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!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

My bathroom

The exercise mentioned in the blog post "Once More With Feeling"

I set my alarm for three minutes and walk to the bathroom.  I look into my own eyes.  Almost immediately the tears begin pool.

Why is this so scary, just to be present with myself?

I have to keep taking deep breaths and remind myself to stay present.  I already want to disassociate.  It would be much more comfortable to look at the eyes before me rather than really see into them.

I am reminded of looking at but not into Ivan's eyes.  I've been hiding out.

I promise myself to stay present.  "I am here, I am here.  I'm not going to leave you." I mentally tell myself.

What I see is a lot of pain.  It's blocking the view to my inner light.  More tears fall.

A scene from The Neverending Story flashes in my mind's eye.  The one when Atreyu faces the Gate of Riddles, also called the Sphinxes.  The scene creeeped me out as a kid.  Why am I thinking of it now?  I vaguely remember the scene has something to do with a person looking into themselves.

My alarm rings.  I've made it.  What did I experience?  What does it mean?

Listening to my intuition, I decide to search for a video of the scene from the movie.  You can view the scene here:

It was dead on.

The Sphinxes, it is explained, are a gate.  Those who wish to pass must feel their own worth or else the Sphinxes' eyes will open and blast the passerby to smithereens.

Atreyu watches as knight approaches in fancy armor.  It doesn't help.  The Sphinxes can see straight into a man's heart.  The knight is blasted to smithereens.

Atreyu takes his chance.  He is just a boy with no protection or armor.  He approaches the gate and things seem to be going well until he sees the fate of the knight up close.  He begins to doubt.  He has forsaken confidence in himself and Sphinxes sense it.  Their eyes begin to open. 

But Atreyu digs down deep and with everything he's got the makes a run for it.  He makes it through the gate.

Staring at myself in the mirrior I am on the same journey as Atreyu.  I, like Atreyu, allow doubt to erode my confidence.  But I, like Atreyu, dug down deep and stayed with myself.  I made it through the experience just as he made it though the gate.

Now on the other side I see that it is up to me to claim that I am worthy and to live from that space moving forward.  And if I find myself doubting, I can re-choose something different.  I can choose confidence.

This is what I discovered when I took the time to be present with myself for a measly three minutes.  It's pretty profound if you ask me.

So now, what did you discover?

If you got any value out of reading this post, visit my new blog location at

Once More With Feeling!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Dance Starz Studio

Private lesson with Ivan

I'm thinking about changing the name of this blog to "Ivan Says."  Just kidding.  But in all sincerity, having Ivan as my instructor and the conversations we have on lessons are changing my life.  The things he tells me help me to become a better dancer, partner, and person.  So be prepared to read alot about what "Ivan Says" because it's valuable stuff and I think worth sharing.

I arrive to my lesson today and Ivan says, "Let's just dance."  I'm amenable (of course!) and we begin to Cha Cha.  I'm still working on getting onto my own feet, cleaning up foot work, finding my center, staying on balance.  I'm "in my head" trying so hard to do everything right, even while having a good time just being with my friend.  But you see, when my attention is in my head with my myriad of thoughts, it can't be elsewhere. 

We work on cross-overs, trying to get the arm placement right but something is missing.  There's no "pop" or "pizazz" or excitement in the movement.  Yawn.

Ivan reminds me to extend in five directions like a star, to stand up straight and lift my spine, and I do this.  The picture is prettier but again, the movement empty.

I'm still not doing something. 

Oh, I'm not looking at myself in the mirror. 

I make no eye contact. 

I am avoiding connection.

"Look at yourself in the mirror."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Don't be scary." (Translated this means don't be scared)

"Uh huh, right."

Ivan grabs my hands and says, "When you gonna do it?  In a year? No, now!"

He pulls over one of the dummies used to display ballroom gowns in the studio.

"This is Linda Dean, a judge.  You gonna see her.  Let's get close."

Ivan positions us next to the dummy.  It is an inanimate object but I am still feeling timid.  I fear getting in the space of strangers.  I don't want to be "too much" or up in somebody's grill.  You see, I was always told I was "too much" so I've learned to tone it down.  No, that's a lie.  I've learned to reign in myself so much that I can be invisible when I want to.  I've learned to not to be the center of attention.  I've learned to dim my light so that everyone else can shine, so that things are "fair."

But this defense mechanism isn't going to work for me in this situation and I really want to become the dancer I sense inside.  So I decide that I'm going to act "as if."  I'm going to be confident, right here in this moment, and look at the pretend face of the judge.  I'm going to direct my energy straight to her, unabashedly, freely, joyfully.

And I do.

We practice it a few times doing a cross-over and Ivan is pleased. 

"Okay, now we do it to Marieta."  We will know if we are successful if she has some reaction in response to us.

We walk right over to Marieta and bam!  She physically jolts.  I feel Ivan hugging me in celebration.  We nailed it!

So far this is shaping up to be a great lesson.  I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin, less "scary", and more willing to let it all hang out.

But as we start to move again, my steps are riddled with errors.  One of the things I often do is connect then pull away.  Ivan may lead a turn and I stay with him to a point but then my arms become noodles.  The next minute I'm grasping, pulling, frantically trying to find the connection again.  I invade his space rather than maintaining my own area.  I'm late.  Ivan has moved on to the next step and I'm one fraction of a second behind. 

This process is unconscious.  I have been advised of it before (many times) but it still continues to haunt me.

So we're working on connection and Ivan is talking about the fact that I'm not staying with him.  He demonstrates how it should feel and then how it feels when I pull back and break the connection.  He's done this with me before so why am I still doing it?  As a kinetic learner, after the demonstration I am able to recreate the connection.  We begin to move in unison.

We close our eyes.  The world fades away.  I have no cues to go on except to feel Ivan inviting me to move through the connection.  I'm feeling, not thinking, and things are flowing.  My attention has shifted from my head where I "know" everything to my body and heart.  They have their own form of wisdom found in the expanse devoid of words.  I am in the moment feeling, being connected, and nothing else.  I am no longer an "I."

The moment I think I know what Ivan will do next because we have done the step 100 times before "I" shows up again, my brain interferes with the flow, and I start to misstep.  If I stay connected we move like silk.

Ivan spins me but because my eyes are closed I don't know exactly where his hand is.  But I'm reaching for him, seeking the connection and make one by finding his upper arm.  The unexpected touch is exhilarating.  I've stayed connected and best of all Ivan is excited as well.  He was thrilled that we were really connecting and his body reacted as he got goosebumps on his arm from the touch. 

"You are like the plug and I am the outlet." He says. 

From now on we are to practice first "plugging in" before we take a single step.  I don't often do this, and we usually just start moving, but when we do take the time to do this, or rather, create the space with awareness, the dancing is on an entire different level.  It transcends steps and figures.  It is something authentic and wonderful, more than the sum of its parts.

We practice just making the initial connection with hands as if we are going to start dancing.  Once Ivan is satisfied that I am connecting he gets creative.

"Ok, now I have no hands." 

I have to connect with his upper arm.  But he takes that away from me soon enough.  Now I only have his shoulders.  He signals me to turn but I'm slow in the uptake.  It is more difficult but still possible to respond to his invitation.

"But I not caring I have no arms.  I am dancing with a girl and she is responding to me.  I feel so good about myself."

He puts my hands on his head.  We dance this way feeling the connection.

"See, even with the head!"

Truth be told, no actual touching is required.  At the beginning of the lesson Ivan did some Rumba with me using just his body to signal where I should go next.  It was trickier to follow to be sure, but so amazing to feel the energy of it.  I had to completely tune into Ivan's energy and this left no space for errant thoughts or worries.  Just as when I close my eyes, focusing on the connection suddenly makes things crystal clear.

And you know what, I'm dancing better according to Ivan when I do this.  No worrying about the steps or my balance or pointing my toes, just feeling.

"We are all forgetting this.  We are all forgetting to feeling.  Me, you, Marieta, professionals, everybody."

He taps my back and my chest three times with the palms of his hands, "Feel! Feel! Feel!"

Ivan is a wizard breaking the curse. 

Didn't I spend a good portion of my life learning how to block feeling?  To avoid the difficult emotions like sadness, or grief, or fear, or anger I learned how to numb myself through food and distractions.  I've learned how to tune out.  I have been practicing how to appear like I am present but my essence, my soul, my consciousness have vacated the premises.  My true self is floating in the ethers away from the pain and harsh realities of life. 

It works to a point but I miss out on fully feeling my life.  Life is flat, devoid of good feelings along with the difficult ones.  I don't taste my nourishment.  I am living in the future or the past which don't exist.  I am disconnected from my surroundings, from my body, and from other people.  I am disconnected from myself.

Now the secret to my success is to be present.  100% present in my body.  100% present in my heart.  Feeling life.  Experiencing it fully.  Not analyzing it, labeling it, or judging the experience, just being in it as it is.  I can't explain how freeing this is.  You'll have to experience it for yourself.

But I think this is why ballroom dancing is so addicting for me.  How often in our daily lives are we really 100% present with one another?  How many times are we in a conversation but instead of being with the other person, we are thinking about the bills, or doing the dishes, or determining whether what the other person is saying or doing is good or bad, right or wrong? 

Metaphorically we are dancing alongside our partner but not with them.  We are cheating ourselves and them of the gift of connection.

Ivan was so happy to be dancing with me today because I was being a present partner (for the most part).  It is easy to slip back into old habits via my analyzing brain and these are the moments I break connection.  But being with another human being, truly just being with another person, is a precious and wonderful experience.  I'm so glad I get to share it with Ivan and vicariously with you.

I'm still new at this connection thing so I'm going to begin to consciously practice it.  There is a great book by Cheri Huber called What You Practice Is What You Have (actually ALL of her books are excellent and I highly recommend them).  I'm going to practice connecting so that I will have more connection in my life.  But I need to start small. I'm going to connect with myself first because really, if I can't connect with myself, know my own feelings, hurts, wants, and wishes, how can I ever really connect with someone else?

I've devised a little exercise to jump start the process.  I'm going to look into my own eyes in front of the mirror for 3 minutes. I will set a timer. And to keep myself honest about doing this exercise I will post what I discover before the end of the week.

So I now challenge you show up as a bigger player in the game of your life. Together let's create a more present and connected world one person at a time, starting with ourselves. I invite you to join me in practicing awareness and connection, in dancing, in relationships, and in daily business by participating in the same exercise that I've committed to do.  I know that only a courageous 1% of you will actually do this, but for those of you who are ready for a breakthrough and do participate, I want to hear about your experience.  I know we can do it! 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Halleljuah! And, You Have a Weight Problem.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Allegre Studio


Private Lesson with Ivan

There are two ways to learn something: repetition, reptition, reptition and emotional invovlement.  The cool thing about having an emotional reaction while learning something new is that it creates transformational change.  This means that a person can make a quantum leap in a matter of seconds if they are willing to tolerate how uncomfortable all that emotion can be.

Although I have experienced both types of learning during my years of dancing, sometimes the only way to really "get" something is to repeat it 1000 times.  And sometimes one type of learning translates into the other.  Such has been the case for me in ballroom specificially in terms of changing my weight completely from one foot to the other.  I don't know how many times I've heard my instructors tell me, "You're not on your foot,"  "You are between your feet, that's why you can't move," "You have to change your weight completely."  Literally it may have been 1000 times so far and I anticipate I will hear it for the rest of my dancing career. 

Each time I hear the admonition, I process it intellectually but somehow this doesn't translate into my body.  If I stay completely present and focused on this one aspect of moving right after I've been reminded of this "bad habit" I can overcome it.  But it requires a lot of attention.  I get easily distracted by all the other pieces of information I'm processing.

So theoretically, the fact that I must change my weight completely before I take the next step is something I "know," but based on results (often harsh but always fair) I don't really know it at all because I don't always do it. 

But I had a little breakthrough today.  I finally heard the message with all of me. It was one of those moments of arriving at the same place and knowing it for the first time. Here's what happened:

Today we again worked on the Latin dances (yay!).  During the lesson Ivan was throwing so much information at me, my brain was overloaded.  It was like it hit capacity and then nothing he said made sense.  My brains had become scrambled eggs!

But it felt familiar.  I haven't felt this way in a while but I did feel this way when I first began ballroom.  The memory jog made me realize some specific reasons I now want to do the Latin dances - they are the same reasons I started dancing again in the first place. 

Firstly, they will heal my body.  I am going to shrink because I have to to be able to do the jive (I'm tired just thinking about doing this dance.)  Also, I'm going to have to have strong legs and core to hold myself properly for the Rumba and Cha Cha.  In addition, my cardiovascular system will improve efficiency so I can make it through the Samba.

Secondly, I will get the opportunity to channel pieces of me that I've never let out completely.  Sassy, Sexy, even Angry Stefanie will be invited to join the party.  You really can't fake this in Latin.  I can kinda get away with being a "nice girl" in American Rhythm, but in Latin I will have to be a woman. 

Finally, they provide the opportunity to be a beginner and to face a different set of challenges than I face in American dances.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm a creature who likes comfort.  I like being good at things.  I like it when things come easily.  I don't like messing up.  I don't like it when I don't catch onto something right away. 

Or so I thought...

You see, those things feel good for a moment or two but the feeling fades away.  Things just mean more when you have to work for them.

I see that on a deeper level, I love the challenge.  I love stretching myself to see how far I can really go.  I love rising beyond what's expected.  There is no better feeling than pouring my entire self into something.  It is exciting. 

I just have to get used to the idea that I must let go of being "good" which is comfortable so that I can be "great."  That is the scary part - the part that feels like being a trapeze artist without a net!

Because I am in this new beginner space the dynamic with my teacher has also changed.  Usually he tells me something or shows me a step and I am able to make it happen in a very short time.  But with this new style and new steps and my brain becomming scrambled eggs, it is taking a little while longer to "get" things.  I think Ivan must have noticed it too.  Katie and Marieta have both shared that sometimes when they are working on a new step that isn't coming easily or quickly a relieved Ivan will say, "Hallelujah!" when they finally get it.  Well, I got my first "Hallelujah!"  like "Finally!" today and it felt great!  (Usually I get, "Ole!" when I do something right and he's happy with me! lol.)

But you know what, it is okay.  I love being flooded with more than I can absorb.  I love that my instructor is sharing information with me so abundantly.  Even if I only absorb just a little bit, drop by drop, over time I will become a deep pool.  I refuse to put the pressure on myself anymore to become this overnight.  Besides, what fun would that be?  I'd miss the entire journey!

So even amidst being inundated with information, I finally "got" something beyond just the step.

We were working on spot turns in which require me to get completely on one leg then turn.  I wasn't getting it.  I couldn't maintain my balance and do this little swoosh with my foot to make the next step pretty.  Ivan broke it down for me.

"Whenever you slow, or can't turning it is always a weight problem."

Yeah, I know!  I now have both a mental problem and a weight problem!  But what he really meant is that the problem is that I'm not moving the weight of my body where it needs to be.  It's something I've heard a million times, but the million and first time I heard it today produced a breakthrough!

I finally (Hallelujah!) committed my weight to one leg then the other.  I finally (Hallelujah!) completed one movement before starting the next.  I did all this while holding my spine straight.

Suddenly, transformationally, things became easier and more controlled.  The repeition had reached a tipping point and became transformational change.  Instantly Ivan was able to lead me in an under arm turn with one finger!  It felt like velvet effortlessness.  I was on my own two feet, dancing myself, carrying my own weight and placing it properly.  It was a magical moment of confidence and centeredness, and dare I say it, perfection.

I think it will take a few more repetitions to fully integrate this into my muscle memory but now that I've done it once and know what is possible I will be able to find it more and more easily over time.  Soon it will become second nature.  It will be a good habit that I have cultivated.

Now that I've told you my story it's your turn.  You see, believe it or not, this blog isn't just about me.  I am curious as to the experience of other dancers out there and believe there is enormous value in sharing our experience.  I want to invite you to an ongoing dialog about the process of being a dancer.  This conversation on my blog so far has been pretty one sided so I thought I'd ask some questions of my readers and learn a little more about you. 

We all have a story and every story is worth voicing.  I'm interested in hearing about it.  So, to kick things off, I have a few questions. 

Is there something you have heard over and over in your dancing practice or your life that you know intellectually but doesn't translate into action?  Why do you think that is?  Also, did you ever have a moment where things finally "clicked" and if so, what happened when it did?  How did that make you feel?

I can't wait to hear what you have to share!

Ole! and Halleljuah!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Panic Attack

Imperial Dance Studio

International Standard and Latin Group Dances


I arrive at the studio with water and Gatorade in hand (I'm prepared this time!) expecting another butt-whooping.  Trust me, I did get one, but it was a little different pace today as Igor instructed both classes and it was my first time having him as a teacher.

We work on the Waltz.  Igor moves gracefully across the floor demonstrating various steps, proper swing action, and finally creates a small series of figures for us to dance.  We do a natural turn (I think that's what it's called), and then some move that involves brushing my legs and feet together (no idea what it is called) and then stepping forward, then a reverse turn (I think), and then disaster! 

This move I certainly know the name is my nemesis!

duh duh duhhhh (menacing music)

The Heel Turn.

Okay, listen.  I'm no expert in International Standard dances.  I learned (and I use this term loosely here) all of 'em in about 2 weeks, maybe in 5 lessons spread between all of the dances, and maybe 2 of them touched on the heel turn specifically.  I learned them for the competition in San Diego since I was competing in so many heats.  So anyways, I'm not comfortable nor practiced in them.  I just kinda move as best I can they way I think I'm supposed to based on how it looks on other people. 

So here I am in class surrounded by all these amazing students, some of whom just returned from kicking butt at a competition in Vegas (congratulations guys!), and I am being asked to do a heel turn.  One of the basic figures in this style of dance, I know, but not one that I've figured out.

I begin to panic.  I almost began to laugh uncontrollably.  Instead, I swallow hard and ask the instructor, "Excuse me, but, um, how do you make that turn?"

Have you ever jumped into a situation without knowing all the information?  Or taken on a task which turns out to be more than expected?  Well, taking this class feels like jumping off a high diving board into a pool of water.  In this moment of sheer panic it feels like my stomach has dropped through the floor while a stone has suddently lodged in my throat.  In this moment, I don't think I am up to the task.  What am I going to do?

I do what I can do which is take a breath.  In this breath I remember that I really don't know what the bleep I am doing.  I just don't have the much experience.  My brain is primed to launch that "mental problem" program but this time I am aware enough to pull the plug before it gets too far.  I remember that I'm a baby beginner in this arena.  I remember all the stuff I wrote about being kind to myself in moments like this.  I remember that it is okay to mess up, look stupid, be wrong.  I remember I declared I was willing to accept these prices to get where I want to go.

So I chuckle to myself and do my best.

But the interesting thing is that even through I'm struggling, and falling, and off balance, and really not making the move look anything like this:

the instructor tells the class at large, "Good job.  Beautiful."

I don't believe him for a second!

I know that I'm not doing it right.  I know I am doing it so wrong.  He makes it look so easy and effortless, but I'm clunking around, sometimes not even know which direction in which I am supposed to clunk.

Wait a minute.  Didn't I just make a case for how inexperienced I am at all this?  Why am I now making judgements as if I knew anything about this?

But I'm convinced.  I'm a failure at this heel turn thing.  I just can't do it.

So anyways, we conclude our lessons and he says at the end, again to the class in general, "I am impressed.  You guys did well."

I am on the precipice, ready to jump into the abyss of negativity when a small voice halts me.  I am about to negate his comment, assume he is referring to the other students in the class but certainly not to me because all the evidence I've gathered about myself during this lesson in my sick head with my "mental problem" program says that I'm in over my head, don't know what I'm doing, and I'm doing it poorly.

I have been indulging in the comparison game.  Not only comparing myself to others in the room, but to the professional teaching me, and the "perfect me" in my head that I can never measure up to.  I notice that for me, sadly, there is something comfortable about feeling that I am "less than" others. I choose the devil I know rather than risk actually feeling good about myself.  Now isn't that interesting?

But then the voice whispers, "Why not be impressed with you just as much as anyone else?"

It is kind a ridiculous if you think about it.  Why do I assume I'm excluded from any postitive comment automatically?  Why not believe the best about myself? 

Maybe the movement I am making, as awkward as it is, is stellar for someone who has had as little experience as I have had with it.  Isn't this a valid possibility?  Wouldn't making up a story that went like this serve me better?  Since I'm making it all up anyways, why not make up a good one?

So my new story goes like this - I'm doing great.  I'm showing up and taking on a big challenge.  I'm hanging in there and doing the best I can in the moment.  And because of all this, I'm going to get better, and stronger, and most importantly, more comfortable with myself.  The heel turn, it will come in time with practice.  There is no need to worry about not getting it just now.  And you know what, my instructor said he was impressed and that the class did beautifully.  I must be doing something right!  Hey, I'm doing some things right!

I don't know about you, but this story makes me feel encouraged.  I now feel like I can face the next challenge that comes my way.  Good thing I figured it out because I have another lesson tomorrow!  Woo Hoo!  Details to follow.

Thank You For Being My Friend

Sunday, December 11

Sunburst World Promotions Competition

Scottsdale, Arizona

Kierland Resort

Generally I view people as either players or spectators in the game of life.  Usually I like to be a player but today I was genuinely grateful to be a spectator for two of my dear dancing friends, Katie and Randall as they danced their hearts out at the Sunburst competition this weekend.

I met Katie because she is also a student of my instructor, Ivan.  She is the one I mentioned in my first post who has shed 140 pounds.  This was her second ballroom competition and I couldn't be more proud of her.  She has already improved since I saw her dance at her first competition only 3 months ago at the Galaxy Dance Festival in September.

This is Katie (with Ivan).  Isn't she gorgeous?

I met Randall at the Galaxy competition and it was also his first competition.  He dances with the lovely Nona who I have also taken lessons with on occasion.  He shared with me that the reason he started dancing was for his daughter's wedding.  When their performance moved the crowd to tears, he realized the power of dance as a form of expression.  He's been dancing ever since!

Here's Randall with Nona.  Isn't he manly?

I realized watching my friends that I was satisfied just being there to support them.  I chose not to dance in the competition for a variety of reasons but was still able to come in the afternoon.  I joined the table and cheered them on.  I felt like I was with my second family and just happy to be there in their presence. 

I admit, after watching a few dances and especially when songs I like were played, part of me wanted to jump up and dance.  But sometimes it is great to enjoy others in the spotlight.  I don't know many other arenas in my life where I am so at peace with this.  Usually I want to stand out in some good way and be recognized.  This day, it was simply amazing to celebrate wins with my friends and love on them.

Plus, if I hadn't come, I'd have missed out on some of Ivan's crazy antics.  He is seriously like a puppy dog and always a source of great entertainment.  On this particular day, after his month long sojourn to Bulgaria and getting married and eating all the delicious food available and missing out on so much dance practice, I don't think his pants were particularly comfortable.  I say this because he unbuttoned his pants after each heat while waiting at the table.  Now to me he looks absolutely great; thin, athletic, fit.  But he must have felt the need to relieve some pressure.

In any case, Ivan proceeded to zip up his pants in the middle of a cha cha heat right there on the dance floor with Katie!  It was the only one she got placed 3rd and we all agree it was probably because of Ivan's wardrobe malfunction. 

I think this sums it up:  Cost of gas to venue, $15.  Cost of admission to Sunburst $30.  Seeing your ballroom instructor have an entire conversation with Bob Powers with his fly down, priceless.

But beyond priceless was spending such special time with my friends.  I even got to dance later that night during the evening session.  Ivan and I did the running man, some break dancing, the Lamabda (my first time learning that one), and even the Roger Rabbit...basically anything and everything besides ballroom.  It was a blast letting loose like that!

I will leave you with a song that sums up the point of today's post which is dedicated to my friends:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Just Breathe

Monday, December 12, 2011


Allegre studio with Ivan

At the start of our lesson Ivan asks me "What we gonna work on," (remember, he's from Bulgaria and English is like a 5th language)

"Latin," I reply.

"Why you like Latin? What is different for you than American?"

I have to think about the question.  Since I began watching ballroom I've always been fascinated by the Latin and Rhythm dances, specifically Rumba and Cha Cha.  I love the sleekness of the Latin style, the control, the passion, and the play of femininity and masculinity.  I see the Latin dances as just ever so elegant as compared to the American style, though I love both and am certainly more practiced and comfortable with American Rhythm dances (except the bolero and I swear my samba is getting better!)  I think it all boils down to personal preference, but for me, Latin dances are the bee's knees.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy a well done Smooth dance and International Standard is the epitome of grace.  I have come to appreciate these dances more and more over time.  But so far in my experience I take these dances as I take medicine....because I believe they are good for me, but not necessarily because I love them or me dancing them.  I think you can see it on my face in the picture below....blech! Medicine!

And, as most of us ballroom dancers know, our preference changes over time.  I'll probably be loving the Viennese Waltz later this year - well, you never know, it could happen!

So anyways, I'm curious as to why Ivan is questioning me about my newly expressed desire to study Latin dances.  It seems he thinks I only recently decided that I liked them.

"No no," I explain, "I've liked the Latin style since my first teacher and he started to teach me the beginning steps but then left.  Then with my next teacher, I asked him to teach me too, but not at first.  We always seemed to work on American Rhythm." 

He says, "Ah, well if you like Latin, if that is what is inside, in your heart, you have to do Latin."  He says it like its not even an option not to do it.  Like this is who I am inside, really.

I just don't think most adult Americans ask to learn Latin dances and the instructors I've had had more experience with American styles so they were more comfortable with them.  But always in the back of my mind I've wanted to explore this style and after my lesson tonight I believe once again my unconscious is leading me toward the experiences I most need. 

So we begin.  It is awkward.  I don't feel on balance.  Ivan stops me every few steps to correct something.  I can't even walk right!  Have to suck in my stomach, hold myself up, don't lean, don't collapse.  Take small steps, rotate the hips, keep the body forward, keep my shoulders level.  Straighten the legs!  Let's not even broach the subject of arms, or facial expression....

I'm getting caught up in my "mental problem." 

Ok, refocus. 

It is hard.  It is not coming easily.  Was learning the other dances ever this difficult?

I have to say that I really, really, really want to be this creature that I see doing the Latin rumba.  She is confident and sexy and strong.  She is in control, cool, calm, and collected.  She is feminine, interesting, engaging and playful.  Basically, she's someone you can't keep your eyes off.  That is really why I want to learn these dances.  I can play this part that I am in no way, shape, or form comfortable playing in "real life."  It is obvious to me that learning Latin is my vehicle for becoming this person hiding out inside me.  She's been stifled for quite some time.

As we continue Ivan is coming down a bit harder on me and seems more stern than usual.  I know that this is because he sees potential in me to be really good (or at least this is a story I make up about it that works for me.)  I don't want to be average in my dancing, I want to be extraordinary (don't we all?) and I'm willing to work very hard to get there.

Now what endpoint that will satisfy me as finally being "extraordinary" is kinda of a ridiculous idea.  I mean, what am I aiming for here?  What would "prove" that I had become this Latin creature?  Winning a scholarship?  Dancing in a showcase?  Doing the fan 1000 times in a week?  I'm not sure.  I'm just sure that I want to become excellent at this and will not settle for average.

Ivan tells me that I must have a different mentality when approaching Latin.  I must be stronger because it is a more exacting style.  I will have to do the same steps over and over and over and over to really become great.  That doesn't bother me.  I always seem to be able to discover more and feel more about my body and I can do this more deeply with steps that are more practiced so they are incorporated into my muscle memory.  It is endlessly fascinating.

What concerns me is my physical ability to do this.  And, I'm 33 years old.  I'm not going to be some Latin professional superstar.  What in the heck am I working so hard for?

Could this cutsie-woo gal really be a Latin dancer?  She doesn't look anything like Karina Smirnoff!

You know what, I don't exactly know.  All I know is that to move like those Latin ladies move is something I want.  And I am willing to pay the prices to make that happen as best as I am able.  I am willing to drop this weight.  I am willing to eat on my plan.  I am willing to go to dance class and be uncomfortable and be sore and be out of breath.  I am willing to mess up and look bad.  I'm willing to take lessons and practice on my own. 

I'm not willing to settle on this one.  Don't know why but I'm not.

But during the lesson I haven't had time to process all this and my "mental problem" is rearing its ugly head.  I am feeling overwhelmed for sure.  I want more time to practice each step that Ivan is throwing at me.  There is no way to absorb everything much less actually get my body to do it.

So about this time I'm overloaded with new steps, new positions my body needs to create, and my instructor begins to talk to me about breathing.  Seems simple, right? 

But it is at this point that I lose it. 

I can take all this difficult stuff, I'm used to it.  But breathing?  That thing I do all day long?  Well, it is freaking me out.  I absolutely do not know how to breathe properly.  Nor do I use my breath to help me move.  Ivan demonstrates how sharp staccato breaths help him do sharp staccato movements.  He talks about Karate masters and how they use the breath to channel their movements.  It makes sense in my logical brain but my emotional brain is on overdrive.

How am I supposed to control my breath or otherwise use it when it is all I can do to huff and puff just to get through a few minutes of dancing?  I'm actually embarrassed by how winded I get.  For reasons I don't understand I begin to to tear up.

"If you can't breathe properly, you can't dance,"  he tells me.  One of his coaches shared it with him.  If I want to be a higher level dancer (and I do) then I need to practice this stuff. 

It feels like a fundamental truth to me.  And I do recall that my very first instructor used to talk about it as well.  He said that I was "panic breathing" and that I needed to learn to control it.

The tears began to fall.  There is no apparent reason for this emotion but it flows through me, I helpless to stop it.  In fact, why even try?  I know it to be a release.  I'm letting something go, even if I don't know what it is and this is good.

I remember when I first began ballroom and my instructor then would always cajole me "More hips, more hips!"  I practically bawled moving them so much during multiple lessons.  Now I can move them just fine, even joyfully, but I had to cry my way through that one.  Thankfully most lessons are not so emotionally charged but every once in a while they really are. Plus, there is a lot of emotion stored up in this body of mine and I suspect as I continue this journey, many will be shaken up. 

So it's an interesting turn of events.  I surprise myself in wanting so fiercely to begin to study the Latin dances in earnest and in also wanting to veer toward a less comfortable style.  It would be easier, I suspect, and feel safer for me personally to stick with Rhythm dances.  I already have some level of competence in them and could build upon that.  But I'm choosing instead to take a road less travelled and step into unknown territory.

Even I can't explain what makes me tick! 

I hope you'll join me as the journey continues.  There's sure to be more crying, laughing, insights and yes, breathing along the way.

And one final note...

As emotional and difficult and wonderful as this journey in the ballroom world may be for me, I want to acknowledge that I am lucky to be able to take it.  I was reminded of this fact while talking to my boss who has had multiple back surgeries, replaced joints, etcetera etcetera and who lives in constant pain every day.  He still chooses to be a happy person and a contributor.  This is inspiring to me.  I was also deeply moved this past weekend while watching a local dance competition (post about it with photos is forthcoming) and there on the dance floor was a young man with some sort of physical disability. He had constrictures in his hands and couldn't move them properly as well as leg issues. He was out there dancing just the same.   He is my hero.  There are so many people living with tough issues, physical or otherwise, it reminds me to be grateful that I get to participate in this inner "struggle."   

Peace out!

Man, need to work on my facial expressions! OOOOO! So funny!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stopping and Starting

Saturday, December 10th 2011

Dance Starz studio


Before I get to the meat of this post I wanted to first say a huge thank you to everyone who has emailed me, commented, liked, or read my blog!  I have been getting such encouraging feedback and I can't express my sincere gratitude for this support.  It has been amazing to hear from you and really exciting for me, like jump-up-and-down exciting, so thanks!!!

Also, I wanted to share some news.  In the spirit of being vulnerable and transparent as discussed in my last post, I wanted to get real and let you know where I am with the weight loss goal.  It will provide me with much needed accountability knowing that someone out there is watching me.  I will update my progress on a biweekly basis.

I am down from my highest weight of 313 lbs. 

I am, as of the writing of this post at 268.2 lbs.

My goal is 140 lbs. 

As you can see, there are three people on the dance floor when I dance with Ivan.  I have a 128.2 pound person on my back.  Time for her to get off.

To do this I have a plan.  1) Dance as much as possible taking private lessons, group lessons, and fitness classes.  2) Eat less calories than I expend each day. 

I originally did a medically supervised plan but a person can only live so long on bars and shakes.  It wasn't pratical for the long term and I gave it up.  I'm proud that I didn't put the weight back on, but I also haven't been dropping it like I need to for my goal in July, 2012.  I liked the convenience of the shakes and bars so have signed up for a service that mails me meals each week.  I got my first package today.  So far, so good.  It is real food so there will be variety this time around but I get to keep the convenience of grab and go.

Also, I wanted to address the name of my blog.  I have had a few comments about the name, in particular asking me if it is really the best thing to be putting out there saying that I am the biggest girl in the ballroom.  Firstly, people have pointed out that words are powerful and the ones we choose create our experience.  Also, if I am of the mind to shed this weight and thus no longer be the biggest girl dancing why make it the name of my blog? 

My response is twofold.  First I'm just calling a spade a spade.  This is my reality at the moment.  Second, the title will work for me even after I am smaller in size because I still intend to have the "biggest" personality, "biggest" success, and "biggest"expression even after the shift in my physical appearance.

So with housekeeping complete, onward to my most recent dance lesson.

We begin with Latin rumba.  This is a style different than Ameican rumba and I am less practiced in the movements.  It is a gorgeous dance, probably my favorite to watch and thus I am very motivated to learn how to do it.  But I keep getting stuck at various points in the figures.  Usually this is because body weight hasn't been completely transferred from one foot to the other and so both legs are supporting the body making it impossible to move the leg without losing balance.  Also, I am in heels which doesn't help. 

What I discovered is that I start and stop my body instead of allowing it to continuously flow.  This makes things difficult in that I am stopping my momentum then having to start it back up again.  I am using every muscle fiber to try to overcome Newton's first law of motion which states that a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  When Ivan showed me how abuptly I was halting my hip rotation, for instance, and then demonstrated how to keep them moving, it instantly became easier to take the next step.

Now I don't know about you, but I see this as a metaphor for life.  There is a saying that they way you do anything is the way you do everything.  How often in my life do I try to control whatever process I am engaged in, taking fearful little steps here and there, expending enormous amounts of effort starting and stopping when I could simply relax into the process and allow my momentum to propel me along, allowing life to flow?  Probably more often than I even realize.  This habit is so unconscious that I didn't even realize I was doing it while dancing.  I only took note of the difficulties I was having, how I was getting stuck.  I didn't realize the difficulty was my own creation born from a need to control.  I am just getting in my own way.

It seems I always end these blog posts with a "Doogie Howser" type life lesson.  Today, I don't know what to write.  I'm not sure what to do about this discovery.  In fact, I'm not certain that there really is anything to do about it execpt keep moving.  It all comes back to the idea of really letting go.  So scary, yet in reality it would probably make my dancing life easier and more enjoyable.  The task before me is to drop all the pretense of working hard (because it is always hard, duh!), being great, doing it right, being perfect (whatever that is) and just to be me, knowing in my bones that I am enough.  It will take some courage to embrace this.  And when I do, world watch out!

I'm now wondering what it is gonna take to embrace this....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You Have A Mental Problem



Lesson with Ivan

It is ironic that in my last post I mentioned that for me dancing is somewhat of a spiritual practice.  I arrived at my lesson with Ivan today expecting the usual work out and practicing of technique but the work we did today was so much deeper than that, and for me, potentially life-changing. 

Today Ivan and I talked about the essence of dance, why people even do it.  The reason, I think, is self-expression.  Deep down we all want to be seen, heard, acknowledged (I certainly do).  Dance is one medium for this.  But many of us (me included) have learned to cow ourselves in, edit ourselves, hold back, make sure that everything we say or do is perfect or politically correct or socially acceptable.  Now I'm not advocating for people to do whatever they want without considering the consequences or how it may affect others but I do think holding back has prices, steep prices, that I've been paying to my detriment.

The feedback Ivan has given me is that it's killing me.  When I hold back, I kill the movement in my body that could be.  I stop myself for fear of looking bad, doing it wrong, being ridiculed, or to prevent people from judging me.  I'm afraid of being vulnerable and really letting go.  If I did, everyone would think I was too much or a diva or making a fool of myself.  They would see my imperfections, and no one wants to see that, right?

The reality is, however, that holding back does me no favors.  Why can't I just embrace the idea that I'm gonna look bad when I'm first learning a step and even when praticing it?  I have to experiment to find the right placement of my foot, my balance, how to settle into the hip, and not every try is going to look good, espeically right off the bat.  I am probably going to be doing something "wrong" too.  I don't know how to do all this dance stuff, that's why I'm taking lessons, so to expect myself to do it all "right" is an impossible expectation that sets me up to fail every time.  Finally, people will judge me.  We all judge each other all the time.  It is a a fact of the human experience.  I have to accept this fact and go be me and dance anyways.

I have to think of it like this:  how would I be toward a child learning to dance?  Would I expect a 3 year old to do the steps perfectly every time?  Would I berate her for doing it "wrong?" Would I yell at her as I so often do to myself in my own head?  Or would I encourage her, tell her what she is doing right, praise her for her progress and forgive any backtracking?  Would I think she was precious and darling just as she was and value her for no other reason that that?  Would I acknowledge the effort she put forth?  Probably so.

But for me this is not as simple as it sounds.  I get really caught up in my head about how I look, how I'm doing everything wrong, how I'll never get it right, how my body isn't a "dancer's" body.  As Ivan says it, I have a mental problem.

Now you have to understand that Ivan is from Bulgaria so English is a second language.  Sometimes the way he says things cracks me up.  Usually you tell someone they have a mental problem if they are psychotic, but in this case I get his point.  I psych myself out of owning my beauty, my greatness, my expressiveness before I even take the first step.  I am looking to him for feedback if I'm doing okay rather than simply dancing and loving it and staying centered in myself.

This is tricky too.  I have to stay centered in myself but not get so caught up in my own experience that I forget to connect with my partner.  Ivan says this is selfish, that I'm not sharing myself with him or the audience when I do this.  Also, I have to dance myself, be on my own two feet, and not rely on him to pull me or push me, but still stay in the dance with him, simply responding to his invitation to move in a particular direction and choosing of my own volition to do so.  I have discovered that it is completely possible to be dancing alongside someone and even to be in a hold together but not be dancing with them.  I want the connection but I cut it off at the same time. 

I have asked myself what the appeal of ballroom dancing is for me.  I have a theory that we seek out those experiences that teach us what we most need to learn.  For me, it is embracing vulnerablility, loving myself, owning my power, expressing myself, and connecting authentically with others.  I'm deficient in all these areas and ballroom dancing is the perfect therapy.  When I reflect on it as art form, I love it specifically because when the connection is there, when the partners are 100% with themselves and also at the same time 100% with each other and 100% sharing that with the audience (yes I know that adds up to 300%, but we are talking synergy here, people) the effect is magical.  I want to be that.  I want to live like that.  And I get to practice it when I'm dancing.

But the holding back, my "mental problem" creates a barrier within my own body and between me and everyone else.  As Ivan tells me, I am looking at him but not really seeing him.  Nor, I realize, in effect allowing him or anyone watching to see me.  It is what I so deeply desire, to be seen, but so deeply fear at the same time.  I feel naked, vulnerable to really open up like that.  Yet that is why I even dance!  I admit it, I'm a mess!

So I guess Ivan's right, I do have a mental problem.  I have been believing the illusion that I am not worthy enough to be seen.  But I don't think I'm alone in this.  Ivan shared with me he also has a "mental problem."  He also makes up stories about himself that are negative.  And so does his exquisitely beautiful partner and wife.  I think we can all find things about ourselves we dislike.  But if I dance focused on this, everyone can feel it.  If I am scared or insecure or ashamed, those watching me can feel it.  The good news is that if I am loving me and confident and happy, they can feel that too.

At the end of my lesson Ivan told me to stop trying to be somebody, to quit trying so hard and to quit attempting to emulate anyone else.  He told me I am very feminine and soft in my movements and to embrace that, finding how a step will look best on me, not anyone else.  It is up to me to make the choice in every moment to break down the wall, release this dam, and allow myself to be seen authentically, vulnerably, and whole-heartedly, whatever that looks like along the way.

I think this blog is a step in the right direction.

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