My niece had a runny nose when we took her to the mall this weekend to Build-a-Bear and I’m convinced she gave me a slight cold. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that my allergies are horrendous at the moment and I have asthma. This compounds the inflammation in my airways and makes it that much more difficult to breathe, much less do anything that requires cardio. So yesterday I went to the gym, as I do now on Thursdays, to work out with my trainer I requested that we limit the high-intensity cardio and stick to lifting some weights.
She opted to cancel some of the kettleball swings but other than that, it was still a solid workout. I did 12 deadlifts with a 50 pound barbell and rows in between. Then I did squats with a 30 pound barbell pushing it into an upward press above my shoulders as I straightened my legs. Then I did 12 backward lunges with the 30 pound barbell on my shoulders and finished off with an incline plank. I repeated this circuit four times.
It was tough but not so tough that I wanted to cry, like I have on previous workouts. It got my heart pumping and was taxing and I always feel like the thing that limits me the most is endurance, breathing hard, the cardio part. But I was able to do it and that was good.
At the end of the work out my trainer told me, “You should be proud of yourself. You did four sets of that and it’s pretty impressive. That is not easy. You are strong. I don’t put out weights like this for everyone and I wouldn’t do it for you if I didn’t think you could do it. Good work today!” She gave me a high-five.
Me, I was like, really? Because I have a set of sunglasses on that filter how I see the world that generally point out how pathetic I’m doing – how I could be doing more, and how lame it is I can’t do a Burpee and that my belly gets in the way, and how silly I look doing all this stuff.
It’s like, I feel guilty for feeling good about myself. Somehow this is taboo, forbidden, wrong.
But I did feel strong doing those dead lifts. I banged them out pretty good and though challenging, I was up to the challenge. I felt pretty good about doing that, that it was less pathetic than usual, but here was my trainer saying that I should be proud of myself for what I had done. I’m not exactly sure that I know how that feels. I mean, I was proud of myself for completing over 120 heats at the San Diego Open a few years ago and earing Top Student. That was a goal I worked for and achieved and it felt awesome. But these everyday victories, they somehow don’t seem big enough. It’s as if I’m waiting until I’m at my goal weight to actually approve of myself, be proud of myself, love myself.
Like following my eating plan this past week. I did it successfully and that was good, but I wasn’t exactly “proud” of myself for doing that. In my mind, it is simply what I need to do to get where I want to go, and I’m focused like no kidding on that so I did what needed to be done, that’s all. In truth, I’m not even proud of myself for being down over 70 pounds from my highest weight ever (see picture below). Because it took 3 fucking years to do that and I’m still mad that I’m 100 pounds from where I want to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I notice a difference and I do feel somewhat better about myself. I just still see that I have so very far to go and this is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take months of consistent, persistent, determined action. And though I’m anticipating victories along the way, like reaching 213 which will be 100 pounds from my highest weight, and getting under 200 pounds, and getting to 179 pounds which will mean I’m overweight and no longer obese according to my BMI, and hitting my goal weight, I’m just not all that impressed with myself for where I am.
But I am starting to question that point of view simply because it could undermine all my efforts, and I refuse to let that happen this time. This time, I’m following this through come hell or high water!
My nutritionist seemed to also think I should be so proud of myself. She was like, “Stef, you’ve already accomplished a lot, and now, if you keep what you are doing, you will get to your goal in less than a year. You’ve got this! I really hope you are proud of yourself.” And she gave me a big hug.
But I find myself having trouble letting go of my story. You know, the one about me not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I’m having trouble letting go of what I want to be so badly that I can’t seem to be satisfied with where and how I am. It is the ultimate thief, this mindset of comparison, and “not-enough.” But I swear, at the same time that I can see my face looks a little thinner, and maybe my belly too, and that when I thought I’d need a size 24 skirt I ended up purchasing a size 16, at the same time as I can see these steps of progress, I can also see my huge arms, how much larger I am than any other girls in my dance classes, how thick my legs and thighs are, the cellulite on my knees. At the same time that I feel slightly lighter, that it is maybe easier to move and more tolerable to wear heels to dance in, I also am also exhausted panting for breath and having a difficult time holding myself in yoga poses or ballet because I weigh so much or my body mass simply gets in the way.
I am still in a place where I feel the need to block out how I look and don’t feel proud of my appearance. I am longing for when I can wear this one asymmetrical dance shirt I bought and feel so beautiful and sassy in it. Right now when I put it on I just see where it hugs and tugs when it should be hanging empty, and it is frustrating and makes me feel sad.
And the thing I am up against physically that challenges me the most (besides the self-esteem and body image) is the cardio. Well, at least, it is my experience of me being out of shape. But even this I am questioning once again because of my nutritionist and trainer. Because the truth is, when I do a dance class, even though I may be panting and sweating and absolutely killing myself, and even though I may need to not do everything full-out just to stay in the game, well, the truth is, I’m working harder than anyone else out there just because of the sheer weight I carry. They’d probably be more tired too if they were carrying an extra 90 pounds.
Because I always experience myself as out of shape cardiovascular-wise, and because my dance teacher says that even skinny people can really struggle with the cardio and endurance required for dancing, I was feeling the need to add in some training to improve this. But both my trainer and nutritionist said that I was crazy active, especially compared to most people, and probably even more so for obese people. They said, “cardio isn’t the problem. Get the weight off and it will become so much easier. You won’t have to change a thing if you just keep dancing like you are. It will be enough.”
My nutritionist said, “You have a strong heart. Cardio isn’t problem.”
My trainer said, after lifting all those weights today, “You are strong. Strength isn’t the problem.”
The problem is how I feel. The problem is the extra person I’m carrying around in my body. It makes it difficult to feel and act strong and sexy in Latin class with Rado doing the Rumba. I can do the steps, and some of my shapes look nice and all, but I’m lacking the confidence necessary because of my fat fucking arms and huge tree-trunk legs. I am the anthesis of the ideal for a Latin dancer, the complete and utter opposite, and it is a laughable farce, me dancing this dance.
Or is it awesome? Because I’m doing it anyways, because it is in my heart, regardless of external circumstances or appearances.
I don’t know. I think it is kind of a ridiculous-awesome, if there is such a thing.
What I do know is that in less than two weeks I will be dancing in a competition. I will be putting myself out there to be seen and judged. And you know what? Doing that, revealing one’s art, whether it be a painting or a dance, in writing or sharing a musical composition, and regardless of that person’s size or appearance, regardless of all those things, well, it takes a strong heart.
I had a really great double lesson with Ivan this morning. This is the difference having a solid goal and time frame in place makes. Because I’ve put the down payment on participating in 80 heats in People’s Choice, I know I’m going. Because I know I’m going, I know I need to do whatever I can to prepare myself in the short 4 weeks before the competition.
In only four weeks there is only so much you can do. Even while I work at it, I’m not going to lose a significant percentage of my body fat in that short of a time. However, even dropping just 5 pounds will make a difference I can feel on my body. I’m determined to be spot on with the plan my nutritionist sets forth for me. I can be motivated for one week at a time, especially with the competition looming. There is a purpose, and an urgent one, that will be behind all my choices and struggles. I need that.
And I’m determined to not lose any momentum afterwards like has happened in the past. I’ve already gotten the days off work for Desert Classic, which is also just a short time away. But the thing is, as soon as I am complete with People’s Choice, I will have another goalpost on the horizon to focus upon. This is so important for me. I will have my next competition planned before I complete Desert Classic to keep the cycle going.
Also, I probably can’t improve my cardio to where it really needs to be, but I do believe in a month’s time, especially combined with even a modest weight loss, I can make a difference. So what I need to do is practice exactly the task I need to accomplish while in the competition itself. We’ve been lazy on our lessons in this regard, indulging in long chats, stopping when it becomes a moderate effort, not doing rounds. I’ve talked in the past about making a playlist of songs for rounds of American and Latin styles with songs 1:30 each, but today I finally showed up prepared. I directed the lesson. I had an agenda. Because we have little time and I have to do what I can.
Before I fully committed to People’s Choice, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I was working toward…the vague goals of “getting better” and “losing weight” just weren’t moving me forward in any directed fashion. So I’d show up on a lesson and, as Ivan put it, say “Let’s do a Foxtrot. I’m fat.” He said I just moved and complained. That I wasn’t really dancing or doing anything.
So anyways, today I came in with a list of songs to warm up with. During this time we focused on connection. It was the perfect place to start and I told Ivan that this is how lessons need to look for a while – come in, warm up, focus on connection, then cardio, cardio, cardio doing rounds.
And guess what. It kicked my butt. I thought maybe I’d do okay since I did okay with the showcase number and that dance was pretty long. But nope. After swing I was kaput. And there are two more dances to complete. Because I was dancing full-out, pushing it during the beginning. Because that is my potential and capacity to dance like that, but I can’t sustain it. My body stops me. The asthma problems don’t help, but I honestly and truly believe that my body and physicality and lack of cardiovascular fitness are the biggest things holding me back right now. Anyways, I’m going to push during these next four weeks, doing rounds on every lesson and I do think it will get better. Oh, and it will probably feel better anyway because most likely the dances will only be 1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds at the most and I’m intentionally making it longer for conditioning.
But even with the reality of how exhausted I was after Swing, it still felt really good to be working on exactly what I need to work on and to be directed and focused. I didn’t have time to go all “poor me” and get in my head. And I have to say, for the first time, I had this moment of really being excited. I love the shapes I’m making, in Samba especially, and I could, for an instant, imagine how fierce it will be when I’m 100 pounds lighter.
And there were some funny moments that had me in stitches and it felt good to be happy and laughing on a lesson, even if my shortcomings were right in front of me. For instance, we were doing this move in Samba and I was really getting into it and so was Ivan. He wanted to spread his arms open wide, his chest puffed out like an eagle, presenting himself as very manly and strong. At the same time I was to step backwards behind, cross my feet, put one arm up in the air and the other one on his chest. We both went at it full force…but instead of connecting with his chest, my arm hit is wrist with a loud “smack!” and he was like, “Oww!” and withdrew his paw like a wounded kitten. It was so funny! Sometimes it feels good to hit your teacher, you know! lol.
And then there was some typical Ivan inappropriateness. On one step he told me to shut my clam. No, he didn’t mean for me to stop talking. He meant my, ahem, other clam, as in, keep your legs crossed daintly like a lady and don’t dance like a cowboy. Oh Ivan!
But mostly the lesson felt good because we were productive, focused, and clear. And while working on connection, I was able to control, direct, and project my energy such that at one point Ivan got goosebumps which is the ultimate in knowing I’m doing something right. I love it!
Which brings up another thing I’ve been pondering. I’ve been going to all these group classes that really emphasize technique, with Inna and Rado, and that is great. I love these classes and learning all this amazing information. However, there comes a time when you just have to dance. And that’s what I’ve got to focus on during my (expensive) time with Ivan. We have to focus on connection and actually dancing.
Ivan was so funny on our last lesson. I was telling him about what we talked about on Rado’s lesson and asking him for his take on it, thinking that I wanted him to tell me what I needed to do to “fix” things. But he basically said, “This so good you going to these classes. You learning all the different techniques but it is different with everybody. I think you open. I think your mind is open and you can listen to all these things and understand there is no one right way. Many people is wanting this, right and wrong way. So go, and learn, and now use this information. You not stupid. You no need me to tell you what to doing wrong or how to fixing it. You can do this yourself. You just need to do your routines by yourself step by step.”
Well, dang if that isn’t taking responsiblity for my own dancing on a new level, I don’t know what is. And that is another thing I was reflecting on…how much responsiblity I’ve been taking for my dancing, especially since Desert Classic last year. It is a good thing.
Anyways, getting back to how Ivan was being so funny. So he was basically saying, yes, technique is important but it’s not everything and you have to dance, like really dance, if you know what I mean – the difference between “doing” the steps, passing through the movements and “being” the dance. It’s kind of hard to explain but when you experience it or feel it, you can tell the difference. Really dancing involves, for me, like actually hearing the music (like I used to before I learned the importance of counting) instead of just saying the numbers in my head. Like actually seeing Ivan, not just blankly staring at him. Like being playful and in the moment and responding to my partner, the crowd, what feels right inside.
And so we have this conversation about technique and dancing, and Ivan slaps my butt when we are doing our Mambo routine and he says, “See! This is not technique.” And then we do rumba and he keeps me in this one position longer than unusual, and I go nuts wiggling my hips and he’s like, “Yeahhhh! See! This is not technique! But it looking so good!” I have these moments when there isn’t a conscious thought, and I just move like I feel like I should, and it is amazing…it is really dancing.
Because my truth is, I am a dancer. We know this. Everyone can see it. I’ve finally admitted to myself and I finally believe it to be true about me.
The other reality is, I’m fat. Everyone can see it. I never needed to admit it to myself, it is what it is, it is the truth about me.
I thought there was perhaps a way to see the dancing beyond the fat, but not so much. They are intimately intertwined. As Ivan told me, “It always begins or ends with fat.” You see, people know me because I move so well and it’s pretty unexpected because I’m extra large. So people will ask him, “Oh, who do you have a lesson with next?” “Stefanie,” he’ll say, and they will reply, “Oh the big one. She’s so good!” or “She’s so good! Isn’t she the fat one?”
People can’t just see me as a good dancer. They see me as a fat good dancer. Kind of like most people don’t see just a man, they see an Asian man. Or they don’t just see a woman, they see a woman with Cerebral Palsy. The fat is part of the picture, inseparable from me as being Asian or having a debilitating disease. Of course I can change this…I’m in the process of doing so…but this isn’t the point I’m making. The point I’m making is that as of this moment in time, this is part of my picture. Period.
So it was with mixed feelings that I read this post from The Reinvented Lass. I did the showcase Cha Cha and shared the video and it affected her. She reached out to me and asked me if I minded if she posted it on her blog and talk about how it affected her. Of course I didn’t mind! I think it is so amazing she was affected, and that she wanted to share and engage in a conversation. I love it. And I really appreciate and honor her honesty. She was so self-reflective and kind and yet, I have to admit, it still stung.
The Lass wrote that she was proud of me. That she’d read about my struggles and thought that I was a, wait for it….good dancer, and that she liked how I got into character.
But in my head all this was overshadowed. She also wrote:
…she did such a great job with it – regardless of her size!
Yes, isn’t that the story of my life. It all begins and ends with fat.
But I started thinking about what things she can do better than me and how much better than me she can move. And to be honest, how much better than me she can move especially considering her size. Petty, right? And then I started to feel bad for myself and started thinking how bad of a dancer I must be. And I felt bad for having such thoughts about her.
All that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.
And reading this, I have compassion for both for her and for me. This stuff isn’t easy. Petty? I’m not sure I’d agree. It’s just true, what she thought, but it does prick the heart. It goes to my point that there is no way of really seeing just the dancing alone becuase it is embodied by, well, my Rubenesque physique. And still, it pisses me off. Why can’t people just see the dancing?
And it made me think that being fat, letting myself present myself this way, is me handing others a weapon to use against me, keep me down (read – a way for me to keep myself down). They can always be superior because at least they aren’t fat like that one girl who dances well, for God’s sakes (read – other people are superior to me)! They may not be able to dance like me, but heck, at least they don’t look like me. The fact that they have a body fat percentage lower than mine makes them a better, more worthy person somehow. And anyways, they can get better, and at least they don’t look ridiculous trying to be sexy (read – well, you know. All this crap is just me projecting what I don’t want to own).
How unfair and mean and separating and victim-y is that to think? And all that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.
For me it brings up thoughts of how inappropriate it is to dance in this state. That I shouldn’t dance while fat. But it also makes me think that it is important that I still get out there anyway because the stronger truth is that I am a dancer. I am a dancer now when I am fat and I will still be a dancer in the future when I am thin. Who I am is a dancer, but who I am has nothing to do with how much I weigh….and everything to do with it.
So what is there to do? I’ll take a note from the Lass:
But I also told myself that it’s not a competition. It’s a journey. She’s on her journey, and I’m on mine…
And in the meantime, I can appreciate Stef, her journey, her ability, and her dancing. I can appreciate that we share a passion and that we both think dance is so important to our lives. And I can cheer her on to be the best.
Yes. That’s right. We are on our own journeys and how much better is it to root for one another, remind one another of our greatness, and have open, honest communication, than to get stuck in the mental muck that threatens to separate us? How much better is it to appreciate that we share a passion called dancing that is important to the both of us, and that really, we are more similar than we are different?
So, Lass, I cheer for you, and for us. I appreciate you and know that you do kick-ass swivels (which I suck at!) and turns. I know you are insightful and wise. I am so glad you had the courage to share what you thought. Thank you for being my friend, warts and all.
So maybe the title of this post isn’t quite right.
Maybe it doesn’t really all begin and end with fat.
Maybe, instead, it all begins and ends with compassion and respect for ourselves and others, how we are right now, holding a vision of the best in the future. Maybe it all begins and ends with connection, not separation, recognizing our similarities rather than only seeing outer differences.
Maybe the truth is that it all begins and ends with love.
Here’s fair warning…this post is all sorts of choppy, jumpy, and jumbled. There is nothing polished, smooth, or elegant about it. So I’ll just dive right in and hope you stay along through the choppy writing waters.
First things first, in case you missed the video of my showcase routine on the Facebook page for the blog, here is a link to it.
The good thing is I actually feel okay about sharing this. Like, it’s a lot less cringe-worthy than previous videos I’ve posted, and I do think my ronde’ is much improved from the previous showcase. So that’s a win in my book.
It was also a win that my nerves didn’t get the best of me this time around. I wasn’t hardly nervous at all. Staying relaxed like that, especially in a competition setting, would be a good thing. Ivan mentioned that he thought I was maybe a little too nonchalant about it, that I didn’t have the attack that I might want to bring forth at a competition, but I reminded him that it was still progress just because it was different, that I’ve changed. That is forward movement.
Other than that, I’ve decided to change tracks with the diet and exercise plan. I am going to continue with the gal on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the gym but it is more about just going and doing some weights, something extra, getting pushed more than I would push myself on my own, I don’t really expect more than that from her. I don’t feel like she is committed alongside me to reach my massive goals, or that she’d even really know how to assist me in that, but rather that she will do her job while on the clock and that’s it, and that’s fine.
But, well, I need help. I need support. I need more direction and accountability. I’ve decided to work with a nutritionist who herself lost 80 pounds and now competes in figure shows. I think she knows what she’s doing. She’s going to create a custom diet plan for me and I will have twice weekly accountability check-ins. I’ve committed for the next three months. I’m sure I’ll share more about that as the process unfolds but for now, I feel good making another decision to support me in getting where I want to go.
I skipped ballet this week because my ankle was bothering me and the instructor makes us always do a bunch of jumps. It tends to strain my ankle, especially since jumps are hard enough when you actually have some plie’ and don’t weigh a ton, (which I don’t, and I do), and especially with all the ballroom dancing in heels I’ve done lately, I just felt like my body needed some recovery.
Last night Inna was out of town so we had Alla teaching us instead. It wasn’t as hard as a cardio work-out as I usually get from Inna, but I do have to say I enjoyed the new, more complicated choreography. You can see Alla dancing here on DWTS – she and her partner won and were on Cheryl Burke’s team.
Tomorrow night is week three of Cha Cha with Radomir, which I’m also looking forward to. Again, he offers some more complicated choreography and also explains technique….plus we actually dance with a partner, which doesn’t happen in the other group classes I take.
But I have to say, it’s amazing the knowledge these pros have, I swear! Rado’s technique is so pristine, I think, it is an education just watching him, just like it is watching Inna or Marieta or Alla or Igor or Artem or any of the other pros move, you know? I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be influenced by so many exceptional dancers in town.
And, skipping right along in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, one thing I’ve noticed, is that when I’m feeling good about my dancing, and myself, I’m more likely to want to put my heels on because my feet and legs look more feminine and I feel stronger. If I’m feeling lower, I’m more likely to put on my practice shoes with their clunky heels. Lately, I’ve been putting my heels on more often. I can only imagine I will get to the point that they are practically all I wear, especially as I continue to drop weight, look better, and subsequently feel more confident about myself. But this week I put my heels on for both Rado’s class and Inna/Alla’s class, and even wore them on my lesson with Ivan. I guess it’s been a good week.
Wanna ride bikes?
Just kidding, except that is how A.D.D. my brain is right now. So here’s my next thought:
I can hardly believe that a fourth of the year is almost past. People’s Choice is coming right up and we are still not complete with our Samba routine. And instead of finishing that, well, on our last lesson we messed around making up a bit of a Bolero routine. Who knows if these will be presentable by People’s Choice but oh well, at least I have some new material since the last time I competed.
And guess what – apparently there will be some videographers there at People’s Choice scouting out Pro-Am couples to follow for a reality show. They’ll also be filming some of the pros as well. I seriously doubt I’d be chosen with Ivan but I do like that my friends who knew about it said, “I’d totally watch a reality show of you and Ivan!” Ha ha ha! Ivan is quite entertaining, that’s for sure.
And speaking of that, I realize the competition is coming right up, but I didn’t realize yesterday was the official deadline! Yikes! I found out by accident looking for one of the links I used in this post. I feel like the deadline for comps usually fall closer to the actual date of the competition, but maybe not? In any case this meant an urgent call Ivan to get the ball rolling, seeing as I’ve taken days off work to participate and all, and I’d really like to stay at the hotel if possible. So I guess I’d better decide how many heats I’m going to do….
So now for the title of the post. What do I mean by saying you will never really learn to dance? Well, yesterday, after Ivan and I were messing around making up Bolero steps, we chatted. He was very talkative for some reason. I told him that I had been a little rattled after our prior lesson because he had been getting genuinely agitated with me. Why? Because I’m still bottled up, holding back. He was like, “It’s no secret. We know all your problems. We know you big, and slow. I don’t caring. We (he and Marieta) are here for you, right now. No more time to prepare or think about it. I already give you so much time.” Basically, he was like, get over yourself.
And he’s right….to a point. Like in the showcase I was aware, after the fact but not during, that I didn’t actually focus on any particular person in the audience. I didn’t really open up and connect. I looked over the heads of the crowd. I don’t even know if I looked directly at Ivan, to be honest.
It’s certainly something I want to improve. I do desire to bring that presence that pros seem to exude. It’s pretty intense, though, both to experience from a pro while watching in the audience and also doing it myself.
But the thing that is difficult is being that open or to pretend like I’m totally aweseome, hot shit, the best dancer around for the purposes of a dance show or competition. It feels extremely vulnerable or like I’m a total sham. I have a feeling it will get easier the more I get the weight off, but right now it’s a challenge and very uncomfortable.
So anyways, we continued to chat and Ivan brought up a good point – the fact that I’m never really going to learn how to dance. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but simply in the way that there is so much to learn, so many schools of thought about how to execute various steps, and that a big part of actually dancing is self-expression, finding yourself in the steps while still respecting technique, that basically no one can ever really learn it all. Some people learn to dance. Others were born to dance. It’s as simple as that. I just have to find the courage to let go and live the dance beyond “learning” it.
So why would anyone ever pursue dancing, especially if it can never be 100% mastered? I don’t know exactly, but for people like Ivan and me, it’s our addiction. We can’t not dance. And when I’ve not danced for periods of time, I’ve withered inside. Dancing brings me back to life.
He was like, “Why I dancing? I should be retire. Why you dancing? What we doing? We crazy!”
“Yes but we can’t not dance. We just can’t.”
“Some people not understanding this.”
Truth be told, even I, myself, am not “understanding this.”
But who cares? It’s one of life’s mysteries why we love what we love. Dance a non-negotiable for me anymore. Even if I will never really learn how to do it. Even if I’m never satisfied. Even if I’m always in pursuit of something more and better. Even if it’s not my vocation or career or I will never be a professional, or even dance at a professional-like level, it’s still okay. It’s still worth it. I can’t even really explain why. I can’t explain why I want to become a better dancer, especially when there is no grand purpose behind that in practical terms. Why pursue this intangible, impossible art? Why do I love it?
I just do. It’s in my DNA. There is value in the practice and pursuit of dancing just for the sake of it. It’s enough and I’m grateful for it. And I guess it just seems important to share that, to share me and my process and my dancing, however it is, at whatever level it is. So this is me, dancing, living, sharing.
So this morning I went in to practice the piece for the showcase at 7:45am. The practice was uneventful, which is good, except for the fact that Ivan was super tired because yesterday he did all sorts of work and intense manual labor on his farm which is up for an inspection from the county. That, and he strained his back from carrying 80 pound bags of cement all over the place, so he was like, “Please no splits today.” And I was like, “No problem!” I didn’t mind skipping that part at all….just as long as he is recovered by Saturday, which he seems to think he will be.
So the practice went well enough and at the end Ivan had another morning lesson scheduled. In came a new student who is friends with one of Ivan’s other students who I know. They asked to see what we were working on so we showed them the dance and they were kind and said it looked good, and the new gal said she had heard a lot about me from her friend, and somehow the conversation became about the blog. I didn’t mention it…I think Ivan did, but the lady I know said she didn’t know I had a blog so I fished a card for her out of my purse.
“It’s about my experiences on dance lessons, and all the funny stuff Ivan does, and sometimes helpful information about ballroom dancing, and a little bit of me complaining about trying to lose weight.”
And we’re talking about the blog and Ivan chimes in. “Ah yes. Everything that happens goes on the blog. This why I no have sex with her. because if I do, then it would be on the blog.”
By see below. (see below.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
SAY WHAT!?! Who says something like that? And who can say that and still be likeable, especially in front of a new potential student? Only my cuckoo instructor. Good thing he is an independent agent because I can’t imagine a comment like that would ever be tolerated at a studio, and good thing that I know him and how ridiculous he is, as does his other student, who I am certain has shared about Ivan to her pal. All I can say is that he must have been deliriously tired to randomly say something like that!
So anyways, without missing a beat, as I’m walking out the door, I simply reply, “Oh, that’s the only thing holding you back, Ivan? That it would be written about on the blog?” And Ivan’s student cracks up in a guffaw while I think her friend is sitting next to her silently in shock over what just transpired.
Ha ha ha! So here it is, I’m writing about it on the blog. Lolololol.
I know, I know, my life is SO exciting! Well, not really, but I still feel the need to process my experiences, and guess what, that is what I do here on the blog. In any case, I don’t think this will be a very profound post or anything, but I guess I just wanted to jot down the latest happenings.
I guess one of the main things is that I’m back to taking ballet. I didn’t make it to class on Sunday because of overtime at work, but I did manage to squeak in on Monday night. I think it is going to be a permanent part of my routine. Class feels good and it’s frustrating at the same time. It’s good because of course it is more physical activity, and it builds strength, and flexibility. I’m also finding my center a little bit and improving my balance because of it. I also give myself a free pass on it. I’m not expecting myself to really be able to do like grand jetes, but every once in a while in class, I’m able to surprise myself a bit and hit a combination well. Of course, in the next exercise the wheels generally fall completely off the bus, but hey, it’s ballet. I’m mostly doing it as a support for my ballroom dancing and when I goof up, I simply laugh it off. I am not putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself in the class, though I do want to do well, and I do push to try to stretch myself to do what I can. Just showing up and moving for an hour and a half is a worthy way to spend my time and it makes me feel better to know I’m doing this for myself. Plus, there is an added advantage of making some more dance buddies and building another layer to my dance community.
I must say that I am so thankful to have a place to take a class like this. It is for adults and just the right level – not too hard, like I’d find at say Ballet Arizona, but not too easy or alongside 10 year olds. But even with this little reintroduction of ballet, I’ve already had dreams about putting my toe shoes back on. And by dreams, I mean literal dreams, NOT as in, I’m wanting to get back into those torture devices. No thanks. Not really on my radar. But I guess my subconscious mind has a different idea!
In any case, I’m pretty excited because the owner of the studio knows I do ballroom and she is involved with a charity called Dancing Classrooms here in the Phoenix area. I got an invite via Twitter to come to a meeting about it in the coming week. I’d love to participate in this program and share my love and passion for dance with youngsters as well as to help provide the opportunity for them to experience the healing and empowering magic that dance can be. I’m excited to see how I can be of service and pretty psyched to have been invited.
Well anyways, ballet class on Monday went as well as can be expected in an obese body. I have difficulty closing my legs completely in a tight fifth position because they are so massive and jumping is chore. I do the best I can but it’s pretty hard on my ankles. My left ankle is already weaker because of past injuries and I know the weight doesn’t help. I’m looking forward to being significantly lighter, but you know what, every pound helps and my diet is working. I’ve not been able to get under 250 pounds for the longest time but I’m determined to be there within the next two weeks. It’s only a few pounds away and I feel like it will be a breakthrough. I’ve been bouncing around with about 10 pounds and pardon my French but it’s time to stop dicking around. The holidays are over, thank goodness, and I’ve been able to get a bit more physical activity in, and doing well with the diet. My weight was down this morning and that is a good thing, a sign I’m doing something right! But now more yo-yo bullshit! What I’m doing is working and I’m ready for significant change. I do think, looking at myself in the mirror at class tonight, that I am beginning to look a tiny bit smaller. I will take it. Though by far still the biggest gal in the ballroom, it’s a step in the right direction and I’m going to celebrate it.
Which, brings me to tonight. Inna and Artem must be competing out-of-town somewhere so it was Igor who taught Latin. I must say that I really enjoy watching him demonstrate the Latin movements. His hip action is so clear, and he generates great fast and slow dynamic. I always learn something new when Igor teaches and I’m grateful for all the teachers who have crossed my path and contributed to my dancing.
So tonight we began with Rumba walks. Wow. I just had a realization, which is pretty ironic especially considering what I’m going to say in a minute (you’ll see what I mean in a moment). The realization is that we did a lot of rumba walks tonight, around in a really big circle. Probably for 4 or 5 minutes straight, which may not sound like a long time, but when you are dancing it sure is! Well, my realization is that I was able to do them the entire time. Perhaps my arms could have been stronger, but you know what? When I first walked into that class a little over a year ago, I could not have lasted that long. No way.
Anyways, after our Rumba walk warm-up, Igor shared with us the proper positioning of our hips, which should be under the body and tucked under, similar to how the pelvis should be placed in ballet. We did some plies, feeling that tucked in, pulled up and under position in our hips and then repeated our rumba walks attempting to maintain that alignment.
Next we did some Cha Cha. We did a little routine: Check, ronde, back-together-side, time step, time step, back basic to a hip twist and repeat. First we just learned the steps. Then we worked on playing with the timing, accenting the movements on the 1 and 3 counts – prolonging them with a bit of hip action/settling/twisting as a wind-up for the next movements which had to be quicker (and looked lightning fast when Igor did them) to make up the time used prolonging the 1 and 3 counts. It created a great dynamic but man was it hard! I was out of breath almost immediately!
But then Igor shared with us the nugget that made the biggest difference to me tonight. It’s a concept I already “know” about, but one I still struggle to implement. Basically its keeping my upper body/shoulders facing forward and allowing the lower body only to twist. Igor said many of us were fighting against our own bodies, and I know that I was one of them. In any case, seeing how he did it, along with the explanation, I was able to implement this new information (well, old information but not absorbed or integrated) and oh my goodness did it make the step easier and clearer and sharper and it even looked faster! I am never going to forget this lesson! Well, at least that is what I tell myself ha ha.
But just when I was beginning to feel better about this new cha cha cha, alas! It was time for “a little” Jive. Uh, yeah….Well, we did a little bit of what football players do, hunched over and pumping the legs as fast as we could. The whole thing about the Jive, it seems, is to move the legs, making the knees reach the waist with every move, and jumping up and down like a bunny rabbit, all while keeping the head completely level and preventing it from moving up and down. The knees must move up to the body but the head must stay still.
Well, Igor is pretty dang amazing. He was jumping like the Energizer Bunny doing that basic step, his knees practically up to his throat as he caught significant air while jumping upwards. Me, I’m baba metza, remember? I thought I might pound through the floor and I jumped – I could hear it creaking under my weight. Well, my Jive doesn’t look as heavy as it could, but it has a long way to go before it really looks light, airy, and athletic – it is nothing like the Jive Igor was pounding out, not even close. The truth is that I’m in no shape to do it properly…even the basic exhausted me, made me feel sick, and I had to stop before the rest of the class. I felt that my performance was pathetic with a capital “P.” What business do I have competing when I can’t even dance the basic of the step properly for a measly minute by myself!? I was totally thinking that Igor must be thinking, “These ridiculous Americans! They have NO idea what it is really like to dance.” And then saying “Good job” out loud because god forbid he actually tell us the truth of how crappy some of us actually looked and offending someone…I mean, I wasn’t looking at other people. I honestly don’t know what they were doing because I was focused on me, so obviously this thought process has nothing to do with their performance and everything to do with mine. I thought mine was pretty shoddy. And I have no idea what Igor was really thinking. But in my head my old dance teacher would be so disappointed in what I was doing in class and would have yelled and cajoled me until I gave more and that would still not be enough. Sigh. I felt a little like this is an uphill battle and I’m not going to climb the mountain tonight. I felt a little defeated and deflated.
Which makes me think of my last lesson with Ivan. During it we worked on cleaning up more of the Cha Cha routine. There was one step in particular that I was not able to execute and that I was always a little bit late on. It really had me mad at myself. And, like in the lesson tonight, I felt defeated and sad. Well, Ivan noticed and after the lesson he talked to me about it.
“You can’t feeling so bad about this step. It’s a hard step. You are changing direction a lot and it is really fast. You can’t expect yourself to do it right away. Even the professionals, they gonna have a hard time with it.”
It sure didn’t look like Ivan was having any problem making it look awesome!
He continued, “Now I’m feeling bad because you are feeling bad. Like, you can’t be giving up on yourself or thinking that you will never be able to do this. It’s like I believe in you more than you believe in yourself. You have to not be sad about this. I see that you understanding. You show me that you understanding this and that is the most important part. It’s better if you can tell me that you understanding but that you can’t do it right now than to get so upset about it. Cause you are gonna do it.”
“Don’t feel bad Ivan. I’m just upset because I feel like I don’t practice enough. I need to do more on my own. I’m frustrated with myself because I still am relying on you too much when we are dancing instead of dancing on my own two feet, being on balance, and using my arms more than my feet, legs and ‘engine.’ It’s super frustrating to me because I want it so badly and I feel like I should do more.”
I mean, deep down inside I know that these routines with some more difficult steps are a really good thing for me. I’m going to struggle and I’m going to become a better dancer because of the challenge. I’d much rather be working really hard to reach for something than to only do what is easy and stay the same. I am thankful to have the opportunity to break every step down so that it will be awesome eventually. I don’t find it tedious or boring at all – I think it is awesome and it makes me feel more secure.
Just like dancing tonight, not being able to participate every second of the class, having to take a break and rest, it’s beyond my current capacity, but showing up to class and doing what I can does move me forward. I know this because I can see the difference in my endurance with rumba walks as compared to when I took my first class at Imperial. I trust that I will improve in stamina, in technique, in expression, because I continue to show up and do my work.
Ivan told me that he didn’t think I don’t practice enough. Well, he conceded, “we should all be practicing 8 hours a day but even this will not be enough. It’s never enough. But you, Stef, you come in to dancing a lot. I don’t think you don’t practice enough.”
Hmmm. I’m not sure I agree. I feel like I’m pretty lazy – meaning that unlike my friend Lady Gaga who will practice on her own at the gym, I pretty much only dance on lessons. Maybe I will go over one tiny thing in my kitchen for a minute or two but that’s it. How lazy am I!
Well, anyways, that’s what’s been going on the last couple of days. Tomorrow I get to see my favorite Bulgarian instructor for a lesson in the evening. I’m going to do everything I can to remember what I learned today in the Cha Cha and maybe he will notice a difference. We’ll see. Either way, I’m looking forward to it. It’s another day, tomorrow. And that means it’s another chance to dance, which I’m pretty happy about.
Hello all. I’ve had a thrilling day. Why? because The Reinvented Lass sent me a message this morning. Apparently on her blog she mentioned a recent change I made on the blog, namely that it is now known as “Biggest Girl In The Ballroom” instead of “Dancing With Stefanie.” It bothered her a little bit, enough that she commented about it here and then reached out to me to see if I wanted to do a guest post in response which was all totally awesome.
So you can go to her great blog and read her original post and soon my guest post response to gain some insight on why I made this change if you like. In any case, It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on some things as well as to connect with The Reinvented Lass, which I love to get to do. And, interestingly enough, it all kind of ties into what’s been on my mind the past few days.
You see, I think Ivan is really puzzled about how someone so fat happened, namely me.
He wonders how a person could allow themselves to balloon up to over 300 pounds. He mentioned it at the end of a lesson in a round-about way because I’d shown him and Marietta pictures of me when I was a more normal weight when they came over for dinner about a month ago and it made quite an impression on both of them. So much so that they talked about it on their way home. As I’ve been more focused on my lessons and showing him more and more of what I can do, of my potential, it becomes all the more palpable the fact that being so dang big is really impeding me. Ivan is like, “You can’t even imagine what you could do when you lose the weight.” It’s imperative that I handle this, and I find it incredibly motivating, exciting to know that I could actually become the dancer I dream about being – that it is something I am willing to work and fight for.
But how do I find myself in this position where I have over 100 extra pounds on my frame in the first place? The interesting thing is that from my perspective, in my mind, I always felt as large as I actually am now. Even when I was at my smallest, a mere 116 pounds in high school, I still never felt thin enough. I always felt huge, fat, bigger than all the other girls, especially when standing next to them side-by-side in leotards in dance class. But in college when I really began to pack on the pounds it feels like I went to sleep and suddenly woke up, strangely finding myself a size 3x woman, unable to fit on roller coasters, unable to wrap a towel around my mass, having difficulty keeping up with my husband walking around Berlin, Germany, and dreading asking for a seatbelt extender on the plane ride to get there. This wasn’t me…but it was.
After all the years of misery struggling to maintain my weight I realize that there was a point where I finally just gave up and gave in. I allowed myself to eat all the things I would absolutely deny myself in the past and of course the pendulum swung from extreme restriction to extreme abandon with all things food.
Add in a little trauma, which we all experience at some point in our life, add in giving up my passion and love for dance, add in feeling the need to grow up and abandon childhood things, well, it was a perfect storm.
So now I’m here on the other side, and yes, I began dancing again, and though down 45 pounds from my largest, I’m still far from even a healthy weight, much less the body size expected of a ballroom dancer. But the thing is, I’m still a dancer and I’m actually pretty darn good.
But, as Ivan says, “The baba metza is killing you. You have everything, the emotion, the movement, the rhythm, the connection, but the fat grandmom bear is killing you. You don’t even look like the same person as in those pictures. You totally different. More than just about the dancing, it’s killing your life. You so stupid guska! Tuppa guska! You have to loosing the weight. You have to. I want to dance with you when you are feeling so good about yourself, when you feelling so sexy, when you walking in the mall and people will just notice and turn to see you because you so pretty. I want to dance with you anyway, but I want to dance with you like this too.”
I want to dance with me like that as well! It seems like an impossible dream to actually sculpt my body into something I love and that feels good to live in. Self-loathing, especially in the context of body-hate has been the miserable struggle I’ve had with me as far back as I can remember. I can remember feeling extreme shame about the fact that pants that fell off my friend didn’t close around my waist at the age of 7 or 8. I remember promising myself I’d only eat chicken for dinner at age 9 because I could see my arms were fatter than the other girls on the dance team. I remember feeling that there was something so very wrong with me and I felt powerless to change it.
So to shed the weight, and, more importantly, to give up this dark, hateful relationship with myself, is to let go of something that has been with me from the start. I will have to find a way to accept myself as is and to love me at all stages of my transformation. I refuse at this point to withhold love from myself until I realize a “perfect” body. I’ve been withholding it all this time trying to force myself to become something different, to be beautiful as society defines it and thus acceptable and valuable, but it hasn’t worked.
I can’t exactly articulate how I went from slightly pudgy to clinically obese. Obviously I ate more and I became less active. But these are the mechanics of how it happened, not the why behind it.
I think I felt the need to hide and cover myself up. For protection, as armor, to keep people at a distance, to disappear and fade into the background, unnoticeable, unremarkable. Why exactly this was so, I can’t say except that on a deep level I felt like I was forgettable and unremarkable and un-special. Simply put, I was ashamed to be me, to even exist. I know it sounds depressing, because it is depressing. But as much as I put on a brave face and did what was expected of me and showed up to class and performed well, inside I felt empty. Perhaps the food was an attempt to fill me up. I had no authentic outlet to express myself and felt very dissatisfied with myself and my life. I was doing all the things I was “supposed” to do, but I was not doing anything to nourish my heart or soul. And my flesh told the story for me. It silently screamed, “I’m incredibly unhappy! I hate myself! Please don’t look at me, I’m so ugly!” I made myself “right” about all the lies I told myself about myself.
I wish losing the weight could be as unconscious as putting it on. I suspect this will not be the case, however. I suspect it will take extreme attention and focus and will involve making conscious choices to choose different activities and to create new habits. I’ve been somewhat successful at a snail’s pace over the last 3 years, but I want more. I want a significant change. I want to to reclaim my true self – the one who lives inside me, who revels in being sexy and feminine, and who is bold and free-spirited. I see flashes of her here and there when I’m dancing. She finally is beginning to feel strong enough to reveal herself completely.
So Ivan thinks I’m Tuppa Guska, which essentially translates to silly goose as far as I can tell, because I gained so much weight. But I don’t think it was quite so simple as that. It wasn’t like I said to myself one day that I want to be fat…it was more that I didn’t know how to be me, when being me wasn’t okay.
But dancing has been bringing me back to life. It has taken a few years to land in a place where I actually believe I could be the dancer of my dreams. I had to go through two previous instructors and find one who was a dancer himself, not just a technician, and I had to get connected to the ballroom community, and to feel supported in my endeavor. I finally believe in myself as a dancer. I believe that I am a beautiful dancer. I believe that it is important that I dance. Big or small that isn’t going to change. And just you watch, this tuppa guska is growing into the swan she was born to be.
By LaSylphide at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Well, where to start?
Last night was the showcase. It was a great experience and completely different than dancing in a competition. My parents came to come watch along with their dear friends the Watsons. I got to watch Katie and Mavis dance with Ivan as well as a bunch of other teacher and student couples. At the end, Ivan and Marietta danced a Cha Cha and a Mambo. Ivan also made a friend during the evening, a 3-year-old, who he pulled onto the dance floor during one of the heats, which was adorable and entertaining. Videos of these will be forthcoming but I’m having technical difficulties getting them off my phone at the moment.
Lucky (or not?) for you, I had a friend video my performance on a flip video camera and that came off easy enough so I will include it in the post for your viewing pleasure (or discomfrot…I’m not sure).
The way they set this event up at Dance Starz was that they had little heats in Smooth dancing and then the showcase numbers and then more dancing heats in the American Rhythm category. They had judges who didn’t just rank the competitors but rather provided specific feedback on their performance, how they could improve, what they did well, and all that.
I didn’t participate in the dancing heats but it was entertaining to watch nonetheless. I also found out that there were over 120 people present for the event on the Dance Starz page update! That means about 240 eyes were on me at one time.
You know, I never get that nervous at competitions. But last night I was very nervous, about ready to pee my pants a few times, before the showcase number. It is a completely different thing to be the only couple on the floor, all attention focused upon me, and doing a choreographed number that we’ve worked on for a while. Plus, never at a competition in the divisions in which I compete are there that many people spectating.
In any case, finally it was my turn to dance. I just watched the video and my feelings are mixed. When I performed, I felt pretty good about the whole thing. Maybe not an earth-shattering performance, but pretty solid. It felt a bit weird dancing it though because usually Ivan and I were pretty solid during the dancing in rehearsals but then shaky toward the end of the number especially on the last move. But last night the reverse was true. We were both antsy and shaky during the number but we pretty much nailed the final pose. As you will see on the video, Ivan was so happy that he actually kissed my belly at the end. I didn’t even feel it. I was staring at the upside down audience.
So anyways, When I got into my starting position, the music began pretty abruptly. You’ll see in the video that I was a little unsure in my first few steps. Ivan and Katie also experienced some music problems with the song cutting in and out during their number. I had the disadvantage of being choreographed with the first note of music, no introductory notes providing time to take a breath and then move. Anyways, I wobble a little bit in the beginning but then just kept going.
Also as the dance progresses, my top comes up revealing my belly a few times. I had no idea this was happening during the dancing. For a slim person this might not be bothersome, but I was pretty much cringing while watching the recording. But hey, I’m all about the whole authentic truth, you know, so here’s how it was. Note to self: next time use safety pins!
Also, I’m glad I wore some swimming trunks under my skirt. It raised up higher than I’d prefer a few times, especially during a few turns. Why did I choose to do ballroom dancing when I have so many body issues already? Aargh!
Okay, enough griping. I’m pretty pleased with the passion I put into the number. I think it shows on my a face a few times. And, I got lots of compliments on the number, such as, “lovely,” “fantastic,” “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and got chills,” “You were my favorite.” Ivonne’s congratulations were the best. She gave me a big hug and didn’t let go. She almost had tears in her eyes and said how proud she was of me. All this felt really good to be sure, however, seeing myself on film, I’m not 100% pleased. I find it really difficult to watch myself, especially when I don’t love my body in its current state. But if the choice is to dance or not to dance, I’m going to choose dancing, no matter how I look. Life is too short, you know?
Ivan said that we danced about 70% of what we could do, and upon reflection, think I agree with him. The nerves didn’t help but hopefully there will be other opportunities to improve this number and dance it again. Losing some more weight wouldn’t hurt either, that’s for sure! Once again, I was the biggest girl in the ballroom. Sigh.
But one of the most magical moments actually came from a fellow dancer. She did a fantastic number to the Austin Powers theme song with her instructor that was very entertaining and completely in 60’s character. In any case, she came up to me at one point and told me that she reads the blog. I was so excited but didn’t really know how to respond. She said to me, “You know that line in Jerry Maguire, ‘You complete me?’ Well you express me.” Like when she reads about my experiences dancing she is reading by extension about herself and how she feels about the process. I guess I’m doing something right with the blog and that it is providing some value to people and for that bit of feedback I am truly, truly grateful. It’s nice to know there are more people out there like me and that I am not alone.
Alright, enough “talking.” Without further ado, here is the dang video so you can judge it for yourself. Please be gentle!