I Love Chocolate….And My Friends, And My Mom

Sometimes I feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.  One of the very important (to me) things that sometimes gets put on the backburner when other responsibilities get in the way is writing a blog post.  You know, these things take time and between work, the commute, getting a dance lesson in, and preparing my food for my eating plan, not to mention some online writing gigs, and fitting in some time to make sure I still connect with my husband and some time to have fun and relax, well, living a balanced life is a full time prospect!  I don’t think I’d get even half of this done if I had kiddos!

Anyways, the short of it is that a lot has happened since my last blog post and I kind of don’t know where to start.  I think tonight it’s going to be a stream-of-consciousness ramble about some lessons, a boating trip (with dancing friends), and my mom’s first dance lesson, plus an update about the Desert Classic.  And Paragon, I would be happy to tell you about the dress – thanks for asking!

Let’s see….

I guess with Ivan I’ve probably had 3 lessons?  We’ve worked on all sorts of stuff, but mostly connection and expression.  As Ivan explains it to me, I’m not the first one to ever do a fan.  It’s not like people have never seen a fan before (in Cha Cha or Rumba), but how am I going to style it so I stand out?   One of the things I’m most excited about, which may sound silly, but to me is scrumptious, is the preparation to dancing (did I really just write that?  OMG, Ivan’s Bulgarian English is rubbing off on me!  What I mean is ….preparation to dance).  Especially in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha we’ve been working on Ivan placing me on the floor and then a little interaction where I am like bursting, I want to dance so bad (well, the idea is to act that way), and then he approaches, we connect, and then we begin as one.  Of course, it doesn’t always happen that smoothly, but the idea is there and I do think it will set us apart.

Also I am working on doing a better job of shifting my weight over my standing leg more quickly, and moving myself.  There are some “deadspots” in my dancing at times.  They way Ivan explains it, it’s like my engine stops working.

“You doing so good, Stefanie, to this point but then your “Check Engine” light goes on.  You run out of gas.”

Ah yes, the car metaphors abound.  Hopefully I’ll show up as a Ferrari rather than a dump truck while dancing at Desert Classic!  Ha Ha.

One thing I’m not excited about is the Jive.  Seriously, we haven’t even practiced it!  If I place last in all my Jives I will let myself off the hook!  We haven’t worked on it.  I’m just going to try and enjoy them as much as I can and let it be whatever experience it is.  I’ll expect more of myself once we’ve actually worked on the dang dance!

I’m feeling better about the stamina issue.  It looks like based on the schedule at Desert Classic that I will dance Smooth Thursday morning then Latin in the afternoon.  Friday I’ll have off to recouperate.  Then Saturday is American Rhythm.  I will wear my red and black dress for Rhythm and Smooth and I’m having a new dress made by Marietta for Latin.  I had a fitting just yesterday, and although still a work in progress, I really like it – more than I thought I would from the sketches.  It is going to be very figure flattering for me.  It’s black and gold with lovely asymmetrical draping.  If it continues along the same lines as what I saw yesterday, I’m going to feel very sexy and sleek in this frock.  Once I have it in my posession, I’ll be happy to post pictures.

Also, I’ve decided that I will get a tan this go-around.  Yes, I’m mostly covered, but go big or go home, as they say.  Why not do everything to play the part?  And time to put on the nails as well.

Okay, so besides doing what I can to get ready for Desert Classic, because seriously, there is so much I learn every day I dance, and at a certain point you just have to show up as you are – a work in progress, you know?  Well besides doing what I can to prepare, I also had some time for some R & R this weekend.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a pontoon boat for a few hours this past Sunday with my friend Colette (featured in this post ) as well as my friend Ghada, and also Ivan and Marietta.  OMG!  It was SUCH a good time.  And yes, believe it or not, we do have a few lakes here in Arizona!  Anyways, I think we talked about dance for the entire time, which is just the way I like it.  The coolest part is that Ghada, Colette, and I all take from different instructors, but we are all friends and genuinely support one another.  Like if either of those gals won, even if they beat me in competition, I’d be happy for them and celebrate.  I know they’d feel the same about me too!

And we brought Ivan along for the entertainment, and he didn’t disappoint!  As you can see, we got into some chocolate trouble.  We also danced on the boat, ate, drank, posed for pictures, talked, laughed, tanned, and floated.  It was a most relaxing day and the entire world melted away.   I just feel so very blessed to have such amazing friends.

Oh, and here’s Ivan making a “Bulgarian cocktail”  Ha Ha!  He actually was a bartender for a few years in Spain, believe it or not!

Anyways, best day ever…well, one of the best ever.

But then I had to come back to the real world.  *Sigh*

However, back in the real world, there was another exciting event on the horizon.  Remember how Ivan was like, infatuated with the idea of dancing with my mom?  Well, he convinced her to come in for a lesson!  He has it in his mind to do a showcase number to “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C & C Music Factory with her as the centerpiece.  So today she came for her very first lesson and I got to be there too!

She was really cute.

“Wow.  That is quite a drive!”  She exclaimed upon arriving.  We got started and it was really fun.  We played around making up different moves and Ivan taught mom the Cha Cha basic step.  The showcase number is going to be freestyle so we can just have a lot of fun with it and not worry too much about technique.  Mom showed us some moves from the 60’s like the Pony and the Twist and Ivan made her do side splits and we also lifted her up in the air, making a seat with our arms.  She did great for her first lesson and Ivan said she was learning quickly.  I had to laugh, though when Ivan suggested, “Chris, maybe you to coming by yourself for the next lesson so we not killing Stefanie’s lesson.”

The thing is, we are gearing up for the competition right now, and Ivan has a lot of choreography to figure out and teach my mom.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to pick it up pretty quickly, so this sounds like a good plan to me, but I’m really looking forward to the day we do this performance.  It’s going to be EPIC!

I also had to laugh when Ivan suggested to my mom, “You have to practicing.  Listen to the song lots at home and dance at home.  Discover different movements, and how the music makes you dance.  Dance in front of the mirror.  Dance in front of your husband.”

“Oh no!” Said Mom.

“Yeah!”  I laughed, “Dad probably wouldn’t watch.”  He’s not big on the dancing.  This made it especially wonderful that he came to my showcase because he had to sit through a lot of dancing before I performed.

“Okay, okay.” Interjected Mr. Ivan.  “You not dancing in front of your husband.  You save it to being a surprise!”

“Okay, Ivan.  When do you think this showcase will be?”

“In September maybe.  There is a showcase the weekend before the Galaxy competition.”

“But I’ll be in Italy from August 31st through September 18.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.  You can practicing in Italy!”

We all laughed at that.

“But we’ll see,” he said.  “Maybe we can doing it in September.  If not, there will be other events.  Maybe November or January.  It okay.”

So, the long and short of it is mom did great, Ivan is very excited about the whole thing, and at one point or another we will be performing as a trio.

Alright, last in a long list of updates, I had a lesson with Inna tonight.  Actually, she wasn’t even supposed to teach tonight!  She was supposed to be in Florida, competiting at Milennium.  But apparently there was a snag with her travel plans and she was there tonight.  I think since most people thought Inna would be gone it was a smaller class than usual.  There were only four of us plus Inna.  And you know what?  I’m SO glad I showed up tonight.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again…Inna is a master teacher.  Tonight, because the class was smaller and consisted of more experienced students, she was able to get into deeper detail and explain timing in a way such that I discovered an entire new level to it.  I actually felt it differently in my body.  And as Inna explained it, when you really get the timing and rhythm of a dance it feels like the music is dancing you rather than you dancing to the music.  I had a tiny little taste of it tonight and it was honestly a breakthrough.  Like I said, at the very end, it actually felt different in my body, and it felt good.

You know, if you are a ballroom-er, then you’ve heard about timing.  We all “know” the counts.   But wow, I’ve never understood the timing in this way before.  It took the better part of the class for Inna to get her point across, as well as many demonstrations, so I’ll probably not do the subject justice, but I’ll do my best to share what I discovered.  One of the things Inna does that is so very effective is that she will demonstrate two different ways of dancing the same steps.  This allows us to visually see two different ways of dancing.  And the thing that is so effective about it is that she will dance the steps well, with the correct timing and arms and all, but then she will dance it with that added flair that makes it look professional.  One of the hardest things to figure out as a student is how to make my movements match those of my instructors.  What is it, exactly, that makes the quality of their dancing so much more amazing than mine?

Like I can see that it is cleaner and sharper, but try as I might, I can’t always emulate this, even if I use all my abilities.  But tonight, I discovered the importance of timing.  Holy heck!  It changed everything.  And, ha ha, I thought I knew timing before, right?  I also knew that one of my less-than-stellar-habits is to pass through steps, making them look sloppy, soft, mushy, because I am so concerned about getting where I need to get two steps ahead, rather than fully completing the step I am presently in in the moment.  Oh, Ivan’s communicated the same thing, but somehow I was able to hear it more deeply from Inna tonight.

So the concept is this:  In Cha Cha, say, the counts are 2, 3, Cha Cha, 1.  There are 8 counts in the measure.  The 2, 3, and 1 are all one full beat (2 counts).  Each “Cha” is one half of a beat (one count).  Therefore, logically, the 2, 3, and 1 are movements that take more time.   The Cha Cha part should take less time.

But in my dancing, even though I’d step on the right beats and all, everything looks even.  I made 2, 3 about the same length of time, but then I made the Cha Cha, 1 like 3 even beats, instead of quick, quick, full count.  I’d rush the 3 to get to the Cha’s, power through the Cha’s to get to the 1.  Okay, again, very confusing to put into words, especially without a physical demonstration.  So if you can’t follow what I’m trying to say, sorry!  The point is that conceptually I’ve known about this construct called timing, but today, I think for the first time, I truly felt it IN my body.  Amazing.  And super hard!  OMG it takes so much concentration and energy.  But it’s worth it!

One final thought and then I have to sign off.  It’s 11:35pm and I’ve got to be up early and have a full, full day once again.  Anyways, that last thought is this:  It takes no talent to be a dancer, just discipline, and having talent as a dancer, meaning the dance comes from the inside, is paramount.

What do I mean by this?  Well, I’m talking about being able to embrace the paradox of two opposites and knowing that both are true.  The paradigm that it takes no talent to be a dancer, but it does take a mind and discipline and practice, this comes from Inna.  She said this herself to us tonight.  And I think she is right.

But also, the paradigm that having that inner dancer, being able to move and change and evolve quickly, and having the dance come from inside is more important than all the practice in the world, this comes from Ivan.  And I think he is right, too.

How can this be?  Well, I think both are essential.  There is absolutely an element of training the body and creating muscle memory through repetition and practice in the study of dancing.  There is also absolutely an element of the dance transcending the technique, and that can’t be taught.

So my feeling is, I’m so grateful to have both teachers and both paradigms in my dancing practice.  I get the yin and the yang.  The whole shebang. (And that is my poem for the night).  My practice is to embody both the discipline and the freedom.

Alright, I think my system is shutting down now.  My bed is calling!

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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?