This Week So Far

I know, I know, my life is SO exciting!  Well, not really, but I still feel the need to process my experiences, and guess what, that is what I do here on the blog.  In any case, I don’t think this will be a very profound post or anything, but I guess I just wanted to jot down the latest happenings.

I guess one of the main things is that I’m back to taking ballet.  I didn’t make it to class on Sunday because of overtime at work, but I did manage to squeak in on Monday night.  I think it is going to be a permanent part of my routine.  Class feels good and it’s frustrating at the same time.  It’s good because of course it is more physical activity, and it builds strength, and flexibility.  I’m also finding my center a little bit and improving my balance because of it.  I also give myself a free pass on it.  I’m not expecting myself to really be able to do like grand jetes, but every once in a while in class, I’m able to surprise myself a bit and hit a combination well.  Of course, in the next exercise the wheels generally fall completely off the bus, but hey, it’s ballet.  I’m mostly doing it as a support for my ballroom dancing and when I goof up, I simply laugh it off.  I am not putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself in the class, though I do want to do well, and I do push to try to stretch myself to do what I can.  Just showing up and moving for an hour and a half is a worthy way to spend my time and it makes me feel better to know I’m doing this for myself.  Plus, there is an added advantage of making some more dance buddies and building another layer to my dance community.

I must say that I am so thankful to have a place to take a class like this.  It is for adults and just the right level – not too hard, like I’d find at say Ballet Arizona, but not too easy or alongside 10 year olds.  But even with this little reintroduction of ballet, I’ve already had dreams about putting my toe shoes back on.  And by dreams, I mean literal dreams, NOT as in, I’m wanting to get back into those torture devices.  No thanks.  Not really on my radar.  But I guess my subconscious mind has a different idea!

In any case, I’m pretty excited because the owner of the studio knows I do ballroom and she is involved with a charity called Dancing Classrooms here in the Phoenix area.  I got an invite via Twitter to come to a meeting about it in the coming week.  I’d love to participate in this program and share my love and passion for dance with youngsters as well as to help provide the opportunity for them to experience the healing and empowering magic that dance can be.   I’m excited to see how I can be of service and pretty psyched to have been invited.

Well anyways, ballet class on Monday went as well as can be expected in an obese body.  I have difficulty closing my legs completely in a tight fifth position because they are so massive and jumping is chore.  I do the best I can but it’s pretty hard on my ankles.  My left ankle is already weaker because of past injuries and I know the weight doesn’t help.  I’m looking forward to being significantly lighter, but you know what, every pound helps and my diet is working.  I’ve not been able to get under 250 pounds for the longest time but I’m determined to be there within the next two weeks.  It’s only a few pounds away and I feel like it will be a breakthrough.  I’ve been bouncing around with about 10 pounds and pardon my French but it’s time to stop dicking around.  The holidays are over, thank goodness, and I’ve been able to get a bit more physical activity in, and doing well with the diet.  My weight was down this morning and that is a good thing, a sign I’m doing something right!  But now more yo-yo bullshit!  What I’m doing is working and I’m ready for significant change.  I do think, looking at myself in the mirror at class tonight, that I am beginning to look a tiny bit smaller.  I will take it.  Though by far still the biggest gal in the ballroom, it’s a step in the right direction and I’m going to celebrate it.

Which, brings me to tonight.  Inna and Artem must be competing out-of-town somewhere so it was Igor who taught Latin.  I must say that I really enjoy watching him demonstrate the Latin movements.  His hip action is so clear, and he generates great fast and slow dynamic.  I always learn something new when Igor teaches and I’m grateful for all the teachers who have crossed my path and contributed to my dancing.

So tonight we began with Rumba walks.  Wow.  I just had a realization, which is pretty ironic especially considering what I’m going to say in a minute (you’ll see what I mean in a moment).  The realization is that we did a lot of rumba walks tonight, around in a really big circle.  Probably for 4 or 5 minutes straight, which may not sound like a long time, but when you are dancing it sure is!  Well, my realization is that I was able to do them the entire time.  Perhaps my arms could have been stronger, but you know what?  When I first walked into that class a little over a year ago, I could not have lasted that long.  No way.

Anyways, after our Rumba walk warm-up, Igor shared with us the proper positioning of our hips, which should be under the body and tucked under, similar to how the pelvis should be placed in ballet.  We did some plies, feeling that tucked in, pulled up and under position in our hips and then repeated our rumba walks attempting to maintain that alignment.

Next we did some Cha Cha.  We did a little routine:  Check, ronde, back-together-side, time step, time step, back basic to a hip twist and repeat.  First we just learned the steps.  Then we worked on playing with the timing, accenting the movements on the 1 and 3 counts – prolonging them with a bit of hip action/settling/twisting as a wind-up for the next movements which had to be quicker (and looked lightning fast when Igor did them) to make up the time used prolonging the 1 and 3 counts.  It created a great dynamic but man was it hard!  I was out of breath almost immediately!

But then Igor shared with us the nugget that made the biggest difference to me tonight.  It’s a concept I already “know” about, but one I still struggle to implement.  Basically its keeping my upper body/shoulders facing forward and allowing the lower body only to twist.  Igor said many of us were fighting against our own bodies, and I know that I was one of them.  In any case, seeing how he did it, along with the explanation, I was able to implement this new information (well, old information but not absorbed or integrated) and oh my goodness did it make the step easier and clearer and sharper and it even looked faster!  I am never going to forget this lesson!  Well, at least that is what I tell myself ha ha.

But just when I was beginning to feel better about this new cha cha cha, alas!  It was time for “a little” Jive.  Uh, yeah….Well, we did a little bit of what football players do, hunched over and pumping the legs as fast as we could.  The whole thing about the Jive, it seems, is to move the legs, making the knees reach the waist with every move, and jumping up and down like a bunny rabbit, all while keeping the head completely level and preventing it from moving up and down.  The knees must move up to the body but the head must stay still.

Well, Igor is pretty dang amazing.  He was jumping like the Energizer Bunny doing that basic step, his knees practically up to his throat as he caught significant air while jumping upwards.  Me, I’m baba metza, remember?  I thought I might pound through the floor and I jumped – I could hear it creaking under my weight.  Well, my Jive doesn’t look as heavy as it could, but it has a long way to go before it really looks light, airy, and athletic – it is nothing like the Jive Igor was pounding out, not even close.  The truth is that I’m in no shape to do it properly…even the basic exhausted me, made me feel sick, and I had to stop before the rest of the class.  I felt that my performance was pathetic with a capital “P.”  What business do I have competing when I can’t even dance the basic of the step properly for a measly minute by myself!?  I was totally thinking that Igor must be thinking, “These ridiculous Americans!  They have NO idea what it is really like to dance.”  And then saying “Good job” out loud because god forbid he actually tell us the truth of how crappy some of us actually looked and offending someone…I mean, I wasn’t looking at other people.  I honestly don’t know what they were doing because I was focused on me, so obviously this thought process has nothing to do with their performance and everything to do with mine.  I thought mine was pretty shoddy.  And I have no idea what Igor was really thinking.  But in my head my old dance teacher would be so disappointed in what I was doing in class and would have yelled and cajoled me until I gave more and that would still not be enough. Sigh.  I felt a little like this is an uphill battle and I’m not going to climb the mountain tonight.  I felt a little defeated and deflated.

Which makes me think of my last lesson with Ivan.  During it we worked on cleaning up more of the Cha Cha routine.  There was one step in particular that I was not able to execute and that I was always a little bit late on.  It really had me mad at myself.  And, like in the lesson tonight, I felt defeated and sad.  Well, Ivan noticed and after the lesson he talked to me about it.

“You can’t feeling so bad about this step.  It’s a hard step.  You are changing direction a lot and it is really fast.  You can’t expect yourself to do it right away.  Even the professionals, they gonna have a hard time with it.”

It sure didn’t look like Ivan was having any problem making it look awesome!

He continued, “Now I’m feeling bad because you are feeling bad.  Like, you can’t be giving up on yourself or thinking that you will never be able to do this.  It’s like I believe in you more than you believe in yourself.  You have to not be sad about this.  I see that you understanding.  You show me that you understanding this and that is the most important part.  It’s better if you can tell me that you understanding but that you can’t do it right now than to get so upset about it.  Cause you are gonna do it.”

“Don’t feel bad Ivan.  I’m just upset because I feel like I don’t practice enough.  I need to do more on my own.  I’m frustrated with myself because I still am relying on you too much when we are dancing instead of dancing on my own two feet, being on balance, and using my arms more than my feet, legs and ‘engine.’ It’s super frustrating to me because I want it so badly and I feel like I should do more.”

I mean, deep down inside I know that these routines with some more difficult steps are a really good thing for me.  I’m going to struggle and I’m going to become a better dancer because of the challenge.  I’d much rather be working really hard to reach for something than to only do what is easy and stay the same.  I am thankful to have the opportunity to break every step down so that it will be awesome eventually.  I don’t find it tedious or boring at all – I think it is awesome and it makes me feel more secure.

Just like dancing tonight, not being able to participate every second of the class, having to take a break and rest, it’s beyond my current capacity, but showing up to class and doing what I can does move me forward.  I know this because I can see the difference in my endurance with rumba walks as compared to when I took my first class at Imperial.  I trust that I will improve in stamina, in technique, in expression, because I continue to show up and do my work.

Ivan told me that he didn’t think I don’t practice enough.  Well, he conceded, “we should all be practicing 8 hours a day but even this will not be enough.  It’s never enough.  But you, Stef, you come in to dancing a lot.  I don’t think you don’t practice enough.”

Hmmm.  I’m not sure I agree.  I feel like I’m pretty lazy – meaning that unlike my friend Lady Gaga who will practice on her own at the gym, I pretty much only dance on lessons.  Maybe I will go over one tiny thing in my kitchen for a minute or two but that’s it.  How lazy am I!

Well, anyways, that’s what’s been going on the last couple of days.  Tomorrow I get to see my favorite Bulgarian instructor for a lesson in the evening.  I’m going to do everything I can to remember what I learned today in the Cha Cha and maybe he will notice a difference.  We’ll see.  Either way, I’m looking forward to it.  It’s another day, tomorrow.  And that means it’s another chance to dance, which I’m pretty happy about.

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Fat Ballerina Jumping: Gravity, I defy you!

Oh dear readers, my apologies for my recent silence.  It’s just that when you are not dancing, and your blog is about dancing, well, there’s not much to write about.

You see, I’ve had a cold.  It’s been over a week, and it is seriously derailing my plans for being active and getting more of this weight off, which has once again become my priority because I know that the biggest thing holding me back  from my goals is my weight.  It affects everything from how I feel about myself to how I can and cannot move, even the very steps which can be choreographed into a routine.  And, since I want to continue to be a competitive Pro/Am ballroom dancer, well, I can compete in the state I am in, but not a the level I know I could, and I also know that I will not place as well as I could compared to an equally matched technical dancer (or maybe even people who are less proficient) who looks better.  It isn’t healthy.  It isn’t okay.  And, it’s where I am at the moment.

In any case, today is the first day I’ve actually begun to really feel better.  I’m still not at 100% but the cabin fever is getting to me.  I couldn’t stand the thought of one more night sitting at home after sitting at work all day long.  So, I went to a ballet class.  It’s about perfect for me in terms of challenge because I’m so out of shape.  Doing the class tonight I thought about my old classes from when I was in high school.  If I had taken this class then, I’d have thought this class tonight was too easy.  But now, after not doing it for upwards of 10 years, it’s a challenge just to do a single grand plie’.  Yes, I’ll probably be sore tomorrow, but it feels so good on a lot of other levels.  It was a slow burn – almost like yoga for a dancer, and I got to work on strength, balance, turns….lots of skills that are somewhere in my body memory, but buried under years of disuse.  But unlike ballroom, not too much overwhelming cardio – well, not at the level at which the class is, but trust me, ballet can be extremely taxing!

It got me to thinking, especially after reading this post by Adult Ballerina Project (which has disappeared but still a fascinating blog so I wanted to share a link) which was about when it is, exactly, that a person “becomes” a ballerina.  Which, I thought was a great question.  I never considered myself a true ballerina all the years I danced.  I was never a professional, therefore, in my mind, I did not earn the status of a ballerina.  I was simply someone who did ballet, not a true ballerina.  I still wouldn’t consider myself a ballerina, and I only really see it as something to pursue to support my ballroom dancing.  Interestingly, I do consider myself a ballroom dancer.  How very odd.  And, after all these years, it was actually just an accomplishment to finally accept myself as simply a dancer, a bona fide dancer.  In the past, much like someone who did ballet but was not a ballerina, I was someone who did jazz and tap, but I was not a dancer.  A dancer was a status reserved for the superhuman dynamos who could do 15 fuete turns in a row, grand jetes like nobody’s busniess, had legs up to their ears, and were a size zero.

But I digress.  There is a reason ballerinas are not overweight.  One reason is because they have to jump.  A lot.  And jumping when you have 260 pounds on your frame is quite a challenge.  Doing it when you don’t have all that much plie’ in your legs, and making it look decent, and getting any sort of height, well, it’s pretty difficult.  But you know what, I did what I could tonight.  I pretty much have a mindset in these classes just to do the best I can.  I don’t expect much from myself and it is very freeing.  I can dance however I dance and not feel unworthy, or less than, or that because I wasn’t perfect that I’m a failure.  In fact, I surprised myself a few times tonight.  First, I got a compliment from the instructor on my frappe’s.  “Nice frappe’s!”  He said.  Second, I was able to complete the jump combination.  The last time I went to a class, I couldn’t complete the routine.  Third, the instructor told me I was a dancer at the end of the class and that I did very well.  Well, thanks!  It is unexpected and feels great but the best part is because I am expecting nothing I feel free to continue to go back and work at it as I can.  I have no expectations about becoming a ballerina  (nor do I want to get into those torture devices called pointe shoes again) – but I would like to strengthen my legs and core, lengthen my muscles, improve my turns, and improve my flexibility.  It is enough, where before no matter what I did, it was never enough.  This is a good thing.

This is a picture of an actual ballerina doing a grand jete

Maria Barroso - Coppelia, Swanilda-Prix de Lausanne 2010-2

By Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I guess I just transferred that to ballroom….

You see, I did take a few light lessons with Ivan this week.  By that I mean that there was little to no cardio involved because I was sick with the cold, congested, and that plus asthma means no jiving!  In any case, I just asked Ivan to review the basics.  I still feel like no one actually ever properly instructed me on how to do the basic steps in Rumba, Cha Cha, etc.  I mean, they have, but I still feel like there are aspects I’m deficient in.  I still feel like my hip needs to do something more or different, that I should be on better balance, that I should know the counts for everything back and forward.  In any case, it was great and I really enjoyed it, though I did have moments of thinking, “I will never get this!  I’m still working on the basics and I’m still deficient!”  But actually, I had an awareness around it.

What happened was this:  We were working on Cha Cha and I’m thinking, thinking, thinking, concentrating, caught up in the idea of what I’m supposed to be doing with my body.  I’m counting and doing it but then I feel kind of cheeky.  Ivan has been coaching me to use the front upper side of my ribcage and to move the upper body, not just the lower body.  Well, I’m trying to do this but in this moment of feeling the dance, feeling flirty or feminine or whatever, I’m just feeling it and the movement we’ve been working so hard to create naturally comes out.  Why?  Because I’m just dancing it, not thinking it and moving.  Ivan says, “Why you pay me for a lesson to teaching you how to doing this when you doing this so natural?!  You have to dancing with the feeling.  When you dance the feeling you moving so much better!”

In that moment, I felt and experienced what it is like to “let go.”  I had the experience of “holding” immediately prior to that, and the contrast was extreme.  It reminded me of this amazing post about letting go, what it really means.  Like the author of that post says, when I “let go” I was saying “yes” to the dance of life.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, dance is more than just dance.  It can be a transcendent experience.

Which reminds me….I had the extreme pleasure of seeing a show from Cirque du Soleil called Dralion this past week.  Like all Cirque du Soleil shows, it was absolutely amazing.  I saw about 2 hours of inhuman, impossible feats.  It was inspiring to see the human form complete all these amazing tasks.  Three acts were particularly mesmerizing for me.  The first was the first of the show.  It was a man in one of those metal orbs.  He basically did yoga on the spinning circular instrument.  It must have taken incredible strength to complete the routine and he made it look effortless as he seamlessly transitioned from one Herculean pose to another.  The man was so very lean I could see every muscle fiber.  It was truly awe-inspiring.

The second act that captivated me was the aerial silks.  This act involved a man and a woman doing contortionist moves while flying around on silks suspended from the ceiling and revolved around a story of a kiss.  The man was pursuing the woman to achieve the kiss and the performers captured the feeling of a Romeo and Juliet type love.  It was completely engrossing and beautiful.

The third act that I loved (well, I pretty much loved them all – there is nothing like seeing 50 Asians leap through metal circles only slightly larger than the circumference of their bodies) was also an aerial act.  It was a  woman in red doing acrobatics in a metal circle.  She was so gorgeous, her lines amazing, her transitions melting one into the next….and I got to thinking.  I’ve always thought it would be so amazing, even as a little girl, to fly around on one of those metal circles.  I’ve always daydreamed about being the girl on the spinning rope in the circus, up in the air, doing feats of strength and flexibility.

Listen, I’m in absolutely no shape to do this type of thing but it made me think that what a great big hairy seemingly-impossible goal it would be.  I want to get myself into good enough shape that I could go to an aerial skills class.  There is actually a studio here in Phoenix that provides such a class!  It’s possible!  I think it would be the most amazing thing ever to do it…my one friend Ivonne actually went to a class and she said it was super, super hard….I’ve no doubt about that!  But well, I think it is a great dream to have.  It’s way more motivating to me to think about being able to do something like this when I go to the gym because there is a purpose behind it, rather than just pushing around some weights or walking on the treadmill for the sake of just doing those activities.  Those activities don’t inspire me, but dancing, and the possibility of flying though the air, well, that is inspiring to me.  I used to love my jungle gym as a kid, and climbing the fig tree in our back yard.  I loved hanging upside down from one knee even though it was a bit scary from the very top of my jungle gym, and doing loops around one knee at bars at school.  I even learned how to climb a rope for P.E. one year after my dad rigged a practice rope from the gym!  I could do these things….I really could!

But for now, I’m fat ballerina jumping.  And, well, that’s okay.  Because you know what, I’m jumping.  I’m moving.  I’m letting go of all the stuff that’s been weighing me down and defying gravity anyways.  So there!  Pretty soon, through moving forward as SoulBlossomDance suggests in her post, I will be a less-fat ballerina jumping, then a pudgy ballerina jumping, then a healthy dancer dancing, and maybe even a strong, lean, aerial performer.  You just never know….