You Are What You Do

Which begs the question, what the hell have I been doing?

Okay, first things first, I promise that a write-up of my experience at the Arthur Murray Winter Showcase will be forthcoming soon but there is just so much going on in my brain that I need to work it out! And the blog is where I do some of that and I’m needing a purge about now. I just have to say that I was so appreciative of the experience and felt so welcomed by everyone that I interacted with. They didn’t have to be so kind, especially since I already dance elsewhere, which made it even more especially wonderful.

But back to my drama. It’s pretty much all mental but it’s making me feel like every emotion possible all at once. Imma ’bout to explode here!

A lot has happened but I suppose it all really started this weekend. On Sunday I woke up after a very nice evening watching my dear friend dance as well as a show by Jason and Sveta Daly. And I have to say is, watching Jason and Sveta really affected me. Especially their Rumba and Bolero. I totally got chills at some points and Sveta is impeccable in her technique. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them dance better than last night. Anyways, it was gorgeous and wonderful and I loved it, so I was puzzled why I was feeling emotional on my drive in to my lesson with Ivan.

When I walked in, I just told him right away I was a mess.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I’m sad. Because I want to be like Sveta and Marieta. I want to be as good of dancers as they are. And it is painful to me that I am not. And I don’t even think it is possible. I can’t believe that it is possible for me to move like that or have a body like that. But that is what I want now, and, looking back on it, ever since I was a little girl. Back then I wanted to be a ballerina. Now the picture has changed, but it feels the same. And it is even more upsetting because I’ve buried it so deeply, stopped dancing for over 10 years, and gained such an incredible amount of weight.”

“I mean, what are we doing here, Ivan? What is our goal? What do we want to do? What is our focus? I like that we are working on some open routines but why? What is the purpose?”

“I don’t know. There is lots of goals you having,” he replied. “You is wanting to lose the weight, and dance scholarship, and all these things. But do you want to go to a competition and only doing 10 dances?”

“No.” I answered. “I wouldn’t want to travel and do all the prep that is necessary for a competition and only dance a few dances.”

“See, so you wanting things different from your friends. You having different goals. You can’t be comparing yourself to them.”

But that’s the crux of it all, isn’t it? That is the world of ballroom. Comparison. I am being compared to those on the floor at the same time. My body is being compared. My dancing is being compared. My costume and make up and hair and tan are all being compared. And judged and ranked. And pardon my French, but it can be a total mindfuck.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all say that we should only be competing against ourselves, our last performance. That we should only strive to better than we were yesterday. And, maybe that is the way to go. I just have to say that it is super hard not to look at my amazing friends, or the pro dancers I look up to, and think it is impossible for me to be any sort of champion. It is impossible for me to actually realize this dream of mine to move and look like a Latin dancer. I want to be her, not just play at it. I want it badly. But maybe not badly enough?

I expressed this sentiment to Ivan and he seems to think my biggest problem is not believing. In his Bulgarian wisdom he pretty much said, “You always wanting this. But can’t just want it. You having to believe it. You not believing it. But I believing it. I know this is gonna happen. I already see it.”

So although I scheduled a double lesson, we only danced maybe 20 minutes total of the hour and half after all the talking. But sometimes I just need to do that. I don’t know if anyone else does that, but every once in a while it just has to happen.

But then the 20 minutes we did work something amazing happened. We began to work on Rumba, just the fan. I’m not exactly sure how or why it happened, but Ivan was encouraging me to express myself more and more because in those moments when I really tune into the music and actually connect like I’m supposed to, and am centered in myself, I actually dance. (Amazing, I know!) And, it turns out, that I can be in control as the lady on some moves, slow them down, add dynamics, change the speed etcetera, according to the music and what it feels like I should be doing to interpret it and the “story” of the dance.

So anyways, I was in the space to do all that I guess after all the talking and I began to play with the music and do this leg extension thing before stepping into Sliding Doors. And after we did it, Ivan looked at me and said, ” You make me dance there.”

“What?!” I asked.

“Yes, because you dancing, you doing something, I have to doing something too. You make me actually dancing with you as a couple because I can’t just stand there while you are moving. I can’t just wait for my student to doing a turn, I have to dancing too.”

Honestly, that was the coolest thing ever in my mind. The coolest. The friggin point of dancing is dancing together, having a conversation through our bodies. And the fact that I had enough dance in me to get someone like Ivan, who I consider light years ahead of me, to join in with me, was so fulfilling and fantastic. It felt awesome. Ivan was pretty excited too. He said, “When my next student comes, we have her video it and we can see.”

So here’s the thing. I’m going to share these videos with you. But the deal is, that when I saw them, I was pretty mortified. It looks nothing like how it feels inside. And I can see a bunch of things I really don’t like, especially how slow I am at the very end. So please be gentle! I’m a work in progress. And the thing is, I went from feeling awesome about myself, to seeing the reality of what I was doing, my abilities at this moment in time, and I was pretty darn disappointed. I went from feeling great to feeling crappy in just a few seconds.

Alright. Well that was the end of the lesson and I had to get going to my ballet lesson across town. I didn’t have time to wallow, but I have to say that I didn’t exactly feel like blogging about all this. I felt drained and I needed some time to work through the feelings before I felt okay about sharing it. But I guess I do, because here I am blabbing all about it! But anyways, on to ballet.

Which was great as usual because the class is so much fun and pretty casual and as a special bonus my friend came to join me for class and coffee afterwards. So that made for a fun lesson, and even better was a chance to catch up with someone for the first time just me and her. It was so wonderful. She told me about her life and I shared a little of what was going on with me. At one point we talked about the time I went on the boat with Colette and Lady Gaga and Ivan and Marieta.

“I don’t know what kind of balls you have girl, to go on a boat with them!” Read bathing suits and hot bodies.

My answer stuck with me. It just came out of me in the moment, but now it’s been rolling around in my brain. I replied, “Well, really, it came down to a choice to participate in life or not. I made a decision a while ago to participate because I didn’t used to. I would be afraid to do anything, especially anything physical, for fear that someone might see a fat roll.”

Seriously, I did this, back when I was a normal size. I would never get in the pool at pool parties. I would not play games at camp because I was afraid my shirt would ride up and reveal my belly. I would sit alone on school field trips to water parks. It sucked. And now I’m on the reverse end of this – doing all these things, including ballroom dancing, in a body that is ridiculous, and in spite of the fact that people can see fat rolls and my shirt does occasionally ride up and reveal my Buddha belly.  I do all this now when it isn’t just in my sick head which is pretty ironic if you ask me.

So anyways, I had to end the girl date because I had another activity planned with Lady Gaga. She had arranged a class from an instructor at her studio for stretching and some ballet exercises to assist her with Latin. She invited me along and I’m game for anything once to try it out. It was another intense experience stacked right on to the other ones of the weekend in a different way. This also affected me deeply and gave me much to ponder.

When we got there, at the beginning of the class Lady Gaga mentioned, “Please help me!” to the instructor. “I have bad feet,” said Gaga. I was thinking the same  think about my feet. I don’t have the best point (but not the worst either). But our instructor responded with something that woke me up.

“Nobody has bad feet.” He said.

“Anything is possible.” He said.

And  he proceeded to tell us the story of a woman he knew who was a professional dancer. As a student, her teacher told her she would never make it as a professional because of her feet. But she stretched them and worked on them, and something like 20 years later she happened to be at the same convention as her old instructor, teaching a workshop, as the professional she became.

It was just the message I needed.

The class was a lot of stretching, and it turns out I am pretty flexible. I mean there is always more you can work for, but the thing is, I’m pretty happy with my flexibility for what I have to do in ballroom at the moment. The bigger concerns are aesthetics (read fat), cardiovascular endurance, and speed. I’d rather begin to spend more energy and time and resources on those issues that are really holding me back than to work at something I’m already decent at. It isn’t going to get me where I want to go to do that. So the long and short of it is that I won’t be continuing with the class, even though I’m really glad I went this weekend.

I gained so much just by being in the presence of this teacher. It turns out that he is Romanian. And he explained, after class, that he had been trained in both ballet and ballroom and also music as a child because that was part of the schooling there. He currently dances with a ballet company. And he was just amazing. It is evident that he has lived a life of discipline. And he just had this gentle, kind, pragmatic manner about him. He was soft-spoken and kind. He never got flustered, even when the woman in the class who was taking it with her husband was trying to correct her spouse (more than once!)

His message was consistency over being a hero. That it is better to work consistently at something, slowly, not working so hard just to prove something only to do it once.

His message was, live by the principle that you are what you do. We all have different abilities. We have to work with what we have, and not compare with others. And that comparing to others is different from being inspired to do more and be more by others who are doing more and being more. Ivan actually said something very similar to me on a lesson the day before. That it should be motivating to see someone dancing amazing and then to look at it and say, “If he/she can do it, so can I. How are they doing it? What can I work on to do it as well?” It is a more empowering and proactive response than to sink into the depths of self-loathing and deprecation, hopelessness and despondency.

I was especially affected by the instructor’s response to my question, “How often should you stretch?”

“That is a good question.” He replied. “It depends on how much time you have to devote to it and how badly you want it. Me, I stretch two hours a day. There was a time when I worked my way up to four hours a day. And when I was dancing, and where I wanted to be, I spent maybe 10 minutes on it.”

His answer blew me away and opened an entirely new paradigm about how badly I want what I say I want.

I guess the good news in all this, even though I don’t feel a lot of closure around all that has happened, is that I did figure out my “goals” with ballroom dancing. It’s probably pretty obvious to you, but I had to suss it out. My goals are actually pretty clear and simple.

I am a trim, fit, confident, trusting, consistent, expressive, and sensual woman. I love my body. I dance every moment fully present and connected to the best of my ability.  Every moment I dance feels as awesome inside as it did when Ivan was made to dance with me as a partner rather than a student.

I think everything else will fall into place if I focus on this.

So in this mindset, I threw my workout clothes and tennis shoes in my car with the idea of going to the gym after my lesson with Ivan tonight. I also had been thinking about stuff I want to work on as a dancer, including twisting more, being on balance, being faster, connecting, and as Sveta mentioned to me, “having a small base and a lot of movement.” I wanted to work on these things but guess what. I pretty much sucked at all of them during my lesson. It was disheartening. Ivan had to push and pull me because I was slow. I missed responding because I wasn’t connected. It was so disappointing! I mean, after all this talking and all this thought and all this intention, and when I show up, I still can’t perform any better. It feels hopeless and upsetting.

But then, well, even if I sucked today, and was not connected, and too damn slow, two things I noticed. One, I’ve been wearing my heels on all my lessons, even in Inna’s class. It may seem like a small thing, but I’ve been using my comfy practice shoes almost exclusively for months. It affects balance to be higher and on a smaller heel. And it takes more strength in the ankles and calves to dance in heels, especially at my size. But I must feel like I’m strong enough to do it because it hasn’t been a thought lately. I haven’t been debating which footwear to use. And it has been a few years since all I wore was heels on all my lessons. Not since I went through the first time I painfully conditioned my feet to be able to wear heels with my first instructor has this happened.

The second thing I noticed was that although I was not happy with how I performed at my lesson and was kicking myself for not doing better, I still had the motivation and determination to use the gym clothes I’d brought with me, and I know for a fact there are times when I have chosen differently in the past.  And at least for today I can say that I stuck to my diet and added 45 minutes on the stair stepper after my lesson with Ivan. And trust me, I wanted to quit about 15 times while I was on the stupid machine, and I had to bargain with myself to keep going, and I even had to slow it down a few times to recuperate. But I drew a line in the sand. It was simply this: I told myself that I would complete 45 minutes on the stair stepper tonight. I was committed to not breaking my word with myself and thus determined to not quit until I had completed the task. I could have chosen to beat myself up for not going full speed the entire time, or even for having a desire to quit. Or I could choose to celebrate that I completed it, and began to rebuild some trust with myself. I didn’t feel particularly sad or triumphant once the task was done, but I did take a moment to blast “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera on my iPod and walk very slowly on the treadmill afterwards as a little reward for myself. I lost myself completely in the music and that felt great.

So I sit here after writing 3000 words and I know that I have a long way to go. I have a long path ahead of me in terms of discipline and consistency. In terms of shedding weight and improving my cardiovascular endurance. In terms of loving myself and accepting myself as I am while striving to be better. And, of course, in terms of becoming the dancer I want to become.

But Ivan seems to think it’s possible. And if he can see that in me, why do I struggle with it so much?