Refocusing Exercises

My last two lessons have been about exercises.

It’s a refreshing change actually as it has been a while since I have focused on exercises and what I was doing got a bit lost in the shuffle between surgery, Christmas and a high work tempo. Actually, because work has been quite challenging lately, working on the exercises has been quite welcomed.

I am a bit of a strange nut (in case you haven’t figured that out). I like working on exercises. It’s ‘me’ time and very meditative. I enjoy doing the repetitions as it’s a time to focus inward and just allow myself to feel how my body is moving. It’s a time to connect with me. I have missed it during the last few weeks when between neck issues and crazy work and school schedules I haven’t been able to do it.

We are starting a bit fresh on these exercises. Many of them are things I have done before, but we are breaking them down a bit further into finer details than previously. Looking at those details, should help correct some of the enduring issues that are a bit of a gap in my dancing.

I group my exercises into three groups right now. The first two should be obvious–latin and standard–but the third I call my strength/gym exercises. That is because I do them at the end of my strength training, while at the gym, and in sneakers instead of dance shoes. There are strengthening elements to them more so than specific techniques like working on foot and body rise as well as hip mobility and core endurance to support it. They take about 10 minutes at the end of my gym time during the day.

We have the latin exercises more or less worked out and for now, I am doing them slow so I can pay attention to the details, but also build some muscle memory and give time for me to think about what I need to do. They are focused on hip settling movements, back steps and the foot work for back steps and some elements from my open routines. It’s a good combination of exercises and right now I just need to figure out how much time to spend on each–whether a block of time or number of repetitions and how to track that. I should figure that out by Friday.

We just started to dig into the standard exercises tonight. They seem to have two focuses–footwork, or upper body work–both of which need some fine tuning for open routines. We are working on foot and body rise as well as the connection between the two sides of my upper body. Some of them I am doing in socks, and some in shoes. I have found some new muscles, in particular how to engage my inner thigh muscles and my lats. I am looking forward to sussing them out a bit more during my next lesson on Sunday.

Because of my next, we also got away from doing cardio rounds, so I hope we will get back to doing those next week as things settle into a grove.

Boss and I seem to be pretty agreed to give about 2 weeks for me to work through the new exercises and build up my muscle memory before revisiting and pushing them forward a bit. I feel it’s important to establish that time line because I have a tendency to get too comfortable in an exercises, especially when it is slow, and need a bit of a regular push to move it forward. It’s not so much about progressing as allowing myself to get too bogged in the details going slow that I end up over-thinking when I try to do things faster instead of trusting what I learn. If I am not pushed out of my slow and steady comfort zone, I would happily never leave it.

It’s interesting what we have already discovered in breaking down these exercises. Among other things, my tendency to over turn out my right hip actually limits my mobility on my left. It’s amazing how often we have discovered that when working in latin its quite common for me to end up with my right foot facing almost sideways, while my left foot is forward to compensate. When moving my right foot backward, I have a tendency to put my heel down to the side instead of straight back which leaves my right hip too turned out and facing towards the right instead of forward. Its really highlighted the difference between my two sides.

I have also found the mirror to be a bit of a hindrance because it confuses me a little (I can’t quite wrap my head around what I see being the opposite of what I feel) and it encourages me to look down at my feet when I need to be looking up. It’s also become a bit of a crutch for how I move my feet as in order to make a correction I need to understand the feeling of what is turned out too much or too little and the mirror takes away an element of trial and error that I personally need to go through. So in the studio I am moving away from the mirror.

On a slightly different note, I found out this week that I will be in Europe for training for 2 weeks in March. I am also going to take a week of vacation while I am there, so I won’t have lessons for 3 weeks then. Boss told me tonight he hopes to have some sort of update about competing when I get back and I hope it is a positive one or at least something that gives some direction. I guess I will see then.

I will also be away for the first week in May and the last week followed by the first week of June. There is also a strong possibility I will be away for work again over the summer, but it will be a little while before I hear more about that. As I said at the beginning of the year, it is shaping up to be a busy one.

Already, I have one more full week of work then I am off for two weeks of vacation. It’s a little bittersweet because I originally took the time off because there was a plan to compete then, but that isn’t going to happen now. My father is coming to visit for the first time since I moved here, so at least there will be something interesting going on. I haven’t seen him since I went back east between chemo and radiation so I am looking forward to the visit.

I can’t believe that January is already over. Usually this time of year seems so slow! Guess that is what happens when you get busy. I also finally have my physio appointment tomorrow to see what is going on with my neck.  That should help all over.

I did start tracking my menopausal symptoms, BTW. Already, it’s been interesting what I have found out. Following the terrible week of not being able to think, I suddenly had things come into focus and sharpen up, but with it came a bout of incredibly intense hot flashes that are sapping my energy and strength while making it difficult to sleep. I figure after a couple more days it should shift again, hopefully to the ‘mini-flashes’ that are much easier to deal with. It should be interesting to see if there is a cyclical pattern.

I am definitely ready to slow down a little and refocus.

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What’s next?

I am really growing to hate that question.

It seems like every time I am at the studio someone asks me that. It’s not any malice on their part, they have just seen me working in my lesson and they are genuinely curious about what I am training for.

The problem is that I don’t know the answer to that. And every time someone asks me, it makes it harder to convince myself that it doesn’t bother me.

It does. A lot.

I feel like I am coasting along and I can feel it starting to wear on me. My motivation is down and it has become too easy to decide not to go to the studio or do a class because I don’t have anything to prepare for. Just from that alone, I know I have to find some time to take a hard look at how I am approaching dance right now and figure out what works for my new reality. Until then, I have pretty much been approaching dance in the same way as though nothing has changed and I have some sort of competitive goal or event I am preparing for.

It doesn’t upset me. I am beyond that part of this, but it is more acceptance and the realization that things have changed so I have to adapt my approach until things change again.

And it is more than just dance. There have been a lot of other changes in my life I have to adapt to as well. As I am turning the corner in my recovery, the time has come for me to start focusing on opportunities for my career. It is once again moving forward in a big way, similarly to how it was before I got sick, and it has recently gained a lot of momentum. I am really fortunate that I truly love and am passionate about what I do.

Before I got sick, I did very well in balancing work and dance. When I was away for work, I had exercises I would do in the confined spaces to maintain my dance fitness and growth even without lessons or a studio.

But in those days, a lot of the work I did needed to be done on my own. I still need to develop myself but partner work has become more important. The things I was doing then were also much easier.

That said, I know I will adapt and figure out a way to balance both again.

I know that Boss has a plan, or is figuring out a plan. I also know that he won’t share that plan with me until he is ready and there is really no point in asking until he does. Otherwise, asking tends to add pressure and that leads to conflict. I have learned it is best to just him go through his process and figure things out on his own and let him tell me.

I can tell that there is something percolating because he told me yesterday that I need to get my neck figured out so we can start working on things other than choreography. There has also been some focus on latin technique lately and new elements added to it, which also speaks to their being a plan or evolving plan.

At this point, I think he is waiting for me to be ready to work and focus again, which I openly admit during the last few weeks with a lot of stress at work and school and my neck issues I haven’t been ready to do. But perhaps how I am feeling tonight is a sign that I am ready to refocus and figure out how to do that and what that means without a competitive goal.

I think a lot of what I am feeling has nothing to do with not competing, but more that I feel my dance is unstructured right now. I am not even really sure what to do for exercises. The ones that I have I don’t understand enough for them to have meaning for me and that is probably the biggest problem. I had asked Boss to go over my exercises, but then my neck acted up and I haven’t been able to practice and working on the exercises just wasn’t a good idea.

So a lot of things are riding on getting my neck back to normal. There is small progress, but it is still short-lived and the end of the day still finds my next burning with fatigue and tightness that is an aching pain. I really hope that the small exercises I am doing keeps it moving in a positive direction. I would really really like to get back to the gym and practice next week, especially since both the work and school stress is moving behind me.

Despite the barriers that I feel are blocking me, they still don’t affect the fact that I just don’t know what is next or when. It doesn’t make being asked that question any easier.

For now, I just hope there will be an answer some day.

As a quick aside, I read an excellent article from one of the instructors in my region about personality types and how they affect how you dance. It’s a great overview so I wanted to share it: Personality Types in Dance . If you don’t follow George’s blog, I highly recommend it, and hope you enjoy his articles as much as I do.

Adding Technique

Because we have been working on learning choreography, technique has fallen a little to the side recently.

Part of that is because I am limited in the amount I can do and the amount of time I am spending dancing because of my neck issue.

I saw the acupuncturist yesterday and got a little bit of relief for my neck which has mostly shifted the pain from stabbing burning pain to more of an ache. In some ways it is almost worse, but I have more mobility in the others and I am not experiencing spasms. This freed me up a bit.

We were able to work all the way through the rest of the samba today as well.

Both of those factors together led to some time to talk about two aspects of technique. The first deals with my foot position when moving backward in latin and the other deals with swiveling my hips without moving my shoulders and keeping my weight forward into my partner. Both of these are going to be a big focus for a while.

In particular, the hips movement will be important because so many steps in my new latin routines require exactly that movement and that I am able to maintain my weight forward so that both I and my partner can use each other to execute the steps.

It was a bit refreshing to take a step back from just doing choreography tonight. We were able to dig into the technique of the samba a little. We haven’t run it from top to bottom yet, but I suspect that will be in the near future.

My head feels clearer today and I hope it is the beginning of a period of clarity and sharpness. I could certainly use it.

At my lesson tomorrow, Boss talked a little about potentially working on the waltz or we will finish off the samba. As long as my neck feels up to it, I don’t mind returning to standard for a bit. It will be a nice change.

I still feel scattered, but I know this week is busy and stressful on both work and school fronts, so I am giving myself a break on the dance front. I hope to reset next week when things return more to a normal pace. I have more appointments for my neck which should also hopefully help.

In the meantime, I have a little technique to work on.

Thinking through water…again

And around the circle seems to go.

Just when I think I have a hold on things, I tend to run into something that sets me back a step.

Don’t get me wrong, in general things are going well and my recovery continues. But lately I feel like I am trying to think through water again. My retention level for information is abysmally low and it’s affecting my work. I can’t seem to remember from one moment to the next what I have done.

It’s not helpful that my trapezius continues to act up, requiring muscle relaxants to keep it from locking completely. I finally get to acupuncture tomorrow and I really hope it provides some sort of release to allow the muscle to relax some. Physio isn’t until next week. I don’t do well with muscle relaxants, my body is very slow to metabolize them so I am taking them as little as possible. I can take one in the evening and still feel lingering effects throughout the morning the next day.

It’s really making dance difficult right now. Physical limitations aside (dance actually doesn’t irritate it as much as working at a desk does), we are working to go through the choreography for the new latin routines and I feel slow at picking it up and barely able to retain it. A couple times we have worked on one part of the routine, moved onto the next and I discover I can’t recall the first part.

Considering I am usually pretty sharp and quick at picking things up and remembering choreography this is incredibly frustrating for me. I keep trying to give myself a break but I just feel like I am in a fog all the time. People are talking to me and I am not processing what they are saying. It’s the same in dance.

That said, we have finished the rumba and now we are working on the samba. It seems to be going faster than the rumba, but I can’t help feeling like a bit of a dead weight and that I am not really present in my lesson.

I know that memory issues is a common long-term side effect from chemo, and that menopause can also cause cognitive issues. It seems like it’s a bit of a perfect storm at the moment and I can only hope that it will pass in the near future.

You don’t really realize how much you rely on something until it is gone. I am used to being very focused and not easily distracted. Lately I feel like I am going in twenty different directions.

I have to give some credit to the fact that I am much busier than I am usually. Work is crazy and at school I am also coming to the end of a course which means papers are due. I also think that the more I notice my concentration and focus is off, the more I am stressing about it. I just don’t have the time right now to step back and clear my head and relax like I should. Because of my neck, I haven’t been practicing or going to the gym for almost a week now and that takes it’s toll.

I have been thinking that I need to start tracking these issues to see if there is a pattern. I know I have weeks where I have vivid dreams followed by intense and frequent hot flashes that disrupt my sleep a lot. I also have weeks where I can barely seem to string a sentence together without forgetting what I wanted to say halfway through. I also have weeks where I do feel completely focused and sharp and like I have it all together.

This is just definitely not one of those weeks.

It’s a rumba!

At least it has the appearance of one now.

My last few lessons have been focused on working through the choreography for the new open rumba. It’s taken a few lessons due to the intricacies of the steps, but tonight we were able to go through the entire routine top to bottom with slow music without any major hiccups or restarts.

It’s quite an achievement as its a long routine with a lot of details and changes in timing. It’s also a routine unlike any I have done before so I am giving myself a little pat on the back for being able to get it together. A week ago, I was sure it would be at least another week before we got even close to doing it without stop, let alone to the music.

That’s not to say its good to go. There are definitely a lot more details to work out and technical points that are lacking, but the foundation is there and that is a positive step. I also still need to fully work out my timing and become more confident in it.

Even just working through the choreography I am already understanding where work needs to be done. Just to execute the choreography properly requires a lot of trust and connection through the lead and follow. I can’t do all of the steps on my own as I am used to rely on, or at least it won’t really work if I do that. That has led to a bit of a steep curve, but just the need to use it has already starting clicking into place some of the tactile things I need to understand. I feel there has been some growth in that area. Its interesting how a lack of option can affect things.

I find all of it fascinating and I have surprised myself in learning pieces of this. I know where I need to focus some of my own practice and I am eager to start digging into this myself.

Unfortunately, that may have to wait a bit. Once again, my neck muscles are acting up, although it appears to be more related to work and sitting at a computer than dance or anything more physical. Despite that, I am at a point where if I can’t get my neck muscles to relax, they are signalling they are going to seize up again. I saw the doc today and was referred for both acupuncture and physio, but was unable to get an appointment for either until next week. In the mean time, I have some stretches and some pain relievers to try and keep it from locking up on me.

Isn’t that always the way?

I did have a productive weekend that allowed me to catch up on work and school as I had hoped, so my stress levels are much better now. Getting through the rumba has contributed to that so I hope my neck will keep playing nice and allowing me to keep dancing until I can get it fully relieved.

In addition to the rumba, we will be continuing to work on the tango and I was told to expect to start working through the samba next week.

Suddenly, learning 9 open routines doesn’t seem as daunting.

All that from learning a rumba.

Made it…

…to the end of the week.

I have two days off physically, but mentally I have a lot to do this weekend, including some school and work, as well as some more transcribing of routines for dance. My work week went a little unexpectedly sideways and left me unable to do the things I wanted to get done to deal with emerging things. I am sure it happens at every job.

My work description itself is changing, almost daily at this point and one of the things I have to do is figure out a structure and plan for my office now that I have more people and more responsibility. That is going to take some heavy thinking.

I had hoped for a bit more of a break this weekend, but if I get the things I hope to finished I know that next weekend I will be able to relax more and focus on the things I want to focus on, rather that those I have to focus on.

Moving from work, it was a productive night at my lesson.

We have been working on the new open rumba routine and we have worked through about 1/2 – 2/3rds of it, and Boss told me he intends to try to finish it up next week.

It is interesting what I am discovering just working through the choreography. It has highlighted some gaps in things I haven’t really worked on and essentially provided a bit of a ‘to do’ list, once we have worked through the routine.

Some of the specific things I know I will need to work on is the connection within the partnership, allowing myself to use my partner to execute more challenging parts, and some elements such as rondes and stylistic details.

As we work through it though, I am feeling better about the routines and that they are doable and achievable and not quite as complicated and complex as they might seem.

It ended a rough week on a positive note, and one which I certainly needed.

It helped me make it through.

Finding something that has been elusive…

Every once in a while something comes together.

Bonus when it is something you have been trying to figure out for a while.

During my last two individual practices, I suddenly was able to pull together something that I have been trying to figure out for longer than I can remember. I could tell it was close, but that it was still just on the cusps of not quite being there.

And now it seems to have finally developed, at least preliminarily.

A feeling of connection complete from one side to the other around my back in standard. Basically, I can finally feel a connection from elbow to elbow when I hold up my arms in standard frame.

It seems strange to say, but it’s an odd sensation for me. It can be a bit fleeting and honestly it feels like there is a band from one elbow to the other, but I can tell when it falls into place and when it doesn’t. Previously, I could connect with one side or the other but not across.

How did this happen?

It is a little strange the steps that seems to have led to this. First it was a matter of developing awareness of moving my shoulder blades separate from my ribs, then it was developing awareness of when one side was leading versus another. This was followed by working to make sure one side or the other was leading and engaged at all times. Once that developed, I noticed that I had to be careful that when I was leading with one side forward, I wasn’t allowing the opposite side to fall back (it still has to stay forward too so I don’t end up turned). Once I added engaging the opposite side to keep it from falling back, suddenly the two sides connected together.

This has been at least a two year process for me, beginning with no awareness or understanding of when one side or the other moved anywhere. I had to keep doing it to figure out what I was feeling, as I wasn’t sure and when it finally clicked together what it was and I realized it was something Boss and other coaches have been telling me to look for it took me a few moments to completely process it. It was the ultimate ‘aha’ moment.

At least I hope I am feeling what I think I am feeling. I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with Boss yet. I could be just doing something completely strange and not realize it.

But there is a glimmer of hope…

I might figure out this whole standard thing yet.

Re-learning to push

Push through the walls, that is.

In the last week I have discovered that I am re-learning something I didn’t fully know I had forgotten–that is pushing through walls.

By walls, I mean those moments when you are working physically and you feel like you have reached your limits, but then you dig a little deeper and find another small burst of energy to get you over the hump.

The biggest difference for me is that I find energy now when I dig deeper, which is a sign of on-going recovery. What I am having to remember is how to dig for that energy and push just that little bit more to bring myself to the next level.

This week is “week 2” of adjusting to a new schedule so I feel pretty tired, achy and worn out a little. But I am pushing through it as best I can, knowing that I will be able to rest on the weekend and that next week will be better.

It’s surprising me a little how surprised I am about rediscovering this ability, but more than that, a big part of it is realizing how much I thought I was pushing through things before but wasn’t. Although that is not entirely accurate either. I think it would be more accurate to say that I am surprised to discover that I was pushing, but I wasn’t pushing very well or as much as I really could.

I am battling through things and I know it will bring results in the long run.  The trick is knowing when I am at a wall that can be pushed through, and when I am actually done. So far, I am reaching walls I can climb and I hope it continues, but I will see what the next couple days bring.

I have a lesson again tomorrow night and in line with what I am discovering about being able to push harder than I could I have also been discovering some new things at dance too. I will try to write about them tomorrow night.

It seems I am coming into a period of discovery in general.

And that is one of the best parts of dance.

Transcribing routines

I have a big task before me.

Before I can start working on routines, I have to have them written out. So, with the new latin routines I just received I have to take the time to go through the video and write down what I see the lady doing to make it relevant to me. Then I have to go through again and figure out how the timing fits with what I have written.

I have transcribed the rumba so far. It took me more than 3 hours to write out a 2 minute routine. There was a lot of going back and forth over the same 10 seconds of video to double check things like what foot was moving or supporting (I can be directionally challenged, so this means a lot of double checking), and then figuring out the best was to describe the movement I see in the video.

Since these are open routines, few of the steps are fully recognizable, although many are variations on popular steps. The problem is ‘sliding doors variation’ doesn’t really tell me anything.

This weekend I hope to get through either the cha cha or samba. I haven’t decided which yet as cha cha may be easier, samba is trickier because I have a harder time recognizing steps.

I hope it won’t take another 3 hours!

On the standard side, we are working through the open tango. We were able to more or less walk through it tonight from top to bottom with a couple hiccups here and there. I have the steps written out, but already there are slight variations as we work through the routine. I am waiting for the final version from Boss with the timing as that will help me start to work through it on my own.

Anyone else finding this week really long? I don’t know why, but I find it hard to believe it’s only just Friday. On the other hand, I feel like I still have a lot to do before returning to work next week! Perhaps it is just that this has been a productive week for me, but quite repetitive doing similar things every day (bit of school, bit of dance, going to the gym, repeat). My body can feel the extra activity I have been doing this week as well and it is definitely tired.

I actually expect that I will feel pretty exhausted by the end of next week, but that it will get better after that as I adjust back to my full routine.

Just keep breathing and on top of the things I need to do.

Like transcribing videos.

And 2018 begins…

Off and running into the New Year!

I am not back to work until Monday, but this week has seen the return to weight training and the return to dance. I haven’t been able to do weight training since my surgery and dance was quite scattered after with the incision opening and the holidays.

All that to say I feel like I am shaking off a lot of rust and dust.

One thing that was a happy surprise is that in addition to the open standard routines Boss put together before the holidays, I now have 5 new open latin routines put together by the couple I worked with during my work trip in October.

It’s a happy surprise as I didn’t expect all 5 routines so soon, and was told to expect them later in the new year. I received the videos of all the routines yesterday and I am still digesting and processing them. I am super excited to start working on them.

I really enjoyed working with this couple back in October and I have been looking for other ways to work with them some more. I guess my enthusiasm rubbed off because Boss suggested we ask them to do routines for us. They have never done routines for a pro/am couple, so it was a new experience for them, but I am beyond thrilled with what they have come up with. Among other things, it’s obvious they took into account what they noticed from working with me. The routines have a way of playing to my strengths while still challenging me to work on the areas I still need to develop.

All nine (latin and standard) routines are going to push me out of my comfort zone in a good way and in a way I really need to be pushed. I wrote a bit about that before the end of the year and 2018 looks well on track to do just that.

I had my first lesson back tonight and the main focus was tango. We started working on the sequence for the new open tango, and I have a new mini-sequence from tango for doing conditioning (before the holidays I was doing waltz).

I also took 30 minutes tonight just to work through some things on my own and see how things feel after the surgery. I was focusing on latin because I haven’t done it in a while and my hips and belly had new incisions (and new scar tissue). It was enough to tell me I need to get back into the habit of moving them regularly as they feel very tight and almost unmoveable. It will work out, but it’s going to take some consistent movement to get the bugs out.

2018 has started with a fire hose of information for me and I am working to get it under control before I return to work next week and add to it. Lots to do, but already 2018 is looking to be the year for me.

About time!