot of my old demons came up. I wasn’t very coordinated and not very good. I am a very auditory person – I learn and remember things by hearing them – but dance is a very tactile sport – you learn by feeling and doing. When a step was taught, changed or corrected and I was asked “can you feel the difference” I couldn’t. I mean, I get the huge differences, (especially when it’s wrong – like being way off-balance) but not the subtleties of frame or being over my foot or not.
Another issue that had a big impact on my dancing and my confidence was that I’d had a bad accident years earlier in January of 1989. I went out one morning to run with my puppy 2 doors from my house and were crossing a small side street when a 1 ½ ton masonry truck took a right turn on red without stopping. It drove into me hitting me on my right side. I was thrown 6 feet, landed on my head (contracoup brain injury – which means my brain bounced back and forth in my skull), my right arm and leg had muscles cut through to the bone (what they call a sausage cut – all internal injury but no external cut) my right kidney was bruised and torn, etc. I spent 4 months learning to walk and talk again, I was out of work for 9 months and I had seizures that required me to give up my driver’s license for a year.
To look at me today you can’t tell about the accident, except for the extra weight I carry from the medicinal studies I did on the healing properties of M&Ms at the time! J Any remaining speech issue I cover with pauses or by rambling long enough to find the right words so people don’t notice much.
But my back and neck are both in constant pain and have muscle spasms to this day as well as range of motion issues. This means I cannot whip my head around to spot. Rhythm and Latin are very difficult for me with all the spins and turns. Even American Smooth presented challenges; every time I did an underarm turn and came out of frame, I’d lose my balance because I could not spot, and then I’d lose my confidence and it was a downward spiral.
I practiced, took lessons, had coaching, you name it. I went to competitions religiously and placed last in every heat more times than I can count. Once I even placed 2nd in Rumba and Cha Cha proficiencies (87 and 84 respectively); it’s pretty depressing to place 2nd against yourself! Between the head games from first grade and my physical issues, I felt defeated, but I stuck with it.
And then something wonderful happened…I started to learn International Standard about 2 years into dancing. OMG – I didn’t have to let go of anyone! I could stay in frame all the time! No spins and no spotting!! Well, there is Viennese, but I am in frame and can hold onto someone! YAHOOOO! My world of dance changed!
I still learn more slowly than many people because of how I learn, and my head snaps in tango aren’t as sharp as other people’s because of my neck, etc. but I found my niche and my comfort level and confidence as well as my ability has improved! For the last 5 years I’ve done International Standard exclusively in my lessons and my competitions. My stamina has never been great though – I have asthma and at 210lbs I get winded easily, especially with Viennese and Quickstep.
Like everyone, I have my good days and bad days in dance. There are days when I get it and days when I feel like I never will. Sometimes it’s frustrating to see the newbies in the studio, many of whom dance better after 1 year, than I do after 7 years! But I remind myself that I cannot compare myself to anyone else – only to where I was yesterday, or the day/week/month/year before that. And when I am clear headed, I know I have improved.
So now you know a lot about me and how I got to know Stef. When I told her I had a competition coming up March 1, and that since I am having foot surgery just days after my showcase in June later this year, I don’t know when I’ll be competing again, she was generous enough to let me wear her incredible dress, custom made by Julia Gorchakova.
At competition I danced 20 heats and a 5-dance championship – the first time I did a Silver level championship. When I saw my heat sheet a couple of days before, I realized I was starting with 10 heats in row, 1 off, then 2 more and so on. Basically I had all 20 heats and the championship in an hour and 20 minutes! While it may not seem like a lot to some-I was nervous about my ability to even make it through the heats, let alone how I danced! I sent Stef an email asking for advice and she sent me words of wisdom and an inspirational link http://youtu.be/-vB59PkB0eQ that made the difference.
Wearing such an amazing dress made a huge difference in how I felt and how I danced. I received more compliments on Stefanie’s dress than on any dress I’ve ever worn in 7 years of competing! Even one of the judges told me how nice I looked when he saw me in the hall! Everyone loved the way it showed on the floor and the way it moved.
So how did I do? My placements were good – not the best I’ve ever done but very good, and I am ok with that. I not only survived the 10 dances in a row, I did them decently. More importantly I feel like overall, I danced the best I’ve ever danced at a competition. I was consistent (a couple of blips but nothing major) and relaxed – which is huge for me; I tend to let nerves take over on the floor. Despite the fact that people always give me grief that I don’t smile when I dance ( I really am smiling on the inside) I was having a great time and I’m really proud and pleased with how I danced. I danced my best in this moment – and that is the most I could have asked for.
My goals in dance are first and foremost to do this for the joy and fun in it – when I get to the point of tears or stress I have to remind myself why I am dancing. Second I want to learn and grow and become the best that I can be in this moment. Today’s best may not be tomorrow’s, but I want to allow myself to appreciate where I am today, and what I have accomplished in this moment before I move to the next thing/moment. And I want to dance to enhance my health-my heart, my limbs, my mind, my weight, etc.
So all in all – I accomplished my goals at competition with the support of a wonderful friend and beautiful dress. Thank you Stef!
Thank you Ellen! I hope the foot surgery goes well and you have a very speedy recovery! I hope to hear that you are dancing once again very soon. Thanks for being my friend.