I am very happy to say that today I had actual energy.

It seems I am indeed on an upswing and slowly adjusting to the HT.  The nausea was almost non-existent and even the headaches and body aches were mild.  The exercises I have been doing has also brought my back pain under control.  My first workout today left me energized and my dance practice tired, but not exhausted.  I hope it’s a trend that continues.

As I mentioned last week, I have been giving a lot of thought to dance and pro/am and costs and competition.  One of the things I have been questioning myself on is motivation–not only motivation to dance, but more motivation to compete.  What is it about competing for me that helps keep me motivated? Why is competing such a big part of dance for me instead of just being a social dancer?

My thoughts took me all the way back to why I started dancing in the first place.

In 2007, during training for my job, I fell from the top of a wall. I didn’t seem to be injured at the time, but by the next week I was in so much pain I could barely walk.  It took 2 years before a tear in one of the discs in my lower back was discovered to be the source of the pain, but in the meantime I was very limited in what I could do physically.  As a result, I gained a lot of weight, was very unhappy and in constant pain.  Once the problem was discovered, I was able to be properly treated through physio therapy and rehabilitative exercises to help strengthen the supporting muscles around the disc to make up for the instability caused by the tear.  I am lucky the disc neither ruptured nor herniated, but the tear will always be there.

As I was rehabilitating from that injury, there were a lot of changes that happened in my life.  I changed specialty in my job, I got married, got divorced, and eventually was sent to a new post.  When I got to the new post, I was able to work with the various medical specialists and slowly work back to regular activity.  I was even given clearance to do very limited running.  As I work at a physical job and have to pass an annual fitness test, I decided the best thing for my health would be to find a competitive sport I enjoyed that didn’t aggravate my back and use that to work on regaining the fitness I lost through injury.  I looked at a few different options, but finally decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and try the one thing I had always wanted to do, but always found an excuse to avoid–ballroom and latin dance.  I didn’t care that I didn’t have a partner–I just hoped to meet one during group classes and my goal was to work at it seriously to improve my health and fitness and eventually compete.

The rest, as they say, is history.  I was hooked from my very first group class and never looked back.  I knew I had a lot of work to do on my fitness in order to be able to compete and be good at dance, so initially I focused on that.  Because I knew I wanted to compete and do well, from the beginning I focused on technique and being precise.  I asked for extra exercises I could do on my own and the owner of the studio where I was working encouraged my enthusiasm and gave me things to work on even while I was on extended trips for work.  Eventually, I changed location for work to where I am now and when I did I was ready to make serious lifestyle changes to continue to increase my health.  I also started taking private lessons and met Boss, and in my first 3 years of dance I had lost 75 lbs, and still had more to go.  I had even competed and done well in 3 different competitions. I was on a great role and had every intention to keep working in the same way, stay motivated, be disciplined and continue to grow as a dancer and person. I felt like I had found my ‘niche’.

That’s where I was in my life when I found the lump in my breast that led to my cancer diagnosis.  I am not going to rehash that story as there is an entire blog post here.

My point is that competing has been a big part of my motivation from my first decision to start studying dance.  As I gave more thought to that last week, I began to realize a bit about why competing is so motivating for me, and why it is important to me that competitions stay a part of my dance life.

One of the biggest things that competitions do for me is challenge me.  They challenge me to be better at each competition than I was at the competition before.  I don’t mean place better, I mean dance better myself.  That challenge and that goal is what helps drive my discipline in learning dance.  It is what drives me to be precise with my technique, to get stronger, be fitter.  I can’t get that from a social dance floor.  When I social dance, I mainly focus on what steps I am doing and being led through, and technique is secondary.  At competitions, I know before I step on the floor that I have done the work and built up the muscle memory so that I don’t have to think of every single detail–my body will do that for me.  I also know that while I might not be able to execute perfect technique, the work I am doing will build the foundations so that as I gain strength and skill eventually the technique will come.

I am a competitive person by nature–but in my own quirky way.  I like to compete and know I am doing well, but it’s not a matter of competing with other people.  I am competitive with myself–always trying to be better than I was the day before.  I know that as long as I always do my best, then my ‘best’ will slowly get better.  That’s what motivates me–to see where I can go if I keep trying my best.

After my first competition (which was also Boss’s first competition in North America and pro/am), I slowly developed a system of evaluation for myself and started to look at specific goals for specific competitions.  I would discuss them with Boss and together we would come up with a plan for what I would like to focus on and achieve by competing.  The last ‘serious’ competition I did, just before my diagnosis, the goal was to perform all my bronze routines well, focus on endurance and posture, and try silver routines for the first time.  I went into that competition knowing it would be my last bronze competition.

I have missed that sort of goal-planning for competitions.  I know that my next competition will likely be my last silver competition (as I plan to do my test in August), but I have no idea when it will be really.  I am hopeful for the fall.  In the meantime, I am trying to save my dollars and ignore the am/am couples around me who compete an average of once a month.  Right now, it takes almost a year of budgeting and planning for me to do one competition, because of the cost.

I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know that competing will be part of it–even if I decide to leave behind dance.  One of the main obstacles I am facing right now is feeling very unfocused on my goals, and not fully understanding what I am trying to achieve long-term.  I feel like I used to know, but since everything changed I don’t know where I am anymore.

Being competitive was a big part of the drive and motivation that brought me to dance in the first place–it was what would help keep me motivated to take better care of myself and improve my fitness–so I could be better competitively.  Somehow, through pro/am, at the level I am at, and the restraints on time and money, I need to rediscover that motivation and drive.  I am hoping it is something I can discuss more clearly with Boss when he is back from vacation.

In some ways, as I come out of the fog I have been living in with HT (and yes, my head is finally clearing!), I think I am mentally taking a big step back to re-evaluate and figure out where I am, and what from before cancer and bring into my life now.  Somehow, it seemed so simple before I battled cancer, but now it seems more complicated.

Or maybe I feel like I have taken such a big step back I haven’t yet figured out how to start moving forward again.

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