Topical Series: Back To Basics

As a dancer, I’ve discovered some themes that I continue to return to over and over and over.  So I thought I’d share what I consider to be some of the foundational “basics” that I continue to work on in my journey to mastery and excellence in my dancing.  But the thing is, as foundational as these concepts are, and as much as I think I understand them, at least intellectually, I am still very much challenged to execute them, especially consistently and in concert.  But, hey, that’s part of what makes dancing so wonderful to pursue…the journey is never-ending and profound.

RumbaBasicBoxStep

By AaronOReilly (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So here they are, my thoughts on the basic concepts as I’ve come to know them in ballroom dancing:

1) Dance On Your Own Two Feet

Okay, okay.  This one seems obvious.  And when you are dancing alone, you have no choice but to do it yourself.  But add a partner, like in ballroom dancing, and it can create a level of dependency on one or both of the partners.  In ballet you use a barre, but you are only supposed to use it sparingly, lightly, just for balance adjustments and such.  You shouldn’t hang on it or pull on it or rip it off the wall.  Well, your partner should be used similarly – very little or not at all.  But it’s different with a partner than a barre, of course.  First off, unlike a stationary barre, your partner is moving.  In addition, you don’t dance with a barre out in the center in ballet and don’t need to be connected to it in any way, but in ballroom that connection is an essential aspect of the dance – as they say it takes two to tango!

But even if it takes two, those two should not be holding one another up!  I think this “basic” in particular has been on my mind lately for a few reasons.  First we are working on some open routines with more choreography out of a hold, and more challenging choreography in hold position.  I can’t tell you how easy it is to fall into the bad habit of using Ivan to propel myself hither and thither with my arms rather than powering myself with my own legs.  And this is even though I’m conscious of trying not hanging on him!  There most definitely areas in the dance where I depend on him more than I should.  He, on the other hand, has been supporting me too much.  He needs to pull away in those moments when I am not aware of how much I’m pulling, not over my own two feet.  I need him to do this so that I can have that kinetic feedback that alerts me immediately that I’ve invaded his space.  Without that feedback I can’t correct it because I don’t always realize how much I am doing it.

Another reason I realize it is because dancing the choreography on my own feels very different and is much more difficult than dancing it with Ivan.  When I dance alone, I can see where I am trying to step too far, where I am off-balance, where I’m not sure of the counts or the choreography.  I have to know what I’m doing 100% – be responsible for 100% of my dance…not try to off-load 15% to Ivan!  It’s humbling and so good for me.  My goal is to be able to dance the entire routine by myself as if Ivan were there so that when he joins me, I dance it like I do when I am on my own two feet, and we can create some awesome synergy rather than expending energy keeping me vertical, or in his attempts to get me back on time when I am late in a movement.

So anyways, I don’t know if I have any real tips about actually doing this dancing yourself/being-on-your-own-feet/not-hanging-on-your-partner idea except to begin to practice all your steps or routines solo to see how it feels to do it alone.  I promise it will be illuminating!

2)   Connection, Connection, Connection and Connection…and more Connection!

Let me be the first to admit I’m not always the best at connection!  There is so much to connect with in any given instant in dancing that I often feel overwhelmed!  I mean you gotta be connected to the music, connected to your partner, connected with yourself, and connected with your audience.  And each of these connections embodies a myriad of elements.  Often, if I connect with one aspect, I lose connection with a different aspect.  Let me explain what I mean by saying all this:

Connection to the music:  You have to remember that dancing is an interpretation of the music, a physical expression of the music through the body.  The movement you are doing should reflect the song.  Things to think about (or feel) when dancing to a particular song include the story told by the song, the mood of the song, the beat and timing and speed of the song.  Like, you aren’t going to do Jive moves to a romantic ballad.  The movement has to be appropriate to the music.  One of the biggest things I hone in on when dancing is how does the song make me feel inside?  How does my body want to move to express that feeling?  Am I going to keep my movements tight, sharp, upbeat and staccato, or am I going to reach for the roof and glide with sweeping large movements, or am I going to slink and prance and twist?  In any case, you can see that there is a lot to thing about in terms of connecting to the music.

Connection to your partner: This is probably one of the most difficult things to describe but when it is present you can feel it.  Of course there many aspects to connecting with a partner.  The most obvious way to connect is through physical touch.  In ballroom we connect through the arms but actually this is somewhat of an illusion.  What I mean to say is that the connection really comes from the core of the body, the spine and hips.  The arms are (or should be) connected to the core and an extension of the body’s core.  This is why if my partner moves his hips, if we are connected properly, the movement will transfer through our connection into my hips.  It’s Einstein’s law – you know the one – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction?  Well, when connected properly, this law of physics can be demonstrated in ballroom dancing.

But beyond the physical connection, there is also an intangible energetic or emotional connection between dance partners.  This is the connection relied upon when not touching.  It’s the way I can tell it’s time to start so we begin in unison.  It’s how I know to step backwards as Ivan moves toward me.  Over time and with practice it becomes easier to detect – the partners become more aware of it and sensitive to it.  I can almost feel it sometimes, like when you get close to a stove and can feel the heat coming off of it without touching it….it’s kind of like that.  I will become aware that the energy I’m projecting is meeting the energy Ivan is projecting and building up in a kind of elastic tension….it pushes or resists between us when our bodies are getting closer but then pulls us together like an invisible rubber band when we are farther apart.  It’s tricky to do, especially in 360 degrees!  I’m much better at it facing forward, but a real expert should be able to connect in any way, in the back, on a knee, or whatever, in a sphere of space around them.

Connection to yourself:  This is basically being aware of what is going on for you, both physically and energetically/emotionally while you are dancing.  It is also physically integrating your movement so your arms are connected to what your legs are doing and connected to what the body is doing and connected to what the head is doing.  Movements should happen in unison, not piecemeal, with extremities reacting to the movement of the body but arriving at the same time rather than a beat before or after.

Connection to your audience:  Finally, there is connecting with spectators.  It can seem pretty scary at first but it is an essential aspect of any dance performance to project expression.  Dancing that is insular, self-absorbed, and contained is not engaging.  The movement falls flat and feels distant if you are dancing in your own little world for yourself and no one else.  Connecting with your audience means actually making eye contact, smiling, pouting, making faces, but also actually seeing them and allowing them to see you.  You have to look beyond yourself and it can feel uncomfortable, but it’s part what makes dancing so amazing.

3) Timing, Timing, Timing, and more Timing

When I first started dancing, I thought, “Hey, great, I can hear the beat and that’s enough.”  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Though being able to hear the beat is essential, really knowing your timing for each dance, whether quick, quick, slow, or 2-3-4-1, is imperative.  Especially when you want to play with the timing or use syncopation and pauses, it is vital to understand the timing of the dance.  One great thing to do (though it can seem tedious) is to count aloud.  And not just count, but count verbalizing the differences in the beats.  For instance, quick, quick, slow…should sound like quick, quick, sloooooow.  The longer count is drawn out, just as the movement completed during that count should also be slowed and lengthened while the movement is faster on the quick counts.  You should be able to see the difference between the counts as in a Rumba – there should be a distinct and apparent difference between the beats, not 3 even beats but two fast ones and one slower one.  You can also make counts louder vocally if they should be emphasized as in the 1 and 3 of the Cha Cha.  This helps create dynamic in the dance.

4)  Body Alignment and Mechanics

Every movement a dancer makes happens because of how the body is put together.  Dancing works and looks best when we work within the physical laws that govern how our body is knit together and how gravity works upon it.  Having proper alignment through the spine is especially vital, and correct alignment throughout the entire body from the toes to the nose, from ankles through knees to hips, not only helps create lines that are aesthetically pleasing, but prevents injuries.

For instance, we are going to move slower if we do bigger movements.  We can be quicker if we make smaller movements.  This is a universal law of physics that can’t be overcome.  We have to leverage how our bodies naturally move through space rather than fight against it.  For instance, if you are going to twist your hips around your spine, you have to keep the spine and shoulders stable so that they have something to twist against.  If you don’t resist the twisting in the upper body and instead allow it to also rotate, you will make this movement much more difficult and slower.

Knowing how your body is positioned in space, and how to properly align it by pulling upwards through the center are essential skills for any dancer.  But one of the things I find fascinating about ballroom dancing in particular is that all of the movement is based on how the body naturally moves.  This is different from ballet where movements, although possible anatomically, are not ones a person off the street would ever do (like no one is just going to break out and do a plie and sissone!)  But people off the street do spin, hold hands, step forwards and backwards.  Ballroom seems to me to be an artistic exaggeration and embellishment of normal everyday movements.  Therefore it follows that they are based on how the joints, muscles, and bones (basically the body structure) are aligned and how they relate to one another.  Finding that centered, balanced, aligned positioning is a continual challenge in my dancing, and one I continually return to all the time.

5) Sometimes You Have To Forget  All The Rules

This is kinda self-explanatory.  Sometimes you have to just stop thinking and allow the movement inside you to just come out however it looks!

Here is an example of really letting go!

When dancing from a space of total freedom, like Napoleon here, we most express ourselves, we stop trying to “be” something or someone.  We stop trying to package ourselves in a perfect box and just let go.  Sometimes this is how our soul takes flight and allows the creation of the most beautiful, unique, and pure movement.

What are the “basics” that keep resurfacing in your dance journey?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  -Stef

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Topical Series: Ballroom Demystified (Part Deux)

Where was part one, you may ask?  Well this post is an extension of another post by Alaina which you can read here.

I thought it was an excellent topic and told her so.  And, me being as opinionated and vociferous as I am (at least as a writer), I was inspired to continue the conversation.

I’ll use Alaina’s same format.  She was comparing DWTS, which probably represents how most uninitiated people think of ballroom, to what actually happens at a ballroom competition.  If you’ve never been to one, then you can’t possibly know, but the two are worlds apart.  I think pretty much the only things they have in common are spray tans, amazing outfits and hair, the fact that there are judges, and Pro/Am couples.  Other than that, things are really different.  And one housekeeping note – I’m talking about NDCA Dancesport competitions as those are the ones I have experience with.  There are other competitions put on through studio chains or through other independent companies like World Promotions which have their own set of rules and protocols.

Point 1: In competition, there are multiple couples on the floor at the same time

Alaina got this right.  The only thing I’ll add, is man, is it a different experience with all that movement going on at the same time.  It kind of makes more sense as to why ballroom couples try to be so ostentatious.  If you don’t know what they will be up against, it may seem particularly gaudy and over-the-top how they move, how they dress, how they do their hair and make up, and all that.  Each couple is vying for the attention of the judges and the audience and being showy, glittery, or even ridiculously cheeky, may help achieve that aim.  It is practically impossible to watch just one couple while they compete as each one will catch your eye at a different point.  This is also part of why couples rotate around the ballroom between heats – to perform for a different section of the audience and hopefully gain their support.

Point 2:  Two styles of dance

I’d argue that there are 4 categories of dance – broadly divided into American styles and International styles.  But it’s not just the styling that is different – it’s also the dances that are performed.  On the American side are the American Rhythm and Smooth Divisions, and on the International side are Standard (or Standard Ballroom) and Latin.

American

American Rhythm – Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo

American Smooth – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

International

Standard Ballroom – Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese, Waltz, Quickstep

Latin – Samba, Cha cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive

As you can see, some of the dances are the same.  This is where that styling that Alaina was referring to fits in.  In general, legs are straight in Latin Rumba and Cha Cha but there is a bending and straightening action that occurs in American Rhythm.  In American Smooth, couples can go in and out of a dance frame hold and tend to do lots of sweeping movements, and spins with the lady, and maybe dips too, but in Standard Ballroom, the couples must remain in a dance frame hold throughout the entire dance and travel in unison around the floor.  On DWTS, Len’s background would be more in Latin and Standard Ballroom (being from Great Britan) and this is why he often harps about couples breaking out of hold (which I think he used to do more often than he currently does).

In addition, there are also other dances that may be at competitions like country western dances, Night Club Two Step, Argentine Tango, and West Coast Swing, but generally they have different stylization as compared to the dances as danced in their traditional milieu, like a milonga, or with true “Westies.”

Furthermore, there are more types of pairings that can occur.  On DWTS we see a little of this – sometimes there are Pro/Pro pairings, also formation teams, both of which occur at competitions.  In competitions, there are also purely Amateur couples, some of which are very high level and almost as good as the pros.  This pairing is two amateurs and would be the equivalent of two of the “Stars” on DTWS pairing up.  Now that would be interesting to see on the show, but would probably result in poor dancing because instead of only 1 person not knowing what they are doing, both would be clueless!

Also, remember that the couples dancing at competition do not know ahead of time which music they will be dancing to.  On DWTS the routines are more like those that would be presented during a showcase; the music is known and choreographed to.  But in competition, you may have a routine but it has to work and the timing must be correct no matter what music is played.  DWTS did show some of this with those “Instant dances” they have had on a few seasons.  Those dances test the skill set of leading and following.  I believe (though I don’t know for sure) that for most divisions the couples have a pre-planned routine, however they still have to remain in connection so they can react seamlessly if another couple gets in their way or something unexpected happens like one partner forgets the routine.  They can then fall back on lead-follow dancing to get them through.  However, in the Standard Ballroom division, I think there is more of a chance that the couples don’t have a planned routine.  They probably have the basic idea of what they will do and also which steps they will want to show off, but because there is so much movement around the floor and many couples are buzzing around, floorcraft is key in this division in particular.  The couple has to react quickly and often to avoid collisions. (As an aside, I think Artem and Inna are particularly adept at this.  I’ve only ever seen them almost collide once, ever, on a video, and I have seen them masterfully avoid collisions multiple times without missing a single step.)  Anyways, I think in this division, and probably Smooth as well, lead-follow plays a much bigger role.

Amendment:  Please do see the comments section of this post!  Why? Because Ellen so generously and eloquently clarified this detail, about Standard Ballroom dancers.  I am incorrect, it seems!  Standard dancers do have planned routines, and maybe even more so than other dancers!  Who knew?  See Ellen’s explanation!  The main idea is that there are only certain ways to get into and exit out of various steps (very true) so they have to be strung together in careful and meticulous order, which many times will require a pre-set routine.  And yes, I admit when I am wrong! LOL!  Love it!  Thank you for interacting, Ellen!  I appreciate you so very much.

Point 3: Scoring and points

Yeah, there are no paddles at competitions.  Instead, judges mark couples, ranking them or recalling them on forms which are collected and tabulated, and then at various intervals during the day there are awards.  The announcer quickly calls out who made 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in a particular heat.  That’s it.  You may get some gold stickers, or you may get some coupons for $1 off rounds if you compete again next year for placing, and a plaque for participating, but no mirror ball trophy.  Medals are sometimes given for placing in a scholarship competition (I will explain that in a bit).  But certainly no commentary on what each couple did well or any advice on how to improve like happens on DWTS.

Another difference is that because there are multiple couples competing at the same time, if there is a large heat, with many participants, it is possible that many rounds may have to be danced.  There can be multiple preliminary rounds, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals.  During each iteration, a few of the couples will be eliminated.  In the earlier rounds where there are many couples on the floor, the judges simply vote to “recall” those couples they’d like to see more of.  The final round will consist of 6, maybe 7 couples, so getting to semifinals can be a real feat if there are like 24 couples entered in the competition.  Rounds like this can be found at bigger competitions like Ohio Star Ball, or Millennium, or USDC, but usually only happen for pros.  I’ve only ever had one heat large enough to require a semifinal.  All the other heats I’ve danced have always been a final right off the bat because there aren’t enough couples to warrant multiple rounds.

Once reaching the final, judges then place the couples as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.  Each judge gives his or her own individual opinion/ranking and these are tabulated.  This is why you see perhaps 33221 by the picture or write-up in the media of a couple that placed 3rd.  In this example, 2 judges placed the couple 3rd, two judges placed them 2nd, and 1 judge placed them 1st.  The couple with the most 1st’s wins and the ranking follows the same pattern.  Hopefully the rankings will agree somewhat, indicating that the positions were highly contested, and the the judges were generally on the same page as to the excellence of the the couples.  Sometimes, however, they may also vary widely.  A couple can miss a final round, or a higher placement by the opinion of just one judge.  Truly, for this reason, I have such respect for the strength of character and perservence of the pros who put themselves out there to compete.  It can be a brutal process sometimes and very difficult to convince the majority of judges to place you highly enough to reach any level of professional success.

Often competitors can obtain their scoresheets after the competition online to see how a particular judge placed them, or if that judge recalled them.  If the competitor knows the predilections of that judge, then they may gain insight in areas to work on.  For instance, some judges are known to focus in on toplines, others footwork, others overall presentation.  In addition, competitors can see if there was a wide variation in their placements, or if the judges generally agreed upon how they were placed, again giving them more of an idea of what to focus on in the future.

Here’s where I’m going to veer off the path laid by Alaina.

Point 4: Single dances versus Scholarship Rounds, Open versus Closed heats

Okay, so in competitions there are a variety of types of heats.  Single dances are just what they sound like.  You want to dance Mambo, you dance a Mambo.  You will dance it at the appropriate level and age category.  In America, there are Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels.  These may be further divided into “pre-” or “full” or “intermediate” levels.  For instance, as a way of stretching yourself, if you are ranked as a full-Bronze student, you may also participate in a pre-Silver level heat to see how you fare against more advanced competition.  In addition, you dance with people your same age, and can dance against those one age category below you.  This makes it fair so 20-year-olds aren’t competing against octagenarians.

Scholarship rounds are kind of like a mimic of what the pros do.  The pros don’t dance a single dance.  They dance all the dances in their category.  Now, for us beginners, they go a little easier on us.  First, for the lower levels like Bronze, you may only dance 3 or 4 of the dances required by the pros.  Also, the length of the heats is less – 1:10 minutes to 1:2o seconds versus about 2:00 minutes for pros.  Thank God, I have to say, because it takes time to build up the cardiovascular capacity and skill level necessary to complete all the dances for such a (relatively) long duration.  So for instance, I did a closed Bronze scholarship round in Latin at Desert Classic.  This meant that I danced 3 dances in a row: Samba, Cha cha, Rumba and was ranked on those compared to the other Pro/Am couples on the floor at the same time in my same skill level and age category.  No Paso Doble of Jive for me! (Thank heavens!  However, I did dance some single dances in Jive, separately)

Again the scholarship rounds are divided by skill level and age.  They can get very competitive, especially at the Open level.

Okay, now for the difference between Open and Closed.  Closed rounds are those that only include steps in the syllabus.  For NDCA events, this is the DVIDA syllabus.  Open rounds can include more creative choreography and include steps not strictly on the syllabus.  There can be open single dances as well as open scholarship rounds.  They can also still be divided by skill level, so for instance you can dance an open bronze Bolero or an open silver Waltz.

When pros compete, they are competing as an open.  Anyone can enter.  Though for Pro/Am and Amateur levels, the open scholarship rounds are generally still divided by age, but then again, you don’t usually see senior citizens in open professional competition, but you will see them in open Pro/Am scholarship rounds.

Hmm….well, that’s probably just scratching the surface of the differences between DWTS and a NDCA competition.  Honestly, if you’ve never been to one, it’s worth checking out.  The energy of the ballroom during pro heats is unbelievable.  And it’s so inspiring and incredible.  Though I love getting my DWTS fix, I love being a part of this other world and participating in the “real deal.”  There are a lot of ways to participate in ballroom and I’d encourage anyone to participate to any level that works for them, from social dancing, to full-on competition.  All are wonderful, and special, and important.  But for me, I’ve decided, it’s the competition route I’m interested in.  Yeah, I’m crazy.  I know.  Lol.

If you do happen to have anything to add, or any further questions, please comment!  I love hearing other perspectives, and about other experiences.  Part of what I’m after here on the blog is to build community.  Please join in the fun!

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

Good Animal. Meow.

So now that I’ve told my current employer that I’ve been offered a new position, I guess it’s kosher to share that news with you, too.   This is a very good thing and I’m very thankful.  After writing my letter of intent and warily walking into work this morning, I was thrilled that things went really well and that it has been an amicable parting of ways.  I will still be there for a few more weeks to help them out but then I’ll be off to the next adventure.

I preemptively scheduled a lesson after work because you just never know how the day is going to go and dancing is my outlet.  No matter what is going on in my life, if I have to focus on a step and be present in the moment, worries melt away, at least for a little while.  Plus I get the opportunity to lather up a good sweat and then the endorphins kick in, so I generally end up feeling better after 45 minutes of dancing.

I walked in to the studio this afternoon and after changing into workout clothes, we began with a Tango.  Man, did it feel awesome!  I was so fiery for a change and Ivan told me my frame was good.  Interestingly, from my perspective it was his frame that was better.  To me, I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, but he felt more present, strong, direct through the arms and upper chest.  I don’t actually know what may have shifted and truthfully, I don’t really care, but for whatever reason, whether it is him, or me, or the both of us, it was really working well.

I began to think that Ivan was really enjoying doing all those head snaps and cortes and staccato movements.  Truly, it is so fun when it works and it seemed to be working pretty well right then, so I was really enjoying it too.  It also made me feel like dancing bigger, taking larger steps that open at the hip rather than the knee, and really flying around the studio.  It was fantastic way to begin the lesson.

The fun didn’t stop there…does it ever really end with my favorite Bulgarian?  We put on a Viennese Waltz, a softer song by Whitney Houston.  I don’t know all the words but I know the tune and Ivan was singing.  We were belting out the song to each other (poorly) but it was so much fun, I can’t stand it!  I don’t know if laughing is allowed on the elegant Viennese Waltz, but I couldn’t help it.  Ivan sang in falsetto!

Then on to a fun Foxtrot and Waltz.  Ivan was really testing me today, seeing if I was following properly.  He would stop in unexpected places.  I really couldn’t go on autopilot but had to pay attention every second.  I did really well, in my own estimation.  I slipped up in a few of the moves, but for most of the ones the threw at me, I responded instantly.  I followed, for reals.  It felt so great.

When we are really in sync as we were today, Ivan will do all sorts of steps and moves he’s never showed me.  He launched me into a big circular dip and also into the ending move we do in the Latin Rumba.  The amazing thing was that it was fun, there was no fear.  My brain didn’t have a chance to analyze the situation and tell me now difficult it was, that I couldn’t do it.  I was just dancing, feeling secure, feeling safe with my partner, that he wouldn’t lead me astray or into anything that would cause me to injure myself.  I relaxed into the trust we have been building over all this time, and it was just one of those magical lessons where things click.  But even better than that, it wasn’t so much coming to understand a particular step as it was creating unity.  The two of us came together to dance today but once we got into hold, we became a single unit in the flow.  Really, there is nothing better.  I feel like I’m doing a poor job of explaining, but if you’ve ever felt this you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Anyways, then we were on to American Rhythm Rumba.  Again, the dang arm styling.  I’m doing better but then at the very end of moves I don’t know how to finish so I don’t follow through with the movement and my arm or hand or wrist just stops moving.  But it’s better.  I’m actually even enjoying playing with it where before I just loathed it.  This is an improvement.

Then a little Cha Cha which was fun and I got to learn a new step involving locks.  But then on to Samba.

Oh, I had been laughing a lot on the lesson and Ivan was making fun of my laugh.  He told me, “You should be in opera.” Because it is pretty high-pitched (No higher than Ivan singing in falsetto, though!)  Then somehow his imitation of my operatic laughter morphed into the sound a monkey makes.  Ivan began grunting like an ape and then told me that we would need to practice making animal sounds while dancing.

Um, okay.  Maybe this was to make me breathe while dancing?  That’s definitely an issue.  Or maybe he was just being silly.  Whatever.  I went with it.

He went first, making our lesson a live episode of Wild Kingdom, ca-cawing, and howling, and grunting like a monkey.  Needless to say, I was a noodle.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t dance.  All I could do was laugh, laugh, laugh!

So then Ivan told me it was my turn.  We made it to the fourth sound, maybe 16 counts into the Samba.  I started with a bird call, then a frog ribbit, then an owl hoot.  Ivan was good to his word.  He was silent and stayed “serious.”  Well, that is until I did a little Me-ow.

OMG!  He totally lost it.  It was Hi-lar-ious!

Now really, who does this on a lesson?  Who tells their student to make animal noises while dancing?

Only Ivan.  He’s one of a kind, that’s for sure!

So at the end of the lesson he told me, “Good animal.”

Thanks, Ivan.  I’ll take it.

“Dress” Rehearsal

I continue to be amazed by the experiences I’m having because of starting this blog.

You all remember Ellen, right?  She’s the one I wrote about in this post.

Well, she’s borrowing my dress for an upcomming competition and she sent me a video of her dress rehearsal.  You get the double entendre, right?  I want to share it as a teaser for what’s to come.  She’s promised me photos and/or a video plus a blog post about her competition experience and I can’t wait!

You can watch her sassy Tango here:

Also, I just found out my friend Ghada, who you can see dancing here:

started her own blog about ballroom dancing.  It’s called, “They Call Me Legs” and here is the link: http://theycallmelegsdotcom.wordpress.com/

She dances in Inna’s butt-kicking class on Tuesdays alongside me and I’m impressed at her progress in such a short amount of time.

In other news, Ivan and Marieta will be competing at the Vegas Open Dance Challenge this Friday, March 2nd.  Me and my friend, Ivonne, are going to drive out there Friday afternoon to come see it.  So, if you will be there, please cheer on my favorite couple and even come and say hello!  Their heat is scheduled to begin at 10:29pm but doors open for the evening session at 7pm.

If you are interested in them, you can check out the fan page I made for them on Facebook here.

Lastly, team Dance Starz rocked the Tucson Dancesport Jam yesterday, Saturday, February 25th.

From left to right we have Billy Jones, Iller Hardy, Holli Christiensen, Joe Eros, Ivonne Ward, and Scott Wheeler.  It was the first competition for Iller, Holly, Joe, and Ivonne and from what I hear, they had an absolute blast.  Iller was dancing on her birthday!  What a great way to spend it.  Coincidentally, it will Ivonne’s birthday when we go watch Ivan and Marieta!  They all did great and I’m super excited to read about the experience as Ivonne has promised me a guest blog post!  According to Ivonne, it was a “magical” day and when I asked her if she was addicted like me to competitive ballroom she replied, “Girl… This is a sickness and the only cure is more dancing…”  True dat!  Way to go team!

So, even though the title of this post is “Dress” Rehearsal, I realize that in life there are no dress rehearsals.  All that is, is right now, this very moment.  There are exciting things happening in my life and the life of my dancing friends and community.  I hope you’ll choose to stay tuned as our stories continue to grow, blossom, and unfold.