|I’ve never even been on a cruise before …|
In my last lesson, my teacher started out with an analogy. I’ll give him the credit for its creation unless I find out he got it from somewhere else. But it went something like this (It’s even better if you can imagine this being told with a Russian accent — not scary mafia voice, though.):
“Imagine with me … close your eyes … OK, imagine with me that you are going on a cruise to Cuba. All that bad stuff between this country and there have been figured out, blah, blah, blah. So, before you get on the ship, you have a dance try-out in order to determine what your cabin will be … from the very bottom of the boat to the best, most luxurious cabin. You will only be able to dance the basics of cha cha before the judges. All levels of dancers want to go and they can only dance the basics. But whoever dances them the best, gets the best accommodations.”
Long pause for the effect of this to sink in on me. I know where this is going … I’m going to be relearning the basics of cha cha in my lesson.
|The best of the best!|
He continues, “It is my responsibility to make sure you get into best cabin possible. You understand? The best dancer on the floor is the one doing the best possible basic. Everything comes from this. Yes?”
Yes, I understand. I totally want a view of the ocean.
And so we begin again to tackle the basics. I used to balk at this — learning and the relearning and relearning, etc. But he shows me how I’m to do the basic now and says, “This is it. The final version.” And I watch him do it and I think, “that does take it to the next level. I can see it.” And then he says, “You see why we cannot teach this at the beginning? Students will not understand and just get frustrated.” And, I can see it now. Up until this year, I don’t think I was ready to go on a cruise to Cuba — I was pontooning out at the lake thinking how much I had on the people floating in the swimming pool.
|It’s pretty grand! Never been here, either.|
But isn’t that the way it is with lots of stuff in our lives? We’re uber-confident we know exactly what should be done. After all, look at where we’re at? And then someone comes along and says. That’s just the Royal Gorge — have you seen the Grand Canyon? (Shameless shout-out to my home state of CO!) It’s not that where we’re at is bad or wrong … there’s more, we just weren’t ready for it yet.
I’m also a teacher in real-life work and I deal mostly with college students. We are currently working on persuasive speaking and I have one student who is quite confident about how the audience would view his project. I gave him my opinion and said wait and see. In class yesterday, he had a revelation and says loudly, “You were right! I never should have doubted you … I just didn’t see it.” (This ain’t my first rodeo, kid.) 😉 But in that moment, I was reminded of my lesson and when my eyes were opened by someone who’s already been on the cruise to Cuba many times.
If you master the basics, everything else will come with time. Better go practice … I want the really big cabin with the view of the deck below, ocean and dance floor … and also a personal masseuse!
Thinking back on my very first lesson I was so nervous, I arrived 10 minutes early and sat in my car giving myself a pep-talk. “You can do this. Just get out of the car and go in? How bad could it be?”
An hour later, back in my car, I was on the phone with one of my friends gushing. I was a goner. My teacher reminds me now and then that the first thing I said to him was that I wasn’t coordinated. It’s funny four years later.
It was months before I had the courage to look in the mirror as we danced past it. Now, we spend huge amounts of time in front of it doing drills. It took a nice bit of persuasion on my teacher’s part to get me to show up to one of the public dances held at the studio. He finally scheduled a lesson after one of them and told me to come a half-hour early — and that did the trick. I snuck in and tried to melt into the corner of the room to observe. Now, I’d like to see someone try to put me in the corner! 🙂
Getting started may not seem easy, but it is rewarding.
How does it help you? This is a tough question to answer for everyone, but I can tell you about myself and what I’ve observed in others.
Dancing gives you confidence. Not just on the dance floor, but in real life.
You have to learn to adapt.
You have to learn to read and follow others.
You must learn to be patient with yourself, other dancers and your teacher.
You must be gracious and forgiving.
You learn to help others who don’t have as much experience.
You must push yourself. (As several coaches have said to me, “If it doesn’t feel awkward at first, than you’re probably not doing it right.”)
Dancing gives you a sense of accomplishment.
You create bonds with people you would never normally interact with.
You learn to express yourself emotionally in public.
You learn not to fear messing-up publicly.
You hopefully learn to laugh at yourself.
You have to always keep going no matter what happens.
You learn to adapt and communicate better with your partner/teacher.
You will fall, but you must keep going.
You get to wear beautiful clothes that make you feel gorgeous/handsome.
You learn to stay mentally engaged while on the move.
You’re envied by all your friends who wish they could dance.
Oh, and you get great exercise! (If you don’t think dancing is hard work, than you’ve never really danced before! Just ask the contestants on “Dancing With the Stars.”)
I’ve watched numerous students come into the studio and change, bit by bit. They are often very fearful or overconfident … both need help. Eventually the dedicated dancers stick around and it is fabulous to watch them develop. From shy or awkward people to cha cha cha-ing their way around the room. With knowledge comes power, but it’s the kind of power that gives you confidence. If I can dance the Samba or Tango and not trip, but actually give the audience pleasure in watching, it’s exhilarating.
It definitely takes a huge amount of dedication. Just when I think I’ve learned a certain move, my teacher will say, “OK, now we will start over from the beginning.” But, isn’t that exactly how all of life works?
What were your initial experiences with learning to dance? Or do you have any particular fears that keep you from trying something you’ve always wanted to do?
“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.”
— Gene Kelly
In upcoming posts I plan to talk about dancing socially and even the fun parts of taking lessons. I’ll also give you tips on how to save money in the ballroom world. I’ll show you how I make my own jewelry and some of my favorite books about ballroom and my preferred shoes, etc. I hope you’ll join me in the conversation! Even if you don’t ballroom, I think you’ll find it interesting and fun! 🙂
You know, it’s funny when you begin to compare the cost of things to a dance lesson. “Oh, that dress is worth three lessons.” “You want us to go where for the weekend? That’s like six lessons worth! Ummm, I’m going to have to get back to you on that.”
According to investopedia.com, ballroom dancing could cost you up to $10,000 a year. (Cough, cough) I’ll leave my fellow dancers to insert their own experiences and depth of pocketbook.
Well … here we go. Stepping on toes doesn’t just happen on the dance floor. 🙂
Yeah, it costs money. But so do airplanes, sailboats, gambling, horses, traveling, shopping, jewelry, art, antiques, race cars, eating out, perpetual graduate school, etc. etc. etc. We all spend money. Some people might want to spend a few thousand on a comic book collection, others may want to buy multiple homes, some want to save up massive bank accounts for the future, and still others think it’s nothing to spend $10 every day on just a cup of coffee and a muffin.
There’s a big disparity in the ballroom dancing world when it comes to competitors. There are those who dwell in the world of “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” And then there are those who must watch every measly dollar trickle away from them. (I must admit I’m in the latter group. Shocker.)
It is worth it? I went out and culled some opinions out on the old world wide web to see what people across the States think:
— “Sure adds up when you look at it on an annual basis, doesn’t it? But what I love is that when you look at the overall cost and still decide it’s worth every penny, you really start to enjoy it. My view is that the best way to use discretionary cash (everything past tithing, cost of living, and savings) is to improve your life and those of people around you, and when something is this much fun it’s a great investment, because it’s an investment in the enjoyment of life. I feel the same is true for any sport that people commit to. The key is to commit to some activity you truly love. Gives you a wonderful sense of physical fulfillment. DanceSport has been good for my marriage and my social life. My relationship with my daughters has improved (even though I only dance with one of them, we’ve all grown together through the process), and there has been a rich emotional bonding with my dance partner daughter that will stay with us the rest of our lives, long after she gets a partner her age to compete with. Like the MasterCard commercials say, that kind of thing is priceless.”
Some social dancers just take those group classes and pay the cover charge to dance all evening. That’s like the guy who just has a cheap fishing pole and casts from the bridge.
We can go on and on and on about this subject and I’ve heard many people do that. But, you get what you pay for. We pay big bucks for professionals in all different areas of our life.
“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”
― Merce Cunningham
So, for the recent comp I decided to try the salon spray-on tanning … the most humiliating kind. Someone sprays you down in whatever articles of clothing you decide you need to keep on. I decided to go this route because I saw a sweet deal on Groupon or LivingSocial — I can’t remember which one. The deal was three spray tanning sessions and a basic mani-pedi for $30. How could I resist? I looked at the picture and it seemed pretty legit when I found them on Facebook. So, I bought the special and called and booked my first session a couple days before the comp. You should never try out a new place before an important event — just DON’T do it, go with what you already know works!
It’s time to leave for my appointment and I put the address in my GPS on my awesome iPhone. It did not look like where I thought it was at all. But, I’ve come to trust that GPS, so off I went winding and twisting through the “hills” until I came to this random building that housed the salon. I probably should have just turned around and went home, but I’m a trooper! I parked in the only spot available for the salon and went in. It was raining outside. There was a girl there waiting for me. She was busy texting away on her phone and said “hi” after I greeted her first. (Second clue to exit stage right ignored.)
She led me to the side room which housed the “tanning” section. I always try to make friendly conversation with people — especially if they’re about to do something that affects my looks: dentists, cosmetologists, nail salon workers, the girl who sets the times and loads the spray tanning machine, etc. I need to gauge their mental depth and possible detachment to reality. I wasn’t getting good vibes here. It wasn’t really bad, I just didn’t get a strong sense of confidence. (Had it been the dentist office I would have bolted. But … I really needed that tan.)
|this guy has gotten his tan on!|
She told me to take off whatever I was comfortable with and she would be behind the curtain. I told her I was doing a dance competition and I needed to be really dark. Like almost abnormally dark. Her response: good thing you got three sessions.
I went into the “tanning booth.” It was painted a weird brown color, there were two holes cut in the wall with filters in them — the kind my A/C guy said he would throw away if he had them, and there was a vent running. She fired up the engine on the machine gun, I mean spray-tanning gun, put on her mask (very WW1-esque) and barked orders: Turn. Turn. Turn. Raise your arms. Turn. Chin up. Turn.
I’m familiar with the sensation of getting hit with spray tanning solution. I used to have it done on my face, arms, legs, etc when in theatre. But it was nothing like this. I was literally shivering from the cold. When it was over, I went back behind the curtain to change and recover near the small space heater. When I came out, she was busy on her phone again. I said, “bye, see you tomorrow for the next session.” She said, “bye.” (tip deduction)
I waited all day for that tan to make an appearance. It was barely there. I had a lesson in the evening and I told my teacher I had had my first tanning session. He kind of squinted at me like he was trying to see if there was a difference and then said, “Oh, yeah, yeah. There’s a little color there. Good thing you have two more sessions.” This was not good.
|tanning with the stars|
Next day. Repeat scenario. Girl was a little more friendly.
Next day. Back for the mani-pedi and final spray session. The comp was the next day. I looked slightly more beige. I could fortell my future. I’d be going back to the old tanning booth salon I normally went to and paying for the darkest blast they had.
I had also been eyeing her own nail job (she told me proudly that she did her own nails) and knew I’d be heading on over to my normal nail place. I inwardly groaned at the wasted time and money … but, there were many lessons to be learned in getting ready for that competition. The only interesting part was when she started to do my mani. I asked for a French. She free-handed it. She shouldn’t have. But, all of the sudden she started talking non-stop. She told me about her upbringing, her love life, her hobbies, her customers, her pets, her business, etc. I got the feeling she felt like we were connecting. I hate that. It makes me feel badly. I was busy planning in my mind when I’d have the time to go have all her work re-done while she lamented the appalling lack of pool (billiards) groups in the area and her nudists customers that she hated doing pedis on.
I was so happy when I was able to extricate myself. I went to practice with my teacher. He said, “did you get all three tans?” I said, “yes.” He looked inscrutably away — a look I know well. Then he says, “there’s still time to get another one.” Ha! I said, “I was thinking I’d just get the bottle and put it on myself since I already have a base.” He said, “You mean the kind that gets all over my clothes and hands?” I took a deep breath. The stress of it all made me want to snark back, “Yes, that’s been my plan this whole time.”
At the end of that lesson I brought up the nail issue. Did he think I should get tips put on. My own nails were pretty long, but I did have one that had broken and didn’t help with uniformity. He diplomatically says, “you can. But your nails are fine. But you can get tips or whatever it is … I don’t know what you girls put on.” I said, “it’s what the other dancers do.” He gives me that look of — I know, why are you even asking me.
So, I stop at the nail place which is super close to the dance studio and get a new mani-pedi. I get nail tips. At least, that’s what I thought I was getting. The language barrier is much stronger in this environment than anywhere else in my life. When I got my freakishly long, dragon-like nails finished I asked the technician if they came with a manual on how to take your contacts out. She looked as confused as I had felt for the last half-hour. Another $100 gone. But they looked awesome!
Next stop: spray tanning salon. I walked in and the girl recognizes me. “Spray tan? The darkest one?” Me: “Uh, yes.” Her: “You have a dance thing.” Me: “Yes.” (and I’m really, really sorry I didn’t come to you first!) Her: “You want to get the special boost which helps balance your PH and make an even darker and more sustainable tan?” Me: “How much?” Her: “Another $8.” Me: “Why not.”
I walk to the back room and prepare to get blasted again. A computerized voice greets me, telling me I made the right choice and to close the door behind me.
Recently in a lesson, my teacher says to me: you’re too easy on yourself. You need to push harder. You’ll never get stronger this way. Do you see how easily you give up? (Well, that was basically the gist of it. There’s a bit of Jillian Michaels’ aura about him at times. More on that later.)
|I would really like to see my teacher do this someday! Ha|
I remember when I first met my Ukrainian teacher. Our communication wasn’t as clear — we didn’t always understand each other. He hadn’t even been in the States for six months when I met him. I think he understood a whole lot more than he could communicate back to me. But, I remember one time I was waxing eloquent about who-knows-what and his response was: “I no understand. We not discuss.” His exact words. Now he surprises me by the depth of his understanding … he could put many native speakers to shame on many subjects.
Back to the original statement. I feigned shock when he said that to me. ME?! Who was he kidding? If I was really a quitter, wouldn’t I have given up three and half years ago? Would I have continued to take lessons and do showcases and compete? Who dances with so much passion? Who puts her whole heart into her dancing?! Me. I no understand; we not discuss!
…but, that wouldn’t be truthful. I knew exactly what he meant. I just didn’t like the implication. We were doing a drill, probably the newest version of the basic samba (the more you dance, the more you relearn all the basics), in front of those horribly honest mirrors. We’d probably been doing it over and over for five minutes (which in dance lesson time feels like 20) and I was starting to get irritated. The arches of my feet would start to cramp from going in that same toe point over and over. So, I would stop and flex my feet and probably show angst on my face (which is painfully expressive beyond what I’m comfortable in revealing). At this point, I got that mini verbal spanking.
|Not as easy as it looks to do|
My teacher’s ploys at getting me to practice at home are really creative. Sometimes he’s subtle and sometimes he just outright says things like: you will not ever be able to do this if you don’t practice at home.
But, I can see results. The things I do practice at home go so much more smoothly in lesson time and I’m able to go deeper into dancing technique. The things I don’t like and avoid are the ones I end up spending valuable lesson time getting upset over. Who’s fault is that? We not discuss.
“Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.”
Immediate impressions. Yes, those pesky little thoughts that plagued me early Saturday morning the week of the dance comp. I had competed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and was now hanging out for international style, the professionals and just trying to relax. Since I couldn’t sleep in that morning, in spite of being exhausted, I wrote down a bunch of random thoughts from the week’s experience. I won’t share all of them — no need to make awkwardness in my life. But here’s a sampling:
|I might have said something similar to my teacher …|
— if you’re not noticed on the dance floor right away, it’s a long uphill battle to come back
— if you don’t “look” like a serious dancer, you’re not taken seriously
— never underestimate the power of connections and fame
— acquire endurance
— trust the process that your teacher is creating
— don’t be jealous or compare yourself to others
— acquire amazing costumes
— don’t let other student’s actions and words irritate you
— don’t let your partner’s actions or focus get you down
— stay focused on your goals
— always be generous and kind about others
— practice every day
— own your own dancing — good and bad
— having fun is your choice
These are actually some really good thoughts to make into goals, but it’s not easy. You have to understand what’s in your control and what you just have to LET GO. If you notice, my list is focused on things that I can do. You have no control over who comes to a competition. You can’t control advanced students dancing down to get good rankings. You don’t get to choose the judges or really know what is important to them. You can’t control your partner and neither should you try. Unless you win the lottery, you’re not going to be able to match what most competitors are able to do — and that’s OK! You can control your attitude, focus and how much you practice.
We often hear people say that dancing is just so much FUN and that’s what you have to focus on. And, I don’t disagree with that — there are aspects of dancing that are great fun, but it’s really hard work if you want to be good at it. In my last post I said that I love dancing — and I do. But, it’s a logical and emotional attachment. There are moments during my lessons when I do not feel any love towards the lock step or towards my teacher snapping instructions at me. There are moments when I just want to walk away and book a Mediterranean cruise instead of buying another block of lessons. I am tempted to just take a nice, long break when it gets hard and frustrating; when I get irritated with myself because my body won’t follow the clear instructions my brain is giving it; when my teacher makes me do the same basic step over and over and over and over and over and over; when I don’t understand why other students get rewarded for crappy technique that I’ve literally spent hours and hours learning to do right, etc. But, all of those non-feeling-good moments culminate into creating some absolutely fabulous I-freaking-love-to-dance moments! You have to do the work to get the pay-off. If you’re an adult and don’t understand that concept … than you have other issues.
|Yeah, they dance OK too!|
Awhile back I had the great opportunity to take a workshop from Mark Ballas. I might have been a little star-struck, but it was nothing compared to what I would have felt if it was Derek Hough! 😉 He told us some stories about his experiences learning to dance. One story in particular I think of often: When he was younger, getting ready for a competition, his coaches (his mom and dad) would have these marathon practice sessions. They would be on the floor doing all their dance routines hard core with about six other couples for hours. They had to keep going no matter what. If someone let up, they all had to start all over from the beginning. If someone threw up, everyone had to start over.
I’m pretty sure he was trying to make a point about dedication and endurance. But if you watch him dance on DWTS, he looks like he’s having the time of his life, not thinking about those moments when he was hating practicing and his teachers and his partner, etc.
|That is one freaking-huge smile on my face|
So, in order to do this thing I claim to love, I have to sacrifice! Time, money, other activities, my sanity at times … they all take a beating. I should insert here that I realize not all dance students are like me. I am unable to do anything artistic in a casual way. But, thankfully, my teacher and my family understand.
“I don’t want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance.”
— George Balanchine
Groan. My first, real competition was just a few weeks ago. If I hadn’t been so busy getting ready for it and working two jobs to pay for my “hobby” and trying to maintain a healthy social life, I might have been able to write down more of what I was going thru. As it was, I’m glad I have such a chill family, friends and teacher. They all seemed completely un-ruffled by any trauma I was experiencing because of wardrobe issues, money issues, work issues, emotional issues, lack of sleep, over-confidence, fear, hormones, etc. (My roommate is also being great about the fact that for six weeks the downstairs was covered in fabric scraps, thread, safety pins, glue, sequins and RHINESTONES! We’re still finding stones in random places around the home. My roommate has a sweet little narrative about walking around in a store and not understanding why there was something odd stuck on the bottom of her shoe. She checks and yes, it’s an AB rhinestone staring right back at her.)
Even now I can’t quite articulate everything I learned from this first big competition. I’ve gone to quite a few to watch and competed at a very small one with my teacher, but this was not even remotely the same experience. It will take several posts to begin to break it down. Ultimately, it was agonizingly wonderful. I did well. I got my butt kicked. I met really interesting and cool people. I observed straight-up fanatical and obsessed behavior. I was intrigued. I was disturbed. I am overwhelmingly thankful for my own experiences and teacher. I’m a lucky girl. When’s the next one?
|Perfect hair. Perfect makeup. Perfect costume. Perfect body. Check.|
First of all, in my humble opinion, this is a fascinating sub-culture that cannot be understood until experienced. Honestly, you can begin to understand it if you watch “Strictly Ballroom” … although extreme, the characters are based on reality. I’ve met those people. Just add 30-40 years to their age, make them filthy rich, and you pretty much have a good idea.
From my background in theatre, the “performance” and “posturing” aspects of these competitions are downright fascinating. The preeminence on style over substance is intriguing. If you don’t look like what the judges “think” a dancer should look like, you will be ignored or snubbed. And this doesn’t stop with the judges … it extends to the vendors, professionals, teachers, other competitors, etc. It’s a world only for butterflies, no fireflies allowed.
BUT, take heart, no one can take your fire away from you. I love to dance. There’s just no other way to state that. I desperately need my teacher to train my wildness into some kind of recognizable technique (which he is amazing at, I might add), but in the end, my passion for expressing myself in dancing — is mine.
Here’s an interesting and valuable perspective on the whole “perception” on the dance floor. And here’s what judges claim they are looking for in pro/am competitions. (very helpful)
|Run, Eric, run! Cue music from beach scene.|
In the inspiring movie “Chariots of Fire,” Eric Liddell tells his sister: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.
|Dance your heart out, Firefly!|
My version is this: I believe God made me for a purpose, and he made me creatively passionate. And when I dance, I feel His pleasure.
Musings on technique and practice to come …
This chick, four years ago, would have laughed at the absurdity of imagining I would be breaking out some moves on the dance floor. I mean, c’mon, we all wish we could do it: Fred and Ginger, hip-hop, ballet or Gangnum style. But we only grace our moves on the world in the privacy of our home or in public when under duress.
It was Valentine’s Day weekend a mere four years ago, that my life took one of those turns — on purpose as it were. I decided I was going to do something completely different for myself. I went to the AT&T store and bought an iPhone and I called up a local dance studio and left a message about setting up some lessons. The thing is, I had done my homework on both. I had been drooling over the phone since it had first come out and secretly was jealous of my office mate who flashed her iPhone about as if it was just an extension to her body ….. ohhhh, I wanted one.
But, I had also done my very un-scientific research on where to take dance lessons as well. I was way too old to go for ballet or hip-hop, and in the movies, older people could dance ballroom just fine, so that definitely seemed the way to go. If people with hip replacements could cha cha, surely I wouldn’t be a complete disgrace. Then, I did the old Google search for dance places. I scoured each entry that came up and looked at everything on the web-sites from prices to what to wear. But, I was most intrigued by the teachers themselves. If I was going to learn, I might as well learn from the best, right? And what was my criteria for choosing the best? I didn’t know any dancers to ask and I didn’t know what credentials to look for, so I looked at the pictures of the teachers. One studio in particular was full of teachers with Russian-looking names. Done. Seriously, we Americans know that the Russians can do several things really well: hockey, drink huge amounts of vodka, survive in a frozen land full of KGB, the mafia (they make great villains in movies and Law & Order episodes) and gymnastics! (sarcasm galore)
— It suddenly occurs to me that Russians would be the ones who could survive an apocalypse, but I digress. — So, it stands to reason they would be amazing dancers. Right? Though my methods for choosing were ridiculous, they worked beautifully. When the studio returned my call to set up a lesson time, I was so nervous. When I went in for my first lesson, I was terrified. When I left from my first lesson I was ecstatic. I’m not the same person who entered that studio four years ago and shook hands with a Russian/Ukrainian man who speaks English in a unique and yet charming fashion — but more on all that at another time.
|I adore Art Deco, so you can imagine how I feel about this poster!|
NOTE TO READERS: sometimes your life can change by just doing a couple of small things. I got grandfathered in to unlimited data messaging because of that phone purchase and I can do a figure eight in rhythm with my hips. I would not change those two small choices of the new phone and the call to the studio for all the vodka in Russia!