Latin Styling

We all have our weaknesses when it comes to dance.

Latin styling is definitely mine, and those demons came out really hard Friday night.

We have been working on the open cha cha routine and the steps and technique along with the lead/follow is slowly coming together really well – even with the music! We have narrowed it down to about 3 places where the transitions aren’t quite working yet and there are a couple places I get slightly behind the music turning. It’s been really good progress overall and is helping my confidence. I am pretty sure we will perform it on the 22nd of September.

BUT.

At the end of the lesson, Boss asked someone to record one section from the routine that is a series of NYs which I have been working on a lot and we have spent the most time working on together. In general, it wasn’t my best execution of the choreography, but it wasn’t bad.

What was terrible was my arm styling. Really, really abysmal. The worse thing is that the second time we recorded it, I was sure I had gotten 90% of the styling on point and executed well. Nope, not even close. The things I had thought I had “nailed” looked terrible. The angles of my arms were off, the positions were off, arms I was sure were straight looked bent and my shoulders looked up even though I was sure I was keeping them down. And those were the arm movements I thought I had done well. The others were a lot of flailing arms trying to figure out where to go.

It was mortifying and disappointing to watch. If I can’t fix my styling, there is no way I can perform that routine in 4 weeks without embarrassing myself.

Styling has really always been a big concern for me. A lot more so than Boss. It’s not something we even really focus on, in fact I can’t remember the last time we discussed it minus about 2 minutes to go over the arm positions for the NY sequence so I could practice it. I do remember doing some exercises in about 2013/2014 before Boss left the franchise. Almost every time I have asked Boss for some exercises or to work on it, it has somehow ended up in an argument.

For Boss, arms and styling are the ‘gravy’ put on top of a routine to polish them. For me, arms and styling are difficult, require work and repetition to gain confidence in the movement and I would prefer to incorporate them sooner in the learning process. The sooner, the better so I can get used to using them and ‘owning’ them.

Inevitably, what happens is not enough time (and sometimes almost no time) is spent on adding the styling and arms to a routine, or when we get to the point where Boss wants to add it, it is not enough time for me to be confident or comfortable with the styling. Usually at that point, we are committed to either performing or competing and I have no choice but to just do what I can and hope it looks ok.

I have worked on it here and there with female latin instructors as it pretty much is the first thing they focus in on after watching videos. It’s usually really routine focused.

For the most part, I have tried to figure it out on my own, but clearly that approach is not working, because I continue to feel terrible about it. In general, I know what the correct arm placements should be, but I either miss doing them right in context with a step or they just don’t look quite right. If I were to really describe it, I would say my arm movements don’t look ‘clean and tight’.

They look like the afterthought they generally are.

And that is a big part of the problem. When it comes to styling, I am way out of my comfort zone with even the most basic movements. Some people are very natural in how they move their arms. I am not. “Natural” for me is pretty clumsy and awkward. Oh, and one sided. I naturally move my left arm more than my right. For example, if I work on rumba basic, without thinking about my arms, my left will move with my hip movements and steps. My right will just hang limply.

Another problem that has come up recently just compounds the issue. As I have been working on lead/follow which uses some arm movements to mimic the connection with the partner, I have noticed that my range of motion is limited in some direction, likely due to the scar tissue around my chest. It’s particularly telling on the right side, which makes sense as it was the side that received radiation. For example, my right arm can only cross my chest about half the distance my left arm can before my right shoulder starts getting pulled up or in a strange direction, and I can’t stretch my right arm up the same distance as my left without my shoulder getting pulled up.

So, I have physical limitations, feel awkward and clumsy, lack confidence in my arm movements and often feel like the arm movements I am doing suit other (smaller and more feminine) ladies fine, but look contrived when I do them (likely due to me feeling awkward, clumsy and lacking confidence). It’s a bit of a vicious circle and I don’t know how to begin to sort it out.

Oh, I am also generally pretty conservative and self-conscious about my size and weight (regardless of what I weigh, I will always be a ‘solid’ woman). I don’t really ‘do’ feminine or sexy, and honestly don’t feel like I should. It’s not my style at all and when I do try, guess what? That’s what it looks like – someone trying to be something they are not. I have a hard time ‘owning’ something I wouldn’t even buy in the first place.

And maybe that is part of the issue. Like other areas in my life, I am trying to make myself fit into the mold that is expected instead of finding the mold that fits me.

I go to a coach to work on styling and generally I am given suggestions for styling for a particular step, but I don’t actually like any of them. To keep things moving (as I usually have only an hour) I chose whichever seems easiest. I might have an idea what I would like to do, but I don’t say that because I am embarrassed or have already convinced myself it’s not right or wouldn’t work. Since I don’t really have any experience with styling, its seems pretty arrogant of me to suggest something and assume it makes sense to someone who has been dancing most of their life. Sometimes, the suggestions do make complete sense or straightforward but I can’t seem to execute them right or figure out how to ‘own’ them.

Interestingly enough, I can’t recall anyone (other than Boss and that has been pretty limited) asking me to describe ‘my style’ or even what I see as ‘the character’ for a particular dance. Truthfully, my answers to those questions are something I keep pretty locked up because I am pretty sure that my answers are not ‘right’.

More often than not, I will go to a coach for styling on my own and together we will work out some arm movements or styling. Then I will work on them and try to get them to a point where I feel they are ‘presentable’ to Boss. Then I show them to him and one of three things happen: a) he doesn’t like them (and his poker face sucks), b) he sort of likes them, but they don’t really work with his part or what he is doing (so we try to adjust) or c) he likes them or accepts them and we try to go with them. Scenarios a) and b) happen the most, but usually when Boss doesn’t like something, in truth I am not crazy about it either (which probably also shows when I do it).

I actually hate showing any ideas for styling to Boss. It’s not because of anything he says or does, it’s completely a fear of rejection on my part. More often than not, if I am showing him something for styling it is because I am trying to put myself ‘out there’ and get out of my safe, conservative box. Therefore, I already feel like I am trying ‘too hard’.

One thing I really hate the most about styling is being told to ‘develop my own’. Why? Its not because I don’t have my own thoughts or an idea of my style, its because I have NO idea how to use styling to project it. When I am left to ‘develop my own’ styling, I just default to the things I see others doing because that is what I know. I really hate getting a routine that comes with the comment “I haven’t included much styling so you can develop your own.” I much prefer seeing what someone else will do, figuring out what I like and don’t from that and adjusting things where I need or want to. It’s easier to work on a ‘paint by numbers’ than a blank canvas for me.

So I have rambled on for quite a while and tossed a number of thoughts and demons into this post. Where does that leave me? I am not really sure. Here are some things I have discovered:

  1. Styling is always going to be hard for me. I have no confidence in how to execute the physical movements, and mentally I have no confidence any styling will look polished and appropriate for me.
  2. Whether intended or not, I feel like Boss avoids the topic of styling or is dismissive because he feels my concerns are unjustified. I feel like styling isn’t an issue for him because he has been doing it all his life and he doesn’t understand how difficult it is for me and how much I feel I need to work on it.
  3. I sometimes feel like time spent working on choreography and technique is wasted because styling that is poorly executed makes the whole package look under-prepared and sloppy.
  4. When I think of how I do styling right now, I feel like I am just madly flailing my arms around trying to ‘hit’ the right ‘pose’. The issue is not so much where I end up, but how I get there. I don’t know how to get there. I can’t think of a single styling movement I do that I feel good about.
  5. I need to stop being afraid to explore and advocate for my style when working with coaches. If I am not comfortable with something or feels like it doesn’t look right, I need to say so instead of hoping it will just magically come together with time.
  6. I need to find a female coach who is willing to go right back to basics on styling and have those ‘hard’ conversations with me. This is more a mental process than a physical one.
  7. I have a very good idea of how I would like to start to work on styling, but feel it would be unreasonable to impose that on a coach.
  8. Boss suggests and would prefer I work with someone who does jazz, modern, or contemporary for styling. I am INCREDIBLY uncomfortable with the idea because I just can’t relate to or connect with any of those styles. It’s a good idea, but I am not at a point where I feel it actually would benefit me yet. At this point, I am 95% sure it would overwhelm and frustrate me. I need to stick to what I know to start with and I know myself well enough that I have to start in my comfort zone before I can push myself out of it.
  9. I have no idea how to even begin to approach this productively with Boss, and by extension trying to find a coach who is willing to work with me on it in a way that works for and feel productive to me.
  10. When it comes down to it, I am just scared of what styling represents. Its putting myself ‘out there’ and honestly it is one of the reasons I dance – because it makes me get outside my comfort zone. I fear though that because I have allowed myself to avoid embracing styling I am missing and failing at one of my main dance goals.

Hopefully just writing all of this out will help me find a way to move forward.

In the end, despite all the coaching and support (and there is a lot!) I have when it comes to dance, I feel very very alone and left to flounder when it comes to styling because I am embarrassed by how hard it is for me – not just to do, but even to talk about. It’s a part of dance where the barriers are mental and I can’t figure out how to even start to break them down alone. I can’t seem to figure out how to initiate a conversation about it without it leading to either conflict or me feeling like I have been overwhelmed with the opinion of someone else.

Its hard to ask for help when you can’t figure out what it is you need.

 

 

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