Final Preps

I leave tomorrow for 10 weeks of sailing at sea for work.

It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I am deploying on a Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel with a crew of about 40 ‘issued friends’ with whom I will be working for the duration of the deployment. We leave from the dock here tomorrow morning and will return around mid-December.

It will be a challenge with long days, busy days and not so busy days. It’s a small ship so there is limited space for physical activity. There are some weights on board and a treadmill, rowing machine and exercise bike, as well as a collection of therabands. The only wood-like floors are in the messes, which is where we eat – not exactly a place for working out.

That said, I do plan to try to keep up dance exercises and keep fit while I am away.

That has been the focus of my lessons this week at dance. That and reviewing the information from the coaching lessons last week. Knowing that space will be limited, Boss and I have worked together to figure out exercises that don’t need a lot of space or a slippery floor to do.

How exactly I will put them into practice on the ship I am not completely sure yet, but I know I will work out a routine once I settle into the regular rhythm of working on the ship.

I will also be writing an article about my work on the ship and I hope to do some video of me working. We will see what I can put together in the end.

Finally, I want to apologize in advanced as it is quite highly unlikely that I will be able to post while I am away. Internet bandwidth is extremely limited on the ship and in the end it is only slightly better than dial-up. I have a very small window of time each night to do all the emailing and uploading required for my work and that is it. It’s slightly better when we are in port, but that will only be about 3 times during the entire trip.

But I promise that after this short break I will be back and ready to write about my next chapter in dance.

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A week of coaching

Last week I did seven coaching lessons.

All of them were really interesting and fun. I had two lessons with two different instructors – one a standard lead, the other a latin follow and three with a latin lead.

The latin couple were the ones who choreographed my open latin routines which was an advantage as they were familiar with what I have been working on. We sent them all videos of recent work before I arrived and Boss sent them messages to let them know what he would like me to work on.

I started by working with the standard coach, who was someone I haven’t worked with since my first two years of dancing. Interestingly, he is also working with another of Boss’s students who in working for a year in Ottawa, so he was a little bit familiar with the style of Boss’s students.

Boss had two specific sections of sequences from our waltz and tango he wanted him to look at, so that is what we did. One of the first things he suggested was that we try a more off-set position for standard to see if it had a positive effect. It actually made a big difference in ways I can’t fully describe but it allowed me to travel more and gave me a little more freedom in movement and shaping.

We also talked about thinking of lifting my sternum through my position to connect with my partner at the ribs, and using this to project up through shaping. We also talked about being a little more grounded in my steps and being sure not to rush through them.

Finally, in tango we also talked about position and connecting more through my left arm to the point where we could dance full steps while only maintaining hold on that side. The other interesting thing was to think of resisting against the partner as we move – so if I was moving back, I needed to think of resisting his forward movement through my ribs.

I was really tired and jet-legged when I had those lessons and I was concerned I didn’t retain much from them, but today working with Boss it appears I retained more than I thought to the point I was doing things differently without fully realizing what I was doing.

From there I moved on to Latin coaching. My first lessons were with the lead and they started with him looking at the videos and asking what I would like to work on. I talked about the state of all the routines and mentioned that paso was probably the roughest. So paso was what we worked on.

At the end of the first two lessons, we had gone through the first half of the routine in detail and cleaned and adjusted parts as needed. We talked a lot about position and the use of the knees and forward pelvis. We also found a lot of steps in paso which I have a natural tendency to turn into standard so we worked on identifying and fixing those sections. He also made some small adjustments to the choreography so it worked better for me. We were able to record the first half together for Boss.

At the end of the second lesson we took 10 minutes to look at the samba and he identified 3 steps that needed a little more clarification. That was a fast and furious section, and I am not sure I completely got all the steps down in the end, but I have an idea how to adjust.

My final lesson with him was focused on cha cha and twisting was the name of the game. We took one section of the routine and worked on getting me to twist more and to separate the twisting from the rest of my body movement. From there we looked at some specific steps (like swivels) and cleaned up one section of the routine which was a bit messy. We were able to record that section to make it more clear for Boss.

My other lessons were with the latin follow and they were focused on styling, and some technical exercises for lead/follow and using the ankles to help travel. The interesting thing about those lessons was that we talked about 4 different hip levels and how to use them, as well as a breakdown of the aims/goals of styling in each style, which are all different. I got some really good exercises out of those lessons, especially focused on styling.

I have had two lessons now with Boss since I got back and they have been focused on going over what I did with the coaches and developing a program for practice while I am away. I have a bunch of new exercises from all three coaches so I want to incorporate them into my work while I am away.

I will talk more about those preparations tomorrow.

Once a year I get this opportunity to work with these coaches and its always been a really positive experience. I hope the future presents more opportunities for us to work together again.

But for now, a week of coaching is a valuable experience.

Rough couple days

My Nan died Saturday evening.

It wasn’t unexpected as she was 89 and my Dad had told me a couple weeks ago she had begun deteriorating. Despite that, it was still hard as my Nan played a big role in my life.

I may not have mentioned before, but I grew up in a military family. My father served in the regular force, and my mother in the reserves except for a period when my sisters and I were very young. When she rejoined it was necessary for her to be away for several months of training. At the same time my father also had to be away so my Nan came to live with us and care for my sisters and I.

This was nothing new for her, she actually raised over 60 different foster children during her life in addition to her 5 natural children. During the time she stayed with us, several of my friends also connected with her, and pretty much everyone called her Nan.

Even before she stayed with us, it was common for my sisters and I to spend our summer vacation with both sets of grandparents, alternating from one place to the other. If we were moving that summer, usually the move would happen while we were away.

I have a lot of childhood memories of time spent in rural Nova Scotia with my grandparents and cousins.

Nan was my last surviving grandparent. Her loss is deeply felt. I am sorry I could not be there, but I also know she was always supportive and proud of what I do and that she understood the demands of my career. I saw her back in May when I was home for work and I knew then that it would be the last time.

It’s hard to say good-bye, but at the same time sometimes it is ok. It’s been a rough couple of days, but as I finish my preparations for my work deployment slowly I am refocusing.

With all that said, last week was incredibly fun and productively full of coaching lessons I can’t wait to discuss.

But first, I needed to say good-bye.

Preparing for coaching

Today was my last day in my office until New Year.

Next week I am off to Ottawa for work for the week, then I am home for Thanksgiving. After that, I have a couple days of vacation before joining a ship that leaves our home port on Friday. We won’t be back until almost Christmas.

I will talk some more about the upcoming trip and preparations I am making to have some dance productivity while at sea, but tonight I want to talk about next week and the prep we have been making for that.

While I am in Ottawa for work, I am going to take the time to do some lessons with 3 different coaches – 1 standard and 2 latin – in the bit of time I have between work. I was able to schedule my flights to give me time on the day I arrive before I start work the next day and time before I fly home the day after work finishes.

I am pretty excited to be able to work with all 3 of them. I am going to do 2 lessons with 2 of them, and 3 with the other. The 2 latin coaches are the couple who designed our routines, and I also worked with both of them this time last year when I was in town for the same reason.

So, to get ready this week was about reviewing the routines I didn’t perform and recording the other 3 latin routines. We recorded 3 of the 4 standard routines back in August. We recorded the routines so the coaches can see where I am at and to give them an idea of where the problem areas are.

Needless to say, the other 3 latin routines are a bit rough, but not too bad. We were able to do them in time with the music, with only the odd disaster here and there. It didn’t help that this week has been crazy at work with a day of sailing, and having to travel more than 2 hours for a medical appointment. My brain was a little more fried than I would have liked.

Boss has been communicating with the coaches and giving them his thoughts and ideas for things to work on. He has some very specific ideas of things mostly which he hopes my getting another perspective will help my mind process it in a new way–which is really the main goal for any sort of coaching–at least my goal.

Last time I worked with these coaches it was a lot of information, but a lot of fun. It made a big difference right before my last competition and I left with about 4 pages of notes. I expect more the same this time, although a little more focused as we have worked together and are not new to each other.

It’s going to be a pretty intense week next week but I am up for the challenge. I am really looking forward to it as I am sure it’s going to be a valuable experience.

Because the ship is not leaving right away when I get back I will even have 4 more lessons with Boss before I leave until Christmas. That will give us time to review and go over what I have from the coaches and work together to develop exercises which can be done in the limited space on ship. It’s really important to me that I stay active and dancing while I am away.

In the meantime, I feel prepared for the week ahead.

A Successful Performance

And two of my open latin routines are on the floor!

Some poeple can grow a human in 9 months. I can’t, so instead I grew 2 latin routines to initial performance level.

The showcase last night went really well, but instead of just talking about it, I am going to show you.

First, we did the open Cha cha then we did the open rumba.

It felt so good to be performing. I really didn’t realize how much I have missed preparing for a goal. We decided to do the cha cha just over a month ago, and added the rumba 3 weeks ago. I was really amazed how much we were able to polish up the routines in that short amount of time – especially as prior to that we hadn’t even tried either in time with the music.

I could go into multiple details about what was wrong with them – little stumbles, legs not quite straight, some strange styling – but that was not what last night was about.

Last night was about getting back on the floor, knowing I worked hard and taking the time to just enjoy dancing and presenting two challenging routines to a local audience who haven’t seen me perform since 2016.

I was approached by one of the local social dancers after the showcase and what she told me really stuck. She told me she really enjoyed watching me perform last night because she could see the pure joy I was experiencing being on the floor.

It really stuck out because she has seen me dance through my entire cancer journey and when it became known I had cancer she was one of the first to approach me and share that she too had battled cancer and won. Her sharing that with me helped me to realize I too could win this battle. Sadly, last night she shared she is once again battling and will be doing a form of chemo for the rest of her life. But to know that seeing me back on the floor and doing what I love meant a lot to her really touched me.

Cancer has not been nice to the dancers in my community. But we keep fighting and supporting each other to overcome it.

2 of 9 routines now on the floor! I am sure the others will follow in the new year after I get back from this upcoming extended work trip.

I reminded myself of something last night I hadn’t realized I had forgotten. It’s easy to always declare new routines ‘not ready’. The truth is that they are never ready, but at some point they need to be put on the floor so the next steps for them can be determined.

Ready for the next steps in cha cha and rumba now.

 

Unlocking muscles

I have had an interesting encounter at acupuncture.

Last week I had an interesting conversation with my physiotherapist because I am encountering issues getting my left leg to engage and keep my left knee turned out. Progress for this on the right is going well, but my left just didn’t seem to want to work so I mentioned it to him.

He said that sometimes, an impinged nerve that is a little blocked can stop firing correctly meaning that the message to the muscle I am trying to engage might not be getting through. That can lead the muscle to going to sleep a bit and becoming dormant and more or less locked.

I then mentioned that to my acupuncturist later that evening. She found that interesting and did some dry needling in my hip which is one way to wake up a muscle and get it to unlock and start working again.

If you have ever had dry needling, you probably know what I am talking about. It’s not the most pleasant thing as when the needle is inserted and hits the right spot it sends almost an electrical zing through the muscle which leads it to contract and then let go. At least that is what I feel – the sensation for someone else could be different.

I didn’t fully understand until later in the week what she had been doing and its effects, but I did notice that it did suddenly get easier to maintain my knee out on my left side, and I could feel my hips firing to keep it out as I walked which was something I couldn’t feel before on my left side. Its been an interesting experience.

A small unpleasant side effect of that is that my knees have suddenly realized that they are working differently and they are not sure if they are happy about it. They have been aching more, especially the right, but its not a surprise when making changes to how you move. I hope they will adapt and settle soon though.

Today I had acupuncture again and that led to a new experience. As I have mentioned, I have been trying to work on my styling and engaging the right muscles to move my arms and encountering a lot of difficulty. After repeated trying, it was obvious something was not working right on my right side. I could feel the muscles working as I brought my arm forward but as I brought it back I could feel the muscles ‘let go’. Compared with the left I could tell something was up.

I mentioned it at my appointment, especially as it seemed to be relevant to fixing my neck and shoulders. She did some experiments first having me move my arms as I need to for dance to see what she could observe. She almost immediately noted that when I brought my arm back it appeared I was using the wrong muscles which left me fighting to keep my shoulder down.

She then had me repeat the action with her hand on my shoulder blade and that confirmed her suspicion – she found my rhomboid, which should have been engaging wasn’t doing anything noticeable. That led to some explorations in the muscles around my armpit and shoulder and she found two huge bundles of knotted muscles.

And so started a lot of dry needling and a lot of zings and hiccups as she called them. She did as much as I could tolerate and she felt practical and not too overwhelming in my armpit and then moved on to my shoulder blade and around my traps muscles over the top of the shoulder. She also put a stimulator on my shoulder blade to wake up the muscles.

It was not pleasant, to say the least, and I had sensations of ‘nervyness’ through my shoulders and down my arm. When the muscles let go and relaxed they also feel like they have just done a supper intense workout (which in some ways they have).

It is all worth it though because at the end of my session she had me repeat the movement again and the difference is incredible! I don’t feel like I am fighting to move my shoulder and arms through my right side any more. I don’t feel like I reach a point where I lose control of the shoulder and I can move it both forward and back without having to rely on my arm movement.

Both sides feel almost the same now. Its an amazing accomplishment for me!

If it keeps this way, then I might see some progress through my arms. For now and into tomorrow the entire area is very tender and sore. Muscles that have been locked into one position have relaxed for the first time in a while and they are almost breathing a sigh of relief. It would be a bonus if this leads to some relief of the back and shoulder issues.

Unfortunately I won’t see her again until the new year as she is away next week and I am away the week after until Christmas. I have physio later this week and should have it again next week so hopefully he can build on the success from today before I leave.

It just never occurred to me that some of my issues could be muscles just not working as they are supposed to. My physio said sometimes scar tissue can affect the nerves that fire certain muscles and that can lead to issues like I have encountered. Considering the amount of scar tissue around my shoulder and chest, there is no surprise. The muscle in my hip for keeping my left knee out has a nerve root based out of the damaged disc in my back. In the end it makes a lot of sense.

But the important thing is that my muscles appear to now be unlocked.

Finishing touches

I spent a big part of my lesson learning how to bow today.

It seems so simple. Don’t we all learn it as a kid? Well, apparently not dancesport style.

As we get closer to the performance on Saturday it is time to sort out these little details. The routines we are doing are meant for competition, but this is going to be a bit of a show.

Among other things, we had to figure out what to do for an opening and closing. We kept it simple in the end, but I think it will work. As I said, the trickiest part was sorting out how to make the bow works.

Other than that the main focus was on running through the routines and cleaning up a few areas that needed a little more work.

One of the things we had to do was sort out how I was responding to the lead in a few places. Especially when the lead is on my right side, I have a tendency to lock up and restrict my movement, which then makes is really difficult for Boss to lead me through steps, especially if I have to turn anywhere.

It took some experimenting, but in the end what worked was just relaxing in some spots and letting my arm go, and in others moving to the step when I felt the lead. It will work for now, and I am sure there are other spots we need to work out.

The routines are not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they will still look good and be passable. Considering this is the first time we will dance them, I feel pretty good about where they are right now.

I think Boss is pretty happy with them too. He was saying today that on Wednesday he plans to do some work on the other routines as we want to record them before I head to Ottawa at the beginning of the month.

The next two weeks are going to be pretty crazy, but I am just taking it one day at a time and looking forward to the performance this weekend.

Until then, its the finishing touches to build on the foundation we have.

Confidence

Usually when you see that in a title it’s because it is lacking.

I am actually finding the opposite. Last night I realized that I am slowly regaining my confidence back.

The odd thing is that I hadn’t even been really aware that I had lost it. But I suppose like most things you don’t realize something until you can see a big difference. I lost it gradually, but at yesterday’s lesson I realized there has been quite a change.

We were focusing on the rumba and cha cha yesterday as we continue to prepare for the showcase in two weeks. I can’t even really explain what I noticed was different except to say that I felt myself looking up more and feeling confident in bringing the routines to the next level. I was beginning to perform the routines instead of just working through the steps.

I felt better about how I looked doing the routines.

I am not sure what is triggering the change but part of it is having a performance to focus on. Another part of it is likely that I have been able to lose some of the chemo weight. Its appears to be a combination that just works.

I am not going to knock it. Instead I am just going to roll with it.

It helps that the routines seem to be coming together really well. We may have also decided on music yesterday, just from what we were using to practice.

We started by ironing out some of the details for some of the line features in the rumba. I have a roll-out to a lunge I wasn’t very sure of, especially the movements after the lunge. We were able to to get that working together, and the transition to the next step. It leaves only one more section to work out, and the routine will be in really good shape.

We also worked a little on the cha cha, working through the beginning and reviewing the section we worked on last week. We were able to run through 2/3rds of the routine before we ran out of time, at speed. It was also working well.

It puts us in a great place for the performance in 2 weeks. It’s been a while since I have felt this good about my dancing. It is making me look forward to what is next.

And hopefully more confidence will emerge.

Preparing to perform

So it appears we will be performing in two weeks.

We are focusing on latin and we will do the cha cha routine for sure, but we are also working on the rumba and will probably do that as well.

It’s a showcase for another local studio that Boss’s studio has been invited to participate in. It presented an opportunity for us to perform just before I leave for the rest of the fall, and gives us a goal for getting two routines ready to perform.

It just makes sense, especially since other than a really brief and quick demonstration back in July we haven’t done any competing or performing since last October.

Both routines are actually not in bad shape right now.

The cha cha we are able to get through in time with slow music and the medium music has only a couple of bumps but doesn’t completely fall apart. Since the last time we ran it in full, we have worked out almost all of the bumps, and most of the styling. In the end, the routine has only two major spots where arm styling is a concern and I have been working on them pretty hard.

The big thing we have been focusing on in the cha cha is the lead and follow as that is key to getting the turns on time and executing quite a few of the steps. It’s actually pretty together right now, but needs some polishing and running through a few more times to hopefully lock it down.

I have actually really enjoyed the concentrated focus on the cha cha routine to pull it together and it confirms for me that agreeing to do the performance has been the right thing to do to move some of the routines to the next level before I leave.

We started digging into the rumba on Monday. It’s actually also not in a bad place, but it also has a few bumps to iron out and we really need to go over the styling in detail. We ironed out one of the biggest bumps in the middle of the routine yesterday, taking the whole lesson, but it was time well spent as we were able to go through that section in time with the music several times.

The key to the rumba right now seems to be the timing. Its tricky because it varies quite a bit and there are holds and pauses for development – some of which are one bar, some are two. The trick is remembering how long to develop at what part.

The styling will also be tricky, especially some of the transitional pieces. I already accidentally clobbered Boss in the face yesterday in a combination of not getting my arm high enough and him having his head a little forward. Some of the hold changes are also tricky.

One of my biggest concerns about the styling is that I am not very good at developing some of the lines and some of them need a lot of very specific movements I just can’t seem to make work for me. One of the key parts of the routine has me do a double turn to roll-out into a side lunge stretching away from Boss. When I hit the lunge, I need to make sure I have reconnected with Boss after turning on my own and after I stretch away I am supposed to melt.

I don’t melt very well. I really think we need to considering another way of styling that step, whether it is to stretch it a little longer and then turn in for the transition which is to a pivot to a lunge done together. I hope it is something we look at a bit closer very soon. I know I can do a good stretch because we have done one in a previous showcase routine.

For both routines, it really is about polishing right now, minus a couple of timing and step bumps to work out. For the cha cha, I need to make sure I add more power and speed to my turns, and the rumba is about the timing and not rushing. I don’t feel relaxed about performing, but I am not feeling overly stressed about either routine not being ready.

At least not yet. We will see how I feel in a couple weeks.

The focus on latin and the details has really been interesting over the last week. I’ve really enjoyed what we have been doing and actually been surprised at how things have come together. I feel really good about the work we have done and while I know neither routine will go perfectly, I am starting to look forward to performing. I have missed it more than I realized.

More prep to go.

Finding the root of a problem

I had an insightful physio appointment today.

I haven’t had physio in a while as I had to cancel my last one and the therapist was on vacation. Most of my appointments had been more focused on providing relief to my neck and shoulders, but since I last saw him I have had some good progress through acupuncture, including release the knot in my trapezius.

This allowed the therapist to focus more on an evaluation to try and figure out what hasn’t been working around my shoulders so we can start to correct the issue.

What he discovered made perfect sense. My right serratus anterior muscle is extremely weak (I am almost not able to resist pressure against it at all), and is very limited in its range of motion.

The serratus anterior muscle runs from the shoulder blade along the outside of the torso and is connected to the 2nd to 8th ribs. It’s a very long muscle that pretty much runs from the armpit down your side. This muscle is what moves the shoulder blade around the ribs, moving it forward. It is a key muscle when you punch straight forward.

Strength in this muscle helps protect the rest of the shoulder and neck muscles from getting hammer backwards when there is resistance from the front. It’s also the muscle that keeps the arm in front of the body when it is held at 90 degrees.

This explains a big part of why the muscles on the right side of my neck and shoulders tend to easily get angry. It also explains why I have a hard time with lead and follow, arm movements and always seem to be allowing my right side to fall back behind me when I try to use my partner to turn.

Its something Boss and I have been trying to figure out for a few weeks now. In order to be able to counter resistance from Boss in many of my turns, I have to start with my arm almost straight out or else it goes too far behind me and it is like I am not there.

Since I have so little strength in the muscle, pretty much I am not there.

It’s hard to say why this muscle on this one side is so weak, but it is likely a combination of many things. First, the lymph nodes that were removed from my right armpit would have been sitting right on top of the muscle (as that is where they lie), and it would have been very difficult to remove them without causing at least minimal damage to the muscle. This area was also fully irradiated by the radiation. Then you add in several other surgeries to the area and a lot of time spent not being able to lift things, and shingles in the nerve that is connected to this muscle…well, it makes sense.

The good news is that now we have found the root of the problem, I can start working to fix it. I have 3 exercises to focus on for the next week – stretching the muscle to try to gain some range of motion back (the best stretch is the classic triceps stretch bending the elbow over the head), the waiter lift (which focuses on lifting the bent elbow straight up from a position like a waiter carrying a tray), and a lying punch (pushing a weight straight up from the shoulder without allowing the shoulder to raise towards my ears).

I expect to be a bit sore tomorrow after the work I have done on the muscle today.

It’s going to be a long process to restrengthen the muscle, but it’s very possible. As the muscle strengthens, some of the neck and shoulder pain should begin to subside (it’s only part of that problem), but I should also be able to move through my arm styling better (its a main muscle for properly moving the arm from the shoulder since it controls the shoulder blade), and it will help with my lead and follow in latin.

It’s something I can focus on while I am away since the exercises are easy to do in a confined space.

I have some other exercises to work on which should also help with the neck and shoulder issues.

I promise to write about dance next time. Lots of things have been happening, especially in latin as we prepare to perform in a couple weeks. It seems that we will be doing not only the cha cha, but we are now adding the rumba.

September is turning into a busy month.