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

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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.