Clean Eating, Challenge, Change, Consistency, Commitment

I am extremely grateful to find myself in a most clear, determined, and single-minded space after a week laden with emotional turmoil (as well as a little bit of humor.) As I continue this journey, which in my mind began three years ago, I am surprised and delighted with how much more quickly I can get through “the muck” back into a neutral or even positive mental place. Back when I was at my largest, it could days or even weeks of staying stuck, wallowing in my despair, anguish, anger, or resentment. I’d done a lot of work internally before I was ready to accept the help of a nutritionist and though my external results have been frustratingly slow (in my mind, at least), the deep roots of new coping skills and healthy tools I’ve cultivated continue to serve me well as I chip, chip, chip away at my own personal face of Mount Rushmore. Dang I wish I had some stinking dynamite!

Another reason I’ve been able to switch so quickly out of overwhelm and sadness, I believe, has been the support I am now able to receive from “my team.” No one officially signed up to be on my “team” – it’s just my own idea of people who are helping me get to where I want to go. This includes, of course, first and foremost, my awesome nutritionist, Chelle, owner of Recipe For Fitness, who wrote an amazing response to my Dear Body Letter. Seriously, go read Chelle’s blog post! I totally believe she’s got my back and that she’ll stick it out with me until I’m done. She’s the “coach” of my team….maybe I should get her a whistle! ūüôā

My “team” also includes, Ivan, he’d be the artistic director (hee hee), as well as my new trainer, Allison, who is so much better than my previous gal. I finally feel like I have a trainer who actually cares about me and my progress, and I appreciate it so much, especially with all the crap I’ve had to go through with trainers recently! Plus she, herself, trains as a MMA fighter, has 12 years of personal training experience, and is generally just a pretty awesome person.

And beyond that, I also consider you readers as part of my team. You encourage me and inspire me to keep going, even when the going gets tough. Fitocracy, a social media platform that is kinda like Facebook for people into fitness, is another resource I’ve used that is a postitive, encouraging outlet – you can find me under “loveablestef” if you ever decide to join.

Finally, many times I have people supporting me and encouraging me that I don’t even know! Like Tabitha – I’ve never met her, but she took the time to write me a powerful letter which helped me move forward, and from the feedback I’ve received, I’m not the only one she helped.

I must admit, however, that even though I understand and believe what Tabitha/my body had to say, I am still in slight resistance to certain portions of it. Rather than considering this a bad thing, I think having a little resistance is good, because it means I’m on the edge pushing against a limitation. Soon enough things will shift and I will have grown. If I had absolutely no resistance, then I’d already be done with the portion of “the work” she suggests and wouldn’t be any challenge! But, yeah, that’s not the case.

For instance, I still have a hard time swallowing the idea that my body is on my side. I’ve lived for 27 years considering my body to be a problem. It has never been a beautiful body in my eyes and it is frustratingly stubborn. It is limited in many ways and can’t do all the things I want or expect it to do. I experience it as being untrustworthy and I think of it as something that is sub-par and needs to be fixed but that it is so messed up that it’s a lost cause. Confusingly, it is also an ally in many regards, the most important of which are that it allows me to dance and to walk in this world, and sometimes it surprises me doing things beyond my expectations. Clearly my relationship with my body isn’t 100% in alignment, but I have faith that it can be.

I am also frustrated with the idea my body put forth about having to get internal affairs in order before seeing outward change. I feel like, egad! Haven’t I already done somuch?! I have been working at it for three years to get internal affairs in order but still I wait, wait, wait for the outside to match with the inside (yeah, it’s a little victim-y, I know. I’ll get over it). I am dumbfounded time and again at how very different my internal image of who I am and how I see myself in a fit, healthy body, and the reality of my current obese body are. It is beyond words the amount of internal work I’ve done and annoying that there is still more to go! Plus it is just plain incongruent with the external state of affairs. Like, last week I was eating my fish, brown rice, and asparagus, all portioned and measured, cooked clean after 90 minutes of ballet and I’m thinking to myself, “A person who eats this dinner doesn’t have a body like mine.” But I do.

I’m also in resistance to my body’s message to push and push hard. It’s not because I won’t or don’t push hard already, it’s because I’m sick of hearing it and I’m sick of having to dig down deep just to make it through Latin class with Inna or Mountain climbers with Allison, or planks on a ball with Chelle, or doing the stairstepper with asthma and my heart rate at 175 and me wanting to quit, having to talk myself into each and every step. I admit that here and there I am finally, finally, noticing small changes in the ability to do more. But again, I think it is good to be a little in resistance because it means I’m butting up against my limits and my job is to notice them and burst beyond them. Trust me, it is not in my nature to not push! If my trainer has a weight too low or I don’t feel like I’m being challenged enough I speak up! Usually, though, it’s the other edge I experience – the one where I’m being challenged beyond my perceived capacity – the place where I panic and get emotional and have to fight. I don’t enjoy that fight but again, discovering (finally, after hearing about it for so long) how to channel and transmute my negative feelings into pushing myself, has been a step forward. It may still suck at times, like when I was on my last set of mountain climber burpee thingies and Allison was like, “Go at your own pace. We can modify if you need to,” And I was like, “No!” and got I emotional, angry, teary-eyed, and grunted and groaned but I banged those bitches out, using that emotional angst instead of letting it defeat me. And there have even been moments when I’ve been up for more, that internally a desire to push myself a bit harder when working out on my own bubbled up from somewhere. Again, progress, but not the tangible, visual kind I want to see with a smaller butt, gut, and bat wings, with muscle definition and tone, seeing the definition of muscle working under the skin.

I am also in resistance to the idea that I shouldn’t use the scale. This is because I absolutely, as part of my goals, want and need to be lighter. If that means at some point I lose some muscle, so be it. To be the dancer I want to become I must be smaller, more compact, lean, and weigh significantly less. Period. I cannot stand the idea of living the rest of my life obese, over 200 pounds! Yes, I’m open to the possibility that I will look fantastic at a higher weight than most my competitors who weigh like 110 pounds, but I’m not willing to weigh over 200 pounds. This shit needs to come off. Anyways, for the sake of sanity and also to see a more complete picture, not just the one told by the scale, I’m considering getting some measurements in a Bod Pod, the gold standard for body composition testing.

As for the rest of the letter from my body, I’m totally on board with it. As you can see from the title of my post, especially for the days leading up to Galaxy, (and beyond I hope) I’m in RockStar mode. I am a clean-eating, ready-for-challenge, changing, consistent, and committed woman. This is how I am showing up in my life right now, ready to demolish this portion of the journey set before me. Like no kidding. Because I am hungry, starving, ravenous, for dramatic, transformational change in my body. I have been for a while. I’m so ready for new clothes, ones that I actually like! There is no going back and I still want more, so very much more.

To that end, I’ve made a little sign for myself that I’m hanging above my work computer so I will be staring at it for 8 hours a day to continually reinforce my committment. I have to say, however, that the decision has already strongly been made in my mind. Chelle created a new plan with lower calories and I’m following it to the letter. We also renegotiated a work out plan with cardio and weights. I’ve already been hungrier than before but thanks to the internal work I’ve already done, I’m able to weather it well. On other plans, more geared toward cultivating a healthy lifestyle, I felt over-full or would get hungry maybe once or twice near time to the next meal time. This time around, I get hungry 5 or 6 times before the next time to eat, most especially earlier in the day, but I have the skills to handle it. I can tolerate a few signals from my body where three years ago I would never even allow myself to get hungry, and if I did it was binge time. It may not be completely comfortable to experience a little hunger but I don’t care! I’m committed. And it’s a normal physiological function. I have 17 days now in which to make as much a change as possible before I step onto the ballroom again. I would rather accept the pain of discipline now than suffer the pain of regret at Galaxy, and I know that being in integrity with this plan will give me the best chance of feeling like I am awesome when it’s time to dance.

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Already I’ve had these little victories like yesterday I went to visit a friend and stayed longer than I anticipated so I was quite late for dinner and really hungry. But did I grab the first most convenient thing? No! I grabbed a cucumber, a totally free food on my plan, quickly cut some slices, and nibbled on them as I prepared my dinner. To me that was proving to myself just how very committed I am. No straying from the plan even when things don’t go perfectly. No excuses!

I also made a point to steer clear of my husband’s Fantasy Football draft party. We had over 20 men at our house, eating pizza, drinking beer and other hard libations and I didn’t even want to be around it so I volunteered to housesit for my in-laws. Truth be told, I wasn’t even tempted with the debauchery before me! In years past this would have been as irresistible as a siren’s call and laced with a dose of guilt, remorse, and recovery the following day. And I was even more pleased with my decision when I saw how annihilated my husband and his buds were the next morning.

In addition, I’ve already talked about how I’m going to handle an upcomming trip with my husband. We have a kitchen where we are staying so first priority the morning after we arrive will be to get groceries and cook! I’ll bring my breakfast along with me. He knows I’m not going to bend at this time with the eating, even though we will be around many restaurants and bars. It won’t be like this forever, but for now this is the way it has to be.

So now I guess the biggest struggle isn’t the eating, or even the exercise since I’m clear on what I’m accountable for with that, but rather the biggest battle is waiting patiently and having faith that this change I’m seeking in my body will actually happen. I still don’t entirely trust that it is possible for me to have a gorgeous body, one that I love and would be proud to show off. I still feel like I will be pudgy and that I am not ever really going to be lean. But I do believe it can be better and I know I will not to back. The only path is to push forward. I wish it were happening faster, oh God do I ever! But since I have no fairy godmother to instantly transform my adipose into thin air, I’ll have to burn it off myself.

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I’m Baaaaaaaack!

Did you miss me?

Well, this will be a short one (for me)! There will probably be more to come after I debrief with Ivan tomorrow morning about Desert Classic and after my husband (finally) manages to send me the photos and videos he took.

So here’s the quick update about my most recent competition:

First, I had a new dress made.

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I know it is not the best picture but you can get an idea of the bright colors. That’s right….color! And I actually liked the color combo on the floor from the pictures I’ve seen so far.

What I didn’t like was my big belly. And the fact that my big belly wasn’t smoothed out/hidden with draping or ruching. I didn’t see the final product until the day before the competition so it was like, well, this is what it is and it is either wear it or don’t because there really isn’t time to fix it. I think it will look so much better on me with a flatter stomach but that was not to be on Thursday.

Thursday was Latin and I danced very inconsistently. I got marks all over the place but didn’t make the final from a semi final with 14 couples in the Latin closed bronze A scholarship. So I was kinda bummed about that but even more bummed that I was feeling really exhausted, had some balance issues, and felt like Ivan and I were pushing and pulling each other all over the floor. Basically that means I wasn’t “moving my ass” like I need to and because I’m late he tries to help to get me where I need to go which creates resistance in our hold and then, paradoxically, I move even less and also get more exhausted. It is a vicious cycle and totally sucks. So I wasn’t over my feet or moving fast enough and this caused a chain reaction which compounded the problem. And it meant Ivan was kinda disappointed in my performance because we both knew I was off and have the potential to do better. So boo! Thursday was not my best day.

And wouldn’t you know it – I did best in stupid Jive again! I hate that dance in terms of the cardio it requires but somehow, even though I only know like 3 figures, and we like never practice it, that is the dance I placed best in most consistently. Go figure! lol.

But still, there are always learning opportunities just from participating. I realized how little I had mentally prepared for the competition. I realized, in hindsight, the importance of putting energy into getting myself into a strong frame of mind before stepping on the floor. I became more aware of things I wish to improve and work on, and I also became more clear on how I wish to direct my physical fitness training in the near future.

Because I’m done with not feeling awesome about myself when I step on the ballroom floor. I don’t want to put myself through this anymore. I must change dramatically. Period. It takes a lot of energy, strength, and confidence, to really dance, and I just couldn’t muster it about myself on Thursday, especially when I was so aware of my large belly and arms. I mean, I felt like I kept myself under control in a pretty good to neutral energy, but my lack of confidence gnawed at the back of my mind. I was aware of it on some level and when I saw a picture my husband took of me from the back, I looked as large as a male trucker. Yuck! I’m over it.

It is too hard to have so much shame about how I look, to not feel feminine or pretty, and to get out on a dance floor and pretend like I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m not, and a I can’t fake it. Frankly, I find it off-putting when people think they are too cool for school so I have reservations about being or acting like that. You know, I feel like my authenticity and emotionality are some of my greatest strengths as well as weaknesses. It is why people can “feel” me when I am dancing, and why, I think, they connect with me. So when I’m feeling good and strong, it is really great. But it also means I can’t fool anybody when I’m feeling down about myself and my body. There is no question in my mind that how I feel about my body affects how I show up in dancing…and in life. And it is not my best. So I’m waiting to hear the verdict from Ivan because I know he mentally stockpiled a bunch of feedback for me about the competition and we have a lesson tomorrow. Also, I’m contemplating not doing another competition for a while, though the next one on my radar is Galaxy here locally and local comps are harder to say no to. It is in September so I think I will wait and see how I’m feeling about it at the end of August and make a decision at that time. Because it isn’t okay with me just to go through the motions and to dance just because….it is important to me to have purpose and meaning in my dancing and I wasn’t able to generate that as strongly as I did for previous competitions. I attribute this to my lack of consistent, significant progress toward my weight loss goals and the subsequent feelings of lower self-esteem thus created.

So anyways, more to come about what’s next, but Thursday was kinda blah. Friday was a day to rest, regather myself, and recuperate. My husband was along for the trip and we joined Ivan and Marieta for a little jaunt up to the top of a nearby mountain, 9000 feet high, where the temperature was a lovely 62 degrees. We got there by riding in an air tram that spun 360 degrees while traveling upwards on steel cables for 10 minutes. It was a fun and delightful day.

Saturday was Rhythm. There was more competition in terms of number of couples in my division in Latin than in American Rhythm, but I think there was maybe more chaos in the ballroom because there were tv crews filming for two separate shows in the ballroom. It is going to be very interesting to watch both shows as I personally know some of the people they are following for the one to be on TLC, and I have come to meet some of the people to be featured on the other show, I think for the A & E channel. I had to sign a release because they had me in one of the frames dancing in the background while they were filming one of their main protagonists so you may also see me on tv some time soon ha ha ha!

In any case, I did much better in American Rhythm, basically placing first in most heats and winning the scholarship round from a 7 couple final (no semi final). Also, and more importantly, Ivan felt my energy was better and I felt stronger as well. We were not pushing and pulling too much through the frame and I was more on my own feet. Well, this was after we had a bit of a come-to-Jesus meeting after he had let go of me, releasing me completely from the frame, multiple times on the floor, in front of the judges, so I would get the point about hanging on him, pushing to hard, relying on him for my balance, and all that, but also so that I could have easily fallen on my ass. Don’t get me wrong, it’s FANTASTIC kinestetic feedback. I’d welcome it on a lesson. But please don’t let me get away with things on lessons repeatedly and then do this on the floor when it counts!?! I was miffed! Anyways, we worked through it, which is the most important thing, I suppose, and I ended up with fantastic results. As Felipe Telona Jr. jibed me, “You should have brought a broom!” and, “I’m glad you are leaving now so the rest of us have a chance!”

first

When I got off the floor and my husband took this picture he was like, “And you won an…..envelope?!” It contained a check, silly! Double what I got for People’s Choice, which was very nice – the equivalent of a few more lessons, because, yeah, all money gets converted to the equivalent number of dance lessons in my brain. ūüôā

So I still managed to make it into the top 20 students, which surprised me with as few heats as I did, and so did Ivan’s other student, plus he was 7th place top teacher with the 2 of us, and he and Marieta placed 3rd in Pro Open Am Rhythm, second only to Emannuel and Liana and Yuki Haraguchi and her new partner.

Best of all, no injuries, I’m not exhausted, and I had the energy today to go to ballet class after work plus I went to the grocery store to replace all my perishables and pulled out the items I’d prepared last week from the freezer, which is to say that I’m baaaaaack! Back to my eating plan, and getting my fitness plan in gear, and right back into my normal activities. I didn’t run myself into the ground this time so I won’t need a week to recuperate like I did after People’s Choice.

Alright – gotta get to bed! TTFN!

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My Toes Are Numb! People’s Choice Recap

Oh me, oh my.  Another competition in the books.

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And yes, my toes are numb.¬† From dancing 80 heats in heels.¬† Ballroom isn’t all glamour¬†behind the scenes you know….it is sweat and hard work, and smelly fake tans, and struggle, and pain, and awesome and worth it!¬† lol.¬† But seriously….I do NOT know how some of these pro/am couples do it….there were at least 3 or 4 students who did over 400 heats at People’s Choice!¬† My body is banged up doing a fraction of that.¬† It is pretty impressive they are still standing!!!

Me, with my 80 heats,¬†I’m physically exhausted.¬† But satisfied.¬† It has been a good few days.

Wednesday night after work I made the 15 minute trek to the hotel and competition venue here in Phoenix.¬† I was certain I’d have an early morning Thursday as I generally dance early in the day and this means early appointments for hair and make up.¬† Even though the competition was local, I still find it chaotic and stressful to rush to the location, scramble to find a space in the woman’s dressing area or a public bathroom, and so I opted to stay at the hotel for two nights of the competition.¬† It turned out that I didn’t start dancing on Thursday until noon, but I was still glad with my choice to spend the previous night.¬† It gave me time to sleep in a bit, have a nice breakfast and feel collected and centered before I began dancing.

So you guys all know I hired the nutritionist and I spoke with her about how to eat during a competition.¬† Basically, I made my best effort to eat clean and fuel my body with good foods.¬† I brought protein shakes and cheese sticks and chicken mini loaves and oatmeal and fruit and almond milk and a cooler with ice.¬† I have to tell you, though, with all the chaos and stress, and physical effort, it was such a challenge to eat anything!¬† I give myself a free pass for this week and will get back on track ASAP.¬† And the thing is, it’s not that I ate poorly, or bad foods or anything like that, it was that I couldn’t eat enough!¬† I was full and nauseated and it was just hard to get any food down, even without the horrible nerves like I had last year at Desert Classic.¬† Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous right before I go on the dance floor – standing there at the “on deck” area I always feel like I need to pee and vomit and have a bout of diarrhea all at once…but then I get out there and start dancing and all I can focus on is the dancing.¬† But the nerves were short-term and didn’t last long, just in those few moments before the heats.¬† Anyways, I shoved almonds and mango slices and cherries and NoGii bars down my gullet as much as possible, but I’m telling you it was nowhere near enough.¬† And even after the dancing I had like zero appetite.¬† Ah well, I made it, and did the best I could, and shortly I will be back on plan 100%. I just have to continue to figure out what is going to work for me during competitions, especially when travelling!

Anyways, can I just take a pause here and say how much I adore and appreciate my instructor Ivan as well as his gorgeous wife and partner Marieta.¬† I¬†mean, I think¬†you readers already know this, but it bears repeating, especially after this¬†competition.¬† It was kind of special being the only student for People’s Choice.¬† I honestly don’t mind to have other students along, too, and it can be fun,¬†but this time was really neat flying solo.¬† I owe so much to Ivan, he has helped me and encouraged me so much during the¬†past two years, and he believed in me from the beginning, over 50 pounds ago.¬† I am so incredibly proud to be his student, and so proud of how he and Marieta did last night, placing first in the American Rhythm division.¬† I just hope for him to be as proud of me as his student, and I very much think that at this competition I did.¬† I was happy with how I showed up at the competition and happy that¬†his exemplary work as a teacher¬†was recognized through me.

And they are just good people, Ivan and Marieta.¬† It is a testament to the excellent human beings they are this little anecdote I’m going to share with you.¬† You see, one of the ladies who was running the on deck area asked Ivan for his card.¬† He didn’t have one on him, as per usual, so I made a mental note and when I saw her in the bathroom I asked her if she’d gotten one yet.¬† She didn’t so I gave her one and she told me that as someone who runs the on deck area she sees a lot…a lot.¬† Things you’d be surprised to see – how pros treat students and the like.¬† And she observed how Ivan treats his students on and off the the floor.¬† She could see what a decent and kind and fun and funny and ridiculous person he is, but yeah, she wanted to maybe dance with him, not someone else.¬† I’m like the luckiest student ever and happy Ivan is getting noticed and possibly will have more business…though I¬† must say, I do think he has been the best kept secret, you know!

You see, there is always a lot that goes on during these things.¬† And before them, too.¬† Ivan has been the one who has believed in me before I believed in myself, and more than I believed in myself.¬†¬† He has pulled out the performer in me.¬† He has helped mold me into the dancer I am today.¬† So when I get compliments like I did at this competition, it is a reflection upon both me and Ivan.¬† I just don’t seem to be able to put into words properly the full extent of my gratitude.¬†¬†¬† All I have ever wanted was to be a dancer, and this man, this crazy adorable Bulgarian, is helping me become that like no kidding.

And based on results, we did well.¬† I placed mostly first in single dances, with a few seconds, and got second in closed latin bronze scholarship, losing out only to my friend Colette who is the Emerald Ball champion!!!¬† Not too shabby, if I do say¬†so myself – especially for my second scholarship ever.¬† And I won in the American Rhythm division.¬† Plus many people, even some judges, and Bree Watson (National American Rhythm champion with Decho¬†Kraev!!! OMG!!!)¬†gave me lovely compliments on my dancing.¬† It was astounding and I’m humbled and grateful.

The best part is that Thursday I was struggling so very badly.¬† My asthma has been out of control and even with steroids on board I was having a hell of a time.¬† My inhaler wasn’t working at all so I was dancing and couldn’t breathe.¬† At a certain point I told Ivan I might have to withdraw from some heats, and I am not the type of person to do that.¬† But I had zero energy.¬† Ivan could see it in my eyes – the lights were on but no one was home.¬† I had nothing left to give but still moved as best I could.¬† He and I both knew we were not dancing our best….but I still placed well.¬† People still had no idea how badly I was struggling.¬† It is a great place to be to know that I was perceived as performing well when inside both Ivan and I know there is so much more to show.

Friday went better after 40 more milligrams of prednisone and 3 breathing treatments on my nebulizer which I brought with me to the hotel and coughing up mucous for hours during the night.  I was extremely worried about 19 heats in a row but it turned out that the ballroom was split into two floors for many of them, and not everyone knew where they were supposed to be, so there ended up being a lot of little breaks where the announcer would have to call out the couples who should be in ballroom A and ballroom B and this saved me, plus I could breathe better.

At the end of the day we did a few open dances and Ivan even said…”Finally we are actually dancing!¬† We can never just do five heats, you and me!”¬† Because it took so long for us to “warm up,” even though I attribute part of that to being at battle with my lungs and body the first day.¬† So we completed all of our dances around 2pm on Friday¬†except for the American Rhythm scholarship round which was scheduled for 10pm Friday night!¬† What?!¬† That was pretty brutal…to be exhausted and sore and have numb toes and a rash between my thighs from the fishnets¬†and just wanting to be done but to have to show up 6 hours later and dance your very best.¬† Well, Marieta was a doll and touched up my hair and make up and Ivan and¬†I¬†killed it.¬† Happily there wasn’t a semifinal – just a final, so I only had to dance Cha Cha, Rumba, and¬†Swing once.

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So participating in competitions is always an experience. And part of that is meeting new people.¬† And you know there were a lot of funny moments along the way.¬† For instance, at one point they announced the next dance would be Merengue.¬† I knew we had no Merengue heats but Ivan apparently didn’t hear the announcement so he rushed over to¬†a table at the edge of the ballroom, poured out this pink drink on the floor to wet his shoes to make them sticker – the floor was pretty slippery – and another of the pros, this Hungarian guy Chaba, was like “Hey!¬† Ivan!¬† That’s my cocktail!”¬† And we weren’t even dancing in the heat!¬† Then that same pro, Chaba, was out there in his own little world, couple 106 dancing to himself and then announcer said, “We have an extra couple on the floor.”¬† There was a¬†pause and he continued, announcing the numbers of the couples in the heat which didn’t include couple 106.¬† Then he even said, “Couple 106 you do not need to be on the floor right now.”¬† And Chaba¬†was still grooving, oblivious.¬† So Ivan yells, “Chaba!!!”¬† And it was too funny.

Well, it also turned out that Ryan Seacrest¬†productions is creating a reality show about pro/am ballroom dancing and they were filming during the competition.¬† One of the pros they are following happens to be Bulgarian.¬† His name is Rumen, like Roman with a “u.”¬† When I originally heard his name I thought it was¬†“Ruben.” Anyways, while Ivan and I were enjoying some food and sparkling water Thursday night after our dancing he came to say hello to Ivan.¬† I impressed him with my inappropriate Bulgarian sayings and ended up lending him my phone charger.¬† Ivan says he is totally a crazy guy but he likes him because he is very social.¬† In any case, it will be so interesting to see this show whenever it comes out.¬† There were a few pro/am couples they filmed, but honestly they danced very little.¬† And it appeared to me that a lot of the “drama” was staged….the pros had conversations with their am partners as well as with each other that looked like they were planned, and I overheard producers saying stuff like, “when you come off the dance floor I will have so-and-so meet you,” and when I was arranging to get my charger back from Ruman¬†he was all like, “Well in 10 minutes we are filming a pool scene.”¬† We both laughed out loud at the ridiculousness¬†of it.¬†¬†I even walked in front of a camera at one point so hopefully they will edit out my head from the frame but anyways, know that the Biggest Girl was at People’s Choice and so were these soon-to-be reality stars.¬† I have to say, though, that they all sat at a table, and the film crew recorded them cheering for some dancers….and one of the dancers was me!¬† I was doing a Cha Cha and we did the splits right in front of them.¬† I heard a lot of cheering and all but I figured it was played up for the tv show, you know.¬† And they weren’t filming me so much, just the reaction of the dancers on the show.¬† Anyways, I didn’t give it much credence but then as I was walking around the hotel later one of the other pros on the show was walking with a person on the film crew (not being recorded or anything, just talking) and he stopped me, have me the ballroom kiss kiss on the each cheek and told me what a great dancer I was and that they had been cheering for me!¬† Woot!¬† That was pretty dang cool if you ask me!

people's choice

Well, anyways, after I was complete with my dancing, I went to go watch, support, and cheer for my friends who were still dancing.  Then it was time for evening show and pro heats.  Of course Artem and Inna won Standard ballroom and not surprisingly the Grand Slam as well, (their 5th time winning!)  Everyone in the Phoenix ballroom community was present, it seemed, which is always fun.  Local competitions are nice because of the friendly faces and extra support.

I feel like People’s Choice was a very good experience for me.¬† Smaller competitions are nice because there is more of a chance to be noticed, I think, and then judges will recognize you perhaps if you show up to larger comps.¬† I don’t think I’ll do any massive comps for a while just yet, but I do want to continue to work, to improve my technique, performance, cardio capacity, and body figure.¬† I want to continue to progress and show an improvement the next time I dance.¬† Honestly, this is my focus for the next two months before Desert Classic.¬† I want to see how far I can get in this time and be a better dancer than I am today.¬† I just want to continue to dance my best, like Ivan and I felt after our American Rhythm scholarship round and then no matter how I’m placed, I will feel good about what I’m doing, how I’m showing up on the dancefloor.¬† I’m excited for the coming year, my focus and energy.¬† I’m pleased with how I am and where I am and looking forward to the future as well.¬† I’m going to enjoy and savor this experience even as I prepare to forge ahead.

I think I’m finally beginning to show that I just may be a force to be reckoned with.¬† I may not be at my full potential just yet but Ivan and I and even other people can see it my light beginning to shine.¬† I have a fire burning in my belly and I’m going to go for this with all that I am.¬† It has taken time to muster my resources and it will take time to heal and condition my body, and that is great.¬† I’m up for the journey.¬† People’s Choice was a wonderful milestone and also just the beginning.

te adoro

Topical Series: Ballroom Demystified (Part Deux)

Where was part one, you may ask?  Well this post is an extension of another post by Alaina which you can read here.

I thought it was an excellent topic and told her so.  And, me being as opinionated and vociferous as I am (at least as a writer), I was inspired to continue the conversation.

I’ll use Alaina’s same format.¬† She was comparing DWTS, which probably represents how most uninitiated people think of ballroom, to what actually happens at a ballroom competition.¬† If you’ve never been to one, then you can’t possibly know, but the two are worlds apart.¬† I think pretty much the only things they have in common are spray tans, amazing outfits and hair, the fact that there are judges, and Pro/Am couples.¬† Other than that, things are really different.¬† And one housekeeping note – I’m talking about NDCA Dancesport competitions as those are the ones I have experience with.¬† There are other competitions put on through studio chains or through other independent companies like World Promotions which have their own set of rules and protocols.

Point 1: In competition, there are multiple couples on the floor at the same time

Alaina got this right.¬† The only thing I’ll add, is man, is it a different experience with all that movement going on at the same time.¬† It kind of makes more sense as to why ballroom couples try to be so ostentatious.¬† If you don’t know what they will be up against, it may seem particularly gaudy and over-the-top how they move, how they dress, how they do their hair and make up, and all that.¬† Each couple is vying for the attention of the judges and the audience and being showy, glittery, or even ridiculously cheeky, may help achieve that aim.¬† It is practically impossible to watch just one couple while they compete as each one will catch your eye at a different point.¬† This is also part of why couples rotate around the ballroom between heats – to perform for a different section of the audience and hopefully gain their support.

Point 2:  Two styles of dance

I’d argue that there are 4 categories of dance – broadly divided into American styles and International styles.¬† But it’s not just the styling that is different – it’s also the dances that are performed.¬† On the American side are the American Rhythm and Smooth Divisions, and on the International side are Standard (or Standard Ballroom) and Latin.

American

American Rhythm – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo

American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

International

Standard Ballroom – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Waltz, Quickstep

Latin – Samba, Cha cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive

As you can see, some of the dances are the same.¬† This is where that styling that Alaina was referring to fits in.¬† In general, legs are straight in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha but there is a bending and straightening action that occurs in American Rhythm.¬† In American Smooth, couples can go in and out of a dance frame hold and tend to do lots of sweeping movements, and spins with the lady, and maybe dips too, but in Standard Ballroom, the couples must remain in a¬†dance frame hold throughout the entire dance and travel in unison around the floor.¬† On DWTS, Len’s background would be more in Latin and Standard Ballroom (being from Great Britan) and this is why he often harps about couples breaking out of hold (which I think he used to do more often than he currently does).

In addition, there are also other dances that may be at competitions like country western dances, Night Club Two Step, Argentine Tango, and West Coast Swing, but generally they have different stylization as compared to the dances as danced in their traditional milieu, like a milonga, or with true “Westies.”

Furthermore, there are more types of pairings that can occur.¬† On DWTS we see a little of this – sometimes there are Pro/Pro pairings, also formation teams, both of which occur at competitions.¬† In competitions, there are also purely Amateur couples, some of which are very high level and almost as good as the pros.¬† This pairing is two amateurs and would be the equivalent of two of the “Stars” on DTWS pairing up.¬† Now that would be interesting to see on the show, but would probably result in poor dancing because instead of only 1 person not knowing what they are doing, both would be clueless!

Also, remember that the couples dancing at competition¬†do not know ahead of time which music they will be dancing to.¬† On DWTS the routines are more like those that would be presented during a showcase; the music is known and choreographed to.¬† But in competition, you may have a routine but it has to work and the timing must be correct no matter what music is played.¬† DWTS did show some of this with those “Instant dances” they have had on a few seasons.¬† Those dances test the skill set of leading and following.¬† I believe (though I don’t know for sure) that for most divisions the couples have a pre-planned routine, however they still have to remain in connection so they can react seamlessly if another couple gets in their way or something unexpected happens like one partner forgets the routine.¬† They can then fall back on lead-follow dancing¬†to get them through.¬† However, in the Standard Ballroom division, I think there is more of a chance that the couples don’t have a planned routine.¬† They probably have the basic idea of what they will do and also which steps they will want to show off, but because there is so much movement around the floor and many couples are buzzing around, floorcraft is key in this division in particular.¬† The couple has to react quickly and often to avoid collisions. (As an aside, I think Artem and Inna are particularly adept at this.¬† I’ve¬†only ever seen them almost collide once, ever, on a video,¬†and I have seen them masterfully avoid collisions multiple times¬†without missing a¬†single step.)¬† Anyways, I think in this division, and probably Smooth as well,¬†lead-follow plays a much bigger role.

Amendment:¬† Please do see the comments section of this post!¬† Why? Because Ellen so generously and eloquently¬†clarified this detail, about Standard Ballroom dancers.¬† I am incorrect, it seems!¬† Standard dancers do have planned routines, and maybe even more so than other dancers!¬† Who knew?¬† See Ellen’s explanation!¬† The main idea is that there are only certain ways to get into and exit out of various steps (very true)¬†so they have to be strung together in careful and meticulous order, which many times will require a pre-set routine.¬† And yes, I admit when I am wrong!¬†LOL!¬† Love it!¬† Thank you for interacting, Ellen!¬† I appreciate you so very much.

Point 3: Scoring and points

Yeah, there are no paddles at competitions.¬† Instead, judges mark couples, ranking them or recalling them on forms which are collected and tabulated, and then at various intervals during the day there are awards.¬† The announcer quickly calls out who made 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in a particular heat.¬† That’s it.¬† You may get some gold stickers, or you may get some coupons for $1 off rounds¬†if you compete again next year for¬†placing, and a plaque for participating, but no mirror ball trophy.¬† Medals are sometimes given for placing in a scholarship competition (I will explain that in a bit).¬† But certainly no commentary on what each couple did well or any¬†advice on how to improve like happens on DWTS.

Another difference is that because there are multiple couples competing at the same time, if there is a large heat, with many participants, it is possible that many rounds may have to be danced.¬† There can be multiple preliminary¬†rounds, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals.¬† During each iteration, a few of the couples will be eliminated.¬† In the earlier rounds where there are many couples on the floor, the judges simply vote to “recall” those couples they’d like to see more of.¬† The final round will consist of 6, maybe 7 couples, so getting to semifinals can be a real feat if there are like 24 couples entered in the competition.¬† Rounds like this can be found at bigger competitions like Ohio Star Ball, or Millennium, or USDC, but usually only happen for pros.¬† I’ve only ever had one heat large enough to require a semifinal.¬† All the other heats I’ve danced have always been a final right off the bat because there aren’t enough couples to warrant multiple rounds.

Once reaching the final, judges then place the couples as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.¬† Each judge gives his or her own individual opinion/ranking and these are tabulated.¬† This is why you see perhaps 33221 by the picture or write-up in the media of a couple¬†that¬†placed 3rd.¬† In this example, 2 judges placed the couple 3rd, two judges placed them 2nd, and 1 judge placed them 1st.¬† The couple with the most 1st’s wins and the ranking follows the same pattern.¬† Hopefully the rankings will agree somewhat, indicating that the positions were highly contested, and the the judges¬†were generally¬†on the same page as to the excellence of the the couples.¬† Sometimes, however, they may also vary widely.¬† A couple can miss a final round, or a higher placement by the opinion of just one judge.¬† Truly, for this reason,¬†I have such respect for the strength of character and perservence of the pros who put themselves out there to compete.¬† It¬†can be a¬†brutal process sometimes and very difficult to convince the majority of judges to place you highly enough to reach any level of professional success.

Often competitors can obtain their scoresheets after the competition online to see how a particular judge placed them, or if that judge recalled them.  If the competitor knows the predilections of that judge, then they may gain insight in areas to work on.  For instance, some judges are known to focus in on toplines, others footwork, others overall presentation.  In addition, competitors can see if there was a wide variation in their placements, or if the judges generally agreed upon how they were placed, again giving them more of an idea of what to focus on in the future.

Here’s where I’m going to veer off the path laid by Alaina.

Point 4: Single dances versus Scholarship Rounds, Open versus Closed heats

Okay, so in competitions there are a variety of types of heats.¬† Single dances are just what they sound like.¬† You want to dance Mambo, you dance a Mambo.¬† You will dance it at the appropriate level and age category.¬† In America, there are Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels.¬† These may be further divided into “pre-” or “full” or “intermediate” levels.¬† For instance, as a way of stretching yourself, if you are ranked as a full-Bronze student, you may also participate in a pre-Silver level heat to see how you fare against more advanced competition.¬† In addition, you dance with people your same age, and can dance against those one age category below you.¬† This makes it fair so 20-year-olds aren’t competing against octagenarians.

Scholarship rounds are kind of like a mimic of what the pros do.¬† The pros don’t dance a single dance.¬† They dance all the dances in their category.¬† Now, for us beginners, they go a little easier on us.¬† First, for the lower levels like Bronze, you may only dance 3 or 4 of the dances required by the pros.¬† Also, the length of the heats is less – 1:10 minutes to 1:2o seconds versus about 2:00 minutes for pros.¬† Thank God, I have to say, because it takes time to build up the cardiovascular capacity and skill level necessary to complete all the dances for such a (relatively) long duration.¬† So for instance, I did a closed Bronze scholarship round in Latin at Desert Classic.¬† This meant that I danced 3 dances in a row:¬†Samba, Cha cha, Rumba and was ranked on those compared to the other Pro/Am couples on the floor at the same time in my same skill level and age category.¬† No Paso Doble of Jive for me! (Thank heavens!¬† However, I did dance some single dances in Jive, separately)

Again the scholarship rounds are divided by skill level and age.  They can get very competitive, especially at the Open level.

Okay, now for the difference between Open and Closed.  Closed rounds are those that only include steps in the syllabus.  For NDCA events, this is the DVIDA syllabus.  Open rounds can include more creative choreography and include steps not strictly on the syllabus.  There can be open single dances as well as open scholarship rounds.  They can also still be divided by skill level, so for instance you can dance an open bronze Bolero or an open silver Waltz.

When pros compete, they are competing as an open.¬† Anyone can enter.¬† Though for Pro/Am and Amateur levels, the open¬†scholarship rounds are generally still¬†divided by age, but then again, you don’t usually see senior citizens in open professional competition, but you will see them in open Pro/Am scholarship rounds.

Hmm….well, that’s probably just scratching the surface of the differences between DWTS and a NDCA competition.¬† Honestly, if you’ve never been to one, it’s worth checking out.¬† The energy of the ballroom during pro heats is unbelievable.¬† And it’s so inspiring and incredible.¬† Though I love getting my DWTS fix, I love being a part of this other world and participating in the “real deal.”¬† There are a lot of ways to participate in ballroom and I’d encourage anyone to participate to any level that works for them, from social dancing, to full-on competition.¬† All are wonderful, and special, and important.¬† But for me, I’ve decided, it’s the competition route I’m interested in.¬† Yeah, I’m crazy.¬† I know.¬† Lol.

If you do happen to have anything to add, or any further questions, please¬†comment!¬† I love hearing other perspectives, and about other experiences.¬† Part of what I’m after here on the blog is to¬†build community.¬† Please join in the fun!

I’m Being A Good Little Blogger And Keeping Up With DWTS!

If you read my blog and you are are a fan of DWTS, then you might recognize the people in this photo.  From left to right is Marietta Nedyalkova-Dishileva, Maksism Chmerkovskiy, and Ivan Dishliev, my instructor.

I post this photo just for fun because Maksism¬†is on DWTS.¬† If you continue to tune in to my posts over the next weeks, I’ll share a few more pictures with a more DWTS professionals.

So tonight I had the pleasure of watching DWTS with my dear mother-in-law as is our customary ritual on Monday nights, but I also had the pleasure of sharing dinner (delicious spaghetti with homemade sauce and salad) with my husband and father-in-law.

After a decadent meal, even more appreciated and enjoyed because I didn’t have to make it and because Debbie is a phenomenal cook, we settled into the home theater and turned the volume up for our favorite dance show.

It was Latin night and I actually liked Brooke’s dress for a change.¬† I guess the new format is to open with a little routine from the dance troupe.¬† They shook their booties to the legend Santana.¬† It was immensely enjoyable to watch.¬† However, if I were to name this opening number, I’d name it “banana¬†split.”¬† Why?¬† Did you see the couple in yellow?¬† The gentleman jumped into a spread eagle and did a trick, catching his lady between his legs.¬† I was like, WOAH!¬† That woman has¬†some serious guts!¬† I don’t know how I’d react if some guy was flying through the air toward me, his crotch eye level, the force of his pelvis soaring toward my face pulling me backwards into a back bend, but I’d probably freak out.¬† Yeah,¬†just a little.¬† No.¬† A lot.¬† That is some serious trust, I must say!¬† I’ll leave that move to the professionals!

First up was Kym and Jaleel¬†doing the Samba.¬† The fire was pretty captivating, but in my view, it outshone the actual dancing.¬† I have to admit that Samba is one of the most difficult dances to master.¬† Although the judges gave the couple three 8’s, I found the routine a little bit lackluster and wished Jaleel¬†(and even Kym) had more hips.¬† Jaleel¬†was certainly on the beat and I give him props for that.¬† The man can move well.¬† I may be a tough critic, but I just wasn’t that impressed.¬† However, I was very entertained by Len’s comment that Jaleel’s¬†bum was moving like it was “chewing toffee.”¬† TMI, Len, TMI.

I guess for me the thing about Jaleel¬†is that I’m not emotionally connecting with him.¬† His movement is pretty good, and I acknowledge that.¬† I just personally prefer emotional dynamics, even over excellence in dancing.¬† For instance, I love Gavin, but technically Jaleel is a better dancer.¬† Whatever.¬† To each his own.¬† The man did well.¬† This is just my opinion.

Next was Team M & M¬†– Maksism¬†and Melissa, that is.¬† First let me say that I want the pink sparkly shoes Melissa was wearing.¬† Such a pretty color.¬† Look, I admire Melissa’s gumption.¬† I love that she “got back on the horse” and asked Maksism¬†to put the same trick that went awry last week in this week’s routine.¬† I’m super glad to see that she is okay.¬† But dance-wise, I think the judges had it right with three 7’s.¬† It just isn’t that technically strong.¬† Melissa hopped around a bit, and still has areas of stiffness in her body.¬† On the flip side, I agree with Carrie Ann that it is wonderful to see her beginning to embody her womanly power and sexiness.¬† She is hot and cold, with moments of great movement and lines, and then moments of hot mess.¬† I think she is adorable overall but don’t think she is going to win the Mirror Ball.

On to Maria and Derek dancing Salsa.¬† So much amazing stuff to write about with this couple (the kiss in the routine NOT being one of them).¬† First off, my heart jumped into my throat when Maria hit the floor and hurt her chin.¬† I’m so¬†glad that she seems to be somewhat recovered from her injuries and that they weren’t made worse by this week’s rehearsal mishap.¬† Second, I loved the practice session with full-body bubble wrap plus the helmet!¬† LOL.¬† Third, wow, Dr. Drew got a show tonight!¬† I about lost it when Maria began the dance, slithering in front of my favorite Hollywood rehab doctor like an unmanned fire hose!¬† But the gimmicks in the routine, like Derek shedding his shirt, and the prolonged kiss, were probably entertaining to the masses, but I found them cheesy, kind of annoying even.¬† I’m a sucker for authenticity, and although I felt like Maria enjoyed what she was doing, I didn’t think it deserved a score of three 9’s.¬† Maybe like a 9,8,9 or something.¬† It just wasn’t “all that” to me – especially reflecting upon routines debuted later in the evening.

Holy crap this is turning into a long post!¬† And I thought I didn’t take many notes on the episode tonight! Ha ha.

Okay, so Mark and Catherine danced an exquisite Argentine Tango next.¬†¬†I knew this would suit Catherine because of her beautiful ballet feet and legs, and I was right.¬† With a score of 10,9,10, they tied with William and Cheryl for the highest score of the evening.¬† The drama was there.¬† The intensity was there.¬† The gorgeous dancing was there.¬† I just wish they hadn’t danced in pink.¬† A weird detractor for me, I know, but pink isn’t a fiery, passionate color to me.¬† That, seriously, was my biggest criticism (which is pretty weak – indeed, I felt like they deserved three 10’s).¬† Mark and Catherine were sharp, on time, and in sync.¬† They created the exact same lines side by side.¬† I really thought Catherine looked as good as a professional dancing this number.¬† So¬† just as with¬† Mr. Bruno, this number made me “tingle.”

Oh sweet baby Jesus.¬† Gavin and Karina.¬† What shall I say about you?¬† Samba, or “Shamba,” or “struggle” as touted by the show, Len, and Gavin, respectively, I can only say that Gavin, you are a “white boy” if ever there was one.¬† First off, he looked pale next to tan Karina, and it didn’t help.¬† Secondly, the cool effect of him rowing in the canoe in the beginning of the number pretty much upstaged the actual¬†dancing.¬† Thirdly, I kept wondering why Gavin’s shirt was so dirty – it was very distracting for me.¬† As my mother-in-law mentioned, Gavin looked like “a fish out of water” doing this dance.¬† But the thing is, I enjoyed it!¬† I just see Gavin’s personality shining through and for me that trumps technique.¬† Gavin comes across as self-deprecating, humble, joyful, and charming.¬† I hope to see more of him, even if I think it is unlikely.¬† Scores of 6,6,7 are probably appropriate.

Okay, we are reaching the home stretch now.

How did the show have time to fit all this in?¬† Next was a number with Anna and Louis which was FANTASTIC and FAST!¬† I sincerely yelled aloud, “Stop!” they were going so fast!¬† I was amazed with the dang footwork and in wonder of how the human body can move that speedily….actually, I am wondering if it is even possible for my human body to move that fast.¬† So far, that has not been the case.¬† They were Ah-maze-ing.

Back to the Pro/Am couples and William and Cheryl were next up with an Argentine Tango.¬† Talk about sex, intensity, and good dancing.¬† I didn’t write¬†many notes¬†for this number because I was so mesmerized and engaged in the performance.¬† It may seem weird, but I was particularly captivated by the intensity with which William threw away the towel they were using.¬† I observed William as playing the part exceptionally well and having sharp, staccato movement.¬† It was fantastic and the scores tying for the top spot on the leaderboard were appropriate.

Now we travel to Irelenad¬†and Motown – Tristan and Gladys.¬† They are cutie¬†patooties, no matter how you cut it, both of them!¬† Gladys’ personality never fails to radiate through her dancing out to the farest reaches of the audience.¬† She is genuine and a born entertainer.¬† She has great musicality.¬† However, the scores of 7,7,8 I agree with.¬† The movement was simple, the technique is lackluster, and she just can’t move like William, Donald, Catherine, or Maria.¬† I really enjoy watching her, but again, don’t think she will ultimately win.

On to my least favorite couple – Roshon¬†and Chelsea.¬† This is just my bias, but I just don’t like the kid.¬† I think it was horrible to try and¬†make him be “sexy” in the Samba routine.¬† He’s about as sexy as a beanpole.¬† He did generate great excitement with his movement and he is very quick, very sharp, and on time.¬† But I agree with Len – he dances like a young man with his first car…a bit out of control and overly confident/cocky.¬† Scores of 9,8,9 position him appropriately in terms of dancing, in my mind, but again, I’d have liked a bit lower scores.¬† What I saw lacking were fluidity, hip movement, and dancing down into the floor instead of hopping atop it.¬† Sorry Disney fans – this is just my personal appriasal.¬† I acknowledg that it is not “the truth.”

And last, but not least, Granny Sweater and Peta.¬† OMG, Peta is Ah-maze-ing.¬† I will say it again, I want to grow up to be her.¬† I wrote nothing but “Holy Shit” for this number because I was watching¬†their captivating¬†Argentine Tango every second.¬† I couldn’t even look away to write something.¬† I felt like Len was a poopy¬†pants giving them a 8.¬† They are positioned high enough that I think they are safe and I personally hope to see them in weeks to come.¬† I agreed with the audience as they booed the overall scores of 10,8,9.¬† This score put them below William and Cheryl and Mark and Catherine when I feel they were on par with those two couples.¬† I’d have preferred to have seen a three-way tie.¬† However, I am no Argentine Tango expert.¬† Perhaps Len was justified in his scoring.¬† I rarely see much of the basic AT step (which I do know)¬†in DWTS routines.

If you’ve read this far, you are awesome.¬† So far my word count tops 1700.¬† I know this is a long one!

Please feel free to opine!  Whether you agree or disagree, the point is to generate discussion!

XOXO, Stef

It Must Be The Skirt

Today was a stellar dancing day. I mean, stellar. Not only did Ivan like my dancing, but Inna did too. If they are saying I’m doing a good job, then I’m doing a good job.

I’ve decided it must be my new practice skirt. It’s magic. Kind of like the red shoes. Just kidding, but it is still fun to wear because of the movement it generates.

Marietta and Nona made it for me for the showcase but it is also intended as practice-wear. On Monday I went to the ladies’ styling class with Marietta at Dance Starz and she had it ready for me.

I have to say, it’s been quite a week. On Monday at Marietta’s class, I was having a lot of “mental problems.” They were overwhelming. Marietta is gorgeous. Absolutely, amazingly, gorgeous. Her body is perfect, from my point of view. It’s not that all different types of bodies can’t be beautiful, but she has this long, lean, yet voluptuous look. She’s so feminine, and moves so incredibly well, it’s sometimes difficult for me to stand next to her.

It’s nothing she’s doing. It’s all in my head. I totally own that. But it’s stuff I’ve been dealing with since I became aware as a kid that my body wasn’t like other girls’ bodies….that I was bigger. It’s the comparison game, and I’m always a loser. I can’t even imagine having a body like Marietta’s in my wildest dreams. But I wish I could…so incredibly badly. It is entwined with my desire to be a woman, a desirable, captivating, beautiful woman. I just don’t feel like I stack up. Ironic I chose a passion in which most of the top competitors have amazing bodies.

I kind of had a realization about this, though. I’ve been so emotional lately – there’s been some dramatic stress at work and I’m not using food as a crutch to numb myself like I used to – and it’s been hard to weather. Luckily I have dancing and friends, both of which help me stay afloat and refocus. Anyways, I realized that life can really suck whether I’m on the right path or not. What I mean by this, is that difficult emotions arise whether I am eating on a plan and doing what I need to do to lose weight or not. I can totally binge on food or drink a bottle of wine or I can stay on the compassionate self-discipline path and either way, life can really be hard, so I might as well stay on the route that leads me where I want to go.

But that was yesterday. Today I began my day with an early double lesson with Ivan. He’s planning on leaving tomorrow evening (Wednesday) so he can practice with Marietta (I discovered that I’ve been misspelling her name all this time! Ugh! It actually has two “t’s”) before they compete at the Vegas Open this Friday night. She’s going there early to do hair and make-up. I think it’s a great idea, and it shows that they want to get back to the top of their game after a lot of time off because of the wedding. So, it’s a good thing, but a bummer for me and all Ivan’s other students because we can’t have lessons until next week!

Actually, I’m pretty excited because Ivonne and I are going to make a road trip to Vegas on Friday to go watch the Dishliev’s. Katie may join us as well, which would be doubly fun. It will be Ivonne’s first time to see a “bigger” competition. The one she did in Tucson was pretty small. And, it’s her birthday. I can’t think of a better, more exciting way to spend it. The energy of the ballroom during the professional events is truly indescribable.

Also, Marietta and Ivan apparently know of a Bulgarian restaurant that they absolutely love near the hotel in Vegas. We’re planning to go there after the competition and enjoy a big meal.

Well, anyways, getting back to my narrative, since Ivan will be out of town, I elected to have a double lesson this morning even though I also have class with Inna tonight as well.

Ivan and I worked on fundamentals which was excellent. We reviewed the open hip twist step in Cha Cha and he also showed me another variation of the step. Cross-overs continue to be a challenge, but I’m starting to understand the proper movement and timing required. I’m just glad to be getting it right so that I can practice the new way and integrate it into my muscle memory.

We also worked on Swing and did a Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz. I’ve concluded that I need to work on my quadricep strength so that I can actually curtsey. Watching playback of some of my presentations during competitions, they are pretty weak. I also see how low the professionals go, and even if I can’t do that just yet, and heft myself back up, I can go deeper and work up to it.

Finally, we got to the showcase Rumba. Ivan had me do the opening sequence in which I dance by myself. It was actually really cool. I got to the place where he’s supposed to dance with me and he was still hanging out by the music controls. He said that it was good, that he enjoyed watching it. That for the first time he felt relaxed watching me, he could sense I was secure in my movement. He said that he could easily watch me dance for four minutes if I continued to dance like that.

Then he said, “You gotta dance this all by yourself. Not for the showcase on the 16th, but later. You show your balance, and your movement. You dance like you are dancing with someone but all by yourself. This is highest level. It’d be so nice you to doing it.”

Then he gave me a correction in one place (I mean, he is still my dance teacher), but then said, “Do it again because I like it.”

Go me! That is some awesome feedback, if you ask me. It didn’t really give me like a super-ego charge or anything, like it might have in the past. It would have been a “peak experience,” a “high,” to hear that. But this time around, I experienced it in a more balanced, centered way. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it was wonderful, but not like a double shot of espresso for my ego.

It just feels like, especially after Inna’s feedback today, that I’m growing, changing, and shifting closer to the excellent dancer I know I can be and that I’m therefore showing up differently enough that those who see me regularly notice a difference. I feel acknowledged. The dancer in me feels acknowledged.

So, about Inna’s class. As usual, it was a butt-kicker. I’m kind of getting to know Inna’s little peculiarities. She always does this thing. She’ll have us stand in a position, either starting position, or she’ll yell out, “Stop!” in the middle of a routine and have us hold that position. Then she’ll walk around and correct positioning having us all stand still. My God sometimes I want to kill myself! Tonight, for instance, my arm was actually shaking at the shoulder. So she has us hold these positions and then when she’s done making corrections, she says, “And now hold that position for the next 45 minutes.” She’s only half-joking. We really are supposed to hold these positions while dancing over the next 45 minutes of class.

Well, anyways, we did Rumba and Cha Cha. She had us do a Rumba box with arms (which killed my arms) and then she had us do Rumba walks. Going forward wasn’t so bad, but then she got it in her mind to have us do backward Rumba walks. Now, I’ve never done them before. She demonstrated the technique and we went across the floor backwards about 6 times. That was an interesting experience, for sure! But once again, its something I don’t think I’d learn anywhere else. These classes are just so valuable to me and I appreciate them very much.

Finally, we did a Cha Cha combination: two basics, cuban breaks, time step, then locks on both sides. It was exhausting! We worked on making our arms sharp. By this time, my left arm didn’t even want to work! The muscle was just so fatigued I could barely swing it into position, much less stick it there with force, precision, pizzaz. Whatever, I rocked it once or twice, then had floppy arms, then rested, then gave it my all once again.

Inna ended class on time tonight, probably because she had a lesson directly afterwards (thank you Jesus!) so we curtsied and exited the floor. As I was packing up my stuff I just told Inna,

“Inna, thanks for another butt-kicking class! I just appreciate them so much.”

She replied, “You did well tonight! Very good! You’re getting better and better every time.”

Well goodness me! That was an amazing thing to hear.

“Thanks, Inna! And you saw me when I first walked into Jeff’s.”

“Yes, I see it.”

Back then I was carrying around 40-plus more pounds on my body and hadn’t been dancing in over two years. I’d only danced ballroom for maybe 6 months total. It’s kind of cool that she can see my progress. Scratch that, it is very cool.

She’s a top competitor and I respect both her and Ivan as professional dancers who know their stuff. To get a double dose of recognition from them today, well, it really was quite wonderful.

I know that earlier I joked that all this must be because of the new practice skirt I got to wear today. But the truth is, this is the result of dedicated practice, sweat, lessons, and sticking with it. It is about showing up and doing the best I can in the moment. Sometimes, admittedly, it turns out better than others. Today, I guess, was one of the days where it worked out for me…twice! Yippie!

Well, I guess that’s all the news for me in my life, but I see that the new cast of DWTS has been announced. My mother-in-law and I are addicted to watching that show and I usually go to her house to watch it. They have a movie theater in their home with reclining chairs…it’s a little piece of heaven. So I go and then I tell her everything I think, and trust me, I have a lot to say!

The next season premiere is less than a month away, March 19th, and you better believe I’ll be watching.

Alright, kids, it’s time for me to sign off. I’m tired, it’s bedtime, and I’ve written upwards of 1800 words tonight! It’s been a long one.

I promise my next post will be less verbose and include more video. Funny video. In fact, I can hardly wait to share it with you – it’s Ivan at his finest and most hilarious.

Until then…now, to bed!

Please Inna, Can We Just Be Done!?

Let me tell you.  At Imperial Ballroom you will get value for your dollar.

First off, the instructors there are world class.¬† If you aren’t a dancer already, you may not realize the caliber of instructor at this studio.¬† Probably the highest I’ve seen so far overall.

Secondly, if you go to the Latin Advanced Group Class on Tuesday nights, more likely than not, you will end up being there beyond the promised 45 minutes!¬† Holy Moley, tonight we were there for an hour and 10 minutes and I was about to die.¬† In my head I was like, “Inna, I need you to be done, please!”

What a double-edged sword.¬† The positives:¬† I’m paying for 45 minutes and I’m getting an extra 25, I’m getting to shed more calories, absorb more technique, and dance more, plus¬†I’m getting Inna’s teaching expertise, corrections, and extra (and much-needed) practice.

But my body is screaming at me, “STOP!¬† AND STOP NOW!”

Now really, I thank my lucky stars Inna pushes us so hard.¬† I really need the pushing.¬† I need to improve this cardio situation of mine.¬† It, besides the extra weight I’m carrying, is probably the biggest thing holding me back right now.¬† I hate running, I no longer have a membership to the gym, so it is such a blessing to have this class on Tuesdays where I am guaranteed to be pushed, get my heart rate up, and work my body to its limit.¬† It’s not that I don’t work hard with Ivan, but he lets me have little breaks a bit more and my body is getting used to the demands placed on it during a typical lesson.¬† This is good, but it means it’s time to turn up the heat.

Tonight in Inna’s class, however,¬†my body was not used to the demands placed upon it.¬† In fact,¬†I took myself out of some cha-cha walks because I was audibly wheezing.¬† I jumped back in as soon as I was able, but I just really needed to stop.¬† That, or pass out on the floor.¬† I suppose that was the other option.

Seriously, though, I have to look at this like “progress, not perfection.”¬† I do see progress in my cardiovascular capacity…and….it is still nowhere close to where I need it to be.

I’ve already had a conversation with Ivan about it and told him I have a plan.¬† My goal is to be able to dance full-out for 10 minutes.¬† It may be¬†a while before I am able to accomplish this, but I’m gonna do it.¬† I’m going to create a playlist of songs that are 1 minute 30 seconds, 5 in a row.¬† I’m gonna make he and I dance it every lesson.¬† As soon as it becomes manageable, we are going to do 1 minute 40 seconds, and so on, until I reach 2 minutes per song with 10 seconds of rest in between.¬† Heck, if I’m really enterprising, I can complete this dancing prior to our lesson on my own.¬† Now that would be really taking the bull by the horns, wouldn’t it?¬† Sheesh!¬† It’s so much easier with a partner, I’ll admit.¬† Sometimes I question how deeply committed I really am.

In any case, tonight we did some Samba movements across the floor and when we got to the end of the song, and I and many other students¬†were gasping for breath. ¬†Inna told us that we had only danced for 2 minutes.¬† I think she was letting us know that it was a very short time to dance, and that more is expected from advanced dance students.¬† But in my head, I was all, “That is a triumph!¬† Woo Hoo!¬† Two whole minutes!”¬† It may be pathetic, but it is improvement from where I came from.¬† I can’t beat myself up for not being at the level of a professional dancer, or even an advanced student because it just doesn’t serve me.¬† Yes, it makes me aware of where I want to go, but I am also committed to being as kind as I can to myself on this weight loss journey.¬† If being mean to myself worked, I’d be rail thin and in perfect shape by now!¬† Might as well embrace some self-love.

So anyways, tonight it kind of reminded me of my old days at Glenda Folk’s Dance Studio where I used to take ballet, tap, and jazz as a kid.¬† We were always expected to be on time, but if rehearsal went late, well, too bad.¬† Suck it up and be there!¬† In a weird way, it felt comfortable and good that Inna¬†kept us late tonight.¬† I actually think it is very cool that she is so into dancing, and seeing students dancing, that she wants to squeeze every last minute out of the class that she can.¬† I mean, by now I know to expect not to be done by 8:30pm.¬† Why did I think it would be any different tonight?

This is in contrast to Ivan, though, who¬†is so punctual and ends exactly on time for every lesson.¬† He’ll even call me if it is 5 minutes before the lesson and I’m not there yet (C’mon Ivan!¬† I’m driving 129 blocks west each time I see you!¬† It takes time, man!)

So, at the end of all this, I’m grateful that Inna keeps the class late but I long for the day when my body is up to the challenge and instead of meekly collapsing in a puddle of sweat and¬†seeping out the door like a bowl of pudding¬†it cries out, “Bring it on!¬† I’m ready for another 45 minutes…I mean hour and 10 minutes!¬† Let’s go.”

Yep.¬† That’ll be a day to write about in my diary.