200th Post: This Is My Place

The lights were off but it was mid morning so sunlight illuminated the wooden floor in thick yellow shafts through blinds. It was warm, but not hot and my task was to bend at the knees, into that position you see kids doing at roller skating rinks with their butts folded down to rest near their ankles. A position in which you could skate under your friend’s legs if you wanted. Compact. Small. Like a tight little ball of human being.

I, however, was unable to do this. Not ever in the roller skating rink as a kid nor now, at the yoga class. While everyone around me sunk two feet below my head, I continued to hover like a person not wanting to fully sit down on a public toilet.

Was I doing this right? Was there something else I should be doing? My Achilles tendon has always been tight and it was blocking me from going any further toward the earth. I was frustrated. I was hot and sweating and it was hard to hover. And I was wishing I could be in a different place with my body. I was feeling the want, the lack, the utter dissatisfaction with how I was in that moment.

I spoke up, asking the Yoga instructor, “What should I do here? I can’t seem to go any lower.”

“That is your place,” he wisely replied.

It didn’t seem like a proper answer. I didn’t like that answer. I wanted to hear a solution, a modification…something that would get me to where everyone else seemed to so easily be. But I wasn’t, and there wasn’t anything for it. I was where I was, but still I rebelled against it.

“But isn’t there something I could do?” I begged.

“That is your place,” he repeated.

And so it is in every moment, isn’t it? We are where we are, how we are, and there is nothing for it but to be at peace with what is…or not.

In that moment in that yoga class, I was not at peace with my place. I was not open to expanding my heart, being present to the joy that was available, and fulling inhabiting my body. No, my mind was racing – critiquing my sub-par performance, telling me that I should be more, better, different, and completely wound in knots over my limitation.

Never mind the fact that I hadn’t done yoga in years and had less than even 4 months total experience. Never mind that this was my third class back. I had expectations for myself and I was not living up to them.

I lived most of my life from this same space of not being enough, of feeling like I was always falling short, of comparison and lack.

Especially when it came to dancing. From having the “wrong body type” to never having my leg high enough at the barre, to struggling with double turns, to having no plie’ nor ability to jump and fly. Through the lens of dancing my faults and imperfections were magnified. I could never see any of my grace or fluidity. I could never see the beauty I did bring, however imperfect it may be, because my eyes were clouded by the thick fog of wishing I were someone different from me. It was especially cruel because at my heart I am a dancer. I couldn’t admit it to myself back then, it was so buried. I was dancing and didn’t consider myself a “real” dancer! I was someone who “did” ballet, not a ballerina. I “did” jazz, but wasn’t a bona fide jazz dancer. I did it for exercise. I did it because I didn’t play sports. But I didn’t do it because I was actually a dancer – the title was to lofty for the likes of me.

What a lie. How could I come to see myself in this way? I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that I loved ballerinas ever since I can remember and would stare endlessly at the one adorning my bedroom wall made of foam and linen with her pink toe shoes and a real piece of tulle for her tutu, her arms up in fifth position, her brown yarn hair fashioned in a bun atop her head. I wanted to be her. So badly. And I so wasn’t.

It is funny how life works though. You guys who’ve read the blog know the story – I quit dancing after high school because I wasn’t going to be a professional dancer and so what was the point of continuing? I got my degrees, I “grew up,” I got married, I ballooned. Although I always struggled with my weight, I took it to a new level of obesity after I stopped doing things I loved, like dancing, getting up to over 300 pounds.

And one day, I started dancing again.

This time it looked different. I’d never really been aware of ballroom dancing but DWTS was a big hit by this point and what the instructor teaching out of my gym was doing looked a hell of a lot more entertaining than the stupid treadmill. I thought I’d give it a try.

Where ballet never felt quite right, like a tuning fork of the right pitch, ballroom harmonized with my core. From its emotionality to the partnership involved, no other form of dance has ever suited me more. And though I’m still not satisfied with where I am in my dancing, physical appearance, expression, and connection, I am closer to than I was last week, last month, last year. I’m growing and changing. I’m dancing.

Interestingly, all the angst and imperfection and pressure I used to feel in dance class is no longer present in my weekly ballet and yoga classes (I’ve been going to yoga for 3 weeks now). No, in those classes I am joyful. I am where I am and it is what it is and I can totally laugh at myself. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to progress, improve my balance, strength, and flexibility, but it is okay to be where I am. It is somehow okay that my leg can’t get higher than 45 degrees, that I fall out of my turns, that I can’t entirely hold my turn out, that I can’t do a plank for longer than 30 seconds (yet!) or jump in properly from downward dog, that I fall short of what’s being asked for in so many ways. It’s totally okay and funny and joyful where before it would be all self-loathing and punishment. I know that next week or next month I might notice some slight improvement and it is enough. It’s enough and it is wonderful and I actually banged out a double pirouette this week, can you believe it! I am happy with my place in these experiences. I am open-hearted and alive to the joy of just being present in my body.

But in ballroom, I am not entirely happy with my place. I feel this pressure inside because I care about it so deeply. I watch videos of ballroom dancers on YouTube or television and this little whisper in my heart urges me on, believing, profoundly believing, beyond all sense or reason or the appearance of things at the moment, that I have some of Yulia or Joanna or Karina or Anna in me – that I have within my spirit and body and mind the makings of a champion. No, I’m not talking about being a professional or anything like that, but I am saying that I see something in them that I must have in me. Like I believe I could move people like they do through dancing. I will most certainly never be as technically perfect or polished as their dancing may be, but I can dance with my heart, and it just might get to a place polished enough, and I can be in a body healthy enough, that people can hear the message I’m sending. To be honest I think many can see it now, and I think of how much more powerful it will be when I am stronger, fitter, healthier, more confident, especially in light of the very broken place I’ve come from. I’m excited for that possibility. In fact, I have even had brief moments of being in a place where I am happy with my place. Like today on my lesson, my first stab at our Cha Cha routine was solid. And in our Samba routine, I can see that when I’m thinner it is going to be sexy hot!

So my mission for the next three competitions is to be satisfied with my place. To be as open-hearted and present and bold/fearless as possible, knowing that I’ve not “arrived” anywhere (nor will I ever), but that I am solidly on my journey…to a new body, to a new dancer, however much or however little it appears I have changed from the outside looking in, from the inside looking out, I will center myself in the knowingness that I am in my place. This is my place. And all there is for me to do is to be at peace with it…or not ūüôā

But, well, I’m declaring here that I will be at peace with my place, especially on the days I compete. I will laugh in the face of my fallibility and imperfections. I will dance with all the energy, technique, power, expression, and connection I can muster. It will be what it is as it is in the moment. All I can do is decide to leave every ounce of it on the dance floor, to not hold anything back. So that is what I’m deciding and I will refuse to be anything but joyful while doing it.

So here we are, on my 200th blog post, can you believe it? There seems to be something etherial about the number 200 for me right now – from this 200th blog post, and I just got a WordPress badge for getting 200 likes, to being only 2 away from having 200 followers on Facebook, to being closer to 200 pounds than I’ve been in years….it seems like a big deal.

So I looked it up and here’s what I found:

Angel Number 200 is a message from your angels that your devotion, faith and trust has led you to a ‚Äėknowing‚Äô that you are in-line with your life purpose and soul mission. Number 200 is a message of ‚ÄėDivine Timing‚Äô. Trust the Universe is working behind the scenes, and certain factors need to fall into place before desired results can come to full fruition. Things are happening behind the scenes that will prove to be of great advantage to you in the near future. Even though you may not be experiencing these opportunities just yet, believe that they are on their way into your life right now. Stay peaceful, positive and patient in the interim. Have faith and trust in the Divine and listen to your intuition, always. At this point in time you are where you are meant to be.

Uncanny. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? In other words, be happy with your place. This is your place. Be in your place, peacefully, and know that you will soon be in your next place.

Guess that Yogi had it right.

This is my place. Thank you for meeting me here. I am grateful.

The Choice Is Mine: Guerra O Paz (War Or Peace)

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Allegre Studio

Private Lesson with Ivan

Have you ever had a dance lesson where you wonder, “Am I doing anything right?”

Today started out like this for me.¬† Ivan had it on his mind to do cardio today – after all the holiday eating and lack of exercise, he wanted to work on getting through dances one after another.¬† I reluctantly agreed, it’s for the best.¬† I need to work on my stamina like no kidding but I’m still dealing with a lingering cold I got while on a cruise in New Zealand, over¬†a month ago.¬† It has been waxing and waning, but since I also have asthma, it tends to linger.¬† As if breathing wasn’t already difficult enough when I’m healthy!

So we start with Cha Cha, then Samba, Rumba, Bolero, Swing.¬† We are dancing, dancing, dancing.¬† I am getting exhausted, coughing, gasping for breath, and sucking on my inhaler.¬† At least my lips didn’t turn blue this time, so I think my blood was getting plenty oxygenated.

During a Samba, Ivan is really getting into it.¬† He is being a little forceful, but I can tell its just because he’s excited, and wants to move.¬† Perhaps he was trying to help me out, since I was struggling and feeling sluggish, he was inadvertently trying to transfer some of his energy to me.¬† But it is exhausting to be wrestling with one another.

I am trying so hard.¬† I am giving it all I have today, even if it is inadequate.¬† I’m working, working, working.¬† And you can see it in the tension I’m holding in my body, especially the shoulders.¬† Now, it’s not news to me that I hold my stress in my shoulders, but the process is so automatic, so ingrained, that¬†my clavicle¬†raises up to my ears and I won’t even realize it.¬† My shoulders are so taut that they feel like those of¬†a stone statue, and you can imagine just¬†how flexible and moveable a stone statue is.¬† I’m tense, I’m tight, I’m restricting freedom of movement.¬† I am hitting every step so hard because I am used to it being difficult.¬† Strangely enough, I’m comfortable with the stress, the striving, the forcing, the difficulty.

But where is the softness?  Where is the breath?  Where is the easy joy in my dancing?

I’m huffing and puffing, focusing on this detail or the other, disapproving of how I look in the mirror…I’m doing all these exercises in my brain, but am I really dancing?¬† Better yet, am I dancing with my partner?

What the hell am I doing?

What am I practicing here?

This is supposed to be a dance lesson, not an exercise in self-disapproval.

I’m blocking the flow.¬† It’s so easy to do.¬†¬†And it doesn’t help when every other moment, my instructor is telling me about something else I need to correct, fix, or otherwise improve.¬† My fingers, my arm, my balance, my back foot.¬† Point the toes,¬†look at me, finish your movement, and on and on and on.

Yes,¬†these are¬†all¬†worthy details, but¬†focusing on them, I can’t see the forest through the trees.¬† Not that I mind all the instruction – I¬†so¬†desire to be a great dancer, I¬†snarf¬†each nugget of wisdom like a starving anteater.

But luckily I have a teacher who is, in my eyes, pretty enlightened, even if he doesn’t realize it about himself.¬† At some point in the lesson, I ask,

“Ivan!¬† Am I doing anything right?”

This brings him to awareness.

“Don’t asking about this.¬† I used to ask Shirley (Shirley Ballas, one of his¬†coaches)¬†the same thing.¬† She always looking at Marieta, Marieta, never me.¬† She never say anything to me.¬† I finally ask her and she saying, ‘Why are you asking a silly question? If I have a problem with you, I will tell you.’ Don’t asking this question.¬† There is always something, always something to do or fix.¬† And you like me – never good enough, always want to be better.¬† Plus you are a competitive person and smart.¬† I see you doing something and then on to the next thing and the next.¬† It’s my fault, I see you doing something, I know you are smart, and I tell you more and more.¬† It’s no good.”

I’m a bit perplexed.¬† I want him to instruct me to become better, don’t I?¬† But I realize, Ivan can only give me so much.¬† I must be responsible for my own dancing.¬† He could cajole me until¬†I die but I must¬†take in the feedback and incorporate it.¬† Indeed, only I can incorporate it into my own body.

Also, for me dancing isn’t just about perfecting some steps.¬† At some point, I have to look within myself to find my identity as a dancer.¬† Ivan can share technique, styling, and steps, but he can’t put my essence into the movement, nor my conviction, nor my emotion.¬† That must come from within me.¬† The miracle is that this piece is already perfect inside me and all other dancers.¬† It cannot be taught or learned or even improved upon.¬† Only my clarity as a channel for expression can be improved.¬† This is made cleaner by training my body and my mind so that I can control them – so that they aren’t controlling or limiting¬†me¬†– via¬†what Zen calls “Monkey Mind” and also the¬†physical limitations and restrictions created by excess tension, weight, and stress.

“It’s my fault.¬† I the teacher.¬† I not letting you relax.¬† I see you trying so hard.¬† We forget to relax.”

The lesson takes a U-turn.

“Ok, now you gotta relax.¬† I no caring about arm styling.¬† Don’t show me nothing.¬† Just relax.”

We begin doing the Rumba.¬† We danced non-stop for probably 5 minutes.¬† Without the tension, it feels like I’m not “doing” anything.¬† This can’t be right….dancing is supposed to be hard, right?

“Ah, you breathing!¬† You alive!¬† You smiling because it so natural.¬† You could dance like this forever and ever.¬† You tired, but only a little bit.”

We are connecting softly, gently, sometimes only by one finger.  It is too easy.  I feel sloppy.

But it also feels like¬†slipping under warm¬†flannel sheets.¬† I do a fan and the luxurious ease of it makes me smile.¬† I wish I could bottle up that feeling –¬†tranquil as¬†floating¬†upon a pool’s surface.

“See, when you feeling like you doing nothing, that is when you doing it right.¬† I feel, I feel, what the word….paz.”

I know a bit of Spanish and Ivan does too.


“Ya.¬† Paz.¬† Freedom.¬† Like the opposite of guerra.”

Guerra means war in Spanish.

Ivan demonstrates physically what he means.¬† We are dancing in “paz,” flowing gently, connected, easy, only takes a finger to lead and follow.¬† Then he grabs on and starts pushing me around – guerra – we are fighting one another.¬† So much energy is lost and I am exhausted almost immediately with just a few steps.

“Stefanie, we are like Christmas trees.”

Huh?¬† Did I miss part of the conversation?¬† Just stick with me.¬† You gotta love Ivan’s metaphors.¬† He does pretty darn well for someone with English as fifth language.

“The tree is very nice, very nice all by itself.¬† All the pointing toes, and arms, they nice, they decoration, they the balls you put on the tree.¬† But the tree is nice already.¬† You no put all the balls on at once and cover the tree.¬† You put them on one by one.¬†¬† We got to remember we are nice trees.¬† Now when we dancing, you gonna, little by little, add the decoration, the arms, the toes, when you feel ready.¬† Maybe just do a little movement.¬† But better you practice now, relaxed.¬† It more important to being relaxed, to be breathing.”

He’s a guru in disguise.¬† The encounter makes me question how I’ve been approaching my lessons.

Have I unwittingly¬†been choosing war over peace?¬† Yes, I see¬†that I have been choosing to be¬†at war with who I am, how I look, how I dance, and even in¬†how I connect with my dancing partner.¬† I’ve been making it such hard work, pushing against, resisting what I think should be different that it is.¬† (Yes,¬†I’ve been “shoulding” on myself at every turn).¬† Why am I so committed to being at war?

But today proves that peace is a possibility as well.  And you know what, it feels so much better.

So from here on out, I have a choice as I approach my dancing: war or peace.  I think I will try it out tonight when I go to those killer group lessons at Imperial Studio.  Instead of expecting it to be hard, difficult, exhausting (which they will be), I can accept this is part of the experience and then focus on breathing through whatever comes my way.  I can practice being relaxed as I attempt each step.  I can peacefully embrace the practice, as physically demanding as it may be, while exuding calm, controlled, expressive movement.

I’ll let you know how it goes….I’ve been practicing being¬†at war for a very long time.

But the time has come¬†to try something different, a better way of being.¬† I’m on the hunt to find myself as a dancer and she’s not going to have the opportunity to show up through stress, disapproval, and tension.¬† She will ooze out of me when I quit restricting, blocking, forcing.¬† You see, I think I’ve finally¬†decided that I have the movement in me because in my core I know that I know that I know I am a dancer.¬† I am simply working on bringing it to the surface consistently.¬† I am nursing my body back to health so that it can be an optimal instrument for expression.

So this is where I am right now, today…certainly not in optimal shape.¬† But as Ivan says, “It’s okay.”¬† I am evolving every day.¬† I am becoming.¬† But¬†I have to remember to not get so caught up in the process and start a war with myself.¬† Instead, I can choose to be at peace¬†and remember that¬†I am a lovely tree, first and foremost.¬† The tree is already great underneath all the ornamentation.¬† My inner dancer is already fully formed.¬† She’s just finding her way¬†to the surface after being buried alive.

I think I want to greet her with compassion, kindness, love, peace, and uninhibited freedom.¬† Again, I’ll let you know how it goes.¬† But I’m grateful that I now have a choice where before I had only¬†an unconscious habit.¬† Life is full of miracles, if you have eyes to see them.¬† I guess I put on the right glasses this morning.¬† I wonder which pair will I pick tomorrow.