Topical Series: Deciding Whether To Do A Dance Camp

Me and Ron Montez

Me and Ron Montez

Although I’ve only attended one dance camp thus far in my ballroom “career,” I discovered some useful information that might help someone who is interested in a dance camp to decide whether or not to do it.  Choosing to do a dance camp, like participating in a competition, requires planning, money, time off work, maybe even a babysitter, and perhaps travel.  It’s a significant committment so it is a significant decision to make.  Here are my thoughts on some things to consider when deciding if a dance camp a good choice for you.

Overall I thought it was a good value.  Of course every dance camp is going to be different, but using my experience as an example, the deluxe package cost $475.  This included all the classes offered, a welcome dinner and dance mixer, and a gourmet dinner with a champagne toast and party on New Year’s Eve.  Considering private lessons cost around $75-$130 each, and I got 17 group classes led by professional dancers and adjudicators, plus two lectures, I consider this a damn good deal.  I did a lot of dancing, was able to video the choreography presented, ask questions, and even eat a bit, and all for a small fraction of what a competition usually costs.  Even if you add in the hotel (which I only opted to stay at on New Year’s Eve, I commuted the other days), gas costs, and food, it still works out well.

One major advantage of attending a dance camp, especially for competitive dancers, is face time with judges.  Not only do you get to be seen so your face is familiar, but you can also ask direct questions and have actual interactions with people who may judge you at future competitions.  You can also pick their brains for what they look for in competitive dancers.  They tend to naturally share their preferences in dancing while teaching which can also give you insight on dance styling and choreographic choices. This is not as significant a factor for those who do not compete.

One possible disadvantage of a dance camp is that they may be fluid, meaning that the schedule advertised when you sign up for the camp may not be exactly what is delivered.  For instance, when I looked at the website for this dance camp, Decho Kraev and Bree Watson were listed as teaching many of the classes.  Since they are the current American Rhythm champions, I’m sure many people were looking forward to getting to learn from this particular couple.  When I arrived at the camp and got my package, the class schedule listed different instructors.  I, personally, didn’t really mind so very much.  I got to learn from Linda Dean and Radomir Pashev, and I really enjoyed their classes and felt I got great value from what they shared.  But I could see how someone could be upset by this, especially if part of why he or she chose to attend was to learn from a particular professional, judge, or couple.

There was also one other change, which I was very happy about, and it wasn’t even listed on the schedule.  When it came time for the Night Club Two Step (not a dance I’m interested in) Rado decided to do Samba instead.  Anyways, for type A individuals this could be crazy-making, but for me, I was glad about it.

Another benefit of attending a dance camp is that the instructors are also available for private lessons.  I didn’t take advantage of this during my stint, but opportunities to learn from the experts, or have them create some choreography for you, or to work on a particular troublesome step don’t happen all the time, especially if you have an independent instructor and no home studio where coaches may visit regularly.  In any case, attending a dance camp is one great way to make contact with paragons of the ballroom dance world.

As is usually the case in ballroom dancing, there were double the amount of women than men at the camp.  Only a few of the females chose to learn the leader choreography.  This meant that for much of the time in class many female students were without a partner and the men were always dancing as a duo.  And, to make matters worse, there was little to no formal rotation set up, made doubly confusing when some of the couples danced exclusively with one another, not rotating at all.  Personally, I sometimes prefer to dance by myself so I can discover my own balance and so I know that I understand what I am doing.  I didn’t mind the times when I was partner-less.  However, by the end of the camp I was exhausted by actually dancing with partners.  Half of them were uninterested in dancing with me (or seemed that way), one felt the need to correct me and was a total joy-suck.  I don’t even care how good or unskilled a dancer is, but I do mind very much when they have a bad attitude.  I was exhausted by having to interact with some of these fellow students, and just like in social dancing situations, it is a crap shoot as to who will be available to dance with.  In fact, one of my friends was also troubled by the interactions she had with some of the males and opted to not partner at all by the end of the camp because the experience was so uncomfortable, and in her case, she felt flat-out disrespected.

The majority of dancers at the camp were social dancers.  Only a very few of us were competitive students.  Obviously we had different goals and intentions with our dancing.  It would have been more valuable for me from my perspective to have more of an opportunity to dance with other competitive students.  I did get to dance with a few darling men with happy, fun personalities, and one who was excellent in all aspects, but of course I couldn’t always dance with them even though I might have wanted to.  This might be more likely at a dance camp that occurs before or after a competition so I might have to check one of those dance camps out.  But anyways, I think I might have enjoyed the camp more and maybe even gotten more value out of it if I had a friend or amateur partner to do it with.  It’s not really something you’d do with your pro partner and I found the partnering situation to be less than stellar.

Because there was such a mix in the level of expertise, skill level, and intention of the dancing, the teachers had to address broad topics and gear their classes toward general information. They did offer two tracks of classes: Beginner/Intermediate and Intermediate/Advanced. Basically this equated to one class for baby beginners and one class for everyone else. It was up to each individual to place themselves in an appropriate level, and upon registration the lady did say that a person could switch classes within the first ten minutes if it was either too easy or too difficult.

I kind of think the intermediate business is just there to make us feel better! I’m not sure what the distinction between intermediate and beginner or intermediate and advanced is, exactly. I wonder if any dance camps require a person to “test into” a level…like in dance classes in college you can’t just sign up for advanced ballet. You must audition and an assessment of your skill level is made to determine if it is an appropriate placement, or prerequisite classes must first be completed successfully to gain entry into higher level classes. Probably impractical to do at a dance camp, but it’s a thought. And I wonder what a truly advanced class would look like – probably like Inna’s class…but I think a class like that, especially for social dancers, could be pretty shocking/intimidating if a person walked into it expecting a group class like is usually presented…not as strenuous, and filled with lots of interesting steps but less of the basics. Camp organizers have to aim to please their attendees so knowing who is attending, their level, and if they are social or competitive could help in the design of classes and tracks/levels. Like I would have loved if there were beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels (or bronze, silver, gold) in both social and competitive categories, but that would sure take a lot of staff and resources, unless the camp was specifically geared toward one type of student.

In any case, at this dance camp, during most classes a series of steps were taught and the students learned a little choreography.  I am more interested in the technique behind the steps than the steps themselves so I wanted more of that type of information – how to correctly execute the steps rather than the steps themselves.  I can always learn more steps so adding more to my repertoire was fine and good but not all that exciting to me because the chances of me actually using these little choreographies in the future are slim to none.  If I was a social dancer only, or danced socially more often, or had an amateur partner, it might have created more value for me.

One disadvantage of this camp was that because it was held in a hotel, the floors were jointed and there were no mirrors. I missed having a mirror to compare my lines to those of the professional demonstrating the steps. But having it at a different venue like a dance studio might not have been as convenient and certainly would not have had all the amenities present. I wish that mirrors could have been brought in just like the floor is.

One of the best parts of the dance camp was simply spending time with my ballroom friends and making new ones.  I had some awesome and deep conversations and laughed a ton.  I’d recommend having a partner in crime to go with if possible.

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the dance camp and feel like I did learn a lot.  Just putting myself out there and participating was a big win.  And because I showed up cool things happened – I got to dance a swing step “down and dirty” with Radomir, I got to do a mambo deal with Ron and a group of people as he spontaneously got out on the dance floor on New Year’s Eve and began calling out moves, I got to win a merengue mixer contest, I got to laugh a ton, learn a ton, watch a professional show, and toast the new year.  Well, anyways, I hope this gave you some insight into what you might want to think about when considering a dance camp.  If you have any other burning questions, please do ask and I will do my best to answer.

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Stuff I Learned At Ron Montez Dance Camp

Now, it really isn’t possible to share everything I learned at dance camp.  Partly because a dance camp is experiential in nature, just like a competition, there is a lot of learning that happens by actually being present and having the experiences – a person can’t really learn how to dance (or ride a bike or paint in watercolor) by only reading about it.

I did, however, discover some nuggets that I thought were pretty interesting.  So this post is a conglomeration of information miscellany that doesn’t warrant separate posts.  Hopefully you will discover something new that adds value to your dancing.

That being said, I would share that doing this dance camp was a good choice overall.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in doing one to give it a shot.  I feel that the more a person can expose themselves to dancing, different perspectives about the dancing, and different dance instructors, the better.  A dance camp is one way to experience a variety of input from a variety of dance professionals in a short amount of time.

Now perhaps you already know some of these ballroom details.  And it’s also possible that I’d already heard these things in the past.  But there is so much to learn in ballroom, I generally can’t absorb all that is presented to me.  I have to hear things multiple times, and sometimes even hear the concepts described in a different way from a different instructor to develop a new awareness and understanding.  So for what it’s worth, here goes!

1)  In ballroom your knees always work together.  By “ballroom” I mean the Smooth or Standard dances and by “work together” I mean that both knees are bent or straight at the same time.  Conversely, in the Latin and Rhythm dances knees will often be performing opposite actions, one being bent and one being straight.

2) A Fall-away is the opposite of a Promenade.  Who knew?

3) Strictly speaking, in Rhythm Cha Cha there are no locks, only backward and forward chasses with the feet passing one another.

4)  There are 3 types of backward breaks in Bolero (video of Linda Dean demonstrating the 3 types below)

5)  Arm movement should come from the center of the chest, the sternum.

6)  There is no need for releve’ in the Bolero basic (this surprised me!) and in fact some judges prefer it be absent

7)  Always, always, always start a Bolero on a slow

8)  You can do Rumba timing in Bolero if it is on purpose and only lasts for two bars of music

9)  Everything in ballroom is a freakin’ optical illusion!  Don’t take big steps but do create big movement

10) Keep your nose over your toes!

11) Partners don’t actually connect via the back and hand in the ballroom frame, rather they connect upward through the arms

12)  The Samba is the “Brazilian Waltz” because just like a Waltz, every 2nd step is on the ball of the foot

13)  There is a difference between American Samba and International Samba!  It has to do with the timing.  In American Samba it is counted 1 & 2, or half beat, half beat, whole beat – the timing is pretty even.  In International Samba the counts are broken into fourths – the movement is less evenly spaced with 1/4th a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 1/4th a beat, whole beat, counted 1 ah 2, 3 ah 4.  International Samba appears to move more quickly and then slowly as movement is drawn out longer, then the next move is made quicker to make up the difference and to stay on the beat.

14) In swing you are supposed to emphasize the even counts

15) The “and” or “ah” count in Samba represents the time to do the Samba bounce action

16) Sharp leg extensions that occur when a dancer is at the lowest point of their movement (think foot flat on the floor, knee bent) is a Kick.  A Flick, on the other hand, is performed when a dancer is at their highest point of action (think on tippy toes with legs straight).  (Kind of like the difference between stalagmites and stalagtites!)

And there you have it.  Random but informative (hopefully)

Down And Dirty!

Okay folks, I’m tired and there is so much to say about the last two days of Dance Camp and the New Year.  I promise another, more detailed post will be forthcoming with multiple pictures, dance tips, and maybe even some video.

But there is one experience I am burning to share!  It was just too cool and makes me giggle so here goes….

First off, here is a photo of me an my new instructor:

rado

JUST KIDDING! 

Do you honestly think I’d EVER want to dance with anyone other than Ivan.  Exactly.   You are right.  Not gonna happen in this lifetime. 

But over the last weekend, Radomir was one of the excellent instructors at the dance camp and I honestly really enjoyed his sessions.  He is a technically excellent dancer, extremely disciplined and pristine in his movement, but he is also a pretty darn good teacher and communicator.  He brought a gentle warmth and humor to his classes while at the same time explaining the mechanics of steps.  In any case, he’s kind of a big deal and as an instructor and professional competitor, I, being a student, of course look up to him. 

Well, in the East Coast Swing class he taught, he introduced this one twisting move.  Imagine doing the actual “Twist” like from the song of the same name by the Beatles.  The extreme twisting action of the upper half of the body and the lower half.

In any case, after he had showed us this move in a series of steps of choreography, he stopped the class and told us he wanted it not to be so prissy, but rather “down and really dirty.” I think he expounded upon this even more but I couldn’t hear what he said because we were all laughing with embarrassment so heartily. Once he realized how he had come across, he started laughing too, but still the intention behind the move was there. He did want us to get low and feel the sultry, earthy quality inherent in the movement.

Now here is where it get’s really interesting. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Let’s show them how it’s done!”

OMG! LOL!

So he invited me to demonstrate to the class how to do this twist action “Down and Dirty” but first he explained the incorrect way of doing it…He began to panomime the same actions in a very repressed, shall I say “English-stiff-upper-lip” fashion and invited me to play along. I did and we performed the step stiffly and unemotively. He likened it to one of those middle-class gentry English dances done in the countryside at the turn of the century. We raised our hands and circled one another as if we were doing a courtship dance in the movie “A Knight’s Tale.”

But then we went for it! We twisted and we got low and we shook our katukus’ (katukasi???) Well, we shook our behinds like no kidding and it was awesome and he even gave me a high five when we finished.

You know, I think for me this was the best moment in the camp. It was just so cool to get to go to “the head of the class” with a professional like Rado and totally rock it. I danced with him a few other times for brief moments in other classes and always screwed up at least a little bit. But still, this kind of made up for it. It may sound silly, for me it meant that I had the ability to excute this move, so much so, that even being the biggest girl in the class, I was the one to demonstrate it to others.  I felt acknowledged and I also got to share my enjoyment of doing that particular move.

In any case, that’s my short story! I want to say Happy New Year and that I’m looking forward to what 2013 will bring.  I’m grateful to still be dancing and blogging. I wish you all the very best during our next orbit around the sun and I just wanted to share this little tidbit even if I don’t have the energy and patience just now to fill you in on all the other cool things that happened at Dance camp over the last two days.

Cheers!

Love, Stef

My Dance Manifesto

Something is brewing up inside me, and it ain’t from eating beans.

No, it’s much deeper than that.

I’m feeling moved. Isn’t it funny that when we are affected emotionally it’s called being moved?  Like that’s what dance is all about.  To move others and yourself through moving.  It’s a mindbender like a mirror reflecting another mirror on and on into infinity.

Tango (From Wikipedia Commons – this image was originally posted to Flickr by jennifrog)

So I’m feeling emotional these past few days.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I will be putting myself “out there” again at the Galaxy competition.  I feel like I’m coming at it from a good place.  Actually, I was a little shocked that it is exactly a week away tomorrow.  I’m relaxed, I think, especially since I’m just doing single dances and I’ve released the need to “win.”  No anxiety dreams like I had before Desert Classic, and my lessons have been free-spirited and wonderful.  I am envisioning the experience to be like this, feeling as if I were just floating around the dance studio, this time around.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t important.  And one thing I failed to do at my last competition was to get clear about the experience I wanted to create.  I didn’t write out specific aims that I hoped to accomplish.  So I’ve learned from my experience and this proclamation, this dance manifesto for Stefanie, it’s been mulling around in my mind.

The point of the manifesto is to bring out the best of me, as a person and as a dancer.   All too often I focus on my shortcomings, my faults, my flaws, my errors.  I hone in on all the things I’m doing wrong, all the things that make me feel inadequate.  This manifesto is my heart’s reply to the negative voices in my mind.  It’s my new creed.  It’s my new motto.  It’s how I’m now going to show up on lessons, in life, and while performing.

And one other thing – I’m winging it.  I haven’t written out a draft or anything.  I’m just writing stream-of-consciousness here so we will see what I come up with.  All I know is, that I’m feeling a lot of powerful emotions at the moment and I have decided to express them in this way.  So here goes nothing…

I, Stefanie, Dancer vow that:

I will finish all my movements.  I will follow them through on into infinity beyond the horizon.  I will inhabit every moment with my spirit and project my energy in 360 degrees.

I will not be afraid.  I will be bold and courageous.

I will love myself through every single moment.  I will be my own best friend.

I will let loose.  I will lower my guard.  I will melt the ice.

I will breathe.  Deeply.  And often.

I will allow myself to be vulnerable and reveal my inner world.

I will claim my space and hold it.

I will persevere.

I will hone my instrument, my body, taking care of it lovingly, compassionately, and with the intent to make it as healthy as possible.

I will allow myself to feel and be sexy.

I will not fear to touch.  I will enjoy the touch.  I will allow my joy to be seen.

I will accept and appreciate any and all feedback I may receive as a gift.  I will remember that no one has the power to make me feel anything except me.

I will give up the white flag and fight to be the best I can be.

I will accept and use my creativity and power.

I will connect.

I will create moments of magic for myself, my partner, and those choosing to share the experience with me.

I will believe in myself.

I will believe in what is possible.

Being a woman, I reserve the right to change my mind and add to or amend this manifesto at any time as I see fit!  But I’m curious, what do you think I should add to mine?  And, more importantly, what’s in YOUR “dance manifesto?”

The Mirror of Relationship

Have you ever heard the saying that all relationships are a mirror?  Although sometimes I think my mirror is cracked and imperfect, I’ve been thinking about this concept lately, and that there exists a special kind of power being in relationship with other human beings.

What is meant by this adage, as I understand it, is that we can only see in others what we can see in ourselves and we have the opportunity to see these things because we are in relationship.

Know that person you think is awesome?  The one who is so smart, or compassionate, or strong, or funny?  These are all qualities that you possess but may or may not be able to recognize in yourself.

People who we like tend to exhibit qualities that we want more of, on a subconscious level, and are therefore we are attracted to them.

On the flip side, know that bastard who is unethical, lazy, just a general SOB.  Well, I hate to break the news, but guess what?  You (and I) possess those qualities as well.  We are just generally in denial about it and project it onto others rather than accepting it.

Now, of course, we all have light and dark natures, being divine and damned all at once.  We are human.  But with that comes the gift of choice.  Even if we have urges to act one way or another, we have free will and can override even darker desires, especially if we live according to principles.

Why am I bringing all this up?  Well, I’ve noticed some interesting clues about myself (and about Ivan) in my relationship with him.  Now, let me be clear….PLATONIC people!  I love the guy, but just not that way, if you know what I mean.  But he sure is being a mirror for me right now, as is every relationship I have in my life, but since this blog is about dancing, and mostly I do that with Ivan (or alone in group classes), it is this relationship that I will explore.  Well, that one and the relationship I have with myself.

Ivan and I, we reflect one another.  I can see myself in him, and though I haven’t specifically asked Ivan about it, I’m guessing the reverse is true as well.  What I mean by this is that Ivan has certain patterns of thinking that I can relate to.  One of them is never thinking he is/I am “good enough.”  I swear, the man can deflect any compliment (even from people the likes of Shirley Ballas), avoid hearing positive things about himself (seriously, he will just keep talking), and he can reason himself out of anything good he was thinking about himself.  I am going to give myself a little credit here and say that I’ve improved dramatically in this area, (there was a time in my life when I couldn’t make eye contact with anybody nor could I receive a compliment) but I still play the same mental games with myself, even if to a lesser degree than before.  I, and Ivan too, psych ourselves out of our greatness before even taking a single dance step.

This awareness is fine and well, but so what?  Well, it bothers me.  It bothers me a lot that Ivan refuses to see how wonderful a dancer and person he is.  When I look at him, I see the makings of a champion.  Heck, he already was a champion back in Bulgaria, but it’s like he thinks he’s already reached his apex.  I disagree; I think the best is yet to come….if he will allow it.  And it saddens me deeply that he can’t or won’t see this possibility for himself.

And that is the real epiphany.  Because if Ivan is a mirror for me, then the deeper truth is that it saddens me that I can’t or won’t see what a wonderful dancer and person I am and that I, too, have the makings of a champion.  It feels bold, audacious, and uncomfortable to even entertain these thoughts, much less admit them here, so there is still work to do.  When and how will I find the confidence and unconditional self-love I so desperately seek?

For me, it as a lot to do with my body image.  I can get so hung up on identifying with my body.  I harbor thoughts that others are thinking I shouldn’t be dancing at this size, that I’m not attractive/sexy/elegant – basically all the things a dancer “should” be.  Of course, I have no idea what others are thinking!  Not really my business, but the point is, I’m thinking it!  These are my thoughts about me.  I imagine that others are thinking them because that is easier and less painful than to acknowledge the truth – that I judge myself so very harshly.

God bless Ivan.  I was having a low self-esteem moment while practicing our Latin Rumba routine the other day, hating on my arms.  I have Italian ancestry and you know those old Italian grandmas with the huge arms, almost like bat wings?  Well, I am blessed with those genes.  My arms are probably the thing I hate about myself the most.   So, I’m seeing my arms in the mirror, and doing this dance that is supposed to be alluring and I’m feeling like the fattest, ugliest, most unworthy dancer that ever lived.  (No, I don’t catastrophize.  Not me!)

So anyways, I am not feeling good about myself and it shows.  Ivan asks me about it, and I say, “Ivan, how am I suppose to dance sexy when that is the absolute last thing I feel about myself right now?  These arms of mine are so gross!”  To which he replies, “That is not the girl I see.  I see the one inside you.  The ‘hot mocha.'”

In that moment, he reflected back to me my potential.  He affirmed that it is possible for me to change.  And he acknowledged he is dancing with me, not just my body.

I think one of the qualities Ivan has that I want more of is to be comfortable in my own skin, both personality-wise and physically.  He is as genuine as they come.  He is truly himself all the time.  Some may think he’s a wacko, but I think it’s awesome that he is true to himself so deeply.  He also has no body shame that I can detect.  He complains about his weight, because I think like every ballroom dancer is slightly insane and thinks they should be rail thin, even the males, but even if he isn’t exactly where he thinks he should be, he shakes and moves and dances big and bold and with expression no matter if there is one person in the room or 100.  I want some more of that, too.

I believe that we all mentor one another just by being around each other.  The way I walk in this world (or how Ivan does) exemplifies a particular way of being.  I can learn new and better ways of being just by being present with individuals who have what I don’t, and vice versa.

So I’ve come to a decision to take some action.  It’s actually selfish of me, if I think about it.  Ivan continually calls forth qualities in me that I’ve been reluctant to allow.  He creates the space for me to dance bigger, bolder, and better, and to also express more deeply and authentically, not to mention blasting away most of my mental limitations.  It’s time to return the favor.  But, of course, by doing what I’m planning on doing for him, I’m also indirectly doing it for me.  I’m doing it for the part of me that identifies with that part of him that refuses to accept his greatness as a dancer and as a person.  The part that chooses not to hear positive feedback, only the negative.  The part that psychs himself out, judges, criticizes, and squashes.  I can’t stand the self-defeating practices anymore.  So as I take action in an attempt to heal this  “Mental Problem” Ivan has, I will also be healing myself.  I love holding the paradox – being selfish and selfless at the same time.

I’m going to give Ivan a mirror.  On this mirror I am going to write in Bulgarian (I got some help with the translation from Marieta) “I am a champion!  Yes I am!!!”  I’m going to instruct him to look into it for at least a minute or more every day.

And you know what?  Knowing that I want to create the space for Ivan to step into this practice, I’d better make a mirror for myself as well.  Forget this indirect healing stuff!  If I’m so friggin’ aware of this part of me that wants healing, I have no excuse!  So I think my mirror will say, “I am worthy!  Yes I am!!!”  I know I’ve got the right phrase because it’s making me cry right now.  Bingo.  That’s a bullseye.

So, what have I reflected for you in this post?

If you were going to create a mirror for someone in your life, who would it be?  What would the mirror say?

And, more importantly….what would your own mirror say?

Being Seen

I woke up this morning and I have a soreness in my left back side, below the shoulder but above the hips.  Right where the kidneys are.  It seems muscular because it is exacerbated with certain movements and painless when sitting still.  Unfortunately the movements that make it hurt are those found in the Samba, Cha Cha, or Rumba – exactly the dances Ivan decides to work on with me today.  I try to stretch it out but it is actually still causing me some discomfort.  Probably a 6 on a scale of 10 when activated.  Thankfully it is tolerable and disappears completely when not activated.

So I ignore the ache as much as I can and Ivan wants to start right away with Samba, his favorite dance.  We get through our little routine twice pretty easily except he doesn’t like the way I’m doing this little circular back step in which I stick out my butt.  He wants me to engage more with the upper body and makes me do it like 20 times, then practice doing it actually against the wall.

I’ve decided to wear my new heels for the first time today.  The practice shoes are so comfy and cushy, but they have a thicker and shorter heel making balance much easier to find.  I won’t have this luxury for the showcase dance so I need to start conditioning my feet once again.  But Ivan doesn’t like them so much.  He says that on the left foot, the way my weight is and how the shoe fits my foot, that the heel is going to go out sideways on me.  I’m like, how can you tell that?  But guess what, it happened.  The heel slipped sideways a few steps after we started.  Seriously, I think it is weird that male ballroom dancers know so much about heels.  A previous instructor of mine knew a lot about them too.

“This the last time you buy these American Ballroom shoes.  Next time Supadance or Dance Naturals.”

That is fine and well, but I must try on the shoe first!  I’ve had a pair of Dance Naturals at one point but they didn’t really fit my feet because I purchased them online.  And this time around, when I went to an actual brick and mortar shoe store I saw some heels I liked but when I put them on my feet they just didn’t work.  For now, the ones I have will just have to be okay.  They are pretty darn comfortable, and my foot looks cute in them.  I just don’t want to hurt my ankle if the heel keeps slipping out like that.  Time will tell.

Next it is on to Latin Cha Cha.  I’m doing the steps but not dancing with Ivan.  He’s like, “Stop thinking about all the emotional stuff.”

I’m like, “I’m not thinking about emotional stuff!  I’m throwing myself off balance because I’m leaning, collapsing.  I have to rememer to keep my spine straight.”  I correct my posture and immediately the movement is easier, more controlled, and more balanced.  But I’m not looking at Ivan.  Not really looking into his eyes.  I’m so focused on all the stuff I’m thinking about (posture, the steps, balance, my feet hurt in the heels, my legs are tired, my back hurts, etc, etc, etc) that I’m not really being present.

He imitates me (exaggerating a little, I hope) kind of stumbling around looking nowhere…like a zombie trying to do a Cha Cha.  He throws me out for a fan.  I’m supposed to look at him then interact with the imaginary audience to the side, then, as I switch my weight on count 2, I’m to look at him again.  I’m to look into his eyes through that step into a Hockey Stick.  Look at him until the last second before I turn then find him directly once again.

Haven’t I heard this before?  Yes, yes.  I sure have.  But the habit of disconnection still rears its ugly head.

I refocus and look into Ivan’s eyes…for realsies.  You know, the difference between looking and seeing.  It creates an intagible but real connection.  I’m connected and we do the steps again.

“They gonna see we dancing with each other, not just doing the steps.”

You know, this is my greatest secret wish come true.  My first instructor used to tell me that he was only dancing with like 70% of his power.  That I couldn’t handle his 100%.  Now maybe this was true.  But also, it seems like he was holding back.  He wasn’t open to truly dancing with me or he didn’t consider me his equal.  In terms of dance knowledge and ability at that time, I was most certainly his inferior, but as a human being, we are all equal, and couldn’t he have danced 100% with that part?  I used to promise myself I’d get good enough that he’d dance with me 100%.  But I’m thinking now that probably he wasn’t capabale of dancing with me that way, and I’m still not capable of it, except for in very focused, present moments.

I mean, for sure Ivan is superior to me in terms of technique, practice, and experience.  But he still wants to dance with me, not just go through the motions.  I never get the feeling he is holding back or that he thinks I’m not up to the challenge.  If anything, he sees more potential in me that I can see sometimes.  Ivan sees me.  He sees the dancer in me.  And he calls her forth.  She can’t hide, even when she tries.

So the most miraculous thing happened.  I was doing a fan and I looked to the imaginary audience as I stepped to the side and this time I was facing a mirror.  As I did my little fan, I actually liked the way it looked!  I actually liked it a lot.  Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often.  I can think I look “pretty good” sometimes, and at others I just see that something isn’t quite right but I don’t know how to fix it.  Or I see my flaws, or things I don’t like about my body.  But in this moment, I saw that dancer inside.  I saw how she was confidently connecting and moving, and I liked it.  I liked me.  And it felt really good.

I was being with me, rather than the chatter in my head, the pain in my body, or any other distraction.  I was seeing me.

And for the first time in a long time, not only was it not scary, but I actually liked what I saw.