Stroking The Ego Or Simply Acknowledging My Greatness???

Tomorrow is the showcase.

I’m currently on a hunt for some nude extra-large adult fishnet stockings.  I realized that I needed them after remembering last night that I threw out my last pair after competing at Galaxy.  I have a lesson with Ivan scheduled in 2 hours and I’m hoping to have them in hand by then to do a “full dress rehearsal.”

Maybe it’s the old training from Glenda Folk, but I want to see how it feels to dance in my outfit with the nylons and all.  I don’t want any wardrobe malfunctions and usually I wear things that cover the booty completely.  Now I have to figure out if I’m going to be okay with the stockings alone since I am wearing a skirt or if I’m going to need to find some bike shorts too.  I don’t think I have a black leotard in my closet anymore but that would probably be the best thing to wear underneath.  I mean, I am doing a high leg kick and there are some dips.

The last time I danced was Tuesday.  I had a lesson with Ivan during which we pretty much warmed up and then ran the Rumba 4 times or so.  Some run-throughs were better than others.  I’m a little concerned about how it will go tomorrow evening after a full day of work and no time to warm up before we perform.  It will be in a different space than we’ve been practicing and with different elements in the space such as an audience, perhaps low lighting, and who knows how well the music will work out.  I don’t know when I perform, what order things will happen.  All I can say is, pretty good thing for me that I am a “go with the flow” type of gal in this instance.  Don’t get me wrong, I have my control issues, but in this case I’m happy enough just to let things unfold as they will.  Worrying won’t change it so I’m not going to waste one precious moment putting panic energy into the situation.

It’s not that I’m worried, per se, it’s more that I want to do an amazing job.  It’s my first time doing an actual ballroom routine in a showcase with just me and my instructor on the floor.  It’s not Dancing With The Stars, that’s for sure!  I’ll only have maybe 20 pairs of eyes on me, not 20 million!

It will be what it will be.  I’m excited but not nervous.  I usually don’t get nervous until the moment before!  Then I’m practically shaking.  But once we start moving, I’m sure it will all be okay.

Woudln’t you know it? The showcase was originally planned on a day when my husband was out-of-town and got rescheduled to another date that he is out-of-town. He left for San Francisco this morning. But that is why video cameras exist.

So anyways, after dancing with Ivan in the morning last Tuesday, I also went to class with Inna in the evening.  It was my 8 year wedding anniversary so Ty and I had some sushi and then I was off.  We made a point to watch a movie together the previous night and last night, the day after our anniversary, we also spent some quality time together.  But that class is so good, and my husband understands how important it is to me, that he gladly let me go.

Surprise, surprise, it was a night of Paso Doble!

Besides the Jive, Paso Doble is the dance in the Latin category that I’ve practiced the least.  I’m not all that familiar with the basic steps nor do I know how to count it.  But Inna gave us a few moves and made up some combinations and I did my best to follow along.

I have no idea what the figure is called, but we started with a movement pushing our hips forward, raising up on our “tippy toes,” (as Inna calls it), pushing our chest upward and outward, and pulling our arms behind our back to create a bow shape through the front of our bodies, all over a full count of eight.

It was tiring!  I kept losing my balance, bobbling on my toes.  I’m used to balancing up there with my legs straight, as in a ballet releve’ but with this awkward bow position with my chest not directly above my hips, I had a hard time finding my new center.  I got a bit better over the evening, but it was quite a challenge!  Plus, we were using back and hip muscles not normally activated in Rumba or Cha Cha.  Inna advised us that if we felt discomfort in our lower backs, then we were doing it right!  “And,” she said, “the good news is there are no hips!”

Yes, no hips, but there is stomping, and balancing, and portraying the fiery nature of the dance, being as serious as a bullfighter, holding your arms taut, doing steps you are not comfortable with….well, it’s quite a trade-off.

In any case, I did the best I could, stomping and parading, and portraying.  Some interesting things happened as I explored the movement.

At first, I tried very hard to imitate Inna, exactly how she was moving.  I mean, I got the general idea and created mostly the same shapes.  But on this one part we were raising our arms in a large circle while stepping sideways and I could not figure out how Inna was creating a twist with her shoulders.  I tried making it happen for a few minutes and royally messed up the steps but then something kind of magical happened.  I watched how I was doing it in the mirror and I figured it looked pretty good.  The lines were different than those of Inna, maybe more straight up or something, but still aesthetically pleasing.  After all, the steps are set in stone via the syllabus but the arm styling, as far as I understand it, is up to artistic interpretation.

Perhaps I was doing it completely wrong.  And if you put me next to Inna on the dance floor she’s gonna kick my butt every time.  However, I decided in that moment to that I’d forget it.  I decided, “I’m not Inna.  I’m not able to make my arms look exactly like hers.  Mine look pretty good the way I’m doing it so I’m just going to go with that…fully commit to how I, Stefanie, am interpreting the steps, and let it be enough.”

I didn’t realize it in the class but as I reflected upon the experience later that night, I realized that I had actually stood in my own space as a dancer/artist.  It kind of came up on me as a surprise.  I mean, I’ve been trained from the get-go to always look to my teachers for guidance and feedback.  I’m conditioned to look outside of myself to see how I am doing.

For whatever reason this time I looked inward and found my own answer.

The other interesting thing that happened during the lesson was that Inna had me and Rose go across the floor alone doing the combination.

At first Inna just told Rose to do it but then she added my name and Rose was so happy she didn’t have to do it by herself.  She also asked Inna to go in front of us.  Neither of us was feeling particularly confident about knowing the combination.

My trepidation was well founded.  I screwed up multiple times but I just laughed every time I messed up!  I then recommitted to the next step, doing it the best I could.

When we reached the other side of the ballroom floor Rose was smiling widely.  She told me that I had been cracking her up and that even Inna had been smiling as we made our way across the studio because she could hear me giggling the entire way.

Later she told me, “You are an awesome dancer!”  Now coming from Rose, that means a lot.  You should she how this sassy gal moves her hips!  Actually, you can, because I’ve put links to her dancing on the Dancing With Stefanie Facebook Page.

Then later, either she or someone else in the class said, “You pick things up so quickly!”  I attribute this to all my dancing with Glenda Folk.  We were expected to pick things up rather quickly and I always thought I was pretty average to slow at it.  I’d see how quickly professionals are expected to remember a routine, like the pace on SYTYCD or as a kid watching the movie A Chorus Line, and I’d be flabbergasted, thinking I could never pick things up that quickly.

Then, as we were doing our usual Cha Cha combination across the floor, I got another unexpected, unsolicited comment.  One of the males in the class told me “I love the way you move!”

Now, why am I telling you all this?  I mean, why all the “bragging on myself?”  I guess it just is so interesting to me how I perceive myself versus how others perceive me.

Of course hearing things like this feels good.  It strokes the ego.  But it is a slippery slope, as they say.  It’s like walking along the razor edge of a sword….one step to the left or right and you are off the path, and ouch!  How to hold both realities that I am amazing, great, fantabulous, and also have SO much work to do, nowhere near perfection, and still making a ton of amateur mistakes.

You know what?  I am both.  I absolutely am.  I have these momentary lapses of amazing greatness, and also a lot of screw ups, many times on the very same lesson.  And guess what…that’s okay.  I’m human, after all, right?  Oh yeah…aren’t I a spiritual being having a human experience rather than the other way around?  Who knows.  It sure as hell isn’t me!  lol.

So here’s to the flawed, imperfect, messed up part of me and also to the amazing, flawless, perfect part of me.  Both exist in my world.  Both will probably come out to play tomorrow for the showcase.

And, because of that, it is gonna be awesome.

-Stef

I Didn’t Know Hair-Pulling Was Part Of The Deal

So yesterday when I showed up for my lesson I started trying to do Spiral turns. I need to figure out how to do them properly and on balance because there are about 3 of them in my Rumba routine. I barely seem to be able to hold on to them most times, and other times I have to step out of the position so I don’t fall.

It’s weird, because in American Rumba we do Rumba Walks and end the move with a Spiral and I have gotten that one down. It is usually very smooth and easy. But without just that little bit of help from Ivan’s hand, I seem to lose my center on the ones in the showcase routine.

One of my biggest problems, I think, is forgetting to settle. This is where the old ballet training and muscle memory bite me in the ass. It is so ingrained in me to try and hold my hips square and not to let them drop that I’m always trying to hold positions that are very difficult to hold and stay on balance in. The trick is that they are beautiful lines and I should hit them first, but then immediately begin to settle on to the standing leg. I try to hold them too long and get stuck.

The other biggest problem is that I don’t completely commit to one leg or the other before moving. I try to get to where I’m going without completing each step in between. This sometimes means my body weight is distributed between both legs making it impossible for either one to move. Once again, movements become slurred, late, sloppy.

The final biggest problem is that I don’t use my supporting leg to propel me onto the standing leg. I try to power myself using only one limb instead of both, leaving the leg I just moved from relaxed and useless. Especially on the Spiral turn, I need to use my supporting leg like the kick-stand of a bike and continue to place pressure on it to help myself turn.

So I have these three issues to contend with and then on the Sprial turns I also end up leaning one way or the other, forwards or backwards or to the side. I’m not keeping my spine straight and collapse my upper body or have my weight on my heels instead of the balls of my feet.

There is a fix for this and Ivan has it. It’s called pulling my hair.

So I’m practicing the Spiral turns and falling over and Ivan comes up and pulls my hair upwards by the roots in an attempt to get me to straighten my spine and stand tall. It didn’t hurt at all. I don’t know how he did that but it was painless. And, I got the point. But I just didn’t know that signing up for ballroom lessons might entail my instructor pulling on my burnette locks.

We worked on getting the Sprial turn into my muscle memory so I’ll be able to do it comfortably at the showcase and I do believe it is getting better. Then we worked on the open hip twist step again, me counting all my steps, reviewed the proper way to do a crossover, and the importance of counting my entire routine in every dance.

Actually, I’m very inspired by Ghada, also know as “Legs.” She started her own blog (theycallmelegsdotcom@wordpress.com) about her personal ballroom journey and loaded a video of her practicing at her gym. She does everything by herself, including a ronde’ kick and a slow leg extension, which takes an incredible amount of control and strength. I should be doing this too.

Really, I should. Because when it comes down to it, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I need to be dancing my own body. I need to not be relying on Ivan. I should be able to do all my routines by myself as if I were dancing with someone. Then when that someone steps into the picture, it will be easier. We will be two pieces completely self-contained, yet completely connected, moving in unison yet independently.

Even though I think I know what I’m doing, I don’t always know what I’m doing on what count. It’s this weird paradox though. I’m supposed to dance the music but I also have to be on the right count.

Let me explain.

Ivan wanted to practice our showcase Rumba once before we ended the lesson. As usual, he had me dance my solo part in the beginning. I did it, and since I’ve repeated it enough times, I don’t count every beat but rather feel the movement, listen to the music, and create the drama of the story being danced. Ivan complimented me on this part of the dance saying that it was so “easy to watch.” And that he wants me to dance the entire 4 minutes the same way.

Only one problem… I’m not counting. I’m just dancing. So it’s like, dance the emotional story but don’t also forget to count. My brain is a little bit fried just thinking about that!

In any case, my dancer is coming out and Ivan sees it. He told me that it is a piece that many ballroom dancers and competitors are missing and it’s great that I have it.

It was kind of like that song from “A Chorus Line,” called, “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” You know the one I’m talking about, right? The one where one of the auditioning dancers explains how she never used to get jobs and so after one audition she stole her feedback card and saw that they had marked her a ten for dance ability, but a three for looks. Now her solution was to get a boob job. Voila! She began to get jobs left and right.

But for me, it was like “Fat one, good things five.” You see, after Ivan told me that I was doing well with the emoting/storytelling part of dancing he told me, “Stefanie how many times you gotta tell me you fat. Yes, I know this. Okay, so you fat. But it like one thing. You have like five other things that is good. The drama, the balance, the rhythm, da da da da da. The fat only the one thing.”

I have a few thoughts about this. One, it was really hard to stand next to Marietta on Monday this week because my body contrasted so greatly with hers. Two, I can focus on the one thing (the fat) or I can focus on all the other wonderful things I bring to my dancing. I know which one makes me feel better about myself. Three, I’m working on changing the fat picture. I’m on the right track for this so if nothing else it’s going to improve. Four, I’m really stuck on the fact that I’m fat. Good thing Ivan isn’t as fixated on it as I am.

In any case, we finished our lesson and Marietta walked in the door. They were going to practice for the Vegas Open where they will be competing tomorrow. And guess what? Me, and Ivonne, and most likely Katie, are all going to drive out to cheer them on! It is going to be so much fun, I can hardly wait. You better believe I’ll have some photos and video and writing to share about that little adventure.

But my dancing wasn’t done yet! Toni now does group classes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Imperial Ballroom Dance Center over closer to my area. I drove there and had a semi-private lesson. It was just me, and Chuck, and Toni. We worked on American Rhythm Rumba and I got to practice my Rumba Walks, following, Spiral turns, Spot turns, balance, and timing. It was really fun. And Chuck was enamored with Toni. She really is a fantastic teacher and over the course of the lesson we were able to improve the step she was teaching us considerably. He told her, “You do that so great, I don’t want anyone else to ever teach me how to do anything ever again!” It was adorable, and I was there to be a witness….he really did say it just like that!

It wasn’t a very sweaty day and I didn’t do much cardio, but after the past few weeks of stress, it was just what I needed to get the share the joy of dancing with other people who love it as well.

Ballroom dancing has brought much adventure, joy, friendship, and opportuinties to evolve into my life. I just didn’t know hair-pulling was part of the deal. But even if it is, I’ll gladly accept the price. It’s worth it!

It Must Be The Skirt

Today was a stellar dancing day. I mean, stellar. Not only did Ivan like my dancing, but Inna did too. If they are saying I’m doing a good job, then I’m doing a good job.

I’ve decided it must be my new practice skirt. It’s magic. Kind of like the red shoes. Just kidding, but it is still fun to wear because of the movement it generates.

Marietta and Nona made it for me for the showcase but it is also intended as practice-wear. On Monday I went to the ladies’ styling class with Marietta at Dance Starz and she had it ready for me.

I have to say, it’s been quite a week. On Monday at Marietta’s class, I was having a lot of “mental problems.” They were overwhelming. Marietta is gorgeous. Absolutely, amazingly, gorgeous. Her body is perfect, from my point of view. It’s not that all different types of bodies can’t be beautiful, but she has this long, lean, yet voluptuous look. She’s so feminine, and moves so incredibly well, it’s sometimes difficult for me to stand next to her.

It’s nothing she’s doing. It’s all in my head. I totally own that. But it’s stuff I’ve been dealing with since I became aware as a kid that my body wasn’t like other girls’ bodies….that I was bigger. It’s the comparison game, and I’m always a loser. I can’t even imagine having a body like Marietta’s in my wildest dreams. But I wish I could…so incredibly badly. It is entwined with my desire to be a woman, a desirable, captivating, beautiful woman. I just don’t feel like I stack up. Ironic I chose a passion in which most of the top competitors have amazing bodies.

I kind of had a realization about this, though. I’ve been so emotional lately – there’s been some dramatic stress at work and I’m not using food as a crutch to numb myself like I used to – and it’s been hard to weather. Luckily I have dancing and friends, both of which help me stay afloat and refocus. Anyways, I realized that life can really suck whether I’m on the right path or not. What I mean by this, is that difficult emotions arise whether I am eating on a plan and doing what I need to do to lose weight or not. I can totally binge on food or drink a bottle of wine or I can stay on the compassionate self-discipline path and either way, life can really be hard, so I might as well stay on the route that leads me where I want to go.

But that was yesterday. Today I began my day with an early double lesson with Ivan. He’s planning on leaving tomorrow evening (Wednesday) so he can practice with Marietta (I discovered that I’ve been misspelling her name all this time! Ugh! It actually has two “t’s”) before they compete at the Vegas Open this Friday night. She’s going there early to do hair and make-up. I think it’s a great idea, and it shows that they want to get back to the top of their game after a lot of time off because of the wedding. So, it’s a good thing, but a bummer for me and all Ivan’s other students because we can’t have lessons until next week!

Actually, I’m pretty excited because Ivonne and I are going to make a road trip to Vegas on Friday to go watch the Dishliev’s. Katie may join us as well, which would be doubly fun. It will be Ivonne’s first time to see a “bigger” competition. The one she did in Tucson was pretty small. And, it’s her birthday. I can’t think of a better, more exciting way to spend it. The energy of the ballroom during the professional events is truly indescribable.

Also, Marietta and Ivan apparently know of a Bulgarian restaurant that they absolutely love near the hotel in Vegas. We’re planning to go there after the competition and enjoy a big meal.

Well, anyways, getting back to my narrative, since Ivan will be out of town, I elected to have a double lesson this morning even though I also have class with Inna tonight as well.

Ivan and I worked on fundamentals which was excellent. We reviewed the open hip twist step in Cha Cha and he also showed me another variation of the step. Cross-overs continue to be a challenge, but I’m starting to understand the proper movement and timing required. I’m just glad to be getting it right so that I can practice the new way and integrate it into my muscle memory.

We also worked on Swing and did a Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz. I’ve concluded that I need to work on my quadricep strength so that I can actually curtsey. Watching playback of some of my presentations during competitions, they are pretty weak. I also see how low the professionals go, and even if I can’t do that just yet, and heft myself back up, I can go deeper and work up to it.

Finally, we got to the showcase Rumba. Ivan had me do the opening sequence in which I dance by myself. It was actually really cool. I got to the place where he’s supposed to dance with me and he was still hanging out by the music controls. He said that it was good, that he enjoyed watching it. That for the first time he felt relaxed watching me, he could sense I was secure in my movement. He said that he could easily watch me dance for four minutes if I continued to dance like that.

Then he said, “You gotta dance this all by yourself. Not for the showcase on the 16th, but later. You show your balance, and your movement. You dance like you are dancing with someone but all by yourself. This is highest level. It’d be so nice you to doing it.”

Then he gave me a correction in one place (I mean, he is still my dance teacher), but then said, “Do it again because I like it.”

Go me! That is some awesome feedback, if you ask me. It didn’t really give me like a super-ego charge or anything, like it might have in the past. It would have been a “peak experience,” a “high,” to hear that. But this time around, I experienced it in a more balanced, centered way. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it was wonderful, but not like a double shot of espresso for my ego.

It just feels like, especially after Inna’s feedback today, that I’m growing, changing, and shifting closer to the excellent dancer I know I can be and that I’m therefore showing up differently enough that those who see me regularly notice a difference. I feel acknowledged. The dancer in me feels acknowledged.

So, about Inna’s class. As usual, it was a butt-kicker. I’m kind of getting to know Inna’s little peculiarities. She always does this thing. She’ll have us stand in a position, either starting position, or she’ll yell out, “Stop!” in the middle of a routine and have us hold that position. Then she’ll walk around and correct positioning having us all stand still. My God sometimes I want to kill myself! Tonight, for instance, my arm was actually shaking at the shoulder. So she has us hold these positions and then when she’s done making corrections, she says, “And now hold that position for the next 45 minutes.” She’s only half-joking. We really are supposed to hold these positions while dancing over the next 45 minutes of class.

Well, anyways, we did Rumba and Cha Cha. She had us do a Rumba box with arms (which killed my arms) and then she had us do Rumba walks. Going forward wasn’t so bad, but then she got it in her mind to have us do backward Rumba walks. Now, I’ve never done them before. She demonstrated the technique and we went across the floor backwards about 6 times. That was an interesting experience, for sure! But once again, its something I don’t think I’d learn anywhere else. These classes are just so valuable to me and I appreciate them very much.

Finally, we did a Cha Cha combination: two basics, cuban breaks, time step, then locks on both sides. It was exhausting! We worked on making our arms sharp. By this time, my left arm didn’t even want to work! The muscle was just so fatigued I could barely swing it into position, much less stick it there with force, precision, pizzaz. Whatever, I rocked it once or twice, then had floppy arms, then rested, then gave it my all once again.

Inna ended class on time tonight, probably because she had a lesson directly afterwards (thank you Jesus!) so we curtsied and exited the floor. As I was packing up my stuff I just told Inna,

“Inna, thanks for another butt-kicking class! I just appreciate them so much.”

She replied, “You did well tonight! Very good! You’re getting better and better every time.”

Well goodness me! That was an amazing thing to hear.

“Thanks, Inna! And you saw me when I first walked into Jeff’s.”

“Yes, I see it.”

Back then I was carrying around 40-plus more pounds on my body and hadn’t been dancing in over two years. I’d only danced ballroom for maybe 6 months total. It’s kind of cool that she can see my progress. Scratch that, it is very cool.

She’s a top competitor and I respect both her and Ivan as professional dancers who know their stuff. To get a double dose of recognition from them today, well, it really was quite wonderful.

I know that earlier I joked that all this must be because of the new practice skirt I got to wear today. But the truth is, this is the result of dedicated practice, sweat, lessons, and sticking with it. It is about showing up and doing the best I can in the moment. Sometimes, admittedly, it turns out better than others. Today, I guess, was one of the days where it worked out for me…twice! Yippie!

Well, I guess that’s all the news for me in my life, but I see that the new cast of DWTS has been announced. My mother-in-law and I are addicted to watching that show and I usually go to her house to watch it. They have a movie theater in their home with reclining chairs…it’s a little piece of heaven. So I go and then I tell her everything I think, and trust me, I have a lot to say!

The next season premiere is less than a month away, March 19th, and you better believe I’ll be watching.

Alright, kids, it’s time for me to sign off. I’m tired, it’s bedtime, and I’ve written upwards of 1800 words tonight! It’s been a long one.

I promise my next post will be less verbose and include more video. Funny video. In fact, I can hardly wait to share it with you – it’s Ivan at his finest and most hilarious.

Until then…now, to bed!

Eat Me

Man.  It has been quite a week for me.  I’m spent.  Drama at work.  Stress.  Ugh.

I even called Ivan to have an “emergency” dance lesson on Wednesday night.  I just needed to blow off some serious steam.

I showed up in my scrubs from work because I hadn’t been planning to come in for a lesson that evening.  I was stinky from the long day and not  feeling particularly pretty.  But a funny thing happened.  We worked on Rumba (of course) and because (I think) I was so emotionally spent, tired, and feeling beaten down, there was no wall like I usually have.  I was raw, open, authentic.

We did a fan and Ivan told me to grab my butt and I was like, okay, fine.  I totally did it.  I totally just danced the step and used my arm to muss my hair, and really let go.  That was the secret.  I let go.

Ivan was like, “Wow!  What happened?  This is your sexiest day.  You never do this before and now, today, bam!”

Seriously?!  This is what it takes to let the sexy out?  I felt like crap and yet according to Ivan, it was my sexiest day ever.

Hmmm.

Don’t really know how to respond to that except for the fact that I discovered that I am more and more often letting go, relaxing enough to express myself, even if it is small chunks, and little by little, I am becoming “that Latin girl.”  There really is something to letting go….like remembering what it was like when I was a kid and had no social filters.  You know, the ones that say, “Don’t look stupid.  Don’t draw attention to yourself.  Don’t be stuck up.  Don’t be this.  Don’t be that.”  And when I listen to them, I end up doing nothing.  The steps are empty.  That isn’t why people love to watch dancing.  They love to watch the abandon, the freedom, the thrilling emotions as expressed by the dancers.

Ah, abandon.  That’s a challenge for me.  It surely is.  But not so much for Ivan.  He’s a pro at it.  Good thing he is my teacher.

So anyways, even after the emergency dance lesson I was still not feeling quite right.  I decided that I could get out of my “stuff” by focusing on doing something for someone else so I drove to Michael’s and bought the materials I needed complete the mirror project I mentioned in a previous post The Mirror of Relationship.  I knew it would be a special thing to do and would give me great joy.  I made a mirror for Ivan that says “I am a champion!  Yes I am!” in Bulgarian.  You can see the photo here.

Anyways, yesterday I gave him the mirror and read him a card and I think he was genuinely touched.

“Nobody do this for me, Estefanie.”

He almost, but not quite, teared up.  I’m sure of it!  Ha ha.

Anyways, I might have created a monster!  Right after this he started strutting around as if he were the lone rooster in a hen house.  He was sporting a big smile and started joking with me.

“You better get a lot of lessons in now before I champion!”

“Yeah, Ivan, you’re right.”

“Ya, I cheap right now.  So dance with me now.  Touch it now.  ‘Cause later it’s gonna be expensive.”

“Gosh!  I better get in as many as I can because I’m already stretched to afford lessons.  They’re worth every penny, but I’d love to be able to do more.”

“No, no.  I not gonna raise my prices, but many people do.  Once I met a lady at a competition who used to dance with Tony Dovolani.  She was say, ‘To think, I used to miss lessons, or skip them, and now he’s a champion!  I feel sick to my stomach about it.  Then he was $60.  Now he’s $190 and I can’t dance with him.'”

“Well, Ivan, when you do become champion, you should raise your prices….just not for your old students, like me!”

“Just think, Estefanie.  Maybe one day you dance with a champion!”

“I do every day already, Ivan.”

I really feel this way.  I see the champion in Ivan.  He was already a champion in Bulgaria so sometimes I think he thinks his career has already peaked.  But I disagree and believe in him and Marieta and think it is entirely possible that the best is yet to come.

In any case, this got us both to thinking….what if, just what if, Ivan ended up being one of pros on DWTS.  That would be HILARIOUS!  He is so freakin’ entertaining on all our lessons.  I’ll provide yet another example later in this blog post – but seriously, he would be fantastic.

The only thing would be that he’d have to be matched with someone he didn’t hate.  He recently fired a student because he felt about her what cats feel about being doused in a tub of water.  I could totally see him walking off the show if he ended up with some horrible human being.

But, as long as he was with a reasonable student, wow, America watch out.  It’d be a whole new level of entertainment.

So, I’d really better get as many lessons in right now as I can!  Ha ha!

After all the banter we finally settled into actually dancing.  We ran cha cha and bolero and rumba and samba.  Then we focused on the Latin Rumba because there is still a lot of work to do on dancing that well.  I realized that I was not settling on my standing leg with my hip and this is why I was always falling off balance.  My body’s still trying to dance like a ballerina even though my head is trying to get me to be a Latin dancer.

Next we worked on steps that set up the fan.  During the first part I’m supposed to be feminine, Ivan explained, then in the second part when I come toward him, I’m supposed to be more aggressive.

“Eat me,” he tells me.

Of course, I burst out laughing.  It’s a little lost in translation.  He doesn’t mean like eat me, he means like literally, “eat me like a tiger would eat a person using that aggressive, intense type of attacking energy.”  I may not speak Bulgarian, but I speak Ivan.  There is always a touch of translation that has to be done but usually the gaffes are adorable and always they are meant well.

He continues, “You gotta be hungry.”

Okay, I think.  I get the point.

We do the steps and I come at him like a tiger!  Rarrrrr!

“You not hungry.  You not hungry tiger.”

Fail!

We try again and each time I raise my intensity.  Finally we hit one Ivan likes.  Then he tells me to do it one more time so he can look in the mirror and watch it.

“Wow.” He says, “I think it maybe look good, but it look really good.”

Yep, the sexiest day ever continues.

Ivan's New Business Card. C'mon now! If this man asked you to be a hungry tiger toward him, what would you do?

As I reflect upon the past few days, they were difficult for me.  But I realize that I handled it better than I ever did in the past.  And also, even with all the stress of this past week, I knew I had something to look forward to.  Dancing is a non-negotiable in my life right now, even if I have to stretch financially to make it happen.  I’ve given it up before and when I do that, I slowly die.  As I continue to dance, I continue to come more and more to life.  I think that is one of the things Ivan really embodies – being alive, like vibrantly alive.  His aliveness calls out to the small alive plant taking root in my soul and little by little I awaken from my numb slumber.

Oh, that brings up another point.  I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I’m down another 4.4 pounds from my last weigh in on February 10th.  So, I’m shedding the weight, coming more alive, feeling more emotions (the entire spectrum – including the not-so-fun ones), and I’m doing it by dancing.

I’ll admit, I was beginning to despair a little bit about my chances of transforming myself by July of this year.  But if I just keep doing what I’m doing, even with the detours and screw-ups, if I keep just logging my calories, dancing, and wearing my Fitbit, no matter what, I’ll be different in 5 months.  I may not be where I want to ultimately get to, but I do want to show up regardless.  I may even have friends who will come to see me dance at the Desert Classic.  I can’t let them down.  But more importantly, I can’t let me down.  I can’t let go of this dream of finally being happy with my body, and give up, even if my progress hasn’t been as swift as I’d like.

Part of me wanted to back out of this dance competition because I’m not near as far along as I wanted to be.  I’ve been treading water, I feel like, for months.  But how could I do that, really?  I’ve got to stay committed – in fact re-commit, and choose back in with all I’ve got.  Which makes me think it’s time to purchase the plane tickets for July for two reasons:  1) it will make it a reality that I’m going to this venue and 2) the tickets will be cheaper so far in advance.  I just have to remember to tell Ivan the next time I see him.  I’m serious about doing this, I just need to make sure I know it!

Inna’s Gift

So last night I went to Inna’s butt-kicking International Latin class over at Imperial Studio.

It began a usual with a Rumba exercise, which, I’m proud to report, I was able to make it through. Finally, finally, I feel like my body is responding to the demands I’m placing on it. Now, I’m still pushing my body to it’s limit, it feels like, but I was able to complete the exercise and didn’t have to stop, or drop my arms. I didn’t have to “cheat” or halt to rest. This is progress! Progress, not perfection, has to be my motto as I’m doing this process right now. The moment I get caught up in all I still can’t do is the moment my internal devil begins spewing all sorts of unhelpful and demoralizing drivel. I’ve got to keep my eye on the prize…not on the roadbumps.

Now, I did have to bow out of an exercise at the end of the class, being doubled over for breath, but this is par for the course. One day I WILL make it through this class. One day my body WILL have adapted to it enough and will be physically capable of doing it. Yesterday wasn’t that day, but it’s gonna come.

But then Inna threw us a curveball. She seemed to be in a good mood. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that she and Artem placed 1st in the Professional Rising Star International Ballroom division at the UK Open last week, and also made it to the quarterfinals in the Professional division as well. They were competing against top, world-ranked International couples and held their own. They’ve worked really hard to get where they are and I wish them only the very best. I feel privileged to be able to learn from teachers with such expertise in their field. And although Inna is currently competing in International Standard, she is a master teacher and also a master dancer herself, Latin style included.

I wrote about her in my Tumblr post today in response to a 30 day challenge question which was, “Describe a dancer you admire.” I think this describes Inna, from my perspective, pretty well:

She is strong and powerful. She is tiny but can take up all the space in a gigantic ballroom. She has exceptional technique and bleach-blond hair. She commands attention, and can control her body so precisely, that all she needs to do is shrug a shoulder and everyone stops to watch. She is a master teacher and a master dancer, expressive from the tips of her French nails, to the point of her toes, down through the earth. This is an actual person, not some idealized made up person in my mind, who, as one commentator put it, is “something else.” http://dancingwithstefanie.tumblr.com/post/16453769849/day-19-describe-a-dancer-you-admire

You can see the dance that prompted a commentator to say she is “something else,” here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D2lazAEiao

Well, in my experience she sure is.

So miss Inna decided to change the rules of the game on us in class last night. Basically, she told us that we all knew at this point how to do the basic steps she was asking for. Now mind you there were only 6 of us and all were girls and this created an opportunity. She told us that we all knew how to move our arms in the prescribed motion and where to step which way when. But it was boring to watch! She challenged us to make it interesting, to stand out from the crowd by doing something different, something “out of the box,” as she put it. Apparently her coach in the Ukraine asked her class to do the same thing one time too. And everyone had a choice: do it, make it work or say, “but I don’t know how.” But I think in the Ukraine if you are told to do something, you just do it. There is no tired, or hurting, or can’t breathe. These options don’t exist.

It’s a little different here in America, that’s for sure. But I think all students still ultimately want to do well and please their teacher. We’d prefer to rise to the occasion. But when Inna asked us all to just creatively make up some arm movements, it felt like the entire room balked. What were we supposed to do? At least in my experience in ballroom, everything about what you are supposed to do is told to you. Only the professionals do more creative movement in open routines. A student does mostly performs lead and follow dancing or has a prescribed routine in which every detail of movement is already predetermined. Also, I’ve put in lots of hours trying to get my arms to do the right basic movement when doing say, an under arm turn, but not a lot of hours creating different arm movements.

I mean, it makes sense, right. Part of being a competitor in ballroom is to draw the attention of the judges and gain audience support. You can’t do that if you blend into the background or look just like everyone else. The idea is to emphasize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. But I don’t think a lot of time is spent on developing this skill at the outset of ballroom lessons. It is something only explored once the student is a little more advanced.

I have to give Ivan some props here. If he hadn’t been working with me on doing different things with my body and arms, I’d have been at a complete loss as to what to do when asked by Inna. Once he made me just move to music and he walked around me over and over in a circle. I noticed myself constantly looking to him for a response, for approval, but what I needed to do was hold my space, claim my center, make him a moon to my planetary body.

Listen, it’s easier to do when you’re alone and no one is watching, even someone like Ivan who I trust and respect. It’s just so revealing, so vulnerable. What if I look stupid? What if I fall?

Well, the amazing thing about last night, was that I experienced this but I felt like a lot of the other girls in the class did as well. Look, they are all very very good dancers. Many have been dancing for years and have some Pro/Am titles under their belt. They all have better bodies than I do, for sure, by far. I’m so hung up with my body image that I think that I’d be more confident if I was in a body like any of the other five girls in that class last night. Like, if I had one of their bodies, I’d be super-confident and comfortable in my own skin. But these buff, fit, lean, girls, with beautiful legs, and hips, and arms, well, it seemed like they were feeling the same way I was feeling (insecure) in my 262 pound body. Oh, by the way, I’m finally down a few pounds again. I have a goal to be below 260 by Sunday. The next goal will be for getting under 250 pounds, but I digress. I’m just glad I’m back on the right track even after that detour a week ago.

Now, let me be personally responsible here and be sure to clarify that I have no idea what those other girls were thinking, nor is it really any of my business. I could totally be projecting my “stuff” onto them, and they could totally have been feeling confident. But I have to say that it really seemed like they were experiencing some of the same internal struggles to bust out of their comfort zones and be confident just like I was experiencing, regardless of the disparity between our respective body sizes. I’m not the only one to struggle with this. And this includes even girls who outwardly appear immaculate to me.

In any case, we did the exercise again, each playing with arms but dear Inna wasn’t satisfied. She upped the ante once more.

Now let me take a moment to express my appreciation for Inna doing this. I am very thankful that she is putting forth the effort to challenge us students. I feel like she really does want to pull the best out of each of us, and encourage us to become unique dancers, showcasing our individual strengths. That right there in my humble opinion is some quality instruction and it will contribute to the creation of some exemplary student dancers. This calling forth of the dancer and person within, something deeper than just teaching steps, is so special. I can imagine that teaching a syllabus of steps might be easier to do, but this level of engagement that Inna’s bringing to the table, well, I just feel so privileged to benefit from it.

She also told us that the studio is the place to practice. That we aren’t being judged here. We weren’t at competition. Basically she was making it okay for us to experiment, even if we looked silly or messed up in the process. As she described, it was no longer about just the steps. It was about being creative, expressing ourselves, becoming something greater.

So Inna gave each and every one of us girls a different body part to emphasize. I got hips. (Whew! I thought! Probably the part I’m most comfortable with at this point). The girl next to me, who is probably the best dancer of the bunch got assigned shoulders. (What the heck should a person do to emphasize their shoulders? I had no idea and breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me that had to do that!) Another girl got legs, which was appropriate because her legs and feet are gorgeous. Absolutely one of her strong points. Another gal got arms. And finally the last girl got head. (Really? Head? WTH would I do if I had to do head?)

We were given a few moments to prepare and then it was go time. We all had to perform one by one in front of the group. The gal who got arms blew me away. Her opening movement was so strong, so expressive, so engrossing. It was fabulous.

But wait, there’s more! Next Inna told us to pick a body part to emphasize then the rest of the group would have to guess which part we were emphasizing. Again we were given more time and then one by one faced the music. I picked legs because I think they are one of my better features, at least my footwork is pretty good.

It was really an amazing opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and consider some new ways to approach my dancing. I’d never considered emphasizing my head or shoulders, ever. Now at least it is on my radar. Also, I can begin to play and practice with doing some movement, maybe before I start dancing, that will immediately set me apart from other competitors in the ballroom. A lesson like this is priceless. Actually, it was an opportunity for transformation, and this I know: that the seed of the ideas planted in my psyche today will bear fruit far beyond this one lesson. That is a lesson from a master teacher. That was Inna’s gift to me and to the people who showed up to class last night.

I’m grateful.

20120126-073033.jpg

A Grain Of Rice Among Sand

I get to dance the Latin Rumba.

I get to dance the Latin Rumba!

I get to dance the Latin Rumba with a treasured friend!

I get to dance the Latin Rumba with Ivan, and he’s a freakin’ nationally ranked professional dancer!

I love the Rumba. I just do. And I’m not just doing the basic steps. No. We are doing a routine. A routine that could be an open routine. We are doing tricks and things I never imagined possible, at least not in my current body. But I’m doing them right now, just the same.

But I have to say, the spins and drops are eye-catching and all, but it is the simple stuff, the basic stuff, that really lights my fire.

Some of my favorite moves are are when we get the connection just right doing a fan. Then, there is this other move we do where I spin and then put my knee up and hug onto Ivan. He told me today that it’s not a move that he’d think to do with just anyone. Because I am, he told me, not just his student, but a partner. It’s just dependant on how the student shows up. And I’m showing up as more than just a student.

I feel like I’ve graduated – passed some invisible line where things have changed. I’ve entered into a new realm where nothing will ever be the same. Just doing the steps isn’t enough. I am on my way to inhabiting the movement. I’m not doing it, I’m being it.

Amidst the innumerable moments of practice, and screwing up, and sweating, and laboring, there are also a few magical moments speckled in between, as a grain of rice nestled amidst all the sand on a beach.  Finding these rice grains, these moments of absolute perfection, is a little bit of a miracle.  It is like the sun aligns just right over my head for one instant, and then the crystallized moment dissolves, as salt into water.  One moment it was a fully formed entity, the next, it fades away into the void.  Like that part in Indiana Jones where he holds up the staff with the jewel in it, the sun is at the right place for a moment, and the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant is revealed.

In these moments, my link to God/The Source/The Universe/My Higher Self is revealed.

As I say, dance for me is a spiritual practice, a walking meditation.  I am revealing myself to myself.

There is no grasping or seeking for the grains of rice.  That is the magic of it.  There was a time when I’d have relentlessly pursued the perfection (like the Borg Queen from Start Trek).  The moments feel so good that would be easy to do.  But now, I simply appreciate them when they organically show up.

I remember the first time I felt this “flow.”  I was with my first dance teacher, Matt.  After hours and hours of practicing the same movements over and over we did it again (something in the Foxtrot, I think) and it was as if I wasn’t in my body “doing” the movement.  I was expanded beyond the boundaries of my flesh, still connected to it yet more than just the body or the brain.  I was whole and complete.  For one microsecond, the world stood still.  Then, as quickly as a soap bubble pops, it was gone.

But I am not sad that the moment is gone.  I am grateful I got to experience it.  I am grateful that the possibility exists to experience more of them, even if they are as rare as grain of rice upon the sand.

You Want To Meet at WHAT time???!!!

At the end of my lesson on Thursday, Ivan told me that he was going skiing this weekend in Payson to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

“Have fun and be safe,” I said.  “I will probably see you next Tuesday, then.”

For some reason, maybe because it would be 4 days without practice, Ivan said, “Come for a lesson tomorrow.  I give you buy one get one free.”

I couldn’t turn that down so I said “Well, Ivan, I work until 5pm so it’d have to be like 6pm.”

“Let me check my schedule.”

And we agreed he would call me to confirm the time for this extra lesson.

About 3 minutes later, I got a call.

“Stefanie, I forget I am leaving at 5pm tomorrow to leave for Payson.  What time you have to be at work?”

Was he really this committed to getting an extra lesson in that he was suggesting we dance before I went to work for the day?

“I have to be there at 9am but it is like 40 minutes away from the studio so we’d need to be done around 8am.  We’d have to meet at like 6:30am to get a double lesson in and be done in time.”

“Oh my God!  6:30am?  Let’s try it.  I never had a lesson so early!  But we do it.  Okay?”

I agreed.  But warned Ivan, as my husband can attest, that I am NOT a morning person.  I was gonna have to be up by 5am to get ready and make it to the studio on time.  It is about 45 minutes away from my home.

It was dark and cold when I arrived at the studio, but there is something magical about starting the day in darkness and watching the world warm as the orange sun rises in the horizon.

Sunrise in Aachen, Germany by Lusitana

Ivan told me that everyone was asleep in his house, even the dogs, but that his father-in-law woke up and asked him what he was doing.

“Teaching a dance lesson,” he explained.

“What?  At this hour?  Who is so crazy to have a lesson so early?”

Um, that would be me.

We began with stretches and a Bolero to warm up.  We then proceeded to mark the Rumba routine, which Ivan has changed once again.  After about an hour working on the showcase piece, we just start dancing, going through Samba, Swing, Cha Cha, and Mambo.  I’ve worked up a sweat and my body was warm and buzzing and it wasn’t even 8am yet.

Maybe Ivan is crazy and maybe I’m crazy too.  So far this man has had me do all sorts of tricks that I’d never imagined I’d do, meets with me regularly at a location that takes me 45 minutes to get to, and now has me coming in for lessons at ungodly hours of the day.  But I saw it as an opportunity.  I could have said no, thanks Ivan, but I’d rather get an extra hour and half of sleep and stay in my warm, comfy bed, plus I’m not a morning person.  But really, now, even though it was a little bit uncomfortable, which experience will I ultimately treasure more?  Sleeping or dancing?  The answer is clear for me.

So, what else am I saying “yes” to in my life?  What am I saying “no” to?  What am I missing out on because of those choices?

“Yes” to sleeping in means “no” to time to meditate or do some physical activity in the morning before going into work.  “Yes” to wine with dinner means “yes” to extra calories, sleep disturbances, and not being my best the next morning –  but it  feels really good in the moment.  I mean, every moment is a choice, and every choice has prices and benefits.  What benefits am I garnering by my choices and what prices am I really paying?

I’m glad that in this instance I chose to say “yes” to an extra dance class.  Though I had to pay a price of being a little bit sleep-deprived, in this case I think it was worth it.

But I have to be honest here.  I don’t always choose in ways that ultimately support me in achieving the things I say I want.  Isn’t it a strange aspect of the human condition that we can be moving toward something and fighting against ourselves at the same time?  I have been doing it for years and years with my weight and my body.  Sadly, I think the price hasn’t been high enough yet for me to commit to changing, no matter what.  I haven’t committed.

I’d love to be able to write here that I’ve chosen to commit, but based on results, often harsh but always fair, I really haven’t.  I’m telling myself I’m committed to the picture in my head of what I will look like at the Desert Classic, but I’m not always taking the actions to support that.  I’ve plateaued with the weight loss this past week because I went off plan.  I’ve been saying yes to comfort and no to my goal.  I got knocked a little off path emotionally when I released the tutoring and went to my habitual way of coping, which isn’t coping, it is eating.  I will say it was less severe than other times in the past but it has still set me back.  Why do I keep doing this to myself?  I’ll do well for a while and then relax.  I’ll be feeling good, have some positive momentum behind me, and then I self-sabotage.

I’m in this pre-contemplative state.  I have access to that Insanity work out program that I could do at home, and I have a dvd of the New York Ballet work out, as well as Hip Hop Abs.  I have a Kinnect on my Xbox 360 and Dance, Dance Revolution.  I could stretch.  I could practice doing a Rumba box in my kitchen.  I could say no to the lunch they are ordering at work because I brought my BistroMD meal.  I could be doing so much more.  And I don’t.

In moments when the pain of the burden of the flesh I’m carrying around is acute, I resolve to myself that I will change.  Like, when I was at Galaxy and I saw pictures of myself, or when I’m in Inna’s class, dying for breath, in those moments I realize I can’t continue to exist like this and that I must change.  But the feeling fades and so does the motivation.  I can’t seem to make it “stick.”

So, I’m gonna ask for some support here.  I am not good at this.  I can’t seem to resolve to just power through this journey like I did for the first few weeks.  I experienced some unsettling feelings in my life and I allowed it to become an excuse.  I’m up against the wall and I’m caving in.  I’ve done this same thing for years, now, basically just treading water but not making it anywhere.

Like in my mind I intellectually know exactly what I could do.  And I know that I need to do it no matter how I “feel” about it if I’m going to get where I want to go.  I need to be pushing my body regularly in new ways that stress it and make it adapt.  I need to be eating on my plan.  I need to be getting the proper amount of sleep and take a multi-vitamin.  So if I know all this, why am I still not doing it!?

I hate to be such a “Debbie Downer” and this is my reality right now.  I’d love to be all, rah, rah, sis-boom-ba! I’m gonna tackle the world and kick some ass!  But that would be lying.  I need some external motivation, I think – some tighter accountability and someone to push me even when the going gets tough.  I’m just being a whiny wimp right now, I know.  I’m sure I’ll shift out of it at some point.  But why do I even go here in the first place?

Well, this I know.  I have a dance lesson to go to most days this week.  I know I will show up for styling with Marieta on Monday, Inna’s class on Tuesday, Toni’s class on Wednesday, and Tina’s class plus a dance party on Thursday.   I know I will also schedule at least 2 lessons with Ivan.  I know I will show up for these things and will keep showing up.  I know that I will choose to get back on plan and I know that I will progress.  I just don’t know why I continue to take these detours along the way.

So, if anyone has some suggestions to help me out, please post a comment.  I am open to your feedback on how I can be more self-disciplined.  What has worked for you in the past?  What helped you to finally overcome something you came up against over and over?  What finally got you to make the changes you knew you needed to make and stick with them, no matter what?  What got you to commit?

I’ve hit a wall and I need some help to get over it.

AND

I have NO excuses.  Seriously.

This man, Nick Vujicic, is a Samurai.  Check out his video and you’ll see what I mean:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc4HGQHgeFE&feature=youtu.be

Ok, enough complaining, Stefanie.  It just relieves the pressure so I don’t have to do anything about my situation.  But the reality is, I need to be putting that energy I’m putting toward complaining toward my goal instead.  After all, the sun will rise on a different day tomorrow.  I can choose back in.  And so I will.

-Stef

Toni, You’re Awesome

I think that about 85% of life is just showing up.  What I mean by this is that when I choose to show up for various events in my life, I open myself to the possibilities of new and wonderful experiences.  Last night, I showed up for a group class.  I was the only one.  So, it ended up being a private lesson, but only because I showed up.

I decided to go to Imperial Studio last night because they are starting a new American Rhythm class and of all the studios I frequent, this one is the closest.  Also, I know the instructor, Toni, used to compete professionally so I think she has a lot of valuable knowledge that I could benefit from.  Here is a picture of the lovely Toni from the Imperial website:  http://www.imperialballroomdance.com/

So I arrive and the door is locked!  But the lights are on and in a second Toni pops up from behind the front desk and lets me in.  The studio is eerily quiet.  Usually when I come for Inna’s group class, it is very busy and full of people and music.  Toni puts the stereo on and we proceed.  She asks me if I have done American Rhythm, before (yes), who I dance with (Ivan Dishliev), and if I compete (yes).  Then she asks me to dance a little with her leading so she can check out what she’s working with.

Not bad, she says, but there is always something that can be worked on.  A person could stay in bronze for their entire life and still find fundamental technique to work on.  It is great, because she acknowledges that my footwork is there, so now its time to focus on the next layer of movement.  Another amazing thing about Toni is that she also has a background in ballet.  She really understands body mechanics and does a great job as the lesson progresses in explaining how to perform the movements to create the desired look.

We focus on the basic Rumba box.  We take each step of the box one by one and dissect it.  First we simply focus on the set up for the first step.  I’m to imagine that the floating wooden floor on which I’m standing is a sandbox.  I want to press down through the top layer into the bottom so that sand is covering my feet.  Next, Toni talks about twisting the hips opposite the shoulders so that I create a “bow and arrow” tension in my body.  This sets me up so I can spring forward from one step to the next.  Finally, she demonstrates that when stepping to the side, she allows the ankle to drop and puts weight on both the toe and the heel of her shoe.  I’ve been practicing doing it only on the ball of my foot.  I keep these new concepts in mind as we take the first step.

It quickly becomes apparent that one of my “bad habits” is to dump my hips.  I’ve never heard this terminology, but what it essentially means (I think) is that partly because my hips are so flexible and partly because I hear a constant refrain of “more hips!” from my instructors, I overshoot settling in my hip, creating a collapsing of the upper body which causes lack of balance, slower movement, getting stuck, and less aesthetically pleasing lines.  Most importantly, it causes my movements to be less grounded and less controlled.  Instead of working the hips so much side to side or up and down, I should be twisting them opposite of my upper body, wringing it around the spine as an axis like someone squeezing out a wet towel.  I get what she is saying and instantly my dancing transforms.  I love moments like this, where something suddenly becomes clear and the quality of my movement metamorphoses.

She also talks about using the back foot to help propel me forwards.  I’ve heard this one before but it is not a habit yet.  It adds a large amount of momentum to my movement so that I go off balance momentarily but it also makes the movement more grounded and clear.

Toni is bubbly and enthusiastic and we continue chatting through the lesson.  She has some interesting ways to help me remember a few pointers.  First, she shows me the “frowning bellybutton” move to help me to remember how to move my hips when transferring weight from my right foot to left foot on the side step of the Rumba box.  (By the way, there is also an X-rated name for this move, but you’ll have to take a lesson from Toni to find out what it is!)

She also talks about how to hold my midsection.  I’m to picture a fishhook going through my bellybutton and pulling it up to under my ribs.  This will help me to pull upwards and create space in the body for movement.

She explains that I should also use my “pee muscles” in the pelvis and abdomen since they are my core.  The movement should be generated from the core.  This is most dramatically exemplified when we work on a cross-over.  First she points out her pet peeve of people turning out the foot rather than keeping it parallel the step before the cross-over.  Paradoxically, already moving in the direction you will step next makes it more difficult to get there in the next step.  Then she explains that by simply generating movement from the knee and hip the swivel will be faster, more dynamic, and cleaner.  And it is.  It has never felt so easy before to do a crossover alone.  We high-five and decide to end the lesson on a high note.

Toni really knows how to create some beautiful and sexy movement in her midsection.  She tells me that watching me, the thing that catches her eye is my good footwork.  But after the lesson, I’m dancing more grounded into the floor, and generating more movement in the rest of my body rather than just my feet.  It is amazing that spending just 45 minutes with a person can transform my dancing and provide an entirely new perspective on how to do things.

At the end of the lesson, I thank Toni for her help and say I’m so glad she is now a part of the Imperial Studio.  “Thanks,” she says, “And tell everyone else how awesome I am.”

Okay.  So Toni, this blog post is dedicated to you.  You are awesome.  I’m glad I got to have a private lesson with you and found what you had to share very valuable.  And now everyone else knows it too!

Hot Like A Mocha

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Allegre Studio

Private Lesson With Ivan and bonus, Marieta comes too!

My coffee machine is messed up. My husband, bless his little heart, decalcified it as it had been begging us to do for a week, but when I made my cup of joe this morning to caffeinate myself for my 9am lesson, it was frothy, chunky, and oily.

“Oh, It’s fine.” He says.

“No, I’m not going to drink motor oil this morning. It looks disgusting. I’ve got to get going so I can pick up something at Starbucks.”

“You were right, Stef. Just dump it out and make another cup.”

“No, I gotta go.”

I get a text a few minutes later advising me to not drink any more coffee until the issue had been resolved. The second cup was just as toxic as the first it seems.

So I call Ivan, since I’m making a special stop, and ask if he wants a coffee, but I get his voicemail.

“Call me back immediately, Ivan, if you want coffee.”

A minute or two later the phone buzzes.

“What’s up, girl?”

I bust out laughing. I can’t do it justice, the way he said it. It was like a Russian Bugs Bunny or something. He emphasized the “p” sound on “up” and “girl” sounded like, “gurrrrl.”

What’s more, he then told me that he was cool because he was saying this. “See, I cool. What’s up girl?”

“Nothing, Ivan. I’m stopping at Starbucks, want something?”

“No, I’m okay, but maybe Marieta. Ya, get a white chocolate mocha.”

“Hot or Iced?”

“Hot. Like you.”

OMG! I almost spit on my steering wheel. It’s like I’m hearing this from my brother. What a freakazoid.

“Ivan, you are ridiculous!”

He is a source of never-ending entertainment, I tell you. Laughing heartily, I agree to get him a hot mocha and hang up.

I fear the coffee will be cool by the time I arrive to the lesson – it is a good 35 to 40 minutes away using freeways – but it stays warm enough that when I see Marieta and hand it to her, she says it is a good temperature.

“What’s this?” she asks.

“Your coffee. I stopped at Starbucks. Ivan said you would share.”

Apparently he hadn’t consulted his wife. But she took one sip and knew right away, it was a white chocolate mocha. I guess it’s not the first time he’s gotten it.

We start straight away on Latin Rumba because I now know the date for the showcase at Dance Starz is February 24th. We have little time to prepare.

Ivan’s process is pretty interesting, I have to admit. He hasn’t really choreographed any cohesive chunks just yet. So far we are trying little tricks, then maybe dancing syllabus moves, and then talking about how to start and end the dance. So I have no idea what this thing will look like in the end.

What I do know is that I love the Latin Rumba. I know that I love the song I got to pick. And even though the Rumba is an over-the-top romantic dance, it feels comfortable to do the moves with Ivan. It is so great to feel that safe to express myself in this way.

I also know that I am going to pour every ounce of emotion I can muster into the number come showtime. I love it when dance moves me and my goal is to be able to be expressive enough that my dancing will move others.

The story of this Rumba is based on the song and is one of sadness, yearning, and denial. The woman singing it keeps telling her ex-lover he will come back, that he’s going to repent, that nobody could ever love him like she did. But as the song progresses, she realizes that she needs to know if the love isn’t for forever, and even so, she can’t let go. She is saying “you’ll be back” while at the same time she is coming to the realization that this love is over and her lover is truly leaving.

Where do I come up with this stuff? I have no idea. I haven’t personally experienced a situation like this so I don’t really know why it resonates with me at this time. But I can imagine how painful it could be to go through something like this, and for whatever reason I can’t wait to put all this longing, and sadness, and beauty, and fading away of love into the dance. I only hope my hips and face will be able to convey the story and that my body will hold up…it is not used to doing all this leaning, and hanging, and otherwise, dangling from another person and then dancing on top of that.

But Ivan seems excited about it too. He says that once we get the routine down, we can remove all the tricks and perform it in open competition heats. I’m beginning to feel like I’m growing up a little bit in the ballroom.

He told me, “We gonna have the best Rumba in the world.”

A scene from the Champ Latin Finals of 2005 USA Dance Nationals. Pictured: Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Valeriya Kozharinova by Tendancer

I love his enthusiasm! And it is even more exciting because after the lesson, I talked with Marieta about making me a practice outfit that will be nice enough to wear for the showcase…something flowy and lovely to accentuate the movement. Ivan felt obligated to share his opinion of what I should wear as well. He told us both what he did and didn’t like very plainly. Luckily, we all seemed to be on the same page and he liked the same skirt that I did.

New, practice shoes, new heels, and now a new practice outfit! I’m feeling like a “professional” ballroom student!

The thing that makes me feel most like I’m stepping into being a woman, rather than a cutesy-woo girl, on the dance floor, is the opportunity for creative expression. Not that you can’t have that shine through in competition heats, but there you pretty much stick to syllabus moves and you never get to pick your music. But now, I have a piece of work that I can pour myself into…physically, mentally, and emotionally. I didn’t realize how long I’d been waiting to do this.

Now, let’s be honest. This Rumba, once it finally gets created, probably won’t be the best Rumba in the world (though whatever would qualify as the best Rumba in the world I’ll never know since it is so subjective). And I’ve seen his Rumba with Marieta…it is pretty dang amazing.

But you know what?

It will be the best Rumba in my world.

No longer will I be a spectator, watching others on television or even at competitions playing this part.

I get to be it! It’s my turn!

And that, my friends, however it ends up looking

(probably about as hot as a mocha)

is enough.