The strength to walk away…

I walked away from dance yesterday.

It was and continues to be the hardest thing I have done.

The worse part is that I am not walking away from dance, I am walking away from pro/am.

I don’t want to keep pretending that pro/am works for me any more.

I used to think that at least pro/am gives me an option for dancing and that it is better than not dancing at all.  But I was wrong. At least if I am not dancing at all I don’t know what I am missing.  With pro/am I am constantly stuck at the side of the dance hall by myself watching amateur couples practice and work with their partners.  I am constantly reminded of what I lack (a partner), and I am forever on the outside of the dance community.

I don’t really have control over my dancing.  Budget is the first determining factor (because of the high prices), and once that is determined, Boss decides the rest.  I decide how much I practice on my own. Yay me–I can be the poster girl for individual practice.

This hasn’t come up all of a sudden, it’s been a long time coming.  I have been trying to ignore it and to just keep telling myself–pro/am is better than nothing, at least you can afford pro/am, someday you won’t need to do pro/am anymore.

But those lies just aren’t working anymore.  It’s not how I want to dance, and I am ashamed of that. It’s making me miserable and it is time to accept that.

There have been a few things that have brought this about.  First is my health and the effects it is having on all areas of my life.  It makes me feel even more isolated and alone and I am still waiting for treatments to make some sort of impact. But as I wait and try to work through it, it just keeps highlighting to me how alone and unsupported I when it comes to dancing.

I had coaching lessons with two different coaches last week, one for standard and the other for smooth and latin.  While there were some really good points for me as an individual dancer, I realized that most of the lessons, especially in standard, were addressing issues that had to do with couple connection and how we move together.  As I advance in dancing, that is coming up more and more, and there is nothing I can do to improve or work on that by myself.  At worse, I felt that the lessons were more for Boss than they were for me, although I do know it would make my lessons better.

One of the reasons I dance is because I want to be part of the competitive dance community.  I want to feel like I belong somewhere and that there is support from that community when I need it.  Last week I say a concrete example that I am not part of that community and when I asked I was told it wasn’t personal, it was just that they never see me–which is true.  Before I got diagnosed, I was at almost every competitor’s practice and spent time with the competitors.  They even put together a card and chipped in for flowers when I started chemo.  But I had to stop doing those practices because of chemo, and I have never been really given the opportunity to return to them consistently.  All of this just highlights how different I am from the other competitors, and I really don’t want to be different.

On the weekend there was a social dance that I went to and I was really proud that I managed to stay the whole time without feeling overwhelmed after a day of coaching lessons.  It was a huge achievement for me.  But that dance also starkly reminded me how long it’s been since I really danced and did more than just drilling–and again that I have no control over that.  I have never been a social dancer.  I used to go to social dances just for the extra cardio, but as I was sick and able to attend them less that benefit went away.  I also have to admit that I just don’t enjoy doing the same 3 or 4 basic steps over and over, and that is what the leaders here know and do.

There are all sorts of other similar things like that, but in the end, none of the problems have to do with actual dancing.  It’s all about how I have to dance, and how that makes me feel.  I want to be stronger and to think that all of that just doesn’t matter and that I should just enjoy the dancing I can do in my lessons and on my own in the studio.  I want to be stronger so that working on my own is enough.  But I can’t pretend that it is anymore.  It’s just not for the type of dancer I want to be–which is and always has been a competitor.

I am very ashamed to admit that pro/am is not enough and that I don’t have the strength to keep fighting this uphill battle and that after everything I have been through, in the end the best option is to stop doing it.

I feel empty and gutted.

It took everything I had, but in the end I found the strength to walk away from something that clearly wasn’t working.

I have to keep walking.

Standard trials

Yay, a dance post!

It won’t be a long one, but I wanted to post a little bit about dance since I have been quite ‘gloom and doom’ lately.

I had a coaching lesson in standard yesterday that was quite interesting.  The coach I was working with comes from a background of thought and approach in dance that is quite different from what I am used to. The approach certainly simplifies things in comparison to others.

We focused mainly on foxtrot and on the body movement through foxtrot steps.  We talked a little about position, but mainly it was about connection, smoothing the steps and moving through them.

The biggest difference was mainly in what I was thinking about when we were dancing.  I wasn’t thinking about my hands, arms, or hips.  I was more focused on upper body–chest and shoulder blades–and didn’t even really realize it until I thought about it some after the lesson.  We covered a few different specific steps in my routines to see what differences there were in the approach and it was pretty interesting.  It was the same…and yet not.

I haven’t worked with a male coach in standard before, so it was interesting to get that perspective.  My mind is still trying to process all the information, but Boss took lots of notes which he said he would share with me.

I started my new medication yesterday and for a little while, I did feel better–thankfully that lasted through the lessons.  My head felt more clear and able to process.  Unfortunately, by about 7 pm my system seemed to crash and I got really overwhelmed.  I couldn’t finish practice because couldn’t concentrate anymore and nothing made I was doing made sense and that led to a panic attack.  I think in general my system got over-stimulated, and since I had just started the medication there is far too little in my system to sustain any sort of effects.

I can’t say if I feel better or worse today, but perhaps a little more clear-headed.  I am just trying to give the time spent with the coach yesterday time to process as Boss asked me to try to describe and/or replicate what I was doing for my lesson on Monday.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to really do that in a way that will be meaningful to Boss, but I will try. Or at least try not to let it overwhelm me.

Baby steps to try and get past this latest health hiccup.  More coaching with a different coach in smooth and latin later this week.

Faking interest

That’s what I feel like I am doing, in many things.

That is making everything I am doing–work, school, dance, life–much harder than it needs to be.

On Tuesday, I received the news that the genetic testing showed a mutation on the  BRCA2 gene.  This is a big part of the explanation for why I got breast cancer at 35.  It also means I am at high risk for Ovarian cancer as well–and there is no definitive way to test for that.  In a nutshell, my ovaries are now going to be coming out, especially since they are misbehaving so much.

So, once again I am waiting for surgery.  I will see a gynecologist in early April and from there I should get an idea of when my surgery will be.  This is separate (at least for now) from the surgery I am waiting for to complete my reconstruction.

This also means that the hormone therapy is even more essential and my oncologist does not want to cut it or stop it, if at all possible.  The small silver lining is that once my ovaries are removed, I will not need ovarian suppression any more and my hormone levels should stop fluctuating so much and should settle down.

But that doesn’t solve the problems of the side effects in the meantime–the most difficult is the depression.  In the past two weeks since the change in hormone therapy I have pretty much spiraled downhill and I can’t seem to pull myself out.  I have lost interest and motivation in almost everything I do and all I want to do is sleep all the time and hide away.

It took a lot of phone calls, but finally I was heard and next week I will see psychiatrist at the cancer agency to look at options for medication to try and relieve the depression and other side effects from the hormone therapy (including fatigue, body aches, difficulty concentrating and focusing). The advantage of seeing a doc at the cancer agency is that they are more familiar with the different therapies and how they work with different meds.  I did see my family doctor this week, but she was reluctant to prescribe anything knowing there are some limitations and possible interactions with the hormone therapy.

So, in the meantime, I am faking it.  Pretty much faking my life. I am going through the motions and trying to pretend like I care and am interested and am not exhausted.  I have considered cutting back on everything, but knowing this is a (hopefully temporary) situation, I don’t want to make any large decisions as I will likely regret them when I am feeling better.  I just don’t think I can trust my judgement right now.

After tomorrow, I am on vacation for 2 weeks, and I am in a good position for school as well, so all of that helps.  I have cut back a little on small things and I am not doing anything extra, so I guess I am already coping.  I am trying to stay rested as being tired makes everything worse.

I am hopeful that Tuesday there might be some light at the end of the tunnel, although I am realistic in knowing that there are no quick fixes and any medication will take at least 2 weeks before it has full effects.  My fingers are crossed that the side effects will at least be manageable.

In the meantime, I am trying not to derail my life so it will be recognizable when I come out the other side.

I just feel like an imposter.

Back to Basics

Hi all,

Wanted to drop in and say that while things continue to be difficult, I am getting help it’s just slow to kick in.  I have had a few health related things come up and I now waiting for surgery (yes another) which should help improve things, but I will write about that separately.

What I wanted to do today is invite you to check out the guest post I wrote about my return to focusing on basics after my last competition for The Girl with The Tree Tattoo.  It was an honour to be asked by the girl to contribute to her blog and I hope the tips are helpful for you!


I am filled with fear that the hormone therapy is having very negative side effects.

I did end up going to see the doctor again today about my sinuses and he prescribed some antibiotics as the weekend made clear that they are now quite likely infected.  With some luck, I should start to feel better by Wednesday.

But my fear is that the sinus infection is really only going to clear up the pain and pressure in my sinuses, but that the fatigue and achiness, and general listlessness and depression will remain.

I do expect some side effects from the hormone therapy, but at the same time I have to be able to have some quality of life and at least right now I don’t have that.

I am willing to believe that some of what I am feeling is due to being sick, but at the same time it would be naive of me to think that it is all the sinus infection.

My biggest concern is that I am pretty sure the hormone therapy is making me depressed and that to counter that it will be necessary to take anti-depressants.  I want to be clear that it is not the stigma of mental health that worries me, but the need to add yet more chemicals to my body to counter the effects of chemicals I am already forced to add to my body.  On top of that, anti-depressants have their own list of side effects and I am limited in those I can take because of the hormone therapy.  It’s just a big overwhelming mess and a road I really don’t want to go down.

But if I am realistic with myself, I am struggling a lot more than I should be right now.  I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I have started a new (old) position at work and I can’t seem to generate any excitement about it.  I go to practice dance and I wonder what the point is and I have no interest in what I am doing.  I am going through the motions like a robot.  I am working on a masters in a subject I usually feel very passionate about but can’t seem to motivate myself to do the readings or assignments.  I am usually very consistent about getting to the gym and doing strength training but I have no motivation for that either.

And while it seems like I am doing a lot, I have not been able to do even half as much as I was able to do previously.  I am very frustrated with that.  On top of that, despite being on the medication to promote weight loss for 4 months, my weight has barely budged–even with good (and prescribed) diet and regular exercise.

As time goes by, I find myself wondering more and more if I should just accept that the life I knew is over.  I should just be resigned to being overweight and heavy and feeling terrible.

So many people have been so supportive, but I feel rather guilty when they tell me over and over that I am so strong and brave for fighting and conquering cancer.  Yes, I was able to be strong and brave and had great support, but it seems that the price you pay for beating cancer is to feel miserable for the rest of your life. That is the truth of  my experience.  I am constantly beat down by my health no matter how hard I work to make it better and I am tired.

In fact, I am honestly completely exhausted.  I haven’t been sleeping well since my last shot to the point where I have been waking frequently throughout the night.  I was almost able to stop taking my insomnia medication (a big step back), but now I am finding it necessary to increase back to a full dose to see if that helps me sleep through the night.

I am not completely sure where to turn for this.  I almost have too many doctors.  Is this a problem for the oncologist? My family doctor? The mental health nurse?  It seems like if I go to one, I will be referred to another.  I am not scheduled to see the oncologist until April, and I am to see my family doctor next week.  Because of the sinus infection, I feel like I have missed far too much work due to illness, which is one of the issues I was sent back to this position to fix.

Regardless, it is obvious to me that I cannot continue living like this.  Part of me want to wait a couple days and see what goes away with the sinus infection, but the other part is very concerned that nothing but the pain and pressure in my face will leave.

I find that I am constantly trying to find something to get excited about–whether dance or work or school–and everything keeps falling short.  Once again I had a lesson where I found myself unable to concentrate and Boss had to repeatedly make changes to what we were working on.  At one point, I had a hot flash so bad while working on a standard exercise I had to push Boss away because I felt like his body heat was suffocating me.  That said, we do have a section of a rumba routine to add to the waltz routine from last week.

I just want things to get better and stay that way for a while.

That isn’t too much to ask, is it?

Trying to relax

There are many dimensions to that statement for me.

First, I just feel over-stressed today and I can’t really figure out why.  It seems like I have been telling myself to just ‘calm down’ most of the day.  I am feeling better than I have, but I am still quite tired.  I am hopeful the weekend will allow me to rest.

But what I really want to talk about is how this relates to dance.  As I mentioned yesterday, during my lesson even though I was feeling scattered and unfocused there were some significant ‘light bulbs’ that seemed to come on that I wanted to reflect on.  The result of that reflection is a general realization that I need to give myself permission to relax when I dance.

That probably sounds a little strange, but I will try my best to explain–and perhaps I will clear some of the clouds surrounding it in my head too.

First, in standard.  A couple of different comments have come together to make sense of this.  The first was a comment from a coach that I have a tendency to ‘raise my arms too high’.  Among other things, I didn’t think that was really possible, so it took a little bit of thinking and adjusting to figure out what that meant.  The second was one from Boss yesterday that I tend to pull him after turns because I turn my entire body as a block from hip to shoulders (or something similar to this–it was a bit of a half-formed verbalization of something he realized).

Regardless, it led me to making some adjustments to my frame, the first of which was letting the level of my arms come down a little.  The result of this is that instead of having strong rigid tension through my back and shoulders directed across towards Boss, I was suddenly able to provide resistance up towards him.  It was a slight change, but allowed me to be less rigid through my arms and shoulders and freed up my should blades to allow them move–something that I wasn’t really able to do before.  It’s still engaging the same muscles, but it is using them in a slightly different way, and it keeps me from feeling like I have to constantly fight to keep my shoulders down.

This actually led to a conversation with Boss that it is ok to allow my shoulder blades to turn independent of the rest of my body and that in some steps it is actually needed.  The combination of these things actually is leading to a dance position that feels much less tight and rigid and actually easier to control (because I am not completely focused on setting one specific position and then trying to keep my upper body from moving).

I am still concerned I am missing a couple pieces, but I certainly have a little more pieces in place than I did before.

Expanding on that, is a similar issue in latin.  When we were working on rumba yesterday, I was having endless issues with my arms and upper body, to the point where Boss was actually pushing my shoulder down to get me to drop my elbow and relax my arm.  I have a tendency to raise my arms and elbow too high using my triceps instead of my shoulder to do it. Add to that constantly resisting in the wrong direction and it made for a pretty frustrating part of the lesson.

Later in the lesson though, as we were discussing upper body movements in standard I remembered I wanted to ask about one of my arm exercises for latin.  This began a pretty detailed conversation about arm movements and actually resulted in forgetting about my arms (for the most part), and focusing on learning how to just move my upper body from my shoulder blade.  It’s a pretty detailed breakdown of the required movement, but I find that when I use my arms they distract me and usually result in me using the wrong muscles to compensate for a lack of understanding of the correct shoulder movement (and strength).

So the exercise is now about moving one side of my upper body initiating from the shoulder blade, then adding my arms within the limits of that range of motion in a separate movement.  The first thing I noticed when trying this? I can’t raise my arm anywhere near as high as I was even starting it previously.  Again, what I was doing previously was ‘too high’.  We also discovered that I was trying to move my shoulder blade but would stop the movement when I needed to engage movement of my rib cage (because I thought I wasn’t supposed to turn my ribs).  I have no idea how this concept will go, but I am hopeful that it might start to correct issues with my arm styling that have been noted by a couple coaches lately.

Peripherally related to that is the issue I am having with settling my hip in latin.  I either do it too soon or not at all.  The main reason? I find myself fighting ‘settling’ because I am worried I will ‘collapse’ and don’t want to relax into the hip.  Essentially, I am afraid to allow myself to let go.

So the theme for the last week of dance seems to be that for whatever reason, I am getting in my own way by working so hard to try to control my movements that I am not allowing myself to move when I am supposed to (did you follow that?).

No wonder I am wound up and feel tense when I dance.

An off lesson

This week seems to be taking forever.

I still have a sinus cold and it is really weighing on me.  I had pain so bad today in my face that I went to the clinic, only to be told I was congested and to take tylenol and a nasal spray–things I was already doing.  It’s only on one side now, but it’s not draining as much as it was before–which is actually a problem.  This cold is also making me feel exhausted.

At least I hope it’s the cold…the other thing it could be is the hormone therapy–a possibility that really worries me.  I am tired enough to feel like I can’t completely function and if it is the hormone therapy, it’s not likely to get better.  I know fatigue is one of the main side effects, but what I am feeling right now is extreme.

That aside, it’s easy to see why I would have a lesson that is just off.  I did have a good lesson yesterday, but today was definitely to be desired.  We did cover a lot though, but I think that was more because I was having obvious difficulties focusing on anything.

Yesterday, we worked mainly on latin, focusing on ‘3 threes’ in rumba, after reviewing one of the turning lock steps in waltz I am working on.  The work in both styles brought up some interesting points, particularly in latin where my tendency is to look down when I am concentrating and I am pretty much consistently not taking the time to settle as I move through steps.  That in itself needed some reflection on my part.

Tonight, right from the start I was off.  We began with some simple lead/follow in rumba and I was heavy, unresponsive and distracted.  I just couldn’t bring things together.  It improved, but it was certainly not close to what I am usually able to do.

We reviewed 3 threes and 3 alemanas (apparently gold rumba steps enjoy 3s), which I am doing fairly well on getting through the steps, but the body action is challenging and then there is my arms and lead/follow issues.

I am having a lot of issues with arms and shoulders right now in both styles.  In latin, I want to do pretty much the opposite of what I should and in standard it appears I am making my arms too rigid and am too tense in my frame in general.  We took a lot of time to try some things and discuss but it’s going to be an on-going theme.  The good news is that through a lot of trial and error, I have finally figured out at least some of what I need to do to adjust, at least in standard.

Earlier this week, Boss gave me my gold waltz routine so after working on latin for part of the lesson we reviewed the sequence for that to try and get it into my head and feet.  Unfortunately, I felt like my head was full of water and I just couldn’t pull it together to get through the sequence.  I kept blanking on steps and found myself struggling even just to follow the lead.  We only did that a couple of times before moving on to working on the turning lock steps we had been working on all week.

It doesn’t happen often but I was very glad for my lesson to be done tonight.  Nothing was sticking and I could feel heavy exhaustion weighing on me.  Because of that, I am going to stop writing here tonight as I need to get to bed.

I will try to expand more on all of this during the weekend.  Despite feeling off, there does seem to have been some significant progress in my understanding on a number of key points–but I want to reflect on them more.

We also settled on a competition goal.

Competing Criteria

You would think that choosing a competition to go to would be a pretty straight-forward thing.

Apparently not.

Now that I have my masters residency behind me, I am looking to decide on competitions to give me something concrete to focus on.  What I have discovered is that because my focus for competing (when I was sick it was more about just getting on the floor) has shifted, deciding on a competition is not as simple as it was before.  A big part of that problem is that while I know my focus in competing has shifted, I am not quite sure what it has shifted to.

As a pro/am student, when choosing competitions it is easy to focus on the bottom line–what can I afford, what is the best value for my money and when can I afford it.  I feel like that is a big part of what has been driving my decisions for competitions.

But the question I would like to be asking first is: What is the best value for my dancing?

And that is harder to nail down.  Right now, I am doing a lot of shifting and rebuilding.  I am changing levels and that means learning new routines.  I want to focus more on closed events, but at the same time I don’t want to disregard the open events so we are also looking to work with a choreographer to develop open routines.  I am trying to rebuild the strength and fitness I lost while sick, while at the same time (hopefully) also improving my technique and overall dancing.

When looking at where to compete right now, the biggest issue is that Boss and I haven’t really set any competition goals.  We seem to be going about it backwards.  We are looking at competitions, and then setting goals for them.  I think I would rather look at what I want to achieve from a competition and then see what competition will fit that goal–and still be affordable.

One of the biggest issues with this right now is that we are heading into summer when competition are few and far between.  On top of this, competing in the US is pretty much off the table with the increasing prices there and the exchange rate.  Not to mention the political climate and travel unpredictability.

While I may be ready to put routines on the floor this summer, there really isn’t a competitive opportunity to do that.  That will mean shifting the focus a bit and looking either longer term, or shorter term.  Do I try to do a comp at the end of June, or do I wait and do two in the fall?  If I do one in June, my routines aren’t likely to be very polished and it would be basically trialing them at the competition.  How much do I want to spend on doing that?  Do I want to use most of my competing budget to attend a competition (which would be great), with routines that aren’t well polished and not likely to be competitive?  Or would it be better to find a more local competition with smaller events to get those routines on the floor before going out against the ‘big dogs’.

Part of this is that as much as I like to support the local competitions, I inevitably end up competing against the same people, getting the same results, being seen by the same judges.  The pro/am portion of these competitions is always small without much variety.  The same 3 teachers bring out the same 2-3 students in multiple events.  I have become quite disenchanted with that.  I really want to branch out and get on the floor in a new area against new people I don’t usually compete against.

But again, it brings me back to the question–when dance-wise is the best time to do this so that the opportunity is not wasted due to lack of preparation time?  It’s one thing to feel ‘ready’.  It’s another to not have routines or be able to complete a full round on the floor.

Whatever I decide, the one thing I need to be sure of is that it is a decision I can accept.  If not, I will only resent it and that is not good for me or my dancing.  It’s a lot to think on, but the only rush is my desire to have a firm goal to focus on.

Competing, especially pro/am is an investment and as such takes a lot of thought and consideration.  But it is important to remember that it is not just an investment of money–it is also an investment of time, practice, discipline, motivation and personal well-being.

The trick is to figure out what meets the value for all those criteria.

Trying to reset

It should be easy to do, but nothing is ever easy.

I had barely finished my residency for my masters when I felt my throat get scratchy and BOOM! Saturday morning I woke up with a full-blown head cold and I have been fighting it ever since.  I really suggest taking up stock in kleenex because I am clearing out shop.  I don’t think I have ever sneezed so much.

But, I am trying to get ready for life to move on.  March is the last of what I will call transitional months.  I have two weeks of work, then 9 days of vacation.  I will also finish up the first 3 courses of my masters, and it will complete the transition into my new position at work too.

Despite that, my hope is that I will be able to settle into a rather consistent schedule for dance, strength training, school and work, and I am looking forward to it.

The worse thing about this cold is that I have strong body aches and I can’t tell if it is due to the cold, the new hormone therapy or both.  Basically, I have to wait for the cold to pass and hope the aches go with it.

More than anything, I am hopeful that finally things will settle down for me health-wise, present cold excepted, and finally allow me to finish recovering and rebuilding strength.

Let’s see how it goes.