Topical Series: Deciding Whether To Do A Dance Camp

Me and Ron Montez

Me and Ron Montez

Although I’ve only attended one dance camp thus far in my ballroom “career,” I discovered some useful information that might help someone who is interested in a dance camp to decide whether or not to do it.  Choosing to do a dance camp, like participating in a competition, requires planning, money, time off work, maybe even a babysitter, and perhaps travel.  It’s a significant committment so it is a significant decision to make.  Here are my thoughts on some things to consider when deciding if a dance camp a good choice for you.

Overall I thought it was a good value.  Of course every dance camp is going to be different, but using my experience as an example, the deluxe package cost $475.  This included all the classes offered, a welcome dinner and dance mixer, and a gourmet dinner with a champagne toast and party on New Year’s Eve.  Considering private lessons cost around $75-$130 each, and I got 17 group classes led by professional dancers and adjudicators, plus two lectures, I consider this a damn good deal.  I did a lot of dancing, was able to video the choreography presented, ask questions, and even eat a bit, and all for a small fraction of what a competition usually costs.  Even if you add in the hotel (which I only opted to stay at on New Year’s Eve, I commuted the other days), gas costs, and food, it still works out well.

One major advantage of attending a dance camp, especially for competitive dancers, is face time with judges.  Not only do you get to be seen so your face is familiar, but you can also ask direct questions and have actual interactions with people who may judge you at future competitions.  You can also pick their brains for what they look for in competitive dancers.  They tend to naturally share their preferences in dancing while teaching which can also give you insight on dance styling and choreographic choices. This is not as significant a factor for those who do not compete.

One possible disadvantage of a dance camp is that they may be fluid, meaning that the schedule advertised when you sign up for the camp may not be exactly what is delivered.  For instance, when I looked at the website for this dance camp, Decho Kraev and Bree Watson were listed as teaching many of the classes.  Since they are the current American Rhythm champions, I’m sure many people were looking forward to getting to learn from this particular couple.  When I arrived at the camp and got my package, the class schedule listed different instructors.  I, personally, didn’t really mind so very much.  I got to learn from Linda Dean and Radomir Pashev, and I really enjoyed their classes and felt I got great value from what they shared.  But I could see how someone could be upset by this, especially if part of why he or she chose to attend was to learn from a particular professional, judge, or couple.

There was also one other change, which I was very happy about, and it wasn’t even listed on the schedule.  When it came time for the Night Club Two Step (not a dance I’m interested in) Rado decided to do Samba instead.  Anyways, for type A individuals this could be crazy-making, but for me, I was glad about it.

Another benefit of attending a dance camp is that the instructors are also available for private lessons.  I didn’t take advantage of this during my stint, but opportunities to learn from the experts, or have them create some choreography for you, or to work on a particular troublesome step don’t happen all the time, especially if you have an independent instructor and no home studio where coaches may visit regularly.  In any case, attending a dance camp is one great way to make contact with paragons of the ballroom dance world.

As is usually the case in ballroom dancing, there were double the amount of women than men at the camp.  Only a few of the females chose to learn the leader choreography.  This meant that for much of the time in class many female students were without a partner and the men were always dancing as a duo.  And, to make matters worse, there was little to no formal rotation set up, made doubly confusing when some of the couples danced exclusively with one another, not rotating at all.  Personally, I sometimes prefer to dance by myself so I can discover my own balance and so I know that I understand what I am doing.  I didn’t mind the times when I was partner-less.  However, by the end of the camp I was exhausted by actually dancing with partners.  Half of them were uninterested in dancing with me (or seemed that way), one felt the need to correct me and was a total joy-suck.  I don’t even care how good or unskilled a dancer is, but I do mind very much when they have a bad attitude.  I was exhausted by having to interact with some of these fellow students, and just like in social dancing situations, it is a crap shoot as to who will be available to dance with.  In fact, one of my friends was also troubled by the interactions she had with some of the males and opted to not partner at all by the end of the camp because the experience was so uncomfortable, and in her case, she felt flat-out disrespected.

The majority of dancers at the camp were social dancers.  Only a very few of us were competitive students.  Obviously we had different goals and intentions with our dancing.  It would have been more valuable for me from my perspective to have more of an opportunity to dance with other competitive students.  I did get to dance with a few darling men with happy, fun personalities, and one who was excellent in all aspects, but of course I couldn’t always dance with them even though I might have wanted to.  This might be more likely at a dance camp that occurs before or after a competition so I might have to check one of those dance camps out.  But anyways, I think I might have enjoyed the camp more and maybe even gotten more value out of it if I had a friend or amateur partner to do it with.  It’s not really something you’d do with your pro partner and I found the partnering situation to be less than stellar.

Because there was such a mix in the level of expertise, skill level, and intention of the dancing, the teachers had to address broad topics and gear their classes toward general information. They did offer two tracks of classes: Beginner/Intermediate and Intermediate/Advanced. Basically this equated to one class for baby beginners and one class for everyone else. It was up to each individual to place themselves in an appropriate level, and upon registration the lady did say that a person could switch classes within the first ten minutes if it was either too easy or too difficult.

I kind of think the intermediate business is just there to make us feel better! I’m not sure what the distinction between intermediate and beginner or intermediate and advanced is, exactly. I wonder if any dance camps require a person to “test into” a level…like in dance classes in college you can’t just sign up for advanced ballet. You must audition and an assessment of your skill level is made to determine if it is an appropriate placement, or prerequisite classes must first be completed successfully to gain entry into higher level classes. Probably impractical to do at a dance camp, but it’s a thought. And I wonder what a truly advanced class would look like – probably like Inna’s class…but I think a class like that, especially for social dancers, could be pretty shocking/intimidating if a person walked into it expecting a group class like is usually presented…not as strenuous, and filled with lots of interesting steps but less of the basics. Camp organizers have to aim to please their attendees so knowing who is attending, their level, and if they are social or competitive could help in the design of classes and tracks/levels. Like I would have loved if there were beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels (or bronze, silver, gold) in both social and competitive categories, but that would sure take a lot of staff and resources, unless the camp was specifically geared toward one type of student.

In any case, at this dance camp, during most classes a series of steps were taught and the students learned a little choreography.  I am more interested in the technique behind the steps than the steps themselves so I wanted more of that type of information – how to correctly execute the steps rather than the steps themselves.  I can always learn more steps so adding more to my repertoire was fine and good but not all that exciting to me because the chances of me actually using these little choreographies in the future are slim to none.  If I was a social dancer only, or danced socially more often, or had an amateur partner, it might have created more value for me.

One disadvantage of this camp was that because it was held in a hotel, the floors were jointed and there were no mirrors. I missed having a mirror to compare my lines to those of the professional demonstrating the steps. But having it at a different venue like a dance studio might not have been as convenient and certainly would not have had all the amenities present. I wish that mirrors could have been brought in just like the floor is.

One of the best parts of the dance camp was simply spending time with my ballroom friends and making new ones.  I had some awesome and deep conversations and laughed a ton.  I’d recommend having a partner in crime to go with if possible.

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the dance camp and feel like I did learn a lot.  Just putting myself out there and participating was a big win.  And because I showed up cool things happened – I got to dance a swing step “down and dirty” with Radomir, I got to do a mambo deal with Ron and a group of people as he spontaneously got out on the dance floor on New Year’s Eve and began calling out moves, I got to win a merengue mixer contest, I got to laugh a ton, learn a ton, watch a professional show, and toast the new year.  Well, anyways, I hope this gave you some insight into what you might want to think about when considering a dance camp.  If you have any other burning questions, please do ask and I will do my best to answer.

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Stuff I Learned At Ron Montez Dance Camp

Now, it really isn’t possible to share everything I learned at dance camp.  Partly because a dance camp is experiential in nature, just like a competition, there is a lot of learning that happens by actually being present and having the experiences – a person can’t really learn how to dance (or ride a bike or paint in watercolor) by only reading about it.

I did, however, discover some nuggets that I thought were pretty interesting.  So this post is a conglomeration of information miscellany that doesn’t warrant separate posts.  Hopefully you will discover something new that adds value to your dancing.

That being said, I would share that doing this dance camp was a good choice overall.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in doing one to give it a shot.  I feel that the more a person can expose themselves to dancing, different perspectives about the dancing, and different dance instructors, the better.  A dance camp is one way to experience a variety of input from a variety of dance professionals in a short amount of time.

Now perhaps you already know some of these ballroom details.  And it’s also possible that I’d already heard these things in the past.  But there is so much to learn in ballroom, I generally can’t absorb all that is presented to me.  I have to hear things multiple times, and sometimes even hear the concepts described in a different way from a different instructor to develop a new awareness and understanding.  So for what it’s worth, here goes!

1)  In ballroom your knees always work together.  By “ballroom” I mean the Smooth or Standard dances and by “work together” I mean that both knees are bent or straight at the same time.  Conversely, in the Latin and Rhythm dances knees will often be performing opposite actions, one being bent and one being straight.

2) A Fall-away is the opposite of a Promenade.  Who knew?

3) Strictly speaking, in Rhythm Cha Cha there are no locks, only backward and forward chasses with the feet passing one another.

4)  There are 3 types of backward breaks in Bolero (video of Linda Dean demonstrating the 3 types below)

5)  Arm movement should come from the center of the chest, the sternum.

6)  There is no need for releve’ in the Bolero basic (this surprised me!) and in fact some judges prefer it be absent

7)  Always, always, always start a Bolero on a slow

8)  You can do Rumba timing in Bolero if it is on purpose and only lasts for two bars of music

9)  Everything in ballroom is a freakin’ optical illusion!  Don’t take big steps but do create big movement

10) Keep your nose over your toes!

11) Partners don’t actually connect via the back and hand in the ballroom frame, rather they connect upward through the arms

12)  The Samba is the “Brazilian Waltz” because just like a Waltz, every 2nd step is on the ball of the foot

13)  There is a difference between American Samba and International Samba!  It has to do with the timing.  In American Samba it is counted 1 & 2, or half beat, half beat, whole beat – the timing is pretty even.  In International Samba the counts are broken into fourths – the movement is less evenly spaced with 1/4th a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 3/4ths a beat, 1/4th a beat, whole beat, counted 1 ah 2, 3 ah 4.  International Samba appears to move more quickly and then slowly as movement is drawn out longer, then the next move is made quicker to make up the difference and to stay on the beat.

14) In swing you are supposed to emphasize the even counts

15) The “and” or “ah” count in Samba represents the time to do the Samba bounce action

16) Sharp leg extensions that occur when a dancer is at the lowest point of their movement (think foot flat on the floor, knee bent) is a Kick.  A Flick, on the other hand, is performed when a dancer is at their highest point of action (think on tippy toes with legs straight).  (Kind of like the difference between stalagmites and stalagtites!)

And there you have it.  Random but informative (hopefully)

Down And Dirty!

Okay folks, I’m tired and there is so much to say about the last two days of Dance Camp and the New Year.  I promise another, more detailed post will be forthcoming with multiple pictures, dance tips, and maybe even some video.

But there is one experience I am burning to share!  It was just too cool and makes me giggle so here goes….

First off, here is a photo of me an my new instructor:

rado

JUST KIDDING! 

Do you honestly think I’d EVER want to dance with anyone other than Ivan.  Exactly.   You are right.  Not gonna happen in this lifetime. 

But over the last weekend, Radomir was one of the excellent instructors at the dance camp and I honestly really enjoyed his sessions.  He is a technically excellent dancer, extremely disciplined and pristine in his movement, but he is also a pretty darn good teacher and communicator.  He brought a gentle warmth and humor to his classes while at the same time explaining the mechanics of steps.  In any case, he’s kind of a big deal and as an instructor and professional competitor, I, being a student, of course look up to him. 

Well, in the East Coast Swing class he taught, he introduced this one twisting move.  Imagine doing the actual “Twist” like from the song of the same name by the Beatles.  The extreme twisting action of the upper half of the body and the lower half.

In any case, after he had showed us this move in a series of steps of choreography, he stopped the class and told us he wanted it not to be so prissy, but rather “down and really dirty.” I think he expounded upon this even more but I couldn’t hear what he said because we were all laughing with embarrassment so heartily. Once he realized how he had come across, he started laughing too, but still the intention behind the move was there. He did want us to get low and feel the sultry, earthy quality inherent in the movement.

Now here is where it get’s really interesting. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Let’s show them how it’s done!”

OMG! LOL!

So he invited me to demonstrate to the class how to do this twist action “Down and Dirty” but first he explained the incorrect way of doing it…He began to panomime the same actions in a very repressed, shall I say “English-stiff-upper-lip” fashion and invited me to play along. I did and we performed the step stiffly and unemotively. He likened it to one of those middle-class gentry English dances done in the countryside at the turn of the century. We raised our hands and circled one another as if we were doing a courtship dance in the movie “A Knight’s Tale.”

But then we went for it! We twisted and we got low and we shook our katukus’ (katukasi???) Well, we shook our behinds like no kidding and it was awesome and he even gave me a high five when we finished.

You know, I think for me this was the best moment in the camp. It was just so cool to get to go to “the head of the class” with a professional like Rado and totally rock it. I danced with him a few other times for brief moments in other classes and always screwed up at least a little bit. But still, this kind of made up for it. It may sound silly, for me it meant that I had the ability to excute this move, so much so, that even being the biggest girl in the class, I was the one to demonstrate it to others.  I felt acknowledged and I also got to share my enjoyment of doing that particular move.

In any case, that’s my short story! I want to say Happy New Year and that I’m looking forward to what 2013 will bring.  I’m grateful to still be dancing and blogging. I wish you all the very best during our next orbit around the sun and I just wanted to share this little tidbit even if I don’t have the energy and patience just now to fill you in on all the other cool things that happened at Dance camp over the last two days.

Cheers!

Love, Stef

10-4

As promised, this post will be full of more positive things. We’ll start with the title of the post. Bear with me as I start the story at the beginning.

I arrived at my lesson and the first order of business was asking Ivan if he had my shoes. I had left them at the studio on Thursday and he had promised to pick them up, which he did, but then subsequently forgot. I had sent him a text, to which he hadn’t replied so when he said he didn’t have them, I asked him if he got the text. It was something to the effect of, “Please bring my shoes. If you don’t it will be ballet slippers again and I’m kind of done being a ballerina. Time to be a ballroom dancer…for realsies”

He said he got it but, “I no understand. What you say?”

I explained it and then he asked me about another text. He had been communicating with someone else and after they had figured out whatever time they were going to meet, the other person texted back to him “10-4”

Ivan was like, “What is this? I no understand. I thinking maybe this is the hours they are open?”

As I looked at the message, it dawned on me, and having been a person speaking a second language in a foreign country, I sympathised. I think people think Ivan knows more English than he does because he does so well but using a phrase like 10-4 is kind of an unfair stretch.

“Oh Ivan, here’s what it means. You know truckers? People who drive trucks for a living. They use the CB radio.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, well when they complete a message and then if the other person understands, and it’s all okay he says ‘ten-four’.”

“Ah. But how am I supposed to be knowing this? Oh my God. Not possible.”

“I know Ivan, I know.”

So anyways, I thought that was kind of funny. And the Bulgarian hilarity didn’t end there. Later in the lesson, we were playing around, just moving to the music, really going over the top. It itsn’t generally something we do, but it was a really good lesson. I had lots of energy, and we were really dancing. And it just came out of us. And so I’m being all big and full of feeling with my movements and Ivan is too, and then he gets down on his knee, and before I know it, he’s rolling like a log. Of course, bewiledred, I bust out laughing.

Apparently Ivan had been kind of inspired to this movement. He’d been to a performance where he and Marieta danced, and so did others doing what he called, “temporary dancing.” At first I couldn’t figure it out, but then, it made sense. Apparently some other couple did a contemporary number in which the male rolled on the floor. While this male dancer complimented Ivan on his dancing, Ivan replied back, “I see you get on the floor like this and if I get down there I never get up again!”

Well, I suppose all dancing is temporary so Ivan is maybe on to something. And, he did manage to get up off the floor and continue dancing, thank goodness.

Anyways, like I mentioned, it was a much-needed great lesson. We danced and I had lots of energy, we really hit it hard, and during some of the dancing, I even liked the way I looked. It’s such a fickle and fleeting feeling so I appreciate it when it happens. I thought we looked good doing some side by side Samba steps and my Rumba fan is much improved. In fact, Ivan even came to like my arm styling, which like, never happens. I pulled my arm closer to my neck and shoulder just doing what felt natural instead of doing what I normally always do, the prescribed motion, and Ivan picked up on it immediately.

“You so feminine. You like Marieta. Maybe this movement no look good on her, but you feminine like her and it look good on you.”

It was a discovery, I thought. A little piece of who I am as a dancer. I have a feeling that as I take off more and more layers, she will show up more and more. Indeed, the way that lesson went, I was super-motivated to continue doing the work to transform my body. If being a bit hungry and tired create results like this, well, it’s worth it.

But I have no delusions that I look very much different. For instance, later in the lesson Ivan encouraged me to touch my butt more or something and I was a bit hesitant.

“Ivan, if one of the things we are concerned about is how we will be perceived, I think trying to be all sexy or whatever, well, it will make people laugh at me again.”

“Ah. Okay. Yes, if you not doing anything, then all the people is see is the fat. But if you doing something, if you always bringing the attention, finally they seeing you dancing. They thinking, ah, yes, she is fat, but she is always bringing me to look, she is dancing, moving so well.”

I guess I’m practicing for when it does actually look sexy. I’m just going to have to once again get over myself, my fears and insecurities, and just do it. No matter what I look like at the moment. Because right now, the inside vision doesn’t match with the outside picture. It hasn’t for a while. I have to dance as if I were already that girl I see in my mind’s eye because you know what, evenetually, it will be.

So it was an energetic lesson and at the end Ivan was pumped.

“I like this lesson. I think it is the best. I so happy. I feel for the first time our potential, how strong we could be. Before, yes, I like it, but is better.”

“Ivan, just hang in there with me. We are going to be awesome. I just know it. We both just need to be patient.”

And as I reflected up on the lesson, it made me think about how important it is to “clear” things in relationships. Like just days ago I had a lesson where all we did was “clear.” All that emotion, all that communication, it was necessary. If we hadn’t addressed it, it would still be lingering in the space between, in the words unspoken, and it would still be affecting me/us. But since we did take the time to address it, it is cleared, like an erase board, and the slate is clear and open to be written upon once again. There was the space to get into the flow like we did on this lesson.

And I feel like, at the end of this lesson, saying 10-4 Ivan and the universe. I got the message. I’m on it. I see the value of working my butt off (literally) at the gym and with the cleanse and all that. I’m going to be the dancer I was meant to be.

After the lesson, I went to get some new shoes. I had a gift certificate from Christmas for the local ballroom shoe store and my practice shoes are stinky and the inner lining is coming up, plus my actual heels are also in poor shape, plus there was no guarantee that they would be in Ivan’s posession the next time we danced (which they weren’t) all good reasons, I thought for a new pair of each.

So here are my new heels:

The trip took longer than I thought it would and I also brought a brand different than I had anticipated. I wanted a shoe that would let me feel the floor because that is what I love so much about my practice shoes. My current heels have a tougher sole which makes it harder to feel the floor and to make a nice pretty point with my foot and toes. I thought Ray Rose, or Supadance (though really I want Dance Naturals but those are so tricky to purchase online) and tried on multiple pairs. Finally the salesman brought me a pair made by Bloch. I recognized the name from my days in ballet and jazz, thinking that they made toe shoes. Apparently the company which has been around since the 1930’s making shoes for ballet, tap, and jazz, has recently parlayed into the ballroom arena. And you know what, I’m glad they did. They fit the best. They had the nice soft sole I was looking for. Basically, they fit my American feet.

You see, I learned from the salesman, the biggest market for ballroom shoes is in Japan, followed by Europe. The higher quality shoes that I’ve tried always seem to be made for a narrow, delicate foot and small ankles. Well, I don’t fit that body type and it seems like Bloch, being an American company and all, and probably using designs similar to what they had used for other types of dance, well, they worked for my hooves.

So, well, I kind of recommend them. The one thing I didn’t like about them was the heel. It felt like it is placed properly, inward on the heel, but it has a chintzy plastic topper that I don’t care for.

I was skeptical at first, having it in my mind to get a shoe from a well-known ballroom company, but hey, if the shoe fits….

Plus, I can go to a shoe repairman and have them change out the heel, or apply some suede to improve it.

So them’s my recent ballroom escapades. I will report, in other news, that I did great at my mom’s birthday dinner. I stuck to sparkling water, having already consumed what I was supposed to ingest for the day. I had a bit of a headache but felt better over time and it was lots of fun with lots of laughter spending time with my family. I got to sit next to my brother and we got to talk for more than 2 minutes, as usually nevervhappens at these family events where he is busy with his 2 kids, both of which are under 5 years old. I was glad I went, and proud that I was able to use my determination and willpower to stick with it this time around.

Speaking of my mom, she is still taking occasional lessons with Ivan. He says she learns very quickly and I think they have a lot of fun together. I had a lesson after my mom this morning and popped in a few minutes early. They had just worked on Swing, Ivan said they’d just done it 5 minutes ago, and look at this:

She is just so darn cute! Way to go mom! Happy birthday and good job.

Over and Out.

Medusa

Good news is, I’ve begun a new job.  It’s a contract job and guaranteed for six months.  After that, who knows, but I’m really hoping it might turn into a “real” job.  They have to put a lot of resources into training us newbies and I can’t imagine they’d want to mobilize the resources again in a few months, except for in extreme cases of workers with poor performance or a hiring freeze or financial cutbacks.  But again, not something I have control over and I am just extremely thankful for what is, right now.

The bad news is, the learning curve is steep.  Not the normal pharmacist stuff…that’s fine…it’s all the company-specific computer and operational stuff.  It is just a LOT of information to absorb (not unlike learning the entire Bronze syllabus for the Rumba or something in just a few days).  In any case, it was so much info that I dreamt about it last night!  I just know my little brain was assimilating all it could.

You see, I’m playing catch-up because I was added to the job a week after everyone else started.  I’ve had 2 days.  They’ve had 9.  AHHH!  Luckily, I got some one-on-one training to help with all that, but it is still a lot to absorb.  So, all-in-all, not bad news, really – not even close!  After all I’ve been through in the job/financial/work environment categories, I’m GRATEFUL!  It’s just that my mind is spent.  I have the IQ of a wombat by the end of my 8 hour shift (no offense to wombats! Perhaps they are very smart, like parrots.  But I wouldn’t know about that, especially right now.)  And this showed up in my lesson tonight….not to mention the fact that yes, I did watch DWTS this week, and yes, the topical series articles are still in process, but I just haven’t had the mental fortitude to actually complete posts about them with real words and sentences and paragraphs in English and all that.

So anyways, I finished work for the day as a mental case and headed to meet with Ivan.

Even from the beginning he noticed a difference.  I told him, “Ivan!  I’m so tired.  I’m stupid right now.  Seriously.  It’s just that I’m starting a new job and have a lot to learn.  Let’s just dance something socially, kay?”

He was amenable and we began with a nice, soft, sloppy West Coast Swing.  Seriously, I was just barely moving as compared to how I normally show up, but it was about all I could physically and mentally muster.

“Stefanie?  What happen?  You dancing like Medusa?”

“Huh?  The woman with snakes for hair? The one who turned men to stone?  Also known as a Gorgon?  What the hell are you talking about, Ivan?”

“No, a medusa.”

“????”  Arms spread outward to the sides, palms up, shoulders shrugged.

“I make a picture later.”

“Okay Ivan.”

So before I get to that…this is/was the other “bad” news of the night.  I was pretty much worthless on my lesson.  First, I was exhausted mentally.  Secondly, the energy in my body seemed to be completely sapped after about 15 seconds of any dance we worked on.  And, finally I was laughing so much my belly hurt, I almost peed my pants, and because I was guffaw-ing so hard, I couldn’t breathe to dance properly.  It didn’t help that Ivan made fun of every little noise I made.  Yes, I admit, they weren’t what you’d usually hear on the dance floor, but I was so tired that I sighed, or grunted, or squealed depending on if I was trying to push through a move or scared or whatever.

Seriously, my stomach hurt from giggling so much, especially when I tried to “be serious” and then made a noise out of frustration or effort or just to try and breathe and Ivan imitated it which, like a row of dominoes, cascaded into a collapsing heap of me folding inward into a belly laugh.

In any case, we continued to dance and Ivan decided that Bolero was appropriate. Somehow this morphed into Latin Rumba and my Bulgarian dance instructor then decided that it was a prime opportunity to practice crazy stupid lifts and dips for someone as large as I am. We did a few leans with developes and some dips with me lifting my left leg into the air.  But Ivan was making me place all my body weight on his knee while he was in a deep lunge.  It freaked me out.  I actually felt my foot leave the floor for a second, realized that for that moment he was bearing all my body weight, and immediately broke the position so I could plant my feet firmly on the ground.  How can that man hold me up like that?!  I am just so insecure about it I wish he wouldn’t do it.

I have to admit this is not a new fear.  Even when I was 16 and weighed 116 pounds I was concerned about this.  Not logical, I know.  But I was in a production of “The Music Man” in my high school and cast as a dancer and member of the chorus.  There was one move in which I was partnered with a senior theater “god” which made me feel horribly insecure because 1) he was a Thespian paragon and 2) he had to pick me up at the waist and place me on a table.  But then again, looking back on it, it might not have been because of my weight that he failed to get me up there on the table that night.  Truly, he was a slight young man, and not at all muscular in the upper limbs.  In addition, he never practiced the particular move but once with me, and it had absolutely been ingrained in me to practice piano/ballet/anything if it was to be performed to the point where you can do it mindlessly, because when the moment comes to perform, all kinds of things can go wrong.  (And also, once I didn’t practice appropriately and bombed my piano recital.  Not a good feeling! But that is another story).  Anyways, I had a high anxiety level about this move knowing how un-practiced it was, and not having any connection to the person who was responsible for lifting me aloft except for a fearful and reverent adoration from afar, and so, my big fear did come to fruition.  He went to lift me up and I just fell right down.  At least I landed upright, on my feet (so that was good), and he had the theatrical training to grab me and sway side to side to cover the mishap – but I’m pretty sure the audience noticed the gaffe because 1) I made a big loud BOOM! when my character shoes hit the wooden stage floor instead of the table and 2) my dancing counterpart was on a table on stage right doing the same choreography I was supposed to be doing on stage left so things didn’t look symmetrical.  This, plus the fact that the bench I sat on during “Oliver!” while singing “Food, Glorious Food,” collapsed on stage while I (and about 19 other people) were sitting on it, confirmed my fear that I was horribly huge and fat.  See, all along, I really DID have a mental problem.  It just now has manifested into my physical reality, not just my mental reality.

Okay, back now from that psychological detour.  Interestingly, I actually thought this post would be quick because not much happened on the lesson – but clearly my complexes are rooted deeply!  Ahhh!

So a brilliant thing did actually happen on this very-low-energy lesson.  Ivan and I did all our basic Latin Rumba stuff and then I asked him about a step I’ve seen others do, and one that I *think* Igor may have been trying to lead me into last Friday, but that I didn’t know how to do.  What happened next may or may not be the same move, but it was damn cool, whatever it was.  Pretty much from an Alemana I then step forward into a double spiral turn and complete with two walks around the back of Ivan to fan position.  But I didn’t know this at the time.  All I knew was I’d seen this turn-y thing done on YouTube videos by professionals and Igor tried to lead me into something I wasn’t familiar with.

After two tries to decipher which step I meant, Ivan demonstrated what I *thought* I wanted to know so I said, “Ivan, teach me this step.”

At first he seemed a little reluctant but then he was like, okay.

“Is this a Bronze or Silver step?”

“No.  It’s an Ivan step.”

“Huh?”

“It not in the syllabus.  You do it, they kicking you off the floor.  You know who doing this?  It Joanna Leunis.”

“Really!?!  I LOVE her.  She’s amazing.  But okay.  I’m clear. So if we get to do it, we do it in an open heat.”

“Yes, open.”

He led me into it, but only indicated one spiral turn.  I did this successfully then he said, “Oh.  It better if you can do a double.  Can you do a double?”

I didn’t know if I could but I wanted to try.

Bam!  I totally did it.

Ivan and I gave each other a double “Hi Five” and a hug.  I was so excited.  In fact, it was probably the most animated part of my lesson, succeeding at this maneuver.  He told me, “Most people doing this step and can’t even do a single turn.”  He demonstrated, in his Ivan-exaggerated way of how people fall out of the turn (normally), leaning and listing to this side or the other and causing a big problem.  So he wanted me to try it again, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

But me, woot! I easily did the double again! Maybe I’m finally finding my center, once again, and also remembering to spot, plus I had the added advantage of just that little assist in balance from connecting with Ivan – for me that little bit of support makes all the difference, I have to say. So yay.

“See.  I no have to teach you the step.  You already doing it.”

“Let’s try it again, Ivan.”

We did.  And it was successful for the next 3 tries.  On the 4th try I fell to the floor.  I swear the wooden floor at the church is so slippery!  I need new shoes and that floor is difficult.  I love the sticky/tacky floor at Imperial.  It spoils me and I wish it were everywhere!  Anywhoo….I fell.  But I am uninjured and overall the move was a rousing success.

Next onto a Samba.  For some reason, Ivan keeps calling it “Sambera” lately.  Whatever.  He put on the music and since I had suggested we dance socially, we decided to do the Samba in that character.  Oh my gosh, I can’t remember when I ever laughed so hard.  I told Ivan that it is sometimes painfully difficult to watch social dancers do the Samba.  Some of them hop, and jolt, and have no hip movement.  They dance like 2 x 4’s as Ivan calls it when he means people are stiff.  This isn’t to generalize or degrade people who socially dance the Samba, I promise, it’s just that I’ve seen some couples and I’m like, wow, why are you dancing this dance this way?  It is awkward.  Probably the same reaction someone had to me dancing West Coast Swing (as taught by a ballroom instructor) before I knew about the dance.  I promise, we all have stuff to work on, you know?!

So Ivan and I danced this way – no hips, stiff, 2×4, wooden.  It was hilarious!  It looked ridiculous.  And such a contrast from Ivan, who normally dances it so amazingly, and from me, who works so dang hard to create a proper Samba bounce plus hip motion.  I truly wish I had that s*@t on film!  It was too funny.

Honestly though, besides that, the rest of my lesson was unremarkable.  We did Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, and Cha Cha.  I dragged.  Ivan poured as much Chi energy my way as he could.  It felt a little like an energetic transfusion of sorts.  I did feel somewhat better by the end of the lesson, but still, I’m drained.  Oh well.  Glad I did have one “triumph.”

So please root for Ivan and Marietta as they compete this weekend at the Emerald Ball in LA.  There is live streaming of the entire event (though a pay-per-view) here if you want to watch from home.  It is a big and prestigious and competitive event.  I really, really hope my favorite couple (besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski) does well.  Ivan seemed to think they wouldn’t even make the final at such a large comp, but I reminded him to look into his mirror, remember the champion he already is, and have an optomistic attitude.  Because you know what? I believe in him and Marietta.  I enjoy watching them dance because they have an real and emotional connection.  And to me, that makes things interesting.  As I’ve said before – I’d prefer to watch a couple that is less technically excellent with an authentic connection than an impeccably technically excellent couple with no emotion or connection any day of the week.

So anyways, as I pumped this positive support Ivan’s way, he rebutted my support by asking me to jump on the roof.  So I jumped.  Not high, not impressively, and certainly not onto the roof, but happily.

He about peed his pants laughing at me.  He said, “Being in the final of Emerald Ball for me is like jumping on the roof right now.  Can people do it?  Yes.  But they need to practice.  You have to remember, I lazy.  And I should be practicing jumping and little by little I jump on the roof like it easy.”

“So what?!” I replied. I jumped up again.  Again, not graceful, not impressive, but to illustrate a point that I hope Ivan got.

The point is, GO FOR IT.  Wherever I am/he is/you are right now, go for it.  Why not?

“You can’t controlling how the judging goes in competitions so you might as well have fun.” Said Ivan.  And I agreed.

“So go have fun at Emerald Ball, Ivan, damnit!  Go have fun!  I will be watching and rooting for you.  You know you are my favorite couple? Right?  Well, if I am honest, besides Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski….they I like them best, and you guys (Ivan and Marietta) the second best.”

Ivan was so excited by my comment he said laughingly, “I tell Marietta this.  You know her favorite dancer?”

“Yes, Ivan.  I know it’s Joanna.”

“Yes.  She gonna get a kick that your two favorite couples are Joanna Leunis with Michael Malitowski and us!”

But I mean it.  And so you must be wondering why?  Well, my response is, why not love these two couples?  Because for me, when I watch them, there actually seems to be a connection and that makes the interaction between man and woman interesting to watch.  And Joanna is immaculate.  Truly.  From my perspective, all the high level competitors are technically excellent in their dancing, no doubt about it, but I love the drama, the connection, the emotion.  I personally prefer that above perfect technique, and I guess Ivan does too, based on our conversation which is interesting and makes it no mystery why he ended up being my instructor since we both value the same things in dancing.  I do believe Joanna and Michael to be superior to Ivan and Marietta in terms of experience, ranking, technicque, and even, I hate to say it, connection, but I also happen to believe Ivan and Maretta have the potential to forge an excellence and connection strong enough of their own to compete with the best in the world.  Of course, I’m biased.  But as a dancer and human being, I also happen to see that potential in them.

Whew!  Have I said everything I wanted to say?  Yep.  A brief post – just another 2800-word (and change) post.  Ha ha. Not!

Oh – and before I sign off, I have to explain the title of this post.  Medusa. Well, Ivan “made” me a picture of what “the hell” he was talking about….a jellyfish.  Apparently I was dancing like a boneless, blubbery, soft jellyfish.  The interesting part is that how Ivan described “medusa” to me was that it “90% water.”  Uh huh.  How do you know how to communicate something like that but you don’t know the word for jellyfish?  I’ll never know.  And also, once I figured out that medusa meant jellyfish, I asked Ivan, “Is that the word in Polish or Bulgarian?”

” Bulgarian,” he replied.

“Well great.  ‘Cause that is a useful word, if I ever go to visit there….now I know how to say jellyfish.”  Probably “bathroom” and “beer” and “I’m sorry” would actually be more useful, right?

Damn.

Watch out you Bulgarians.  I am now armed with the word for jellyfish.  Kind of like a Marine armed with a banana.  Sheesh!

It’s way past bedtime.

Gute Nacht,  Stefanie

You Want To Meet at WHAT time???!!!

At the end of my lesson on Thursday, Ivan told me that he was going skiing this weekend in Payson to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

“Have fun and be safe,” I said.  “I will probably see you next Tuesday, then.”

For some reason, maybe because it would be 4 days without practice, Ivan said, “Come for a lesson tomorrow.  I give you buy one get one free.”

I couldn’t turn that down so I said “Well, Ivan, I work until 5pm so it’d have to be like 6pm.”

“Let me check my schedule.”

And we agreed he would call me to confirm the time for this extra lesson.

About 3 minutes later, I got a call.

“Stefanie, I forget I am leaving at 5pm tomorrow to leave for Payson.  What time you have to be at work?”

Was he really this committed to getting an extra lesson in that he was suggesting we dance before I went to work for the day?

“I have to be there at 9am but it is like 40 minutes away from the studio so we’d need to be done around 8am.  We’d have to meet at like 6:30am to get a double lesson in and be done in time.”

“Oh my God!  6:30am?  Let’s try it.  I never had a lesson so early!  But we do it.  Okay?”

I agreed.  But warned Ivan, as my husband can attest, that I am NOT a morning person.  I was gonna have to be up by 5am to get ready and make it to the studio on time.  It is about 45 minutes away from my home.

It was dark and cold when I arrived at the studio, but there is something magical about starting the day in darkness and watching the world warm as the orange sun rises in the horizon.

Sunrise in Aachen, Germany by Lusitana

Ivan told me that everyone was asleep in his house, even the dogs, but that his father-in-law woke up and asked him what he was doing.

“Teaching a dance lesson,” he explained.

“What?  At this hour?  Who is so crazy to have a lesson so early?”

Um, that would be me.

We began with stretches and a Bolero to warm up.  We then proceeded to mark the Rumba routine, which Ivan has changed once again.  After about an hour working on the showcase piece, we just start dancing, going through Samba, Swing, Cha Cha, and Mambo.  I’ve worked up a sweat and my body was warm and buzzing and it wasn’t even 8am yet.

Maybe Ivan is crazy and maybe I’m crazy too.  So far this man has had me do all sorts of tricks that I’d never imagined I’d do, meets with me regularly at a location that takes me 45 minutes to get to, and now has me coming in for lessons at ungodly hours of the day.  But I saw it as an opportunity.  I could have said no, thanks Ivan, but I’d rather get an extra hour and half of sleep and stay in my warm, comfy bed, plus I’m not a morning person.  But really, now, even though it was a little bit uncomfortable, which experience will I ultimately treasure more?  Sleeping or dancing?  The answer is clear for me.

So, what else am I saying “yes” to in my life?  What am I saying “no” to?  What am I missing out on because of those choices?

“Yes” to sleeping in means “no” to time to meditate or do some physical activity in the morning before going into work.  “Yes” to wine with dinner means “yes” to extra calories, sleep disturbances, and not being my best the next morning –  but it  feels really good in the moment.  I mean, every moment is a choice, and every choice has prices and benefits.  What benefits am I garnering by my choices and what prices am I really paying?

I’m glad that in this instance I chose to say “yes” to an extra dance class.  Though I had to pay a price of being a little bit sleep-deprived, in this case I think it was worth it.

But I have to be honest here.  I don’t always choose in ways that ultimately support me in achieving the things I say I want.  Isn’t it a strange aspect of the human condition that we can be moving toward something and fighting against ourselves at the same time?  I have been doing it for years and years with my weight and my body.  Sadly, I think the price hasn’t been high enough yet for me to commit to changing, no matter what.  I haven’t committed.

I’d love to be able to write here that I’ve chosen to commit, but based on results, often harsh but always fair, I really haven’t.  I’m telling myself I’m committed to the picture in my head of what I will look like at the Desert Classic, but I’m not always taking the actions to support that.  I’ve plateaued with the weight loss this past week because I went off plan.  I’ve been saying yes to comfort and no to my goal.  I got knocked a little off path emotionally when I released the tutoring and went to my habitual way of coping, which isn’t coping, it is eating.  I will say it was less severe than other times in the past but it has still set me back.  Why do I keep doing this to myself?  I’ll do well for a while and then relax.  I’ll be feeling good, have some positive momentum behind me, and then I self-sabotage.

I’m in this pre-contemplative state.  I have access to that Insanity work out program that I could do at home, and I have a dvd of the New York Ballet work out, as well as Hip Hop Abs.  I have a Kinnect on my Xbox 360 and Dance, Dance Revolution.  I could stretch.  I could practice doing a Rumba box in my kitchen.  I could say no to the lunch they are ordering at work because I brought my BistroMD meal.  I could be doing so much more.  And I don’t.

In moments when the pain of the burden of the flesh I’m carrying around is acute, I resolve to myself that I will change.  Like, when I was at Galaxy and I saw pictures of myself, or when I’m in Inna’s class, dying for breath, in those moments I realize I can’t continue to exist like this and that I must change.  But the feeling fades and so does the motivation.  I can’t seem to make it “stick.”

So, I’m gonna ask for some support here.  I am not good at this.  I can’t seem to resolve to just power through this journey like I did for the first few weeks.  I experienced some unsettling feelings in my life and I allowed it to become an excuse.  I’m up against the wall and I’m caving in.  I’ve done this same thing for years, now, basically just treading water but not making it anywhere.

Like in my mind I intellectually know exactly what I could do.  And I know that I need to do it no matter how I “feel” about it if I’m going to get where I want to go.  I need to be pushing my body regularly in new ways that stress it and make it adapt.  I need to be eating on my plan.  I need to be getting the proper amount of sleep and take a multi-vitamin.  So if I know all this, why am I still not doing it!?

I hate to be such a “Debbie Downer” and this is my reality right now.  I’d love to be all, rah, rah, sis-boom-ba! I’m gonna tackle the world and kick some ass!  But that would be lying.  I need some external motivation, I think – some tighter accountability and someone to push me even when the going gets tough.  I’m just being a whiny wimp right now, I know.  I’m sure I’ll shift out of it at some point.  But why do I even go here in the first place?

Well, this I know.  I have a dance lesson to go to most days this week.  I know I will show up for styling with Marieta on Monday, Inna’s class on Tuesday, Toni’s class on Wednesday, and Tina’s class plus a dance party on Thursday.   I know I will also schedule at least 2 lessons with Ivan.  I know I will show up for these things and will keep showing up.  I know that I will choose to get back on plan and I know that I will progress.  I just don’t know why I continue to take these detours along the way.

So, if anyone has some suggestions to help me out, please post a comment.  I am open to your feedback on how I can be more self-disciplined.  What has worked for you in the past?  What helped you to finally overcome something you came up against over and over?  What finally got you to make the changes you knew you needed to make and stick with them, no matter what?  What got you to commit?

I’ve hit a wall and I need some help to get over it.

AND

I have NO excuses.  Seriously.

This man, Nick Vujicic, is a Samurai.  Check out his video and you’ll see what I mean:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc4HGQHgeFE&feature=youtu.be

Ok, enough complaining, Stefanie.  It just relieves the pressure so I don’t have to do anything about my situation.  But the reality is, I need to be putting that energy I’m putting toward complaining toward my goal instead.  After all, the sun will rise on a different day tomorrow.  I can choose back in.  And so I will.

-Stef