Dear Body

Dear body,

What the hell is going on?

My heart is broken. I’m a mess and in anguish. I’ve been feeding you cleaner and healthier foods than ever before. I’ve given you supplements, exercise, rest. I’ve lifted weights with you, danced, walked on the stair stepper. The past month you and me have been through a lot and I thought there was progress, real progress. It seems maybe a little easier to do some things, but am I just kidding myself?

Because you see, my mind had a hard time with all this. I’m doing everything I am supposed to do. And listen, we both know I wasn’t ever “perfect.” I did have cheat meals. But damnit, they were more contained and in control than before. The vast majority of the time I’ve been disciplined, regimented.

But you seem dead set against me. I cannot fathom your reaction.

You seem bound and determined to stay fat. You actually seem to want to adapt to carrying all this extra poundage in the form of adipose. You’ll work and change, but only so you can more easily do the activities I ask of you while still staying fat. You won’t give it up. You are not releasing. And I am at my wits end.

I didn’t weigh myself for a month. An entire month! I did this because I understand I’m not looking for instant gratification. I’m in it for the long run. I’m doing it “slowly” and with clean eating and exercise and all that. So I get that things fluctuate week to week. I realized weighing myself weekly got me depressed and wasn’t worth the stress or heartache. I’m walking the walk so there should be progress. Actually, I expect there to be. So fine, I’m willing to let you do what you need to do while I plug away. But there has to be an objective measure of progress at some point in time. A month seemed reasonable. How could I possibly not be better off than I was 30 days ago?

Because you suck that’s why. I don’t understand how I can be 8 pounds heavier than before. When clothes seem looser (but am I delusional?) when I seem to be able to cope with dancing better? I was in utter disbelief with this number. I purposefully chose this long period of time between weighings so I could set myself up for a win. Even after a night of sleep and emptying myself I’m still a good 6 pounds higher than before. WTF?

I take responsibility for less than perfect choices at times but even taking these into account this result just doesn’t make sense to me. There is no way in hell, even with the blips I had, that I should be up weight. And don’t nobody even mention that idea that I’ve gained muscle. I call bullshit. No person in the history of people ever put on over 6 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Especially not a girl.

You make me feel like I am doomed to a life of active obesity. That no matter how hard I work I will still be big. I will never be lean. It just doesn’t seem possible when you pull shit like this. Why are you not on board with this, anyways? It has got to be a better situation for you to be a healthier size and weight, to have better cardiovascular health, clearer lungs, the ability to go out and experience the world.

I totally understand why so many people don’t stick with losing weight. If I was seeing progress, any progress toward becoming a normal weight I’d be thrilled. But every single fucking time I check in I’m no better than I was four months ago in terms of body weight. Pathetic progress I say!

I feel like I do a lot. Yes, I’m getting all indignant and going into victim mode here but just let me get this out. I know I have to pick myself up from the dirt once again damnit and I need to clear this because it sucks to be repeatedly knocked to the floor over and over and over every single time I try to objectively measure progress. I am angry. Angry, do you hear me? I feel like I do more than most people. I thought that combine clean healthy eating with all the activity I was doing and I’d drop weight fast. It wasn’t happening so I INCREASED my activity. I didn’t let it be an excuse but tried a new tactic. AND YOU ARE STILL FUCKING WITH ME! YOU FUCKING BASTARD! So what the hell? I swear to God other people do what I’m doing and they would drop weight. Why will you not? When is enough, enough? Do I have train 6 hours a day or eat 1400 calories a day? I don’t have that kind of time! It would be a ridiculous lifestyle to live. It doesn’t seem like it should require such extremes. Why will you not bend to my will when I take less severe measures? I thought I was being compassionate toward myself but you are not responding. You are a fucking hoarder. Must I put you under a knife to change? Is that the route I should take?

It is going on nigh 3 years and you are still a disgusting obese mass of flesh, jiggly and slow, incapable of doing certain activities. I despise you in so many ways. I have been trying to make peace with you and you betray me at every turn. People say to be grateful for what I do have, and yes, I am. But right now I’m so angry at you I can’t see straight. And I don’t wish on my worst enemy the amount of effort, sweat, tears, and heartache it has taken even to get to this place. They say focus on how far you have come. Blah blah blah. I don’t have time to meander the rest of this path anymore and thought I was kicking it into high gear. And still my goals loom so far away. Have we even gotten any closer?

I feel like You are a taker. You take and take and take and don’t give up anything! You drain my very heart and spirit in this struggle to push your gargantuan mass up a mountain and you fail to pick up your end of the work. I am absolutely disgusted that I am still only 20 pounds lighter than I was than at the beginning of the year. Eight months of work for 20 pounds is absolutely ridiculous. Who in their right mind is going to stick with this? If I stay at the same rate, and oh wait, we don’t know when this plateau will end, so it might be even longer, but if it takes you 8 months to drop 20 pounds than I’m looking at like 3 years to get this done. Holy hell I just want to weigh less than 200 pounds. I just want to be smaller than men.

Is this too much to ask? From your response it seems that it is. It seems that you don’t want to change or that you require me to abuse you. I thought we were going about this sanely and safely and healthfully but you are a stubborn shithead. When you do not budge It feels like you would rather we look like a beached whale. That you would rather stay the same so we feel the need to cover ourself from wrist to ankle in the blistering heat of July in Arizona. You would rather we be relegated to the “woman’s” section in department stores and never wear shorts or shirts with sleeves shorter than 3/4ths. Apparently you don’t mind looking older and homely, or how it is affecting our dancing.

Perhaps you have some thoughts on this situation but the truth is right now I am too angry with you to hear them. Take a few days to meditate on what I have said here and write me back when you are (I am) ready to help me see this from a different perspective. And you better fucking tell me what it is going to take to finally get you to change! Make sure that is part of your answer.

Until then fuck you. If I could divorce you right now I would.

*Dear readers, this letter to my body is part of me processing the way I feel at the moment. I am just as determined as ever to continue on. I will not be going backwards because I have worked too damn hard for every tiny gain and I never want to have to go through this again. When I am calmer and saner and feeling better I will write a response back from my body to me. Kind of like how I did here with food. And reading this I can see that I have very much forged a much, much healthier relationship with food. It does not have the same hold on me as it once did.

It has been a rough couple of days for me emotionally but one thing I have been doing successfully and is new is channelling and transmuting this pain. For instance, yesterday I did some extra cardio and used the pain to push myself. Also, on my dance lesson today Ivan could immediately tell something was wrong but I said, “No talking. Just dancing.” And we had a focused and productive time. Stuffing myself with food wasn’t even an option!! If anything I am more clear and disciplined than ever. So, yeah, I am having a little pitty party for myself, but only because I have the intent of moving through it as quickly as possible and back to neutral so that I can get back to the business of transforming my body as efficiently and effectively as possible. Hopefully soon I will be able to look back on this letter, and the one I write back from my body, and see the same type of growth as I see when re-reading my old letter to food.

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Four Ounces Of Potato

I was really proud of myself today.  I guestimated the size of potato to chop off that would be four ounces and when I weighed it, it was right on the money!

What does this have to do with dance?  I mean, yeah, this is primarily a dance blog and all, but it is related.  It’s all related.

My diet/lifestyle, my body, my body image, my self-confidence, my ability to dance and perform, how I think about life and myself, they are all inter-related.

In a way, I feel like a woman transformed.  Again, it is back to that potato.  You all know I hired a nutritionist to help me from being obese and the biggest girl in the ballroom to someone who is fit and normal sized.  Well, anyways, of course it involves portion sizes and such.  The food scale is a permanent fixture on my kitchen island these days and even stranger than that is that it is totally okay.  I use it all the time.  But I don’t feel like a food Nazi, and I always thought of “those people who actually weigh out their food” as food Nazis.  Go figure.  Yes, the scale has become my friend and I’m surprised by the minimal amount of resistance I had to using it.

Kartoffeln der Sorte Marabel

Tilmann at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

So I don’t feel like a food Nazi.  Probably because when I’m “on” with my plan, I’m in it from a place of true choice.  I want to do it and it seems effortless.  The results may not happen as fast as I think they should or whatever, but the actual “doing” of the plan is a good thing.

And then real life, weekends, social events happen.  Sometimes I navigate them well.  Other times, like Sunday, I totally blow it.  I think my motto is two steps forward, one step back.  As much as a big part of me wants to change and is willing to do the work of it – namely going to the gym, dancing, doing the food prep and eating on the plan, there is also a part that is not completely on board.  It self-sabatoges.  As I told my nutritionist, “Samurai Saying: knock down seven times, get up eight…..or eight thousand when it relates to me!”

But still, I notice changes.  If I take a “food excursion,” it is still not even close to the magnitude that it used to be.  And, after this Sunday when I made some terrifically poor choices around food and drink, I was able to get right back on track Monday morning – and in the past being derailed like this could last days.

That, and my pants are looser, even if they aren’t falling off me (yet).  And the potato thing.  First, I actually know the size of a proper portion of potato, what four ounces looks like, and I am weighing it out, measuring all my food portions (when I’m with it), and I have discovered that I actually can be disciplined around food, and that it doesn’t always have to be a huge, horrible struggle…except for when it is.

Again, Stef, how is this related to dance?  Don’t worry, I’ll get there 🙂

You all probably noticed that there has been a blogging drought.  Part of that was due to the fact that Ivan left the country to go visit Bulgaria, and part of that was because I, for whatever reason, felt the need for a little hiatus from dancing.  I didn’t go to ballet.  I didn’t go to Inna’s class.  I didn’t blog.  I just needed a break after Desert Classic and honestly, I can’t exactly pinpoint a reason behind this.  A wise friend of mine told me “sometimes you have to step away from your passion to take the next step forward.”  I figured I’d focus on my diet (really it’s a lifestyle reset) and working out at the gym.  Well, I kinda did, if not as vigorously as I originally envisaged.

I was kind of burned out after the last competition.  First off I wasn’t where I wanted to be physically.  I also discovered I hadn’t done the mental preparation and how important that is.  Then the new dress that I feel highlights my big belly.  The bottom line of all this was the both Ivan and I agree we didn’t dance our best together….all except for the last two open dances.  This was after the Latin day in which I did mediocre, on the Rhythm day where I did really well in placements and even won the bronze closed scholarship for my age division.  After that win, Ivan and I were happy and carefree.  We danced those last two dances with joy and freedom, and apparently he even saw some Latin pros he respects watching us and getting into our performance.  Other than that moment of glory, though, we were pushing and pulling each other and it was no fun.  We wanted to so badly to show something that we ended up showing nothing.

So I came home and was relieved on some level that Ivan would be gone and there would be a break.  That, and also I was having some body image stuff going on. Mostly because I see how huge I am, even after all this work since the beginning of the year, and I can’t believe I ever danced when I was bigger than I am now. It is ludicrous that I dance at this size, but I did it originally 83 pounds heavier, and since the beginning of the year at least 30 pounds heavier. It has always been freaking hard, but with as difficult as everything feels these days, I’m amazed I danced before now.

The truth is, I haven’t weighed myself for about a month.  I can’t handle seeing the number on the scale if it goes up.  I feel like even when I weigh in next Wednesday the scale will be the same.  I’m kind of mentally preparing myself for that possibility.  Of course I’m hoping that I’ve changed at least a little bit, downward.  But anyways, because of the way I’ve been going about this process it hasn’t been a wham bam whiz bang go go go and just do it all 100% and get amazing results fast.  I’ve been living life in between the spaces.  I have days where I’m spot on, and others where I’m really not.  I’m finding that it really is about dusting myself off and getting back to it ASAP and working toward approaching that 100% from where I am, which is currently working the plan probably 80% on average, 95% when I’m really being a RockStar and 70% or less when I’m off the wagon.  It ain’t a straight line, that’s for sure!!

But the thing is, something has shifted.  Well, a few things, actually.  Whatever the scale says next week, I have a realistic idea of proper portion sizes.  I have created a habit of doing food prep on Sundays to set myself up to win for the week.  And the biggest thing is that, at least for the moment, I’m not beating myself up for my occasional poor choices.  I’m not punishing myself for not being thin already.  I’m not hating myself because I’m not 13% body fat or whatever like I think I “should” be.  Separating a momentary poor choice from shame has been huge.  I have never been able to just be like, oops!  Choose better next time and learn from the mistake.  But somehow I’m in that space at the moment.  Maybe because I’m gonna screw up some times – it is part of being human, and I can do nothing, absolutely nothing, in the moment to change my body instantaneously or to change whatever choice I may have made in the past that got me to where I am.  In the past, especially since I already feel bad about myself and my body, if I ate out of control it made me feel even worse and I’d sink into a depression and hopeless pit of despair that I was never going to get out of my fat obese body, that it was, in fact, impossible.  That actually, God put me on this earth and he designed me so that I could never be skinny.  Yes, I thought like that.  I still don’t know what the end result will be, but I do know that it can be a hell of a lot better than it is!  In any case, somehow I’ve managed to tease apart the entwined mess that says in my brain that my self-worth is dependent and related to my weight.  I have equated that the fatter I am, the less worthy I am.  When I am fat, I am “less valuable” than other people, I feel worse about myself, and I even feel like less of a human being.  I can’t express the amount of shame tied to my body size, shape, and the amount of adipose I’m lugging around.  But somehow I’ve found a bubble that says yes, you are in this situation and you can rationally acknowledge and own it and see it in the mirror, but you don’t have to be ashamed for being alive anymore.  More than that, you don’t even need to be ashamed to dance anymore.

That being said, I am committed to change, because damnit, I deserve better.  However, I don’t know how long this is going to take.  I thought it would take me a year to get to my goal.  Maybe it will happen that way.  Maybe I will go like gangbusters with the clarity, calmness, and centeredness I’m feeling at the moment and bulldoze though the process, making new changes every week, building on what I do that moves me forward until I have an entire new set of habits, and an entire new life and body.  Maybe it will take longer because I choose to take detours.  The deal is, no matter what, I’m going to be in this fat suit for a while longer.  I’m nowhere near shopping in the normal clothing section just yet.

But God bless Ivan.  I have been in the question around doing the next competition here in town in September, next month.  I already got the days off work and it is local so it is kind of difficult to say no, but then with my lukewarm feelings from Desert Classic and still being so big, I was also feeling kind of like maybe I didn’t want to participate.  Back and forth I would go.  I should go because I want to support one of the owners and see my friends.  I don’t want to go because what am I going to show that’s different from the last competition?  God my arms are fat… and on and on in circles.

But Ivan said two things.  First, when I came back to my first lesson once Ivan made it back into the U.S. (yay!) we had a good one.  It was relaxed but focused.  It was a lot of fun and we had good energy.  Ivan was like, “if you were maybe not wanting to go to Desert Classic I would have been okay with that.  I didn’t really feel like I wanted badly to go dance with you.  Also, don’t feel pressure about Galaxy because if you can’t do it, financial or whatever, it’s okay.  But after this lesson, I hope you going to be keeping the same energy.  I think people going to wanting to see you dancing.  And I want to go dancing with you at Galaxy.  I want us to build on the two good dances we did at the end of Desert Classic.  We always starting and stopping.  If we go to one competition and then not go to the next one we get comfortable.  We don’t work as hard.  We then have to work twice as hard to get back to where we were once again if we don’t keep going to competitions.  But mostly I wanting to go with you.  We have different goals than most people.  Our goals is to have the good energies like we had on those last two dances.  I think it would be good to be going.”

The second thing he said was, “Why you not wanna go?  Because you fat?”

And I was like, “Yes.”  Lol.

“Because we already knowing this.” He replied.  “We already seeing this.  You think I caring about your fats when we dancing like that?  I no caring.  In fact I almost forgetting your fats, until you remind me of them once again.  I looking at how you moving.  I thinking, I can’t wait to seeing the butt move on the time step in the cha cha.  I don’t caring that it big.  I just excited to see it.”

Leave it to Ivan to put it in a funny way but I think he’s right in some ways.  He’s right in that there are moments I forget about how I look.  In those moments I’m a free and I just want to move my butt, no matter how big it may be.  I’m dancing from a place of what I feel inside.  There is no judging or comparing or seeing all my flaws.  In those moments, I’m outside of myself and my personality.

So anyways, I am going to do the local comp.  This means, I think, that there will be more blogging in the near future.  That plus I’m waiting to get photos and/or video from the hubs from the last comp to share, plus I am wanting to do a “book review” series about books on ballroom.  It’s an idea I’ve had for a while but the author of a fictional book about ballroom approached me and I agreed to read her book and review it so it is the perfect excuse to finally do it for all the books I’ve enjoyed about my favorite form of dance.

But I digress….

So I’m going to the comp, and until then I’ll be measuring out my four ounces of potato, and hopefully that will translate into being a few (or a whole lot) of ounces lighter over the next month.  We’ll see!  Because I’m finding that as my body shrinks I feel better in it.  I have more confidence.  I can’t wait until I really like the reflection in the mirror.  What a freedom it would be to wear a sleeveless shirt or shorts or to have a dress I love and feel good competing in.  Right now I still see my body as a burden and a horror, though less a horror than before…which is mind-boggling to me.  How did I get here?  Where was I before I was fat?  How did I ever get to 313 pounds?  I still feel the same as I did 80 pounds heavier.   This stuff messes with my head…

But still, I’m chugging along, and I think I must be doing some things right, mixed in with the mess-ups.  First because Ivan wants to dance with me plus we have been doing good work on our recent lessons and, second, because tonight after class Inna walked right over to me and said, “Stefanie, you are looking good!”  I don’t know if that was in reference to my weight or my dancing tonight, but either way, I’ll take it!  Eventually the things that I do that move me forward will overcome those that pull me back.

In fact, maybe it’s happening on a small scale already.

You Have A Strong Heart

My niece had a runny nose when we took her to the mall this weekend to Build-a-Bear and I’m convinced she gave me a slight cold. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that my allergies are horrendous at the moment and I have asthma. This compounds the inflammation in my airways and makes it that much more difficult to breathe, much less do anything that requires cardio. So yesterday I went to the gym, as I do now on Thursdays, to work out with my trainer I requested that we limit the high-intensity cardio and stick to lifting some weights.

She opted to cancel some of the kettleball swings but other than that, it was still a solid workout. I did 12 deadlifts with a 50 pound barbell and rows in between. Then I did squats with a 30 pound barbell pushing it into an upward press above my shoulders as I straightened my legs. Then I did 12 backward lunges with the 30 pound barbell on my shoulders and finished off with an incline plank. I repeated this circuit four times.

It was tough but not so tough that I wanted to cry, like I have on previous workouts. It got my heart pumping and was taxing and I always feel like the thing that limits me the most is endurance, breathing hard, the cardio part. But I was able to do it and that was good.

At the end of the work out my trainer told me, “You should be proud of yourself. You did four sets of that and it’s pretty impressive. That is not easy. You are strong. I don’t put out weights like this for everyone and I wouldn’t do it for you if I didn’t think you could do it. Good work today!” She gave me a high-five.

Me, I was like, really? Because I have a set of sunglasses on that filter how I see the world that generally point out how pathetic I’m doing – how I could be doing more, and how lame it is I can’t do a Burpee and that my belly gets in the way, and how silly I look doing all this stuff.

It’s like, I feel guilty for feeling good about myself. Somehow this is taboo, forbidden, wrong.

But I did feel strong doing those dead lifts. I banged them out pretty good and though challenging, I was up to the challenge. I felt pretty good about doing that, that it was less pathetic than usual, but here was my trainer saying that I should be proud of myself for what I had done. I’m not exactly sure that I know how that feels. I mean, I was proud of myself for completing over 120 heats at the San Diego Open a few years ago and earing Top Student. That was a goal I worked for and achieved and it felt awesome. But these everyday victories, they somehow don’t seem big enough. It’s as if I’m waiting until I’m at my goal weight to actually approve of myself, be proud of myself, love myself.

Like following my eating plan this past week. I did it successfully and that was good, but I wasn’t exactly “proud” of myself for doing that. In my mind, it is simply what I need to do to get where I want to go, and I’m focused like no kidding on that so I did what needed to be done, that’s all. In truth, I’m not even proud of myself for being down over 70 pounds from my highest weight ever (see picture below). Because it took 3 fucking years to do that and I’m still mad that I’m 100 pounds from where I want to be.

20130509_150213

Don’t get me wrong. I notice a difference and I do feel somewhat better about myself. I just still see that I have so very far to go and this is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take months of consistent, persistent, determined action. And though I’m anticipating victories along the way, like reaching 213 which will be 100 pounds from my highest weight, and getting under 200 pounds, and getting to 179 pounds which will mean I’m overweight and no longer obese according to my BMI, and hitting my goal weight, I’m just not all that impressed with myself for where I am.

But I am starting to question that point of view simply because it could undermine all my efforts, and I refuse to let that happen this time. This time, I’m following this through come hell or high water!

My nutritionist seemed to also think I should be so proud of myself. She was like, “Stef, you’ve already accomplished a lot, and now, if you keep what you are doing, you will get to your goal in less than a year. You’ve got this! I really hope you are proud of yourself.” And she gave me a big hug.

But I find myself having trouble letting go of my story. You know, the one about me not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I’m having trouble letting go of what I want to be so badly that I can’t seem to be satisfied with where and how I am. It is the ultimate thief, this mindset of comparison, and “not-enough.” But I swear, at the same time that I can see my face looks a little thinner, and maybe my belly too, and that when I thought I’d need a size 24 skirt I ended up purchasing a size 16, at the same time as I can see these steps of progress, I can also see my huge arms, how much larger I am than any other girls in my dance classes, how thick my legs and thighs are, the cellulite on my knees. At the same time that I feel slightly lighter, that it is maybe easier to move and more tolerable to wear heels to dance in, I also am also exhausted panting for breath and having a difficult time holding myself in yoga poses or ballet because I weigh so much or my body mass simply gets in the way.

I am still in a place where I feel the need to block out how I look and don’t feel proud of my appearance. I am longing for when I can wear this one asymmetrical dance shirt I bought and feel so beautiful and sassy in it. Right now when I put it on I just see where it hugs and tugs when it should be hanging empty, and it is frustrating and makes me feel sad.

And the thing I am up against physically that challenges me the most (besides the self-esteem and body image) is the cardio. Well, at least, it is my experience of me being out of shape. But even this I am questioning once again because of my nutritionist and trainer. Because the truth is, when I do a dance class, even though I may be panting and sweating and absolutely killing myself, and even though I may need to not do everything full-out just to stay in the game, well, the truth is, I’m working harder than anyone else out there just because of the sheer weight I carry. They’d probably be more tired too if they were carrying an extra 90 pounds.

Because I always experience myself as out of shape cardiovascular-wise, and because my dance teacher says that even skinny people can really struggle with the cardio and endurance required for dancing, I was feeling the need to add in some training to improve this. But both my trainer and nutritionist said that I was crazy active, especially compared to most people, and probably even more so for obese people. They said, “cardio isn’t the problem. Get the weight off and it will become so much easier. You won’t have to change a thing if you just keep dancing like you are. It will be enough.”

Aorta

My nutritionist said, “You have a strong heart. Cardio isn’t problem.”

My trainer said, after lifting all those weights today, “You are strong. Strength isn’t the problem.”

The problem is how I feel. The problem is the extra person I’m carrying around in my body. It makes it difficult to feel and act strong and sexy in Latin class with Rado doing the Rumba. I can do the steps, and some of my shapes look nice and all, but I’m lacking the confidence necessary because of my fat fucking arms and huge tree-trunk legs. I am the anthesis of the ideal for a Latin dancer, the complete and utter opposite, and it is a laughable farce, me dancing this dance.

Or is it awesome? Because I’m doing it anyways, because it is in my heart, regardless of external circumstances or appearances.

I don’t know. I think it is kind of a ridiculous-awesome, if there is such a thing.

What I do know is that in less than two weeks I will be dancing in a competition. I will be putting myself out there to be seen and judged. And you know what? Doing that, revealing one’s art, whether it be a painting or a dance, in writing or sharing a musical composition, and regardless of that person’s size or appearance, regardless of all those things, well, it takes a strong heart.

It All Begins And Ends With Fat

I had a really great double lesson with Ivan this morning. This is the difference having a solid goal and time frame in place makes. Because I’ve put the down payment on participating in 80 heats in People’s Choice, I know I’m going. Because I know I’m going, I know I need to do whatever I can to prepare myself in the short 4 weeks before the competition.

In only four weeks there is only so much you can do. Even while I work at it, I’m not going to lose a significant percentage of my body fat in that short of a time. However, even dropping just 5 pounds will make a difference I can feel on my body. I’m determined to be spot on with the plan my nutritionist sets forth for me. I can be motivated for one week at a time, especially with the competition looming. There is a purpose, and an urgent one, that will be behind all my choices and struggles. I need that.

And I’m determined to not lose any momentum afterwards like has happened in the past. I’ve already gotten the days off work for Desert Classic, which is also just a short time away. But the thing is, as soon as I am complete with People’s Choice, I will have another goalpost on the horizon to focus upon. This is so important for me. I will have my next competition planned before I complete Desert Classic to keep the cycle going.

Also, I probably can’t improve my cardio to where it really needs to be, but I do believe in a month’s time, especially combined with even a modest weight loss, I can make a difference. So what I need to do is practice exactly the task I need to accomplish while in the competition itself. We’ve been lazy on our lessons in this regard, indulging in long chats, stopping when it becomes a moderate effort, not doing rounds. I’ve talked in the past about making a playlist of songs for rounds of American and Latin styles with songs 1:30 each, but today I finally showed up prepared. I directed the lesson. I had an agenda. Because we have little time and I have to do what I can.

Before I fully committed to People’s Choice, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I was working toward…the vague goals of “getting better” and “losing weight” just weren’t moving me forward in any directed fashion. So I’d show up on a lesson and, as Ivan put it, say “Let’s do a Foxtrot. I’m fat.” He said I just moved and complained. That I wasn’t really dancing or doing anything.

So anyways, today I came in with a list of songs to warm up with. During this time we focused on connection. It was the perfect place to start and I told Ivan that this is how lessons need to look for a while – come in, warm up, focus on connection, then cardio, cardio, cardio doing rounds.

And guess what. It kicked my butt. I thought maybe I’d do okay since I did okay with the showcase number and that dance was pretty long. But nope. After swing I was kaput. And there are two more dances to complete. Because I was dancing full-out, pushing it during the beginning. Because that is my potential and capacity to dance like that, but I can’t sustain it. My body stops me. The asthma problems don’t help, but I honestly and truly believe that my body and physicality and lack of cardiovascular fitness are the biggest things holding me back right now. Anyways, I’m going to push during these next four weeks, doing rounds on every lesson and I do think it will get better. Oh, and it will probably feel better anyway because most likely the dances will only be 1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds at the most and I’m intentionally making it longer for conditioning.

But even with the reality of how exhausted I was after Swing, it still felt really good to be working on exactly what I need to work on and to be directed and focused. I didn’t have time to go all “poor me” and get in my head. And I have to say, for the first time, I had this moment of really being excited. I love the shapes I’m making, in Samba especially, and I could, for an instant, imagine how fierce it will be when I’m 100 pounds lighter.

And there were some funny moments that had me in stitches and it felt good to be happy and laughing on a lesson, even if my shortcomings were right in front of me. For instance, we were doing this move in Samba and I was really getting into it and so was Ivan. He wanted to spread his arms open wide, his chest puffed out like an eagle, presenting himself as very manly and strong. At the same time I was to step backwards behind, cross my feet, put one arm up in the air and the other one on his chest. We both went at it full force…but instead of connecting with his chest, my arm hit is wrist with a loud “smack!” and he was like, “Oww!” and withdrew his paw like a wounded kitten. It was so funny! Sometimes it feels good to hit your teacher, you know! lol.

And then there was some typical Ivan inappropriateness. On one step he told me to shut my clam. No, he didn’t mean for me to stop talking. He meant my, ahem, other clam, as in, keep your legs crossed daintly like a lady and don’t dance like a cowboy. Oh Ivan!

But mostly the lesson felt good because we were productive, focused, and clear. And while working on connection, I was able to control, direct, and project my energy such that at one point Ivan got goosebumps which is the ultimate in knowing I’m doing something right. I love it!

Which brings up another thing I’ve been pondering. I’ve been going to all these group classes that really emphasize technique, with Inna and Rado, and that is great. I love these classes and learning all this amazing information. However, there comes a time when you just have to dance. And that’s what I’ve got to focus on during my (expensive) time with Ivan. We have to focus on connection and actually dancing.

Ivan was so funny on our last lesson. I was telling him about what we talked about on Rado’s lesson and asking him for his take on it, thinking that I wanted him to tell me what I needed to do to “fix” things. But he basically said, “This so good you going to these classes. You learning all the different techniques but it is different with everybody. I think you open. I think your mind is open and you can listen to all these things and understand there is no one right way. Many people is wanting this, right and wrong way. So go, and learn, and now use this information. You not stupid. You no need me to tell you what to doing wrong or how to fixing it. You can do this yourself. You just need to do your routines by yourself step by step.”

Well, dang if that isn’t taking responsiblity for my own dancing on a new level, I don’t know what is. And that is another thing I was reflecting on…how much responsiblity I’ve been taking for my dancing, especially since Desert Classic last year. It is a good thing.

Anyways, getting back to how Ivan was being so funny. So he was basically saying, yes, technique is important but it’s not everything and you have to dance, like really dance, if you know what I mean – the difference between “doing” the steps, passing through the movements and “being” the dance. It’s kind of hard to explain but when you experience it or feel it, you can tell the difference. Really dancing involves, for me, like actually hearing the music (like I used to before I learned the importance of counting) instead of just saying the numbers in my head. Like actually seeing Ivan, not just blankly staring at him. Like being playful and in the moment and responding to my partner, the crowd, what feels right inside.

And so we have this conversation about technique and dancing, and Ivan slaps my butt when we are doing our Mambo routine and he says, “See! This is not technique.” And then we do rumba and he keeps me in this one position longer than unusual, and I go nuts wiggling my hips and he’s like, “Yeahhhh! See! This is not technique! But it looking so good!” I have these moments when there isn’t a conscious thought, and I just move like I feel like I should, and it is amazing…it is really dancing.

Because my truth is, I am a dancer. We know this. Everyone can see it. I’ve finally admitted to myself and I finally believe it to be true about me.

The other reality is, I’m fat. Everyone can see it. I never needed to admit it to myself, it is what it is, it is the truth about me.

I thought there was perhaps a way to see the dancing beyond the fat, but not so much. They are intimately intertwined. As Ivan told me, “It always begins or ends with fat.” You see, people know me because I move so well and it’s pretty unexpected because I’m extra large. So people will ask him, “Oh, who do you have a lesson with next?” “Stefanie,” he’ll say, and they will reply, “Oh the big one. She’s so good!” or “She’s so good! Isn’t she the fat one?”

People can’t just see me as a good dancer. They see me as a fat good dancer. Kind of like most people don’t see just a man, they see an Asian man. Or they don’t just see a woman, they see a woman with Cerebral Palsy. The fat is part of the picture, inseparable from me as being Asian or having a debilitating disease. Of course I can change this…I’m in the process of doing so…but this isn’t the point I’m making. The point I’m making is that as of this moment in time, this is part of my picture. Period.

So it was with mixed feelings that I read this post from The Reinvented Lass.  I did the showcase Cha Cha and shared the video and it affected her.  She reached out to me and asked me if I minded if she posted it on her blog and talk about how it affected her.  Of course I didn’t mind!  I think it is so amazing she was affected, and that she wanted to share and engage in a conversation.  I love it.  And I really appreciate and honor her honesty.  She was so self-reflective and kind and yet, I have to admit, it still stung.

The Lass wrote that she was proud of me.  That she’d read about my struggles and thought that I was a, wait for it….good dancer, and that she liked how I got into character.

But in my head all this was overshadowed.  She also wrote:

…she did such a great job with it – regardless of her size!

Yes, isn’t that the story of my life.  It all begins and ends with fat.

She continued:

But I started thinking about what things she can do better than me and how much better than me she can move. And to be honest, how much better than me she can move especially considering her size. Petty, right? And then I started to feel bad for myself and started thinking how bad of a dancer I must be. And I felt bad for having such thoughts about her.

All that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.

And reading this, I have compassion for both for her and for me. This stuff isn’t easy.  Petty?  I’m not sure I’d agree.  It’s just true, what she thought, but it does prick the heart.  It goes to my point that there is no way of really seeing just the dancing alone becuase it is embodied by, well, my Rubenesque physique. And still, it pisses me off. Why can’t people just see the dancing?

And it made me think that being fat, letting myself present myself this way, is me handing others a weapon to use against me, keep me down (read – a way for me to keep myself down).  They can always be superior because at least they aren’t fat like that one girl who dances well, for God’s sakes (read – other people are superior to me)!  They may not be able to dance like me, but heck, at least they don’t look like me.  The fact that they have a body fat percentage lower than mine makes them a better, more worthy person somehow. And anyways, they can get better, and at least they don’t look ridiculous trying to be sexy (read – well, you know.  All this crap is just me projecting what I don’t want to own).

How unfair and mean and separating and victim-y is that to think? And all that in about 30 seconds. SIGH.

For me it brings up thoughts of how inappropriate it is to dance in this state. That I shouldn’t dance while fat. But it also makes me think that it is important that I still get out there anyway because the stronger truth is that I am a dancer. I am a dancer now when I am fat and I will still be a dancer in the future when I am thin. Who I am is a dancer, but who I am has nothing to do with how much I weigh….and everything to do with it.

So what is there to do? I’ll take a note from the Lass:

But I also told myself that it’s not a competition. It’s a journey. She’s on her journey, and I’m on mine…

And in the meantime, I can appreciate Stef, her journey, her ability, and her dancing. I can appreciate that we share a passion and that we both think dance is so important to our lives. And I can cheer her on to be the best.

Yes. That’s right. We are on our own journeys and how much better is it to root for one another, remind one another of our greatness, and have open, honest communication, than to get stuck in the mental muck that threatens to separate us? How much better is it to appreciate that we share a passion called dancing that is important to the both of us, and that really, we are more similar than we are different?

So, Lass, I cheer for you, and for us. I appreciate you and know that you do kick-ass swivels (which I suck at!) and turns. I know you are insightful and wise. I am so glad you had the courage to share what you thought. Thank you for being my friend, warts and all.

So maybe the title of this post isn’t quite right.

Maybe it doesn’t really all begin and end with fat.

Maybe, instead, it all begins and ends with compassion and respect for ourselves and others, how we are right now, holding a vision of the best in the future. Maybe it all begins and ends with connection, not separation, recognizing our similarities rather than only seeing outer differences.

Maybe the truth is that it all begins and ends with love.