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?”

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Dancing IS a sport. Just Ask My Husband…

Okay, so Dancing with Stefanie is the Stefanie show…except it’s not. I want to share the stories of lots of people, espcially those who are in some way touched by dance in their lives. I ask for guest blog posts from anyone I find interesting or whose blog I enjoy, even if it isn’t directly dance related. You see, I find dance is a great metaphor for lots of things that happen in life.

Well, a while ago I querried my husband about writing a guest post for my blog. I was interested in his perspective of this whole dancing thing that has engulfed a large part of my life. He obliged. Then I forgot about it…until I checked my email tonight!

So….it may have been a slow week for me in terms of actually dancing, but the blog, and life, moves forward like a river flowing.

Here is what my hubby wrote. It is pretty cool, if you ask me.

I have obliged to provide my commentary and experience about being the husband of a dancer. It has been an interesting and enlightening experience, to say the least. For me, it was easy to dismiss dancing as some weird but controlled gyration that some consider elegant yet hardly a counted as a “sport.” After engaging in and experiencing some beginner level dancing lessons first-hand, I quickly learned how wrong I was. The motions at that beginner level seemed pretty basic but the challenge of remembering everything was very difficult for me. And, when I looked around the [ball]room at the other dancers during their private lessons, their quick movements and long routines started to make ME sweat!

I have a tremendous amount of respect for my Dancing Queen! Stef comes home beaten up worse than some football players with all of the blood, sweat and tears. Yet, she pulls herself together and goes out and does it again, and again, one night after another. It really is amazing. It takes a strong woman with a lot of drive to be a dancer, there is no doubt about it.

The conversations we have after her lessons are a whirlwind! The energy levels are at a high and the lingo surrounding everything she learned or improved on is comparable to talking to a chemical engineer at NASA about what it takes to launch a rocket. Some stuff just blows right by me, but that is ok. I still sit there and do my best to decode everything being tossed at me at warp speed. After all, it is more important to listen than to speak. Right ladies?

So I tried the lessons and I didn’t get “hooked” like so many other people do. It just wasn’t for me. But, I was able to draw an incredible amount of parallels between dancing and my own passion, golf. The amount and quality of lessons it takes to improve, the amount of practice time you have to put in, the physical movements and physics are very similar as well. It is one of the best ways I can relate to her passion and stay engaged even though I may not know the difference between a Jive and a Rumba.

I love being married to a dancer! Stef is a woman with a passion and drive to become great at something beautiful that she can do for her entire life. And I swear I will never call dancing a non-sport ever again.

Wow! There you have it from the horse’s mouth. I’m a Dancing Queen and my husband loves it! I’m feeling pretty good about myself tonight. Thanks Ty. Love you.

He’s a Tough Mudder, just so you know…Here he is in action:

The River And The Desert

Sometimes life takes us in directions we didn’t think we’d go. Little did I know today when I awoke that I’d be releasing a little bit of my life and the income that went with it. It made me feel as though there was an empty hole in my middle. I had the same feeling about 20 minutes after being in my first car accident as a teenager. You know, that burst of adrenaline followed by a shaky exhaustion.

I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about. I am a woman of diverse talents. I went to school to become a pharmacist. I got completely burned out doing this and quit. I was convinced that I never wanted to be a pharmacist again! I sought other job opportunities. I began to tutor high school kids.

It was great! I loved being with them, helping them, and helping their families. I got to do math problems and science and Spanish. It was so much more fun and less stressful than my previous job. I dove right in and have been doing it part-time ever since.

But this past year, I’ve really reconnected with the part of me that has been with me since age 5 when I began dancing. I started this blog, and also getting out into my dance community. My focus has shifted. This is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but the passion that I had been pouring into my tutoring was now being applied to dancing.

I didn’t recognize it, but apparently others around me did. They were so happy at the positive changes flooding into my life, but my fire for the tutoring had waned. I was fully prepared to finish out the school year but I was called on this change in desire. I had a choice: choose in, fully commit and really show up for the kids or release it, create space in my life, and embrace this newfound passion and connection to dance, writing, and the dance community. One path was practical, and guaranteed a certain amount of income. The other was veiled and promised no obvious road to riches.

But the practical choice felt flat. I knew, if I was very honest with myself, that I couldn’t be there for the kids like I had been before. The more responsible and compassionate choice to both parties, I believe, is to get them what they need rather than to than hang on when I can feel that my passion has shifted.

It was simply time to move on. I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, it was about the least traumatic, most loving parting-of-ways I’ve ever experienced. There was mutual respect, trust, and gratitude on both sides. But I still grieve it. Sometimes we even grieve things that are gone that aren’t good for us, for heaven’s sake! This part of my life had been a Godsend.

I just know that this was the right thing to do for me now. I shed my tears and said goodbye and thank you to this portion of my life. Kinda like how I felt when graduating from high school. I knew things would never be the same. I knew the chapter was closing on one part of my life.

Yet I choose to believe that all things happen for a reason. I also believe that nature will always fill a vacuum.

I now have a vacuumed space in my life. I am believing that amazing and wondrous things, people, and opportunities now have the space to flood in. Before my life was jam-packed – every moment accounted for. Now, I have more space and time.

The flip side of that is that I don’t have as much money to put toward dancing.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling okay about this. I will need to be much more disciplined about my spending. I will need to participate in more group classes and less private classes. That, or get paid to be on a reality show that follows me and Ivan around because we are so dang entertaining! lol. Hey, it could happen!

But in all practicality, I am going to be fine. I will have to save my pennies and will probably be putting a few things on Ebay, but that is okay. I already told Ivan that we have to do single lessons from now on until I win the Power Ball. He said that the most important thing is that I just keep coming, however often that needs to be.

So after releasing this particular aspect of my existence, and processing all the emotion that came up as a result, I was left with a hole in my stomach. In my old days, I probably would have poured a glass of wine and made a nice comforting meal, and curled up with the tv remote for a nice sedentary evening. But “new” Stef, the one who wears the way-too-high-to-be-practical-cherry-red-heels-that-scream-look-at-me, she chooses differently. Even though she feels like she’s been through a battle, she grabs her gear, gets in the car, and drives to Imperial studio for a good old butt-kicking from miss Inna.

As usual, I am exhausted and shaky, sweaty and beet red, gasping, cramping, etc, etc, etc. As per usual, I’m the biggest girl in the ballroom. But not as per usual, there is a larger class than before the holidays and one of the participants is a high school kid (I think). His mom is watching the class while waiting for her son.

We do Rumba, then Samba. I mostly make it through but have to bow out during one of the last Samba exercises…something was gonna blow if I didn’t. Grabbing my water and Gatorade I glance over and smile at the mother watching her son. She smiles sympathetically at me.

Finally the class is over. I’m spent. As I’m packing up, the mother comes over to me and says, “You looked great out there. I could never do that.”

I thank her, and I really appreciate the fact that she took the time to say something. It feels great to be acknowledged, for sure. But I actually disagree with her. It’s kinda the point of my blog and, by extension, my life. If I can do it, ANYONE who wants to can do it. If that guy at the dance studio that coaches with Ivan’s mother-in-law and is an amputee can do it, ANYONE can do it. If Kristie Alley can do it….just kidding. She was great.

But don’t you see? We make up excuses as to why we can’t do something. I did it for 12 years. I abandoned dancing, this thing that feeds my soul, keeps me healthy and happy, this thing that I love, and I left it because I didn’t think it was a practical life choice. I got miserable and fat and damaged my health because I made up a story about why I wasn’t a dancer, why that couldn’t be my life path, denying my very essence, denying my true identity.

Thank God I finally woke up!

And so, life gave me a beautiful opportunity just now. I could choose to settle once more. It was even a great way to do it…seemingly. I would have gotten to be with others, help them, and make a little money on the side by continuing to tutor. But I would have been making that same choice I made so long ago to do what is expected, even if it’s not what I truly, deeply, want to be doing with my life. So this time, I chose differently.

It reminds me of a parable I once heard (I’m paraphrasing here):

There was a great river. The river could go anywhere it wanted and it wanted to return to the sea. Nothing could stop it. It could even penetrate through stone. But one day the river met the desert. The desert pleaded with the river, “please don’t try to go through me. It won’t work.” “But I am a great river. I have made my way through stone. No sand can stop me.” It replied.

So the river poured into the desert. And it poured and it poured. And it poured until it was exhausted and the desert had become a swamp.

“You are right, desert, I cannot make my way through you.”

“You are partly right, river, you cannot make your way through me in your current form.”

And then something happened. The warm air of the desert caused the river to evaporate. And it arose into the air where it became a cloud that floated over the desert. It traversed the desert and rained down into the ocean, finally arriving at its destination. The only way for the river to make it there was to transform.

My decisions in life have been like the path of the river. For a while, my mechanisms of moving in this world worked. I was able to navigate many situations. But at some point, I reached my own desert. I tried my old tactics and began to pour and pour and pour myself into it. It has gotten me exhausted and yet no closer to my dreams. It is time for me to transform, indeed it is the only way I will reach my destination. Choosing differently this time is one piece of that metamorphosis. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out just yet, but I’m trusting the process, just like the river had to trust the process of evaporation. I will make it to my destination, though I will do it as a woman transformed.

It’s even kind of exciting, huh?

Yes, I think it is.

This Dancer’s Heart: How This Blog Is Saving My Life

Well today folks, I don’t have a dance lesson.  I won’t have one for the next two days at least.  But I thought it was an opportunity to write about some dance related topics that are on my heart.

First off, I wanted to say that there are some amazing people out there in the blogosphere.  I’ve just begun the search for kindred spirits and have already found a few.  Please click on the sites in my Blogroll and check them out.  From side-splitting hilarity, to beautiful artwork, to inspiring stories and some deep insights, these sites are all “the bomb.”

Has anyone else had trouble finding dancer blogs?  I have found a lot of “how-to” type blogs but I’m more interested in the personal stories behind dancers.  Also, I have yet to find more than a handful of personal blogs about ballroom dancing.  Most of the ones I’ve found are about ballet, which I also love, and I want to connect with others who share my current passion too.  If you have a personal ballroom blog, or know about any, please let me know!

Next, since it is New Year’s Eve Day, and all, I thought I’d reflect on the last year.

I found a list of goals from 2011 and discovered that I had made progress in most areas, but not in the exponential manner I would have liked.  For instance, last year I was at 298 pounds.  One of my goals was weight loss.  I’m starting this year at 265.5.  So, I’m down 30 pounds, which is better than going up, but really, this is not the type of transformational change I’d like to see in myself.

It was also right around this time last year that I began dancing again.  So it has been almost one solid year of ballroom.  During this time I danced in two competitions with two different instructors and earned Top Student bronze level at one of them.

Things have really exploded starting 5 months ago.  That was when I transitioned from one teacher to the next and also began exploring the larger dance community in my area.  I now have friends at 3 different studios and take classes across the valley.  I love being connected.

Also, I started this blog.  I believe it is going to save my life.  You see, I was driving home from my lessons and had 30 minutes or more to process all that transpired. I noticed many things about myself and my dancing.  In order to not drive my husband batty by talking his ear off and also to fuel my passion for writing, I took the suggestion of my friend Jess and began writing the blog.  I had no idea that anyone but my very closest 10 friends in the world would ever care to read about my dancing life.

Within a week, an instructor I had met at a competition shared one of my posts https://dancingwithstefanie.com/2011/12/20/you-have-a-mental-problem/ and it went a little bit viral.  Over 1600 people have now viewed my blog at its old Blogger address.  So I began to believe that I had something valuable to say that resonated with others and made the move to WordPress.

I can’t express how honored, humbled, and grateful I feel to see that people across the world have read some of my words.  It is awe-inspiring to think that one person really can affect many others.  I don’t think I ever truly understood that, and certainly not in regards to someone like little ole me, but there it was for me to see.  I’d touched people I’ll never even meet doing something that I love.  There’s nothing better in life…unless it is having an authentic exchange with even just one person via this blog or via their personal dancing blogs.

So back to how this is saving my life.  I now have something to pour myself into.  I no longer have to numb with food, or television, or any other distraction in order to tune out.  I no longer hate my life which used to look like working at a very stressful job with no creative outlets.  I was dying inside, and it was showing up on the outside with my significant weight gain.

I tried working out at the gym.  I tried diets.  I tried ignoring it completely, giving up, and saying, the hell with this, this is all there is in life and it is drab, and dull, and miserable.  I’m destined to be fat (No, no victim language here, hah!)  I’m slaving away for what?  Waiting to die?  I self-destructed a little every day.

But there was a reason none of this worked.  The problem wasn’t me overeating and not exercising, the problem was I wasn’t engaged in my purpose or my passion.  I am hardwired to connect and wasn’t plugged in.  The problem was compounded by lack of self-worth, and extreme shame about my body, with which I identified so strongly.

But the dancer’s heart that beats inside me, though buried deeply, and locked away in a box, could not be entirely quelled.

When I first took up ballroom dancing, I wrote this:

 I am a dancer.  I am one who uses my body to tell her story.  The emotions I feel flow through me as I seductively sway my hips or gracefully lift my arms. 

Sounds poetic, but the reality is that I am usually desperately out of breath.  With each laborious step, thick sweat drips off my already sopping wet hair.  My excess mass gets in the way and weighs me down.  Each salsa step brings jiggling to all the wrong places.  Carrying over 100 pounds of extra body on my five-foot-five frame, I feel like the hippo ballerina dancing with the alligator in Fantasia. 

Last Monday, after working a nine hour day on my feet with a one-hour commute at a passionless job that pays the bills but feels unsatisfying, I went to my salsa lesson.  This was supposed to be my release from the mundane, my gateway to feeling truly, zestfully alive.  Instead, I was meek and apologetic.  First off, I couldn’t do anything but the most light or basic choreography because my lungs and heart simply couldn’t keep up.  I couldn’t yet wear the sexy high-heeled shoes because my feet hurt and went numb while balanced upon my tippy-toes.  My body just wasn’t cooperating with what my mind wanted it to do.  I couldn’t perform to the level I thought I should and I started to despair.

I finally told my instructor, “Matt, let’s face it.  I just don’t have a dancer’s body.”  In that moment, I was choosing to base my decision of whether or not I am a dancer on what my body looked like in the moment.  I was ready to use it as an excuse for why I could never be a great dancer, why I shouldn’t even try.  He replied to me, “Stefanie, everybody has a dancer’s body.” 

To me this response is deceptively simple yet profound. 

What if everyone really does have a dancer’s body? 

What if, whatever it looks like right now, it is a beautiful instrument of expression?  

If I really believe this statement, then anyone who feels she is a dancer, is a dancer.  It seems especially hard for me to believe this as I have grown up in a society where the perfect body is highly valued.  Through the years of exposure, I have come to accept the idea that my worth as a human being is based in some measure on the size of my clothing.  So really, how could I, an obese pharmacist, truly be a dancer?

I could choose to say that I used to be a dancer.  I used to weigh a lot less, had better cardiovascular capacity, and even practiced regularly, but there was one vital missing ingredient.  I wasn’t a real dancer because I had no passion.  For me, dancing was technique, criticism, and judgment, never being good enough, and being miserable.  I did it because it was what was expected and then I beat myself up inside because I wasn’t ever enough; never good enough, thin enough, strong enough, tall enough, enough, enough, enough! 

If I am honest with myself, the truth is that I used to be a machine who looked like a dancer, and now, even though I don’t look the part just yet, I am a dancer. 

 I am not here to justify being overweight.  I am not healthy at this size and I would like it to change.  What I am here to say is that I am a valuable, worthy, and beautiful person regardless.  I have contributions to make and talents and gifts to share.  I believe that the passion, emotion, and joy I now choose to bring to my dancing will get me one step closer to the physically healthy state I desire.

I may perform the functions of a pharmacist and tutor in my working life these days, but who I am, well, I’m a dancer.  I’ve finally acknowledged it and owned it.  For the longest time I couldn’t, especially when I didn’t “look like” a dancer.  I got so supremely caught up in that idea early on.  I still have trouble looking at myself directly in the mirror when practicing. But being a dancer, really, is not about how you look.  It is about who you are inside.

Yes, the health issues are grave and real.  Yes, being in better shape will hone my instrument of expression.  Yes, most dancers are not clinically obese…and soon this one won’t be either.

But regardless, underneath the “fat suit” I’m currently wearing, regardless of the outside packaging, I am a dancer.  Period.

I could talk about dancing all day and all night.  I could watch it every second of the day.  I love it at its highest level of technique, and when grandma, old and bent, shuffles clumsily on the floor but her joyous spirit shines through.  It engages me like nothing else in this world.  It makes me want to be a better person and partner.  It makes me want to take care of myself, be feminine, be beautiful, value my body.  It is saving my life.

Although the changes may not be as dramatic (yet) as I would like, there has been significant progress.  I can now wear heels pretty well.  I still struggle with breathing and cardiovascular capacity, but it is improving over time.  I am shedding the pounds and have the motivation and a plan to finally get this done.  Who knows how many years I am adding to my life because I am on a healthier trajectory both physically and mentally than I was when I wrote that post so long ago.  I’ve flipped the switch through dancing; I had been speeding up my demise and now I’m slowing it down.

So, literally, dancing and then blogging about my experiences is saving my life.  This dancer’s heart is grateful.