Northern California born-and-raised, Elena "the Rhinestone" Rovito lives in San Francisco. She has a diverse background including gymnastics, parkour, classical dance, and various partner dances such as competitive Latin DanceSport and bachata. The nickname “Rhinestone” refers to her love for sparkly accessories, and more importantly— the kind of personality and effect that she embodies within the dance community. She is a passionate advocate for body positivity and self-acceptance, and she loves to incorporate this into her teaching.
Perspective - The Rhinestone
You’d think after all of the blogs I’ve written, therapy I’ve attended, friends and family I’ve consulted, and external validation I’ve received, that I’d have this whole “self confidence” thing down to a science.
Well, I don’t. Surprise! It’s taking many different experiences and epiphanies over the last ten years to slowly transform my self-image. This was one of them.
I’ve never been a “normal” dancer.
This is not all about body image. It’s about quality of movement.
I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was three years old, and this style pervades everything I do. With language accents, the language you learn first will accent any language you learn later. Whenever I danced, I looked like a gymnast. Sharp, staccato movements, too-strong lines, tense muscles. Over the years I gained bits and pieces of experience from those other dances, most of it self-taught. The result was that I look fundamentally different from most “classically trained” dancers. I was incredibly self-conscious of the fact that I never seemed to fit in any one category.
Most of the professional dancers I know are ex-ballerinas and have the soft lines, the toepoints, the leg extension, etc. This led to a lot of self-confidence issues. There was always a small part of me that wished I had a more definitive style. I wanted people would look at me and say, “Oh, she’s definitely a hip hop dancer.” or, “definitely a ballerina.” However, for the most part, the zouk scene celebrates and welcomes diversity, from body type to style. That has been instrumental in changing the way I view my social dancing.
But the solo dance world was never as forgiving to me.
I gave up on ever having a solo dance career after years of trying to stuff myself into different boxes, constantly self-critiquing, hating my body, and getting cut at auditions. When I began choreographing and creating solos, I felt like I always had to add tricks or gymnastics… because who would want to watch only my strange, hybrid dancing for 2.5 minutes? It wasn’t good enough. If I put some kind of wow-factor in there, no one would notice my… unusual technique. Imposter syndrome was rampant every time someone complimented my dancing or said they liked my choreography. I felt ugly, but I had accepted the feeling as a belief, and I never questioned it.
The day after I performed my new solo in Mexico to resounding approval (which of course made me criticize myself even harder), one of my friends shared a casting call for a show. My first reaction was excitement, which immediately died when I imagined my inevitable rejection. I tagged another friend… She’s a better dancer than me, she’ll get in. But she didn’t respond. And my friend (a professional solo dancer herself) who had shared the post responded, telling me to submit. With some encouragement and a good word from her, I submitted my meager dance resume and a few videos, and the choreographer seemed excited to have me. I kept telling myself that would change when she saw me dance in person… when I would probably struggle to pick up the choreography… when she saw how I’m actually not skinny… But through this barrage of negative thoughts, my feet (or rather, an Uber) carried me to the first day of rehearsals.
Fuck my expectations…
I was expecting a bunch of ballerinas in their teens from local studios, with perfectly functioning knees and tiny bodies. Instead I see a group of people my age or older, in various body types, with various aches and pains, all warming up in different styles of dance. Hip hop, ballet, contemporary, percussion, rhythmic gymnastics, pure acrobatics. I was surrounded by diverse body types doing diverse styles.
I was expecting them to be snobby and look down at me for not being a trained dancer, like that time when I auditioned at Disney. Without a doubt, they were amazingly warm and friendly people who were offering to share their fruit and aloe vera with me within minutes.
I was expecting to struggle with the choreography like the last few workshops I took. Instead, I found myself having fun. In the moments when I struggled, I saw others were struggling, too.
The choreographer had sent out an email saying how I was going to have a “feature” along with five other girls during a breakdancing section. I was confused and ruefully approached, sure that this was the moment she would cut me from the show. “I saw you have me down for the b-girl section but I don’t breakdance…” Her response? “Oh yeah I know! I just want you to showcase what you do best — give me what YOU’VE got,” she said, and my brain immediately went on strike. I couldn’t even process that she wanted me. ME, the out-of-shape, ex-gymnast has-been with the strange hybrid dance technique.
No… she wanted me, the athlete. Me, the diverse dancer who can do a la seconde fouettés but can also deliver those samba hips… me, the curvy woman with steel muscles underneath that can still do a cartwheel backhandspring… me, the zoukeira with the bate cabelo that will literally make your head spin.
People could do things that I couldn’t, and that was okay. I could do things other people couldn’t, and that was also okay.
It didn’t change my opinion of them, and they didn’t change their opinion of me. No one judged me because I couldn’t do an aerial anymore. One of the ballet dancers couldn’t isolate her shoulders for the African dancing, and I showed her how. Another girl was still learning a handstand, and I helped her to balance. I realized I had something to offer. All were incredible dancers in their own right — dancers I would have considered “out of my league” — and they wanted to collaborate with me or- even more amazingly- to learn from me. I had worth and value as a solo dancer. I was amazed.
Perspective is everything.
Thought restructuring is so important not just when dealing with anxious thoughts, but when viewing the world and yourself in general.
The world is a lot bigger than you. There are 7 billion other people in the world that don’t know or care that you exist. There are 7 billion other LIVES happening at the same time as yours, each with their own struggles and wants and needs. This isn’t about making you feel small and insignificant — it’s about remembering that you’re not alone, and things that seem big are actually often quite small.
Comparatively, there’s more to you than your latest project or the most well-known facet of your personality. It’s so easy to forget that there is so much more to life than just that one thing that you’ve been struggling with, or that one thing (or a million!) that you don’t like about yourself.
And it’s okay to forget. Even after this life-changing experience and several more, I still struggle to remember my worth. But each reminder is a step in the right direction.
Sometimes you have to [be forced to] step back and say, “Is this as important as I’m making it out to be?” “Will life go on if this ends tomorrow?” “Am I viewing this/myself objectively?”
Or instead of focusing on, “I am lacking,” simply saying, “What do I have?”
Here’s a video of the gig — the opening ceremony for the Chase Center, the Warrior’s new arena in San Francisco:
(I’m in the video at 5:05 on the right side of the stage… doing tricks and bate cabelo of course. And from 8:45 to the end on the left side of the stage.)
Thank you Shannon & Morgan for believing in me. ❤
More about Elena: https://medium.com/@therhinestone