Happily Running Toward A Punch In The Face

I haven’t danced with Ivan since last Thursday which feels like an eternity to me.  If I had unlimited resources, I’d probably want to dance 5 days a week, doing double lessons each day.  That is cost prohibative at my current income level, and with the level of uncertainty surrounding my current job, I’ve had to cool my jets and am limiting myself to two single lessons weekly, plus one extra one on the weekend every other week when I am not on call.  Once I become world-famous and am featured on Oprah’s Lifeclass, that will probably change.  But until it does, such is my reality.  Ha Ha.

So it is time I respect and cherish and I am grateful to even be able to afford what I can.  I think that for another of the Topic Series I’m going address the exorbitant cost of ballroom dancing.  Now that is a juicy discussion to begin!

But for this post I’m going to describe my dance lesson since my personal experiences are one of the more “charming” aspects of the blog. 🙂

So I arrived and one of the church members where we dance was mopping the floor.  I have to take a moment and just appreciate the people who do that kind of job, and especially this young woman because she was a volunteer.  But seriously, it is so wonderful to have people who take care of the dance floor and that I don’t have to do it!

Ivan arrived just after me bearing strawberries.  Although I refused multiple times, in the end he just shoved one in my mouth.  I tasted more finger than berry.  Thanks Ivan.  I got him back though.  Later in the lesson I was spinning around and I elbowed him in the gut.  Take that you dancing Bulgarian!

Well, still, I think the joke’s on me.  At one point my foot slipped on the floor and I hit the ground.  It was kind of a slow tumble toward the floor.  I was trying to save it. But when I finally hit the wood Ivan was smiling.  Um, thanks for the compassion, dude!

“This so good!”

“What are you talking about, Ivan?  I just fell.”

“I push you.”

“How is this good?”

“We surviving your knees.”


“You falling with all your weight over one foot.  I see this happen before and the lady’s knee go sideways.  Yeow!  They call the 911.”

Apparently Ivan felt like he saved me from knee-replacement surgery.  Maybe he did.  I can’t say.  But it didn’t feel like anything too bad was going to happen.  I twisted my left ankle, my weaker one, a little bit, but I’m okay.

So anyways I hopped back up after a moment and we were off again.

Today we began with Waltz.  I get a bit frustrated with myself because I know that the way I’m dancing it looks more like walking than the sweeping, large, flowing movement that is supposed to happen.  I mean, I’ve seen how Artem and Inna do it.  Though I realize they are world-class competitors, and I’m probably not ever going to look like that, I want to at least aim to get as close to it as I can.  Ivan was challenging me to reach more with my steps and trust me, I want to do it.  I just feel completely out of control doing it, like I could fall at any moment.  As Ivan says, at this point we are doing “very nice walking,” but we need to extend and push ourselves.  I agree.  I just wish my body would get the message.  I’m supposed to stretch on the “one” count.  Ivan kept repeating “One. One. One. One.” as we danced around the periphery of the room.

Let me just say that I don’t feel like Smooth dances are my forte, but I am beginning to enjoy them more and more.  Maybe after a few more years, and some concentrated practice, I’ll be able to look better than I do today.  But then, too, another part of me is okay with being better in Latin and Rhythm if that ends up being the case.  I love those dances deeper, at least right now in my journey.

I think one of the highlights of today was dancing lead-follow in Rumba.  I love it when Ivan does that.  At a certain point he was like, “You dancing everything because you know the routine.  You not paying attention.”

But then he began to gently lead me, and I tuned in to the signals, and it was fantastic.  Seriously, this is my favorite part of ballroom dancing….and the most precarious part as well.  Why?  Because it feels so good when I am successful that I get excited and then lose concentration for a split second in my wonder, and screw up the very next thing.  As Ivan says, I need to feel that excitement but stay in control.

During this portion of the lesson he led me without touching, and then we initiated contact.  He liked it when he offered his hand but I took my time to accept the invitation.  He would pause and extend various movements that normally we brush right through.  He also took a moment to let his arm go up and around before beginning and I mirrored him without a thought because I was just that tuned in.  There is something so magical about being so in sync.  Did I mention I love that?  I know, I know….broken record.  But seriously, I hope one day we will dance like that in competition.  I hope that someday soon we will bring that level of relaxed, focused, tuned in, fantastic energy with us and make it seem as effortless as it can feel.

By the way….I’m itching to do a competition.  It’s been September since I last competed.  Competitions require such a high level of financial resources so I have to pick and choose which ones to participate in very carefully.  Again, limited resources.  It’s been over six months, though, and I’m having moments where I feel so good, that I want to put myself out there again and see if others sense the improvement too.

Anyways, back to the lesson at hand.  We then worked on Bolero.  I was proud of myself for remembering to contract before extending on the “Romantica” step….until I realized I forgot to do the set up properly, and that I’m screwing up the timing of the second part of the move.  Still, it’s improvement.  I remembered.  And I had Ivan to remind me of the other parts.

This is where the title of this post comes in.  Before going into the “Romantica,” Ivan leads me forward and I do a 180 degree turn.  I’m supposed to step straight forward and hold the pose, standing on my right leg and pointing my left behind me, to make a clear “picture” before completing the rest of the movement.  But I was slurring through it, stepping forward and turning at the same time, instead of letting the movements be distinct and clear.

So Ivan reminds me of this little detail and puts his hand up eye level as if dancing to the song, “Stop, In The Name Of Love” by Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The amazing thing is, I just went for it.  No thought about it.  I just trusted.  No fear.  Fear didn’t even cross my mind.  I was Fearless!

Ivan actually had to point this out to me.  He was pretty excited about it.

“You trusting me!  You not scary!” (scary = scared in Ivan)

So the next time we did it, he upped the ante.  He made a fist.

Again, I just went for it.  Stepping directly into his fist.  Doing so unscathed, unhurt, and unafraid.


So today I’m celebrating.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the fact that I get to ballroom dance even at all, even if it costs an arm and a leg.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the people who support me, who I may not even know, but who play a role in my dancing, like the girl who was cleaning the space in which I dance.  And finally, I’m celebrating being fearless.  For someone who generally lives in a state of high-anxiety, I’m acknowledging the brave, calm, centered tiger within.

What will you celebrate today?  I want to hear about it!

Toodles, Stefanie


So last night I went to a  West Coast Swing (WCS) group class because my friend wanted to go.  It was a dance she explored a few years ago but hadn’t done in at least a year.  I’m so glad we went because it was actually a really good class, the instructor was clearly a “Westie” (i.e. not a person who specializes in ballroom teaching WCS, but someone who knows the WCS dance specifically), and my friend remembered how much she loved the dance.

I’ve been interested in learning WCS, really, after meeting an instructor at a competition.  He brought it to my attention that ballroom has stylized this dance and it looks really different when danced by people who know it.  I went to a class back in September and instantly understood what he meant.  It is such a smooth, sultry, down and dirty, but super creative, and fun dance.  It really depends on the connection between partners and allows the opportunity for a conversation to occur between the partners.  It was a total different experience than I’d had learning it from a ballroom instructor.

So, in any case, my interest in learning the “authentic” WCS is piqued.

Last night we learned a ton of moves and I met a lot of people as the classes progressed and leaders rotated around to followers one after an other.

Some of these dancers are amazing.  They know all the moves and they know how to lead.

Some of these guys are less experienced, but open to learning, and fun to connect with.

Then there are those who think they are there to instruct me.

Listen, it’s generally great to get to dance with a more experienced dancer.  They can teach you stuff just through the process of dancing with them.

But the worst is when they think they know what they are doing but in actuality they don’t.  Yes, perhaps the “know” how to do a figure or step, but really they don’t know how to do it properly.

It’s also super bad when a leader thinks that just because he leads something, the woman should follow.  Uh, hello!  Sometimes there’s a reason we don’t follow.  Just because you thought in your brain you did something, doesn’t mean you actually did (happens to me all the time).  And to get mad at me because of that, well that’s just rude.  You know, perhaps your lead wasn’t clear.  Perhaps your body is positioned incorrectly and blocking my way.  Perhaps I don’t trust you enough to be in an intimate hold when I just learned your name 2 minutes ago.

It is offensive to me when people try and instruct me at a social dancing lesson, unless I specifically ask for it.  I’m a pretty smart girl and a very good dancer.  I’m also open to learning.  But I paid the instructor to do that for me, not you, Mr. full-of-yourself!  Plus, the instructor of the class actually complimented me on my following skillz last night! (Yes, Skill-z with a “z,” because I’m ghetto cool like that)   Yes, I do miss the lead and try to lead from behind sometimes, but in general I try really hard to be connected and follow.  I’m pretty aware of this situation and do my best to be the best follower I can.

Last night I danced with one person in particular who really rubbed me the wrong way for all of the above reasons.  At one point he spun me around and my arm was blocked by his arm.  He placed my arm on his shoulder and told me that was where it was supposed to go.

“Oh, for that particular move?”

“No, in dance.  In dance when you turn, you put your arms up.”


I was not aware that in all of dance, anytime you ever did a turn you are supposed to put your arm up.

The way he said it was so patronizing!  OMG!  I was like, (in my head) you don’t know who you’re talking to, bub!  I’m a better dancer than you, hands down.  Maybe I don’t know all the steps you know, but in terms of creating connection, controlling my body, and doing the steps I do know, I can kick your butt!

“Oh really?” I replied, acting like he was really instructing me and I was really learning something from him, like a pedantic groupie.  In reality, I couldn’t believe this guy.  He didn’t know what he was talking about!

He had originally told me what a nice connection I had when we had danced during the class.

“Thank you.” I replied.

But here’s the thing.  I may not know WCS, specifically, but there is a reason for that ability to connect, why it felt nice.  I practice it all the time with Ivan.  I think the connection is super important and almost magical when present.  I know what connection should feel like (generally) and because of this I can do it, probably better than someone who is just taking social lessons or a beginner.

So anyways, I can make a nice connection.  Great.  This guy liked it and told me it “Felt great.”

Cool, I thought.  When he asked me to dance after the classes during the time for open dancing practice, I was glad.

But then all the cocky, instructional stuff.  Ugh!  Makes me not want to dance with you.  Makes me tense up and wish it were over.

After the arm issue, he tried the move again and again we had a problem.  He almost seemed like he was getting frustrated with me.

He told me, “I’m gonna push you because you have a good connection.  I’ll take you out on the dance floor and teach you some stuff.  So don’t cry about it.”


Who says this?

Well, that is fine and good, but mister you forgot the first thing about lead and follow.  It is an INVITATION you’re supposed to offer, not FORCING someone to do something or wanting them to submit.  The best dancers allow the conversation. Especially in WCS the woman can “hijack” the dance and take control for a time.  (I’m nowhere near good enough to do this yet) But with that possibility the dance is supposed to be a dialog, not a monologue.  Besides, dude, based on the way you were trying to bulldoze me around the dance floor, you didn’t have very nice things to say to me.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be in conversation with you.  Seriously,  in the future, if I go to this party again, I may choose to dance with him if he asks once or twice, but if he becomes bothersome I’m gonna let him have it!

Now contrast this to this other leader who was absolutely awesome.  I felt completely comfortable dancing with him.  He had a nice clear lead and we were able to dance almost an entire song with only one or two mishaps.  I came alive dancing with this fellow because he was just digging the music and inviting me to dance with him, not expecting that I bow down to his machismo ego.  He was absolutely more experienced in this dance than I, but he didn’t try to instruct me in anything.  He invited me, and most times, I happily accepted the invitation.

It felt great!  This is the magic of social dancing…when you can dance with someone you’ve never met in your entire life seamlessly.  It is fabulous!

So even if I encounter some bozos out there while learning this new amazing dance, the WCS, I think it’s worth the price.  There are also those awesome leaders out there and boy are the fun to dance with.

Here is a video of a kick-ass WCS.  Notice that it is a true conversation….a word to the wise for mr. know-it-all…and that is what makes it freakin’ awesome.