Tuppa Guska

Hello all. I’ve had a thrilling day. Why? because The Reinvented Lass sent me a message this morning. Apparently on her blog she mentioned a recent change I made on the blog, namely that it is now known as “Biggest Girl In The Ballroom” instead of “Dancing With Stefanie.” It bothered her a little bit, enough that she commented about it here and then reached out to me to see if I wanted to do a guest post in response which was all totally awesome.

So you can go to her great blog and read her original post and soon my guest post response to gain some insight on why I made this change if you like.  In any case,  It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on some things as well as to connect with The Reinvented Lass, which I love to get to do.  And, interestingly enough, it all kind of ties into what’s been on my mind the past few days.

You see, I think Ivan is really puzzled about how someone so fat happened, namely me.

He wonders how a person could allow themselves to balloon up to over 300 pounds.  He mentioned it at the end of a lesson in  a round-about way because I’d shown him and Marietta pictures of me when I was a more normal weight when they came over for dinner about a month ago and it made quite an impression on both of them.  So much so that they talked about it on their way home.  As I’ve been more focused on my lessons and showing him more and more of what I can do, of my potential, it becomes all the more palpable the fact that being so dang big is really impeding me.  Ivan is like, “You can’t even imagine what you could do when you lose the weight.”   It’s imperative that I handle this, and I find it incredibly motivating, exciting to know that I could actually become the dancer I dream about being – that it is something I am willing to work and fight for.

But how do I find myself in this position where I have over 100 extra pounds on my frame in the first place?  The interesting thing is that from my perspective, in my mind, I always felt as large as I actually am now. Even when I was at my smallest, a mere 116 pounds in high school, I still never felt thin enough. I always felt huge, fat, bigger than all the other girls, especially when standing next to them side-by-side in leotards in dance class. But in college when I really began to pack on the pounds it feels like I went to sleep and suddenly woke up, strangely finding myself a size 3x woman, unable to fit on roller coasters, unable to wrap a towel around my mass, having difficulty keeping up with my husband walking around Berlin, Germany, and dreading asking for a seatbelt extender on the plane ride to get there.  This wasn’t me…but it was.

After all the years of misery struggling to maintain my weight I realize that  there was a point where I finally just gave up and gave in. I allowed myself to eat all the things I would absolutely deny myself in the past and of course the pendulum swung from extreme restriction to extreme abandon with all things food.

Add in a little trauma, which we all experience at some point in our life, add in giving up my passion and love for dance, add in feeling the need to grow up and abandon childhood things, well, it was a perfect storm.

So now I’m here on the other side, and yes, I began dancing again, and though down 45 pounds from my largest, I’m still far from even a healthy weight, much less the body size expected of a ballroom dancer. But the thing is, I’m still a dancer and I’m actually pretty darn good.

But, as Ivan says, “The baba metza is killing you. You have everything, the emotion, the movement, the rhythm, the connection, but the fat grandmom bear is killing you. You don’t even look like the same person as in those pictures. You totally different. More than just about the dancing, it’s killing your life. You so stupid guska! Tuppa guska! You have to loosing the weight. You have to. I want to dance with you when you are feeling so good about yourself, when you feelling so sexy, when you walking in the mall and people will just notice and turn to see you because you so pretty.  I want to dance with you anyway, but I want to dance with you like this too.”

I want to dance with me like that as well!  It seems like an impossible dream to actually sculpt my body into something I love and that feels good to live in.  Self-loathing, especially in the context of body-hate has been the miserable struggle I’ve had with me as far back as I can remember.  I can remember feeling extreme shame about the fact that pants that fell off my friend didn’t close around my waist at the age of 7 or 8.  I remember promising myself I’d only eat chicken for dinner at age 9 because I could see my arms were fatter than the other girls on the dance team.  I remember feeling that there was something so very wrong with me and I felt powerless to change it.

So to shed the weight, and, more importantly, to give up this dark, hateful relationship with myself, is to let go of something that has been with me from the start.  I will have to find a way to accept myself as is and to love me at all stages of my transformation.  I refuse at this point to withhold love from myself until I realize a “perfect” body.  I’ve been withholding it all this time trying to force myself to become something different, to be beautiful as society defines it and thus acceptable and valuable, but it hasn’t worked.

I can’t exactly articulate how I went from slightly pudgy to clinically obese.  Obviously I ate more and I became less active.  But these are the mechanics of how it happened, not the why behind it.

I think I felt the need to hide and cover myself up.  For protection, as armor, to keep people at a distance, to disappear and fade into the background, unnoticeable, unremarkable.  Why exactly this was so, I can’t say except that on a deep level I felt like I was forgettable and unremarkable and un-special.  Simply put, I was ashamed to be me, to even exist. I know it sounds depressing, because it is depressing.  But as much as I put on a brave face and did what was expected of me and showed up to class and performed well, inside I felt empty.  Perhaps the food was an attempt to fill me up.  I had no authentic outlet to express myself and felt very dissatisfied with myself and my life.  I was doing all the things I was “supposed” to do, but I was not doing anything to nourish my heart or soul.  And my flesh told the story for me.  It silently screamed, “I’m incredibly unhappy!  I hate myself!  Please don’t look at me, I’m so ugly!”  I made myself “right” about all the lies I told myself about myself.

I wish losing the weight could be as unconscious as putting it on.  I suspect this will not be the case, however.  I suspect it will take extreme attention and focus and will involve making conscious choices to choose different activities and to create new habits.  I’ve been somewhat successful at a snail’s pace over the last 3 years, but I want more.  I want a significant  change.  I want to to reclaim my true self – the one who lives inside me, who revels in being sexy and feminine, and who is bold and free-spirited.  I see flashes of her here and there when I’m dancing.  She finally is beginning to feel strong enough to reveal herself completely.

So Ivan thinks I’m Tuppa Guska, which essentially translates to silly goose as far as I can tell, because I gained so much weight.  But I don’t think it was quite so simple as that.  It wasn’t like I said to myself one day that I want to be fat…it was more that I didn’t know how to be me, when being me wasn’t okay.

But dancing has been bringing me back to life.  It has taken a few years to land in a place where I actually believe I could be the dancer of my dreams.  I had to go through two previous instructors and find one who was a dancer himself, not just a technician, and I had to get connected to the ballroom community, and to feel supported in my endeavor.  I finally believe in myself as a dancer.  I believe that I am a beautiful dancer.  I believe that it is important that I dance.  Big or small that isn’t going to change.  And just you watch, this tuppa guska is growing into the swan she was born to be.

Duckling 03

By LaSylphide at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The River And The Desert

Sometimes life takes us in directions we didn’t think we’d go. Little did I know today when I awoke that I’d be releasing a little bit of my life and the income that went with it. It made me feel as though there was an empty hole in my middle. I had the same feeling about 20 minutes after being in my first car accident as a teenager. You know, that burst of adrenaline followed by a shaky exhaustion.

I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about. I am a woman of diverse talents. I went to school to become a pharmacist. I got completely burned out doing this and quit. I was convinced that I never wanted to be a pharmacist again! I sought other job opportunities. I began to tutor high school kids.

It was great! I loved being with them, helping them, and helping their families. I got to do math problems and science and Spanish. It was so much more fun and less stressful than my previous job. I dove right in and have been doing it part-time ever since.

But this past year, I’ve really reconnected with the part of me that has been with me since age 5 when I began dancing. I started this blog, and also getting out into my dance community. My focus has shifted. This is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but the passion that I had been pouring into my tutoring was now being applied to dancing.

I didn’t recognize it, but apparently others around me did. They were so happy at the positive changes flooding into my life, but my fire for the tutoring had waned. I was fully prepared to finish out the school year but I was called on this change in desire. I had a choice: choose in, fully commit and really show up for the kids or release it, create space in my life, and embrace this newfound passion and connection to dance, writing, and the dance community. One path was practical, and guaranteed a certain amount of income. The other was veiled and promised no obvious road to riches.

But the practical choice felt flat. I knew, if I was very honest with myself, that I couldn’t be there for the kids like I had been before. The more responsible and compassionate choice to both parties, I believe, is to get them what they need rather than to than hang on when I can feel that my passion has shifted.

It was simply time to move on. I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, it was about the least traumatic, most loving parting-of-ways I’ve ever experienced. There was mutual respect, trust, and gratitude on both sides. But I still grieve it. Sometimes we even grieve things that are gone that aren’t good for us, for heaven’s sake! This part of my life had been a Godsend.

I just know that this was the right thing to do for me now. I shed my tears and said goodbye and thank you to this portion of my life. Kinda like how I felt when graduating from high school. I knew things would never be the same. I knew the chapter was closing on one part of my life.

Yet I choose to believe that all things happen for a reason. I also believe that nature will always fill a vacuum.

I now have a vacuumed space in my life. I am believing that amazing and wondrous things, people, and opportunities now have the space to flood in. Before my life was jam-packed – every moment accounted for. Now, I have more space and time.

The flip side of that is that I don’t have as much money to put toward dancing.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling okay about this. I will need to be much more disciplined about my spending. I will need to participate in more group classes and less private classes. That, or get paid to be on a reality show that follows me and Ivan around because we are so dang entertaining! lol. Hey, it could happen!

But in all practicality, I am going to be fine. I will have to save my pennies and will probably be putting a few things on Ebay, but that is okay. I already told Ivan that we have to do single lessons from now on until I win the Power Ball. He said that the most important thing is that I just keep coming, however often that needs to be.

So after releasing this particular aspect of my existence, and processing all the emotion that came up as a result, I was left with a hole in my stomach. In my old days, I probably would have poured a glass of wine and made a nice comforting meal, and curled up with the tv remote for a nice sedentary evening. But “new” Stef, the one who wears the way-too-high-to-be-practical-cherry-red-heels-that-scream-look-at-me, she chooses differently. Even though she feels like she’s been through a battle, she grabs her gear, gets in the car, and drives to Imperial studio for a good old butt-kicking from miss Inna.

As usual, I am exhausted and shaky, sweaty and beet red, gasping, cramping, etc, etc, etc. As per usual, I’m the biggest girl in the ballroom. But not as per usual, there is a larger class than before the holidays and one of the participants is a high school kid (I think). His mom is watching the class while waiting for her son.

We do Rumba, then Samba. I mostly make it through but have to bow out during one of the last Samba exercises…something was gonna blow if I didn’t. Grabbing my water and Gatorade I glance over and smile at the mother watching her son. She smiles sympathetically at me.

Finally the class is over. I’m spent. As I’m packing up, the mother comes over to me and says, “You looked great out there. I could never do that.”

I thank her, and I really appreciate the fact that she took the time to say something. It feels great to be acknowledged, for sure. But I actually disagree with her. It’s kinda the point of my blog and, by extension, my life. If I can do it, ANYONE who wants to can do it. If that guy at the dance studio that coaches with Ivan’s mother-in-law and is an amputee can do it, ANYONE can do it. If Kristie Alley can do it….just kidding. She was great.

But don’t you see? We make up excuses as to why we can’t do something. I did it for 12 years. I abandoned dancing, this thing that feeds my soul, keeps me healthy and happy, this thing that I love, and I left it because I didn’t think it was a practical life choice. I got miserable and fat and damaged my health because I made up a story about why I wasn’t a dancer, why that couldn’t be my life path, denying my very essence, denying my true identity.

Thank God I finally woke up!

And so, life gave me a beautiful opportunity just now. I could choose to settle once more. It was even a great way to do it…seemingly. I would have gotten to be with others, help them, and make a little money on the side by continuing to tutor. But I would have been making that same choice I made so long ago to do what is expected, even if it’s not what I truly, deeply, want to be doing with my life. So this time, I chose differently.

It reminds me of a parable I once heard (I’m paraphrasing here):

There was a great river. The river could go anywhere it wanted and it wanted to return to the sea. Nothing could stop it. It could even penetrate through stone. But one day the river met the desert. The desert pleaded with the river, “please don’t try to go through me. It won’t work.” “But I am a great river. I have made my way through stone. No sand can stop me.” It replied.

So the river poured into the desert. And it poured and it poured. And it poured until it was exhausted and the desert had become a swamp.

“You are right, desert, I cannot make my way through you.”

“You are partly right, river, you cannot make your way through me in your current form.”

And then something happened. The warm air of the desert caused the river to evaporate. And it arose into the air where it became a cloud that floated over the desert. It traversed the desert and rained down into the ocean, finally arriving at its destination. The only way for the river to make it there was to transform.

My decisions in life have been like the path of the river. For a while, my mechanisms of moving in this world worked. I was able to navigate many situations. But at some point, I reached my own desert. I tried my old tactics and began to pour and pour and pour myself into it. It has gotten me exhausted and yet no closer to my dreams. It is time for me to transform, indeed it is the only way I will reach my destination. Choosing differently this time is one piece of that metamorphosis. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out just yet, but I’m trusting the process, just like the river had to trust the process of evaporation. I will make it to my destination, though I will do it as a woman transformed.

It’s even kind of exciting, huh?

Yes, I think it is.

You Want Me To Do What?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2011

Allegre Dance Studio

Private lesson with Ivan

I arrive a few minutes early today and the place is already hopping.  A couple I met at the Galaxy competition are here to work with their instructor and have a coaching with Ivan’s mother-in-law.  They are from out of town but when they come here they continue their dance lessons.  Talk about committment.  Also, the husband is a huge inspiration.  He is a below-the-knee amputee and dances with a metal leg.  I swear, there are just some amazing people and dancers out there.

So Ivan pulls up a moment later on his little Vespa.  A big hug to say good morning, and we’re off.   Got to work on that Latin Rumba.  Ivan is starting to get the routine together.  We count out some sets of eight in the beginning where he will move, then I will come and join him.  Then we find the place where we will begin moving together.  I still only have chunks, but it seems to be coming together, and it is so fun, I must say, to be working on this.

We do basic Rumba step, fan, spiral turn, and then he starts adding sliding doors, a spin with my leg in attitude, and this move where I bend forward then stand up and lean against him with my leg in a parallel posse position and my back to his chest, him framing me.  I think it looks funny with me being so big and all in the moment, but it looks different in my head, I swear!  lol.

So here I am, dancing my little heart out, and Ivan is being a butt.  While I’m in the aforementioned and awkward position, my shirt begins to shimmy upwards.  I take a moment to pull it downward.  I know, it is a silly thing we overweight people do, constantly tugging at our clothes, as if it will change anything.  But at least we are covered, or so we think.  Anyways, it is an unconscious habit sometimes, and the instant my clothing begins to creep up while dancing, I am immediately aware I don’t want it to go there and I will interrupt my dancing to fix it.   Ivan sees me doing this and grabs my shirt and pulls it upward to completely reveal my blubbery, white, stretch-marked belly.  Yes, I have pants on and yes I have both a bra and sports bra to cover all the important things, but it is unexpected, vulnerable, uncomfortable.

“Stop that Ivan!”

I pull my shirt down.

We do the move again.

He pulls my shirt up again.

“Ivan, no!  You are being such a dork!  Stop it!”

“Okay, okay.  Not again.”  And he keeps his word.

But I’m laughing.  I am genuinely surprised at this turn of events and, stranger still, is that I’m not angry.  Anyone else on this earth tried to do that, including my husband, and I’d probably explode in anger, give him or her a talking-to, and ask for an apology for revealing me in that way.  I certainly don’t want to show my belly, but in some weird way, it is okay that Ivan’s did this.  Miraculously, I’m feeling comfortable in my body, even with it being exposed in such a manner as I would never choose to show at this time.  What a gift that is – to be comfortable in one’s own skin.  I haven’t ever experienced it until now.  Even when I was thinner and more fit, I was still so ashamed of it.  How ironic that now at such a horrifying size I am finally able to begin to love myself and even my body, even if it is not where I want it to be.  Ivan, I can never thank you enough.

We continue dancing and Ivan’s actually getting a little excited with the moves.  He shows me this turn into a backward step that I’ve seen on DWTS and always loved.  I used to wonder when I would get to learn this particular step.  Well, today was the day.  It felt so good!

Then he has another crazy idea.

“You gonna step up on your tippy toes and put your knee like this (posse) and reach upwards.  Then you gonna lean back.”

“You want me to do what?”

He calls over his wife and partner, Marieta, and she demonstrates the move.

I’m like, uh huh.  Right.

I feel like I’m probably flexible enough, but I’m at least two Marietas.  How will Ivan hold me up?  He wants me not only to go backward in a bend, but to release both my arms toward the floor, and also to extend one leg up in the air.  This is not possible.   Maybe later, Ivan.

“You down 9 pounds by now.  It easy.  You can do it.”

“Yeah, with 264 left!”

“No, it easy.  Come on.”

So we try it.

The first time, I bend back with both feet on the floor and holding onto him with both arms.

On the second go, I release one arm.

Then two arms.

Then, well, you can see it here:


I had this moment, an out-of-body-experience, where I couldn’t believe I was doing this.  I wanted Marieta to video it as proof.  At the end of the video, Ivan is advising me that I have to let my fingers touch the floor next time and push my hips forward to create bend.

Sheesh!  Red shoes, being dipped by my ballroom instructor even while I’m still big, and a new haircut and outfit to come….my life, and my self, is changing right before my very eyes.

Again, it looks different in my head (ha ha), but not bad for my first time trying this.

And also again, I don’t know what my limitations are, even if I think I do.  Here is video proof!  What an amazing way to start the day.

I am so grateful, I can’t even tell you.  I used to wake up and cry going to work.  I used to wish for a better life and feel so unhappy.  I know what it feels like to be stuck, stagnant, dying.  Now, I am excited to start my day.  I remember when I began doing these personal growth and mastery workshops and the facilitators would talk about being so excited to start the day, they didn’t even need an alarm clock to get up in the morning.  What a crock, I thought.  It’s a myth.  These people are crazy.  I thought such a life wasn’t possible, at least for me.  I had to work hard.  My life was stressful.  I never felt fulfilled, energized, rejuvenated.

But now, after lots of inner work, and taking proactive steps to change a few things, I am starting to be excited about the journey of life once again.  Dancing is my practice, my walking meditation, and it is breathing new life into me at every step.

This is what I know:  If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone who is willing to do the work.

Of course, there are no “free lunches” meaning that every choice has prices and benefits.  I was paying some pretty high prices in peace of mind, and health, and balance in my old life.  I chose differently and I got different results.  Simple, right?  But I can tell you it was pretty scary at times to choose differently, even though the current choice was miserable, because it was also the choice in my comfort zone.  I realized that if I kept doing what I was doing, I’d keep getting what I was getting.  Thank Goodness I did something, anything different, and that I was supported by friends and my husband!

After all, it led me to a path in which I got dipped in the ballroom today.  I never could have predicted that when I took the risk to quit a job and embrace a different life not-so-long ago.  I am in awe of the miracles, and the expansiveness of possibilities, in this life.  The world really is our oyster.