Getting Real

Howdy folks.  I thought it was time for another blog post and also a lot of crap has been going through my brain and this is one great way to sort through it.

Let’s start with the dancing, that’s probably the cheeriest part.  The big news is that I’m doing a showcase next Friday.  The routine is still incomplete and I haven’t danced a full routine, much less in public, in many many months.  Also, I only have one wardrobe option because I ended up giving my other two dresses away.  Why?  I vowed I am changing and I refuse to be seen in those old dresses again.  I wanted to get rid of them because I wanted to send a message to my subconscious that I was serious about this vow, that there was no back door, no way out, that I have excised the choice to even step backwards and present myself as I was before.   Anyways, I’m doing a cha-cha to “Boogie Shoes” because I wanted to do something fun, light, and energetic.  I don’t feel too much pressure about this since it’s not a competitive setting and pretty much I just wanted to have some fun dancing.  I’ve been focusing so much on the technique lately, and all my lessons are so early in the morning, that it hasn’t been as much fun, even though I do enjoy my lessons for the most part.  So anyways, I’m looking forward to it and it’s also a plus because now I’ll have an open routine for if/when I dance next.  Happily, my husband and parents will be in attendance and there will be a DVD.

Also in dance news, I posted it on my Facebook page, that I was a super-lucky-ducky and because Damir is friends with Andrej Skufca and Melinda Torokgyorgy, he occasionally has them coach at the studio and I got one lesson with each.  Damir ended up being really sick so I was alone with them but it was absolutely wonderful.  It was so helpful to see the way Melinda moved and she was able to work with me on Rumba on basic steps.  We talked a lot about incorporating the upper body and arms, which basically stems from using the core, squeezing and compressing between the hips and ribs, which made it easier to coordinate the lats.  It definitely elucidated some muscle memory habits I have, and it also gave me the opportunity to feel the correct postures in my body.  On my lesson with Andrej, we worked on samba and it was also excellent.  He helped me, again with principles of dancing on basic steps and it again elucidated how much more movement I can be generating with the body of mine, which is kind of exciting while at the same time daunting.  It is also just wonderful to be in the presence of greatness, to stand beside these people, see how they are moving, and compare it to what I’m doing, and getting nudged toward what I could be doing to expand, express, and hold my space even more.  Truly it was a wonderful experience and I think the best part was that I wasn’t overly intimidated.  I mean, these two compete in the top competitions in the world alongside the likes of Joanna and Michael, many times in the final.  I certainly have an immense amount of respect for them and look up to them.  However, I didn’t feel “less than” them, even though certainly I’m less experienced and on their dance level.  It was a wonderful space to be in because just a few short years ago I think I would have been so “in my head” worried about how bad I was compared to them that I would have missed being truly present with them and what they had to offer as coaches/teachers.  So that’s a big win, not to mention all the other benefits I already mentioned.  And this is especially wonderful in light of my body, my big, pudgy, large, non-dancer-looking body.  I’m still pretty embarrassed about it in general.  I’m still not proud of it, so that is a bummer and brings me to my next section…

The not-so-cheery stuff.

So I hired that guy to help me with my goals and it just didn’t work out.  What I thought I was getting, and what I had actually purchased were two very different things.  Initially I filled out all these forms with all these questions and I was very vulnerable with this guy, telling him everything, pretty much begging him to help me get this done once and for all.  I thought I would be getting coaching, but instead, I got 2 half-hour workouts with his sister as a trainer that didn’t even push me as much as I push myself when I go to the gym on my own and I sent him emails of what I ate every day.  That, plus a 20 page manifesto that was not clear and had a lot of information he never followed up on, as well as a calorie and carbohydrate limit for the day.  So after a few weeks of diligently sending my menu daily, I’d get one word feedback like, “don’t drink Diet Coke” or “Don’t use too much Bragg’s Amino Acids.”  And I was like, hey, I know Diet Coke isn’t like the best choice, however, it’s not the worst, either.  Look at the rest of the day and how awesome I did.  Thanks a lot (not!) for focusing in on the one not-so-great thing – firstly, that’s why I don’t choose it every day, it’s a once in a while (like once in a month) type choice and secondly, I am not about being perfect, and thirdly, I’m already so hard on myself, I already focus in on all my shortcomings and flaws, I don’t need this type of crap from a person who is supposed to be coaching me, ESPECIALLY since this was the only feedback for the entire day – there was NO mention of what I did well, there was no encouragement building me up….and that’s what I thought I’d be getting.  I mean, great, give me feedback about not drinking Diet Coke but, like, anything else you wanna mention?  So basically, I was doing this process on my own, like always, and so why I am I paying for that?  I communicated my true thoughts to him, which is a pretty big deal for me to really speak my truth and to really say, “hey!  This isn’t working for me!”  It’s not always easy for me to declare my needs and ask for what I want but I did.  And he was like, “Well maybe what you need is Life Coaching.”  And that was probably the best advice he gave me.  He’s right – and – based on our interactions – he’s not the coach for me.

So that’s that.  And now here I am, fatty-fat-fat.  At least that is how I am feeling right now.  It’s so disappointing to see my body in the mirror, while at the same time, I’m about 10 pounds down and can move easier, at least it seems so.  It feels like my fat tissues are thinning out, however, when I look in the mirror, I’m still as big as ever.  I don’t see changes, at least not big ones, and I’m still in my same clothing.

I’m still watching my diet and doing my orange theory cardio sessions and getting to the gym twice weekly to get in some heavy weight lifting (last week I did 90 pound deadlifts, which was a personal record and I am looking to do 100 pounds this week because I felt like I could do more.)  Oh – and one of the things the trainer said to me was that as I lost weight I’d lose strength, and that so doesn’t work for me.  No way, Jose!  I intend to continue to get stronger.  That’s totally possible!  Why would a trainer ever say something like that?   Okay so anyways, the process continues, and it feels like it is so Goddamned slow – but what’s new?  A this point it is imperative to stay consistent with the process.  However, something’s got to change, I’m not sure what, because I’m committed to changing!!!  But here’s the deal that’s really hanging me up right now:

I don’t want to compete until I look dramatically different.  On one hand, it’s my line in the sand and I know that it will be such a boost in confidence to really make a change before I dance again.  On the other hand, it’s a big bummer because how long do I not dance because I’m so hung up about my body and my appearance and miss out on something that brings me so much joy?  I don’t know that there is a “right” answer to this, it’s just the crap that is swirling around in my mind.

So Damir told me he talked with Ivan the other day, and I was so excited about it.  I think there is still hope we might dance together again, though I’m not attached to that particular outcome.  But anyways, today I decided to send him a little text just to say I miss him and I hope everything is going great for him and Marieta.  He was happy to get my text and asked me how I was and when I’d be on the dance floor.  All I could say was that I don’t know and that I don’t feel ready yet….and what I didn’t say is that the biggest reason for that (besides not having completed routines lol) is because I’m still fat.  Part of me was tempted to answer, “How are you?”  with “Still too fat to dance with you.”  Because part of me would love to dance with him, but I really want/need to be confident in myself before I do that, and to me, that means having a dramatically smaller, leaner body.

Seriously, it’s really mucking me up inside.  How much do I let my adipose rule my life?  But also, what about compromising on my vow?  That’s really important too.  The answer is seemingly simple:  Just lose the weight, dork!  Then you can dance and not break your vow.  Well, that’s what I’ve been intending to do…and it doesn’t seem to be happening. I mean, on one side it seems like it’s happening because I feel like my body is changing, slightly, but then it doesn’t seem like it’s changing because I’m still in the same clothes and my belly seems so big right now, and I just don’t want to step on the competitive floor like this.  Ugh!!!!

And my mind is so mean to me.  Like today while working out I was so bummed with myself because I can’t do all that is demonstrated, and my heart rate doesn’t get below 160 even when “resting” and it’s just so hard, and I even got my heart rate up to 192 and killed myself, and it’s like still not enough.  My body is so stubborn!  I look around the room and I’m killing myself and so what – I still look like a slob.  I sometimes go into the “It’s so unfair, pity-party, victim bullshit” for a moment or two, I’m not gonna lie.  But even with all this negative Nelly going on, I mean, I’m still there.  Double Ugh!!!  I’m just in a bummer mood lately.  I am also frustrated because it’s a choice to feel this way.  I mean, I could be loving toward myself and happy with myself regardless of my weight.  And yet, my happiness is very much tied up with this.  I know I’d feel better about me if I were thinner.  It’s so crappy!!!!!  It’s so, so crappy.  Like, I withhold love, acceptance, and approval of myself and I think I’ll give it to myself if I were thinner.  But is that even true?  It’s such a racket!  Why am I stuck in this mind spiral?  How do I get out of it?  When is what I do enough even if it is not getting the results I want?  Does that mean it is truly not enough?  When is enough, enough?  When do I just feel good about me  and feel confident about myself just as I am?  Period. Without all these requirements and conditions?  I keep thinking that if I continue to monitor my diet and workout the outcome should be inevitable…but it sure doesn’t seem to be a straight line at all. Triple UGH!!!!

success

Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily asking you for the answers to all these questions lol (Though if you have some kind encouragement or insights, I’m open to hearing that).  Mostly I’m just processing this so it gets out of me and I can move forward toward my goals and dreams.  Because one thing is certain, I’m not giving up!  And there are really big changes in who I used to be and who I am today – like how working out has become a habit and I have a totally different relationship with food, and like how I actually spoke up for myself and stated what wasn’t working for me and what I needed.  These are all good things, and I’m still trucking, damnit!  Even if the results have been disappointing to me thus far.

But speaking of goals and dreams, the showcase is a week away, then after that Damir promises me we’ll sit down and talk about “the plan.” “The plan” meaning what we will do this year.  I think it will have to be flexible, but also I think to actually put something on the calendar will create a shift in urgency and make things real again.  So, we’ll see.

I don’t know how “good” of a blog post this was tonight, but I do know that I can’t be the only one struggling with my body and questioning when I let it hold me back from experiencing joy in life.  I can’t be the only one who struggles with self-esteem, self-appreciation, self-love.  Maybe that has some value in sharing?  Who knows?  Thanks for humoring me.

-Stef

 

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It’s My Movie

Well, the truth is I haven’t really wanted to blog about what has been going on for me the past week or so. First off, I’m annoyed with myself for still getting so emotional about things and really letting them get me down. I didn’t want to make this blog a whine-fest.

But, as usually happens, with some time, and some tears, and some working out at the gym, and some sharing with friends, I’m feeling better. Seriously – when I read that it makes it sound like something dramatic happened, but in all honesty the only drama was that in my head.

I can’t say why exactly, but my body image issues have been getting the best of me lately. That and I’ve just felt sad like I will never be able to have/create a body I love and that looks good, and that I will never become the dancer I wish to be. For whatever reason, it was especially heavy on my heart this past week. And working on the Rumba only exacerbated the problem.

I’ve done a lot of dancing over the past days so perhaps a lot of emotion is just being shaken out. I recall that upon first taking up ballroom dancing I did shed many a tear, so sad about what I have allowed myself and my body to become. It was and is incredibly painful to really absorb the damage done by getting so large, not to mention how I feel about myself as a woman. On good days, I accept where I am and work toward what I desire, I might even find some things to find beautiful about myself. On neutral days I block it out and focus on if my clothes are fitting looser, and how my body moves and all that it can do, rather than how it looks doing it. On bad days I see my reflection in the mirror and it disgusts me, triggering a myriad of thoughts and a swirling drama that threatens to suck me down into a black abyss.

The weird thing is that all was smooth sailing for the first part of the week. I danced almost every day and even went to the gym for some cardio. I had lessons with Ivan, a great group class with Inna and I even danced around my kitchen at home just getting lost in the music and movement, not caring what it looked like and savoring the experience.

Then Saturday on my way to my lesson, I just felt sad. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I walked in and Ivan was looking good. He had dyed his hair darker because the night before he had done a performance in a local Dancing With The Stars fundraising gala. And I swear he has gotten more trim, plus he had grown some stubble. And it just hit me. Why would someone like that want to dance with someone who looks like me? And the more we danced, the more ridiculous I felt. And the more emotional I got and all the fight went out of me and I could barely focus. I didn’t really say anything, but we both knew it was just bad news. At the end of the lesson was like, “I don’t know what to telling you. I don’t knowing what is making it better. You think I gonna put on my shoes today if I knowing it gonna be like this?”

Even so, he assured me, it’s normal to have a bad lesson every once in a while. If all lessons were like that, it would definitely be a problem, but (thankfully) it’s not. So we parted hoping that the next day would be brighter.

To a certain extent it was. After a serious session of cardio on the stair-stepper and a long chat with my friend “Blue Eyes,” who has also shed a ton of weight and knows what it is like to go through this, I was more or less in a neutral space. But I was worried.

I can’t remember exactly why I thought I wanted to have a lesson with Marieta, but I believe Ivan mentioned he wanted me to see how Marieta did one move that they also have in their routine and I realized that I have another amazing resource I can call upon to grow as a dancer. I haven’t had a lesson with Marieta in a long time and so was excited to set one up and was in good spirits when I contacted her about it.

But the day of the actual lesson with all the body image issues and self-doubt raging through my system, I was already feeling fragile, and I knew just being around Martieta might trigger me. If you have never had body issues you may not understand, but I find it incredibly difficult to even stand beside Marieta sometimes. Because she has a gorgeous body. Because she is an exquisite dancer. Because she embodies so many qualities that I wish I were. I mean, I intellectually understand we are all different and beautiful and amazing in our own way. And intellectually I understand that I am where I am in my dancing and though it is great to have a vision of where I am going, I have to start where I am. There is no leaping ahead to a different reality, a different body. And my greatest beauty is going to be when I express myself, and just like no two singers’ voices sound the same, no two dancers are exactly the same either. But that seems like a small consolation in those moments when I am overcome with the very uncomfortable emotion that arises when I feel intense shame about being who and how I am.

Even so I want to find the expression inside me and to work through this body-shame. And as amazing as Ivan is, even when he does the female part, there is still something inherently different when I see a female dance it. There is a presence these women ballroom dancers have. Marieta’s presence has a very different quality to it than Inna’s but both exude an almost palpable energy just walking on the floor, much less moving. I’m searching to find my quality of presence and also learn how to project it. I have a feeling it is tied into confidence and fearlessness.

So anyways, I wanted very much to have a lesson with Marieta, and I am planning on working more with her in the coming months because what I got on the lesson was of such value. But I was a mess. Actually, Ivan and I had had a decent enough lesson prior to Marieta coming in but just as she was walking in we were starting our Rumba.

In the beginning there is about 30 seconds where I am going to dance alone. There is no choreography at the moment and Ivan was just encouraging me to move, feel the music, express. He said, “It’s your movie. Imagine there is a spotlight on you and thousands of people watching.” He turned off the lights, put a spotlight on the mirror ball in the studio, and told me to enter from across the room.

Inside, I felt scared. But I want to grow and so pushed that down and pretended as best I could and moved.

Well, anyways, Ivan and I then danced, I screwed up a bunch but it was okay and then our lesson was over. It was time to work with Miss M. And I just felt like I should tell her why I had wanted to work with her, what the purpose of our lesson was. But it turns out, that might have been a mistake.

Because it all came out in this big, overly emotional gush. I was just talking and the tears were coming, and that was exactly the wrong thing to do to set me up to have a productive lesson. I was all caught up in my longing to be thinner, more beautiful, a better dancer. And I even blabbed, “I want to be good enough that it will be hard to tell who is the student and who is the pro.” Which, although a worthy goal, and something to strive for, it is most certainly not where I am, and indeed, may never happen. I am actually okay with letting that go and working toward it at the same time, but in that moment I was wrapped up in how lacking I was feeling, how “less-than” I was as compared to Marieta or any pro, in every way.

I guess I felt like because Marieta is also a friend I could go say all this stuff but if I had scheduled a lesson with any other pro there is no way I would have said anything like this at all. Lucky for me, Marieta is a true pro through and through and she set the context right away.

But I’ll be honest, we got started and I was having a hard time concentrating. I had to excuse myself for a moment to collect myself in the bathroom but then I came back and was calmer and more focused and more able to actually absorb what she was sharing…which was really wonderful.

Marieta told me that she had come in during the last few minutes of my lesson with Ivan so she could watch on purpose. “You may have thought that your movements were very expressive, but really they were pretty insular, you were holding them inside.”

“You are right. I’m aware of that. That’s part of why I want you help…to get what is going on inside so that it is readable and expressed on the outside.”

She had me do a lot of rumba walks and some balances. I wobble more than I should. And she explained how to move to keep on balance by imagining my spine is a pole and all movement should always twist around it. She encouraged me work on strengthening my core. She also demonstrated that to go forward you have to go back first – that it is more dynamic to create a sort of whiplash to movement than to start from a static position. And just being around her presence, focus, and intensity was a lesson in itself. I still don’t understand how she is able to switch her weight between feet so quickly, or to move her limbs with superhuman speed and sharpness but I’m looking forward to observing her and working with her again in the near future and more often. It brings a whole new dimension to the dancing, as well as a new level of strong femininity. And I think she was even harder than me on Ivan usually is, which is a good thing.

So I left the lesson richer with wisdom, feeling foolish about being a blubbery emotional mess, but also with a mental adjustment in place that allowed me to finish the lesson and actually get something out of it (a lot actually) and with a stronger resolve to continue to work toward my goals.

Which meant that I made a personal goal to get 45 minutes of cardio in 5 days of this week above my normal activities. Two of those times must be on the stair-stepper. I’m just making this up, just for this week. Then next week I’m going to make up something else to do, focus on, accomplish, and count as a success. Better to focus on specific worthwhile tasks, and practice at being a winner, than to go down in the emotional torrent that can so easily present itself.

And so far I am off to a good start. I got 45 minutes on the elliptical machine in yesterday and then went to a 90 minute ballet class which is more challenging than the one I usually take on Sundays. It was a stretch and I liked it. I even began to feel like I could do a little bit more, raise my leg a little bit higher, hold my chest up a little longer, and that maybe, just maybe, the grand plies were slightly easier than before. I felt like after a month or two of going to classes just once a week has made a difference in my body alignment and strength. I even liked the lines my legs were making sometimes (probably because I came straight from the gym and had runner’s stripes on my pants!) Today I had a lesson with Ivan and shortly I’m off to Inna’s class. Which is all to say, that I’m still moving forward. That the story isn’t over. That I am not satisfied with where I am. Not by a long shot. But it’s my movie, like Ivan said. And the credits haven’t rolled yet.

The Power Of Dance – The Sequel

One of the most special things about starting this blog is that I’ve connected with amazing, powerful, beautiful people.  One such person is Chomsky, who can also be found on DanceForums.com.  She reached out to me early on and has been an amazing support during my journey. 

Chomsky agreed to write a guest post for my blog, here, and I am so grateful.  Her story is nothing short of miraculous and I am so honored she chose to share it with me and with you readers as well.   As you will see, she has innate tenacity that bewilders me.  I have to ask myself, would I have continued to show up if I had started in her condition?  I’m not sure I would.  She is an inspiration.   Her journey thus far has sincerely moved me profoundly.  I can’t wait to hear more from this strong, determined, persistent, brave, precious woman.  -Stefanie

Dancing for me is like a prayer. I used to be a devout orthodox. Before I met my hubby everyone thought I was going to be a nun; I have changed since then, but deep down, I haven’t changed much.  All this change is due to dance, at least on the surface it is.

When my wonderful friend and teacher started teaching me I was something that looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was clinically obese, and couldn’t straighten up my back from the excruciating pain. I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t lie down, sit down, sneeze or cough; the pain was unbearable and non-stop.

So, someone told me to join this ballroom class ’cause the teacher is nice. During that first month, I kept attending even though I couldn’t stand up straight. And then, out of the blue, during the class, I got myself into such a state because of the pain that I left the classroom, went to the bathroom and cried my eyes out: I couldn’t believe how bad the pain was. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t move to music at the age of 37. I was handicapped and  felt my youth was gone for good, no way to get it back.

I didn’t give up; I went back to class.  The teacher asked me to do the samba figure he was showing but I refused because I couldn’t stand the pain. He said it didn’t matter, I could always sit and watch him do it with the other student.

After class he chatted with me (not such a talkative person, but there you go, he must have felt how badly I was [doing]). He told me it didn’t matter I was in pain; I would get better; I would dance the figure if not in a week, in a month or in two months time.  The the main thing was that I would. No matter what the doctors had told me, I would get better. Afterall, I was learning even if I was watching and not doing. He even said I was a slow learner but it didn’t matter; he was a slow learner too.

All this made me believe in myself. I wanted to prove him right. Guess what? I did. I lost one-third of my weight. I am standing up straight. I even run after four years of not being able to walk quickly not to miss the bus to go to work.

To me it is a miracle. I am not in a wheelchair as I was told I would be. I am not in excruciating pain and can sleep at nights. Now, what I wish for is not to wake up from this dream I am living; to grow old and still dance. I can and will never forget I have a herniated disk that badly needs an operation. If I do, I might prove the doctors right and lose the quality of life I now have. I never want to forget ’cause I will harm myself if I do.

So, obviously dancing for me is like a prayer. Still, the physical miracle is not the reason behind it. It is the emotional and social aspect of it. I am now a different person. I started changing from the inside.

I used to be, and still am in a way, someone you can easily manipulate. Dance has changed that. I still have problems saying no to people just like I told my counselor. Not as much as before, however. I still feel I am guilty for the sins of the whole world. I still am unable to put myself in front of others. I still cannot love myself if it is not through other people’s eyes. I  don’t feel good with myself, I can’t just love myself if others don’t love me first.

Yes, but all this has changed; if not radically, it still has. And all this is due to dance. Dance makes me love myself, my hands, my head, my legs. I love my body and in the end I am sure I will grow to love myself too.