What’s Up Buttercup?

Heya!  I know I’ve been gone a while but I’m still alive and still dancing.

I guess I just don’t feel like I have all that much to share lately.  There is no definite competition on the horizon and my lessons are pleasant and fun but I still feel like I have to be in better cardiovascular shape and to have lost significantly more fat before I get on the competitive floor again.  Truly those are the things that are holding me back.

Thankfully Ivan is pleased with the quality of my dancing lately and even saying he’s excited to compete with me when the time comes.

I’ll be excited too.  It’s just that I want to have completely transformed and I want new dresses.  Period.  I just don’t want to compromise on this and I’m sick of being the fat one.

So, it’s really the same old same old.  Boring.  Who wants to hear about that?  It’s a broken record.

So I’ve not been writing.

On the up side, I feel like I’ve found my confidence in my dancing.  I believe I am a good dancer and can own it.  That’s a huge victory.  In fact, I was even shocked today in group class as I was asked to do the one and only demonstration in Jive.  Pretty cool to be recognized.

I’m still a little shy about it, and kind of try to hide and look at my fingernails between rounds of practice and stand to the sides or not in the front row.  I don’t feel 100% confident nor do I feel the need to pretend I’m a diva.  But there is some level of feeling like I’m somewhat competent at what I’m doing, even if there is still room for improvement.

Because, let’s face it, there’s always room for growth, with Ivan too.  But, for me, the deal is, the more confident I feel, the better I dance.  And being confident, for me, comes from practice, preparation, and the body-image stuff.  The smaller I am, the better I feel, the easier it is to move, the more I move, the better I can cope with the physical demands.  It all goes together – it’s kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg.  All parts of me from the mental to the physical and emotional are interconnected and affect one another.  I can’t wait to feel so wonderful about how I look and have that reflect in my dancing.  I can’t wait to actually create a “look” to present on the competitive floor.  I can’t wait to really love my new dress and how it flatters me.

But all that’s old news.  Now it’s about being consistent, being as active as I can, and putting in the time and effort to drive the transformation.  It’s gonna take time.

Three interesting things of note have happened, though.  The first was Tony Meredith came into town and I was lucky enough to get a coaching with him.  He created a new Mambo routine for Ivan and I.

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The second thing is that on my last lesson Ivan and I had a grand old time just goofing around toward the end of the lesson.  I put on music I enjoy and he tried to whip me around like crazy, pretending like he was “Michael Malitowski.”  He tried to spin me all these directions and then he went to drag me, so I grabbed around his neck and he began to spin at the end of the drag.  And I don’t know why, but it just felt like the natural thing to do, so I lifted my legs up!  He spun me and I was completely off the floor.  I haven’t felt like that since I was probably 8 years old.  I was flying!  It was truly incredible and I can’t wait to see all the cool stuff we might be able to do when I’m lighter.  Because I’m strong under here!  And I can’t tell you what a phobia I’ve overcome with this because even when I was in high school and 80 pounds lighter, I was terrified of how heavy I was and convinced no guy could lift me.  I had to partner with this senior guy in the school musical and he even dropped me in one of the performances, proving me right in my mind!  So anyways, I can fly and the possibilities are exciting.

And the third thing is that I’ve been going to Orange Theory.  It’s great for me because it gets my cardio in, I’ve never burned less than 540 calories in a bout, and it keeps me interested so the time goes pretty quickly – much better than hopping on the stair machine for 45 minutes (which is tedious and boring and takes a lot of mental convincing to do).  And hey, I was pretty proud of myself when I first went because I was able to hang with the crowd.  Sure I might have had a higher heart rate, and maybe I wasn’t as fast as other people, but I was stronger and faster than others and I began to think, maybe I’m in better comparative shape than I thought.  There is no way 6 months ago I would have been able to perform this well.  It was also a pretty crappy reality check because my heart rate was so high (they track it throughout the workout).  I was working really hard, ergo, I am still fat, sick and out of shape.  But I was also thinking to myself during moments, “I am magnificent!” because I’m there, I’m sucking it up, I’m doing it, I’m pushing hard because that’s how things change.

And speaking of pushing hard, I had probably the most difficult and miserable hike of my life last weekend!  It was way too hot out, there were thick, icky swarms of gnats that plagued us from our first steps to our last steps,  and I’m fat, sick, and out of shape!  My heart rate was around 174 for most of the incline during the 3.4 miles.  I wanted to give up most of the time because it was so uncomfortable, and I made a pact with myself not to do that damn hike again until I’m under 200 pounds.  It is so much work to move my mass uphill and people just have no idea what it’s like for us fatties.  For example, my husband also tracked his workout and he burned 250 calories on the way up while I burned 3 times that amount, 750 calories.  Mostly it just makes me mad and that motivates me to keep working at it.  I made a pact with myself to be as active as I can this week and to get under 200 pounds once and for all.  I’ve been playing with the same 10 pounds for 2 months – stupid “social events” and “real life” – like Easter, family obligations.  I do great when I’m in my own little bubble during the week.  Weekends and any social obligations are much more difficult.  And my stupid body is so efficient if I give it any extra, it gloms onto it.

Anyways, I’m focused and fired up and while I was suffering on the peak I really concentrated on how awful it felt.  I wish sometimes I could bottle that misery up so any time I even want to think about going off plan I can take a little sip of it and instantly I’ll know what choice I really want to make.  I guess the next best thing is to go on miserable hikes and do horrendous workouts that feel awful so I am constantly reminded of why I want to change.  For the moment it is fresh in my mind.

So that’s the deal folks.  I’m still struggling with being consistent but I’m also still plugging along, I haven’t given up or given in, I’m resolved to be as active as necessary, and I’m gunning for the 199 pound mark in the next 3 weeks.

Oh, and I was sad to hear that my ballet class on Mondays will be cancelled.  I have to find a substitute activity and I’m thinking yoga.  But I’ll miss the ballet – the people, the exercises, the balance and leg strength it’s given me.  I will be sad to lose the progress but I don’t think there is another class nearby.  Yoga seems like the next best thing, maybe it will be better, who knows.

So now you are all caught up!

Until next time, Stef

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Mambo In Chinatown

Hello readers!

Maybe you’ve noticed – I’ve been on a little hiatus.  Things are going just fine, still dancing and all that but I guess there just doesn’t seem like much noteworthy to share recently, well, except that on my last lesson we went to a new studio and there was another couple there that Ivan and I know from competitions and they were totally having all these dramatic spats!  It was kinda uncomfortable but kinda funny at the same time because even though they’d yell at each other like cats, and storm off to opposite ends of the room, two seconds later they were smiling and dancing again.  I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s healthy, but it seems like that is how they communicate, how their relationship is set up.  To each his own.  But I digress.  This is not the main purpose of my post today.

Today I have a special treat for you!

You see, I have fans, fans far and wide.  Even fans who are bestselling authors, yes I do!  Fans who write great books about ballroom dancing and who have agents who approach me to feature their book.  This particular fan is named Jean Kwok and I know she is a fan only because I got this note:

Will you also please tell Stefanie that I actually found and read her blog when I was doing research for Mambo in Chinatown? Isn’t that a coincidence? I’m a big fan of hers! I love her voice and enthusiasm. I enjoyed hearing her insights about the world of ballroom very much, and I absolutely share her passion for ballroom!

Ha!  Too cool, right?!

Well you see, Jean is already a bestselling author for her book “Girl in Translation,” and now she has a second book coming out, poised to be another bestseller titled, “Mambo in Chinatown.”

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Yours truly was lucky enough to get an advanced copy which I really enjoyed and then, even better than that, I had the opportunity to ask Jean some questions as well as get some exclusive photos of Jean herself, dancing, which I will share with you presently.  Because guess what?  Jean is the real deal.  Not only has she danced ballroom, she was a professional and even competed both with professional and amateur partners, once upon a time even with Jose Decamps!

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So what is the book about?  To quote the book cover, it’s “a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties and her secret escapes into a more Western world.”

Charlie Wong is the main character, an American-born Chinese girl 21 years of age.  She lives pretty miserably as a dishwasher with her widower father and younger sister.  She gets a job as the receptionist of a ballroom studio and her world changes.  We follow Charlie’s journey as she blossoms through her exposure to the ballroom dancing world even as her sister becomes chronically ill.  While Charlie comes to understand more of the Western world, her father continues to be suspicious of it and insists his youngest daughter be treated only with Eastern practices.  Charlie is left to reconcile where she has come from with who she has become.

If this piques your interest, because come on, if you are like me, you are always looking for books about ballroom, and I think most of us relate to the transformative power of dancing, then you can pre-order the book here

So without further ado, here we go with the exclusive Q and A!  I’m pretty excited about it!

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom: When did you start dancing? 

Jean Kwok:  I was an immigrant child living in an unheated apartment in the slums of Brooklyn, so I didn’t have the chance to take any dance lessons when I was growing up. I desperately wanted to, though. I envied my friends who went to ballet school. It wasn’t until I was at Harvard that I started taking dance lessons on my own. I must have been terrible since I was such a late beginner, but I loved it. I took all sorts of dance classes: ballet, African, jazz, Middle Eastern. I made the decision to become a writer at around the same time, so after I graduated, I searched for a day job in New York City that would allow me to write in the evenings. I saw an ad in the paper that read, “Wanted: Professional Ballroom Dancer, Will Train.”

I was terrified but I wanted that job so much. I passed the interview and was invited to an audition. At the audition, they picked about twenty of us to join a three-week training class. At the end of that class, miraculously, they hired me at Fred Astaire and that was the beginning of my truly learning how to dance.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How long have you danced?

Jean Kwok:  I worked as a professional ballroom dancer for three years. It was so hard to learn to dance well, and yet it was one of the most exhilarating things I’d ever done. In that time, I did shows, competitions and taught students. I still love to dance but unfortunately, I am married to a wonderful man who does not dance. I guess you can’t have everything. 😉 In the process of doing research for Mambo in Chinatown, I not only came across this wonderful blog of yours, Stefanie, but I also went back into the ballroom world. I danced a salsa with Jungie Zamora at Fred Astaire East Side Studio, which is now owned by my dear friends, famous choreographer and coaches Taliat and Marina Tarsinov. We filmed this salsa and I’ll release it on my website soon.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom: What is your favorite dance style?

Jean Kwok:  I love all of the dances: the speed and precision of a Viennese waltz, for example; the poise and grace of foxtrot; the hypnotic rhythm of tango; but I have to say that my heart belongs to the Latin dances. Mambo, rumba, cha cha are so unfettered, passionate and intense, while requiring tremendous discipline at the same time. I love doing high-speed turns and I enjoy the complexity of interaction with my dance partner. Outside of ballroom, I also love just going out dancing and rocking the night away. I’ve been hoping to get a group of dancing writers together but thus far, no success.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  Do you compete?

Jean Kwok:  I competed with my students and with professional partners as well. I had some wonderful students and we competed in all dance styles as Pro-Am couples. With my professional partners, I competed in Latin. In fact, I danced briefly with Jose Decamps, now 4-time US and 3-time World Rhythm Champion. Jose and I had some great times together. I won Top Professional Female at Fred Astaire National Championships right before I left ballroom. Leaving dance broke my heart but I needed to pursue my dream of becoming a writer, so I went to Columbia to get my MFA in fiction.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  Is the story autobiographical in any way? How so?

Jean Kwok:  I think that fiction is for me, always a veiled way of telling the truth. Like my heroine Charlie, I had always been considered clumsy and not-too-bright by my family. I was dreamy and no good at any domestic skills whatsoever. I burned everything, I hated to clean, I was opinionated and stubborn. (I’m still like that, actually.) Unlike Charlie, I was born with a gift for school, which is kind of like being born with an extra toe. I’ve often thought that if my gifts had been reversed, if I were good at cooking and cleaning and not gifted at school, I would be most likely working in a restaurant somewhere today. That was the beginning of Mambo in Chinatown.

I wanted to tell the story of a seemingly talentless young woman who discovers something she loves – ballroom dance – and thereby unleashes her own gifts. I also wanted to show my readers worlds they might not have seen firsthand: the professional ballroom dance world and Chinatown.

There are so many incidents from the book that come from my own life. Charlie goes to her interview at the dance studio in an oversized red dress, a red turban around her badly-cut hair, and black pumps that she has filled in with magic marker to cover up their worn patches. That was exactly what I wore to my interview. I had learned many things in college but how to dress was not one of them!

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How has dancing enriched your life?

Jean Kwok:  If I had never discovered dance, I would be a different person today. Dance has taught me about passion, health, my body, grace, humility, beauty and discipline. For me, both writing and dance are ways of accessing the deepest parts of my spirit. Through dance, I rejoice and grieve, I stretch the boundaries of my experience as a woman and as a human being.

Biggest Girl In The Ballroom:  How do you respond when people say that they are interested in dancing but are too afraid to start?

Jean Kwok:  Well, I know all about fear and I sympathize. Years ago, I made a decision that changed my life: to never allow fear to stop me from doing something I truly wanted to do. If I had listened to my fear, I would never have stepped into the dance studio and my life would be so much poorer for it. I would also say that ballroom is extremely forgiving. It’s been designed to be easy and anyone can do it. Of course, it also grows with you and the better you become, the harder it gets. That’s why it’s so fun.

So there you go!  I’m so happy Jean allowed me to be involved with the launch of her new novel.  It’s one of the better books about ballroom dancing I’ve had the pleasure to read.

You can follow Jean on Facebook here and on Twitter here

 

Dancing With Disabilities: Guest Post From Author Nicole Luongo!!!

Hi there friends, Stef here!  I’m super excited to share this guest blog post with you today.  I have been fortunate enough to connect with Nicole Luongo, published poet, blogger, and dancer.  She also happens to have Cerebral Palsy.  She’s a pretty awesome human being.  I discovered her because I’m always scouring the blogosphere for anything ballroom-related and I found her videos of her dancing.  Reading her blog post I was touched and inspired.  She’s overcome a lot and takes on life in a big way with gratitude, zest, and passion.  We connected and decided to do guest blog posts for each other.  I love getting the word out about inspiring ballroom dancers!  So without further ado, I’ll let Nicole take it away:  

“Disability is natural. We must stop believing that disabilities keep a person from doing something. Because that’s not true – having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”Benjamin Snow, director of the award-winning short film, Thumbs Down to Pity.

Throughout my life I can remember sitting on the sidelines watching other people dance. This happened at my prom, parties and weddings. Most of the time it was because I was alone or no one asked me to dance. Then there was the obvious: I have cerebral palsy (CP) cerebral palsy (CP), a physical disability on display 24/7.  And, while I usually never let having CP stop me from doing anything, it stopped me from dancing. I was too self-conscious, too stiff, unsure of how I would move in my shoes, afraid I couldn’t keep up (and quite possibly ruining a line dance) or that I would fall.

Nine months ago (just shy of forty years old), I had Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR), the only surgical procedure that can permanently remove tightness caused by spastic diplegia, the most common type of cerebral palsy. My four month follow-up visit in St. Louis with Dr. T.S. Park went well. He was thrilled with my results! The tightness in my legs was completely gone, I walked much straighter (no more bent knees) with heel-toe motion (instead of striking the floor with my toes first), no longer leaning heavily to one side and both legs were even (they weren’t pre-SDR) – eliminating the need for ugly shoe orthotics. I was doing so well that I didn’t have to go to physical therapy anymore. WOW!

It’s important to understand that the surgery does not cure cerebral palsy. I still have the same challenges I had before: poor balance, range of motion issues, tight hamstrings, heel cords and hip flexors. The wonderful news is that my gait is dramatically different, I can walk up and down stairs without holding on (I would never attempt this before SDR) and I balance better on my right leg. I tried rock climbing for the first time. Wow, is that hard! What’s next? I want to learn how to ride a bike. I always thought (and was told, in one form or another) it was impossible. Contrary to popular belief, people with cerebral palsy who have not had SDR, can ride a two-wheel bike. My SDR journey is teaching me to stop believing in limits – those imposed by myself or others. All of us are capable of much more than we imagine.

About five months ago, I decided to go back to ballroom dancing. I started group dancing lessons about eight years ago. I loved it! Unfortunately, my instructor was not a nice person, so I stopped after about a year and a half. I was curious about what dancing would be like with my new legs. It’s the same, yet different because I move better. I’m not so concerned about losing my balance. My legs, due to the lack of tightness, can move more freely. I still have problems with balance and turning around. Dancing is so much fun! Here I am with my instructor, William, at A Step Above Ballroom Dance Studio.

First, I chose to dance the foxtrot in honor of Dr. Park who, in addition to being a world renowned neurosurgeon, is also a competitive ballroom dancer. The foxtrot is one of his favorite dances. It’s also good for my hip flexors. Since SDR, it’s much easier to step back with my left leg, an integral part of this ballroom dance. Second, I chose to dance the salsa, my favorite of all!

William exudes charisma and kindness. He’s the reason I signed up for lessons (with him, of course) at the studio. He never lets me sit out of ANY class regardless of whether or not I think I can do it. He believes in my ability. When we dance, William leads me around the dance floor just like he would any other partner. No kid gloves. Just laughter and a great smile. All I have to do is follow his lead, try not to mess up or step on his toes! Or hit him. I feel so bad when that happens! And, in a moment that I will remember forever, when I got frustrated because he would not take no for an answer, trying to teach me to do something my body cannot do, I stopped and said, “Do you know what I really want to do? I want to learn how to ride a two-wheel bike.” William’s jaw dropped and he looked at me in amazement, the thought of me not being able to ride a bike unfathomable. I told him I don’t have a bike or a teacher, yet. Without blinking, he offered to teach me how to ride a bike. I was stunned that this young man in his early 20’s would make such a generous offer to someone he hardly knows. I put the word out on Facebook. A friend donated a bike, I bought a helmet and look forward to starting lessons very soon.

One day, I did a search looking for ballroom dancers who have cerebral palsy. I sifted through page after page on Google and came across Stefanie’s blog. It became an instant favorite! Stefanie inspires me. She has dancing disabilities. Some are similar while others are very different from mine. She slays negative thoughts and weight issue demons with every choreographed dance step. She doesn’t give up! I love her engagingly honest posts baring it all – sharing the good, bad and ugly about her journey as the biggest girl in the ballroom. I admire Stefanie’s ability on the dance floor. I’d love to compete someday. I want to perform in the next showcase, however, I am letting my dancing disabilities talk me out of it! I get frustrated (inwardly for the most part) when I can’t do something, wishing I could do the moves correctly and perfectly. Sometimes, it pains me knowing that no matter how hard I try, I can’t do certain things. Balancing on one foot is impossible. Spins are challenging. I have to modify a lot. I don’t want to modify. I want to be able to do the moves justice – and do them just like everyone else. But, I’m not like everyone else. I dance with a disability which, in a strange twist of fate, levels the dancing floor – making me just like you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my dancing journey, it’s that I’m not alone. Although sometimes it feels like I am the only person on the floor with limitations, it’s just not true. So, what’s your dancing disability? We all have limitations that can prevent us from dancing, or doing anything in life. Some we can see (balance issues, for example), others we cannot (negative thoughts telling us we can’t do it). It’s time we accept our dancing disabilities. Let’s share them and dance in spite of them! The floor is yours. Embrace it. Own it. Life is too short. If you get the chance to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance!

Nicole Luongo is the author of Naked Desires, a poignant book for everyone who is searching for love, delighting in love, or hoping to understand love. Her mission is to raise awareness for Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR). Nicole believes information about the surgery should be provided to every person living with cerebral palsy. Please help spread the word by sharing this blog post.

Connect with Nicole:

Blog – Bare Your Naked Truth

Nicole on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/NicolesNewLegs

Nicole on Twitterhttp://www.twitter.com/BareNakedAuthor

Running Blindly

Today was a satisfying day. First off, it was an unexpected day off. Yesterday they canceled overtime for the weekend. I’ve been needing some “off” time – time to rejuvenate, connect with life outside of a dark dance studio in the morning or night, work, and home (which means 1 hour of TV and bed!) And to have two days off in a row feels luxurious!

Next, I weighed myself and I’ve had a breakthrough. I’m below 250 pounds for the first time in years and I’ve been messing around with the last five pounds for about 3 months. Finally! I kind of couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the number. Though not anywhere near where I want to be eventually, it IS a milestone and one to be celebrated.

Plus, I had an amazing lesson with Ivan this morning, during which I had another breakthrough – Can you believe it?! I will tell you the story shortly.

After the lesson I went and got my haircut and my brows waxed. The last time I had them done was in November! Luckily the salon was able to fit me in at the last minute since I didn’t know I’d have time today with the surprise day off and all, and now my hair is healthy and ready to grow out, and my furry eyebrows are back under control. Plus I had fun talking with my stylist about some ideas for my hair around competition time. I’m pretty excited.

Then I went to Sephora to get some much-needed and belated foundation. Suddenly my skin looks flawless and I’m feeling better so I also go in for some blush and gloss and powder.

Finally I have fantastic lunch from this amazing restaurant all by myself. It’s one of those places that uses all local organic foods and man was it yummy and totally guilt-free. I savored each bite eating it in gratitude for all the work that brought it to my mouth and how it is going to give me life and be a part of my transformation into who I am becoming, the body I am going to have. On a day like today I can remember that eating can be a spiritual experience as much as a mundane one and pray with each morsel. Seriously this place has prayer-worthy food. First off, they have the most amazing starter of seared albacore drizzled with citrus and some spices and garnished with avocado and thin orange slices. After polishing that off I ate a mediterranean salad with fresh, vibrant greens, brown quinoa, salmon, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and a fantastic oregano vinaigrette. It was so satisfying and what I feel was a honoring meal – one that honored the food sources as well as myself. I wish every meal could be like that, but in my hectic life right now, I’m thankful to have my prepackaged diet meals. They are working for me too, and until I have the time to cook (or the financial resources to pay someone to cook for me – lol) I’m grateful for them.

But hey, this blog is about ballroom dancing, so let me get to that part!

So I show up for my lesson and I’m there before Ivan but a receptionist has come and opened the studio so I am waiting for Vanco when he arrives (Vanco is like a nickname for Ivan, something that maybe his mom would call him as a kid).

He’s usually always early, but today he is right on time, though I notice when he comes in that he looks a little scruffy. I can see a five-o-clock shadow beard and his eyes look a little puffy.

“Oh you early!”

“Yes, Ivan. Do you want coffee? I said I’d get you coffee last night, but I came here first to see what you wanted.” Since he is usually early, I thought I’d have time to walk down to the Starbucks in the complex.

“No. I fine. No coffee.”

“Okay.”

“You drink wine last night?” He asks.

“No.” I reply, “I’ve been battling a cold. I just came home from work and ate dinner and got the most sleep I’ve gotten in a long time last night.”

“Me neither. No wine,” he says.

I begin to say, “You’re sure? Cause you look like you might have drunk something last night…” But I never make it past, “You’re sure?”

“No wine last night. Whiskey.”

I bust up laughing. I could totally tell he was dragging! And in my book, whiskey could make for a more unpleasant morning than some red wine, but Ivan seems to think the opposite. And he’s his usual upbeat, funny self, if maybe just a little bit slow.

I joke with him. “It’s okay, Ivan. You can just lay on the floor like a few weeks ago and I will go through my routines.”

But that is not what happens. Of course, because he is crazy lunatic, he puts some super peppy music on straight away and I’m like, “Ivan! Let’s warm up with something a little slower! But before you do that, I have something to tell you! I am below 250 pounds for the first time in many years!”

“Oh! This soooo good!” He coos. “I thinking you 260 or 270 and you below 250! In a month you be 240 and then even smaller. Good job!”

Even better than Ivan’s praise was my friend’s reaction. She walked in the studio for a lesson later on in the morning. I shared the news with her as well because she has also been “the incredible shrinking woman” and down more than 40 pounds from the day I met her. She looks great and she understands what I’m going through. She almost jumped into my arms giving me a big, enthusiastic hug. “Oh Stefanie, I’m so proud of you!” I have to admit, it felt pretty nice.

So anyways, Ivan put on a Waltz, which was more to my speed (and probably his, too) and off we went.

For the first time in I-can’t-remember-when, we practiced Smooth, but it was pretty fun and a good warm up. The best part was when Ivan decided to dip me over his leg. I put my leg up in the air and he was like, “Woah! Let me do that again!” He sounded shocked. I was, like, okay, but why? So he did it again, and again, and again. About 5 times in a row. “Wow,” he says, “You feel so light! Like 140 pounds!” He couldn’t believe it – that it was so easy. So that felt awesome.

We then did a Foxtrot and a Tango and Viennese Waltz, the Foxtrot and Waltz and Viennese Waltz all being vastly superior to the Tango. Yeah, Tango isn’t my strongest dance, but that’s okay. I’m a Latin and Rhythm girl at heart.

At this point we still had the studio to ourselves (besides the receptionist, who, at one point must have thought we were completely cuckoo!) and that was a good thing because we began to work on Rumba and right away, and, as per usual, I messed up the connection. I mean, it takes a minute or two to really connect, at least it does for me. As much as I wish I would just be instantly ready, I’m not (Grrr!) and so as per usual, Ivan began talking to me about the connection.

Now here’s the thing – sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m not paying attention, that I’m not aware, and sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m afraid.

To really connect, to really be ready to follow, I have to trust. I have to trust me (and my body), entirely, which I struggle with, and on top of that, I have to trust Ivan. Listen, Ivan and I have a great rapport, and I trust him as much as I trust anybody on this Earth, and I still hold back and am afraid that he will lead me astray in the dance or something. It’s a survival-based fear, not necessarily a rational one. It’s a fear of revealing myself and really letting go, and I know I’ve talked about it before, and this time….this time, I got it on a whole other experiential level.

A few months ago Ivan told me a story about once when he was in Europe and some big-wig Latin dancer came to the club to teach. At first everyone was dancing all macho and stuff, trying to dance to impress the teacher and show him something special. But the teacher wanted them to focus on the basic steps and pointed out that the girls were dancing with fear, that the couples were dancing but holding back. He made the girls line up on one side of the room and the men on the other side. He blindfolded the girls and asked them to run across the room toward their partner. They kind of did about halfway across the floor and then slowed down or stopped. They practiced over and over, until they were running full speed into their partners and their partners caught them. Ivan said after that, everyone danced completely differently, open, expansive, bold, fearless. He also told me that one day I would be doing that with him.

It seemed like a nice story back on a cold, dark, pre-dawn morning, when I knew that I wasn’t going to be asked to do this exercise. But today was the day. We didn’t know it, at first, but it evolved into being the day.

So working on connection, Ivan asked me to close my eyes and dance with him. I did and almost immediately the panic and fear reared their ugly heads. I wasn’t freaking out so much as moving haltingly and realizing how uncomfortable it was and how very much I needed Ivan there and needed the connection.

But then, Ivan being Ivan, upped the ante. He had me do Latin walks with my eyes closed, promising me that he’d guide me backward or forward or to the side with a touch before I hit any walls. That went tolerably well, though it is difficult to stay balanced in heels, walking, with your eyes closed. It used to be a balance check we’d do in ballet to go into releve’ and then close our eyes. Try it….it’s not easy! Nor is it easy to walk, as I discovered. But anyways, I muddled through that, and then it was just time for the next step.

Ivan went to the opposite side of the studio and told me to run toward him with my eyes closed. On my first attempt, I did well about half way across the space before I began to panic. Ivan told me he could sense my energy had changed and called me on it. I felt fine as long as I knew I wouldn’t run into anything because there was lots of space, and I didn’t feel in danger, but then the panic and anxiety would begin to rise as the distance shortened and my fear that I’d run into something increased. In response, unconsciously, my steps would become smaller and less sure and less directed forward. My energy would shrink and turn from being directed forward to imploding internally. The challenge was to trust that Ivan would be able to stop my mass, running at full speed, and that I wouldn’t fall or run into the table. But I was fearful. FEARFUL I tell you!

But I want to get over this fear, for behind it, and the tears, are the joy, my true expression. Behind it is me being able to feel confident just being me, not questioning everything, or feeling like I’m not good enough. Behind the fear is the ability to be open and (eek!) vulnerable (or what feels like vulnerable to me). But that is the place where I can truly let people in through my dancing, the place I deeply desire to get to.

Anyways, Ivan let me try again. And again. Each time I would make it a little further across the room, from half way to two-thirds, to five-sixths of the way. But still, I was afraid.

“Maybe you take off the heels? Maybe you not feeling secure running blindly in the heels?”

Um, does anybody?

So I took of my shoes, running blind and barefoot and still panicking at the last bit.

“Okay, you have one, maybe two more times.”

“Alright, Ivan. No. This is it. I’m going to do it this time.” I told myself. I reminded myself that the experience of fear is physiologically the same as the physical experience of excitement so I tried a new tactic. I yelled aloud, “I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!” as I barreled toward Ivan, eyes closed. And this time I bowled right into his arms!

Do you see why that receptionist must have thought we were off our rockers?! LOLOLOL!

But I did it! I freaking did it! And it was a metaphor, like all of dance is, for life. And to me it meant that I faced my fear, and I worked with it, and I transformed it. And it meant that I pushed through it to the trust. I allowed Ivan to catch me. I didn’t hold anything back in fear, worrying about injury or that I’d crush him with my mass. I didn’t worry about what I looked like or what anyone was thinking of me as I ran like a maniac toward my goal. I, in this exercise, chose to trust completely, him, me, and the process of life. And that, my friends, is a big deal. It means, to me, that the openness I seek, the willingness to open myself to be seen, is there, just below the surface and that I am closer to it today than I was yesterday. To me, it was an act of courage. Perhaps a silly one, but a courageous one nonetheless.

And I squeaked it in just in time for as I felt my body crush into Ivan’s students and instructors began to arrive for morning lessons and group classes.

Ivan asked how I felt and I have to say I actually felt a little bit out of my body. I’m not sure how to explain that, except to say that it was a pretty intense experience, all about sensing the world around me outside myself while experiencing all that was going on internally for me. I was entirely lost in the moment and had to take a minute to ground myself back into my body. It was a lot to process.

But ground and process I did, feeling a little stronger and less fearful and we continued our double lesson. The rest of the lesson was pretty unremarkable, I suppose, but extremely enjoyable as they usually are. We danced Rumba, and Cha Cha, and Mambo. One awesome thing that happened was that Nona, Ivan’s mother-in-law, Marietta’s mom, who is a professional dancer and used to compete, came up to me just to tell me that I was looking like I was moving very good, very flexible. I noticed her watching me and smiling before she came up and she’s not the kind of person just to say something for no reason, so I felt like the changes are showing on the outside, that people can notice the growth and transformation that I’ve been working on at 6:30 in the morning week in and week out.

It was like how this week in Inna’s class she didn’t ask me to demonstrate anything like she asked other students but when I was doing my Cha Cha and Samba exercises across the floor she said, “Good, Stefanie!” in a tone that seemed almost shocked, like I was showing her something of me that she hadn’t seen before.

So, anyways, like I said at the beginning, it’s been a very satisfying day. One in which I totally understand the sentiment behind the Star Trek Klingon saying, “Today would be a good day to die!” That today I lived a day full of life and growth and experiences. I am whole and complete and glad. And indeed, if today were the day I was to leave this earthly plane, it would have been a good note to end on. Not that I have any plans for that! I have a lot of big scary hairy goals that I’m gunning for in the next two years and I’m excited to lean into that process. Today was a leap forward after a long plateau and as I bask in that achievement, I am encouraged to push forward once again.

Me at my biggest

Me at my biggest

Me today

Me today

A Rainy Day: Shoot Ivan, And Then He Goes Down To Hell

Yesterday I awoke to grey skies, frigid air, and fat wet drops beading upon my car.

Desert rain is a wonderful thing. There is nothing like the smell of creosote and wet earth. Since we get rain so infrequently I tend to really enjoy rainy days and overcast skies, even if it makes driving a little bit scary.

But I braved the weather (and traffic) so I could dance – I mean what else could propel me out of bed on a day that just begs to be spent in pajamas, under the bed sheets, with a cup of hot tea and a good book? You are right. Nothing.

But dance did rouse me and I met Ivan for a double lesson and we continued to work on our routines. And also, something kind of funny happened. We never discussed it, but all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we are working on an open Mambo routine. Actually, this started a few lessons ago, but today we took it to a new level.

Now here is a funny aside for you…from what Ivan tells me, dancers trained in Europe in the International Latin style have a very difficult time picking out the “2” count in the Mambo. For years and years, Ivan says, he and other dancers he knew danced off the timing, and started on the “1” count because that is what they could hear. In any case, these foreigners finally devised a way to locate the “2” count by pretending the song was for a Cha Cha! So, for instance, if you count a Mambo as a very fast Cha Cha you can find the “2” fairly easy. In fact, I remember Rado sharing this same tidbit at the dance camp! In any case, I find this amusing.

But I can relate. The very first partner dance I ever did was when I went to Spain. I went abroad for a summer of classes. An enterprising dance instructor talked many of my classmates into meeting at a local bar for Salsa lessons while we were at school. So for about a month and a half twice a week I went to a bar, drank Fanta orange with Malibu, and learned Salsa with my main partner who was from Algeria. Wow, when I write it like that, my life kind of sounds exciting!

salsa1

Anyways, I loved it!

Can you believe this is me?!

Can you believe this is me?!

But of course in Salsa you start on the “1” count. This is what I was used to when it came to Latin music. So when my very first ballroom instructor began teaching me Mambo, I totally thought he was off the beat! LOL. I danced along with him, but I secretly thought he couldn’t hear the music properly! It took a long time to hone in on the “2” count, but ironically enough, now that I primarily dance Mambo, it feels awkward to dance on the “1” beat!

salsa3

Okay, so back to my narrative.

We are working on this Mambo routine which is kind of exciting to me because it’s the first American Rhythm dance we’ve worked on beyond syllabus steps. I think I just asked for “cardio” in my lesson and this was the result. But anyways, just like in the Rumba and Cha Cha that we’ve already worked on, I need to know the choreography, the timing, the sequence of the steps. So the lesson was all about this, and it was pretty awesome.

Here’s the thing, though – in the beginning of the routine there are a lot of distinct steps, out of hold, and this makes them easy to remember in sequence. In the middle of the routine, however, I do about 15 left-right-left-hold (meaning balance on the left leg with the right leg free and available to move) steps. They all look different because we are doing different things with our arms and different facings in relation to the dance floor. But when it comes to remembering the routine, by myself, it gets tricky!

Seriously, the first hurdle is just knowing the steps with the proper timing. We didn’t even broach technique, character, performance, accenting, etc. But Ivan helped me. First, he laid down on the floor. You see, I was to do this by myself, and Ivan had had a late night involving wine heh heh heh. Second, we counted the steps and I did them over and over. The first few times, he’d prompt me when I was drawing a blank. By the end of the lesson, I pretty much had it. I say pretty much because I’m still slow – my brain is still working on overdrive to remember what comes next – but that is okay. Because now even if I have to pause and think, I can run through the routine on my own.

But the other thing Ivan did to help was to label certain distinguishing characteristics of the mostly similar steps. For instance, the first step, doing the left-right-left hold ends with me pointing forward with my left hand. We labeled this “Shoot Ivan.” Next in the sequence, I turn my partner lifting my left arm high and my right arm low. For whatever reason we focused on the low arm and Ivan called this move, “Send Ivan to Hell.” I laughed at these stupid names, but you know what? It helped me remember what was coming and it even makes a little bit of sense. I mean, you have to shoot Ivan first before you can send him to Hell – you know? LOL.

So anyways, the majority of my lesson was just getting clear on the what I’m supposed to be doing. Once we had done the choreography, and by “we” I mean me by myself, I asked Ivan to review the proper motion for the basic step. Why? For a few reasons. First, it’s been a long time since I reviewed the proper motion, much less danced the American Styles with any consistency. Second, because I noticed that I looked different doing it than Ivan did. Well, it was a great thing to request. More and more I find that going back to the very basics is so important and elucidating for more complicated steps and choreography. Knowing how to move properly in the basic sets me up for moving properly in every step.

So here’s what I learned. Well, probably more like “remembered” because I swear I’ve been told this stuff before but hey, if you don’t use it you lose it! (There is no Mambo in Inna’s class and Ivan and I have been focusing on Latin lately.) But anyways, what I “remembered” is that when doing the basic step you first place the foot (going forward or backward) and then even as you are changing your weight to that placed foot, you are actually propelling yourself in the opposite direction to land on the opposite foot. For instance, if you place the foot back, at the same time, as you are committing your body weight to the back foot, you are simultaneously shifting it forward to land on the next step on the opposite leg and foot which is stepping forward. The same holds true for the front step with the left foot, placing it but then shifting the body weight on to the back foot almost immediately. (One note here: the steps described are from the perspective of the lady (a.k.a. my perspective – because, after all, that is the most important perspective, no? lol).

Not only does this way of thinking about the basic Mambo step exemplify proper technique, but it also will change the look of the step, and even better, it will make dancing it with a partner easier and more in unison if both partners are doing it properly.

So I guess that’s the meat of my latest adventures. After my lesson, I made my way to a ballet class. It was pretty cool and in some parts easy but others challenging. I do believe that I will be sore tomorrow from the work I did today. And also, we worked on turns. And just by the way, turns from 5th position suck! LOL. Seriously, they are so hard, especially for someone with a tight Achilles Tendon and limited plie’ (AKA me) but we practiced them nonetheless. We did chaine’ turns across the floor which I managed fairly well, and weirdly I don’t get dizzy actually doing them, but I get extremely dizzy upon stopping (and I remember a time where I didn’t get dizzy anymore at all!), and then we did the turns from 5th. Well, mostly I did them average-like to poorly, but there was one really lovely turn! And you know what? I want to celebrate that one lovely turn because it was uplifted, and I looked like I was almost floating, and I held the posse position for just a fraction of a second longer than necessary with such beautiful control and center, placing my foot in 5th gracefully and solidly to end it. It was awesome! Of course, right after that the next 3 turns sucked ass, but hey, but you know, that’s what dancing is, right? Lots of practice to find that balanced uplifted strong space. 9 times out of 10, or even 99 out of 100, I blow it, or something is “off” – but then that 10th or 100th time it clicks and is an out-of-the-body experience of perfection. Well, at least that is how it feels to me.

So shoot Ivan and send him to hell! It’s been a good day to dance. And, to echo a Klingon sentiment (because I am a total nerd and Trekkie), it would be a good day to die. Because if I died today, well, I was in my process, doing what I love to do, working towards my potential. There is no worthier pursuit, no better way to spend my time. And for that, my friends, I am grateful.

The end.

Topical Series: Ballroom Demystified (Part Deux)

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

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

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

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

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

Point 2:  Two styles of dance

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

American

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

American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point 3: Scoring and points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fluffy

Well friends,  I’m tired and have to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow, but I’m committed to this blog, right, so I thought I’d at least write a little something about my lesson today.

I went after work and wore a dress with bike pants underneath.  A conscious choice to wear something better than on my last lesson.  I guess it worked because when Ivan saw me he told me I looked “fluffy.”

Oh Ivan, I will never truly understand you, even though sometimes I feel like I totally “get” you!  Anyways, he said, “Is that the word?  Fluffy?  Puffy?”

“I don’t know, Ivan.  What are you trying to say?  Am I retaining water?”

“No, you so cute today.  Like fluffy.  It not mean fat.”

I imagine the little cute fluffy chick named Stefanie that I gifted to Ivan not long ago.  I have a feeling this is the kind of “fluffy” he’s referrring to.  Even if it isn’t, it’s put me in a good mood and started the lesson of to a nice beginning.

But there’s a problem.  The music computer is kaput.  Completely.  It was already on it’s last leg.  Luckily, I have my trusty iPad today and we are able to plug it in to the speakers.  On the downside, I have a weird mish-mash of music, and not a ton of ballroom music.  But there is this one cool song I have from Frank Sinatra called the “Coffee Song.”  It starts out as a Samba and progresses into a Foxtrot.  It’s just darling and I wanted to share it with Ivan.  So we start there and the mood is light, ebullient.

Next we decide to do a Rumba.  But with my weird mix of music, I spend a lot of time trying to find something that will work to do a Rumba but it takes so long Ivan gets frustrated.  He walks over and just randomly picks something.  It’s Lisa Loeb.  These slow kind of whiney songs but Ivan says it’ll work for a Bolero.

“See.  You crazy.  You working so hard to find a song.  I just two tries and find one.  I feel the music.”

I don’t say it but I was like, well, I thought there were, you know, rules, about what song you can dance to.  Clearly not a lot of the music they generally play on the radio is going to be suitable for a ballroom dance.  But maybe that’s not as true as I thought.  Oh, I’m pretty sure there are rules about the beats per minute that are necessary for regulation Cha Cha and all that, but we’re just practicing in a church rec room, here.  We can be flexible.

It begins an avalance of unlikely dancing songs.  And it is so much fun!

We do those Lisa Loeb songs, then “Bulletproof” by Le Roux, and then “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk.  And then “Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge which I totally blast at the highest volume possible.

Interspersed with bronze and silver syllabus steps are bits and pieces of complete freestyle dancing.  No rules except having fun.  And Ivan’s trying to sing along with me, off-key, like a baying dog in pain, to songs he doesn’t know at all.  He really dives into things with everything he has.

We even did a little ballet.  Ivan sticks his butt out.  It’s kind of funny being the more experienced person in the room for a minute.  And though I’m no true ballerina, I still have more technique in my little pinky toe when it comes to a plie’ or bourre’ or pique’ or posse than Ivan does.

It was exciting.  He told me that there is another showcase coming up the weekend before the Galaxy dance competition here in Phoenix and asked me if I’d be interested in doing it.

“If it nice, we can doing it at Galaxy as a solo.”

Woo….that would be a stretch for me.  I’m interested.

Even better, he then said, “We maybe do some freestyle dancing in it.  You can help with the choreography.”

Oh, well, goodness now.  I am feeling more and more like a grown up every minute here.  To have more creative control over what I perform.  I’m enticed.

And, about this time, Ivan began reminiscing about dancing with my mom last weekend at my birthday party.  He really enjoyed it, I think.  He was fantasizing that maybe my mom would join Ivan and I for a little routine.  I’m not so sure she’d be willing to do that, but it’d be pretty fun and cool if she was.  But I do think he enjoyed the mambo they did because she was smiling and having so much fun during the entire thing.  It was pretty cool to watch!

Isn’t my mom the cutest thing ever?!

Anyways, Ivan said I could do anything I wanted for the upcoming showcase.  And, if it is good enough, he’d be willing to do it with me at competition.

So, what do you think I should tackle?  A Samba?  A Mambo?  A Swing?  A Foxtrot?

Is there any song that you are really digging right now that might be good to do a routine to?

I think I got my mojo back.  That was quick!  It helped to see my mom dancing like that!  Who wouldn’t want to jump up and dance after seeing her bust a move?  Best birthday evarrrr!

Love, Stef