George Bernard Shaw in "Man and Superman"

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; to be thouroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A New Page, A New Attitude!

I am very excited to share some news with you.  The blog has moved!

You can now read all my posts, and new ones, at:

After my conversation with Linda Dean I realized it isn't about how big or not I am in the ballroom.  It is about me showing up there, day in, day out, and dancing with all my heart, all my body, all my essence, whatever that looks like in the present moment.

It is about Dancing With Stefanie, not some big nameless girl in the ballroom.

So, I invite you to join me at my new page, with my new attitude, and soon, my new body too!

Blessings, Stefanie

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Elo, Estefanie!" Translated this is Hello, Stefanie!

"Hello, Ivan!"

"How are you? Kak say" Kak say (phonetic sounds) = How are you. I'm learning a few phrases in Bulgarian

"Dobre!" This means "good"


"Estefanie, thank you for my message. It's so nice! I feel so good" I left Ivan a message yesterday thanking him for being my teacher.

"Of course, Ivan. You're welcome."

"Maybe you kidding on it?"

"No Ivan, I meant every word I said."

"Ohh, thank you. Estefanie, I see on Facebook you did a picture. Why you do a picture of you in the mirror first thing in the morning with no make up? What you expect, you gonna look like princess first thing? No. Probably not even supermodels looking good in in the morning. Probably Claudia Schiffer having to putting on the make up every morning. Why you do this? You got to get up, brush your teeth, probably wait an hour."

I'm giggling. The photo I took wasn't about looking pretty. It was part of a response I challenged myself to complete. But I don't think Ivan fully understands it. And, he never misses an opportunity to tell me that I look better with make up on than without. He's so sweet about it, anyone else says something this to you and you'd take offense, but him, it cracks me up. And, yes, I do look better with a little make up on.

Ah, the life of a ballroom dancer. Step one: must always be glamorous.

"Oh, Ivan," I ignore the question. It's too difficult to explain.

"When are we going to dance again?" I query. "Tomorrow? Friday?"

"Tomorrow, tomorrow is good. What time?"

"Ten am?"

"That good. At the church."

"Okay, Ivan. I've got to go. I'm at work!"

"Okay, okay, go, go! I seeing you tomorrow!"

"Bye, Ivan"

"Bye, Estefanie."

I guess I'd better put a little make up next time I take a picture and post it on Facebook!

I'm Fabulous! I Just Don't Know It

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Dance Starz Studio

Coaching with Linda Dean

I've had the good fortune to have been coached by some amazing people during my short ballroom student career. The first person was Igor Suvorov. Then, it was Paul Holmes. Next it was Ron Montez. And today it was Linda Dean.

Now as much of a fan of ballroom dancing as I am, I am still a baby beginner in this world and there is lots to learn. I looked up each coach before I met them to know a little something about them. Here's a nice article I found about Linda Dean.

I have to be careful not to psych myself out when reading this stuff! Even I know that the Blackpool ballroom competition is one of the premier competitions in the world. To win that is a big deal. For little ole me getting coached by a person who has achieved so much can be intimidating. I just have to remind myself that we all put our pants on one leg at a time.

At every coaching I've done, I've gained new knowledge, a new way of doing a step, and improvement in my dancing. It is such a blessing to benefit from the expertise of others, and so far, those I've interacted with have been generous and kind and helpful.

I experienced Linda as a warm, friendly woman and it was a pleasure to get to work with her. To begin, Ivan and I danced the Rumba, Latin stye. She was a Latin champion and I've recently begun studying the style in earnest so it was a perfect fit.

I am happy to report that once we completed our little performance, Linda said that I had done quite a nice job. Of course, there were also things that I could consider that might change the way my dancing appears.

One of the interesting things she said was that she could tell I was trying so hard to do things that were good and all but that might not be that necessary. For instance, she demonstrated how I could move my feet, brushing them through to the next step, but not focusing so much on them actually touching. It is the asthetically pleasing line I want to create moreso than making sure that my feet touch perfectly with each step.

We also talked about remembering why we dance. We talked about not just getting from one place to the next but how I want to look while I am going there. It rocked my world.

It kind of goes along with my last post in which I talked about how I try to hustle to get from one step to the next but miss all the gooey goodness in between. Thinking about how I want to look, move, and be as I am going from one place to another my carriage changed dramatically. My back leg was straighter, longer, and my toes more pointed. My head was held taller. My balance was better. The secret was being aware of how I wanted to move through space rather than focusing on getting from point A to point B on time. I see the power of focus. The different things I focus on create different results.

If you've read any of my other posts you will know I see parallels to life and in dance. From this little exercise I realize that it is important how I do things, not just that I do them. It matters if I am loving, kind, and compassionate while performing a task. Yes of course, it matters if I do the task or not, just as it matters if I get to the next step on time in dancing, but the artistry, the beauty, the juciness of life and dancing is how we move through space to get there, I am discovering. What wisdom Linda has shared with me!

We also had the opportunity to work on connection. Again, I was at the same place and knew it for the first time. The nuance and control in the connection is incredibly difficult to get right. I did feel it differently than ever before - my hip was to be connected with Ivan's latissimus dorsi via the arm connection - and it was magical. If/When we can ever create this type of connection consistently, wow. Dancing will feel so good once I get this stuff. Not that it doesn't already, but there is another eschelon of effortlessness that I've just tasted. These little nibbles are incredible, and I want more!
Next, and most profound was something I'll never forget. Ivan is such an amazing teacher and human being. I want to give him credit and acknowledge that he has mentioned to me all the things I discovered in the coaching today, including this next awareness. I guess when you have a thick head like I do, you have to hear things a few times for them to sink in. And sometimes the teacher appears when the student is ready.

Linda asked me about my arms. Now, arm styling has been a bain of my dancing existence ever since I began to care about it. It just always feels so awkward. But I try. So she asks me if I pay attention to them when dancing. I honestly answer, well, usually not, because my focus is always on my feet or my hips or the steps or the connection with my partner. I remember about my arms in specific places that we've practiced, but usually they flop around like tentacles on an octopus.

So I am open to any feedback Linda has for me regarding my upper extremities. But her feedback is surprising. Why not keep them still?


This doesn't compute until she demonstrates what she means.

Linda performs Rumba walks forward. First, she holds her arm out to the side and connects the other with Ivan. Then she repeats the same walks but moving her free arm in a circular motion. The effect is immediately apparent. The arm movement draws attention to the arm (not my strongest feature). When held still, attention is drawn to legs and feet.

It is obvious which way I want to move from now on. My foot work is good and my leg action pretty. This is where I want to focus attention. This is what suits me.

Which brings up a larger idea that Ivan has mentioned before. It is something that will make me an artist. It is finding the way I move. Not emulating anyone else. Not trying to move like others.
Moving like I am meant to move, naturally. It is having the confidence to be who I am, and love it in every movement.

Linda explains: "Now I love Yulia (referring, I think, to Yulia Zagoruychenko). She is fabulous. And gorgeous. But all these girls try to move like her. She is so fast because she is as big as a toothpick and she is on balance. She knows exactly what she is doing with her body. But it looks awful when other people try to do that."

She's absolutely right.

However, I feel at sea in how to do this. My frame of reference is to look to others to see what I should be doing. It is time to look to me to determine what I should be doing.

So before we end the session, Ivan tells Linda that we will show her American Rhythm Rumba and Cha Cha. Alright, now it's time for me to brag a little. Honestly, I'd better start practicing declaring that I am fabulous. So much of dancing in the ballroom is confidence and attitude. I've just experienced in this very lesson how thinking this way about how I move through space can transform the way I dance. I have to own this fabulous-ness before stepping foot on the floor in order to show up the way I know I can.

Linda shared a story with me that demonstrates the power of speaking positivity into our lives and the effect of a confident attitude. She had five weeks until her first compeition with her new partner - just enough time to prepare one dance routine per week for each of five dances. The competition was the National Championships! Before she and her partner stepped on the floor she told him, "We're gonna win!" He replied, "Don't think like that." But she retorted, "You just watch." And the rest is history. They won.

Well anyways, I'm going to declare it. I am fabulous! It is so. How do I know this, well, Linda reminded me that I am fabulous regardless of my size. She related to me another story of a student who knew how fabulous she was even though she was 190 pounds. No one won with this gal on the floor.

I've decided that I'm going to be like this girl.

So back to the bragging on myself, since I'm so fabulous and all...

Linda's jaw about dropped when we started dancing American style. She told me that if I competed, I had to do both American and Latin style.

So let's scratch the title of this post. It should really say: I'm Fabulous and I Know It!

And you know what, I'm starting to believe that I am.

You get points for reading this post. Bet you didn't know that, huh? There's also a bonus round. You have an amazing opportunity right here, right now to be courageous and list one or more ways in which you are fabulous. I would love to read about it.


Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Dance Starz Studio

Private Lesson with Ivan

I arrive and see Ivan who has finally brought his laptop computer to the lesson like I asked weeks ago. I wanted to see the pictures of him and Marieta as kids. I missed his wedding, it being in Bulgaria and all, but I still thought It'd be fun to see the slideshow created for them.

So the picture of the little guy above is Ivan at his first dance competition! Ha ha! Can you believe it. So darn cute!

Here's another picture:

I love the frame, Ivan! Glad you worked on it in the ensuing years.

Anyways, after a good laugh, we set to work. We want to warm up and get ready for Linda Dean who will be coaching us in 45 minutes so we practice Latin Rumba, Cha Cha, and Samba.
Ivan reminds me that I'm still hiding out. He continues to challenge me to engage with him as a partner and I continue to sometimes do it and sometimes not. It is so out of my comfort zone to be in anybody's space like this. And making the faces Ivan wants me to pull, they just don't come

But I get that facial expressions are part of the package. I could be moving just great below the neck but if I look like a deer in headlights while doing it, not only does it look disconnected, it looks vacant, uncomfortable, bizzare.
Sigh. Another day, another practice. One day it will all come together.
So we practice some more and I remind myself to look him in the eye. He's turning me and says that I'm doing well three-quarters of the way around but then when I get back to facing him I'm being too shy.

"You too nice, too sweet. You can't be like this. Come on!"

He basically tells me I've got to be more of a harlot. Yeah, like I've had any practice doing that.

When I imitate it, I just look stupid.

"Don't look down and to the side. Look up."

So I try this way of doing it and make the turn, finishing by looking upwards in what I feel is a haughty way, and Ivan likes it best. He gets goosebumps. They are short-lived.

We move some more and Ivan proceeds to remind me that I must complete one action before startring the next one. All too often I try to do two things at once. For instance, I try to step to the side at the same time I am trying to turn. What ends up happening is that I lose my balance, move slower, and miss going through body positions. It's a jumbled mess. No clear pictures are drawn. I'm rushing to get to my final destination but missing all the luscious in-between, the cream between the
cookies. Hmm, again, no resemblance to how I live my "real life," none at all. Not!

Then it's my arms. I seriously forget about them. They do all sorts of wacky things when left unattended, including, one of my all time favorites, making a fist. Now, I'm not a violent person generally, but I am clenching my hands all the time while dancing. Really now, what man wants to dance with a girl who may sock him at any moment? Thank you, Ivan, for braving it week in and week out. This is comething I've really got to attend to in the future.

Finally, we dance samba. I hear the usual refrain.

"More hips!"

If there is one thing I've learned about Latin and American Rhythm dances it is that there can never be enough hips!

So my attention goes to my hips and again my arms have a mind of their own. I tense up and push against Ivan in an unconsious attempt to increase range of movement.


I'm pushing this poor man around on the dance floor and I don't even know it.


"You pushing so much!"

"Sorry Ivan, I was thinking about my hips!"

"I don't care what you thinking about! That's your problem! I've got my own problems!"

We both laugh but I get the point.

What a skill set it will be to have, in both dance and in life to be completely about myself, pulling my own weight, and yet in equal partnership with another person. We both do have our own problems. Somehow we must manage them and yet still be available for each other. We must both get our own selves to the right destination while remaining connected, but I can't use him to get there, and he can't
use me either.

The reality is that Ivan can't move my hip any more than I can move his. Moving my hip is my problem.

"Wah!" The childish part of me, the part that doesn't want to be a responsible adult wishes it weren't my problem. It wants to get someone else to do it for me, even though it isn't possible.
But how many times do I try to pawn off my problems in life? If I'm doing this on the dance floor, chances are it's also showing up somewhere else in my daily existence.

I don't know about you, but I see a parallel in how many people interact. If we don't manage our own problems, fully owning that they are ours and no one else's, we project them on to others which leads to disasterous results.

We may try to relieve ourselves of problems by giving them to others but this never works. We spend energy "sideways" when we do this. We push and pull against each other instead of putting all our energy into the journey itself, facing whatever challenges come our way head-on.

But back on the dance floor Ivan and I have a new understanding. We try the sequence again and this time Ivan gives me only a finger instead of an entire hand. It's up to me to connect, stay with him, and also move my own damn self.

What I discover is that in some ways it is easier. In some ways it is more difficult. And, that I am capable of doing it.

I think this is probably true in life as well. In some ways owning our problems is easier - we get to be honest and what a relief that is. In some ways it is more difficult - we have to face what we deny or wish wasn't so. This can be painful. But we are all capable of handling the situation. Besides, if we don't, who will? Somebody? Remember, you are a somebody. Somebody is you.

So then it was time for Linda to come coach us and boy was that an amazing experience. I love learning new things from different people. She really helped me and I can't wait to share how...but I think I'll save it for my next post. I've got to create a hook for you to come back next time, right?

So until then, keep dancing. I sure will. If you don't, well, that's your problem! :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Being Held Accountable Is My Friend

Just a little note today about all the exciting things that are happening on the blog this week!

First, I'll have a private lesson with Ivan tomorrow and then I'm getting coached by Linda Dean, a paragon in the ballroom world and a winner of Blackpool.

Then I'll have a class at Imperial Studio with Artem, Inna, and/or Igor.

Also, I'll be attending the winter holiday showcase at Imperial Studio where Artem and Inna will be performing, along with some of their best students.

It will be an exciting week of new experiences, insights, and growth.

Also, I've created a page for the Biggest Girl In The Ballroom blog on Facebook.  Please support me in growing this blog by liking the Facebook page for it, subscribing to the blog, following the blog, and/or sharing the links to the blog with friends if you find value in the posts.

I'm asking for your help in this because I can't express how encouraging and motivating it is to be held accountable, knowing that I will be watched on this journey!  I need this accountability (badly, ahem) and you (yes you, the one reading this right now) can help provide it.  Please support me as I make my way toward my goal of being a size 8 or smaller, weighing 140 pounds or less, all by the time I reach the Desert Classic DanceSport Championships in Palm Springs, California this coming July 2012.  Oh, my butt is on the line, yes it is!

Also, I invite you to comment on any posts that move you.  This blog can be a community for dancers.  I am curious about your stories and insights too! 

If you have any ideas for a post topic, send that to me as well.  Perhaps you could guest blog or we could do a "blog conversation" between blogs if you have one yourself about ballroom or dancing.  Let's creatively collaborate!

In addition, I'm sending a very special thanks to Jennifer Walker who has already reached out to me and has been my first guest blogger because of that interaction.  The world is an amazing place when I open myself to possibilities of connection!  I already made my first new friend!

Oh, and by the way, I'd like to share a win with you.  I said I'd keep you updated about my weight relase progress every two weeks, and I will, but I have some good news right now.  I'm down 5.2 pounds since I started the blog a little over a week and a half ago.  Go me!

Stay tuned.  Same bat time.  Same bat channel.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Relax While You Dance!

Relax While You Dance, by Jennifer Walker

Beautiful Jennifer Walker dancing

I thought I'd talk a little bit about achieving relaxation while you dance. Some people are under the mistaken impression you have to be tense in order to offer "resistance" (which is why I tend not to use that word--people often get the wrong connotation from it). Nothing could be further from the truth! Other people are just naturally tense--heck, I think all of us are much of the time, either because we're learning and maybe a little worried or nervous, or we're concentrating, or it's hard, or whatever.

Being tense while you dance makes it harder to move, harder to lead or follow, harder to feel and flow with the music, it's uncomfortable for your partner and it makes you tired. There really are no redeeming qualities to it. To illustrate, hold your arm so your elbow is at your side and your forearm is parallel to the floor and make a fist with the palm facing up. Flex all of the muscles in your arm and make it as tense as you can. Now, try to hit your shoulder as fast as you can with your fist (same shoulder/same side of the body as the fist). Now, put your hand and fist back in the starting position but relax the muscles until they're engaged enough to hold their shape, but not flexed or tense. Hit your shoulder again.  What happened? You had more range of motion and you were faster, right?

The same is true for dancing, and it doesn't matter what kind of dance you're doing. You move more freely and comfortably and can get more speed if your muscles are engaged but relaxed. It can be difficult to achieve this, especially all the time, but practice definitely helps!

I will point out here, lest someone misunderstand me, you can't be a noodle or your partner can't dance with you. You need to keep your core and arm muscles toned and engaged so they can move you, react to your partner, and keep you balanced. But like in the exercise above, toned or engaged is not the same thing as tense. I'll give you another exercise: stand in front of the wall with your toes about a foot away. Put your palms against the wall, somewhere around shoulder height. Feel like you're holding yourself up off the wall. Now, without moving your hands or losing contact with the wall, release those muscles so you fall into the wall. That is too relaxed. Now hold yourself up again. Now your muscles are engaged. Now, tense up your muscles and push against the wall. Tiring, eh? Relax and just go back to holding yourself up. Note the difference between how those three states of being feel.

Here are some tips for relaxing while you dance:

1. The more you dance, the more comfortable you'll feel, physically and mentally. You'll also feel more confident, and all of this will help fight tension.

2. Take a deep breath as soon as you get into your dance hold. This not only helps you relax, but your partner will feel it and usually will unconsciously take a deep breath as well, forcing themselves to relax. Remind yourself to breathe while you're dancing.

3. Stay in tune with your body while you're dancing (easier for followers, since we have less to think about, but men can do this too). If you feel yourself getting tense or notice that one muscle (or two, or three) is getting tired because you're pushing against your partner with it, force yourself to relax it. You may have to do this numerous times during a dance (I do, at least in Tango. In ballroom and swing I'm more experienced and conditioned to the dance frame, etc., so I'm less likely to tense up), but it will soon become habit to correct yourself, and eventually to just not tense up in the first place except in particularly stressful situations. As a follower in Tango, this is easy to do with my left arm by lifting it off my partner's shoulders and softly laying it back down, and the leader can do the same with his right arm since our connection is through the body. Other muscles you just have to will them to soften.

4. An exercise you can try off the dance floor that's good for you anyway: one at a time, tense each muscle you can in your body as tight as you can, then release it. This helps you be aware of where your muscles are and how to control the tension, but it also relaxes you at the same time! Practice this a few times, especially if you haven't figured out how to just will your muscles to, it's a good way to unwind a little after a stressful day!

5. Finally, give yourself a break. If you are constantly worried about what you are doing, if you're good enough, that it's weird to be this close to someone you don't know, that you look fat in those pants, all that negative energy just leads to more tension. Keep your thoughts positive and just enjoy the experience!

I hope these tips help you to achieve relaxation while you dance, and that you enjoy dancing all the more because of it.

Jennifer Walker teaches Ballroom Dancing and West Coast Swing at The Ballroom of Sacramento in California, although her introduction to Argentine Tango in November 2010 gave her a whole new obsession. When she's not dancing, she makes her living as a writer. She even manages to find time to spend with her Arabian horse, dog, cat, and human family.

Out WIth The Old, In With The New!

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Great American Ballroom Shoe Store

I've parted with my dance shoes.

They were pretty beat up and it was time for a new pair.

So I went to an actual store that sells ballroom shoes.  It was the first time I had so many options.  I've gotten my shoes via internet and also a dance studios where they often have a very limited selection.

I met Marlin, like the fish, who owns the store.  He was so great!  He used to own a huge square dancing store and manufactured petticoats.  Now he sells ballroom shoes.  He's designed shoes, made shoes, and knows what goes into them.  He knows how to fit them properly.  And he can custom make any color, shape or size. 

We had a delightful time trying on a plethora of shoes and came up with this pair.

They are pretty comfortable and I love the sparkly buckles.  They are the quick release kind so I won't have to struggle trying to get the little buckle through the hole in the strap anymore.

I even upgraded my shoe bag from this.....

to this....

I feel so fancy!

And I finally got a pair of practice shoes!  I've been dancing ballroom for over a year and never had a pair of practice shoes.  I'm so excited.  They are cushy.

Ivan won't recognize me when I show up for my lesson next week!