Ernie Miller

When I was five and I lived in Aurora, Colorado, I had a black vinyl dance bag.  I use the term loosely, because the “bag” was actually a rectangular cardboard box covered in ink-black shiny vinyl imprinted with a pink pair of ballet toe shoes in Sous-sou.

 

Two to three times a week I made a sojourn from my home on the Army base to the doors of Ernie Miller’s dance studio to practice ballet and tap.  Again, I use the term “practice” loosely.   At the age of five through eight, I mostly flailed grossly.  And yet at the end of each dance lesson I was reward with a Dum Dum sucker, being the adorable “little peanut” I was.

Every year the studio would have a recital.  Every year Ernie and his wife would dance the very last dance in the show.  It was a lovely and vulnerable and authentic moment.  So much so that it made quite an impression on me in a time in my life when I don’t remember much detail.  It was that  special.

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The deal is, Ernie and his wife and his beautiful daughters who taught in the studio WERE the studio.

Of course there were physical walls, and spring-loaded wood floors, and barres fastened securely to the walls.  But the studio was Ernie.  He created it.  He carved out the space for it to exist.  And he and his family populated it.  They created the tone.  They created the atmosphere.  They created the philosophy.  They lived it and breathed life into it.

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So now fast forward 30 years.  I am an adult.  I’ve rediscovered dancing through the medium of ballroom.  I’ve been through three  instructors and now I’m on my fourth.  I’ve recently left my most favorite instructor (thus far) who moved me forward exponentially.  I’m now with this crazy Bosnian who is so very ORDINARY.

He emphasizes proper alignment of the bones and the body over anything flashy.  He promotes repetition, repetition, repetition of any and all steps, done properly, 10,000 times.  He is not teaching me any new figures or choreography whatsoever.  He’s simply going deeper into the most basic work.

So here I am, being serious and all about my dancing.  I don’t have much interest in being a social dancer.  I don’t care much to dance with people who are less experienced than I.

And yet, I’m invited to the annual EuroRhythm Luau.  With all manner of enthusiams!  Not only from Damir, but also from his wife.  Truth is, my hubby was out of town so what else was I going to do Friday night?  I figured there were worse ways to spend time and bought a ticket to attend what I thought would most likely be a hokey stupid party.

And so after work I took a break then got out my hair dryer and straightener.  I put on mascara and a comfortable outfit.  I got myself ready and drove over to the studio.

At first, it definitely seemed super hokey!  And then, after about 2 minutes, it seemed awesome.  It seemed like home.

It struck me as shockingly as if I had stuck my fingers into a socket – I have lived this before.  I have lived this as a five-year-old in Ernie Miller’s Studio.

It was family.  As humble as it might be, as hokey as it could be, who the hell cares.  There was joy in that space.  There were families present with grandparents and grandchildren.

And this studio, that I am now a part of, is Damir and his family.  He’s so very clear about his role as the leader of it.  He knows absolutely that he sets the tone, the rules. He knows beyond a doubt that he is the one that creates and holds the space.

I’m not going to lie.  The physical space of EuroRhythm is tiny!  It seems humble.  From the outside it is just a part of a strip mall.  On the inside there is nothing flashy.

And you know what, for me it melts away.  It’s not what I notice.  I walk into this space and I am embraced as I am, where I am, who I am in this moment.  I notice that I feel comfortable, I feel that it is safe and supported.  I know that I am surrounded by greatness, and that greatness is eagerly, generously shared with all those who walk through the doors; it’s shared with all those who seek the wisdom being offered.

I was just so singularly struck by this feeling of familiarity Friday night.  I knew that I knew this space.  It recalled and referenced my past experiences with Ernie Miller.  And wow, how very grateful I am about it all.

I got a great start with Ernie.  My mother to this day will profess the influence he and his daughters had on me in terms of molding me and shaping me to be the dancer I am today.  What a blessing and advantage I had being able to dance at such a young age.  I am especially grateful to my mother and my father for making that possible for me.

And Damir is just like Ernie.  He IS the studio.  His family IS the studio.  He sets the tone.  He creates the atmosphere.  And I’m just left agog.  What an amazing human being I have come to interact with.  He has come from a war-torn country, experienced unspeakable traumas, I’m sure, he became a world-class dancer, he immigrated, he created his own studio, and best of all, he is a JOYFUL and GIVING human being.  He has arrived on the other side of all these negative circumstances and chosen to be a compassionate, loving, generous, passionate, kind, caring, gentle, expert human being and dance coach.   He has created a home for all of us who chose to accept his brand of study and excellence.

Damir, and the results he creates, looking both at the students of his I know and his studio, are seemingly humble, simple, and, even, dare I say, boring!  And yet, they are also captivating, impeccable, and embodying excellence.   He has a quiet sort of “shouting” to the world.  And his results speak loud and clear for those with eyes to see, for those who have the clarity of mind  to understand.

So you know what?  I am so happy I went Friday.  I realized that I will never miss a party for the studio again if I can help it!  I realized that it’s about family.  And I realized, on a whole new level, what a special and excepetional human being Damir is.  God bless him for creating this space.

I am come home.

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Claim Your Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He hugs them all in a big, exhuberant squeeze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

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