TriState and Lesson 3: BREATHE.

Hello dancers,

So last weekend was the TriState Dancesport Championships. Anyone go? A good friend of mine was dancing, so I decided I had to go, if not to cheer her on, also to just re-expose myself to all of it. Competition has always been one of my goals and I used to learn a lot going to watch them. It’s also just fun to watch and scream your face off.

I arrived probably half an hour before she went on. They were actually running 25 minutes ahead of time, so I was sitting in the ballroom hiding behind a magazine (there were people I hadn’t seen in years and I felt extremely awkward being there alone), texting her like crazy that she needed to get downstairs before she missed her heats. She walked into the ballroom, hugged me, took her pro’s hand, and walked onto the dance floor.

This friend of mine is something else altogether – she is one of the kindest and smartest people I know. She spent years at the same franchise studio I did, then decided the best thing for her was to continue her dance education elsewhere and is now dancing among incredible coaches with one of the top dancers in the country. I’m thrilled for her. Funnily, she’s the one who, when my current instructor went independent, thought I should dance with him. It took a long time, but it’s happened and she’s totally right! More on that later.

She kicked BUTT! She only did 16 entries and, if I recall correctly, got 16 first places. And I screamed my head off for her so I went to work that same night sounding quite…odd.

Unrelated: I ordered a pair of black Karinas for lessons/practice. I figure that way is more fiscally responsible in the long run; by the time I do a competition, I won’t have worn out my gorgeous tan ones. And maybe I’ll see my feet better in the studio.

I also saw a lot of people from my former franchise place. They all did really well. Especially one fabulous young lady who lost a few instructors in the beginning. After all that, she got one of the “uppers” as her teacher and I was slightly envious; she’s dancing amazing! I also realized why her partner is the ONE teacher I would dance with within that company: he dances like a MAN. His sheer presence and his execution of every nuance is just so masculine and so incredibly powerful. It feels weird saying that because he’s like my annoying older brother. But I also realized that’s why he and I always danced well together – I’m a total girl in life (OMG, chocolate), but I guess one could still call me an alpha female. The converging of masculine and feminine energies!

…well, it makes sense in my mind.

Moving on. The competition was fun; I wish I’d been able to see the pro events.

I spent this week thinking about and practicing what I’d learned last week, collecting my center to ground myself, and my varieties of swivels. Also did a lot more work on my left side in my cross training (way weaker, partner thinks it’s funny). Was stretching absentmindedly and didn’t realize my pro had arrived. Excitement! We exchanged pleasantries and when we moved past that part (I’m useless at small talk), he said, “I think I’m gonna have you dance Silver.” I was kind of floored. “…you can do that?” was my astute response. I haven’t danced in four years, so I didn’t think I could/would make that sort of jump. But he knows what he’s doing.

This time, we revisited our fundamentals from last week. I growled at him Helga Pataki style when he brought each one up, then grinned and did them anyway. “SOMEONE was practicing!” he said while I swiveled left and right. It felt awesome because he was barely leading me; I was doing most of it myself.

After I passed the quiz, we talked about internal action in order to make my movement better balanced and, above all, more fluid. I intend to practice all that ad nauseam. (I figure I’m Latina so I’m, by birth, supposed to have the craziest hip and body action.) He told me about using your internal action and using your range, when to stay low, when to go high. We did quick rumba walks, then he stopped me in the middle and had me lengthen, then collect myself, and continue. I did it once, did it twice. “YES, that was better!” he exclaimed. “Because I BREATHED!” I retorted, and it all clicked.

I’d heard when I was a teenager that your breathing should be part of your choreography and I always wondered how you used it. I’m not even sure how to explain it, but it’s something I can’t believe I wasn’t taught before, it’s so basic. One of those things, you know? It’s such a small thing, but it makes such an enormous difference!


I might just spray paint that memo on the studio walls.

Also, I thought it was hilarious that when Teach and I sat down after our lesson to write down my notes, I saw a teacher I knew back in the day at the franchise. I won’t gossip, but five years I’ve known him and he hasn’t changed at all. He was in a crazy outfit and then snapped his fingers at us and sashayed away. Typical. I shake my head.


Lesson Two. And DWTS 20.

Hey dancers,

Not much to report this time. Aside from trying not to fangirl or be creepy today when I saw Emmanuel and Liana in the studio, I had a great lesson today where I learned something I never knew before: how to actually keep balance. It’s something learned about the first time around, but back then no one told me how to actually do it. Now I know. It was slightly life-changing; everything I’ve ever been taught about Latin dance now makes sense to me.

Then I worked on my Sixteen. And messed around with a separation. After the lesson, I did my crossword puzzle and ran to my cross-train place (I’ll talk about that another time; it’s kind of not for everyone), put my Karinas on, and started practicing what I had just learned. Because my teacher threatened me with Therabands if he didn’t see progress on my left side (my right side is multiply stronger). I have no idea what he does with them – he mentioned something about tying them to my upper thighs and making me walk, but I think I conveniently blocked that part out – but I’m determined to not allow it.

Maybe I’ll take this time to watch the Dancing With the Stars premiere and see what’s going on there. Let’s be clear: throughout the years, this show has become very difficult for me to watch because it becomes glaringly obvious to me that the “people upstairs”, meaning whoever is behind the scenes, try to write the outcome for us. So last season, I would just watch the rehearsal packages because they’re funny, watch the dance because that’s why we’re here (and to quiz myself on syllabus steps), and skip the judges’ critiques. It doesn’t infuriate me as much that way.

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Hey dancers,

I am so thrilled! This past Friday, I finally had my first lesson in four years!

Okay, I lied a little bit. So maybe technically it wasn’t my first lesson in four years. In the spirit of full disclosure, I had one last month with a wonderful instructor that a couple of my friends dance with. He was a great guy and completely knowledgeable, only his style of teaching didn’t totally mesh with my style of learning. On the up hand, I found out in that lesson that I have good feet. Not sure when that happened; I don’t recall ever having had good feet on my first go-around. Or, well, ever. But I digress.

I contacted an instructor I’d had as visiting coach a couple times. He was a nice guy, we always got along great, I loved how he taught, and the one student I remember him working with for a prolonged period of time is now dancing amateur and she’s doing well.

We scheduled a lesson and met up for it Friday afternoon. Even though I hadn’t seen him in forever, nothing had changed. We still got along swimmingly and had a great time working. He had me dance cha cha, samba, rumba, and jive (I’d never done paso doble) so as to check my memory and gauge my movement.

My movement was okay (to me – I remembered times where these dances were more in my body, but it’s been a while so I’ll let that go for now) and memory wasn’t as bad as I thought. I remembered almost all the names of the syllabus steps he threw at me. But I couldn’t keep balance on spot turns. Oops.

So he started making his mental notes. And then he asks me if I’ve ever done paso doble. “Nope.” He asks, “Want to talk about it?” My response: “YEAH!” Paso is my favorite dance! So we went right into it. The first thing he taught me was the posture.

Instant disorientation. He took me through some shape and level changes and just started laughing at me because my face was so screwed up in concentration. We started a routine, which in itself was exciting to me; it’s something I’ve never done before that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I’m actually liking the challenge. Every time I put myself into this paso posture and feel like I have been put into a pretzel and made to walk with my right arm and left leg, I make myself think of this:

I once watched this dance, noticed Mr. Hough do this, and my jaw fell into the basement. WHAT KIND OF PERSON CAN EVEN DO THAT?! I don’t even feel like my hips go forward, I feel like I have no shape at all and this guy looks like a fully drawn bow.

So I use this as a visual aid to tell myself that I have no excuses, because our teachers always tell us that our favorites, the greatest dancers were all once at the point that we are now.

You know that in your mind, but at the same time, it’s hard to wrap your head around that kind of newness. Dancers, what made you feel, for lack of a better word, inadequate when you learned it? Frame? Cuban motion? Heel turns? Maintaining eye contact? How did you move past it?