Go Eat Some McDonalds!

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Allegre Studio

Private Lesson With Ivan

I don’t always know what I am getting myself into when I say yes to opportunities that come my way. Today was the first day I felt bona fide fear course through my body on a dance lesson. You see, because Ivan and I sometimes practice out of Dance Starz Az (http://www.dancestarzaz.com/) and because I take some group lessons at the studio, there is a possibility that I may be able to participate in an upcomming showcase. For those of you who don’t know, (I didn’t), a showcase is like a recital. Performers can dance to any song they like and add tricks and creative choreography.

Now, I have yet to participate in a showcase performing a solo number. In fact, the last time I was on stage was probably in high school in a production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. So I’m excited. Especially because Ivan let me pick the song I wanted.

I am totally into Latin Rumba right now so I picked Volveras by Gloria Estefan. It is a sad song and I love it right now, for whatever reason. I have never claimed to understand myself!

Realistically, I’m thinking we will do pretty much just dancing because you don’t do lifts with girls my size unless you want a hernia. But Ivan starts in right away with all sorts of tricks and I’m totally out of my comfort zone. I know Ivan is strong and all, but can he really support all this weight? I am scared to find out.

The first move isn’t so bad, kind of a develope’ kick up in the air. Then another move where I lean a little and put my back leg in attitude around his hips. I’ve seen similar moves on Dancing With The Stars (forever to be known as DWTS from now on in this blog). I’m mostly on my own feet and feel pretty comfortable and on balance with a little assist from Ivan serving as my barre.

But then he really gets going. He wants me to plie with my legs in a parallel position and squirm up back onto straight lets. This is a no go – I’ll need to strengthen my legs with some serious squats before I can master this maneuver. Then he tries a half-split thing, encouraging me to put 75% of my weight onto his arms and he will attempt to spin around. Fail.

Then my heart really gets pumping. He’s gonna attempt to drag me. I’m to push down on his shoulders and he wants to drag me using no arms. We manage with one arm and I’m super impressed. I didn’t even think this kind of thing was possible at my size right now. Props to Ivan for trying all this stuff.

Then a dip. I’m to keep my legs straight and he rests me on his bent knee. Holy crap! I’m scared. How is he holding me up?

He doesn’t stop there. The scariest one for me is one in which I lean to the side, he is supporting pretty much all of my weight and I’m to develope’ and reach outward away from him.

Finally, he’s had enough. I did not know agreeing to work on a showcase number meant I’d be bent into a pretzel and risk Ivan throwing out his back! It just isn’t prudent, or so I thought, at my size.

Whew! I survived! Thanks again, Ivan, for busting through some of my self-imposed limitations. Again, I do not know what is possible and what is not. We discovered some moves that worked, others that don’t right now, but we’d not have discovered any if Ivan and I hadn’t been willing to try. I seriously thought he was crazy…but who’s the crazier one? I followed!

But now Ivan is having me count Rumba and Cha Cha. My brain is about to explode. It is really hard for me to put verbal skills together with dancing. At one point I count two, four (instead of two, three, four) and Ivan accuses me of indulging in some vodka this morning. No, Ivan. Really, my brain just becomes mush trying to talk and dance at the same time.

But it is really a good exercise. I so need to start being aware of when to move, when to pause, when I’m rushing, when to accent the movement. For instance, I am rushing on four and one counts and moving sluggishly on the two count in Rumba. I am hitting two and four hard in Cha Cha, instead of punching beats one and three with pizzaz. Ay yai yai! I totally see how I count affects how I move and also how I breathe. Again, lack of cardiovascular conditioning is not my friend. I am so winded and I hate it. When will this stop being such a burden?

“Oh, Ivan. I am so ready to feel better when dancing. I can’t wait to drop some serious weight and make this easier on myself. The cardiovascular conditioning is killing me.”

But I’m saying this just after doing a Samba. I gotta say it – I have some great hip movement, yes I do! So I’m doing this move, really dancing it, and Ivan is like, “Wow.”

He then said something unexpected.

“I thinking about this. I actually prefer you big. I see you everyday moving like this. Just imagine how other people will see it. I thinking you no need to lose weight. Yes, it not possible to do the lifts and all this, but that’s okay. You can lose the weight, you gonna be skinny. Better the people see you move like this now. They thinking, all the other peoples is skinny but they not moving like her. Let them see you now. In fact, go to McDonalds! You can spend a lot of time and energy and money to learning dancing and never move like you do. But this moving is you.”

Am I like the luckiest ballroom student, ever? I get to dance and go to McDonalds! Just kidding. But wow, what recognition of me as a dancer, no matter how I am packaged in the moment, and from someone who I think is the bee’s knees, in terms of both being an excellent dancer and human being. It means so much to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m so over the idea of staying fat just so people might possibly be impressed by how I move. It is unhealthy and I hate the way it feels. It is beyond time to change. I am happy to report that I am right back on plan after Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m also thinking about ways to intensify and augment my cardiovascular exercise as well as some weight training. The goal for January is to be 20 pounds (or more) lighter. And, update, I am down another 2.8 pounds since December 20th, current weight 265.5. Not bad for the holidays.

And…just like Linda Dean said, I have to know I am fabulous right now. So thanks, Ivan, but no McDonalds for me. I have plans of doing that split-spin-lift-thing someday, and sooner rather than later!

-Stef

How Is A Champion Created?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

10am

Private Lesson with Ivan at Allegre Studio

Ivan will call me if I am even a few minutes late to my lesson. Actually, I wasn’t even late…it was exactly 10am when he called and I was 2 minutes away. After our phone conversation yesterday I decided to apply some lipstick today and it set me behind schedule. Plus, its the last time I’ll see him before Christmas so I have to grab his presents, and those for his wife and mom too.

I arrive and we exchange gifts. Ivan gives me wine and some fancy European chocolates….which I will be sharing with my family. It is a nice gesture, but I’m on this mission to slim down! Willpower, be with me today.

Anyways, we enter the studio and begin to talk about our coaching session with Linda Dean. As with any coaching, I think it is important to take what I have been given and find what works best for me personally. Ivan agrees with some things and not with others. This is fine. We will figure out the best thing for us as a partnership incorporating the feedback we get from others, or not.

But I was fascinated with two items that I want to revisit. The first was how to do the Alemana. I’d been stepping in a very different direction than the step calls for. I want to practice making a 3 point triangle, stepping to Ivan’s side, to the kitty-corner away from him, and then back to face him while also holding myself up straight and making the movement on balance.

We work on the Rumba for a good 30 minutes without music just doing the movements over and over. We also work on the connection once again. It seems like I can understand, or that I “know” what I am supposed to do and want to do, but it all flies out the window when dancing to music. There is just so much to be aware of! Straighten the legs, dance the body, look up, keep connection in the frame but don’t use the arms to pull, stay upright, listen to the music, emphasize the counts 1 and 3, but not 2 and 4…..the list goes on and on. Thank God my heart beats on its own! I’d forget to keep it going with my mind occupied like this.

And my arms. The fisted-octopus-tentacle-extremtities that they are, are in desperate need of help. They are the first thing to go wonky when I’m concentrating.

Today was a practice session like so many others. Repeating, repeating, repeating. Hearing the same corrections over, and over, and over. Knowing that I’m not doing what I mean to do a second after I’ve done it.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is some nice movement in the mix here, too. I’m not bagging on myself so much as being in the process of becomming. And trust me, I’m 1000 times more compassionate with myself than I used to be! That, in and of itself, is a huge victory.

I suppose there is always room to be a little kinder to myself and others but I have this overriding drive to improve. Sometimes I just need to relax.

Also, the stuff we are beginning to work on takes years to congeal, from what I’m told. Based on what I’ve experienced in my own body so far, I believe there to be some truth in this. We’re talking here about having that tuned in, direct, plugged in connection that still allows each person to dance themselves. We’re even talking about appropriately using the breath to fuel the movments. And one day, to even create unity. It is possible, Ivan says, to even be breathing at the same time while dancing. That sounds like it will probably be a few years off, especially with the shape I am in, but it’s nice to know it’s possible.

So I figure I have thousands of hours of practice ahead of me, with and without Ivan. I have thousands of hours of pondering how to do things, and messing up, and learning new things.

To some this may sound boring or daunting. To me, I’m so thankful to be in the process of becoming. It makes me think of a quote I saw today on Facebook:

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months, years they spend preparing for it.” T. Alan Armstrong

I am preparing for my success. I am preparing to be a champion in every minute I dance, practice, show up at competitions.

Ivan looked me straight in the eyes today and said that I could be a champion (we’re talking Pro/Am here, I think) and he’s actually said it before. I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying it because to achieve that would be beyond my wildest dreams.

I could choose to listen to the rational, dogmatic, practical self that whispers in my ear saying, “You are too old, to fat, and you started too late.”

Or, I can choose to focus my attention differently. I can listen to the part of me connected to The Universe, or God, Higher Self, or Source, or whatever you like to call it which, in an even softer whisper says:

“Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.” I’m gonna amend that last one….Expect more than even I think is possible, THINK being the operational word here.

I say this because today Ivan and I did the Samba. How does this relate to thinking? Well, we agreed that to work on my stamina, we’d dance our routine multiple times in a row. We agreed we’d start with two times and lately I’ve been handling that pretty well so today he said we’d do it 3 times through. Ok I agreed, I thought I could probably make it through and then be spent.

But after the third go around, Ivan says, “And one more time for Merry Christmas!”

It was unexpected, but I did it! We danced for 3.5 minutes total and I was worried about making it through 2 minutes. Now, my goal is to get through 10 minutes straight without looking or feeling like I’m going to die, but this is a nice little start! I realized I could actually probably have gone another time through the Samba even. I might have pushed my heart rate to faster than a hummingbird on caffeine, but I probably could have made it.

The moral of the story, even I don’t know my limitations.

Its possible you don’t either. How great is that!

So, as you go through your activities today, ask yourself, “Is it possible that I actually don’t know my limits?” And, “What kind of champion am I practicing to be?”

Blessings,

Stefanie

I’m Fabulous! I Just Don’t Know It

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Dance Starz Studio

Coaching with Linda Dean

I’ve had the good fortune to have been coached by some amazing people during my short ballroom student career.  The first person was Igor Suvorov.  Then, it was Paul Holmes.  Next it was Ron Montez.  And today it was Linda Dean.

Now as much of a fan of ballroom dancing as I am, I am still a baby beginner in this world and there is lots to learn.  I looked up each coach before I met them to know a little something about them.  Here’s a nice article I found about Linda Dean.

http://fred-astaire.blogspot.com/2006/12/spotlight-onlinda-dean.html

I have to be careful not to psych myself out when reading this stuff!  Even I know that the Blackpool ballroom competition is one of the premier competitions in the world.  To win that is a big deal.  For little ole me getting coached by a person who has achieved so much can be intimidating.  I just have to remind myself that we all put our pants on one leg at a time.

At every coaching I’ve done, I’ve gained new knowledge, a new way of doing a step, and improvement in my dancing.  It is such a blessing to benefit from the expertise of others, and so far, those I’ve interacted with have been generous and kind and helpful.

I experienced Linda as a warm, friendly woman and it was a pleasure to get to work with her.  To begin, Ivan and I danced the Rumba, Latin stye.  She was a Latin champion and I’ve recently begun studying the style in earnest so it was a perfect fit.

I am happy to report that once we completed our little performance, Linda said that I had done quite a nice job.  Of course, there were also things that I could consider that might change the way my dancing appears.

One of the interesting things she said was that she could tell I was trying so hard to do things that were good and all but that might not be that necessary.  For instance, she demonstrated how I could move my feet, brushing them through to the next step, but not focusing so much on them actually touching.  It is the asthetically pleasing line I want to create moreso than making sure that my feet touch perfectly with each step.

We also talked about remembering why we dance.  We talked about not just getting from one place to the next but how I want to look while I am going there.  It rocked my world.

It kind of goes along with my last post in which I talked about how I try to hustle to get from one step to the next but miss all the gooey goodness in between.  Thinking about how I want to look, move, and be as I am going from one place to another my carriage changed dramatically.  My back leg was straighter, longer, and my toes more pointed.  My head was held taller.  My balance was better.  The secret was being aware of how I wanted to move through space rather than focusing on getting from point A to point B on time.  I see the power of focus.  The different things I focus on create different results.

If you’ve read any of my other posts you will know I see parallels to life and in dance.  From this little exercise I realize that it is important how I do things, not just that I do them.  It matters if I am loving, kind, and compassionate while performing a task.  Yes of course, it matters if I do the task or not, just as it matters if I get to the next step on time in dancing, but the artistry, the beauty, the juciness of life and dancing is how we move through space to get there, I am discovering.  What wisdom Linda has shared with me!

We also had the opportunity to work on connection.  Again, I was at the same place and knew it for the first time.  The nuance and control in the connection is incredibly difficult to get right.  I did feel it differently than ever before – my hip was to be connected with Ivan’s latissimus dorsi via the arm connection – and it was magical.  If/When we can ever create this type of connection consistently, wow.  Dancing will feel so good once I get this stuff.  Not that it doesn’t already, but there is another eschelon of effortlessness that I’ve just tasted.  These little nibbles are incredible, and I want more!

Next, and most profound was something I’ll never forget.  Ivan is such an amazing teacher and human being.  I want to give him credit and acknowledge that he has mentioned to me all the things I discovered in the coaching today, including this next awareness.  I guess when you have a thick head like I do, you have to hear things a few times for them to sink in.  And sometimes the teacher appears when the student is ready.

Linda asked me about my arms.  Now, arm styling has been a bain of my dancing existence ever since I began to care about it.  It just always feels so awkward.  But I try.  So she asks me if I pay attention to them when dancing.  I honestly answer, well, usually not, because my focus is always on my feet or my hips or the steps or the connection with my partner.  I remember about my arms in specific places that we’ve practiced, but usually they flop around like tentacles on an octopus.

So I am open to any feedback Linda has for me regarding my upper extremities.  But her feedback is surprising.  Why not keep them still?

Huh?

This doesn’t compute until she demonstrates what she means.

Linda performs Rumba walks forward.  First, she holds her arm out to the side and connects the other with Ivan.  Then she repeats the same walks but moving her free arm in a circular motion.  The effect is immediately apparent.  The arm movement draws attention to the arm (not my strongest feature).  When held still, attention is drawn to legs and feet.

It is obvious which way I want to move from now on.  My foot work is good and my leg action pretty.  This is where I want to focus attention.  This is what suits me.

Which brings up a larger idea that Ivan has mentioned before.  It is something that will make me an artist.  It is finding the way I move.  Not emulating anyone else.  Not trying to move like others.  Moving like I am meant to move, naturally.  It is having the confidence to be who I am, and love it in every movement.

Linda explains: “Now I love Yulia (referring, I think, to Yulia Zagoruychenko).  She is fabulous. And gorgeous.  But all these girls try to move like her.  She is so fast because she is as big as a toothpick and she is on balance.  She knows exactly what she is doing with her body. But it looks awful when other people try to do that.”

She’s absolutely right.

However, I feel at sea in how to do this.  My frame of reference is to look to others to see what I should be doing.  It is time to look to me to determine what I should be doing.

So before we end the session, Ivan tells Linda that we will show her American Rhythm Rumba and Cha Cha.  Alright, now it’s time for me to brag a little.  Honestly, I’d better start practicing declaring that I am fabulous.  So much of dancing in the ballroom is confidence and attitude.  I’ve just experienced in this very lesson how thinking this way about how I move through space can transform the way I dance.  I have to own this fabulous-ness before stepping foot on the floor in order to show up the way I know I can.

Linda shared a story with me that demonstrates the power of speaking positivity into our lives and the effect of a confident attitude.  She had five weeks until her first compeition with her new partner – just enough time to prepare one dance routine per week for each of five dances.  The competition was the National Championships!  Before she and her partner stepped on the floor she told him, “We’re gonna win!”  He replied, “Don’t think like that.” But she retorted, “You just watch.”  And the rest is history.  They won.

Well anyways, I’m going to declare it.  I am fabulous!  It is so.  How do I know this, well, Linda reminded me that I am fabulous regardless of my size. She related to me another story of a student who knew how fabulous she was even though she was 190 pounds. No one won with this gal on the floor.

I’ve decided that I’m going to be like this girl.

So back to the bragging on myself, since I’m so fabulous and all…

Linda’s jaw about dropped when we started dancing American style.  She told me that if I competed, I had to do both American and Latin style.

So let’s scratch the title of this post.  It should really say: I’m Fabulous and I Know It!

And you know what, I’m starting to believe that I am.

You get points for reading this post.  Bet you didn’t know that, huh?  There’s also a bonus round.  You have an amazing opportunity right here, right now to be courageous and list one or more ways in which you are fabulous.  I would love to read about it.

-Stef