Sneakers don’t brush!!

No lesson today, it’s my day off, and tomorrow is a holiday, so no lesson until Thursday.

Other than the exercises yesterday, we also started working on footwork in Foxtrot, and that means brushing.

Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to really practice this until after I finish treatment because due to the pain and swelling in my feet I can only wear practice shoes during my lesson and during practices right now I am stuck wearing dance sneakers to try and keep my feet from getting too bad.

I have learned to strongly dislike the dance sneakers.  They are limiting.  There is only one spot on them where I can spin (I guess I should be glad I can spin at all), but other than that, they don’t slide at all.  Also, because there is no heel, my posture is different and I am not able to be as over my toes as I am in heels.  I especially notice it in latin.

Yesterday was a nice change to work a bit in standard though.  With the showcase and my health, standard has been difficult for me to handle a lot of standard as the position is very hard on my upper body.

It was nice to work on footwork in standard, it’s something I have wanted to work on for a little bit now.  We have been focusing on top line, but now that is coming well and boss noticed that when I do latin I tend to be very grounded and pressed into the floor.  The last time we worked on standard, he told me to move in standard like I do in latin and to think about pressing down as I do it.  Last night he added the brushing for foxtrot.

I can tell it’s going to be a challenge, especially brushing for steps to the toes going forward.  I really don’t like going forward.  Seem unnatural for me to do–I guess because ladies spend a lot of time going backwards??

As much as I like that we are progressing my footwork, I do wish we were doing when I could follow-up what we are doing in lessons in practice.  Unfortunately, sneakers don’t brush!

I guess I will see what we do on Thursday in my lesson.  Boss did mention he doesn’t pay a lot of attention to what I am wearing on my feet for practice, and somehow it doesn’t surprise me.

The one thing I am not looking forward to is the transition back to heels–it’s going to take time to build up my calve muscles again and get used to balancing on a small heel.  Hopefully it won’t be too bad or hard on my feet.  I am already wearing full heels 20 mins at a time when I do my arm exercises (which doesn’t involve moving), so hopefully that is helping.

Until then, dance sneakers and no brushing in practice for me 😦

Arch nemesis exercise step–Voltas!

Had both a practice and lesson tonight.  Both went very well.  I was glad to get some time to run through my exercises since it seems like it has been forever (really only a week), and the last time I practiced I had to stop because I was almost sick.  I am enjoying this ‘mini-break’ from chemo and putting it to good use.

Tonight in my lesson we first did our monthly ‘check-in’ for my exercises, which gives me a chance once a month to ask questions about my exercises and for boss to have a look at things, and evaluate or decide if there is something that needs to be progressed or fixed.  Because I practice at the studio while boss teaches he has an opportunity to observe my practice, and can flag if he sees something that needs to be addressed in my next lesson.

For the most part he just lets me go through my exercises and sees how they go.  Sometimes it is necessary to take a step back to move forward, and especially after we make a change to an exercise it gets messy, then slowly starts to ‘click’ and become more consistent. We always reserve one lesson per month (usually the first) to check things, so he usually waits until that lesson to adjust anything.  It’s taken a while, but about two months ago we implemented this and boss told me he trusts me to work through the exercises to develop my technique, so he doesn’t feel it necessary to run exercises during each lesson.

As I mentioned, I love practicing.  It’s truly ‘me’ time and is meditative.  I have no issue with doing the same exercise over and over again for 2, 3, 4, or 5 minutes.  I am a very tactile person and my mind just focuses on the different sensations my body is experiencing as my muscles move through each movement and tries to recreate the same feeling each time.  Especially now, it is therapeutic.

Because we took the time last month to pretty much go through all my exercises and progress some of them, there wasn’t much to do for exercises tonight, which was nice.  I wasn’t expecting to go through the exercises tonight though, so I wasn’t quite prepared.  Usually when I have an exercise lesson coming up, I will email boss with my questions, so he can prepare and add them to those he wants to go over.

Tonight, he wanted to clarify and add some things to my simple spins and 3-step spins, so that went pretty well and I have new things to focus on there.  Spins are the hardest things for me to work on right now because the chemo affects my equilibrium so I have to work extra hard to keep my balance.  Some days, they just don’t work at all and I have accept that.  It’s nice to make some progress on them.

The thing I wanted to work on was voltas in samba.  Anyone have a step that seems like you will never master???  Like an arch nemesis?  Yep, voltas are mine for latin.  On top of my body just not wanting to do this movement in general, it is has also decided it will consider doing them moving right, but absolutely, so far, REFUSES to do them moving left.  My body can’t seem to figure out how to reverse the movement, so I find myself trying to do the exact same movement I do in one direction, while moving in the other.  This just doesn’t work at all.

It’s been about 2 months that I have been doing voltas as their own exercise and trying to focus on the technique of moving the body while doing them instead of just stepping through them keeping my body still.  In the two months, I have not been able to understand what exactly the movement is I am trying to do, and there haven’t been and ‘aha’s or ‘click’s for this step.  There was a small one going right last week, but I can’t seem to hang on to it.

We did go through them tonight, but since I wasn’t quite ready to discuss them and didn’t expect us to go through exercises, I wasn’t able to really describe to boss what I wanted to do.  The problem is that my body has a very natural way of moving in latin and many steps look like they are supposed to without me actually trying to do anything.  So doing them tonight, the only thing boss had to say was that I need to do more ‘up’ movement on the quick ones.  Um….ok? I am not sure what he means by doing MORE ‘up’ movement because I wasn’t even aware of doing any ‘up’ movement. My ‘quicks’ are also off time.

So I let it pass for tonight, but when I got home sent him an email to describe what I would like to try and ask if we could do it during my lesson on Thursday.  Basically, I want to break down the movement for the slow ones in each direction (since it appears left just won’t naturally reverse the right movement), and spend two weeks focused on understanding the movement slow before trying the quick ones again.  It seems like a good idea to me, but in the end it is up to boss.  We will see what he says, but I am so frustrated and confused with these steps I can feel myself wanting to stop working on them, which is an extreme thing for me.

I will see what boss says on Thursday and go from there.

Post Performance Thoughts

I always seem to have a bit of a ‘sober’ moment the day after a performance or competition.  A bit like a day of evaluation I guess.

I am waiting to hear from boss a little better what he thought.  I think he is pleased, but it is hard to tell when he just gives me a ‘high-5’–that seems to say more ‘good effort’ more so than ‘good job’.  He did ask me what was going on near the end of the routine because he could tell I was having a moment where I was a little scattered and he was worried I was going to stop.  All that happened was that my brain got a little ahead of my feet and thought I had skipped something.  My feet knew what they were doing though, so I actually didn’t miss anything and everything synced up for the ending.  I can definitely see in the video where I was quite tired and everything was ‘smaller’ that it could have been.

All things considering, I really do think it went very well, and I am proud to have done it.

So now it’s time to start moving forward.  Not only will I re-start treatments this week, we should move onto some different stuff in dance as well.

That means it is necessary to try to resolve the touching issue, which is a conversation I am NOT looking forward to.

I have been giving it a lot of thought and I managed to pinpoint the incident that basically led to me feeling ashamed and needing to apologize every time I have to touch boss in any way that is different from basic hold (which is mostly in latin).

Long story short, a year and a half ago, we were working on a showcase rumba and I misunderstood what boss was asking me to do and I touched his face, which he wasn’t expecting, thinking that was what he was asking.  His reaction was quite intense and I felt so terrible about how he reacted and ashamed to have made such a bad mistake I have been basically afraid to touch him since, in case I make a similar mistake.  He made it quite clear that day that he does not like to be touched, and endures it for his work.

That was the one and only time he and I have ever discussed body contact and he was basically yelling at me for making an accidental mistake.

In hindsight, a lot makes sense when considering that.  I was so ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated at the time that I have just avoided the topic ever since.

For boss’s part, I think the incident may have just been a bit of a ‘blip’ on his radar that he didn’t realize had such an impact on me, and for that matter my dancing.  I really have no idea though.  So, last night I took a deep breath and wrote and email to him explaining the issue I am having and how I am finding it is starting to affect my dancing, especially if we are going to start working more on detailing in latin.

It’s a first step, but I am not sure if there is any way or any thing he can say to help resolve this.  I don’t think his feelings on the matter have changed, but perhaps there is more to that incident from his perspective, or he didn’t realize how the incident has made me feel ever since.

I don’t know, but at least now I have asked.

I did it!!

Got through the performance tonight–only had one ‘rough’ spot!

There is a place where I do a spin into squat and my legs almost gave out on me, but I pulled it together and managed to stand and continue with the routine.  A big part of me can’t believe I actually did it, and I was able to reach my goal of posting something tangible for my family who are far away to see I am really doing ok.

I did do a statement in the end, and several people came up to me after to thank me for sharing this piece of my journey.  In the end, this is what I said:

“As some of you know, in October 2014, I found a lump in my breast that turned out to be not ‘just a cyst’ but one of several breast cancer tumours. In January 2015, I began chemotherapy and I have now completed 13 of 16 treatments—all while continuing to dance. Tonight is for all those who have survived any form of cancer and for all those still fighting their fight. I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank and acknowledge ‘Boss’—whose patience, instruction and support have really made it possible for me to keep dancing. It is not easy teaching a student to dance who has cancer, especially a pro/am student, and that deserves special recognition. I also want to take a moment to thank you—the dancers here—because your support has helped to keep me dancing as well, and I know I wouldn’t be doing so well or be so positive if I couldn’t. So thank you very much, and I hope you are enjoying yourself tonight. This is to show that with faith, patience and determination, it really is possible to do anything you put your mind to.”

When I got home, I discovered one of the people who watched also recorded the performance and shared on facebook dedicating it to those fighting cancer.  I didn’t expect that at all, and am a little wowed that what I did had such an impact.

I am now ready to finish chemo and move on to the next phase of treatment–I have proven to myself I CAN do what I put my mind to.

Touching the ‘Boss’

All relationships are unique, and as such so are all pro/am student-instructor relationships.  Mine is no different.  I think all pro/am relationships are tricky, and I think it is mostly luck that some of us are able to find an instructor that is able to work with our learning style, support us as partners, and has a compatible personality.

I am very lucky.

I started working with my instructor 2 1/2 years ago first at a franchise studio, then from a year ago with him on his own.  It’s been a tricky two years and we have had definite ‘ups’ and equally strong ‘downs’.  Twice I seriously considered switching to a different instructor.  Both times after looking at the options I decided to try to work out the issues to stay where I was.  So far, so good.

I am going to try to describe our relationship, but please keep in mind, this is my perspective as the student, and that doesn’t mean it matches with my instructor’s perspective.  He may see our relationship completely differently, and may not even realize that I see things as I describe them.

If I were to sum up our relationship in a word, I would choose ‘clinical’.

It might seem like a strange word, but I do see my relationship with my instructor as being similar (with some very marked differences) to that I have with my doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, fitness trainer–pretty much any professional for whom it is appropriate to touch me, and discuss details of my body.

There is one very big difference, and this is where I struggle the most.  Dancing pro/am involves not only my instructor touching me to correct me or move me to the correct position, but also means we dance together as a partnership–so there are times when I also have to touch him.  Indeed, in standard closed position, we maintain contact from chest to thighs in every dance. Do do that with my doctor or physiotherapist.

We also (at least I am working on) make and maintain eye contact while we are touching–also not part of the normal ‘clinical’ relationship.

So those are two marked differences which I struggle with, and it wasn’t until we started working on connection and eye contact lately that I began to understand why.

You see, while I have no issues with my instructor touching me, I don’t feel comfortable touching him.  I feel like he gives me very specific directions on where to touch and when and I find myself often worried I might do something wrong and go outside those boundaries, so even when I have ‘permission’ I am very…tentative.  I don’t want to…well accidentally grope him for lack of better words.  I think we would both know it was an accident, but I don’t even want to risk that.

I think part of the problem is that we have never really talked about it.  I think when we do routines, or he tells me to place my hands here or there, he just assumes I am comfortable with it. In reality, I feel like I should apologize after every time I have to touch him.  I think it actually surprises him a little when he does realize that I am concerned I might offend him, but we don’t ever discuss it.

I need to take a moment to do a shout out here.  I have been following ‘Beautiful Girl in the Ballroom’ for quite some time, and it always amazes me how Stef’s dance life and what she posts seems to always marry up with issues I am struggling with at the same time.  In this post unsung-hero, Stef talks about enjoying Ivan’s body.  When I first read it, I didn’t quite get what she was talking about, but now, with the work I have done in the past two weeks, I completely do.

One things I enjoy about reading Stef’s posts is how open Ivan is…to well everything.  For myself, it would be very overwhelming to work with someone like Ivan but based on Stef’s posts he is about the opposite of my instructor.  But it did get me thinking and realizing that perhaps things are a little too closed for us.

Getting back to my relationship with my instructor, I have mentioned I am a pretty closed person generally.  Although I am not sure if ‘closed’ is the right word.  Conservative maybe? Uptight? I think all would work, to be honest.  It’s very rarely that I allow myself to relax, even though I may enjoy myself very much.  My lessons are and I expect them to be very structured and ‘down to business’.  There is a lot of work to do in lessons and I want to make sure it gets done, and my instructor is very similar in that way–very professional, and down to business. Clearly, it works for us.

But also, clearly there is an aspect to dance that is missing from regular lessons.  I notice it myself mostly in latin  because it is not as restrictive as standard–where we have to stay in hold and I am mostly looking away to the left.  In latin, there are all sorts of holds and moments where ‘extra’ touching is necessary, and eye contact is also needed.

One of the reasons this is so on my radar, besides the recent work we did on the open cha cha is because coming up soon in the overall lesson plan is doing ‘detailing’ of my competitive latin routines.  We have all the routines and have competed with them twice now (although some were modified slightly from the first time to the second), but we haven’t had a chance to work on the detailing (which is what we call the combination of styling, arms, eye contact, performance etc.).  Right now, they are a series of very technical steps we do together.  We need to add the ingredients to make them full dances.

And that means more eye-contact, more touching, more openness.  More fear, terror, and chances I might accidentally do something inappropriate.

But on the other hand, that is what makes the routines more fun, playful, flirty full of character and such a joy to perform. That’s that second challenge I gave myself when I decided to start dance, so time to just take a deep breath and jump.

First step will be to get passed feeling like I have to apologize whenever I touch–even if it is completely a part of the routine.  That means talking to my instructor, who, for simplicity (and taking a page from Diagonal Wall), I am just going to call ‘boss’ from now on.  When it comes to my dancing, he is the ‘boss’, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wish me luck tomorrow for my performance!

Bad news….and a silver lining?

Today has been an emotional day for me.

In the end, I won’t have a chemo treatment this week, but will continue next week with my final 3 treatments, meaning I won’t finish chemotherapy until July 17th and all my proceeding treatments will also be delayed by a week (I have radiation and another surgery to go).

The side effects reached a point of intolerance, although it turns out my side effects are not so much from the chemo drug as from the steroids they give me to counter the side effects of the chemo drug.  Bit of irony there.  It turns out I am hyper-sensitive to the steroids.  So July 3rd we will continue  with chemo with a very tiny dose of steroids.  Less steroid unfortunately means I will probably have more side effects from the chemo drug but they are more manageable than the insomnia, weight gain (I gained 10 lbs in 3 weeks–yikes!), stomach issues, and muscle weakness the steroids seem to be causing, insomnia being the biggest one.  Chemo makes you tired as it is–you don’t need steroids making it impossible to sleep on top of it.  I have a week of rest ahead of me, and this is the second time I have had a delay (the first time I had a bad chest infection that landed me in the hospital).  24 weeks are now 26.

But there is a small silver lining, if you can call it that.

Because I am not having a treatment tomorrow, I am guaranteed to be strong enough to do the performance of the open cha cha on Saturday.  I will only get stronger from here until my next treatment on July 3rd.

I had a great lesson tonight.  The ending we worked on yesterday managed to gel overnight and tonight we were able to run through the routine from top to bottom 5 times (no idea where I got the energy for THAT).  It’s not all that we would like it to be, because we had to compensate for my health a little, but it is still a pretty strong routine and it should come across well.  I am looking forward to performing it, and have nothing to do but rest until then.

Connection seems to have clicked for me, and I hope it is the same when there is an audience.  I am allowing myself to enjoy the performance part of the dance, which is something a little new for me.  It has also led me to think a bit about the student-instructor relationship, or at least the one I have with my instructor, as every pro/am relationship is different.  I will share my thoughts on that tomorrow as it might help explain some things.

For now, I have allowed myself to be disappointed with the delay, but found the possible silver lining to it, and I will rest until Saturday when I hope all will go smoothly.

We have an ending!

Just a quick post tonight because it’s been a hard day side effect-wise and I really need some sleep before my usual Thursday appointments tomorrow morning.

My open Cha Cha routine now has a full ending (although, it actually ends with Hustle), so hopefully I will be feeling better tomorrow night and we can just run through the whole routine over and over.  I am glad to have an ending but really wish I had been able to better incorporate it. My mind shut down almost immediately into my lesson, which meant I was working on auto-pilot most of the time, and kept missing things I normally wouldn’t have any issue with–like timing.  Everything seemed to be working in slow motion for me.

I have an appointment with a oncology  nurse-practitioner tomorrow which I imagine will be followed by a phone conversation with my medical oncologist.  As much as I am generally positive, I think I may have reached the breaking point for side effects for me.  This week has been particularly hard and this is the second time I have reached what they deem ‘intolerable’.  The first time they reduced my dose by 10%.  This time I am not sure if I am willing to even continue.  The side effects are bad enough that right now I just want to sleep until July 10th–not because I am tired (which I really really am), but because at least when I am sleeping I don’t have to feel any side effects.

It’s been a long 21 weeks.

Connection–Toddling on…

As I mentioned, I had a lesson last night.  Given it was Monday, which is my worse day for side effects and late in the evening, it took a little bit of planning, but I was able to get it done and it was really productive.

We started by running the routine through 4 times to see where the rough spots were, and this was pretty much the end of my energy.  That was ok though because we were able to work out two spots we hadn’t had a chance to really work through yet.  My next lesson is on Wednesday, and I should be stronger and better able to do more complete run-throughs.  We still don’t have the final part of the ending, but that will be sorted on Wednesday too.  I feel pretty good about where we are right now.

There was a couple practicing in the studio at the same time we were working yesterday, and after the lady in the couple mentioned she thought it looked really good and fun and then they said they are going to try to come on Saturday, even though they usually don’t go to social dances.  I was pretty happy to hear that 🙂

Getting to connection, I think I am on a bit of a break-through.  I still have to remind myself to focus and look up, and I am getting better about making eye contact with my instructor, but last night as we were working I noticed something different–the actress in me is coming out in my dancing.  Haven’t seen her is a while.

We were working through a couple different parts which require me to look out to the audience, but not reveal what is going to happen next until it happens (which makes things sharper) and suddenly I felt things just ‘click’ into place.  Like I said, the actress me sort of came out, took over and I found myself just doing things naturally that perhaps otherwise I would have felt awkward about and I was enjoying them 🙂

It was like being reminded of something I had long forgotten–that once upon a time I wasn’t quite so inhibited and that I did share my passion and expression–but in acting.  Welcome back long lost friend!

Once I re-found this part of me, everything I was doing made more sense–not just the eye contact, but also the styling and expression.  And, it wasn’t ‘over-the-top’ which is another fear of mine.  I am keeping things simple, which is very ‘me’.  I am not a flashy person by any stretch of the imagination, so doing something simply for ‘flash’ wouldn’t make sense…for me.

I am eager to see how this progresses through my lessons on Wednesday and Thursday, and most especially if everything goes ahead on Saturday.  I know for me, it is one thing to allow myself to open up around my instructor in the studio.  It’s another when there is a full audience there.

My instructor I trust after 2 and 1/2 years working together (and that has taken a long time, and getting sick also helped make that more necessary in a way), and I still am hesitant to perform for him.  I don’t even really like when I catch him watching me practice on my own.

But perhaps that’s a story for another post.  For today, no lessons, no practices.  Just a day off doing odd steps here and there in my kitchen 🙂

Things I need to remember are temporary…

…at least for the next 3 1/2 weeks until chemo is over, and they should slowly start to disappear and stop being ‘normal’:

  • Sore teeth
  • Rusty nail taste in my mouth
  • Sore nails and swollen toes
  • Sore sinuses and bloody noses
  • Aching all over
  • Needing 3 naps in a day
  • ‘Chemopause’
  • ‘Chemo Brain’ and a 15 minute attention span
  • Hot flashes
  • Not being able to get warm and having chills
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Really slow hair growth (ok, some places I can live with this!)
  • numb and tingling fingers and toes
  • Insomnia
  • Alligator dry skin
  • Needing to take my temperature every day
  • My port (it’s a silicone disc inserted in the chest under the skin to make it easier to deliver IV meds)

It’s amazing how one’s mind and body can adapt. I have 3 treatments left and after 5 months of dealing with these side effects I have just become accustomed to them.  There are probably others I don’t even realize.  I have come to realize that the last two weeks leading to my last two treatments (July 3, and 10th) are going to probably be the longest and hardest 2 weeks of my life.  I will be so close….and yet so far.  At least this week I have the showcase on Saturday to look forward to and lessons to keep me busy preparing for it.

I had an extra one tonight–I will let you know about it tomorrow 🙂

Videos and Dresses

As I mentioned, I absolutely love watching competition videos….usually.

This weekend there was a Grand Slam in Hong Kong and a WDC Competition in Germany and another competition in Montreal.  It was like a bonus buffet 🙂

Except when I started to watch the Grand Slam videos, I couldn’t even finish watching the first round I got so frustrated.  Maybe it was just me, but it seemed almost every couple who they posted in the latin were either a) off time, b) not really dancing with their partner or c) a combination of both.

I have noticed this a lot with WDSF videos lately, especially in latin and it seems to be getting worse not better.  One of the things I love about watching dance is the expression and musicality shown by the couples, but what sucks me in and makes me want to watch them is the connection between them.  Without that connection, I find it, well, boring.  Watching these videos (and they were only first rounds!) I sometimes found it hard to figure out who was dancing with whom–there seemed to be a lot of individual dancers on the floor.

Being someone who struggles with connection and tends to be an individual on the floor (especially in latin), I guess it’s easy for me to recognize that in others.  It is also probably why that is the first thing that attracts me to a couple when they have a great connection–they are showing that which I wish I myself could be capable of (working on it….).

The German videos and Montreal videos were great treats 🙂 Made up for the Hong Kong ones, and probably now it is over I will go and have a look at the final round videos that are posted and see if there is a difference.

Small word on dresses–I am loving some of the current trends in standard dresses right now–especially the use of multiple colours, patterns and designs (which still stay simple and elegant–not too busy), and less ‘all white’.  There are a lot of stripes emphasizing body shape.  I have also noticed that the skirts seem to be a little shorter to show off the ladies footwork better.  I am also liking that the days of ‘ribbon strip floats’ seem to be going past, although there are still some dangling boas, pompoms and giant fuzzies hanging off ladies, but there seem to be more of the classic ‘wing’ floats coming back.