Inspiring Ellen

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 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.

This Dress Has A Life Of Its Own!

When I was going to compete in my first competition back in 2008 I needed a dress.  My then instructor, Matt, took me to see Julia Gorchakova because besides being American Rhythm Champion with Bob Powers 12 times (see why below)


she is also a ballroom dress designer.  As you can imagine, I couldn’t buy something off the rack at my size so needed to have a dress made for me. 

You can see some of Julia’s designs here:

I didn’t know the first thing about a ballroom dress except that I needed one to do the competition.  I was like, Julia, do whatever you want.  Yeah, red and black would be great. 

She did her best to emphasize my good parts and minimize the bad and the picture above is the dress she created for me.

Little did I know that this dress would have a life of its own – a purpose greater than I could imagine.

I thought I’d just wear it until I lost enough weight to get another amazing dress.  So far she has been with me for 3 competitions and will most likely be adorning me for a few more this year.

But first, it will adorn another dancer in March!

This dress, let’s christen her “Bertha,” well she traveled across the country this week to visit my friend Ellen, who I met through the blog.

Ellen was pretty happy to see her.  When Bertha arrived, Ellen wrote to me:

The dress arrived today!! It is AMAZING!! Soooo beautiful I can’t begin to say – and ….. It fits!!

I LOVE that you have a full bra in it! I laughed and thought –  a girl after my own heart!  Seriously – it fits very comfortably.  I’m attaching photos I took of myself with my sneakers on – I literally ran when the mailman got here – grabbed the box and tried it on ( sorry –I look like a mess!) but I was soooo happy when it fit!!

I also have a “necklace” or hairpiece that matches perfectly (looks light in the pic but the color is actually a perfect match!)  – I will send it back to you with the dress – it belongs with it!

See photos!

Thank you soooooo much!! I am thrilled!!

Well, this made my day.  Here’s what I wrote back:

I told my husband about how you got the package and ran to try on the dress and took pictures of it with sneakers on because you were so excited about it.  PRICELESS!  I just think that is SO cool…and what I’m trying to express (if not eloquently) is that others in my life think it is so great that you will be wearing my/the dress.  I especially want to tell Julia (she is who made my dress) about this turn of events.  I never imagined that the purpose of my dress would extend beyond me wearing it.  Now that you will be dancing in it…well…I just think that is so very amazing!!!!  I can almost palpably feel how good you will feel to be dancing in it.. Doing the waltz, you dress will be sparkling under the lights, your leg action will be highlighted by a red chiffon skirt…..Well, that’s how I see it in my head.  I just think you are darling and deserve the very, very best.  I’m ecstatic that my dress might slightly enhance your own natural beauty, strength, and grace.  Just so cool.

Ellen wrote back:

Aw Stef –

Thanks!  I am so touched that you feel good about sharing your dress!  It is beautiful and I was so thrilled when it fit!

I am fine with you telling people who I am  – it’s absolutely ok with me –I don’t get embarrassed by much! Well, maybe if you were a really good-looking guy… then I’d become either an idiot, a 12-year-old girl and feel like I couldn’t have a normal conversation, or a really great coach ( nice security to keep someone from seeing you as anything else!) but that’s usually it.

I mean even when I go to a social dance someplace I don’t know –and someone asks me to dance – I used to get flustered and freaked out because I suck at following.  Plus I dance mostly International, which isn’t social, so I don’t know many social steps, and I am not a “natural” dancer!  It used to freak me out and I would sit in a corner almost and be embarrassed.  But something hit me last year – maybe it was turning 50 or maybe I was just tired of putting energy into silly things – and I decided “who cares!?”  I mean, seriously… who really cares if I screw up a dance or don’t know the steps or can’t keep up or whatever?  It’s one dance.  If they don’t like how I dance they don’t have to ask me again – and one dance isn’t a lot out of someone’s lifetime – they’ll survive having danced with someone at my level.  As long as I can try, and have fun doing it – then screw it!  So I am giving up what other people think of me.  Frankly – all the things I worry about what other people think of me – what I wore, what I said, what I did, if I ask any one of those people about one of the events or days 7 days later (often even 1 day later) they don’t even remember what I did!! So I worried and stressed over which outfit, or missing a step, or the right words, or whatever, and the only one it matters to is me.  So I am  choosing not to worry any more – ok it all sounds great  – but I know I am human and will still care – but this is my intention!

I’m so excited that you know Julia!  She is awesome  – a beautiful dancer and dressmaker.  I did not realize that she had made your dress; of course it is incredible!! It is sooooo beautiful.

Well, yes she did, and yes, Bertha is beautiful. 

Ellen has promised me more pictures and a blog post.  She’s going to take the dress to her lesson on Thursday to show her pro.  I can hardly wait to hear all about it.  I love that Ellen is choosing to “live out loud” and that part of that will be to wear this dress, that Julia made, so many years ago.

The story continues and I can’t hardly wait to see what happens next!