My Dance Manifesto

Something is brewing up inside me, and it ain’t from eating beans.

No, it’s much deeper than that.

I’m feeling moved. Isn’t it funny that when we are affected emotionally it’s called being moved?  Like that’s what dance is all about.  To move others and yourself through moving.  It’s a mindbender like a mirror reflecting another mirror on and on into infinity.

Tango (From Wikipedia Commons – this image was originally posted to Flickr by jennifrog)

So I’m feeling emotional these past few days.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I will be putting myself “out there” again at the Galaxy competition.  I feel like I’m coming at it from a good place.  Actually, I was a little shocked that it is exactly a week away tomorrow.  I’m relaxed, I think, especially since I’m just doing single dances and I’ve released the need to “win.”  No anxiety dreams like I had before Desert Classic, and my lessons have been free-spirited and wonderful.  I am envisioning the experience to be like this, feeling as if I were just floating around the dance studio, this time around.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t important.  And one thing I failed to do at my last competition was to get clear about the experience I wanted to create.  I didn’t write out specific aims that I hoped to accomplish.  So I’ve learned from my experience and this proclamation, this dance manifesto for Stefanie, it’s been mulling around in my mind.

The point of the manifesto is to bring out the best of me, as a person and as a dancer.   All too often I focus on my shortcomings, my faults, my flaws, my errors.  I hone in on all the things I’m doing wrong, all the things that make me feel inadequate.  This manifesto is my heart’s reply to the negative voices in my mind.  It’s my new creed.  It’s my new motto.  It’s how I’m now going to show up on lessons, in life, and while performing.

And one other thing – I’m winging it.  I haven’t written out a draft or anything.  I’m just writing stream-of-consciousness here so we will see what I come up with.  All I know is, that I’m feeling a lot of powerful emotions at the moment and I have decided to express them in this way.  So here goes nothing…

I, Stefanie, Dancer vow that:

I will finish all my movements.  I will follow them through on into infinity beyond the horizon.  I will inhabit every moment with my spirit and project my energy in 360 degrees.

I will not be afraid.  I will be bold and courageous.

I will love myself through every single moment.  I will be my own best friend.

I will let loose.  I will lower my guard.  I will melt the ice.

I will breathe.  Deeply.  And often.

I will allow myself to be vulnerable and reveal my inner world.

I will claim my space and hold it.

I will persevere.

I will hone my instrument, my body, taking care of it lovingly, compassionately, and with the intent to make it as healthy as possible.

I will allow myself to feel and be sexy.

I will not fear to touch.  I will enjoy the touch.  I will allow my joy to be seen.

I will accept and appreciate any and all feedback I may receive as a gift.  I will remember that no one has the power to make me feel anything except me.

I will give up the white flag and fight to be the best I can be.

I will accept and use my creativity and power.

I will connect.

I will create moments of magic for myself, my partner, and those choosing to share the experience with me.

I will believe in myself.

I will believe in what is possible.

Being a woman, I reserve the right to change my mind and add to or amend this manifesto at any time as I see fit!  But I’m curious, what do you think I should add to mine?  And, more importantly, what’s in YOUR “dance manifesto?”

Advertisements

You Push A Big Button Today

On the heels of my last lesson with Ivan I decided that I should at least attempt to wear something different on my lesson today.  You know, about letting the sexiness out and all that.So I decided to wear this dress.  That cute doggie is my girl Buffy.  She was curious while I snapped the picture.  Thanks for the cameo, Buff.

You know, a normal person would just wear this dress, right?  But me, with my big body and my body issue complex, well, I couldn’t bear (or bare) to show that much skin.  So that was just the base of my ensemble.

Next, I added a skirt.  Why?  To put on top of the inner dress liner but under the kind of see-through part.  This way, you couldn’t see my huge ass and big belly as much.  The liner clung to my midsection and you could see every paunch, every pooch, every rounded mountain of flesh, and it wasn’t pretty.

Okay, now for the arms.  I got to cover the wings.  I can’t have all that jiggly flesh wagging in the wind with every cross-over.

Finally, the legs.  With all the cellulite, I need to keep the cottage cheese knees under wraps.  So on went a pair of black leggings with a little short skirt attached that folds over the top.

So the final outfit had four layers of material.

Maybe it’s not such a mystery why I sweat so much on all my lessons.  I’m always wearing three to four layers of clothing.

Usually, just my calves and forearms are showing.  Oh, and my face.  Everything else I try to cover, in black (it’s slimming, right?) so I look like a big black ball with calves and forearms sticking out.  I kind of want to just make the middle section just disappear, you know?

So I walked into my lesson all bundled up, with my cover-up tied around my waist so you could barely see the dress poking out.

Especially with all the commotion created by the chicks I gave him, we made it through Swing and Cha-Cha without Ivan noticing anything different in my clothing choices.

During the Cha-Cha, Ivan and I experimented with facial expressions.  I did everything! From faces I knew were hideous, just for fun, to “Pah!” and “Shah!” and winking and sticking out my tongue and anything else I could think of.  So that was good, I was playing and experimenting and feeling like it was okay to do that, but you know Ivan – he has to push it to the next level.

“What face you make when you thinking you so good?  When you so beautiful or proud or feel like you are better or stronger than anyone else?”

The question stopped me in my tracks.  I’ve been so focused, most of my life, on blending in, being good but not too good.  Standing out for all the right reasons, but not standing out too much.  Being a sheeple (people + sheep), so I fit in to the fold, being an individual that is slightly recognized, but not showy.

So with all this programming of how I should be, and how I should censor myself so that I’m outstanding, but not too outstanding, I was at a loss as to what a face like that would look like.

It’s not one I practice.

I have a complex, clearly, about being seen as “cocky” or “self-absorbed” or “vain.”

But what if, that was simply a well-founded pride of self?  A healthy appreciation of me?  Wouldn’t that be okay?  What would that look like?

I actually decided I should meditate on what that face would look like for me.  I do think I will explore it, and play in front of the bathroom mirror, alone, to see what it might look like for me to express confidence and love of self, even if some people might interpret it as being stuck up or haughty.  Let them think what they will…AHHHHH!  It kind of already freaks me out.  But whatever.  The lesson didn’t end there.

Because then I revealed myself…I made a fatal mistake, divulging I suppose my true intention with wearing the dress today, though I’d tried to do it in a way that didn’t make me too uncomfortable.

I lifted up the cover-up to wipe the sweat from my brow and the dress underneath was out in the open.

“What’s this dress you wearing?” Inquired Ivan.  “Why you wearing that cover up?  Take it off.”

“No Ivan.  It’s my arms.  I have to cover them.  I hate them.  They are so ugly.”

“I don’t care.  You have to take it off.  You have to loving the arms.  It’s just us here.  Take off the cover.”

Reluctantly, I peeled off the cover and tried my best to ignore my upper extremities.

That was traumatic enough for me, but not nearly enough for Ivan.

“Why you wearing all these layers?  You have to showing the fats.  You have pants on underneath, you should only be wearing top and bottom.  No extra stuff.  Lift up your skirt.”

“Ivan no!  Are you seriously crazy?”

He grabbed it and raised it and discovered my black skirt.

“Show the fats.  Show the fats!  You don’t have a big belly (which isn’t true, I totally do), you having a big ass.  But it’s okay.  Take off the skirt.  Show the fats.  Love the fats.”

He made me shed the extra skirt and then tuck the remainder of my dress into my bosom.  This revealed my legs.

“See.  You looking thinner with less layers.  Now your legs showing.  You going to be incomfortable (that’s an Ivan construct for uncomfortable) but it’s okay.  Now I see your legs.  I never see more than from the knee.  I want to see how they working.  Normally they are covered with a skirt and I can’t see what they doing.”

I was mortified.  But Ivan didn’t let up.

“You have big ass.  This okay.  Touch the ass.  Touch it!  Love it.”

He started playing a Latin Rumba.

“It’s okay, it okay.  See, don’t be scary the mirror.  Look in the mirror.”

Ivan made me stand beside him and face the mirror.

“Do a Latin basic.”

We stood there, side by side, with the romantic music playing, and began to move.  I have to say that my lines matched his.  And for the first time, you could really see my legs were doing exactly what they are supposed to do in that step.  Tears streamed down my face.

“See, the body so free now.  It never getting to be free.”

I have to admit that it felt nice to be cooler without all the layers.  But it is really hard to see myself.  I’ve mentioned that before, I know.

“See.  I not caring how the body look.  I see the straight legs.  I see the good technique.  Love the fats.  Show the fats.  It’s okay.”

I cried during the whole time we danced.  Silently, cleansing tears dropped to the floor as I rocked my hips, grabbed my fat ass like it was the most amazing thing on this earth, and danced as if I were a sexy beast.  I know my face didn’t show it with all the waterworks, but my body told the story.  My big, cumbersome, hefty body.  It talked.  It spoke loudly.  It screamed, “I am a slinky panther.  Watch me stalk my prey!” and “I may be three times her size, but there is a Karina Smirnoff in here, yes there is!

Seriously.  I heard it. 🙂

What a process this is for me!  I am so grateful to feel safe enough to go here – to have a dojo in which I can do my practice, where I can discover myself and work things out before I present myself to the world.  I am so very blessed to have this safe space to unwind the knots in my psyche – where I know on some level that I can let it ALL hang out, and I won’t be ridiculed, or made to feel inferior.  Indeed, I am encouraged, supported, and pushed forward into the realm of “incomfortable” – the place where the magic of breakthroughs happens, where my life changes, and where I am healed.

Gosh this is an emotional post for me.  I must say.  Reading it back for editing brings more tears to my face.  So be it.

It is worth it.

At the end of my lesson, Ivan looked at me and said, “You push a big button today.”  And boy did I.  I sure did.

This last little bit won’t make sense unless you read my previous post which you can read here.

Anyways, it was a big day.  Just as Ivan didn’t know he’d be surprised with some baby chicks today (see here if you missed that story), I didn’t know I’d be surprised with an opportunity to really step into loving myself, just as I am, while at the same time keeping the vision of what I want to become.  I didn’t know I’d have such a strong chance to connect with my inner tigress, and feel safe enough to shed layers of clothing, which, one could imagine, was a metaphorical representation of shedding layers of psychic and emotional protection so that I feel secure enough to fully and finally unleash my whole self.

On a somewhat funny side note, I also didn’t know that the studio would look suspect with my layers of clothing strewn across the floor from when I’d peeled them off!  Trust me – I was still completely covered from ankles to chest, even with all the changes and nothing improper happened.  But I have to admit, I freaked a little when Ivan’s next student walked in the door!  What must she have thought, seeing my skirt lifted up and articles of clothing laying hither and thither?

Well, you know what?  Who cares?  Who cares what she thought.  It was none of her business, really.  And it is none of my business what she may or may not thought of me.  What matters is what I think of me.  And what I think of me today, was that I was courageous.  No matter what that looks like, I went to a place I’ve never gone.  And that, my friends, is progress.  Woo hoo!

Holy Hell!  What a day.  What a post.

I wonder what will happen tomorrow….

Love,

Button-Pushing-Stef

100th Post – Woot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the story continues!  Yay!

Now…. on to the 101st post.

Toodles, Stef