Really Dancing….No, Really! I Mean Like REAL Dancing.

Hi everyone!  I’m baaaaaaaack!

I went on vacation for a week in Ireland, and the week and a half before that I was down for the count with bronchitis.  It’s been a while.

It’s been a while since I wrote and it’s been a while since I did anything physical.  It’s certainly been an eon since I last danced.  It’s also been an age since I last worked out or did any cardio.

What I have been up to is driving in a tiny car on scary one lane roads in the back country of Ireland, eating lots of food, drinking lots of cider and generally laughing, enjoying life, and getting soft.

Also, my husband took lots of amazing photos of our trip.  Below are three:  The Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, and the Cliffs of Moher.

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It’s been great and now I’m glad to be back to “real life.”  In fact, on one of the lay-overs during my sojourn home (it was a 22 hour travel extravaganza from Dublin to our doorstep) I made a point to call and schedule my dance lessons for the week.  It was a priority!

Today was the day for my reunion with Kristijan (Ivan is in Bulgaria until the end of the month) and I had a grand time on my lesson.  I began in my practice shoes.  I’m still recovering a little bit from my respiratory infection and still have congestion and a cough, plus I haven’t been “in my body” to dance for the better part of a month so I thought 3 inch heels right off the bat might be a recipe for disaster.  Anyways, we warmed up with Rumba walks and off we went.

“What do you want to dance?”  He inquired.

“Rumba!” I exclaimed, “I’m a slow starter!” I exhorted.

And it’s true.  Rumba is probably my favorite dance and I love it so much.  It’s a slow burn and a nice way to warm up and reacquaint oneself with one’s body after a long absence.

So we reviewed the choreography.

“How much did you practice while you were gone.”

“Zero,” I said.

“But there is a thing called visualization,” he retorted.  “And it can be a good form of practice,” he explained.

“I did nothing of the sort,” I replied, honestly.  “I ate and I drank and I got fat! I did not practice one iota! So let’s see how this goes,” I said.

And we danced.  And then he suggested we turn on some music.

And I really liked it.  I liked the music, I liked the dancing.  He told me he missed me and the energy I bring.  He corrected me and told me not to put my head down like a bull.  He told me my center of gravity was high and to get more settled in my hips.  He told me to fix my wonky, weak arm.

And I was in a goofy, playful mood.  I pretended like I was Latin champion on of the world and began the Rumba dramatically.  He liked it.  “That was very good,” he said.

So we did the choreography and he told me I was leaning backwards during my spiral turn (which is a bad habit of mine) so I said, “Oh, so you’re saying this wouldn’t work if I were in heels.  Maybe I should put on my heels so I could have a reality check.  These practice shoes give me the illusion that I can actually dance.”  I say this because with the lower heel I can get away with more bad habits and still stay on balance and make things work.  The moment I put on 3 inch heels the entire landscape changes and I often feel like I have strapped on not just shoes but the wobbly legs of a newborn deer.

So guess what!?  I changed into my heels!

And we danced some more.  And I emoted and I played.  And the best part was we danced!  We really danced!  I mean there were all these little gems scattered hither and thither in the routine.  I wouldn’t say the routine rounds were perfectly polished, but there were these amazing moments and sequences of moments where magic happened.

For instance, I began my Rumba with conviction and Kristijan reacted.  Somehow we started the routine totally differently.  We did a hip twist into a double spin and then began the official choreography.  None of this was planned and none of it was communicated except that we were both present and both dancing, together, and it was just the natural evolution of the next right thing to do.  I have no idea how it all was coordinated – it was from a realm beyond words.  It just worked, it just happened, we just created it out of nothing because we were both there, together, connected…which is all the more amazing since we haven’t seen each other for like 3 weeks.

Then there was this moment where I decided that I really liked the music and the movement I was doing so I delayed it.  I stretched it out and made it happen over twice the timing it usually does.  And it was awesome!  I totally took the lead and Kristijan had to react to it.  He totally did and it was so awesome!  I don’t know how this all happened but I just knew that I was planted on that spot and that I was going to finish what I was going to do and then I would move, and somehow through the ethers he got the message and figured it out and then our next move was even that much more sharp and impactful because we delayed so long.

I loved it!  I loved creating something together, from nothing, with no prior planning or scheming or communication.  I loved how it all unfolded, naturally.  I thought to myself, “If I dance like that, so relaxed and joyful and playful and open, at a competition…if we could spontaneously create something in the moment so that each time we danced a routine it was genuinely new, I would be so satisfied and happy with that!  I wouldn’t care how we were ranked!  I would be pleased.”  So I told Krisijan as much and I said, “So let’s dance like that in competition, m’kay, deal?”  And he said, “Okay, Deal!”

I mean, in my view of the world, what we did today was ACTUALLY dancing.  It was not just going through the motions.  It was connected.  It was alive and breathing.  It was co-created space.  It was magic and spontaneous and felt free and joyful.  It was the best!  Yay!

And besides that, the other big news is that Krisijan and Anja got a puppy named Don.  He’s a rescue Lab-SharPpai mix, black, cute, and exploring the world with his sharp-puppy-toothed-mouth!

Also, I’ve decided I will dance in the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Phoenix in September.  It will be my first competition back.  I don’t know if Ivan will be game, but I know Kristijan will so at the least I will do Latin, and I’m hoping I can do some Rhythm as well.

Lastly, I have a fitting for my new dress by Julia tomorrow on my lunch break.  Fingers crossed I love it!

I think that gets me caught up for now, on my end.  But in a parting note, I did wanted to give a shout out to all my Ballroom Village bretheren.  I’m getting caught up in all I’ve missed over the past couple of weeks and you all have been a busy lot, posting!  I’m working my way through your recent adventures.  Also, and importantly, I wanted to send a very special congratulations to BC Ballroom on completing chemo!!!!!  Yay!  This is cause for celebration and I’m so glad to read that you are dancing up a storm right now!  You GO girl!  You are an inspiration to me….and I’m not just talking about how consistent you are with your blog posts lol! (I could use a little of that hahaha)

Oh, and I have a guest post on Girl With The Tree Tattoo!  It’s about how I got to the place where I changed my blog name from Biggest Girl In The Ballroom to Beautiful Girl In The Ballroom….go check it out.

Come to think of it, there are at least two more pieces of exciting news in the works!  I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned!

I’m glad to be back with you all and I’m looking forward to sharing more dance adventures, insights, breakdowns and breakthroughs with you!

Love, Stef

AKA Beautiful Girl

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I Didn’t Know Hair-Pulling Was Part Of The Deal

So yesterday when I showed up for my lesson I started trying to do Spiral turns. I need to figure out how to do them properly and on balance because there are about 3 of them in my Rumba routine. I barely seem to be able to hold on to them most times, and other times I have to step out of the position so I don’t fall.

It’s weird, because in American Rumba we do Rumba Walks and end the move with a Spiral and I have gotten that one down. It is usually very smooth and easy. But without just that little bit of help from Ivan’s hand, I seem to lose my center on the ones in the showcase routine.

One of my biggest problems, I think, is forgetting to settle. This is where the old ballet training and muscle memory bite me in the ass. It is so ingrained in me to try and hold my hips square and not to let them drop that I’m always trying to hold positions that are very difficult to hold and stay on balance in. The trick is that they are beautiful lines and I should hit them first, but then immediately begin to settle on to the standing leg. I try to hold them too long and get stuck.

The other biggest problem is that I don’t completely commit to one leg or the other before moving. I try to get to where I’m going without completing each step in between. This sometimes means my body weight is distributed between both legs making it impossible for either one to move. Once again, movements become slurred, late, sloppy.

The final biggest problem is that I don’t use my supporting leg to propel me onto the standing leg. I try to power myself using only one limb instead of both, leaving the leg I just moved from relaxed and useless. Especially on the Spiral turn, I need to use my supporting leg like the kick-stand of a bike and continue to place pressure on it to help myself turn.

So I have these three issues to contend with and then on the Sprial turns I also end up leaning one way or the other, forwards or backwards or to the side. I’m not keeping my spine straight and collapse my upper body or have my weight on my heels instead of the balls of my feet.

There is a fix for this and Ivan has it. It’s called pulling my hair.

So I’m practicing the Spiral turns and falling over and Ivan comes up and pulls my hair upwards by the roots in an attempt to get me to straighten my spine and stand tall. It didn’t hurt at all. I don’t know how he did that but it was painless. And, I got the point. But I just didn’t know that signing up for ballroom lessons might entail my instructor pulling on my burnette locks.

We worked on getting the Sprial turn into my muscle memory so I’ll be able to do it comfortably at the showcase and I do believe it is getting better. Then we worked on the open hip twist step again, me counting all my steps, reviewed the proper way to do a crossover, and the importance of counting my entire routine in every dance.

Actually, I’m very inspired by Ghada, also know as “Legs.” She started her own blog (theycallmelegsdotcom@wordpress.com) about her personal ballroom journey and loaded a video of her practicing at her gym. She does everything by herself, including a ronde’ kick and a slow leg extension, which takes an incredible amount of control and strength. I should be doing this too.

Really, I should. Because when it comes down to it, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I need to be dancing my own body. I need to not be relying on Ivan. I should be able to do all my routines by myself as if I were dancing with someone. Then when that someone steps into the picture, it will be easier. We will be two pieces completely self-contained, yet completely connected, moving in unison yet independently.

Even though I think I know what I’m doing, I don’t always know what I’m doing on what count. It’s this weird paradox though. I’m supposed to dance the music but I also have to be on the right count.

Let me explain.

Ivan wanted to practice our showcase Rumba once before we ended the lesson. As usual, he had me dance my solo part in the beginning. I did it, and since I’ve repeated it enough times, I don’t count every beat but rather feel the movement, listen to the music, and create the drama of the story being danced. Ivan complimented me on this part of the dance saying that it was so “easy to watch.” And that he wants me to dance the entire 4 minutes the same way.

Only one problem… I’m not counting. I’m just dancing. So it’s like, dance the emotional story but don’t also forget to count. My brain is a little bit fried just thinking about that!

In any case, my dancer is coming out and Ivan sees it. He told me that it is a piece that many ballroom dancers and competitors are missing and it’s great that I have it.

It was kind of like that song from “A Chorus Line,” called, “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” You know the one I’m talking about, right? The one where one of the auditioning dancers explains how she never used to get jobs and so after one audition she stole her feedback card and saw that they had marked her a ten for dance ability, but a three for looks. Now her solution was to get a boob job. Voila! She began to get jobs left and right.

But for me, it was like “Fat one, good things five.” You see, after Ivan told me that I was doing well with the emoting/storytelling part of dancing he told me, “Stefanie how many times you gotta tell me you fat. Yes, I know this. Okay, so you fat. But it like one thing. You have like five other things that is good. The drama, the balance, the rhythm, da da da da da. The fat only the one thing.”

I have a few thoughts about this. One, it was really hard to stand next to Marietta on Monday this week because my body contrasted so greatly with hers. Two, I can focus on the one thing (the fat) or I can focus on all the other wonderful things I bring to my dancing. I know which one makes me feel better about myself. Three, I’m working on changing the fat picture. I’m on the right track for this so if nothing else it’s going to improve. Four, I’m really stuck on the fact that I’m fat. Good thing Ivan isn’t as fixated on it as I am.

In any case, we finished our lesson and Marietta walked in the door. They were going to practice for the Vegas Open where they will be competing tomorrow. And guess what? Me, and Ivonne, and most likely Katie, are all going to drive out to cheer them on! It is going to be so much fun, I can hardly wait. You better believe I’ll have some photos and video and writing to share about that little adventure.

But my dancing wasn’t done yet! Toni now does group classes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Imperial Ballroom Dance Center over closer to my area. I drove there and had a semi-private lesson. It was just me, and Chuck, and Toni. We worked on American Rhythm Rumba and I got to practice my Rumba Walks, following, Spiral turns, Spot turns, balance, and timing. It was really fun. And Chuck was enamored with Toni. She really is a fantastic teacher and over the course of the lesson we were able to improve the step she was teaching us considerably. He told her, “You do that so great, I don’t want anyone else to ever teach me how to do anything ever again!” It was adorable, and I was there to be a witness….he really did say it just like that!

It wasn’t a very sweaty day and I didn’t do much cardio, but after the past few weeks of stress, it was just what I needed to get the share the joy of dancing with other people who love it as well.

Ballroom dancing has brought much adventure, joy, friendship, and opportuinties to evolve into my life. I just didn’t know hair-pulling was part of the deal. But even if it is, I’ll gladly accept the price. It’s worth it!

Eat Me

Man.  It has been quite a week for me.  I’m spent.  Drama at work.  Stress.  Ugh.

I even called Ivan to have an “emergency” dance lesson on Wednesday night.  I just needed to blow off some serious steam.

I showed up in my scrubs from work because I hadn’t been planning to come in for a lesson that evening.  I was stinky from the long day and not  feeling particularly pretty.  But a funny thing happened.  We worked on Rumba (of course) and because (I think) I was so emotionally spent, tired, and feeling beaten down, there was no wall like I usually have.  I was raw, open, authentic.

We did a fan and Ivan told me to grab my butt and I was like, okay, fine.  I totally did it.  I totally just danced the step and used my arm to muss my hair, and really let go.  That was the secret.  I let go.

Ivan was like, “Wow!  What happened?  This is your sexiest day.  You never do this before and now, today, bam!”

Seriously?!  This is what it takes to let the sexy out?  I felt like crap and yet according to Ivan, it was my sexiest day ever.

Hmmm.

Don’t really know how to respond to that except for the fact that I discovered that I am more and more often letting go, relaxing enough to express myself, even if it is small chunks, and little by little, I am becoming “that Latin girl.”  There really is something to letting go….like remembering what it was like when I was a kid and had no social filters.  You know, the ones that say, “Don’t look stupid.  Don’t draw attention to yourself.  Don’t be stuck up.  Don’t be this.  Don’t be that.”  And when I listen to them, I end up doing nothing.  The steps are empty.  That isn’t why people love to watch dancing.  They love to watch the abandon, the freedom, the thrilling emotions as expressed by the dancers.

Ah, abandon.  That’s a challenge for me.  It surely is.  But not so much for Ivan.  He’s a pro at it.  Good thing he is my teacher.

So anyways, even after the emergency dance lesson I was still not feeling quite right.  I decided that I could get out of my “stuff” by focusing on doing something for someone else so I drove to Michael’s and bought the materials I needed complete the mirror project I mentioned in a previous post The Mirror of Relationship.  I knew it would be a special thing to do and would give me great joy.  I made a mirror for Ivan that says “I am a champion!  Yes I am!” in Bulgarian.  You can see the photo here.

Anyways, yesterday I gave him the mirror and read him a card and I think he was genuinely touched.

“Nobody do this for me, Estefanie.”

He almost, but not quite, teared up.  I’m sure of it!  Ha ha.

Anyways, I might have created a monster!  Right after this he started strutting around as if he were the lone rooster in a hen house.  He was sporting a big smile and started joking with me.

“You better get a lot of lessons in now before I champion!”

“Yeah, Ivan, you’re right.”

“Ya, I cheap right now.  So dance with me now.  Touch it now.  ‘Cause later it’s gonna be expensive.”

“Gosh!  I better get in as many as I can because I’m already stretched to afford lessons.  They’re worth every penny, but I’d love to be able to do more.”

“No, no.  I not gonna raise my prices, but many people do.  Once I met a lady at a competition who used to dance with Tony Dovolani.  She was say, ‘To think, I used to miss lessons, or skip them, and now he’s a champion!  I feel sick to my stomach about it.  Then he was $60.  Now he’s $190 and I can’t dance with him.'”

“Well, Ivan, when you do become champion, you should raise your prices….just not for your old students, like me!”

“Just think, Estefanie.  Maybe one day you dance with a champion!”

“I do every day already, Ivan.”

I really feel this way.  I see the champion in Ivan.  He was already a champion in Bulgaria so sometimes I think he thinks his career has already peaked.  But I disagree and believe in him and Marieta and think it is entirely possible that the best is yet to come.

In any case, this got us both to thinking….what if, just what if, Ivan ended up being one of pros on DWTS.  That would be HILARIOUS!  He is so freakin’ entertaining on all our lessons.  I’ll provide yet another example later in this blog post – but seriously, he would be fantastic.

The only thing would be that he’d have to be matched with someone he didn’t hate.  He recently fired a student because he felt about her what cats feel about being doused in a tub of water.  I could totally see him walking off the show if he ended up with some horrible human being.

But, as long as he was with a reasonable student, wow, America watch out.  It’d be a whole new level of entertainment.

So, I’d really better get as many lessons in right now as I can!  Ha ha!

After all the banter we finally settled into actually dancing.  We ran cha cha and bolero and rumba and samba.  Then we focused on the Latin Rumba because there is still a lot of work to do on dancing that well.  I realized that I was not settling on my standing leg with my hip and this is why I was always falling off balance.  My body’s still trying to dance like a ballerina even though my head is trying to get me to be a Latin dancer.

Next we worked on steps that set up the fan.  During the first part I’m supposed to be feminine, Ivan explained, then in the second part when I come toward him, I’m supposed to be more aggressive.

“Eat me,” he tells me.

Of course, I burst out laughing.  It’s a little lost in translation.  He doesn’t mean like eat me, he means like literally, “eat me like a tiger would eat a person using that aggressive, intense type of attacking energy.”  I may not speak Bulgarian, but I speak Ivan.  There is always a touch of translation that has to be done but usually the gaffes are adorable and always they are meant well.

He continues, “You gotta be hungry.”

Okay, I think.  I get the point.

We do the steps and I come at him like a tiger!  Rarrrrr!

“You not hungry.  You not hungry tiger.”

Fail!

We try again and each time I raise my intensity.  Finally we hit one Ivan likes.  Then he tells me to do it one more time so he can look in the mirror and watch it.

“Wow.” He says, “I think it maybe look good, but it look really good.”

Yep, the sexiest day ever continues.

Ivan's New Business Card. C'mon now! If this man asked you to be a hungry tiger toward him, what would you do?

As I reflect upon the past few days, they were difficult for me.  But I realize that I handled it better than I ever did in the past.  And also, even with all the stress of this past week, I knew I had something to look forward to.  Dancing is a non-negotiable in my life right now, even if I have to stretch financially to make it happen.  I’ve given it up before and when I do that, I slowly die.  As I continue to dance, I continue to come more and more to life.  I think that is one of the things Ivan really embodies – being alive, like vibrantly alive.  His aliveness calls out to the small alive plant taking root in my soul and little by little I awaken from my numb slumber.

Oh, that brings up another point.  I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I’m down another 4.4 pounds from my last weigh in on February 10th.  So, I’m shedding the weight, coming more alive, feeling more emotions (the entire spectrum – including the not-so-fun ones), and I’m doing it by dancing.

I’ll admit, I was beginning to despair a little bit about my chances of transforming myself by July of this year.  But if I just keep doing what I’m doing, even with the detours and screw-ups, if I keep just logging my calories, dancing, and wearing my Fitbit, no matter what, I’ll be different in 5 months.  I may not be where I want to ultimately get to, but I do want to show up regardless.  I may even have friends who will come to see me dance at the Desert Classic.  I can’t let them down.  But more importantly, I can’t let me down.  I can’t let go of this dream of finally being happy with my body, and give up, even if my progress hasn’t been as swift as I’d like.

Part of me wanted to back out of this dance competition because I’m not near as far along as I wanted to be.  I’ve been treading water, I feel like, for months.  But how could I do that, really?  I’ve got to stay committed – in fact re-commit, and choose back in with all I’ve got.  Which makes me think it’s time to purchase the plane tickets for July for two reasons:  1) it will make it a reality that I’m going to this venue and 2) the tickets will be cheaper so far in advance.  I just have to remember to tell Ivan the next time I see him.  I’m serious about doing this, I just need to make sure I know it!