Topical Series: Ballroom Demystified (Part Deux)

Where was part one, you may ask?  Well this post is an extension of another post by Alaina which you can read here.

I thought it was an excellent topic and told her so.  And, me being as opinionated and vociferous as I am (at least as a writer), I was inspired to continue the conversation.

I’ll use Alaina’s same format.  She was comparing DWTS, which probably represents how most uninitiated people think of ballroom, to what actually happens at a ballroom competition.  If you’ve never been to one, then you can’t possibly know, but the two are worlds apart.  I think pretty much the only things they have in common are spray tans, amazing outfits and hair, the fact that there are judges, and Pro/Am couples.  Other than that, things are really different.  And one housekeeping note – I’m talking about NDCA Dancesport competitions as those are the ones I have experience with.  There are other competitions put on through studio chains or through other independent companies like World Promotions which have their own set of rules and protocols.

Point 1: In competition, there are multiple couples on the floor at the same time

Alaina got this right.  The only thing I’ll add, is man, is it a different experience with all that movement going on at the same time.  It kind of makes more sense as to why ballroom couples try to be so ostentatious.  If you don’t know what they will be up against, it may seem particularly gaudy and over-the-top how they move, how they dress, how they do their hair and make up, and all that.  Each couple is vying for the attention of the judges and the audience and being showy, glittery, or even ridiculously cheeky, may help achieve that aim.  It is practically impossible to watch just one couple while they compete as each one will catch your eye at a different point.  This is also part of why couples rotate around the ballroom between heats – to perform for a different section of the audience and hopefully gain their support.

Point 2:  Two styles of dance

I’d argue that there are 4 categories of dance – broadly divided into American styles and International styles.  But it’s not just the styling that is different – it’s also the dances that are performed.  On the American side are the American Rhythm and Smooth Divisions, and on the International side are Standard (or Standard Ballroom) and Latin.

American

American Rhythm – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo

American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

International

Standard Ballroom – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Waltz, Quickstep

Latin – Samba, Cha cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive

As you can see, some of the dances are the same.  This is where that styling that Alaina was referring to fits in.  In general, legs are straight in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha but there is a bending and straightening action that occurs in American Rhythm.  In American Smooth, couples can go in and out of a dance frame hold and tend to do lots of sweeping movements, and spins with the lady, and maybe dips too, but in Standard Ballroom, the couples must remain in a dance frame hold throughout the entire dance and travel in unison around the floor.  On DWTS, Len’s background would be more in Latin and Standard Ballroom (being from Great Britan) and this is why he often harps about couples breaking out of hold (which I think he used to do more often than he currently does).

In addition, there are also other dances that may be at competitions like country western dances, Night Club Two Step, Argentine Tango, and West Coast Swing, but generally they have different stylization as compared to the dances as danced in their traditional milieu, like a milonga, or with true “Westies.”

Furthermore, there are more types of pairings that can occur.  On DWTS we see a little of this – sometimes there are Pro/Pro pairings, also formation teams, both of which occur at competitions.  In competitions, there are also purely Amateur couples, some of which are very high level and almost as good as the pros.  This pairing is two amateurs and would be the equivalent of two of the “Stars” on DTWS pairing up.  Now that would be interesting to see on the show, but would probably result in poor dancing because instead of only 1 person not knowing what they are doing, both would be clueless!

Also, remember that the couples dancing at competition do not know ahead of time which music they will be dancing to.  On DWTS the routines are more like those that would be presented during a showcase; the music is known and choreographed to.  But in competition, you may have a routine but it has to work and the timing must be correct no matter what music is played.  DWTS did show some of this with those “Instant dances” they have had on a few seasons.  Those dances test the skill set of leading and following.  I believe (though I don’t know for sure) that for most divisions the couples have a pre-planned routine, however they still have to remain in connection so they can react seamlessly if another couple gets in their way or something unexpected happens like one partner forgets the routine.  They can then fall back on lead-follow dancing to get them through.  However, in the Standard Ballroom division, I think there is more of a chance that the couples don’t have a planned routine.  They probably have the basic idea of what they will do and also which steps they will want to show off, but because there is so much movement around the floor and many couples are buzzing around, floorcraft is key in this division in particular.  The couple has to react quickly and often to avoid collisions. (As an aside, I think Artem and Inna are particularly adept at this.  I’ve only ever seen them almost collide once, ever, on a video, and I have seen them masterfully avoid collisions multiple times without missing a single step.)  Anyways, I think in this division, and probably Smooth as well, lead-follow plays a much bigger role.

Amendment:  Please do see the comments section of this post!  Why? Because Ellen so generously and eloquently clarified this detail, about Standard Ballroom dancers.  I am incorrect, it seems!  Standard dancers do have planned routines, and maybe even more so than other dancers!  Who knew?  See Ellen’s explanation!  The main idea is that there are only certain ways to get into and exit out of various steps (very true) so they have to be strung together in careful and meticulous order, which many times will require a pre-set routine.  And yes, I admit when I am wrong! LOL!  Love it!  Thank you for interacting, Ellen!  I appreciate you so very much.

Point 3: Scoring and points

Yeah, there are no paddles at competitions.  Instead, judges mark couples, ranking them or recalling them on forms which are collected and tabulated, and then at various intervals during the day there are awards.  The announcer quickly calls out who made 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in a particular heat.  That’s it.  You may get some gold stickers, or you may get some coupons for $1 off rounds if you compete again next year for placing, and a plaque for participating, but no mirror ball trophy.  Medals are sometimes given for placing in a scholarship competition (I will explain that in a bit).  But certainly no commentary on what each couple did well or any advice on how to improve like happens on DWTS.

Another difference is that because there are multiple couples competing at the same time, if there is a large heat, with many participants, it is possible that many rounds may have to be danced.  There can be multiple preliminary rounds, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals.  During each iteration, a few of the couples will be eliminated.  In the earlier rounds where there are many couples on the floor, the judges simply vote to “recall” those couples they’d like to see more of.  The final round will consist of 6, maybe 7 couples, so getting to semifinals can be a real feat if there are like 24 couples entered in the competition.  Rounds like this can be found at bigger competitions like Ohio Star Ball, or Millennium, or USDC, but usually only happen for pros.  I’ve only ever had one heat large enough to require a semifinal.  All the other heats I’ve danced have always been a final right off the bat because there aren’t enough couples to warrant multiple rounds.

Once reaching the final, judges then place the couples as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.  Each judge gives his or her own individual opinion/ranking and these are tabulated.  This is why you see perhaps 33221 by the picture or write-up in the media of a couple that placed 3rd.  In this example, 2 judges placed the couple 3rd, two judges placed them 2nd, and 1 judge placed them 1st.  The couple with the most 1st’s wins and the ranking follows the same pattern.  Hopefully the rankings will agree somewhat, indicating that the positions were highly contested, and the the judges were generally on the same page as to the excellence of the the couples.  Sometimes, however, they may also vary widely.  A couple can miss a final round, or a higher placement by the opinion of just one judge.  Truly, for this reason, I have such respect for the strength of character and perservence of the pros who put themselves out there to compete.  It can be a brutal process sometimes and very difficult to convince the majority of judges to place you highly enough to reach any level of professional success.

Often competitors can obtain their scoresheets after the competition online to see how a particular judge placed them, or if that judge recalled them.  If the competitor knows the predilections of that judge, then they may gain insight in areas to work on.  For instance, some judges are known to focus in on toplines, others footwork, others overall presentation.  In addition, competitors can see if there was a wide variation in their placements, or if the judges generally agreed upon how they were placed, again giving them more of an idea of what to focus on in the future.

Here’s where I’m going to veer off the path laid by Alaina.

Point 4: Single dances versus Scholarship Rounds, Open versus Closed heats

Okay, so in competitions there are a variety of types of heats.  Single dances are just what they sound like.  You want to dance Mambo, you dance a Mambo.  You will dance it at the appropriate level and age category.  In America, there are Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels.  These may be further divided into “pre-” or “full” or “intermediate” levels.  For instance, as a way of stretching yourself, if you are ranked as a full-Bronze student, you may also participate in a pre-Silver level heat to see how you fare against more advanced competition.  In addition, you dance with people your same age, and can dance against those one age category below you.  This makes it fair so 20-year-olds aren’t competing against octagenarians.

Scholarship rounds are kind of like a mimic of what the pros do.  The pros don’t dance a single dance.  They dance all the dances in their category.  Now, for us beginners, they go a little easier on us.  First, for the lower levels like Bronze, you may only dance 3 or 4 of the dances required by the pros.  Also, the length of the heats is less – 1:10 minutes to 1:2o seconds versus about 2:00 minutes for pros.  Thank God, I have to say, because it takes time to build up the cardiovascular capacity and skill level necessary to complete all the dances for such a (relatively) long duration.  So for instance, I did a closed Bronze scholarship round in Latin at Desert Classic.  This meant that I danced 3 dances in a row: Samba, Cha cha, Rumba and was ranked on those compared to the other Pro/Am couples on the floor at the same time in my same skill level and age category.  No Paso Doble of Jive for me! (Thank heavens!  However, I did dance some single dances in Jive, separately)

Again the scholarship rounds are divided by skill level and age.  They can get very competitive, especially at the Open level.

Okay, now for the difference between Open and Closed.  Closed rounds are those that only include steps in the syllabus.  For NDCA events, this is the DVIDA syllabus.  Open rounds can include more creative choreography and include steps not strictly on the syllabus.  There can be open single dances as well as open scholarship rounds.  They can also still be divided by skill level, so for instance you can dance an open bronze Bolero or an open silver Waltz.

When pros compete, they are competing as an open.  Anyone can enter.  Though for Pro/Am and Amateur levels, the open scholarship rounds are generally still divided by age, but then again, you don’t usually see senior citizens in open professional competition, but you will see them in open Pro/Am scholarship rounds.

Hmm….well, that’s probably just scratching the surface of the differences between DWTS and a NDCA competition.  Honestly, if you’ve never been to one, it’s worth checking out.  The energy of the ballroom during pro heats is unbelievable.  And it’s so inspiring and incredible.  Though I love getting my DWTS fix, I love being a part of this other world and participating in the “real deal.”  There are a lot of ways to participate in ballroom and I’d encourage anyone to participate to any level that works for them, from social dancing, to full-on competition.  All are wonderful, and special, and important.  But for me, I’ve decided, it’s the competition route I’m interested in.  Yeah, I’m crazy.  I know.  Lol.

If you do happen to have anything to add, or any further questions, please comment!  I love hearing other perspectives, and about other experiences.  Part of what I’m after here on the blog is to build community.  Please join in the fun!

Claim Your Space

Ever since our honest conversation, things have been different on my lessons….for the better.  I had such a nice lesson today.  It wasn’t easy.  Actually, it means I’m taking more responsibility for my dancing.  It takes more energy, but overall, I’m really happy about it.

So I decided I wanted to come to my lesson with a directed agenda today and I told Ivan about it.  Again, another way in which I’m stepping up and taking responsibility for myself and my dancing.  Instead of just doing whatever, I wanted to review my Latin Rumba routine.  Why?  First, so I don’t completely forget it.  And boy did this turn out to be a really good thing.

The other things I told Ivan I wanted to do on our lesson, we only got to some of them.  But it’s all good.  I know that we will work on those things too, but first things first.  Soon I hope we will begin work on a nice open Samba routine.

Anyways, for now, what we discovered is this….I’ve really been unsure of my timing.  I know the steps, for the most part, but even some of those I couldn’t do without Ivan.  It’s totally different without your partner in front of you, leading you.  So we broke it down, step by step, count by count.  It was a bit tedious, but totally awesome.  I’m moving myself, 100%.  I’m counting, and know when I’m supposed to do what.  It makes me feel more secure.  It makes me feel more confident.  It also exposes my weaknesses and when I don’t know exactly what I’m doing…which is perfect!  Once these areas are identified, I can correct them.  When we dance together, much of this is covered up because I can go on automatic pilot with Ivan’s lead and he can help balance me and such.

So, I’m excited.  I’m fired up to practice my routine, by myself.  I’m super excited for when we dance it together again, but with him giving me a very light lead so that I can move myself, and be on my own two feet.

It also felt good on another level that Ivan was actually giving me more responsiblity and treating me more like a partner.  Yes, I’m still the student and all, and he definately jumps in when I mess up to correct me, but when I hit it, he’s so happy.  It’s a very good thing.

We also practiced presentation a bit.  I felt that it was quite off at the competition, along with a lot of other things.  The bottom line is that we weren’t connecting like we should have.  When we connect (and we can do it), it feels like we are one piece moving – the two puzzle pieces meld into one.  When we are in a hold like this, when we are connected like this, it’s hard not to follow.  Today, since we were conected, Ivan led me in all manner of presentations and I didn’t miss a beat.  He didn’t have to show me them, or instruct me in them.  It was kind of magically amazing. Connection, connection, connection!!!

So, I’m excited for when I can dance myself, I know my routine backwards and forwards with the timing and counts, and when we can connect to dance it like we did today when all that is in place.

I’ll be honest.  It was a lot to absorb, a lot to keep track of.  It’s going to take practice on my part and I’m going to have to integrate my computer (brain) with my muscles and body.  I’ve been very irresponsible about practicing my routines by myself but now am excited to create the space and time in my life to do this more.

Speaking of space, one thing I still need to work on is claming my space on the floor.  Ivan is so attuned, he can zero in when I’m not 100% convicted or committed in my movements.  Anyways, we were doing a crossover and I was thinking I was being a bold and confident and such, but Ivan, he called my bluff.

“You can’t partially claim your space, or maybe claim it.  Take it!  It’s yours! Declare it!”

He runs over to a rack of dresses over in the corner.

“Stefanie, what If I Dore’ and I tell you all these dresses are yours!  What you do?”

He hugs them all in a big, exhuberant squeeze.

“You don’t doing this.”  He half-way hugs some of the dresses, kind of unsure.  Maybe touching some, avoiding others, being shy.

He’s so good at acting out these concepts.  It’s pretty funny.  No one could ever say Ivan isn’t animated.

In any case, yes, he’s right.  I experienced it at Desert Classic, being afraid to really claim my space and take it.  As my confidence grows, I will feel more and more like I have a “right” to be there on the floor, which we all do….if we are there to dance then we have the right to claim our space.  So, I’m looking forward do doing this more and more in the future.

In that same vein, Ivan always admonishes me to finish my movements.  To complete one movement, then start the next one, and finish it.  I got another understanding of this lesson, not only on my underarm turn and spot turns, but also when Ivan had me do a little Cha Cha combo across the floor.  I did Cha Cha walk, spiral, repeat.  After fixing my spiral by making sure I was standing up straight, lengthening my spine, and not leaning, as well as not leaning backwards, Ivan wanted me to look directly at him while I walked toward him.  Basically, I was supposed to direct my energy along with my movements to him, representing someone in the audience.  It feels awesome when the two are in sync – my body and my energy.  Anyways, I made it across the floor and back a few times, then Ivan leaned over sticking out his cheek and told me to come and kiss it.  Well, what did I do?  I did my walks, all directed and all, but then stopped short about two steps before his cheek.  I didn’t complete the movement.  I stopped myself just like I always do….well, let’s say did.  Because I’m a changed woman.  No more.  Time to complete.  Every time.  All the way.  No holding back.

One final thing happened today that was pretty interesting.  Ivan had me do swivels.  I struggle with those things like crazy.  So when he started doing them, I immediately went into the mode of knowing that I’m bad at them.

“Oh Ivan!  Swivels!  Ugh! I’m so bad at them!”

He was all, “You always like this.  You say this to me like you never going to be able to do them in your life.  And look, 20 minutes later you are doing them, doing them so much better.  You not allowed to say you can’t doing things anymore.  You have to just count to ten and do it!”

Its a new rule.  I have to shut up and dance.

Because the truth is, I generally catch on and can do most, if not all, of what is asked of me or taught to me.  Sometimes I’m missing a piece of information which makes it difficult, like in the swivels, I wasn’t bringing my feet together fast enough and this was making the swivels slow and cumbersome.  Ivan gives me this little nugget, and bam, immediately I’m dancing different.

So, I’m not allowed to say I can’t anymore. I have to count to ten and then just do it.  It’s probably a good rule to apply to life in general as well.

So anyways, I’m focused and directed.  I have a new attitude and am determined and committed.  I have been moving every day this week except Friday, taking extra group dance classes at a local adult dance studio.  I took a stretch and tone class, kind of a yoga hybrid, belly dancing, a Glee cardio fitness class, and a Zumba class (not my cup of tea, but at least I sweated a bit), and then worked out with my friend at the gym on the treadmill before my lesson today.  I have dropped a few pounds and notice some changes in my body, but they aren’t enough that Ivan could see just yet.

Though a bit disappointed by this, that lasted about 10 seconds because then it just fired me up to work even harder to drop more weight so it is noticible next time, or at least in the very near future.  Also, I’m motivated because even if Ivan can’t see the changes, he can feel energetically, or whatever, that I’m serious, that my mentality has switched.

“I not feeling like you losing weight just now, but you already dancing different.  You already feeling different.  Very nice lesson today.  I like it.  I love it.  I like it.”

Cool.  I can live with that.  Actually, I’m excited about next week and have my next weight loss target written on my white board so I will see it every time I walk in my door at home.  It will remind me of what I need to do and why I am doing it.  Suddenly staying on my eating plan becomes easy.  I have to keep myself busy, and as long as I do that, I’m going to succeed.  Actually, I can’t possibly fail, unless I give up, which I won’t.  I’m still breathing so I’m still in the game.

This leads me to my last item of note – I have a confession to make.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the videos of me dancing at Desert Classic just yet.  It’s always been difficult for me to watch myself dancing, even at a smaller size.  It’s good to watch because it’s feedback – I can see how my body is moving, see where I’m not completing my momvents, see if my toes are pointed, etc, etc.  But esepcially because I don’t like my body right now, and because I’m not dancing like I wish I could, it’s hard to see.  Anyways, at the end of the lesson today Ivan asked me if I had watched my videos yet and I was like no.  He said to bring them next time and we will watch them together.  He wants to see not only how I was moving, but also the people around me.  If I am moving well, then we will know that the appearance issue really affected my results.  If I’m not moving well, I guess the jury will still be out.  But I do trust Ivan’s eye.  He knows what he’s talking about.  So if he decides I danced well, I’m going to be even more fired up to dramatically change my body for our next competition….whenever that is.

So, after our next lesson, I’ll let you know what he thought.  I’ll let you know what I thought.  Maybe, I’ll even share some video, if I don’t feel it is too horrid!

I guess that’s it for now.  I really needed to process all that happened today and that, in all honesty, is why I started the blog.  My husband got sick of me blabbing about it so much!  So, I have no idea if you found this post entertaining or if you got anything from it, but, well, I sure did!  Ha!  I feel much better, re-committed, re-energized, and excited.

I’m so glad I went and did the Desert Classic.  I feel like going to competitions, for me, is such a growing experience which lasts even beyond the actual event.  I just know my dancing is on a different level and I’m exctied to explore it.

Until next time,

Committed, Consistent, Disciplined, Svelte, Powerful, and Determined Stefanie

I’m Gonna Find My Inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer

If you haven’t been watching SYTYCD, you should be.

It’s like, my fav-o-rite dance show evarrrrr.

And it relates to the title of my post. You know, everything happens for a reason and there are signs everywhere if we have the eyes to see them. The messages in my life abound. They come via friends, conversations, encounters at the grocery store, and even while watching t.v.

Tonight something Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer said on the on the show really stuck with me. He was asked to dance for his life. This happens when the judges aren’t sure about a dancer but he still has enough support that he or she gets one final chance to win the judges over for a spot on the show. He had to perform his solo, doing the style of dance that he is best at.

While very nervous in the previous rounds, Cyrus suddenly seemed calm and centered. Peaceful. Cat Deely interviewed him before he put it all on the line and he said, “There is no better feeling than being myself. I cannot wait to show the judges what I got.”

That stopped me dead in my tracks.

It represented what I call a paradigm shift.

If you haven’t already figured it out from reading my blog, I sometimes struggle with self-esteem issues, confidence issues, and body image issues. And I am also a dancer. A ballroom dancer. You know, those super sexy and elegant creatures, very feminine, confident, love having all the attention on them. Like, the very opposite of how I generally feel inside. But that is not why I am a dancer. I am a dancer because I was born that way, even if I didn’t even realize it for portions of my life. Dance lives inside me. My job, my biggest struggle, is to simply let it out, get out of my own way. To halt my hang-ups and insecurities, and analysis to paralysis, and negative thinking from getting in the way of the expression of that greater spirit that sometimes comes out when I let it.

So when Cyrus said what he said about there being nothing better than being himself and being so excited to share that with the judges, it was like, what? That thought never occurred to me.

You see, my aim for the Desert Classic, the goal behind the goal if you will, is not just to dance well, or place high, or even to get a top student award, it is actually to allow myself to be seen. To have dances full of pure dance, connection, joy. To let myself go to the places I usually keep dammed up, closed. I guess, in the end, it’s really about being vulnerable. Like some part of me is afraid to really let that show because I don’t necessarily feel like Cyrus. I don’t always feel like it’s awesome to be me. If I don’t feel great about myself, why would I want to share it? I’d want to only reveal the polished veneer, to look good.

You know, in theory, I believe we are all special, even me. We all have our own unique greatness. But when it comes to actually feeling that way about myself I waver between delusions of grandeur and being a squashed bug. Like in my dancing, sometimes I think I’m awesome. Other times, I feel like I can’t do anything right.

But the part of me that is actually awesome is bigger than any dance technique. It’s the part that my friend Colette saw when I danced on my birthday with Ivan. She told me, “I don’t know if it was the wine, but when you danced that night you shone.” It’s the part that my mom saw that brought her to tears when I danced in the showcase. It’s the part that gives Ivan goosebumps every once in a while when we dance together, like happened this morning for no particular reason I could discern.

But OMG, do you know what he told me Monday morning? There I was, struggling through more Rumba walks (in my head concentrating on my hips, getting over my feet, not slapping them on the floor, making my arms move, not dying because of the cardio, etc, etc, etc.) I was in the space of knowing that what I was doing just wasn’t good enough. That I was lacking proper technique…something Ivan was quick to remind me of, correcting something every few steps. And he tells me some fixes, and I do the best I can to implement them and you know what he tells me? He says, “I jealous of you.”

Like, say WHAT? Back that train up!

Here is this man, this amazing dancer. This person that I look up to and wish I could move like him, or Marieta. And he’s telling me that he’s jealous of me. I couldn’t believe it.

Like, what on earth did he have to be jealous of?

He explained. “You getting it so quickly! I have to practicing years and years and I never move like this. It’s cause you have talent.”

I have always thought that it really wasn’t talent. It was the fact that I danced as a kid and had a great teacher who knew her technique in ballet, tap, and jazz. I worked really hard to be moderately good in those genres, but I knew I’d never be able to do say the kind of dancing that is performed on SYTYCD. I knew I’d never be a professional dancer.

But ballroom is different. Not only is all about connection and partnering, but it seems to fit the way my body moves like a glove. By this I mean my hips are very flexible. Apparently this is not the case for a lot of people. I never gave it a second thought because it just came naturally to me. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of technique to absorb, and a lot of working it though, but I think the base is there.

Anyways, I thought Ivan was totally off his rocker. I would give anything to move like he and Marieta or Inna…but then again, maybe I should rethink that?

You know, on Tuesday night I went to get my butt kicked in Inna’s class and we did Rumba, Cha Cha, and Samba. There is some tricky stuff in all three dances to master, and Inna often has students demonstrate what we are working on. It’s good because it gets us used to performing, being in front of others, being uncomfortable. etc. So at one point she had me do a Samba combination across the floor.

As an aside, I think I am actually doing better in the class in terms of stamina. Trust me, it’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but we had a new student in the class who looked like she was really fit. Even she was like, “When is this class gonna be over?” I had to laugh. I’ve so been there! But at least last night I was hanging in there pretty well.

So back to the Samba combo. Anyways, after class Inna said to me, “I love your Samba.”

Wow! That’s so cool. And I was like, “Thanks Inna.”

“It’s so much better!” She said.

Which is true. I actually had a lesson with her while Ivan was in Bulgaria getting married specifically to work on my Samba bounce – that tricksy movement! So she knew where I had started from.

Anyways, that felt like a pretty good acknowledgement. See, Stef, there has been progress. You are becoming a better dancer. Enough that others notice.

But every time I think about the Desert Classic, which happens multiple times during the day, I get butterflies in my stomach. Part of me is excited. Part of me is nervous.

I wonder if I will have the stamina to do what I need to do. I waver between being okay with how my body is because it isn’t going to change all that much between now and the competition, and just trusting that I move well and will be expressive and that it will be enough, and then freaking out because I am going to look so different from most of my competitors.

Well, I guess I’m deciding right now that screw it. Screw it all! Screw all the chatter in my head! It just needs to shut up!

Instead I’ll listen to Ivan and the music. I will tune into the dance.

I’m big. But I’ll be big in all ways, not just in my ass. I will be noticed. And not just for my size. I think it’s kind of unavoidable that I will be noticed for that initially. But that doesn’t have to be the main attraction. Instead, I will then begin to move. And from then on, I will be noticed because I will shine.

You know, I’ve got to get over myself and just set aside all this B.S. I will find my inner Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer and love being me, at least for the time that I’m dancing. I will find my inner Cyrus and be so excited to “show those judges what I’ve got.” Whatever that looks like in the moment.

I suppose I’m giving myself a little pep talk here on the blog, well so be it.

This is my time to shine. Carpe Diem and all that.

Can You Be A Little More Elegant….Not So Heil Hitler?

First blog post in the new house!  Yay!

Yes, I’m still alive, but I realize it’s been a bit since I last posted.  Well, after yesterday I finally have something to write about.

It was kind of a rough day.  One of those days, if you’ve ever had one, where I just woke up feeling low about being me.  A low self-esteem day.  No particular reason.  No event that triggered it.  But for whatever reason, it just hit me.  To the point that I was tearing up on my way into work.

But before I went in to work and realized how low I was really feeling, I had a lesson with Ivan.  He had absolutely nothing to do with this foul mood.  In fact, he provided some of the laughter I experienced during those 24 hours.  Yes, it’s true.  Even on an emotionally low day, there are moments of joy to be found.

So Ivan was just back from the Crystal Ball in Chicago where he danced with my friend Katie and another student, and of course Miss Marieta.  They placed 3rd in Professional Open American Rhythm, which is awesome, and Ivan felt like he danced really well.  This was an interesting comment because usually he focuses (like a lot of us perfectionist-prone dancers) on what was lacking, what could have been better.  I’m so proud of Ivan (and Marieta too) for doing such great work on their “mental problems.”  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you can read about it here.  Anyways, they are really coming to think like the champions I know they are.  It will be exciting to watch what happens over the next couple of competitions.

So Ivan seems pretty excited to be going to Desert Classic with me.  I know it is going to be an absolute blast.  I’ve already decided.  We are going to have fun, enjoy ourselves, and dance amazing.  It’s just my vision of what is going to happen.  I’m working on practicing owning my space, doing the (what feels like) over-the-top facial expressions, practicing the presentation and bow/curtsey portion of the performance, and fixing what technical details I can correct in the next 4 weeks.  It would feel amazing to just act as if I owned the dance floor!  Which, is a challenge, I tell you!  I have a hard time doing it with Ivan, and also in Inna’s group class.

Anyways, so Ivan was on a high from the competition and we began.

Oh arm styling, I’ve mentioned you before, and I will mention you again.  And Ivan really picked up on it that morning as well.  Doing under arm turns in Rumba, I did my usual arm and Ivan stopped me.

It was weird.  He kind of enunciated the question to me more clearly than I’ve ever heard him speak.  “Can you please be a little more elegant…”  The “t” particularly popped, like a single drumbeat.  “And not so heil Hitler.”

Well, that gives the visual.  I was thrusting my arm out in a straight line rather than developing it throughout the entire arm, using all my muscles and joints to unfold it.  But seriously, only a comment you’d hear from Ivan.

Later in the Waltz, I was reaching upwards on a side sway and I heard, “Hit the balls!”

“What?”

“Hit the balls.”  Ivan punched one of the beach balls hanging from the ceiling at the studio where we’ve been practicing.  He so totally knows he’s using a double entendre.  Yes, it was an admonition to reach upwards to my very limit, but really?

Then on the Waltz, I groaned, grunted.  Why?  The freaking effort it takes to move!  I takes so much energy!  It feels exhausting.  Maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of breaking the damn of emotion that was coming toward me on the ride to work.  I am sick and tired of it feeling like such a Herculean effort to dance.  When is it not going to feel like this anymore, I wonder?  There was a time in my life when I felt strong.  Yes, I got out of breath.  Yes, my muscles burned.  But underneath that, I felt powerful.  I don’t feel like that at my current weight.  And it sucks.  And I’m tired of whining about it.  And I’m on day 3 of my eating plan.  And, simply, I’m tired of being at war with my body.  I’m tired of all the self-hate.

Anyways, so I grunted, a grunt containing all of that angst, frustration, anger, in it, and Ivan was like, “How you have a man in you?”

Yeah…that’s graceful and elegant like I should be in a Waltz….not!

So that started me giggling.  Uncontrollably.  To the point that I bent forward.

“Are you fart?”

To translate Ivan’s Bulgarian English, he was asking me if I had farted and that was why I was losing it in the huge guffaw.

“No! I didn’t fart!” I exclaimed, after I caught my breath.

Well, anyways, we ended the lesson and Ivan was talking up Desert Classic and saying things like “I so excited to going with you!  I want to dance with you all day!”  I mean, to hear your teacher tell you things like that, how could you have a bad day?

Oh, I managed.

It’s a dark place, my mind sometimes.  Also, there are the painful realities of what I’ve done to my body.  And the grief I feel for the loss of what could have been if I had not given up dancing, if I had found ballroom sooner, if I had stuck to my diet 9 months ago.  You know, the futile, negative, voice, blah, blah, blah.  It hurts.  And it doesn’t change anything.  And in just a few weeks I’ll be at a competition.  In a body I’m not thrilled about.

So I made my way to the car and fell a little bit to pieces.

I bulldozed through work and headed home.  Convinced the best plan was to come home, prepare my food for the next day, and crawl into bed to fall asleep by 7:30 and start a new day as soon as possible, I was in the middle of packing up my last food container when I got a text.

You know, sometimes God intervenes in our lives.  Yesterday it was in the form of a text message from my friend Colette.

*Bleep* *Bleep* I heard the ringer on my cell phone.

“Are you coming to Latin?”

Oh, I was aware it was a Tuesday.  I was aware Inna’s butt-kicker was going to start in about 20 minutes.

I texted back:

“I’m not decided.  Feel fat.  Sluggish.”

She texted back:

“AW HELL NO YOU DIDN’T JUST SAY THE F WORD!”

Well, it was enough of a nudge to go to class.  I knew I’d be late, but they always seem to start a few minutes late.  And, I didn’t have any clean dance clothes, so it was black leggings and my XXL Boston t-shirt.  It was that or not go.  Not a cute outfit by any means, but functional I suppose.  You know, only one option had any chance of getting me closer to the dancer and body I want to be and have.  Painful as it was, and as much as I liked (on some level) my pity-party (as my husband called it), I knew I’d feel better if I went.  But still, part of me wanted to not go.  Crumbling into a limp lump in bed did seem somewhat attractive.

But another part of me knew better, so I went.

I made it to Inna’s butt-kicking class and got to see the blonde elfin powerhouse for the first time in a month since she left to compete with Artem in Blackpool where they placed 2nd in Rising Star and 16th in Open Professional.  They are amazing!  I feel so blessed to be learning from them and Ivan.

Artem and Inna at Blackpool

Just another reason to ask myself, what am I saying yes to (and conversely no to).  In this instance I said yes to movement, dance, the chance to burn some calories, the opportunity to learn from an internationally ranked professional, and the pleasure to see my friends Colette and Toni.  I also got to work on my arm-styling which was a topic of interest in the group class as well (it was an arm-themed day).  I definitely benefited from Inna’s perspective on this issue and feel like I have a better understanding of ways to improve my arm styling because I was present in class last night.

Yes, yes.  Logically, that all makes sense and it is the clear beneficial decision to make.  But emotionally, well, I just didn’t feel like going.

On the converse, however, by going to class even when I didn’t want to, I was saying no to wallowing in self-pity, dwelling in self-hatred, and my comfy, comfy bed.  And trust me, that bed was calling to me as sweetly as a Siren!

Ah, well, every moment is a choice, and every choice has prices and benefits.

And because I showed up, there were two wonderful moments for me.  One, I met a new friend who had just taken her second dance class!  She came to watch the group class and I gave her a card for the blog, in case she’d be interested to read it.  It is exciting to meet new dancers, and exciting to share the blog.  Two, Inna had me demonstrate a Samba combination.  Usually she has one of her more experienced students demonstrate the combinations, but every once in a while she has me do one.  I heard her saying, “Good!” as I did the combo across the floor and when I got to the other side she had me do it all by my lonesome.  It kind of gave my ego a boost.  And, whether true or not, I feel inside, that Samba is one of my stronger dances.  I can move those hips!

So thank you, Colette, for getting my ass moving last night!  You were a Godsend.  Also, you cracked me up after class when I was sharing with you my woes, deep in lamentation, and you said, “Well snap out of it, girl!”

And now it comes full circle.  Today was better and my favorite dance show is on (SYTYCD).  The last guy they showed was tubby, like me.  And in some ways it didn’t matter.  He was a good human being and a good dancer and his joy and passion shone through.  He was absolutely able to move people with his dancing.  Then, in some ways, of course his size did matter.  Clearly he wasn’t in any shape to continue on in the competition past the choreography round.

Well, I kind of think that is how it is for me, at the moment.  Tubby, but passionate and can move surprisingly well.  However, my vision is to marry that with a healthy body, and it is painful that reality is nowhere near what I can envision in my mind.

And yet, I will be there on July 12th with my sparkles on.  I will be there shaking what my momma gave me, as I am, on that day, whatever that looks like.  All I know is that I have a focus and drive like no kidding to make the most of the last four weeks before the competition.  I have this time to do what I can to best prepare myself for the upcoming challenge.

Wish me luck!

Melt The Ice

Well, this post is a little bit belated.  Reason being I’m moving this weekend, and that takes a lot of time.  Between packing, and working, and still getting in a dance lesson or two, life has been going full speed ahead.

But I had the most amazing lesson Friday morning and I just kind of want to process it all.  I feel like sometimes I say the same things over and over, and maybe that’s repetitive and boring, but then I think, well, that’s what I do on a dance lesson, you know?  I practice the same thing over and over, but I’m discovering the same thing in a different way.  It is an entirely new experience each time I do a volta, even if it feels somewhat familiar.  This is because I am a different person and I’ve gained new experiences since the last time I did a volta.  But then again, when I bring up the subject of connection, say, again and again, I may sound like a broken record.  And yet, I am coming to know connection anew – this familiar subject – but as if for the first time.

So anyways, I showed up on my lesson fresh with some ideas in my little brain.  One of the things I appreciate most about Ivan is that I feel like I’m an equal.  I feel like he will listen to me and my ideas, and that he values my dance experience.  I totally acknowledge that he is the more experienced person in the room and has expertise that I don’t posses, and yet, I have things to offer in the dance relationship as well.  Other instructors I’ve had have been very invested in keeping the teacher-student (i.e. supperior-inferior) relationship in place.  They were not as open to my feedback or ideas.

But with Ivan, I’ve felt that it’s safe to bring things up, ask questions, and even, gasp, have an agenda for my dance lesson.  Anyways, the night before I spent some time surfing on YouTube.   I was actually looking for music.  I was searching for ballroom performances to find music that would be suitable for practicing and that I would like. I happened upon a video of Donnie Burns conducting a lecture.  I didn’t watch the entire 45 minutes, but one day I really need to.  The bit I did watch was amazing.

You see, Donnie Burns happens to be one of Ivan’s heroes.  He used to watch Mr. Burns compete when he was in his prime.  So he’s mentioned the man on occasion.

I didn’t know much about the guy but when the video popped up, I was intrigued and decided maybe I should learn a little bit about one of the people Ivan most looks up to as an example.  Man!  It was amazing the little bit I happened upon.

Basically, Donnie was talking about connection.  I think it’s kind of a lost art in ballroom dancing today.  Truly.  I never really even broached the subject until I danced with Ivan.  And the few times it has actually happened, me being actually connected to Ivan on a lesson, have been amazing.  Most people are so focused on learning the steps, learning the syllabus and technique, and of course all that is important and good, but so much time and energy is spent on this that no time is taken to develop the connection.  Now, I realize I’m generalizing here.  And this is just my opinion.  I’m sure some instructors do work on connection with their students, but I have to say, I feel like Ivan is kind of a master at it.  From day one he brought to my awareness the need to be connected and focused on him as the lead.  Not only that, but he’s been working on pulling the emotional expression out of me through that connection.

Anyways, in the little part of the video that I watched, Donnie was talking about how when you first connect with a partner you have to “melt the ice” a little bit.  The man has to get through the defenses of the woman so that she will respond to his invitation.  Even if you’ve only been apart for a little bit of time, there’s some “ice” that has built up that must be melted.  This is a result of just the daily experiences and stresses of living.  But through connecting, the ice can melt.  You know it’s melted when you breathe together, the man begins to move, and the woman will settle on the hip in preparation to move. (This was in the context of Latin dancing, by the way).

Donnie explained that dancing in a partnership isn’t about the man dancing with the inconvenience of a woman that he has to push and pull here and there.  He explained that 90% of the leads in the Rumba, say, are actually to stop the woman, not to start her.  She will move, on her own, if only the man will allow her to do so.  Suddenly, the dance becomes effortless, a physical, mental and spiritual joint experience.

And Donnie said one last thing that really stuck with me.  He said that the only way to dance, was to dance.  That just like the lyrics don’t make a song, the steps alone, don’t make a dance.  Wow, I thought.  This is why I do this.  It’s about melting the ice, being connected, and dancing.  This guy’s a freakin’ genius!  No wonder he was a World Champion so many times.  No wonder Ivan idolizes him.  He’s got some good things to say.

So anyways, I had all this on my brain as I walked into my lesson.  I’ve been thinking for a while now that it is important that Ivan back off a little, meaning that he not help me as much when we are dancing.  Why?  Well, because when he makes it possible for me to move when really I shouldn’t be able to, because on my own I’d be stuck, or off-balance, then I don’t get the kinetic feedback that something is amiss.  I don’t have the opportunity to correct myself.  Nor do I begin to build the muscle memory necessary to perform these movements properly.  Also, it causes both of us to expend a lot of energy in the tension of the physical connection.  And, I also realized, that I actually can’t move as well.  There is a restriction I experience when the lead is too strong.  The help Ivan is used to providing turns out to be a hinderance at this point.

But the thing is, that I think that it is probably just as hard for Ivan to back off as it is for me to step up and drive forward forcefully.  But really, it is something we need to work on, I think, in our partnership, to improve the quality of our collective dancing.

Alright, so I began the lesson spewing all these thoughts out into the ethers, hoping that Ivan would “get” what I was blabbering on about.  Lucky enough for me, he totally did!

We began with Rumba.  And, we began with the simplest of actions, the hand connection at the start of the dance, but it was amazing.  Why?  Well, the whole point of the hand connection is to connect the body and the core.  The hand connection translates into a connection beyond the physical, though it also includes the physical.  In any case, this time, on this particular morning, I actually began by looking Ivan directly in the eyes.  I actually allowed my defenses to come down for just a second.  I became completely focused on Ivan, kind of the feeling I had when we danced with our eyes closed, when I had to rely on all my peripheral senses to follow his lead.  But I discovered this morning that it is also possible to feel that expansiveness with eyes open.  And magic happened:  Ivan began to move toward me, and just like what had happened in the video of Donnie Burns, Ivan and I breathed together and I settled onto my hip before we began the first step.  It felt as smooth and effortless a hot knife slicing butter.

And then, well, my usual programs began running.  I messed up a step.  Fell off of balance.  I lost concentration and ergo connection.  But Ivan wasn’t going to let me off the hook so easily.   He was like, “You doing so well, then you gone again.  You show me a little bit of your world, then you shut the window again.  Why you shut the window?”

I didn’t have time to respond.  Ivan grabbed my hand and pointed upwards.  The studio where we were practicing is decorated like a beach get-away and there are a bunch of floaty rings and beach balls hanging from the ceiling.  He pointed to one of the floating rings and said, “You only show me a little peep hole into your world.  Why you do that?  Your world is so bright and colorful.  Share it.”

Inside, I was processing all this.  Like, really, I thought, you actually want to see what’s going on inside me?  You are actually interested?  I have to come clear here and say that so much of my defenses and hiding have to do with not feeling good enough, feminine enough, pretty enough, and sexy enough to really be worth being seen.  And, a lot of that has to do with my physical appearance.  Like, I will connect and show myself to a point, the point where it is comfortable, the point where I’m still holding a person at arm’s length.  I’m still blocking access to the inner sanctum of my essence, if you will, because I allow my personal demons and insecurities to get in the way.

But Ivan seemed so genuine, and we’ve been dancing together for  like 10 months or so, and he’s become a trusted friend.  If I were to let someone in, really in, wouldn’t he be a good choice?  In the context of dancing, of course!  So something inside me decided in that moment to just let go.  And I did.  And we connected.  I’ve never looked that clearly, directly, and openly into Ivan’s eyes.  You know, one of them is half a different color.  Anyways, he’s always been there, been available.  I’ve been the one not open.  So when I decided to connect, really connect, he was right there ready for me.

“Wow.”  I said.

Honestly, I don’t know that I can fully capture the feeling of that experience in words.  All I can say, is that there was an entirely different quality to our movements.  We were in unison.  I could almost tell what he was going to do before he did it.  I began to tear up.  It brought up some emotion inside me.  Perhaps because I felt vulnerable.  Perhaps because it felt good.

I realized that one thing Ivan has always created the space for on our lessons was to actually enjoy the dancing.  Like the time he grabbed my hand and put it on various parts of his body, even his butt!  Saying, “Hello, I am Ivan.”  And really letting me know that it was okay to touch him while we were dancing and playing the parts that are played on the dance floor.  But again, I’d permissioned myself to only go so far.  “Okay,” I thought, “I get now that it is okay to touch Ivan.”  I still get a little shy about it now and then, but for the most part, I’ve accepted that he’s okay with me touching him.  The part I held back on was actually allowing myself to enjoy it.

What do I mean by that?  Well, I was keeping the experience at arm’s length, once again.  Letting the touching be okay, but keeping it very aloof, very disconnected…what I was thinking was “professional” or “appropriate.”  I didn’t actually let it be enjoyable.  I kept that feeling at bay.

But here’s the thing….natrually, when we are touched, by something pleasant, like a feather, or another person gently, or like getting a massage or something….it feels good.  It is natural for touch to feel good (when it is appropriate, safe, healthy, nice touch).

And yet there is a part of me that is like, for whatever reason I haven’t yet deciphered, that it’s not okay to enjoy this touch.

But the kicker is that the whole point of dancing is to feel and to actually enjoy it!  People can sense when you are faking that, just going through the motions, and when you are actually feeling it, emoting it.  I was blocking the very thing that brings meaning to my dancing!  What’s up with that!?!?

I can’t tell you how many times Ivan has demonstrated this to me.  He will show me what it is like to touch someone and to have them not react.  It is disconnected, off-putting, unexciting.  Part of what makes Ivan and Marietta’s dancing so mesmerizing is that they each respond to the touch of the other.  They look at where they were touched, or express with their face and body how it felt to be touched.  But me, I’m a cold fish.  Poor Ivan is reacting to me, but I’m unresponsive as a raw potato.  How annoying would that be to dance with?

But hey, I’m not all bad.  Just today, I was more aggressive on my Rumba walks, and then I just made all sorts of breathing noises and faces during my cha-cha which to me felt over-the-top, excessive, loud, uncomfortable, and crazy, but to Ivan, well, he just said, “You make me so happy now!”  Go me!

And heck, I’m opening up a little, at least.  Ivan got a glimpse inside me.  And the truth is, that I want to open the windows wide open.  Inside, I want to just let spirit fly!  I want to feel, and connect.  I suppose that is why I even want to dance.  And you know what, I’m on my way.  I’m getting there.  I’m getting closer and closer to that vision every time I practice.

Alas, there is still much to work on. But I’m reminded of this thing I saw on Facebook just the other day:

Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion. -Martha Graham

Well now.  I’m deciding right this instant that I am a great dancer!  I certainly have great passion for this medium.  And well, maybe my inner great dancer is not yet fully expressed, but she’s in there, I just know it!  She’s banging on the door to come out, and sometimes I even open it for her to play.

And yet, I know there is still more to be done.  For instance, yesterday after my lesson with Ivan, I decided to stay and practice a bit.  I popped on my headphones and was about to begin and this gorgeous blond lady walks in the studio.  Seconds ago it had been people I knew, now there was this stranger, and she was lovely to boot.  I was almost going to leave just because of that!  I always feel like I don’t want to take up any of the floor space at a studio.  It is one thing when on an actual lesson, but to just be by myself and practice…well, I don’t know if there are any “rules” about that, but I’d guess that couples with a teacher take precedence.  And the studio was becoming more busy and crowded.  Certainly I wouldn’t want to get in their way.  But then, I cow myself in.  I don’t go around the room in a big circle to practice my Samba walks or Rumba walks like I want to.  Instead, I grab a little corner in the back, and even then I worry about being in the way of people trying to get to the bathroom, or the instructors getting to the office.  I mean, like, couldn’t they um, just walk around me?  I’m not that important.  I’m not being disrespectful or obnoxious, right?  Or am I?  I ended up turning with my face to the back wall because I was so concerned about everyone else and what they might think of me that I had to physically turn myself around to block it out!  Isn’t this insane?  And also, it reveals to me that I’m not willing to hold my own space, to claim my spot on the dance floor.  I had a realization that I really was being run by my need to look good (or rather, not look bad!), my need to be approved of, my need to be liked….and…get this….by people I didn’t even know!  By people who probably weren’t even watching me!  (But what if they were? Oh shut up you stupid little voice!)  So what if they were!  It’s crowded in my head sometimes, I tell you….

And sometimes it’s not.  Like when I’m connected and just dancing….

And yet, in that instance, I was paralyzed.  Yes, during my practice session, I did a little of this and a little of that, but I stopped myself from really feeling anything, really dancing full-out.  For instance, I was touched by this one song, “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw and wanted (inside) to dance really big and expansive.  But did I?  No.  It kinda makes me want to cry, this editing, this blocking.  Why do I do this to myself?  Actually, who even cares?  I do it now and it doesn’t serve me.

It’s time to change.

And I mean that on a lot of different levels.

And life is going to change…tomorrow.  I’m moving houses which will mean a new environment and a fresh opportunity to claim and organize my new living space.  Also, lots is going on “behind the scenes” for me emotionally, though dancing and other means.  I’m having a lot of time to reflect, for introspection, especially during my long commute to work, and I’ve come to a few decisions about who I want to become in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, physically and mentally.

Remember that whole thing about being a broken record?  Well, I’ve become one to myself.  I’m sick of hearing myself say the same stupid things to myself about myself all the time.  So it’s time to take action.  A wise friend once told me, “If you want to change, you have to change.”  Well, I want some changes, so I guess I must make the changes necessary to create them.

It’s way past time for me to stop the insanity, be who I am meant to be, and just let that be enough.  It’s time to let my emotions shine though my dancing and to get out of my own way.  It’s time for me to claim my space on the dance floor and to stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking.  It’s time to really commit to creating the body I deserve and desire through choices that serve me each and every day.  It’s time to stop squandering my days as if they are not numbered.  It’s time to live a life I love, love the life I live, and love myself.  It’s time to create myself anew.

And, you know what?

It’s time to melt the damn ice!

Happiest Birthday EVAR!!!!

Oh loyal readers, I fear I have an inconstant blogger.

Life has got the best of me in terms of actually sitting down to write a blog post, but I assure you, I haven’t stopped dancing, or even blogging.  I have simply been delayed.

Since the last time we chatted, I had at least two lessons, a coaching with Ron Montez, and a birthday party.

The lessons were fun, but I don’t recall anything particularly worth mentioning about them.

The coaching was amazing, so I’ll mention it.

And the birthday party was  pretty much my heaven.  My best birthday present was the video I’ll share with you of Ivan dancing with my mom.  But besides that, I was surrounded by people I love, doing the thing I love most.  I rented out a dance studio for a few hours and we had an absolute blast.

But first – the coaching.

We are lucky enough in Arizona to have one of the paragons of the ballroom world living in our state.  Mr. Ron Montez is widely known and respected thoughout the ballroom industry.  On top of that, the man is a sweetheart.  He truly is a pleasure to work with and so very knowledgable.  I swear he can see what is going on wrong with my dancing, and tell me one little thing to change, and magically the dance picture I’m creating changes.  Really, he is a master.  He fixed like five things on the one lesson.

In the Rumba, seems like I’d been practicing an intermediary movement on the swivels used throughout the dance.  I’d been concentrating on keeping my foot pointed out in front of me when turning.  This is a good thing to practice to increase stability and sharpness of movement, as well as to keep the hips square when pivoting.  But, it doesn’t create the quick movement necessary to generate drama and a contrast between quick and slow.  The trick is to immediately step behind when performing a swivel.  To hold that line I’d been practicing for only a split-second on the way through to the next step.

Then, in the Samba, we worked on my knees.  I’d kind of tabled part of the Samba bounce for the time being, but I guess it was time to add it back in.  You see, the Samba bounce is pretty tricky and incorporates a variety of movements. forward and back as well as up and down and also circular.  I’d kind of consciously forgot about the circular portion while working on the horizonatal and vertical aspects but Ron didn’t let me continue to be lazy.  He had me working my knees left and right on whisks, the basic step and botafogo and this naturally translated into that circular part of the movement I’d been missing.

In Waltz, Ron helped me improve my swing.  Doing side by side walks he had me do different arms to create more swing in my upper body, again miraculously improving the quality of the movement.  As an added bonus, he fixed one of the steps I strongly disliked because I knew it was always wrong but couldn’t figure out how to make it better.  It’s this little walk around step consisting of three steps in a circle and then then three toward my partner.  It always felt like there was a lot of resistance in the step and I was always struggling to meet up with my leader.  Ron knew exactly what to say.  I had been heading the wrong direction and actually had to allow Ivan to come to me rather than for me to try and rush toward him.

Of course, I still need to work on closing my feet in Waltz steps, a detail which Ron reminded me about multiple times.  But he also does this cool thing after explaining something.  When I did something right Ron would exclaim, “There was the good one!”  He does a great job of providing feedback, both positive and corrective.  He is an excellent teacher and instructor.  Truly, I am grateful I have had the opportunity to work with Ron twice now.

Then, yesterday, it was my 34th birthday and I decided to throw an actual birthday party.  I haven’t done that in many years, usually opting to go to a dinner with immediate family.  But this year I surrounded myself with family, non-dancing friends, and dancing friends alike.  Ivan and Marietta taught a Samba lesson which was fantastic.  We even worked on Samba rolls, something I’ve never worked on with Ivan but once.  Of course there was open dancing, and music, and food, and wine, and conversation and even cards and cupcakes and presents.  I did a little Rumba with Ivan, and a Mambo with my friend Randall. and Mambo with my husband.  We also played a hilarious dance game where you had to switch partners as quickly as you could as soon as the music stopped.

But the very, very best part was when Ivan danced with my mom.  I promise to post the video as soon as I can because it needs to be shared with the world.  It was so dang cute! But at the moment I’m having technical difficulties.  It will be up shortly.

Alrighty, I’ll commit to be better about blogging.  A week long absence is too dang long!

Ta-ta for now, Stef

Medusa

Good news is, I’ve begun a new job.  It’s a contract job and guaranteed for six months.  After that, who knows, but I’m really hoping it might turn into a “real” job.  They have to put a lot of resources into training us newbies and I can’t imagine they’d want to mobilize the resources again in a few months, except for in extreme cases of workers with poor performance or a hiring freeze or financial cutbacks.  But again, not something I have control over and I am just extremely thankful for what is, right now.

The bad news is, the learning curve is steep.  Not the normal pharmacist stuff…that’s fine…it’s all the company-specific computer and operational stuff.  It is just a LOT of information to absorb (not unlike learning the entire Bronze syllabus for the Rumba or something in just a few days).  In any case, it was so much info that I dreamt about it last night!  I just know my little brain was assimilating all it could.

You see, I’m playing catch-up because I was added to the job a week after everyone else started.  I’ve had 2 days.  They’ve had 9.  AHHH!  Luckily, I got some one-on-one training to help with all that, but it is still a lot to absorb.  So, all-in-all, not bad news, really – not even close!  After all I’ve been through in the job/financial/work environment categories, I’m GRATEFUL!  It’s just that my mind is spent.  I have the IQ of a wombat by the end of my 8 hour shift (no offense to wombats! Perhaps they are very smart, like parrots.  But I wouldn’t know about that, especially right now.)  And this showed up in my lesson tonight….not to mention the fact that yes, I did watch DWTS this week, and yes, the topical series articles are still in process, but I just haven’t had the mental fortitude to actually complete posts about them with real words and sentences and paragraphs in English and all that.

So anyways, I finished work for the day as a mental case and headed to meet with Ivan.

Even from the beginning he noticed a difference.  I told him, “Ivan!  I’m so tired.  I’m stupid right now.  Seriously.  It’s just that I’m starting a new job and have a lot to learn.  Let’s just dance something socially, kay?”

He was amenable and we began with a nice, soft, sloppy West Coast Swing.  Seriously, I was just barely moving as compared to how I normally show up, but it was about all I could physically and mentally muster.

“Stefanie?  What happen?  You dancing like Medusa?”

“Huh?  The woman with snakes for hair? The one who turned men to stone?  Also known as a Gorgon?  What the hell are you talking about, Ivan?”

“No, a medusa.”

“????”  Arms spread outward to the sides, palms up, shoulders shrugged.

“I make a picture later.”

“Okay Ivan.”

So before I get to that…this is/was the other “bad” news of the night.  I was pretty much worthless on my lesson.  First, I was exhausted mentally.  Secondly, the energy in my body seemed to be completely sapped after about 15 seconds of any dance we worked on.  And, finally I was laughing so much my belly hurt, I almost peed my pants, and because I was guffaw-ing so hard, I couldn’t breathe to dance properly.  It didn’t help that Ivan made fun of every little noise I made.  Yes, I admit, they weren’t what you’d usually hear on the dance floor, but I was so tired that I sighed, or grunted, or squealed depending on if I was trying to push through a move or scared or whatever.

Seriously, my stomach hurt from giggling so much, especially when I tried to “be serious” and then made a noise out of frustration or effort or just to try and breathe and Ivan imitated it which, like a row of dominoes, cascaded into a collapsing heap of me folding inward into a belly laugh.

In any case, we continued to dance and Ivan decided that Bolero was appropriate. Somehow this morphed into Latin Rumba and my Bulgarian dance instructor then decided that it was a prime opportunity to practice crazy stupid lifts and dips for someone as large as I am. We did a few leans with developes and some dips with me lifting my left leg into the air.  But Ivan was making me place all my body weight on his knee while he was in a deep lunge.  It freaked me out.  I actually felt my foot leave the floor for a second, realized that for that moment he was bearing all my body weight, and immediately broke the position so I could plant my feet firmly on the ground.  How can that man hold me up like that?!  I am just so insecure about it I wish he wouldn’t do it.

I have to admit this is not a new fear.  Even when I was 16 and weighed 116 pounds I was concerned about this.  Not logical, I know.  But I was in a production of “The Music Man” in my high school and cast as a dancer and member of the chorus.  There was one move in which I was partnered with a senior theater “god” which made me feel horribly insecure because 1) he was a Thespian paragon and 2) he had to pick me up at the waist and place me on a table.  But then again, looking back on it, it might not have been because of my weight that he failed to get me up there on the table that night.  Truly, he was a slight young man, and not at all muscular in the upper limbs.  In addition, he never practiced the particular move but once with me, and it had absolutely been ingrained in me to practice piano/ballet/anything if it was to be performed to the point where you can do it mindlessly, because when the moment comes to perform, all kinds of things can go wrong.  (And also, once I didn’t practice appropriately and bombed my piano recital.  Not a good feeling! But that is another story).  Anyways, I had a high anxiety level about this move knowing how un-practiced it was, and not having any connection to the person who was responsible for lifting me aloft except for a fearful and reverent adoration from afar, and so, my big fear did come to fruition.  He went to lift me up and I just fell right down.  At least I landed upright, on my feet (so that was good), and he had the theatrical training to grab me and sway side to side to cover the mishap – but I’m pretty sure the audience noticed the gaffe because 1) I made a big loud BOOM! when my character shoes hit the wooden stage floor instead of the table and 2) my dancing counterpart was on a table on stage right doing the same choreography I was supposed to be doing on stage left so things didn’t look symmetrical.  This, plus the fact that the bench I sat on during “Oliver!” while singing “Food, Glorious Food,” collapsed on stage while I (and about 19 other people) were sitting on it, confirmed my fear that I was horribly huge and fat.  See, all along, I really DID have a mental problem.  It just now has manifested into my physical reality, not just my mental reality.

Okay, back now from that psychological detour.  Interestingly, I actually thought this post would be quick because not much happened on the lesson – but clearly my complexes are rooted deeply!  Ahhh!

So a brilliant thing did actually happen on this very-low-energy lesson.  Ivan and I did all our basic Latin Rumba stuff and then I asked him about a step I’ve seen others do, and one that I *think* Igor may have been trying to lead me into last Friday, but that I didn’t know how to do.  What happened next may or may not be the same move, but it was damn cool, whatever it was.  Pretty much from an Alemana I then step forward into a double spiral turn and complete with two walks around the back of Ivan to fan position.  But I didn’t know this at the time.  All I knew was I’d seen this turn-y thing done on YouTube videos by professionals and Igor tried to lead me into something I wasn’t familiar with.

After two tries to decipher which step I meant, Ivan demonstrated what I *thought* I wanted to know so I said, “Ivan, teach me this step.”

At first he seemed a little reluctant but then he was like, okay.

“Is this a Bronze or Silver step?”

“No.  It’s an Ivan step.”

“Huh?”

“It not in the syllabus.  You do it, they kicking you off the floor.  You know who doing this?  It Joanna Leunis.”

“Really!?!  I LOVE her.  She’s amazing.  But okay.  I’m clear. So if we get to do it, we do it in an open heat.”

“Yes, open.”

He led me into it, but only indicated one spiral turn.  I did this successfully then he said, “Oh.  It better if you can do a double.  Can you do a double?”

I didn’t know if I could but I wanted to try.

Bam!  I totally did it.

Ivan and I gave each other a double “Hi Five” and a hug.  I was so excited.  In fact, it was probably the most animated part of my lesson, succeeding at this maneuver.  He told me, “Most people doing this step and can’t even do a single turn.”  He demonstrated, in his Ivan-exaggerated way of how people fall out of the turn (normally), leaning and listing to this side or the other and causing a big problem.  So he wanted me to try it again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

But me, woot! I easily did the double again! Maybe I’m finally finding my center, once again, and also remembering to spot, plus I had the added advantage of just that little assist in balance from connecting with Ivan – for me that little bit of support makes all the difference, I have to say. So yay.

“See.  I no have to teach you the step.  You already doing it.”

“Let’s try it again, Ivan.”

We did.  And it was successful for the next 3 tries.  On the 4th try I fell to the floor.  I swear the wooden floor at the church is so slippery!  I need new shoes and that floor is difficult.  I love the sticky/tacky floor at Imperial.  It spoils me and I wish it were everywhere!  Anywhoo….I fell.  But I am uninjured and overall the move was a rousing success.

Next onto a Samba.  For some reason, Ivan keeps calling it “Sambera” lately.  Whatever.  He put on the music and since I had suggested we dance socially, we decided to do the Samba in that character.  Oh my gosh, I can’t remember when I ever laughed so hard.  I told Ivan that it is sometimes painfully difficult to watch social dancers do the Samba.  Some of them hop, and jolt, and have no hip movement.  They dance like 2 x 4’s as Ivan calls it when he means people are stiff.  This isn’t to generalize or degrade people who socially dance the Samba, I promise, it’s just that I’ve seen some couples and I’m like, wow, why are you dancing this dance this way?  It is awkward.  Probably the same reaction someone had to me dancing West Coast Swing (as taught by a ballroom instructor) before I knew about the dance.  I promise, we all have stuff to work on, you know?!

So Ivan and I danced this way – no hips, stiff, 2×4, wooden.  It was hilarious!  It looked ridiculous.  And such a contrast from Ivan, who normally dances it so amazingly, and from me, who works so dang hard to create a proper Samba bounce plus hip motion.  I truly wish I had that s*@t on film!  It was too funny.

Honestly though, besides that, the rest of my lesson was unremarkable.  We did Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, and Cha Cha.  I dragged.  Ivan poured as much Chi energy my way as he could.  It felt a little like an energetic transfusion of sorts.  I did feel somewhat better by the end of the lesson, but still, I’m drained.  Oh well.  Glad I did have one “triumph.”

So please root for Ivan and Marietta as they compete this weekend at the Emerald Ball in LA.  There is live streaming of the entire event (though a pay-per-view) here if you want to watch from home.  It is a big and prestigious and competitive event.  I really, really hope my favorite couple (besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski) does well.  Ivan seemed to think they wouldn’t even make the final at such a large comp, but I reminded him to look into his mirror, remember the champion he already is, and have an optomistic attitude.  Because you know what? I believe in him and Marietta.  I enjoy watching them dance because they have an real and emotional connection.  And to me, that makes things interesting.  As I’ve said before – I’d prefer to watch a couple that is less technically excellent with an authentic connection than an impeccably technically excellent couple with no emotion or connection any day of the week.

So anyways, as I pumped this positive support Ivan’s way, he rebutted my support by asking me to jump on the roof.  So I jumped.  Not high, not impressively, and certainly not onto the roof, but happily.

He about peed his pants laughing at me.  He said, “Being in the final of Emerald Ball for me is like jumping on the roof right now.  Can people do it?  Yes.  But they need to practice.  You have to remember, I lazy.  And I should be practicing jumping and little by little I jump on the roof like it easy.”

“So what?!” I replied. I jumped up again.  Again, not graceful, not impressive, but to illustrate a point that I hope Ivan got.

The point is, GO FOR IT.  Wherever I am/he is/you are right now, go for it.  Why not?

“You can’t controlling how the judging goes in competitions so you might as well have fun.” Said Ivan.  And I agreed.

“So go have fun at Emerald Ball, Ivan, damnit!  Go have fun!  I will be watching and rooting for you.  You know you are my favorite couple? Right?  Well, if I am honest, besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski….they I like them best, and you guys (Ivan and Marietta) the second best.”

Ivan was so excited by my comment he said laughingly, “I tell Marietta this.  You know her favorite dancer?”

“Yes, Ivan.  I know it’s Joanna.”

“Yes.  She gonna get a kick that your two favorite couples are Joanna Leunis with Michael Malitowski and us!”

But I mean it.  And so you must be wondering why?  Well, my response is, why not love these two couples?  Because for me, when I watch them, there actually seems to be a connection and that makes the interaction between man and woman interesting to watch.  And Joanna is immaculate.  Truly.  From my perspective, all the high level competitors are technically excellent in their dancing, no doubt about it, but I love the drama, the connection, the emotion.  I personally prefer that above perfect technique, and I guess Ivan does too, based on our conversation which is interesting and makes it no mystery why he ended up being my instructor since we both value the same things in dancing.  I do believe Joanna and Michael to be superior to Ivan and Marietta in terms of experience, ranking, technicque, and even, I hate to say it, connection, but I also happen to believe Ivan and Maretta have the potential to forge an excellence and connection strong enough of their own to compete with the best in the world.  Of course, I’m biased.  But as a dancer and human being, I also happen to see that potential in them.

Whew!  Have I said everything I wanted to say?  Yep.  A brief post – just another 2800-word (and change) post.  Ha ha. Not!

Oh – and before I sign off, I have to explain the title of this post.  Medusa. Well, Ivan “made” me a picture of what “the hell” he was talking about….a jellyfish.  Apparently I was dancing like a boneless, blubbery, soft jellyfish.  The interesting part is that how Ivan described “medusa” to me was that it “90% water.”  Uh huh.  How do you know how to communicate something like that but you don’t know the word for jellyfish?  I’ll never know.  And also, once I figured out that medusa meant jellyfish, I asked Ivan, “Is that the word in Polish or Bulgarian?”

” Bulgarian,” he replied.

“Well great.  ‘Cause that is a useful word, if I ever go to visit there….now I know how to say jellyfish.”  Probably “bathroom” and “beer” and “I’m sorry” would actually be more useful, right?

Damn.

Watch out you Bulgarians.  I am now armed with the word for jellyfish.  Kind of like a Marine armed with a banana.  Sheesh!

It’s way past bedtime.

Gute Nacht,  Stefanie

100th Post – Woot!

Because I’ve reached my hundredth post, I thought I should write something special about that.  You know?  Cause it seems like a milestone or something.

But the truth is, I have no idea what I could do that’s special!  I think it would be boring, and maybe difficult, to read (and write) 100 reasons why I love dancing, or something like that.

So I thought I’d celebrate simply, by just doing what I always do, and chronicle my dancing adventures.  And also, I’m going to dedicate this post to my instructor, Ivan, who has made more of a difference in my life than I think he will ever know.

I will start with yesterday morning when I danced with Ivan at that new studio.  This time I remembered my shoes and there was no electrical shock therapy involved.  But it was a great lesson.  Just one of those times when I felt healthy (for the most part) and energized.  I awoke feeling that life is full of possibilities especially with the increase in cashflow I anticipate with the new job.  I don’t know if the lesson was remarkable for any other reason than that.

After work, I then headed over to Imperial Ballroom because they were going to have a social dance party with wine and my friends Colette and Katie were planning on going.   I arrived at 7pm for class with Toni where we worked on Mambo and Tango and I had a blast, as usual.  Toni is so cute and funny and I generally just feel better about life after a lesson with her.  Also, I made a new friend, Harry (or Harold) who had just started taking lessons with Toni but has some experience with Salsa and Argentine Tango and that was a special treat.  He really seemed to get the “soulfulness” of dancing, and how it can fill a special place in a person’s heart.  In addition, I saw my friend Rebecca, whom I haven’t seen since December.  We used to dance with the same instructor but she has also moved on and seems very happy.

It was a very fun night full of laughter and conversation and just enjoying dance.  I got to dance with Harry a little bit, and Toni and I did a wacky (horrible) Hustle which was mostly just messing up and freestyling.  Then I also had the opportunity to dance some Mambo and Cha Cha with Artem.  I was like, “Artem, you dance Mambo?!” because he competes professionally in Standard and I’ve never seen him dance Latin.  He was like, “Yes.  It’s dance.  I dance everything!”  I did pretty well though there were certainly some things I didn’t know and my knee-jerk reflex is to say “Sorry!” when I screw up.  He was like, “Why you keep saying sorry?  You think I know what I’m doing?”  I was like, “Yeah – you are the professional!”  When the Cha Cha started playing, I asked Artem which kind we were going to do, American Rhythm or Latin, and he said, “Let’s just keep it social,” which was fine with me.  It was pretty fun and Igor even said after our Cha Cha that it was “spicy” which was a total ego boost.

I also got to dance one Latin Rumba with Igor which was fun but nerve-wracking, a little bit.  I’m still pretty new to the Latin dances and only ever have done them with Ivan.  Every man leads a little bit differently and there are also differences in body shape and size.  Igor is quite a bit shorter than Ivan so when we did some side by side rocks and I spun in front of him, I realized it wasn’t necessary to go up on my toes like I normally do with Ivan.  He was also very gentle with his leads…it just felt different.  Not bad, by any means – I absolutely love the Latin Rumba, it’s just that dancing with a different partner creates a totally different experience.  Plus, it made me even more insecure just because it was my first time ever dancing with either Artem or Igor.  However, I was thrilled to hear Igor complement my dancing, saying “Nice Rumba!”

It was all very, very fun.  I was sweating buckets by the end of the evening but even so, it felt like everyone was just cutting loose and playing with the dancing, which is especially nice for us ballroomers because we work so hard and get so technical most of the time on our lessons.

I will also say that as fun as the dance party was (I always love dancing with good dancers and especially ones who are better than me!) I absolutely, completely, and fully feel that Ivan is the instructor for me.  It’s just such a good fit in all ways – personality, teaching and learning style, body shape and size even, and I am so grateful.

So today I awoke and headed off to a lesson with Ivan.  I got there early so I stopped by the Starbucks to grab an unsweetened iced green tea for myself and a hot white chocolate mocha for Mr. Ivan.  Sometimes I just think I am psychic.  When I walked in the door the first thing Ivan said was “Hot Mocha! (my nickname) I just thinking I want to go get a mocha from Starbucks but no time.”  Apparently I got the mental request through the cosmos.

Just then, Marietta came out from the back.  Had I known she was going to be there, I’d have gotten her a drink too!  She was subbing for her mom on a lesson but since she was there, Ivan began to tell her about our “shocking” experience at the other studio.  And somehow then the conversation turned to doing lifts.  I told Ivan I was more likely to be able to lift him so he asked me to try.  I grabbed him around the waist and lifted him up!  We laughed heartily.  Then Ivan decided to give it a go.  And he managed to lift me off the ground holding me around my waist twice!  Then Marietta told him he had to hold me over his head.  Ummm, I think we need to wait on that one, Ivan.

So anyways, we began with the Smooth dances and Ivan reminded me that he wanted to hear my heels scraping along the floor.  Boy could I hear his feetsies and I told him he was doing a great job all the while laughing at myself and wishing my feet would just do what they are supposed to do, sliding connected along the floor, heel and toe coming up and going down at the correct time.  Ah, yeah, still need to work on that.  But of course it wouldn’t be a lesson with Ivan without more twists.  He made us get really close to the mirror to practice being in tight quarters on the dance floor.  He also made me get close to Marietta, like right up in her face while we did a pose in the Waltz.  I noticed that with her, since I know her and feel comfortable around her, it felt okay to do it.  I could even look her in the eye.  I wasn’t uncomfortable or shy.  Normally, this isn’t the case – especially with strangers.  I am afraid to look and so my eyes find the floor.  I still really struggle with issues around worrying about what other people think of me.  It has gotten better, especially with Ivan, and I find more and more confidence, and care less and less, and express more, but I still have a long way to go.

Anyways, after the Smooth dances were complete, we began Latin Rumba and I have to say, it is so easy for me to go on automatic pilot.  It sucks!  Bad Stefanie!  I continue to forget to tune in and connect right away.  I kind of did but then Ivan decided to delay a movement going into an underarm turn creating a slow controlled dynamic and then a quick movement to catch up and get back on time.  It felt so grown-up and fun.  But then Ivan upped the ante.  He wanted me to find my sexy.  I still cringe inside around this.

“C’mon hot mocha!  You gotta dance like that, hot!”  He made me practice squashing my face so close to his that our noses were touching.  He made me practice coming toward him like that hungry tiger we’ve talked about.  He also made me do it when he didn’t react (like I normally don’t) being “cold,” as he calls it, so I could see how un-fun it is to come at someone with that hot and heavy energy and get no reaction.  It’s all just so dang uncomfortable!  Ugh!  So many thoughts go through my head when working on this stuff – bringing out the “inner whore” as Ivan calls it.  He tells me I dance like a nice virginal high school girl but what I need to do on these particular dances is be a harlot.  It’s just so much easier to dance a swing and be happy-go-lucky!

Also, I think about like, is it really okay that I’m this close to you, Ivan?  Or that I’m touching you?  And what are other people who are watching think?  I automatically look anywhere but into his eyes and then remember that I’m supposed to look in them but then my head wobbles around and I don’t seem focused.  Not very sexy, I know.

Anyways, we ended up having a whole conversation about all this (and more) after the lesson.  Ivan assured me it is okay for me to touch him in the Rumba.  He told me that he has to help me push some buttons inside me.  He agreed that my expression is getting better but that there is still more that needs coaxing out and the sooner I can “push my buttons” and get it out there, the better.  Ivan told me I need to love my body as it is and that I need to lose weight.  He told me I dance very feminine.  He told me I need to start feeling sexy, even right now – that it would be great if I came wearing less clothing or whatever to help me feel that.  I started getting teary-eyed.  My willingness and ability to allow myself to feel such things is so tied into my body image.  How can someone as fat as I am be sexy?  Is that even possible?

It’s tough, you know, because there is this idea of what a dancer should look like, both male and female.  I may feel a certain way inside, but no matter how good a dancer I may be, it can only be expressed so much though my physicality such as it is.  So there is both the mental and physical aspects of me that still need to evolve.

I feel like such an oddity.  I do believe myself to be a good dancer but I look so much different than most of my competitors.  Last night, for instance, I went to grab a drink after the dance party Colette and Katie.  Alongside those gorgeous gals I felt like we were Wilson Phillips, and you can guess which member of the band I represent!

To a certain extent, I’m at the place that I don’t care about my size and shape – that I love dancing and I’m a dancer, and dancing from the heart transcends physicality.  In some ways this is true.  But it is also true that my physical presentation absolutely does matter.  It absolutely affects the ease with which I can move (or not), my endurance, my overall health, and the lines and pictures I can create.  To to another extent, I am very concerned about my size and shape.  Layer womanly insecurities about being sexy on top of all that and you get a befuddled mess!

I mean, at the end of Inna’s class on Tuesday, she did a little demonstration, acting out three different couples with help from Chuck, one of my classmates.  First, they walked out with a belligerent, combative, irritated attitude.  Next, they acted very shy and lacking energy.  Finally, they came out with heads held high in calm confidence.  Inna asked, “Which couple will win the scholarship?”  We all knew it was the third couple.  “How do you know this?”  she asked, “None of the couples even danced.  You saw no dancing.”  It was a visceral demonstration of how very important presentation is.  She then proceeded to ask us, “How do you present yourselves?  To your co-workers, your dance partners, your children, your friends?  How do you present yourself to yourself?”

Ask any of my family members and they will tell you how little I generally bother with how I present myself.  From wearing worn-out clothes to pulling my hair back into a ponytail from my make-up-less face, I’ve considered spending the time and effort to present myself nice usually not worth it.  This isn’t to say I don’t dress up appropriately for special events, but in most of my daily life, I’m as casual as they come.  I always figured it wasn’t that important – that what mattered was what was inside and that people who loved me or were my friends would love me or befriend me because of who I am and that had nothing to do with how I look.

And now, here I am, addicted to this dancing sport in which presentation is 80% of the game!  Where make up and glitz and glamour are as important as technique.  Where to win at the game, I have to play by the rules that are 180 degrees from how I normally show up in life.

I almost started crying after Inna’s demonstration because I realized that I don’t always present myself that well.  I want to hide.  I don’t want to put effort and energy into make up and hair and clothes because nothing can hide how obese I am.  If you dress up a frog in the clothes of a prince, everyone can easily see that it’s still a frog.  Like I don’t want to look nice with nails and hair when I’m ashamed of the rest of me.  You can’t hide 250 pounds behind a haircut, you know?

So on this 100th post, I’m feeling like I’m still the same person as I was on the first post – still someone struggling to find herself and evolve.  Someone who acknolwedges her greatness and also is humbled by her humanity.  Someone who is still in the game, moving forward, learning, and growing.  Someone who has gratitude in her heart for all the lessons and friendships and experiences she has had thus far.

On this 100th post I can see how my ballroom family has grown larger and deeper, and so have I.  I feel re-energized and re-focused as I gear up to compete in the Desert Classic competition in about two months.  I feel clear that the choices I make regarding how I feed myself, care for myself, exercise myself, and present myself in the coming days and weeks will build to create how I show up for this next competition.

So the story continues!  Yay!

Now…. on to the 101st post.

Toodles, Stef

Happily Running Toward A Punch In The Face

I haven’t danced with Ivan since last Thursday which feels like an eternity to me.  If I had unlimited resources, I’d probably want to dance 5 days a week, doing double lessons each day.  That is cost prohibative at my current income level, and with the level of uncertainty surrounding my current job, I’ve had to cool my jets and am limiting myself to two single lessons weekly, plus one extra one on the weekend every other week when I am not on call.  Once I become world-famous and am featured on Oprah’s Lifeclass, that will probably change.  But until it does, such is my reality.  Ha Ha.

So it is time I respect and cherish and I am grateful to even be able to afford what I can.  I think that for another of the Topic Series I’m going address the exorbitant cost of ballroom dancing.  Now that is a juicy discussion to begin!

But for this post I’m going to describe my dance lesson since my personal experiences are one of the more “charming” aspects of the blog. 🙂

So I arrived and one of the church members where we dance was mopping the floor.  I have to take a moment and just appreciate the people who do that kind of job, and especially this young woman because she was a volunteer.  But seriously, it is so wonderful to have people who take care of the dance floor and that I don’t have to do it!

Ivan arrived just after me bearing strawberries.  Although I refused multiple times, in the end he just shoved one in my mouth.  I tasted more finger than berry.  Thanks Ivan.  I got him back though.  Later in the lesson I was spinning around and I elbowed him in the gut.  Take that you dancing Bulgarian!

Well, still, I think the joke’s on me.  At one point my foot slipped on the floor and I hit the ground.  It was kind of a slow tumble toward the floor.  I was trying to save it. But when I finally hit the wood Ivan was smiling.  Um, thanks for the compassion, dude!

“This so good!”

“What are you talking about, Ivan?  I just fell.”

“I push you.”

“How is this good?”

“We surviving your knees.”

“???”

“You falling with all your weight over one foot.  I see this happen before and the lady’s knee go sideways.  Yeow!  They call the 911.”

Apparently Ivan felt like he saved me from knee-replacement surgery.  Maybe he did.  I can’t say.  But it didn’t feel like anything too bad was going to happen.  I twisted my left ankle, my weaker one, a little bit, but I’m okay.

So anyways I hopped back up after a moment and we were off again.

Today we began with Waltz.  I get a bit frustrated with myself because I know that the way I’m dancing it looks more like walking than the sweeping, large, flowing movement that is supposed to happen.  I mean, I’ve seen how Artem and Inna do it.  Though I realize they are world-class competitors, and I’m probably not ever going to look like that, I want to at least aim to get as close to it as I can.  Ivan was challenging me to reach more with my steps and trust me, I want to do it.  I just feel completely out of control doing it, like I could fall at any moment.  As Ivan says, at this point we are doing “very nice walking,” but we need to extend and push ourselves.  I agree.  I just wish my body would get the message.  I’m supposed to stretch on the “one” count.  Ivan kept repeating “One. One. One. One.” as we danced around the periphery of the room.

Let me just say that I don’t feel like Smooth dances are my forte, but I am beginning to enjoy them more and more.  Maybe after a few more years, and some concentrated practice, I’ll be able to look better than I do today.  But then, too, another part of me is okay with being better in Latin and Rhythm if that ends up being the case.  I love those dances deeper, at least right now in my journey.

I think one of the highlights of today was dancing lead-follow in Rumba.  I love it when Ivan does that.  At a certain point he was like, “You dancing everything because you know the routine.  You not paying attention.”

But then he began to gently lead me, and I tuned in to the signals, and it was fantastic.  Seriously, this is my favorite part of ballroom dancing….and the most precarious part as well.  Why?  Because it feels so good when I am successful that I get excited and then lose concentration for a split second in my wonder, and screw up the very next thing.  As Ivan says, I need to feel that excitement but stay in control.

During this portion of the lesson he led me without touching, and then we initiated contact.  He liked it when he offered his hand but I took my time to accept the invitation.  He would pause and extend various movements that normally we brush right through.  He also took a moment to let his arm go up and around before beginning and I mirrored him without a thought because I was just that tuned in.  There is something so magical about being so in sync.  Did I mention I love that?  I know, I know….broken record.  But seriously, I hope one day we will dance like that in competition.  I hope that someday soon we will bring that level of relaxed, focused, tuned in, fantastic energy with us and make it seem as effortless as it can feel.

By the way….I’m itching to do a competition.  It’s been September since I last competed.  Competitions require such a high level of financial resources so I have to pick and choose which ones to participate in very carefully.  Again, limited resources.  It’s been over six months, though, and I’m having moments where I feel so good, that I want to put myself out there again and see if others sense the improvement too.

Anyways, back to the lesson at hand.  We then worked on Bolero.  I was proud of myself for remembering to contract before extending on the “Romantica” step….until I realized I forgot to do the set up properly, and that I’m screwing up the timing of the second part of the move.  Still, it’s improvement.  I remembered.  And I had Ivan to remind me of the other parts.

This is where the title of this post comes in.  Before going into the “Romantica,” Ivan leads me forward and I do a 180 degree turn.  I’m supposed to step straight forward and hold the pose, standing on my right leg and pointing my left behind me, to make a clear “picture” before completing the rest of the movement.  But I was slurring through it, stepping forward and turning at the same time, instead of letting the movements be distinct and clear.

So Ivan reminds me of this little detail and puts his hand up eye level as if dancing to the song, “Stop, In The Name Of Love” by Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The amazing thing is, I just went for it.  No thought about it.  I just trusted.  No fear.  Fear didn’t even cross my mind.  I was Fearless!

Ivan actually had to point this out to me.  He was pretty excited about it.

“You trusting me!  You not scary!” (scary = scared in Ivan)

So the next time we did it, he upped the ante.  He made a fist.

Again, I just went for it.  Stepping directly into his fist.  Doing so unscathed, unhurt, and unafraid.

Fantastic.

So today I’m celebrating.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the fact that I get to ballroom dance even at all, even if it costs an arm and a leg.  I’m celebrating with gratitude the people who support me, who I may not even know, but who play a role in my dancing, like the girl who was cleaning the space in which I dance.  And finally, I’m celebrating being fearless.  For someone who generally lives in a state of high-anxiety, I’m acknowledging the brave, calm, centered tiger within.

What will you celebrate today?  I want to hear about it!

Toodles, Stefanie

You Growing So Quickly!

Today, I must say, was a good lesson.

I don’t know why some days are just better than others and today turned out to be loads of fun, a good work out, and left me feeling as bubbly as a shaken champagne bottle.

I walked into the studio and caught Ivan doing something in front of the mirror.

“What were you doing?”

After a pause, “Looking at myself.”

That’s Ivan for you!  Unabashed.  I hope to get that comfortable with myself one day.

“I seeing how I look, if I am handsome.”

“Oh Ivan, I think like every female in my life thinks you are handsome.  My mom has mentioned it.  My mother-in-law, when we were at Galaxy, and the subject came up said, ‘I may be old, but I’m not blind!’  Yes, Ivan, I often get comments about how lucky I am to dance with someone so handsome.”

He glowed.  His inner rooster puffed out his chest.  He stood a little straighter.  I think if I can compliment him (or Marietta, or Katie, or whomever is going to dance with him) before we begin at a competition, he’d dance better, with more confidence.  There is something about having your partner compliment you, like what you are doing or how you look, that just is encouraging and invigorating.

I told him, “Maybe you should say something nice to Marietta before you dance.  And just think how you’d dance if she said something nice to you?”

“I used to.  But now, even if I say something, she not believing me.”

“Well, don’t worry about it.  Just say something nice and leave it at that.”

Maybe he’ll take my advice.  Doubtful, but maybe.  At least the took the advice in the moment.

“You so beautiful!”

“Thanks Ivan.”

So we began with Foxtrot and from the get-go I was connecting and following pretty well.  I was just not thinking, just dancing, just being, and it makes things so much simpler.  The more I get out of my head and into my body, the better I seem to do.  I didn’t even know it, but we were dancing the International Standard Foxtrot.  How could I not know this?  Well, I just thought I was doing a step in the Smooth Foxtrot where you don’t close the feet but pass them.  Silly me.

So I had a moment of brilliance.  I was tuned in, really connected and following, and Ivan moved very, very slowly, leading me into a develope’ at like half speed.  But I did it!  I had great balance.  He was like, “Wow!”

And the best part was, that wasn’t the only “Wow!” on the lesson!!!

Next was the Tango.  Again, good frame, and snap, snap, snap.  My head whipped left and right quick as if I were watching a match between Borg and McEnroe as we went into Promenade and back.  “Good!”  Said Ivan.  Only one small mishap – I kicked him on accident doing some Gauchos.  But he just kicked me back and we laughed.

Then Waltz.  Nothing really remarkable on that one, but I did get to learn a new step with a ronde’ and develope’.

Then Viennese Waltz.  “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler On The Roof” was the song.  So I started singing.

“How you know this?”  Asked Ivan.

“It’s from a musical – Fiddler On The Roof.”

“You so smart!  You know so much!”

“Don’t they have musicals in Bulgaria?”

“No.  No musicals in Bulgaria.”

I don’t know if I believe him, but whatever.  He was so impressed I knew the song.  Why, I wonder?  Most songs I don’t know and he’s never been impressed before.

All the Smooth dances complete, we moved on to Rhythm.

I was enjoying myself doing the Rumba and Ivan encouraged me to dance in 360 degrees.  To pay attention to my back, not just my front.  To make my shoulders and upper back move as much as my feet.  To style my arms so that I don’t look the same as everyone else, because as Ivan puts it, “You not like everyone else.”

I’m getting much better at the Spiral turn, which is a triumph.  It helps just to have that little extra help with balance holding on to Ivan’s hand, but I’m getting more and more independent.  It’s this weird dance between relying on my partner and yet being fully self-sufficient.  Like I could do everything I’m doing on my own, but I’m choosing to do it with a little assist from my partner.  Sometimes it’s not that centered, though, and I rely on my partner too much!  On other moves I try too hard to do it all on my own.  No wonder it takes a long time to develop a proper and good connection, but I digress.

So we were dancing and I was following so well that Ivan, I guess, felt like he could lead me into stuff I haven’t exactly learned.  He dipped me over his knee, and I bent like a wet noodle into a back bend.  It is like I got there and then I realized what was going on.  If I had thought about it, I’d probably have stiffened up, lost my balance, resisted.  But it happened so quickly – quicker than I could think about it, and I did this move I wouldn’t expect my body to do so easily first thing in the morning…or anytime during the day, really.  Once again, I don’t know my own limits.  They are much more expansive than I’d have thought.

“You’ve never done that with me before, Ivan.”  I say as he changes the music.

“I don’t want to telling you so you no thinking.”

That’s probably a good thing.

Next, the highlight of the lesson.  It rivals the time Ivan taught me the move at the end of the Rumba routine.  The one where I was like, “You want me to do what?”

It was a split.  Him holding me up.  Me giving him my left leg, him stretching me into the splits (I may be bigger, but I’m pretty dang flexible – I can still do the splits, believe it or not!), me opening my arm.

“Wow! This so good!  Why we not put this in our routine?  Fuck!”  He said.  He has that new penchant for cussing, just because he can.  It was a good-natured remark…but “Dang it!” probably would have been more to the point.

He made me do it again, and I was sure he was going to drop me.  I can’t believe he could support all this weight.  Seriously, he was holding at least 90% of me up, maybe more!

Not only did he make me do the split thing, but then he dragged me around, doing this move I’ve seen him do with Marietta.  Now she has a bit more space between her ribcage and belly so she can really collapse toward him, but still, I was impressed he was moving me at all, still holding me up.

“You have to trusting me.”

“Yeah, Ivan, you’re right.  I just can’t believe you can hold me up like that.  It makes me scared.”

On the up side, if I lose more weight then I will really not fear doing these tricks as I’m doing them now and he is handling them.

“I strong.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Wow, your dancing is growing so quickly.  You growing so much!”

“Well, you’re giving me more to do.”

So we then danced an unremarkable Cha Cha, except I was doing “Pah!” and “Sha!” expressions, practicing the performance element of the dance, and then it was on to Samba.

I ask him to review the step he taught me for the Latin Samba.  We do that and then he starts in on Samba Rolls.  He’s tried them with me once before, but its trial by fire.  He doesn’t show me the move, he just wraps is arms around me and tells me to step, front, side, together, back, side together, while dragging me where I’m supposed to go and twisting my upper body and arms around in a large circle.  It was pretty horrendous, but that’s okay.  After all I did so well today, I don’t mind not getting this one.

The lesson ends and we part with our usual bear hug.

“What are you doing the rest of the day, Ivan?”

“I’m renting a machine to plow the earth.”

Ivan was able to purchase a horse property recently and I’m so happy for him.  It was one of his dreams to have a large property like that and I guess they are putting in irrigation tomorrow so he has to till the earth in preparation.  Not your typical life for a professional dancer, I know, but there’s nothing typical about Ivan and Marietta.  She’s studying astronomy and loves the science of the cosmos.  They have a life outside of dancing, which is not something you usually see in dancers of their level, I think.

“I like this lesson today.” Ivan says as he closes the door and jumps on his Vespa.

Me too, Ivan.  Me too.