Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sacramento Dance Venues Part Three: The Ballroom of Sacramento

I will start this post with a reminder that I am an instructor at The Ballroom of Sacramento, lest a reader think I'm trying to hide anything!

The Ballroom of Sacramento at 6009 Folsom Blvd. is one of the oldest ballroom dancing studios in the Sacramento area--they opened in 1996 and a lot of studios have come and gone in that time. It is a very large studio and probably one of the largest in the state, if not the country. The main floor alone is 3,750 square feet--bigger than a competition floor, which makes it a great place to practice. There is tons of seating around it. In addition, there is a smaller, but still very large floor upstairs, plus four more smaller teaching rooms, a couple of which are big enough for group classes. As a result, the studio offers two or three group classes PER HOUR, three hours per night, Monday through Thursday. The full schedule is posted on the website.

The owner/manager is Linda Infante, the celebrated DJ, who makes everyone feel welcome. Many great friendships and marriages, including my own, came about because of The Ballroom. The atmosphere is very friendly, supportive, and encouraging to all.

There is country dancing (including swing, line dancing, couples dances, and partner dances like waltz and two step) with lessons on Friday and a ballroom dance with lessons on Saturday. You can find classes or private lessons here for almost any type of partner dance, including ballroom, country, lindy, west coast swing, and tango. There are classes and teachers who specialize in competition or social dancing, and all levels of students from the very beginner with "two left feet" to the open level competitor. People drop in to take a few lessons for their wedding or to start a lifelong hobby.

The latter is one of the things I love about The Ballroom of Sacramento. There IS something for everyone, but they do it all well. Because each teacher has his or her own specialty, they're good at what they do, and the classes are fun and inviting. Heck, I'm an instructor and from time to time you'll see me in someone else's class just because I enjoy taking them, and I always learn something.

The Friday and Saturday night dances are always fun, with good music that is all danceable, free snacks, and lots of people in attendance. There are mixers to make sure you get out on the floor and maybe meet someone new. I've had some nice surprises in those mixers!

Maybe I'm biased, but I honestly feel The Ballroom of Sacramento is a great place to dance, for lessons and social dancing. Visit their website for more info and schedules. New to dance or have never taken a private lesson? Check out the Introductory Special: just $79 for two private lessons and two passes to a Friday or Saturday night dance. A $126 value! Valid for a limited time only, for beginning dancers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dance class review: Tango Technique with Michelle Gorre

For the past few months, I have been attending Michelle Gorre's Tango Technique class, so I thought I'd share my thoughts. Bear in mind, I am a dance instructor myself and always have my critic's hat on when I attend another teacher's class, plus I'm picky and straightforward and tend not to give praise unless it's truly deserved. Those of you who have taken my classes know I tend to be a pretty straight shooter in that regard!

First, an overview of the class: Michelle runs this almost like an aerobics or Jazzercise type class. She starts with warm ups, then we do individual exercises, each designed to carry over directly into the dance--tondus (or maybe it's spelled tendu--pointing the foot with a straight leg), extensions (taking a step larger than your typically comfortable stride, but in a technically correct manner), turns, collection and balance exercises, ochos, and other things I don't know the name of.

After the warm-up we usually move on to things that require a lot of thought, balance, and coordination, and then end with fun rhythmic exercises that are still challenging, but require a little less thought and control. Sometimes we do partnering exercise to get some practical application for things we've been working on, work on lead and follow skills, etc. We then do a cool-down, and she puts on music to let us dance a couple of songs and put what we just worked on to the test...or just let loose a little.

My thoughts: I find this a VERY beneficial class, not only for my Tango, but for my other dances as well, especially since I've gotten out of the habit of practicing the past couple of years. It has strengthened my core and improved my balance. Certain things, like how I use  my feet, are becoming automatic, so I can concentrate on other things (like following). I like the balance of the different exercises, how Michelle explains why we do things the way we do, and rewords her explanations or adjusts the exercises if we're not getting it. She demands excellence of us, which I love, and praises us when it's deserved. Oh, and she's fun, with a positive energy. My style of teacher.

The class is currently held on Tuesdays at 6:30 at the Sierra 2 Center, Studio 1, on 24th Street and 4th Avenue in Sacramento. The price is $12 for a drop-in or $40 for the month. I wish she could do it a little cheaper, but she has to pay rent and make something for herself, so don't hold that against her. Join her facebook group to stay on top of any changes!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Have you made your New Year's Resolution yet?

Making New Year's Resolutions is a great way to keep you on an uphill path in your dancing. Here is a new article from me with some suggestions:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guest post from Stefanie Lein: Once More With Feeling!

Today I'm happy to share with you a guest post from Stefanie Lein, whose post You Have a Mental Problem I linked to recently. Her heartfelt post rang true with many dancers, and the post is making the rounds on facebook. Good for her! She was kind enough to share my post Relax While You Dance on her  blog, so I am sharing this one on mine. Enjoy!

Once More With Feeling!
by Stefanie Lein

Saturday, December 17, 2011, 10am
Dance Starz Studio
Private lesson with Ivan

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

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

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

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

I'm still not doing something.

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

I make no eye contact.

I am avoiding connection.

"Look at yourself in the mirror."

"Yeah, yeah."

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

"Uh huh, right."

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

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

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

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

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

And I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ok, now I have no hands."

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

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

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

"See, even with the head!"

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

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

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

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

Ivan is a wizard breaking the curse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Follow Stefanie and her ballroom dancing journey on her blog at

Monday, December 12, 2011

Do you have a mental problem?

Many dancers psych themselves out or hold themselves back because of their insecurities. This post so hits the nail on the head, and all dancers need to read it!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Relax while you dance!

I thought I'd talk a little bit about achieving relaxation while you dance. Some people are under the mistaken impression you have to be tense in order to offer "resistance" (which is why I tend not to use that word--people often get the wrong connotation from it). Nothing could be further from the truth! Other people are just naturally tense--heck, I think all of us are much of the time, either because we're learning and maybe a little worried or nervous, or we're concentrating, or it's hard, or whatever.

Being tense while you dance makes it harder to move, harder to lead or follow, harder to feel and flow with the music, it's uncomfortable for your partner and it makes you tired. There really are no redeeming qualities to it. To illustrate, hold your arm so your elbow is at your side and your forearm is parallel to the floor and make a fist with the palm facing up. Flex all of the muscles in your arm and make it as tense as you can. Now, try to hit your shoulder as fast as you can with your fist (same shoulder/same side of the body as the fist). Now, put your hand and fist back in the starting position but relax the muscles until they're engaged enough to hold their shape, but not flexed or tense. Hit your shoulder again.  What happened? You had more range of motion and you were faster, right?

The same is true for dancing, and it doesn't matter what kind of dance you're doing. You move more freely and comfortably and can get more speed if your muscles are engaged but relaxed. It can be difficult to achieve this, especially all the time, but practice definitely helps!

I will point out here, lest someone misunderstand me, you can't be a noodle or your partner can't dance with you. You need to keep your core and arm muscles toned and engaged so they can move you, react to your partner, and keep you balanced. But like in the exercise above, toned or engaged is not the same thing as tense. I'll give you another exercise: stand in front of the wall with your toes about a foot away. Put your palms against the wall, somewhere around shoulder height. Feel like you're holding yourself up off the wall. Now, without moving your hands or losing contact with the wall, release those muscles so you fall into the wall. That is too relaxed. Now hold yourself up again. Now your muscles are engaged. Now, tense up your muscles and push against the wall. Tiring, eh? Relax and just go back to holding yourself up. Note the difference between how those three states of being feel.

Here are some tips for relaxing while you dance:

1. The more you dance, the more comfortable you'll feel, physically and mentally. You'll also feel more confident, and all of this will help fight tension.

2. Take a deep breath as soon as you get into your dance hold. This not only helps you relax, but your partner will feel it and usually will unconsciously take a deep breath as well, forcing themselves to relax. Remind yourself to breathe while you're dancing.

3. Stay in tune with your body whlie you're dancing (easier for followers, since we have less to think about, but men can do this too). If you feel yourself getting tense or notice that one muscle (or two, or three) is getting tired because you're pushing against your partner with it, force yourself to relax it. You may have to do this numerous times during a dance (I do, at least in Tango. In ballroom and swing I'm more experienced and conditioned to the dance frame, etc., so I'm less likely to tense up), but it will soon become habit to correct yourself, and eventually to just not tense up in the first place except in particularly stressful situations. As a follower in Tango, this is easy to do with my left arm by lifting it off my partner's shoulders and softly laying it back down, and the leader can do the same with his right arm since our connection is through the body. Other muscles you just have to will them to soften.

4. An exercise you can try off the dance floor that's good for you anyway: one at a time, tense each muscle you can in your body as tight as you can, then release it. This helps you be aware of where your muscles are and how to control the tension, but it also relaxes you at the same time! Practice this a few times, especially if you haven't figured out how to just will your msucles to, it's a good way to unwind a little after a stressful day!

5. Finally, give yourself a break. If you are constantly worried about what you are doing, if you're good enough, that it's weird to be this close to someone you don't know, that you look fat in those pants, all that negative energy just leads to more tension. Keep your thoughts positive and just enjoy the experience!

I hope these tips help you to achieve relaxation while you dance, and that you enjoy dancing all the more because of it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Practice like a pro...

This is an excellent post that everyone should read. It doesn't matter whether you're a dancer, or a skiier, or a runner...whatever your sport is, the level of commitment you put into it is so important, and many people do not realize that they are putting in a fraction of the commitment they should be. Please read it!