So Funny And Completely Inappropriate

So this morning I went in to practice the piece for the showcase at 7:45am. The practice was uneventful, which is good, except for the fact that Ivan was super tired because yesterday he did all sorts of work and intense manual labor on his farm which is up for an inspection from the county. That, and he strained his back from carrying 80 pound bags of cement all over the place, so he was like, “Please no splits today.” And I was like, “No problem!” I didn’t mind skipping that part at all….just as long as he is recovered by Saturday, which he seems to think he will be.

So the practice went well enough and at the end Ivan had another morning lesson scheduled. In came a new student who is friends with one of Ivan’s other students who I know. They asked to see what we were working on so we showed them the dance and they were kind and said it looked good, and the new gal said she had heard a lot about me from her friend, and somehow the conversation became about the blog. I didn’t mention it…I think Ivan did, but the lady I know said she didn’t know I had a blog so I fished a card for her out of my purse.

“It’s about my experiences on dance lessons, and all the funny stuff Ivan does, and sometimes helpful information about ballroom dancing, and a little bit of me complaining about trying to lose weight.”

And we’re talking about the blog and Ivan chimes in. “Ah yes. Everything that happens goes on the blog. This why I no have sex with her. because if I do, then it would be on the blog.”

Achtung

By see below. (see below.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

SAY WHAT!?! Who says something like that? And who can say that and still be likeable, especially in front of a new potential student? Only my cuckoo instructor. Good thing he is an independent agent because I can’t imagine a comment like that would ever be tolerated at a studio, and good thing that I know him and how ridiculous he is, as does his other student, who I am certain has shared about Ivan to her pal.  All I can say is that he must have been deliriously tired to randomly say something like that!

So anyways, without missing a beat, as I’m walking out the door, I simply reply, “Oh, that’s the only thing holding you back, Ivan? That it would be written about on the blog?” And Ivan’s student cracks up in a guffaw while I think her friend is sitting next to her silently in shock over what just transpired.

Ha ha ha! So here it is, I’m writing about it on the blog. Lolololol.

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Running Blindly

Today was a satisfying day. First off, it was an unexpected day off. Yesterday they canceled overtime for the weekend. I’ve been needing some “off” time – time to rejuvenate, connect with life outside of a dark dance studio in the morning or night, work, and home (which means 1 hour of TV and bed!) And to have two days off in a row feels luxurious!

Next, I weighed myself and I’ve had a breakthrough. I’m below 250 pounds for the first time in years and I’ve been messing around with the last five pounds for about 3 months. Finally! I kind of couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the number. Though not anywhere near where I want to be eventually, it IS a milestone and one to be celebrated.

Plus, I had an amazing lesson with Ivan this morning, during which I had another breakthrough – Can you believe it?! I will tell you the story shortly.

After the lesson I went and got my haircut and my brows waxed. The last time I had them done was in November! Luckily the salon was able to fit me in at the last minute since I didn’t know I’d have time today with the surprise day off and all, and now my hair is healthy and ready to grow out, and my furry eyebrows are back under control. Plus I had fun talking with my stylist about some ideas for my hair around competition time. I’m pretty excited.

Then I went to Sephora to get some much-needed and belated foundation. Suddenly my skin looks flawless and I’m feeling better so I also go in for some blush and gloss and powder.

Finally I have fantastic lunch from this amazing restaurant all by myself. It’s one of those places that uses all local organic foods and man was it yummy and totally guilt-free. I savored each bite eating it in gratitude for all the work that brought it to my mouth and how it is going to give me life and be a part of my transformation into who I am becoming, the body I am going to have. On a day like today I can remember that eating can be a spiritual experience as much as a mundane one and pray with each morsel. Seriously this place has prayer-worthy food. First off, they have the most amazing starter of seared albacore drizzled with citrus and some spices and garnished with avocado and thin orange slices. After polishing that off I ate a mediterranean salad with fresh, vibrant greens, brown quinoa, salmon, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and a fantastic oregano vinaigrette. It was so satisfying and what I feel was a honoring meal – one that honored the food sources as well as myself. I wish every meal could be like that, but in my hectic life right now, I’m thankful to have my prepackaged diet meals. They are working for me too, and until I have the time to cook (or the financial resources to pay someone to cook for me – lol) I’m grateful for them.

But hey, this blog is about ballroom dancing, so let me get to that part!

So I show up for my lesson and I’m there before Ivan but a receptionist has come and opened the studio so I am waiting for Vanco when he arrives (Vanco is like a nickname for Ivan, something that maybe his mom would call him as a kid).

He’s usually always early, but today he is right on time, though I notice when he comes in that he looks a little scruffy. I can see a five-o-clock shadow beard and his eyes look a little puffy.

“Oh you early!”

“Yes, Ivan. Do you want coffee? I said I’d get you coffee last night, but I came here first to see what you wanted.” Since he is usually early, I thought I’d have time to walk down to the Starbucks in the complex.

“No. I fine. No coffee.”

“Okay.”

“You drink wine last night?” He asks.

“No.” I reply, “I’ve been battling a cold. I just came home from work and ate dinner and got the most sleep I’ve gotten in a long time last night.”

“Me neither. No wine,” he says.

I begin to say, “You’re sure? Cause you look like you might have drunk something last night…” But I never make it past, “You’re sure?”

“No wine last night. Whiskey.”

I bust up laughing. I could totally tell he was dragging! And in my book, whiskey could make for a more unpleasant morning than some red wine, but Ivan seems to think the opposite. And he’s his usual upbeat, funny self, if maybe just a little bit slow.

I joke with him. “It’s okay, Ivan. You can just lay on the floor like a few weeks ago and I will go through my routines.”

But that is not what happens. Of course, because he is crazy lunatic, he puts some super peppy music on straight away and I’m like, “Ivan! Let’s warm up with something a little slower! But before you do that, I have something to tell you! I am below 250 pounds for the first time in many years!”

“Oh! This soooo good!” He coos. “I thinking you 260 or 270 and you below 250! In a month you be 240 and then even smaller. Good job!”

Even better than Ivan’s praise was my friend’s reaction. She walked in the studio for a lesson later on in the morning. I shared the news with her as well because she has also been “the incredible shrinking woman” and down more than 40 pounds from the day I met her. She looks great and she understands what I’m going through. She almost jumped into my arms giving me a big, enthusiastic hug. “Oh Stefanie, I’m so proud of you!” I have to admit, it felt pretty nice.

So anyways, Ivan put on a Waltz, which was more to my speed (and probably his, too) and off we went.

For the first time in I-can’t-remember-when, we practiced Smooth, but it was pretty fun and a good warm up. The best part was when Ivan decided to dip me over his leg. I put my leg up in the air and he was like, “Woah! Let me do that again!” He sounded shocked. I was, like, okay, but why? So he did it again, and again, and again. About 5 times in a row. “Wow,” he says, “You feel so light! Like 140 pounds!” He couldn’t believe it – that it was so easy. So that felt awesome.

We then did a Foxtrot and a Tango and Viennese Waltz, the Foxtrot and Waltz and Viennese Waltz all being vastly superior to the Tango. Yeah, Tango isn’t my strongest dance, but that’s okay. I’m a Latin and Rhythm girl at heart.

At this point we still had the studio to ourselves (besides the receptionist, who, at one point must have thought we were completely cuckoo!) and that was a good thing because we began to work on Rumba and right away, and, as per usual, I messed up the connection. I mean, it takes a minute or two to really connect, at least it does for me. As much as I wish I would just be instantly ready, I’m not (Grrr!) and so as per usual, Ivan began talking to me about the connection.

Now here’s the thing – sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m not paying attention, that I’m not aware, and sometimes the lack of connection is because I’m afraid.

To really connect, to really be ready to follow, I have to trust. I have to trust me (and my body), entirely, which I struggle with, and on top of that, I have to trust Ivan. Listen, Ivan and I have a great rapport, and I trust him as much as I trust anybody on this Earth, and I still hold back and am afraid that he will lead me astray in the dance or something. It’s a survival-based fear, not necessarily a rational one. It’s a fear of revealing myself and really letting go, and I know I’ve talked about it before, and this time….this time, I got it on a whole other experiential level.

A few months ago Ivan told me a story about once when he was in Europe and some big-wig Latin dancer came to the club to teach. At first everyone was dancing all macho and stuff, trying to dance to impress the teacher and show him something special. But the teacher wanted them to focus on the basic steps and pointed out that the girls were dancing with fear, that the couples were dancing but holding back. He made the girls line up on one side of the room and the men on the other side. He blindfolded the girls and asked them to run across the room toward their partner. They kind of did about halfway across the floor and then slowed down or stopped. They practiced over and over, until they were running full speed into their partners and their partners caught them. Ivan said after that, everyone danced completely differently, open, expansive, bold, fearless. He also told me that one day I would be doing that with him.

It seemed like a nice story back on a cold, dark, pre-dawn morning, when I knew that I wasn’t going to be asked to do this exercise. But today was the day. We didn’t know it, at first, but it evolved into being the day.

So working on connection, Ivan asked me to close my eyes and dance with him. I did and almost immediately the panic and fear reared their ugly heads. I wasn’t freaking out so much as moving haltingly and realizing how uncomfortable it was and how very much I needed Ivan there and needed the connection.

But then, Ivan being Ivan, upped the ante. He had me do Latin walks with my eyes closed, promising me that he’d guide me backward or forward or to the side with a touch before I hit any walls. That went tolerably well, though it is difficult to stay balanced in heels, walking, with your eyes closed. It used to be a balance check we’d do in ballet to go into releve’ and then close our eyes. Try it….it’s not easy! Nor is it easy to walk, as I discovered. But anyways, I muddled through that, and then it was just time for the next step.

Ivan went to the opposite side of the studio and told me to run toward him with my eyes closed. On my first attempt, I did well about half way across the space before I began to panic. Ivan told me he could sense my energy had changed and called me on it. I felt fine as long as I knew I wouldn’t run into anything because there was lots of space, and I didn’t feel in danger, but then the panic and anxiety would begin to rise as the distance shortened and my fear that I’d run into something increased. In response, unconsciously, my steps would become smaller and less sure and less directed forward. My energy would shrink and turn from being directed forward to imploding internally. The challenge was to trust that Ivan would be able to stop my mass, running at full speed, and that I wouldn’t fall or run into the table. But I was fearful. FEARFUL I tell you!

But I want to get over this fear, for behind it, and the tears, are the joy, my true expression. Behind it is me being able to feel confident just being me, not questioning everything, or feeling like I’m not good enough. Behind the fear is the ability to be open and (eek!) vulnerable (or what feels like vulnerable to me). But that is the place where I can truly let people in through my dancing, the place I deeply desire to get to.

Anyways, Ivan let me try again. And again. Each time I would make it a little further across the room, from half way to two-thirds, to five-sixths of the way. But still, I was afraid.

“Maybe you take off the heels? Maybe you not feeling secure running blindly in the heels?”

Um, does anybody?

So I took of my shoes, running blind and barefoot and still panicking at the last bit.

“Okay, you have one, maybe two more times.”

“Alright, Ivan. No. This is it. I’m going to do it this time.” I told myself. I reminded myself that the experience of fear is physiologically the same as the physical experience of excitement so I tried a new tactic. I yelled aloud, “I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!” as I barreled toward Ivan, eyes closed. And this time I bowled right into his arms!

Do you see why that receptionist must have thought we were off our rockers?! LOLOLOL!

But I did it! I freaking did it! And it was a metaphor, like all of dance is, for life. And to me it meant that I faced my fear, and I worked with it, and I transformed it. And it meant that I pushed through it to the trust. I allowed Ivan to catch me. I didn’t hold anything back in fear, worrying about injury or that I’d crush him with my mass. I didn’t worry about what I looked like or what anyone was thinking of me as I ran like a maniac toward my goal. I, in this exercise, chose to trust completely, him, me, and the process of life. And that, my friends, is a big deal. It means, to me, that the openness I seek, the willingness to open myself to be seen, is there, just below the surface and that I am closer to it today than I was yesterday. To me, it was an act of courage. Perhaps a silly one, but a courageous one nonetheless.

And I squeaked it in just in time for as I felt my body crush into Ivan’s students and instructors began to arrive for morning lessons and group classes.

Ivan asked how I felt and I have to say I actually felt a little bit out of my body. I’m not sure how to explain that, except to say that it was a pretty intense experience, all about sensing the world around me outside myself while experiencing all that was going on internally for me. I was entirely lost in the moment and had to take a minute to ground myself back into my body. It was a lot to process.

But ground and process I did, feeling a little stronger and less fearful and we continued our double lesson. The rest of the lesson was pretty unremarkable, I suppose, but extremely enjoyable as they usually are. We danced Rumba, and Cha Cha, and Mambo. One awesome thing that happened was that Nona, Ivan’s mother-in-law, Marietta’s mom, who is a professional dancer and used to compete, came up to me just to tell me that I was looking like I was moving very good, very flexible. I noticed her watching me and smiling before she came up and she’s not the kind of person just to say something for no reason, so I felt like the changes are showing on the outside, that people can notice the growth and transformation that I’ve been working on at 6:30 in the morning week in and week out.

It was like how this week in Inna’s class she didn’t ask me to demonstrate anything like she asked other students but when I was doing my Cha Cha and Samba exercises across the floor she said, “Good, Stefanie!” in a tone that seemed almost shocked, like I was showing her something of me that she hadn’t seen before.

So, anyways, like I said at the beginning, it’s been a very satisfying day. One in which I totally understand the sentiment behind the Star Trek Klingon saying, “Today would be a good day to die!” That today I lived a day full of life and growth and experiences. I am whole and complete and glad. And indeed, if today were the day I was to leave this earthly plane, it would have been a good note to end on. Not that I have any plans for that! I have a lot of big scary hairy goals that I’m gunning for in the next two years and I’m excited to lean into that process. Today was a leap forward after a long plateau and as I bask in that achievement, I am encouraged to push forward once again.

Me at my biggest

Me at my biggest

Me today

Me today

My Rumba Walks Will Never Be The Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Stef

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!