Lesson 2: Rubik’s cube and tell me: How about these kids?

Happy Monday, dancers!

I still can’t believe it’s already 2017 and that it’s already March. A lot of awesome competitions coming up, huh? Hopefully I can at least go watch some of them πŸ™‚

So, last week was a change of scene! For my lesson with Matt, I jumped on a bus and went out to Rogers Dance Center in Hackensack.

…in New Jersey.

I’ll be honest; as a born-and-bred New Yorker, I’ve spent my entire life talking a lot of smack about New Jersey and everything associated with it. It came back to bite me in the form of really gross water that I had no choice but to drink. That was totally my fault, though, I got distracted by a clothes store in Port Authority and forgot to buy a bottle.

Anyway, I hopped this bus. Matt was so nice, trying to make sure that I understood the travel directions. I mean, I just got on the bus, entered “Rogers Dance Center” on my phone, and stayed on it until Siri said I reached my destination. As it was a thirty-minute ride, it would have been very difficult to screw up.

So I got to this studio and couldn’t stop giggling. It was way bigger and much nicer than I expected. I got there almost an hour before my lesson was to begin, though, and I didn’t know he was already there, so at first I just sat in the waiting area and did some timid stretching. Then Matt said he was upstairs and I went to check. He was indeed upstairs in a lesson with someone else. I stuck my head in and said hello, then instead of going in there and practicing, I just spent the time in the upstairs reception area stretching for half an hour.

Okay, okay, it was probably counterproductive, but I didn’t want to interrupt!

I stayed outside and watched the last, like, three minutes of this lesson, while they danced salsa, and was marveling at how well this student followed him. LOVE IT.

Then I continued to stretch until I saw they were done. I went in the studio and Matt introduced us to each other. We all chatted for a second, then started our lesson.

“Any questions?”

Me: “What am I supposed to do during the progressive rock?”

My attempt at clarifying that one step turned into a complete dismantling and reassembling of my samba routine. My teacher picked the entire thing apart, so now every single step of it is completely clear.

I don’t know why this is, but the way Matt teaches samba, it’s way easier to understand (and do!) than anyone I’ve ever learned it from before. And I’ve done it with a good amount of people (eight, off the top of my head).

After samba was said and done, we hit rumba. We didn’t get through so much of that routine! We were ironing out some kinks with different ways to do back breaks and ways to style different figures. We did a Cuban rock and Matt nearly had to snap my spine in order for my back to move at all. I thought it was just because it had been months since I’d taken a stretch class, so I don’t have the same flexibility I used to. Nope.

“Sometimes you hold your center so tight it’s difficult for your body to move around it.”

I can’t even tell you how upset that made me! I never even had a center before and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to create one in preparation and now I don’t know what to do. I later complained to my best friend, who danced for most of her life, and she said, “I can see what he means. You alternate between being not centered and too centered. I can tell because your shoulder blades lock really tight.” Then she told me to think of it like a Rubik’s cube.

I’ll figure that out later.

A good portion of the rumba part of my lesson was spent finangling my back breaks. It was an assault on my hamstrings and the center of my back. It’s insane, though, how many different ways there are to do this most “basic” figure.

Well, my lesson last week was canceled due to that snowstorm. I didn’t even get an extra day off. Oh, well. Matt and I are going to be working together again Wednesday! I’m looking really forward to it.

On a more or less completely unrelated note, an old friend of mine just tagged me in this video.


I haven’t yet been able to embed it here, check that out. Here’s a picture, presumably from the same event:

Antonio & Maria Rosaria

Antonio & Maria Rosaria

I have mixed feelings about it. I know this is quite normal in the ballroom world, but then again, I didn’t grow up in the ballroom world so the little girl’s outfit (and probably the boy’s too), combined with her movement, puts me off a bit. On yet another hand, I’m impressed by her (their) spunk! I guess it’s a separate division from when the little girls wear the long-sleeved dresses and frilly socks under their shoes? What do you all think?

Also, is anyone watching Dancing With the Stars? I think my DVR is still set to it, but I still haven’t decided. There’s no Derek, no Mark, and no Karina. On the other hand, I love Sasha and Emma, both together and separately. Emma is a sweetheart and a total class act and Sasha is vastly underrated as a pro.

I’ll report back with what I end up doing.


Lesson One(?): Look There!

Hello, ballroom dancers!

Look who is risen from the dead. (Hint: me!)

Yes, it has been a long time. I went through a pretty crazy year in 2016. If I’m completely honest, it was a year of complete upheaval and chaos. Nothing horrible happened. It just happened to be a time of a lot of ups and downs, not to mention complete instability, but at the same time, unbelievable happiness.

So due to that, I took another very long break from dancing. I practiced here and there. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten almost the entire Latin syllabus.

I contacted Matt, my magnificent teacher, a couple weeks ago, and said, let’s dance together. He called me and we talked…so he asked about Manhattan.

As in Manhattan Dancesport.

“Want to aim for that?” he asked.

I answered in a very measured fashion: “Manhattan! Are you INSANE?! YES!!!

I’ve been wanting to do Manhattan Dancesport since 2011. I just started dancing, taking mostly group classes, in 2010, and the Manhattan Dancesport Championships was the first real competition I’d ever been to. That was where I first saw the likes of Riccardo and Yulia and Emmanuel and Liana. Both were couples I instantly fell in love with. So you can imagine…finally dancing in this competition would mean I’ve reached a level I’ve been dreaming of for years.

Anyway, a couple weeks passed because it was difficult to coordinate our schedules, but we finally were able to schedule a lesson!

I confess, I didn’t practice at all beforehand. I didn’t go through the iPhone notes where I had my routines written down. I didn’t even stretch before he arrived.

Even worse, I lost my dance notebook. The one I’ve been keeping for six years where I had notes from lessons with Val and Dasha and workshops with Riccardo and Yulia, Maurizio Vescovo, and even Mark Ballas, to start. I’ll be upset with myself for that for a long time.

My teacher is evil (not even a little bit), so for some reason he started me off with rumba. Like, why would you do that? My body was so unaccustomed to the strains of rumba that I started pouring sweat literally after doing the first three steps of my routine, which, incidentally, happened to be unnecessarily long, so he chopped a lot of it.

He then exclaimed, “Okay. Samba!” and went through our samba routine, which made me feel not as stupid. I put on “Piensas” by Pitbull and Gente De Zona because my muscle memory is SET to that song. See, samba was fun. Rumba hurt my ego significantly.

There wasn’t a lot to write about in this particular lesson, just getting reacquainted, except for this one thing.

Matt told me he spent a lot of last year judging and, during this time, he noticed that there were some dancers that had terrible technique, but their dancing actually was brought up a few levels because they had focus. He was telling me what to do when I was dancing (“Look there! KEEP IT! Now at me!”), but I didn’t quite get it until he demonstrated by samba-ing around me. Then it made sense.

Stefano Di Filippo and Dasha Chesnokova

Stefano Di Filippo and Dasha Chesnokova

DIRECTIONALITY! Knowing where you’re going. Having the points you’re looking at. And guess what happened when I did that.


Look, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if I naturally have terrible balance, or if I have weak ankles, or whatever else, but I just tend to fall around a lot when doing rumba. I stopped falling. It was life-changing. At least for me.

So, I also hit the New York Dance Festival a week later. I went super late, so I only caught the finals of the Pro Smooth and Latin, but it was so worth it. I’d never been to NYDF and the energy was simply incredible. Having multiple viewing levels in the ballroom didn’t hurt, either.

Pro Smooth was a lot of fun, but I personally have a really hard time watching any couple that isn’t Travis and Jaimee Tuft. I absolutely adore them.

Travis and Jaimee Tuft, 3rd place at the 2017 New York Dance Festival Pro Smooth

Pro Latin was a real treat, in part because I remember Pasha Pashkov & Daniella Karagach and Anastasiya Danilova when they were amateur dancers. In fact, I first saw Pasha and Daniella at Manhattan Dancesport! (They placed third in both Latin and Ballroom in the Amateur divisions that year.) Nastia, I actually met when she was a teacher at Dance With Me! I’m in awe when I watch her dance – she has the strongest core I’ve ever seen. In addition, I instantly took to Mikhaylo Bilopukhov and Anastasiya Shchypilina when they first started dancing in the US. They’re so fun and charismatic.

2017 New York Dance Festival Pro Latin Finalists

2017 New York Dance Festival Pro Latin Finalists

Okay, okay. Must be off! I’m actually just on my way to this week’s lesson with Matt!

Also, Slavik Kryklyvyy was judging Pro Smooth. I can prove it, I took pictures.