Last Minute Comp! Say What?

Yesterday when I went to my lesson Ivan and I had a heart to heart.  I think Tony Meredith was a good influence on him.  They talked about the fact that nobody ever feels ready but if we wait to feel ready we’d never do anything.  They talked about how important it is to practice the mental aspects of competing as much as it is to practice the technique.  They talked about how you’ll never be younger than you are now.  They talked about how important it is to not regret – the importance of going after you goals in the now.

Anyways, it shifted something in Ivan.  He’s got a new outlook and is keen to compete and be seen more often with Marieta.  It seems to be paying off.  They did so much better last week in Atlanta and, even better than their placement, were the comments from judges afterward.  They really feel like this is their year.  If they are going to do anything, their goal is to be finalists, it’s gotta be now.

And it’s lucky for me, too.  Because the shift helped Ivan re-think things with us as well.  He realized that he actually did want to dance with me.  Both of us had had the mentality that we didn’t want to show up until I was closer to “perfect” – that I was more thin, that’s the biggest hang up, but we’ve had such a good time on our lessons lately, I’ve been so mentally relaxed and moving so much more and feeling more secure in our routines because we’ve been practicing them so much, well I felt like we could dance in a competition next week if we wanted to.  The only thing stopping us was my fat.

The main reason we didn’t want to compete and haven’t was because we didn’t want to feel like we did at our most recent competition.  A lot of that had to do with feeling insecure, and, a big portion of that had to do with Ivan’s thoughts as much as they did with mine.  Because when he’s feeling proud and good about showing me off we tend to do well.  When he’s stressed out, feeling bad because I’m the fat one and we’re focusing on that, then we do more poorly.

The reality is I’m still not where I want to be physically.  But, on the flip side, I’m in better shape.  We practiced doing rounds tonight and I was able to handle it.  The Orange Theory cardio has been helping.  And last night at Inna’s class I was surprised to see some new students who obviously had some experience but were extremely out of breath with our exercises, to the point of bending over and gasping, and I was doing just fine.  And, I tried on my dress and even if it’s not how I want it to look, it does look better than the last time I donned it.

Life’s too short.  Why not dance?  I guess that’s basically what it comes down to.  And we’re only doing open heats.  I have zero expectations.  It’s all about me, my progress, my experience, my growth.  Beyond that, it’s about enjoying our dancing, and enjoying the partnership.

I’ll be honest.  I’d lost some of my fire.  Because for me, doing this dancing thing, it has importance because I am a competitive student.  It’s fine to take a break from competitions and all, but I don’t want to dance socially.  I got clear on that a while ago.  So if I’m not ever going to compete, then I should save my money and stop taking lessons.

The long and short of it is, Ivan really wanted to dance with me, even if for just a little bit. He took the conversation with Tony to heart and it changed things.  He was so cute and told me multiple times that he wasn’t doing it for the money, and that if I couldn’t get the day off or if it was too expensive that he was fine, that I didn’t have to do it.  But that he thought it might be good to get out there once again, to just even do little things, because we are both clear on my ultimate goals.  And when I told him this morning that I was in, he texted me back, “I so excited for you!” And then tonight he told me, “I told you I not care if you can not doing this, but really I do care.  I’m so glad you are doing this.”

He really took the time to talk with me yesterday and I was like, well, sure.  If I can get the day off, I’d be up for a few heats.  My biggest concern was him being proud to dance with me, to want to dance with me.  I’m a work in progress, and I’ve made some progress.  Why not live a little and show it off?  Plus, he only wanted to do open heats with me – no more Bronze – so that speaks volumes to me as well.

I love how life is a flowing river.  You can never know what might be around the next bend.  Two weeks ago we would have said we were not competing in People’s Choice.  Yesterday we discussed it.  Today I went to see if I could maybe get the day off only to realize that it was the one Friday out of every 5 that I have off because I work on that Saturday. It’s almost like it was meant to be.

And I have to laugh because not only did we not plan this, but I have decided to loan some of my dresses to a very special lady across the country who is competing at her very first competition in just a few days!  (A blog post about that is forthcoming) At least I was smart enough to save one dress for myself, but I couldn’t dance Smooth if I wanted to!  I only have a costume suitable for Rhythm or Latin.  It all seems to be working out.

So yeah, life is pretty dang good right now.  I’m blessed to be in the position where I can do this at the drop of a hat.  I’m mentally chilled, have time to get the nails done, I’m prepared enough physically, I have a dress that will work, I have an instructor that wants to dance with me, and I could think of a lot worse ways to spend a Friday off work!

I scheduled a lesson for tonight and, like I mentioned, right away I wanted to do rounds of our open routines to see if I could hack it cardiovascularly.  I did, and that is actually a major victory for me and a testament to the work I’ve been doing outside of my dancing since we rarely practice one routine after another in a lesson.  I’ve never done open scholarship at a competition so I figure it’s better to try it out now, at a local, smaller competition, with less pressure and when I am mentally relaxed.

Alright, enough with the “serious” stuff!  Now for the funny part!  So tonight we were practicing our Bolero and Ivan all the sudden stops and says, “I hear this crack!”  And he grabs his nether-regions from behind.  “I think I split my pants!” He says.  “Third time in my career,” he says.  And he then proceeds to recount other episodes of pants splitting, the worst being white cotton pants gaping up the entire back seam from crotch to lower back while teaching at a studio all day long, not being able to change them or leave to get another pair because his schedule was so full!

I laughed, as you might imagine, hysterically, and said, “Show me.  Let’s see what happened.”

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He split not one side but two!!!!   LOLOLOL.  I laughed even harder, and I love this man, because he actually let me take this photo!  OMG!!!! Never a dull moment with this guy.

I guess that’s all the news!  If you are coming to People’s Choice here in Phoenix, please do come say hello!

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I’m Baaaaaaaack!

Did you miss me?

Well, this will be a short one (for me)! There will probably be more to come after I debrief with Ivan tomorrow morning about Desert Classic and after my husband (finally) manages to send me the photos and videos he took.

So here’s the quick update about my most recent competition:

First, I had a new dress made.

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I know it is not the best picture but you can get an idea of the bright colors. That’s right….color! And I actually liked the color combo on the floor from the pictures I’ve seen so far.

What I didn’t like was my big belly. And the fact that my big belly wasn’t smoothed out/hidden with draping or ruching. I didn’t see the final product until the day before the competition so it was like, well, this is what it is and it is either wear it or don’t because there really isn’t time to fix it. I think it will look so much better on me with a flatter stomach but that was not to be on Thursday.

Thursday was Latin and I danced very inconsistently. I got marks all over the place but didn’t make the final from a semi final with 14 couples in the Latin closed bronze A scholarship. So I was kinda bummed about that but even more bummed that I was feeling really exhausted, had some balance issues, and felt like Ivan and I were pushing and pulling each other all over the floor. Basically that means I wasn’t “moving my ass” like I need to and because I’m late he tries to help to get me where I need to go which creates resistance in our hold and then, paradoxically, I move even less and also get more exhausted. It is a vicious cycle and totally sucks. So I wasn’t over my feet or moving fast enough and this caused a chain reaction which compounded the problem. And it meant Ivan was kinda disappointed in my performance because we both knew I was off and have the potential to do better. So boo! Thursday was not my best day.

And wouldn’t you know it – I did best in stupid Jive again! I hate that dance in terms of the cardio it requires but somehow, even though I only know like 3 figures, and we like never practice it, that is the dance I placed best in most consistently. Go figure! lol.

But still, there are always learning opportunities just from participating. I realized how little I had mentally prepared for the competition. I realized, in hindsight, the importance of putting energy into getting myself into a strong frame of mind before stepping on the floor. I became more aware of things I wish to improve and work on, and I also became more clear on how I wish to direct my physical fitness training in the near future.

Because I’m done with not feeling awesome about myself when I step on the ballroom floor. I don’t want to put myself through this anymore. I must change dramatically. Period. It takes a lot of energy, strength, and confidence, to really dance, and I just couldn’t muster it about myself on Thursday, especially when I was so aware of my large belly and arms. I mean, I felt like I kept myself under control in a pretty good to neutral energy, but my lack of confidence gnawed at the back of my mind. I was aware of it on some level and when I saw a picture my husband took of me from the back, I looked as large as a male trucker. Yuck! I’m over it.

It is too hard to have so much shame about how I look, to not feel feminine or pretty, and to get out on a dance floor and pretend like I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m not, and a I can’t fake it. Frankly, I find it off-putting when people think they are too cool for school so I have reservations about being or acting like that. You know, I feel like my authenticity and emotionality are some of my greatest strengths as well as weaknesses. It is why people can “feel” me when I am dancing, and why, I think, they connect with me. So when I’m feeling good and strong, it is really great. But it also means I can’t fool anybody when I’m feeling down about myself and my body. There is no question in my mind that how I feel about my body affects how I show up in dancing…and in life. And it is not my best. So I’m waiting to hear the verdict from Ivan because I know he mentally stockpiled a bunch of feedback for me about the competition and we have a lesson tomorrow. Also, I’m contemplating not doing another competition for a while, though the next one on my radar is Galaxy here locally and local comps are harder to say no to. It is in September so I think I will wait and see how I’m feeling about it at the end of August and make a decision at that time. Because it isn’t okay with me just to go through the motions and to dance just because….it is important to me to have purpose and meaning in my dancing and I wasn’t able to generate that as strongly as I did for previous competitions. I attribute this to my lack of consistent, significant progress toward my weight loss goals and the subsequent feelings of lower self-esteem thus created.

So anyways, more to come about what’s next, but Thursday was kinda blah. Friday was a day to rest, regather myself, and recuperate. My husband was along for the trip and we joined Ivan and Marieta for a little jaunt up to the top of a nearby mountain, 9000 feet high, where the temperature was a lovely 62 degrees. We got there by riding in an air tram that spun 360 degrees while traveling upwards on steel cables for 10 minutes. It was a fun and delightful day.

Saturday was Rhythm. There was more competition in terms of number of couples in my division in Latin than in American Rhythm, but I think there was maybe more chaos in the ballroom because there were tv crews filming for two separate shows in the ballroom. It is going to be very interesting to watch both shows as I personally know some of the people they are following for the one to be on TLC, and I have come to meet some of the people to be featured on the other show, I think for the A & E channel. I had to sign a release because they had me in one of the frames dancing in the background while they were filming one of their main protagonists so you may also see me on tv some time soon ha ha ha!

In any case, I did much better in American Rhythm, basically placing first in most heats and winning the scholarship round from a 7 couple final (no semi final). Also, and more importantly, Ivan felt my energy was better and I felt stronger as well. We were not pushing and pulling too much through the frame and I was more on my own feet. Well, this was after we had a bit of a come-to-Jesus meeting after he had let go of me, releasing me completely from the frame, multiple times on the floor, in front of the judges, so I would get the point about hanging on him, pushing to hard, relying on him for my balance, and all that, but also so that I could have easily fallen on my ass. Don’t get me wrong, it’s FANTASTIC kinestetic feedback. I’d welcome it on a lesson. But please don’t let me get away with things on lessons repeatedly and then do this on the floor when it counts!?! I was miffed! Anyways, we worked through it, which is the most important thing, I suppose, and I ended up with fantastic results. As Felipe Telona Jr. jibed me, “You should have brought a broom!” and, “I’m glad you are leaving now so the rest of us have a chance!”

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When I got off the floor and my husband took this picture he was like, “And you won an…..envelope?!” It contained a check, silly! Double what I got for People’s Choice, which was very nice – the equivalent of a few more lessons, because, yeah, all money gets converted to the equivalent number of dance lessons in my brain. 🙂

So I still managed to make it into the top 20 students, which surprised me with as few heats as I did, and so did Ivan’s other student, plus he was 7th place top teacher with the 2 of us, and he and Marieta placed 3rd in Pro Open Am Rhythm, second only to Emannuel and Liana and Yuki Haraguchi and her new partner.

Best of all, no injuries, I’m not exhausted, and I had the energy today to go to ballet class after work plus I went to the grocery store to replace all my perishables and pulled out the items I’d prepared last week from the freezer, which is to say that I’m baaaaaack! Back to my eating plan, and getting my fitness plan in gear, and right back into my normal activities. I didn’t run myself into the ground this time so I won’t need a week to recuperate like I did after People’s Choice.

Alright – gotta get to bed! TTFN!

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Musicality With Master Teacher Inna

Seriously.  Every time I make it to Inna’s Latin class on Tuesdays I gain so much.

Tonight when I got there I saw Igor was teaching the International Ballroom group class instead of Artem and I had a little hope that maybe he would teach the Latin tonight as well, that maybe Inna and Artem were out of town or something.  Why?  Well, he kicks my butt…but Inna kicks it more.  I thought it might be a little bit of a reprieve.  But then Inna came out from the back and I whispered to Igor behind my hand, “I kinda wished you were teaching tonight because Inna kicks my butt.”  He laughed.  “No, tonight Inna’s going to kick your butt.”  Then louder I replied,  “I mean, I’m so glad Inna’s teaching tonight because she’s gonna kick my butt!”

Someone asked Inna what we were going to work on for the evening and she just smiled slyly saying, “Something fun.”

“Uh oh,” I muttered under my breath, imagining we’d be doing the Jive non-stop for the next hour.

After our usual welcome message and lining up in a row to bow and curtsey before the class is to begin, the blond powerhouse decided we should warm up with Samba.  Holy hell!  As I sit here writing this the muscles above my knees are aching and I know tomorrow my abs are gonna burn.  But it was good stuff.  We did the basic, front and back, working on bending our knees and thrusting our pelvis forward and back to get the bounce.  Then we added the whisk to the mix.  Then the arms.  Then she said, “And now we are gonna do this for 10 minutes.” Some people smirked, but I looked at my friend, Barb with a knowing look just as Inna said, “I’m serious.”  We were like, “We know” to one another.

But in reality I can seriously only do like three sets of the combination with the arms, they are so fast and my upper limbs are super heavy.  So, as per usual, I danced full-out doing as best I could, then resting doing the footwork sans arms, then adding them back in once more.  Next we did Samba walks across the floor.  I was warm and tingling, gasping for breath and red and wet with sweat.  Nice warm up Inna!

So then came the fun part.  And you know what….it really was.

Inna was going to teach us about musicality in the body.  The specific type of movement we were going to work on is called Impact, at least that is what I think she was saying.  To me it kind of sounded like “Em-pat” but the movement she demonstrated was to move and stop.  Sharp, staccato movements.

Pretty much we got to strike a pose.  She didn’t care if it was a dance movement.  It could be an arm, a foot, a shoulder, the head.  But we had to move on the count of three and stop.  She counted a Cha Cha rhythm.  So she called me and one other gal to stand in the front of the class after we had done it in a group for a while. I played around and even hit my behind just for fun!  And did the robot, you know, like from the 80’s?  It was super fun.

Then we got to be a clapping orchestra.  Inna separated us in to groups and we clapped parts of the Cha Cha rhythm…1,2,3, cha cha, 1,2,3, cha cha.  Then we stomped it.  Then we did it to music.  It took a while some time for people to hear the beat.  They were rushing sometimes, but eventually we all got in sync.

Next, Inna explained that we could all now hear the Cha Cha beat, and we understood Impact movement, but that there were other types of Musicality in the body.  There can be continuous movement, like in a Rumba.  And Pulsing movement, like in a Bolero, where you hit a pose but then continue extending the movement slowly.  And there is Swing, like in the Ballroom dances where the big movement is in the middle of the stride, but that is not used in Latin dances so much.  And there is Vibration, which was fun and she made us all do it….just wiggling small and fast all over the body.  She said we were all good at that one.  And then staccato movement, which is the Impact movement only faster.  We weren’t going to work on these types of movement, but it is good to know about them.  This kind of stuff is rarely discussed on lessons.

So then it was time to put the Impact body Musicality together with the Cha Cha rhythm.  I think this increased the difficulty by 150%.  We did our usual Cha Cha routine but this time extra sharp.  And, this made it extra hard.  In fact, she said, “If it is more difficult, then you are doing it right.”  I guess I was successful because man, that was a beast!  It takes so much energy to hit each pose with force and then stop myself so sharply.  I could barely do the combination two times in a row and normally, when I move softer and more continuously, I can make it across the floor.

Class ended, we bowed and curtsied, but afterwards I had to tell Inna my experience.  “Inna, every time I come to this class, I just gain so much.  I really feel like you are a master teacher.  It is so wonderful.  Thank you.”  She gave me a hug.

I mean it.  Very sincerely.  And I’m bummed I missed last week when they worked on facial expressions!  Again, invaluable stuff for the competitive dancer like me and I bet that class was a riot!  I’ve got to go as much as I possibly can.  I don’t want to miss a single minute, you know?

So at the end of the day, before I see who got the boot on DWTS tonight, I’m reflecting on my dance life.  I just feel so completely blessed to be learning not only from Ivan, but from Inna too.  I am so grateful for my teachers.  They are worth every penny and every minute.  I count myself extremely lucky to be able to learn from pros like these.

Move Your Ass!

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Allegre Studio

Private Lesson With Ivan

Consider this fair warning…today’s post is a wandering ramble.  But this is what happened for me today, and most days are simply practice.  Most days nothing “exciting” happens.  I’m documenting all my days here on the blog, regardless of what they look like.

So today I arrive and Ivan is of a mind to dance all the dances.  My body is of a mind that it wants a little stretching and warming up.  I’m a bit sore from all the dancing this week and I haven’t been good about giving myself a proper warm up before dancing since I’ve done ballroom.  In jazz or ballet, it is built into the class.  But in ballroom, I don’t know any prescribed movements to do beforehand.  Heck, I’m usually too shy to take up any space to do them, anyways.  I somehow gain an entire level of confidence just by having a partner to dance with.  Alone, I’m still insecure.  But I think in an attempt to prevent injury and ensure flexibility, I’m going to devise something I can do before just jumping in, whether it be a series of plies or stretches, or large movements.

In any case, I do a mini warm up for myself but Ivan is hot to trot (pun intended).  We start with Foxtrot which is good for slower, larger movements in any case.  I can’t remember the last time we practiced any Smooth dances so it has been a while.  I am surprised at how good it is feeling.  Of all the Smooth dances, I think I like Foxtrot the best.  So that goes pretty well, and then we move on to Waltz, Tango, and Viennese Waltz.  All are fine, considering.  I have to remember to count and move myself on the Tango, and there is this stupid walking-around-in-a-circle move in Waltz that always mucks me up, and it is always a challenge for me to get out of Ivan’s way when doing right turns in Viennese, but overall things go pretty smoothly.

When I first began ballroom dancing, I thought I’d study all the dances.  I wanted to be great at all of them.  But the further along I get, I realize that overall I enjoy the Rhythm and Latin dances more and also seem to be naturally better  in them.  I don’t think I’ll abandon learning more about the Smooth and International Standard dances entirely, but I’m thinking I won’t take them as seriously.  I’ll still probably do a few heats of Smooth in my next competition, but I’m going to concentrate for now on Latin and Rhythm.

So after doing the four Smooth dances, we move onto Rhythm.  I have to remind myself of the different leg action, but overall, it also goes pretty well.  I still need help with arm styling.  And the struggle with breathing continues to piss me off.  I keep waiting for it to be a little more manageable.  Come on body!  Change already!

But Ivan is so funny.  I tell him that I’m down a total of 8 pounds so far over the past 2 to 3 weeks.

“This is good.  But I’m gonna miss the fat.”

And he grabs the ample, fleshy lovehandles on my back below the shoulder blades.

“Ivan, you are crazy!  I’m not going to miss it one bit!  Say goodbye to it now!  It may take a while, but it is going to disappear.”

I’m disgusted with my fleshy body, pretty much, but there is nothing like having a person grab it and say they are going to miss it to mess with your world view.  It felt good for Ivan to appreciate my body the way it is right now, even if I can’t yet do that for myself.   It was better than when my darling three-and-a-half year old niece told me Christmas day, “Aunt Nonny, you have a big bum bum.”  Ah, from the mouths of babes…   Yes, I do, Ariah.  Yes I do.

This reminds me that at some point or another I will be broaching the subject of body image.  I’ve already talked to a ballerina who has agreed to share her story for the blog, plus I have my own experiences and observations to share.  It is pretty heavy subject matter, but I think so many dancers struggle with it that it is worth talking about.  But I digress….

Big bum bum or not, I will say that in general I love the way the body moves.  And I’d rather move like I do and be big, than be small and not be able to dance very well.  I’m gonna lose the weight and I already appreciate what my body can do, though I can’t wait for it to transform and be able to do more and do it more easily.

Anyways, we resume dancing the Mambo, and after feeling pretty good about myself, Ivan wants to do it one more time.  He starts to squat down while I’m doing swivels, so I start to squat down with him.  I’m being connected, right?

“No!  You stay up!”

He seems a little frustrated.

“You not connected!  Why you not using the connection?!”

“Ivan, you seem a little upset.”

“I am!  Because you not moving your ass!”

We both start laughing.  It is a concern as a dancer if you are not moving your behind!  At least he knows there is more movement in me and cares enough to get mad if he thinks I am holding back.

But then it is on to Latin.  Man oh man.  I am really trying.  I promise.  There is just so, so much to remember.  And right now connection, counting, and remembering the steps seem like the biggest things.  Shaking my tailfeather has taken a backseat.

I have always relied on my instructor too much because it is easier for me to tune into him and follow since he knows what he is doing.  The only problem with that is that I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing.  So I miss steps, or rush through them, or forget to settle the hip.  I do want to be empowered and move myself and know where I am supposed to be in any given moment.  The way to do that, for me, is through counting.

Oy vey!  It so messes up my brain.  It is difficult to speak and breathe and dance all at the same time, I’m not kidding!  It is so much easier, say, in rhythm, to just listen to the music and move.  Now I have to count it.  I know it is good for me and will improve my dancing, and it is not coming very easy for me.

Case in point, Ivan has this percussion only Rumba.  I cannot find the beat (according to him) for the life of me.  I hear a beat and move to it, but he keeps telling me it is wrong.  Play a regular song, and I can immediately find the proper beat and count.  This thing, on the other hand, I am at sea.

So, today, I’m just going to own the fact that I hate counting.  But, even so, I am going to do it.  I am going to practice it every lesson.  I see how much it helps and how much I’m relying on my instructors instead of myself.  I also noticed it in Inna’s class because she stopped counting during one of the exercises and I immediately got lost.  So it is a notice for me that it is something I’m deficient in.  And I dislike doing it strongly at this time.  Oh well.  Luckily I don’t have to like it to do it.  Isn’t free choice great!

Now, time to go move my ass!