Tag Archives: fucked up

Ask A Ballroom Dancer: The Unbearable Lameness of Partnering Edition

I am a Masters 2 Lady (meaning I’m over 50 ūüėČ ), married to a non-dancer¬† and¬† over the last 2 years have been trying to move up the ranks with relatively minor success, although I can dance, I think,¬†I have been having lessons with a proper dancesport coaches for 4 years now… In addtion to constantly training¬†new partners from beginner to¬†first and only¬†comp as so far they’ve all bailed¬†out on me,¬†I have been doing medals (up to¬†gold now in¬†all 3 styles – we also have¬†so called New¬†Vogue here [Ed: Australia], which is kind of¬†like smooth but¬†same choreo for all couples, dancing in a circle), so I can¬†dance with my coach and keep up the skill level.¬†I have done a few comps but not able to elevate cos have to go back to square 1 every time I find some guy that let’s me talk him into doing a comp – bahahaha!

Just wanted to check with you re: male dancers and their arogance/fragile ego syndrome – is it the same everwhere or is it only here where there are about 4 studios that train people for competitions and they all hate each others guts, which makes it hard for us dancers to find partners as you are considered to be unloyal, teachers constantly worry that you are going to take your money to the other guy…

Example –¬†yesterday whilst I was waiting for my lesson I was observing a male being coached – he was OK but nothing that spectacular. As he was¬†leaving¬†he said¬†good-bye and indicated that he might come in the next day for a group class – this is where my coach jumped in¬†with “Do you want me to tee you up someone?”… well he never “teed up” anyone for me,¬†all my partners so far although¬†not the best were¬†brought to the studio and the lessons by myself.¬† Getting cheesed off with this nonsense, I am quite a tough cookie myself but very bored with the same old routines that I have been doing with these dudes for 2 years now. I know that reasons is obvious – there isn’t that many dudes that want to do comps, however do the teachers need to encourage it and¬†let their heads grow so big just because they have a penis and at times no musicality or skill for that matter?

Despite my frustration I decided to take this current partner of mine (who cannot keep up the timing for shit) to the nationals in 2 weeks time, who cares, at least I will be able to dance!!

The other issue I am finding that¬†as a married person¬†my chances of finding someone who just wants to dance are even smaller¬†cos the dudes want the whole package most of the time, and only are prepared to dance what you want if you are into them…¬†The gay guys like to dance with each other, there are same sex comps here, there is only a couple of them¬†that I know that they dance with women in the usual dancesport comps. Would love to do coach and student or pro/am but nobody to dance with at my current studio, I think I need¬† to make some changes – again!

Just venting mainly but if you could reply that would be great ūüôā

– todanceornot

Yep. That is definitely some bullshit right there. First things first; change your frame of reference. As you know, BALLROOM IS NOT A MERITOCRACY. People make decisions about partnering for all kinds of emotional or irrational or stupid or just plain batshit crazy reasons that have zero, zip, nada to do with how well someone dances. So you basically have to accept that and decide to play the game anyway.

Is it the same everywhere? Yes. Sorry. The demographics of ballroom mean that you can be a super lousy dude and STILL have way more pull than a lady who is ten times better than you, whether you’re a teacher or a student. It’s some sexist bullshit.

So you basically have a couple issues going on:

  1. It’s really hard for you as an amateur dancer to find a good male partner.
  2. The studios in your town are fraught with petty infighting.
  3. You see men who are not as good as you being handed opportunities you would never get in a million years, and you are cheesed about that.
  4. The partnering issue is complicated by the fact that you don’t want to have to romantic involvement with any of the dudes, which means they either aren’t interested in dancing with you, or aren’t interested in dancing with ladies period.
  5. You feel that these dudebros are being special snowflakes and are way too fragile compared to your tough warrior princess-ness.

All of these suck in different ways. My short answer? This is why pro-am was invented.

Okay, long answer.

(1) It’s really hard for you as an amateur dancer to find a good amateur male partner. Yes. It’s hard for EVERY lady to find a partner, unless you are atypically beautiful or talented, and then you wander around saying dumbass things like, “I can’t understand why it’s so hard for you to find a partner!” which makes everybody want to punch you in the face. It’s even harder for amateurs because unless you are (a) under the age of 16, (b) in college, or (c) in possession of a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/whoever also wants to dance with you, you’re basically screwed. Sorry. I know it’s not kosher to say that, but it’s true. Is it possible that you will find a partner who really suits you as a regular amateur lady? Maybe! It is also possible that you will win the lottery or that my dressmaker will decide that my dress will be free this time because I’m so damn charming. Don’t bet on it.

(2) The studios in your town are fraught with petty infighting. Fuck these local bullshit studios; you need to jump up to the next level. Find the absolute best person(s) for what you want to dance (Ballroom, Latin, New Vogue, whatever) in Australia and figure out how to work with that person or people. Create and curate your own team. This is something that is workable if you are willing to put in the time and effort, and if you have the money to do it. You will probably need to travel, and you will certainly need to work with coaches who cost more. But if you are EVER going to find a decent partner, you need the best kind of dude available, and the best coaches out there are more likely to have a lead on that dude. If your coach does not support this, then you need to find someone who does. You should absolutely have a coaching team who encourages and pushes you to get the best instruction and opportunities that will help you meet your goals.

(3)¬†You see men who are not as good as you being handed opportunities you would never get in a million years, and you are cheesed about that. Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Do you know how goddamn much money I would make if I were a man in this business? It’s unreal. It is a contributing reason to why I am poor. I hear you. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for making your own luck and remembering that you love to dance, rather than railing against the Dance Fates.

(4)¬†The partnering issue is complicated by the fact that you don’t want to have to romantic involvement with any of the dudes, which means they either aren’t interested in dancing with you, or aren’t interested in dancing with ladies period. Yeah…that’s one of the big challenge of amateur dancing. It can be difficult to find compatible partners at all, much less compatible partners who are looking for exactly what you are (just dancing, that’s it, thanks so much, go home by yourself at the end of the night). It might help you to be really clear about what your goals are exactly and what you will and won’t accept. By goals I don’t mean, “I want to find a dance partner,” but rather, “I want to place in the top three of my competitive age category at [some significant comp]” or “I want to practice at least three days a week with an acceptable human,” or “I want a warm body to attend coaching sessions with me.” Also, if you are really serious about dancing with a legit partner, prepare to get rejected. A lot. You are going to have to just ask people, cold-call style, “hey, so, you’re an awesome dancer, would you be interested in working with me? I am trying to [your goal].” A bunch of people will say no. Some will be dicks about it. But one of your gay guys out there is your best hope, Obi Wan Kenobi, and one of them may well say yes. But nobody is ever going to approach you and kneel at your feet and beg you to dance with them. Sorry! I wish that would happen, it would be really awesome.

(5)¬†You feel that these dudebros are being special snowflakes and are way too fragile compared to your tough warrior princess-ness. Yeah, well, maybe. Turns out that one of the sacrifices of partner dancing is the necessity of dancing with a goddamn partner. If your current partner can’t count, well, don’t just blow him off. You know the saying – don’t quit your job until you have a better one. Keep your off-time partner and figure out if you guys even have the same goals. You’ll both be happier if you’re clear about what you do and don’t want.

Here’s the reality of the situtation, honey bee: you have to deal with male dancers if you want to compete in straight competitions. They are a huge pain in the ass, they are sensitive as all get-out, the unfair advantage they enjoy has them all convinced that they’re God’s gift to dance, and that’s just how it goes. And hey, guess what? VIRTUALLY THE SAME IS TRUE OF THE WOMEN. You still need a boy. So either deal with the unfair yet constant realities of that situation and put up with some bullshit from an amateur boy, or pay a professional boy to dance with you. (He’ll have the same bullshit, but you won’t have to deal with it; that’s what you’re paying for.)

And don’t give up hope. There are some AWESOME amateur male dancers out there who are awesome solid cool dudes, and there are some great professionals who might work out as well. These dudes are real, and they are great. I’m sorry that the majority of dudes you’re dealing with are tools, but there are some excellent men floating around. You just need to find one. And you will! Start with the pros…they have websites, usually, so it’s easier.

I would recommend that you find a really good pro-am teacher and work with him to see if it’s even a sustainable option for you. There may not be one in your town, but I know that there are some in Australia, somewhere. (That’s specific.) Google that shit and look up the comps and see whose students are placing well. Talk to that dude. Pay him a shit ton of money to dance with you. Be happy that you are finally getting to focus on your own dancing instead of the other BS.

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask a ballroom dancer! Submit your questions in the comments or email to againstlineofdance@gmail.com. I can’t be much help on your taxes, legal problems, or math homework, but anything else should be cool.

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Gross.

I hate being sick.

I almost never get sick – I don’t have allergies, I have a super tough immune system, and I can eat like basically anything and be good. I am kind of like a goat.

Gregory Goat, you are such a terrible eater!

But every once in awhile, I get legit sick. And the problem is, you absolutely CANNOT go to work at a studio and dance with people if you are sick. Why? Well, DUH:

  1. it’s disgusting
  2. you will probably get your students and co-workers sick too
  3. it’s SOOOOOO GROSS to dance with somebody who’s sniffly and dripping mucus
  4. there’s no way you can have good energy and what not if you are trying to focus all your effort on breathing without coughing like a TB ward

Yet people will come to work sick. And come in for lessons sick. Uncool, people! Very uncool!

(I felt bad that I had to go in for half an hour to pick up work and call my students to clear my schedule for the day. I was all, please swab down everything I touched with some Clorox wipes, I am such a Typhoid Mary.)

Don’t be that monkey from Outbreak. Stay home. For real.

Maybe if I bedazzled one of these it would work…

*     *     *

In other news, I have a partner! Or, I should say, more accurately, I have a person who wants to dance with me and with whom I also want to dance and if everything goes properly and neither of us gets hit by a bus or fired or has a foot spontaneously fall off, then by November/December-ish it should be happening. It’s super exciting!

But I am trying to not get too far ahead of myself – it’s not a thing until it’s a thing, you know? Like, I keep telling myself, don’t go picking out costumes before we’ve even had our first session with our coach. But it’s the best news in forever on the partner front, and I’m really pleased about it. Yay! So that makes being sick more palatable, I guess!

*     *     *

Next time: I review fake nails from the drugstore that cost way less than getting those bitches done at a salon! (I have to do my nails for a little comp on Saturday so I might as well take some pictures and SAY MY OPINIONS, right?)

 

 

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Body Policing: keep it to yourself

An infographic always helps

By any account, I am in good physical condition: I am strong, fit, flexible, I have excellent cardiovascular endurance, my blood pressure and cholesterol are in the ideal ranges, and I am lucky enough to not have any health problems (I have funky knees that like to go out of joint but thanks to pilates and strength training, they are stronger and more reliable now than they ever have been).

I have difficulty, like most American women, getting through an entire day without feeling completely shitty about myself and my body. This is not helped by the fact that as a professional dancer, I spend many hours each day in front of a mirror trying to get my body to perform in very specific ways, and comparing my body to the bodies of others.

Over the last three years, I have transitioned from another profession (writing) into dancing and teaching full-time, and as a result, I have had to switch from being essentially a reader and writer to an athlete. I have had to change my eating habits, my exercise requirements, and I have trained many many hours to be able to function as the kind of dancer that I would like to be. I am not at my peak level of performance yet, but I’m working on it.

That transition has altered my body pretty substantially –¬†there is a visible change in my appearance, and especially if someone hasn’t seen me for awhile, that’s the first thing they comment on. I know – I KNOW! – that they are trying to be nice. That they are trying to say,¬†hey, you look great, good for you, mazel tov. But what they’re actually saying is,¬†hey, thanks for better conforming to my culturally-dictated ideals of what you should look like.

Here’s a sampling of the shit I have heard (reproduced here verbatim) in the past week alone:

*     *     *

“You just get prettier and prettier every day. Most people, you know, when they lose weight, they get ugly in the face, and they look all gaunt and thin. But not you. Your face looks so much better than it used to.”

“You are literally half the woman you used to be. Half. Literally.”

“Oh, wow, I didn’t even recognize you. That’s crazy! You are – you look, like, totally different. I mean… (in a whisper) you’ve lost, like, a LOT of weight, right?”

*     *     *

It is pretty typical of the body-policing bullshit I hear on a regular basis.

Clearly my body is public property, and commentary on it is totally fine and normal and everybody has the right to voice their opinions about it to me, without any regard for how I might feel about it, because OBVIOUSLY I must be happy that they are noticing weight loss which is INVARIABLY a good thing. My body is public property not because I am a dancer (although that doesn’t help), but because I am a woman.

And in our culture, women’s bodies are forums for public discussions at all times.

Because being a total badass isn’t enough – you have to be THIN & PRETTY

If that fact is not self-evident to you, then you are either incredibly unobservant or an idiot or both. Think of all the crap that gets said about women in the public sphere – Hillary Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor, Sarah Palin, even adorable Gabby Douglas. Endless shit is said about their wardrobe, their glasses, their¬†hair, their weight. And those aren’t even women whose job it is to be professionally pretty. God help the ladies who have THAT job; an entire industry exists to sell you information about how they are failing or succeeding (but mostly how they’re failing) in their attempts to conform to impossible cultural standards of beauty. Remember Ashley Judd’s response to that? If you don’t, go read it right now; it’s amazing.

These comments? Make me feel like shit. Why?

Because it’s the other side of the Fantasy of Being Thin,¬†the “magical thinking¬†about thinness, which…is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an¬†entirely different person¬†‚Äď one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It‚Äôs not just, ‘When I‚Äôm thin, I‚Äôll look good in a bathing suit’; it‚Äôs ‘When I‚Äôm thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.’ ”

It has fuck-all to do with my abilities as a dancer or my health as a human and EVERYTHING to do with how I look in clothes. This is seriously only about the size of my ass. And that is not your problem. Or your business. See infographic.

SO anthropomorphic(Let me say at this point that this is all about MY experience – brought to you by The Internet, purveyor of self-reflexive commentary. I’m talking about my body and the choices I’ve made about it; not anybody else’s. I subscribe fully to the Underpants Rule: “everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it‚Äôs not your job to tell other people what to do.” That means that I get to make choices about my life and my body for reasons that seem valid to me and you don’t have to like or agree with them, but, by the same token, if I expect you to respect my choices then I goddamn well better respect yours. So whether you are trying to change your body or you like it how it is or you don’t give half a shit either way, that’s your underpants. Not my business.)

So. I thought the Fantasy of Being Thin was utter bullshit three years ago, and I still think it’s utter bullshit. The problem is, it’s such a powerful cultural trope that if you don’t follow along with it, people get confused. Here’s how the exchange is supposed to go:

Person A: Comments on B’s body and appearance, noting that B is less fat than s/he used to be. (Oh my gosh, you look so great! You must have lost a lot of weight!)

Person B: Thanks A for noticing, agrees that it is wonderful. (Oh, thanks! Yes, I have, thank you – it’s great, I really feel so much better!)

Person A: Asks B how weight loss was achieved, more out of politeness than anything else. (That’s wonderful! What have you been doing?)

Person B: Explains boring details. (Well, I stopped eating carbs/white foods/red meat/bananas/things that start with the letter “k”/entirely. Ohmigosh, it’s really amazing…)

Refusing to engage in this script really fucks with people’s heads. I am not thrilled to death that you are complimenting me for taking up less space. You know what I would be thrilled by? A genuine compliment! People have said to me, hey, you look super fit and you look really strong – that’s awesome!¬†And to them I say, Thank you! It is really cool that you said that, I have been working super hard to achieve the kind of physical performance I want, and I appreciate your noticing it. But you know what I don’t appreciate? The focus on my goddamn WEIGHT.

Someone once said that dancers work as hard as policemen, always alert, always tense, but see, policemen don’t have to be beautiful at the same time.

— George Balanchine

First of all, you know fuck all about how much I weigh. It’s a total mystery to you. You cannot possibly look at me and accurately guess what I weigh. You just can’t.

Furthermore, my weight –

(even if you could tell what it was by looking at me, which you can’t, but let’s assume for one minute that you had a superpower (what a shitty superpower! you could been INVISIBLE!))

– is not a reliable index of ANYTHING. It doesn’t tell you a goddamn thing about my strength, my health, my level of fitness, what I eat or don’t eat, whether I get enough sleep, how my knees feel on any given Sunday. And don’t even try to talk to me about BMI, which is just such bad science that it’s just laughable.

And finally, how the fuck do you know what has caused a change in my appearance? Maybe I have taken up drugs. Or maybe I am seriously ill, or have some really unfortunate health situation that has resulted in a major change in body composition. How do you think I will feel when you congratulate me on that? I just happen to be working on my body’s ever-increasing awesomeness in a super-health conscious way that is predicated on the least insane, most sustainable practices of health I can manage, but again, you DON’T KNOW THAT. I could be engaging in disordered eating, or crazypants fad dieting, or other shit that is profoundly damaging, and here you are telling me what an ace job I’m doing.

In fact, only one person out of the many many many people who have commented on my appearance has asked me about my health. He said, hey, I can’t help noticing that you look different, and I just wanted to ask you if that was something you were deliberately doing, or if it was just a thing, or whatever – regardless, are you happy about it? And I said, honey, thank you for being a sensitive and thoughtful human being! And then I was happy to talk about my situation and what it is all about.

The thing that makes me the most angry is that people, by and large, DO NOT CARE about health or fitness or any of the motivating reasons that I am actually experiencing. The only important thing is that I am wearing a smaller dress size, and that pisses me right the fuck off. Not once has someone said, dude, I have noticed that you are in way better control of your movement, way to fucking go.

(Actually, that’s a lie, my father said that to me but it wasn’t in the context of being less fat, it was in the context of a general observation about my dancing and the context of him being an all-around awesome and supportive person.)

No, the focus is on appearance and appearance only and that sucks out loud. Because dancing is about how what you’ve got inside manifests itself on the outside, how your breath and your spirit and your vitality and your muscles look painted on the canvas of your body. So yeah, it matters what that body looks like, especially in a dance form like ballroom, which has very narrowly-defined ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable. But the body is a MEANS TO AN END, and that end is expression. Shouldn’t we be focusing on that instead of the size of my ass? Tell me about my MOVEMENT, tell me about anything other than my goddamn dress size.

Idealizing the body and wanting to control it go hand-in-hand; it is impossible to say whether one causes the other. A physical ideal gives us the goal of our efforts to control the body, and the myth that total control is possible deceives us into striving for the ideal… In a culture which loves the idea that the body can be controlled, those who cannot control their bodies are seen (and may see themselves) as failures.

—¬†Susan Wendell, ‚ÄúToward a Feminist Theory of Disability,‚ÄĚ Hypatia 4:2 (1989), pp. 104-124

Technique–bodily control–must be mastered only because the body must not stand in the way of the soul’s expression.

— La Merl

No, probably I am stupid for thinking that they are different. And I am certainly stupid for expecting ballroom dancers to be sensitive to any kind of nuance. I mean, for God’s sake. Have you seen the costumes we wear?

Nuance is not really our strong suit.

So what I’m really saying is, I’d like you to think about this before you open your mouth and comment to someone on their physical appearance.

And before you lose your shit and say, but, but, but, people are trying to be NICE, why can’t you just accept a COMPLIMENT, remember this: it’s my fucking body. And just because I am outside my house and wearing clothes does NOT give you the right to police it. You don’t get to decide whether it’s good or bad or better or worse or indifferent, I do. And your opinions on that? Maybe keep them to yourself.

You’re never going to go wrong saying to someone, hey, you look great today! or I love that top, or your hair looks cool! That’s super. Because those statements are not RELATIVE VALUE JUDGEMENTS. What’s a relative value judgement? You look better [than you used to] or what you’re wearing is so much cuter [than you usually look] or your hair looks way better short [because when it was long you looked worse].

You don’t know. You don’t know what kind of a day they’ve had, you don’t know what’s going on in their life, you don’t know how they feel about themselves or their body and, if you’re commenting on a change, you REALLY don’t know what’s caused it. You may think you’re being nice, and helpful, and supportive. But your body politics aren’t necessarily mine, and your projection of what you would or wouldn’t like someone to notice about your appearance doesn’t mean that the shit you’re saying to me isn’t damaging.

And you know what they say about good intentions, and paving.

So before you say something, ask yourself one question: does this person ABSOLUTELY NEED TO KNOW what you are telling them? Because if I have lipstick on my teeth or weird mascara marks, I MAY NOT KNOW THAT. You know what I’m real goddamn clear on? The current size, disposition, and arrangement of my body. Do I need to know that you think my face looks better now than it used to? Nope! Do I need to know that you think I am thinner than I used to be? No, I don’t!

When I’m on the floor, feel free. Feel fucking free to comment all day long about what I’m wearing and whether you think my ass is too big and how hideous my hair looks like that and why I shouldn’t wear yellow. That’s fair game. I’m putting myself out there to be judged – by you, by the goddamn judges, by the audience, by everyone.

But on the street, when I am just wandering around as a normal human? Maybe keep it to yourself.

 

Author’s note:

When I originally wrote this, I included specific details about my height, and weight, and I really wanted to keep those in. But in the end, I decided that they were pretty fucking meaningless without some pictures to accompany them and to make the point that YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT [xxx] LBS LOOKS LIKE. So I pulled that out, and I’m unhappy with that choice, but basically, I value my anonymity more. Sorry. But the same point is well made by two collections of photos, My Body Gallery and the BMI project, both of which strive to point out that our understanding of body image is so warped that we have NO CLUE what women actually look like.

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It’s chickpeas? Shut up.

(presented in no particular order)

*     *     *

So the potential partner definitely blew me off. That’s par for the course. At least this time I actually danced with the dude before the blow off! Although, of course, this being ballroom, I just haven’t gotten a call back for two weeks. That qualifies as a Not Happening in my book.

I really wish DudeBro McLeaderson would’ve had the cojones to just call me and say, listen, you’re great, it’s not gonna work, thanks so much have a nice liiiiiife…

But no. Instead I am going to have to track his lazy ass down and make him actually say it so that there is closure and it’s not weird the next time I see him which will inevitably happen given that the ballroom community has like twelve people in it, half of whom are mad at/screwing/screwing OVER/have been screwed over by the other half.

It’s fine if you don’t want to dance with me. That’s super valid. But don’t be a tool. Just fucking man up and call me.

But then, if you could do that you could probably show up to a rehearsal on time (or at all) which is also not a strength. So that’s a whole thing. Whatever.

*     *     *

I made these weird cookies. I don’t know, I kind of like them. But they’re legit weird. So they were a thing I found on the internet¬†(she said with trepidation) and it seemed like a SUPER GOOD IDEA at the time and I just happened to have 100% of the necessary foo-foo gluten free fancy schmancy ass ingredients in my kitchen. And to the credit of the nice lady who put up all the pretty pictures, they seem like a fantastic idea. THIS IS WHY I WAS SUCKED IN.

Do mine look like this? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, no.

Right? But, so, yeah. These “cookies” (or whatever, baked good kind of deal) are chickpeas, natural peanut butter, agave syrup, vanilla, and baking powder. You toss all that in a food processor and blend the shit out of it.

So, it turns out I am not really 100% sure how to use my food processor? I bought it once and used it immediately (probably with the benefit of the goddamn instructions, which are now LONG GONE) and so I had to use a lot of trial and error. Mostly error. Because this dough shit is basically cement – at one point there was literally smoke coming out of the motor. This, I thought, was probably not a good sign.

But eventually I figured it out using my ape-brain and opposable thumbs and managed to blend together all the shit into a dough-like substance which was sticky as hell. And in the recipe the internet lady put in chocolate chips but it turned out that all I had were milk chocolate chips which I HATE so I had to find the only dark chocolate in my house which was half a bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses. Right?

So I unwrap some of those bastards and throw them in, thinking (like a dumbass) that if I hit pulse they will get chopped up into chocolate chip type things. Uh, no. That is not how food processors work (see above). Turns out it just blended the shit out of the couple of kisses I did science with and turned the whole chickpea cement kind of chocolatey.

(ALLITERATION! Not just for foods with gluten.)

At which point I said, Fuck this, this whole experiment has ceased to be entertaining plus now I am realizing that I have to clean my goddamn food processor and remembering why I sometimes just give up and buy plastic silverware instead of, you know, doing dishes…. so I slapped those bitches onto a pan and threw a Hershey’s kiss on top of each one, reckoning that even if the cookie things were a total loss, at least I would get a warm Hershey’s kiss out of the operation.

Chocolate chickpea peanut butter goddamn pain in my ass cement cookie things…

And IN THE END, they were actually pretty fucking tasty. For a cement chickpea cookie thing. Don’t get crazy, it’s not foie gras or anything. But still. Fuck food processors and fuck me for occasionally thinking that I can actually do things that I have NO BUSINESS DOING.

*     *     *

I really want this dress from Espen Salberg. Which is stupid, I have no dollars and no business buying a super cute dress but it is calling to me! It is saying BUY ME YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO MAYBE YOU WILL LOOK LIKE THIS COOL CHICA IN THE PICTURE IF YOU DOOOOO….

Espen Salberg Leopard Cowl Dress

Psssht, dress, you crazy. I don’t even have bangs!

*     *     *

Maybe I should get BANGS. I need a haircut, for reals.

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Finding a dance partner

…is like all the bad parts of dating with none of the good parts.

Truly, in many ways, the bitch about partner dancing is the necessity of having a partner. I think that the amateurs have it the toughest; at least as a pro you are around a whole bunch of ridiculous idiots who might conceivably be looking for partners on any given Sunday.  As a pro-am dancer, you can keep rolling through pros till you find one you like, or until you have to give your house back to the bank because you spent all your money on lessons.

No matter what your status, what discipline you compete in, or what style you dance, there’s no denying that finding a partner is an epic pain in the ass.

So. There are a couple ways to go about it:

  1. Be born into a family of ballroom dancers/Russians/whatever and get set up with one from the age of 4.
  2. Be stunningly beautiful or otherwise physically extraordinary.
  3. Be a dude. (There are always extra ladies and even shit male dancers are spoiled for choice in the partner department.)
  4. Be a big-deal champion.

Are you any of those things? NO? That is very careless of you.

If you are not, then you have to rely on a couple other venues. As a pro, the easiest and best possible thing is to partner with someone who teaches in your proximity (either in your actual studio or at one of your regular haunts). It’s simple to set up practices and you are guaranteed to see each other every day. Great.

Did you manage that?

No?

Everybody you work with is either already partnered or not interested in dancing with you or actively despises you or is an unbearable ass or is just honestly terrible at dancing or does not dance the style you want?

CARELESS.

You can throw some ads up on the internets – http://www.dancepartner.com and http://www.ballroomdancers.com are the most common, and although you might think that sounds like a great idea, I am here to tell you from extensive personal experience that you are not going to be turning up a high percentage of winners.

Why? Because the best place to find a serious competitive partner is on the competition floor, but you, because you are NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH, have not managed to GET on the competition floor recently because…why? Because you do not have a partner. Careless.

So. You have one other option.

Find yourself a Yente and hope she sends up something useful. You put the word out EVERYWHERE – but most especially through coaches and judges – and you hope that people like you well enough to send someone decent your way.

Even if you do manage to find a prospect who is viable, there’s all the regular negotiation bullshit that one would have to do in dating.

Can you get along, do you have similar goals, can you work productively? Added to which are the essential questions you aren’t supposed to ask (out loud, to someone’s face) in dating: do you look good together, are your body types compatible, will you look ridiculous standing to next to one another? Is this someone you can actually invest in, or will he flake the minute someone/something better/more shiny/a squirrel comes along?

Needle, meet haystack. Haystack, needle.

Needle: “Haystack, you are too tall / too short / too old / too full of hay / don’t have enough hay / have terrible leg action / trained with the wrong coaches / don’t sufficiently appreciate my amazingness.”

Haystack: “I just feel like you’re really pointy? And I am just really looking for something less pointy right now…”

It sucks. I have begun my legit appeasls to Yente; it should be completely meshuggeneh. But it will be 100% worth if I can find even one mensch. And by that, I mean: someone tall enough, not acutely horrible, who will dance with me.

(It’s a low bar.)

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TANSTAAFL

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

I was talking to my personal trainer this morning at the gym and we were comparing notes like we often do: how many clients do you have this week, do you have any breaks to eat, are you working the weekend too, are any of your clients crazy right now, etc. He and I have similar structures in that we both work as employees of larger enterprises which we do not own (he’s at a big national chain of gyms, I’m at a studio) and we see a variety of clients mostly one-on-one. Both of us are paid a percentage (probably about 30% in his case, closer to 15% in mine) of what the client pays as his or her hourly rate, are expected to keep up with various certifications and professional qualifications, and are in what is essentially a service industry.

The big difference, as far as I can see, is the intense emotional component of teaching and participating in ballroom dance. Not to dismiss the fact that people get very attached to their fitness professionals – I am very fond of my trainer, and I was genuinely upset when the girl I worked with before him was promoted to another gym. But there is absolutely no comparison between that and the intense, visceral, and sometimes uncomfortably intimate situation produced in partner dance.

It is certainly the case that for most people who are not professional dancers, the level of personal contact and physical touch experienced through dance really only ever occurs with regularity in situations of sexual intimacy. It doesn’t help that most of the pretending we do in ballroom is about exactly those sorts of relationships – your brain is pretty much set up to get confused.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that people feel betrayed when you ask them to pay money for that experience. It feels cold, and transactional, and like you’re getting hustled. (And sometimes you are. Please, please, please – ask so many questions and don’t EVER feel like you can’t say no in a given situation; see the brilliant deconstruction of The Spinning Dancer on this topic.)

I think we, as a profession, do a bad job of explaining what people are paying money for. And I think we do a bad job of educating our clients about how the business works. The sticker shock about the cost of ballroom is common – it’s a crazy expensive pursuit, no question about it. Private lessons aren’t cheap, and pro-am Dancesport competition (as an amateur) is, with the exception of really complicated scuba diving or high-level horse related things or yachting, probably the most expensive sport you can pursue.

I get that. I also get why people think it’s worth it. And let’s be SUPER clear – professionals don’t make much money. Yeah, competitions are expensive, but even top independent comps are hardly money factories, and certainly your teachers aren’t seeing that cash. The time away from the studio in teaching, the wear and tear on your body from dancing with a student, being ‘on call’ the whole time you’re there, the costumes, all that jazz – in a best case scenario, any additional money teachers make is from the extra lessons booked in the run up to a competition. I assure you that it is lo, many tens of dollars.

Stefanie, in a recent post about the cost of ballroom, asked the following:

By looking at the bill [for a competition], as a student, you may then wonder at the cost and ponder why, if you are paying so much, your instructor isn’t a millionaire, already? I mean, most professionals can’t demand $75 or more for less than an hour! That is significantly more than I make as a pharmacist!

Sure! I hear that, no question. But think about it this way – the studio may charge you $75/lesson but if the instructor is not teaching independently, then the studio pays him or her probably somewhere between $12-$20/lesson with the rest of that $75 going to overhead, paying for a receptionist, music licenses, insurance, etc etc etc. If a pro IS teaching independently, then of that $75, $10 or $15 goes to floor fees, more is eaten up in transportation (driving all over town to different studios to teach requires gas which is basically a thousand dollars a gallon these days), advertising (putting your name out there is not free) and the sunken time costs of teaching (editing music for wedding couples or showcases, lesson planning, continuing education under whatever syllabus you teach) that happen on your own time. At the end of the day, you probably aren’t netting a whole lot more than a studio staff teacher, plus you are responsible for generating 100% of your own client base. (Which is why I currently teach in a studio rather than independently; until I have a name, it’s a better deal for me by FAR.)

What totally blows about ballroom is that the price point is SO high and the barriers to entry are SO steep that only a small percentage of folks – those who are in possession of the disposable time and income such that they can pursue ballroom and not have to choose between that and, say, eating – can engage with that world. It sucks. I got into competitive dancing in college, when the entry costs were $30 a semester for as many group classes as I could attend, taught by a not-terrible independent teacher, and the chance to partner up with some other amateur college students and go compete. It cost me very little money, and I had a fabulous time, and I really enjoyed it. I had NO IDEA that the real world of ballroom did not function this way.

But the fundamental tension that pervades a lot of ballroom, in my observation, is the tension between the legitimate expenses of the pursuit and the emotional intimacy it generates. For various reasons, we think that associating meaningful and emotionally intimate experiences with money is transactional and tawdry – I’m not convinced that it is, actually, I just think that’s a cultural prejudice. The hard thing for a lot of people to work out in their heads is: what is this relationship that I have with this other person whose time I pay for, who touches me in a very personal way, who generates (on the floor) some pretty emotionally intense sensations? Are they a friend? A teacher? A paid escort?

We don’t have a great social category for this. I think maybe a combination of therapist + trainer + teacher is the best I can come up with. And there’s no question that good teachers feel great personal regard for their students and care about them deeply; honestly, it is not worth the terrible money if you don’t care about your students. But the relationship is always a little fraught. I think as long as both parties are aware of the potential complicating factors, and why it can sometimes feel a little weird, everything will be fine. (Again, a place where we as an industry need to do a better job of educating our students.)

But it is not always fine; sometimes it’s horrible. Another Emerald Ball story: I was meeting some friends for a drink at the bar, and we needed two seats. There was one open, and one with a lady’s bag in it. My friend goes, excuse me, can we take this seat? and an older lady who was clearly a few drinks into her evening told us very high-handedly that NO, another lady was sitting there and she is coming BACK (in the tone of, and you can go fuck yourself very much). This lady, obviously a pro-am student, was there with another student or two and their instructor, a nice guy who looked like he was maybe 28. He jumped in to manage the situation, pointing out gently that they could all move down a few seats and everything would be Totally. Fine. His tone was placating without being irritating, and I thought, this poor boy, he has been on duty all day and here he is still having to cater to these ladies, I bet he is TIRED.

So when they moved down, I looked over at him and he and I locked eyes and he knew that I knew the situation. I just smiled at him and tried to put a whole lot of, hang in there, tiger, you’re almost done for the day in my look and he soundlessly moved his lips and said, thank you and went back to his students.

Look, that’s not the typical experience of pro-am. But it happens. And for every wonderful student that you have (and there are a lot of them, and I am sure I am preaching to the choir because if you are reading this then you are NOT LIKE THAT HORRIBLE LADY) there are those who require higher maintenance and more managing. It is exhausting, for real. And it sure as shit is not worth the bullshit money you get paid.

All of which is to say: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, my friends, and I don’t care which side of the student/teacher fence you’re standing on. The question is, is what you’re getting out of it (in whatever form) worth what you’re paying (in whatever form)? If it is (and for me, right now, it is), you keep doing it. If it isn’t, or the bullshit threshold is too high, go do something else.

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Congratulations to me…

…on not buying a $3800 smooth gown even though it looked SO GOOD when I put it on. So, listen to this.

I was at Emerald over the weekend watching some friends dance and of course I was shopping. Now, a year or so ago I was at Emerald and I don’t really remember what I was wearing, it was random, I looked like a normal human. But I got the coldest fucking shoulder from everybody. Here’s one conversation that occurred when I was looking at costumes a co-worker had asked me to check on for her:

Russian Dress Vendor: Vat you are looking for?

Me: Oh, I’m just browsing.

RDV: Ya, zis dress, is too small for you. Much too small.

Me: I know that, I’m looking for a friend of mine.

RDV: Hmpf. Well, ve don’t have in your size.

Fuck you very much! By contrast, this year I rolled in with my ballroom hair and makeup and in I’m-not-competing-today-but-I-could-be evening wear, best defined as a combination of ballet-inspired clothing mixed with slutty accessories. (My boots were really working overtime in the slutty department.) I still got the obligatory look-up-and-down by most of the randoms who rolled by, but this time instead of blowing me off, the Russian girls gave me fake smiles and the dudes at least got out of my way. Which is ballroom for, you belong here.

The nuttiest thing, which actually made me feel a lot of different feelings, was that I was able to pull smooth gowns off the rack and try them on and they FIT. And fit pretty goddamn well, too. (One fit so well that I was on the verge of dropping four grand that I do not have to buy a dress I do not need for a style that I don’t really compete seriously in. Which should tell you how cool it looked.) I think it was more the sheer privilege of being able to try on costumes and not have the dressing room panic of, this will maybe not go over my ass or figuring out what lie I would tell the salesgirl about why I didn’t like the dress when in reality I was just too big to put it on. My feelings, in no particular order:

  1. Holy shit, I have to try on this dress.
  2. Oh wow, I can actually WEAR this dress.
  3. Wait, this dress is actually TOO BIG and that is why it looks a little weird!
  4. It is BULLSHIT that these dresses are so expensive.
  5. It is DOUBLE BULLSHIT that they come in such a small range of sizes.
  6. Oh my god, that little Latin dancer is literally half my size. Like, if you cut me in half in one of those magician’s boxes, one half would be equal to her in both height and mass.
  7. OMBRE OMBRE OMBRE OMBRE SILK IS SOOOOOOOOO PRETTY.
  8. ProTan is the shit, because I shellacked my skin like two weeks ago and I still look hella tan, and it’s faded really evenly.
  9. Should I buy this dress which will be worth more than any other possession I own, including my car? YES IT IS SO PRETTY.

And that’s the deal. Beware excessive fake tanner – it goes to the brain and may cause uncontrollable costume purchase. Thank God I had a buddy who was Rescue Ballroom trained, and she was able to pull me out of the vendors’ area in time and put a drink in my hand, which restored me to reality.

It was pretty much like this.

So I didn’t buy the dress, which is good, because I don’t have the money, but it did feel pretty cool to pull a dress and try it on, to be not blown off by the salespeople, and to have had the option. (The converse of that is, WHAT FUCKING BULLSHIT that I was ever blown off in the first place.)

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Rejection!

I just got turned down again by another prospective partner. This happens a lot. (Like, a lot a lot. Like, literally a total of zero people want to dance with me professionally. That feels pretty much like shit.*) It sucks every time. At least this time the dude was nice about it (to be fair to him; to be fair to me, he blew me off for like two weeks and then was nice about saying no, which is still an uncool way to go).

When life gives you lemons, draw an angry face on one because it will  totally make you laugh.

It’s better than the time a dude said, sure, let’s set up a tryout and then texted me the morning of said tryout, saying, sorry, but I just now bothered to look for a picture of you on the internets and now that I’ve found one, well, don’t bother driving over…¬†

Getting rejected is part of the business. You get turned down all the time. Students tell you no, prospective employers tell you no, people booking jobs tell you no. But also sometimes they say yes. I am really hoping that eventually someone in the partnering department will say yes.

At least I am getting better about putting my shit out there. I used to be a seventh grade girl about it, swanning around being hurt that nobody was asking me. Now I straight up proposition people. They still tell me no, but at least now I’m not wasting as much of my time.

Uggggggggghhh, it still feels like crap to be turned down, though.

It’s amazing how this job finds all the things I am super insecure about and then just slams me over the head with them again and again.

I guess it’s cheaper than therapy?

* It might be less than zero, because at least a few people have expressed a desire to NEVER dance with me, even in the case of, e.g., aliens attack the earth and transport me and said person to their alien spacecraft and then blow up the Earth and all its denizens, leaving us as literally the only two ballroom dancers in the universe. Even in that situation:¬†um, yeah, I’m going to just see what my options are? Soooo, no.

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Respect.

My students often observe on their first or second lessons (especially when I teach couples) that learning to dance is a lot like therapy. Actually, they usually say that it’s harder than therapy!

My job is super awesome, even when I’m doing more marriage counseling than dance teaching. Sometimes you need an external mediator and observer – especially when the pattern of behavior in a relationship has calcified. The most typical thing I see is a couple (usually a long-married straight couple) where one is always on the other’s case about some damn thing or another. It’s so unproductive, especially because the conversations usually go like this:

Blamer: Well, I just can’t ¬†do my steps right because s/he’s doing *this* (demonstrates hyper-exaggerated version of some minor flaw).

Blame-ee: (silence)

Me: Well, maybe the reason s/he’s doing that is because you’re doing x, y, and z, which makes it very difficult for the step to happen. Try this.

Blamer: Oh, wow, that worked so much better!

The default assumption tends to be, I am doing my part just right and trying hard and this person I am dancing with is DELIBERATELY messing up and trying to make it harder for me ON PURPOSE and now I can’t do my part properly.

No. No, that is not what is happening. Stop it. Please stop it, you are not helping. It boils down to this:

You cannot dance the other person’s part.

I think that a lot of partnering issues can be resolved with the following four guidelines:

  1. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are trying their best and that the efforts they are making are in good faith.
  2. Value what they are contributing to the partnership. Turns out you cannot do partner dancing by yourself! Even if you are awesome and amazing and free of any fault ever, you need them.
  3. Accept it. (This is a rule of improv, but it works for partner dancing, too). Rather than trying to argue when your partner says, I think you are doing x, or I feel like y is happening at this point, just accept it. Say, okay! What can we do about that? (Even if you think they are wrong. Even if you KNOW they are wrong.)
  4. Solve the problem, not the relationship. Is he getting in your way on the second half of that turn? Are you pulling him off balance with your spiral? Maybe! You know what that is? It’s a discrete and specific problem, not a verdict on your entire history and interaction with that person. Yes, I know. He always does this, that, or some other damn thing. Get over it and fix your turn. Have drinks and bitch at each other later, or go complain to your friends, but keep that shit off the floor.

In thinking about prospective partners, the biggest criterion for me is RESPECT. Namely: will this person treat me with respect, will he value what I do and what I bring to the partnership? A coach once said to me – and this is probably my favorite thing ever –

You can make somebody a better dancer, but you can’t make them not an asshole.

So. True. I have danced with enough people who don’t respect me to know that it makes a HUGE difference. Things will not always go well. You will have good days and bad days, you will fuck up sometimes and they will fuck up sometimes and everybody will have their feelings hurt. But if there is a fundamental respect for each other, that is not the end of the world, and it will not make you feel like the bottom of someone’s shoe.

In other words, we need to take a fucking cue from what happens here at 0:38:

Let’s all try to be more like Riccardo, please! How great is he??

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Ballroom, Body Image, and Lousy Bargains

[Disclaimer: this is my personal experience and not any kind of representative sample. Also, all the stuff I’m talking about here has been my experience as a professional; my experience as a student was very different, so please don’t anybody think I’m talking about your experience, your situation. I’m really not.]

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Two years ago: I was having coffee with a friend, my competition fake nails (bright orange) wrapped around the white mug which I thought looked cool. 

“If it makes me too crazy, I’ll stop,” I said. “I can keep it straight in my head.”

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to,” she said. “Is it worth it?”

“I think so,” I said. “It’s hard. But I think I can keep it from getting to me, too much.”

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A year ago: a conversation with a coach.

“Take it from me,” he said. “Unless you look the right way, they just don’t take you seriously.”

“I know,” I said.

“The judges won’t even look at your dancing,” he said. “It’s just the way it is.”

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Two weeks ago: a conversation with a student.

“You look amazing,” she said. “Like, you always looked great, but now…”

“Well, thanks,” I said, “I’ve been training pretty hard and I’m happy with where my dancing is.”

“No,” she said, “I mean, sure, your dancing is awesome, but I mean… YOU look great. Like, you’ve lost a lot of weight and, I don’t know, you look like a real ballroom dancer now.”

*     *     *

When I started dancing again three years ago, I was pretty seriously out of shape, for lots of reasons. Still, I had worked hard in my own brain to be okay with who I was and how I looked.

It would take me a long time, but I finally managed to mostly stop that horrible thing where when you feel bad about yourself, you say the worst things you can think of in your brain… why? I don’t know, I think it’s sort of like emotional cutting. It’s really nasty. Anyway, my go-to most horrible thing was always, you’re fat, you’re ugly. Simple, distilled, and unvarnished.

And it worked, until one day I (thanks in no small part to feminism and body acceptance activists’ writing) I said to myself, dude, seriously – you are fat. Relax. It’s fine. It’s just what it is. And you’re not ugly. And even if you were, why is that like the worst thing in the world? Who is it hurting?¬†

And after that, I would still, when I felt horrible, fall into the thought pattern of: you are so disgusting…but then I would think, eh, maybe? But whatever. Not that big a deal.

Changing that thought process and actually appreciating my body for what it could do instead of hating it for being a constant disappointment was no easy task.

Which is why when I started dancing more seriously and getting into better shape, it felt almost like a betrayal.

I hated that I was getting non-stop positive reinforcement from people – you look so great! Yay for you! Oh my gosh, you look amazing!

Which basically just meant, in my brain: you know all that damaging shit you thought about yourself before? Yeah, you were right. And everybody else thought it too.

The problem is, on the floor, your body is your instrument. That’s what you perform with, that’s the site where your art is produced. So you have to be okay with it being the object of other peoples’ regard, with their critical gaze – that’s part of the JOB. But it also sucks because, you know, it’s you. Added to which, the emotional intensity and honesty that dancing requires means that if you ARE separated from your body, if you are not truly engaged with your movement, it doesn’t work. So you have to fully inhabit your body and accept that it will be constantly critiqued.¬†It’s difficult not to take that personally.

I know – I absolutely know – that in many ways, ballroom dancing is a shallow fucking industry. That’s okay. Take it or leave it, right?

But some days, the lack of critical awareness is harder than others. And it’s even tougher when you’re a smart cookie who doesn’t look like a ballroom dancer is supposed to look.

I am not a tiny Russian woman, with legs up to my eyebrows and perfect ballet feet. I never will be. At my highest potential, when I am eventually in the best shape I possibly can be, I will be super strong and powerful, but still short and pretty compact. That’s just how I’m built.

Right now, I’m still Ballroom Fat (TM) – basically like Hollywood Fat. Defined as: actually totally fine and in good shape and in a normal, uncrazy world, not really meriting comment; but in your weird twisted world, so gross.

And you know what sucks about that the most? I see these other girls on the floor, thin and pretty and tan, and I am objectively better than they are. Like, my turns are faster, my footwork is cleaner, my connection is better, my dancing is just of a higher standard. But it does. Not. Matter.

Until I look the right way, I am not going to have an easy time finding a serious partner, and I am not going to be marked well by the judges. It sucks out loud, and I hate it. Because I actually like how I look and my whole situation, but I know that I am in the minority on that one. There is a certain standard, an appearance, A Look – and it’s just the ante you have to throw on the table, your cost of admission. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to agree with it, but it’s how the system works.

So now, unlike before, the shit I say to myself is true.

Why doesn’t that dude want to dance with you? Because you’re fat.

Why did you not make the finals? Because you look the wrong way.

I know that it’s shallow and stupid and that’s okay, I guess, because mostly I don’t feel bad about myself, I just feel tired. It is exhausting to know that you are looked at and judged and that you fall short all the time, and even worse to realize that when someone actually takes the time to see you and your dancing, they recognize the quality. Always the tone of surprise – hey, you’re pretty good!

Fuck you.

But really? What I dislike the most is the crazy bargains it makes me deal with, the chock full of nuts ideas it makes me entertain.

*     *     *

A week ago: drinks with another dancer.

“I need the judges to look at me and not say, oh, that fat girl is a pretty decent dancer,” I said.

“Totally,” she replied. “You want them to look at you and say, oh, that girl is a good dancer.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“But you’re doing it, right?” she asked. “I mean, you’re in better shape and you’re eating better, and, like, you must feel better…”

“I am, and I do,” I said. “But how fucked up is it that I don’t really care about any of that? Like, if you said to me: you can dance for the next twenty years and stay pretty much how you are right now, or you can dance for five years, blow your knees completely, but look thin and amazing for that period? I would take the five.”

“And I hate that I think that,” I added.

“Yeah,” she said, thinking for a long moment. “But I’d take the five too.”

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