Really Dancing….No, Really! I Mean Like REAL Dancing.

Hi everyone!  I’m baaaaaaaack!

I went on vacation for a week in Ireland, and the week and a half before that I was down for the count with bronchitis.  It’s been a while.

It’s been a while since I wrote and it’s been a while since I did anything physical.  It’s certainly been an eon since I last danced.  It’s also been an age since I last worked out or did any cardio.

What I have been up to is driving in a tiny car on scary one lane roads in the back country of Ireland, eating lots of food, drinking lots of cider and generally laughing, enjoying life, and getting soft.

Also, my husband took lots of amazing photos of our trip.  Below are three:  The Hedges, Giant’s Causeway, and the Cliffs of Moher.

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It’s been great and now I’m glad to be back to “real life.”  In fact, on one of the lay-overs during my sojourn home (it was a 22 hour travel extravaganza from Dublin to our doorstep) I made a point to call and schedule my dance lessons for the week.  It was a priority!

Today was the day for my reunion with Kristijan (Ivan is in Bulgaria until the end of the month) and I had a grand time on my lesson.  I began in my practice shoes.  I’m still recovering a little bit from my respiratory infection and still have congestion and a cough, plus I haven’t been “in my body” to dance for the better part of a month so I thought 3 inch heels right off the bat might be a recipe for disaster.  Anyways, we warmed up with Rumba walks and off we went.

“What do you want to dance?”  He inquired.

“Rumba!” I exclaimed, “I’m a slow starter!” I exhorted.

And it’s true.  Rumba is probably my favorite dance and I love it so much.  It’s a slow burn and a nice way to warm up and reacquaint oneself with one’s body after a long absence.

So we reviewed the choreography.

“How much did you practice while you were gone.”

“Zero,” I said.

“But there is a thing called visualization,” he retorted.  “And it can be a good form of practice,” he explained.

“I did nothing of the sort,” I replied, honestly.  “I ate and I drank and I got fat! I did not practice one iota! So let’s see how this goes,” I said.

And we danced.  And then he suggested we turn on some music.

And I really liked it.  I liked the music, I liked the dancing.  He told me he missed me and the energy I bring.  He corrected me and told me not to put my head down like a bull.  He told me my center of gravity was high and to get more settled in my hips.  He told me to fix my wonky, weak arm.

And I was in a goofy, playful mood.  I pretended like I was Latin champion on of the world and began the Rumba dramatically.  He liked it.  “That was very good,” he said.

So we did the choreography and he told me I was leaning backwards during my spiral turn (which is a bad habit of mine) so I said, “Oh, so you’re saying this wouldn’t work if I were in heels.  Maybe I should put on my heels so I could have a reality check.  These practice shoes give me the illusion that I can actually dance.”  I say this because with the lower heel I can get away with more bad habits and still stay on balance and make things work.  The moment I put on 3 inch heels the entire landscape changes and I often feel like I have strapped on not just shoes but the wobbly legs of a newborn deer.

So guess what!?  I changed into my heels!

And we danced some more.  And I emoted and I played.  And the best part was we danced!  We really danced!  I mean there were all these little gems scattered hither and thither in the routine.  I wouldn’t say the routine rounds were perfectly polished, but there were these amazing moments and sequences of moments where magic happened.

For instance, I began my Rumba with conviction and Kristijan reacted.  Somehow we started the routine totally differently.  We did a hip twist into a double spin and then began the official choreography.  None of this was planned and none of it was communicated except that we were both present and both dancing, together, and it was just the natural evolution of the next right thing to do.  I have no idea how it all was coordinated – it was from a realm beyond words.  It just worked, it just happened, we just created it out of nothing because we were both there, together, connected…which is all the more amazing since we haven’t seen each other for like 3 weeks.

Then there was this moment where I decided that I really liked the music and the movement I was doing so I delayed it.  I stretched it out and made it happen over twice the timing it usually does.  And it was awesome!  I totally took the lead and Kristijan had to react to it.  He totally did and it was so awesome!  I don’t know how this all happened but I just knew that I was planted on that spot and that I was going to finish what I was going to do and then I would move, and somehow through the ethers he got the message and figured it out and then our next move was even that much more sharp and impactful because we delayed so long.

I loved it!  I loved creating something together, from nothing, with no prior planning or scheming or communication.  I loved how it all unfolded, naturally.  I thought to myself, “If I dance like that, so relaxed and joyful and playful and open, at a competition…if we could spontaneously create something in the moment so that each time we danced a routine it was genuinely new, I would be so satisfied and happy with that!  I wouldn’t care how we were ranked!  I would be pleased.”  So I told Krisijan as much and I said, “So let’s dance like that in competition, m’kay, deal?”  And he said, “Okay, Deal!”

I mean, in my view of the world, what we did today was ACTUALLY dancing.  It was not just going through the motions.  It was connected.  It was alive and breathing.  It was co-created space.  It was magic and spontaneous and felt free and joyful.  It was the best!  Yay!

And besides that, the other big news is that Krisijan and Anja got a puppy named Don.  He’s a rescue Lab-SharPpai mix, black, cute, and exploring the world with his sharp-puppy-toothed-mouth!

Also, I’ve decided I will dance in the Galaxy Dance Festival here in Phoenix in September.  It will be my first competition back.  I don’t know if Ivan will be game, but I know Kristijan will so at the least I will do Latin, and I’m hoping I can do some Rhythm as well.

Lastly, I have a fitting for my new dress by Julia tomorrow on my lunch break.  Fingers crossed I love it!

I think that gets me caught up for now, on my end.  But in a parting note, I did wanted to give a shout out to all my Ballroom Village bretheren.  I’m getting caught up in all I’ve missed over the past couple of weeks and you all have been a busy lot, posting!  I’m working my way through your recent adventures.  Also, and importantly, I wanted to send a very special congratulations to BC Ballroom on completing chemo!!!!!  Yay!  This is cause for celebration and I’m so glad to read that you are dancing up a storm right now!  You GO girl!  You are an inspiration to me….and I’m not just talking about how consistent you are with your blog posts lol! (I could use a little of that hahaha)

Oh, and I have a guest post on Girl With The Tree Tattoo!  It’s about how I got to the place where I changed my blog name from Biggest Girl In The Ballroom to Beautiful Girl In The Ballroom….go check it out.

Come to think of it, there are at least two more pieces of exciting news in the works!  I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned!

I’m glad to be back with you all and I’m looking forward to sharing more dance adventures, insights, breakdowns and breakthroughs with you!

Love, Stef

AKA Beautiful Girl

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My Rumba Walks Will Never Be The Same

Well folks, it’s been a busy few days what with the holidays and all. I’ve worked 14 days straight (minus Christmas day) and now I’m due for a little break! Like I said, I did get Christmas day off, which was wonderful, but ended up being exhausting to make up the necessary overtime. I also participated in the 12th annual family pinochle tournament and came in 2nd place!

But even more amazing than that are all the discoveries I’m continuing to make with my dancing. It’s been kind of slow going with Imperial closed and ballet off the docket during the holidays, but since Ivan is independent, when he’s been available, we’ve caught a few lessons before I went into work yesterday and today.

Honestly, I’m so tired right now because I had an insomniac night last night waking up at 1:30am or so and not falling back to sleep until 4am, needing to get up at 5am to meet Ivan for our 6:30am lesson. This means, especially after 9 hours of work and the 1.5 hour commute, my mind is jumbled. The perfect time to write a blog post! LOL.

But I wanted to quickly process what we covered so I don’t forget it and also to say that tomorrow is the Ron and Karla Montez Dance Camp and I’m super excited to get to go for the next three days, culminating in a gourmet dinner and dance party with a champagne toast to kick off the new year. The schedule looks very juicy but I’m not entirely sure who will be instructing. Originally Bree and Decho were part of the staff but it looks like maybe they are now not participating. Ron and Karla will be there of course, and also possibly Radomir Pashev and Linda Dean as well as Jim and Janelle Maranto. We’ll see. I’m planning on going with a notebook to write down as much as I can and I’m sure there will be much to share after 3 full days of classes!

But back to what Ivan and I have been working on, well, it’s the basics, really. But I’m coming to experience them in deeper detail and the most exciting part is that things are changing, for the better I think, in my dancing. For instance, yesterday a lot of the lesson was spent on connection. It’s something we talk about and work on a lot and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s like somebody can tell you the same thing 500 times and the 501st time you finally get it. Well, I had one of those experiences while doing a fan in the Rumba. In all honesty, it made me tear up a little bit!

So the thing is, that if someone was looking from the outside at what we were doing it wouldn’t probably appear any different from what we always do. But from the inside out, it felt completely different. I don’t know if I can truly explain the experience, it has so much to do with feeling and that nebulous concept of “energy” that we dancers hear about. Like Debbie Alvarez told me that I was allowing my “energy” to leak out behind me instead of directing it toward Ivan, my partner, on the fan. I “get it” but I also don’t entirely “get it” since I can’t execute utilizing my energy properly all the time. In any case, what happened was that I felt the connection through more than just my arms, but through my entre upper body, transferring into my hips and legs. It was a feeling of…simply put….presence. Me being present, integrated, whole and entire through my body and arms. Usually my arms end up being somewhat disconnected from my body which is probably why arm styling tends to be such a struggle for me. And it was beyond even the arms. The connection itself was intangible yet palpable. I would have been led and responded even if we hadn’t been touching physically.

This connection thing takes a while to feel, and then it is about being consistent and constant with it, whether in hold or not, being in partnership with the dancing partner and not having dead spaces whether energetically or physically, no moments of withdrawal. The moment I drop my guard, the moment I lose concentration, that is the moment that I miss the next signal and the wheels begin to fall off. Then there is a moment of overcompensation and pushing hard to reconnect. I mean, I can feel the difference when I’m really present and really paying attention so I know (theoretically) what it should feel like, but my habits run deep, not to mention the myriad of things I’m thinking about on every single step. But when I manage it, connection is the magic peanut butter in the sandwich called ballroom dancing, what holds it together and makes it so delicious!

But yeah, it’s difficult with all there is to manage when dancing. In fact, I was pondering this idea today – the idea that Ivan probably has no idea all the things I’m thinking about when we are dancing together and it’s really hard to just be present when I’m trying to remember the new step, the correction to my arms, the timing, the expression, how we tweaked this detail and that detail. It’s a lot!

But no matter! I’m addicted! I love it. Which is what caused me to go to another lesson this morning in which I had more discoveries and breakthroughs. First we worked on rumba walks. It’s not like I’ve done them badly all this time, it’s just that there is always more possibilities for movement. We broke it down and worked on it for quite a few minutes and then I began to discover how to do it in a totally new way which fills up more of the music. I tend to try to hit lines and thus get stuck as well as throw myself off-balance. I discovered that I was putting my hip into its final destination straight away instead of stepping forward with hips square, then raising the back hip, then twisting around my spine, and finally settling onto the standing leg. I began to get the hang of it, which is encouraging, however, it will take a lot of conscious practice to change my muscle memory so that I can do it automatically without thinking. But I’m excited with the possibilities.

I have the same problem going into a fan step in Rumba. I would immediately hit the final swivel position with my hip and have nowhere to go. I knew that I needed to melt into that final position but couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. Well, the change in the Rumba walks helped with this issue as well. Instead of immediately twisting my hips when switching my weight on count 2, I stopped in the middle and then could melt with the twist. Magic! I swear! I feel more and more like a “grown up” dancer when I discover these details. It’s exciting!

I guess that’s the main idea of what’s been going on. I must say that I can’t wait for my schedule to normalize a bit and to have my weekly ballet and Advanced Latin Group class as well as to fit in some gym time along with my private lessons. I have big goals for the new year and I’m looking to compete in May. I can’t wait to dive in with increased activity levels, as well as my new job training, position, and work schedule. It’s going to be a few weeks of transition, but even so, at least it will be better than the craziness of the holidays.

I’m hoping I’ll find the time to write some about my dance camp experiences but who knows how much time I will have so if I don’t get to it until after the New Year, well, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! Thanks for being a part of this experience along with me. The blog has been live for just over a year now and I’m thankful for every person who has ever read any post or made a comment or even become my friend! 2012 has been an interesting year, but I think 2013 is going to provide even more opportunities for growth, discovery, and connection. I’m looking forward to sharing it all with you!

-Stef