Masters Post 2 — Sports for Integration

Today seems to be a bit of a bonus post day with this being my second 🙂

I am catching up some today and was doing some preliminary research for the major paper for this course when I came across this article which immediately caught my eye:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/newcomer-summer-camps-sports-1.4765521

This appealed to me because it is something I already feel passionate about – how sports activities are capable of transcending cultural barriers.

This article focuses on the experience and value of education and sports camps run in Winnipeg, Manitoba aimed at integrating newcomer and refugee children with Canadian-born children.

The primary purpose of this camp is to help newcomer and refugee children maintain their english language skills (as well as some other subjects) during the summer months while they are off school through continued interaction with Canadian-born children.

The camps also work to transition participants to volunteers to workers, something they appear to have success at. And it is a non-profit organization that works through federal and provincial grants. They run a series of camps throughout the summer and then bring all the camps together for a day of sports, over 500 kids from all over the world playing together.

The camps also include dance which I can obviously relate to 🙂 and it reminded me of another post I saw this week on facebook from a member of my local professional dance community:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155535074721937&set=a.10150695488211937.384357.571421936&type=3&theater

The power in this post, and the power of these camps held in Winnipeg speak to the interculturalism of sports and dance. Both of these activities cross international and cultural borders in many different ways, and it is not uncommon to see participants continually move in intercultural circles.

These activities not only speak universal languages, they provide opportunities for cultural awareness, cultural learning, and building of respect and tolerance of cultural differences – something I feel is greatly needed in the world.

Music is another universal language – you don’t need to speak the same language or be from the same culture to read the notes on a page and create music with a foreign stranger.

Through teamwork, partnerships, and shared goals comes shared values, understanding, trust and growth. It’s a powerful thought and has the potential to be more than a dream.

Even my own experience in dance – I work regularly with a Russian instructor, I have done coaching with dancers from the British Isles, other Eastern European countries, Asia, and the U.S. – has enriched my overall understanding not only of other cultures but my own as a Canadian – just as my travels has done, except this happens closer to home and is enhanced through a shared love of dance – a starting point to connect on.

For my last course I did some research into intercultural sports relationships and two studies I came across were focused on how participation in sports and social activities eased the transition and adaptation for both immigrants and ex-pats on temporary assignments (such as an embassy posting), both adults and kids. This is really only a fledgling area of study but the potential…

For all the differences between cultures which contribute to the world being a rich, diverse and interesting place there are also so many things that are shared which can serve as starting points for bigger conversations, interactions, relationships, and friendships.

I will end with my favourite quote from the article:

“Making new friends from other countries is like seeing different people around the world,” said Hamoud, who is starting Grade 5 this fall.

Henein, who will be going into Grade 6 this year, agrees.

“It’s actually fun to get known to other people,” she said.

“We all have different cultures and we all look from different sides.”

I these pre-teens say it all.

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A Demonstration

I performed a demonstration with Boss last night at a charity fund-raiser.

We did a waltz routine which he choreographed on Wednesday and taught to me an hour before the event started.

The floors at the hall were a type of rubber and not wood, so needless to say they weren’t the easiest to dance on. Because of that, and a small space we were able to keep our dancing compact and the routine included a lot of line figures.

It went really well and seemed to be really well received. We were one of 5 couples doing demonstrations of different styles of partnered dancing (ballroom, west coast swing, blues, salsa, and fusion) to demonstrate how connection works through dancing, the theme of the fundraiser.

Doing the demonstration was fun, but it made me realize that I actually don’t remember the last time I performed (other than the competition last year), and what surprised me more was that I missed it.

Even though it was more or less a low-key demonstration it was fun and nice to go out and connect with an audience and share dance with them.

Aside from the demonstration, it was also fulfilling to learn a routine with some advanced steps in an hour and be able to perform it later that evening at a high level. I think that speaks to and gives insight and confirmation for myself just how much I have grown, even since my last competition.

It was a boost I needed after an insane week at work that involved pants publicly splitting, needing antibiotics, and watching my workload surge to the point I will need a couple hours this weekend to catch up and get back on track.

It also got the wheels turning in my head on the assignments for my current school course which I also desperately needed.

All that from a simple demonstration.

The ballet experiment

It certainly has been interesting.

I like it though. When I finish it’s a weird feeling because my muscles are both tired and well stretched. The school I was doing the workshop at really focuses on building strength and flexibility slowly to avoid injury, and I really like that.

I also like the things I have learned about my body through the whole workshop. I already mentioned discovering about my shoulders relaxing as I lift my chest, but there are other things as well. For my posture, thinking of lengthening my hip flexors also helped with lifting my chest.

Focusing on keeping turned out on both sides equally also helped increase awareness. It also revealed that there are some real limitation turning out on my left, that I don’t have on my right to the point that the instructor asked if I had injured my left ankle. I have had issues with it, and broke my left foot at one point, so perhaps that all contributes.

We were doing basic exercises- plies (which are really the worlds slowest squats), tendues (which I had done before for latin, but this was slower and slightly different) and ronde de jambes. This week we started an exercise using chairs that involved placing one foot on the chair in each direction and plieing on the other slowly followed by lifting up to our toes to hold. It’s an interesting exercise, but very intense.

We also started working on the arm positions, which surprisingly I was actually pretty good at (although we are only holding and not moving them).

Places I did well was posture, arms and plies. Where I struggled were some directions of tendues and keeping my hips squared (which tends to mean the opposite of what we do in latin – keeping the hip on the front foot back and the back foot forward).

I will continue it with the same school although likely not until the new year as my fall is very fragmented and I would be able to do only about 3 classes (they are once a week during the year) before heading out. It has also eaten into my school time a lot and I need to make sure I have enough time for it.

I have also noticed that the extra activity and strength training has affected my other activities and my muscles are much more fatigued with no time to recover since I am active sometimes all 7 days a week.

It’s a lot to think about, but overall it’s been a positive experience.

Enough to make me look forward to continuing the experiment.

A Routine Victory

We got through 4 of the 5 latin routines tonight with slow music.

The one we missed was jive, but only because we ran out of time.

We started by reviewing each of the routines then we went through them, first at a slower speed then slightly faster.

We got through all of them without major disaster except paso which needed a pause, but we were able to pick it up again.

It went better than I expected (although I am not sure why I expected disasters) and certainly there are places and elements to work on – like arm transitions and the fact that I have a habit of just barreling along without waiting for the lead or really having any idea of what Boss is doing in some places (so being really surprised to discover some of my turns are underarm for example).

I found for myself some interesting results from the solo practice I have been working on. For example, I have really been working on the NY sequence we have in Cha cha and today it went much better than I expected in context, so much so that the first time I was so surprised I almost stopped. I really had to give myself a pat on the back for that. In addition, there was one spot I couldn’t seem to figure out on my own, but as soon as we put it in context, it clicked that I was missing a step in the timing and I was able to fix it in my practice after my lesson.

I like lessons like today that just put things together for me, but also reveals the places that just aren’t quite there yet. It also helps with building a bit of confidence in my steps and that I know them, which in turn lets me relax a bit about the steps and turn my focus elsewhere like how to move my body instead of my feet.

I think I needed the lesson today. I had been feeling a bit down and like I was working hard but not getting anywhere, although that was probably because of the infection I was fighting (which thanks to antibiotics my energy levels are coming up). The boost from today has been a long time coming.

My ballet experiment is almost over. One more lesson tomorrow. I have to say I like it, and am trying to figure out how I can fit it in my schedule in the fall. They already told me they would work with the time I am away for work. It would be once a week in the fall. It’s sort of like a combination of a strengthening and stretching in one. I will write more on it after the lesson tomorrow.

For now I am going to take my little win.

A Routine Test

At least an informal one.

It was a bit of a surprise when I arrived at my lesson today that Boss told me he wanted to see me walk through the steps of all the standard routines and the samba and rumba by myself.

I hadn’t reviewed them, except for samba, in some time, so I was surprised and felt a little unprepared. I also was not feeling well and exhausted from work.

Despite that, I was actually surprised by how well it went. There was at least one spot in each routine I was not clear on (but I knew that and exactly where they were), but the work I had been doing in memorizing the steps in the routines showed and for the most part I was able to move through them from top to bottom without any major mishaps.

After we finished running through all the routines Boss wanted to see, we went over a couple of the spots where things were not clear to try to clarify them in the tango. We were able to sort out another sequence for me to work through on my own during my solo practice.

Wednesday Boss told me he hopes to run through each of the latin routines to slow music. I am a little nervous about it, but I know we have already run through most of the jive, rumba and samba. We have also do large pieces of the paso. It’s really the cha cha I am not sure of.

Regardless of that, I am looking forward to seeing how it goes. Perhaps there are some surprises waiting.

Yet another test of routines.

The little things

Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge the little things.

I had a good practice today minus one instance where I tripped over my own heel and fell into a somersault (that’s what I get for trying to be as compact as possible in cha cha!).

In many ways I needed a day like today to just relieve a bit of stress and give myself a bit of a boost.

The last couple weeks have been difficult for me in general. Work as always is busy, but more so than that is the on-going issues with my neck and shoulders. I have been taking muscle relaxants at night to try to calm them down some so they can strengthen and heal and for the most part it is helping.

But the side effects is not. The muscle relaxants leave me cloudy and exhausted. My body has a very hard time metabolizing them. It takes about 6 hours for them to take effect (usually it is about 30-45 mins), and worse I still feel the effects 12-16 hours later.

And that’s a half dose.

It’s always been an issue for me with this type of medication, which is why I try to avoid it where possible. Unfortunately, the issues with my neck and shoulder reached a point it could not be ignored. On top of that, if I can’t get the pain under control it will affect the opportunities I am given through work.

Worse than that, I am beginning to wonder if I will have to just live with this for the rest of my life due to the reconstruction I had. It may also be contributed to my new breasts being heavier (even though they are smaller) than my natural breasts. I don’t know what to think.

But back to today.

I stopped taking the muscle relaxants a couple days ago so I am finding I have a little more energy, and it took a little bit of effort to get myself to the studio for practice.

Once I got started though I ended up doing 90 minutes which was 30 more than I expected. I also had one of those days where things I have been struggling with for a while seemed to suddenly come together and work.

I was also able to review 4 of the 5 latin routines and finally quickstep seems to be getting under my feet (if not anywhere else).

It was a day of little victories, which was well needed after almost 2 weeks of struggling to get through full practices and flailing about trying to find a way to focus better on my routines.

One of the things that did come out of this week was also a decision between Boss and I not to compete this fall. If all goes well and I do end up traveling for work I will be away for 7 weeks, including those when we would compete, and the lead up to that travel is stressful enough without adding competing to the mix. So mutually we agreed to look at possibilities for competing again in the new year and go from there.

So today I am hanging on to and celebrating the small victories I have made. I am one more week left in the ballet workshop and in general I can say I am enjoying it, but have noticed the effect 2 extra hours of hard work has had on my energy levels overall (muscle relaxants aside).

This week will definitely be about the little things.

Masters post #1 – The World Cup and women

As I mentioned, as part of my current course for my masters I have a requirement to write 4 blog posts on stories in the media.

I have chosen to write about my thoughts on the following CTV media story Russian women push back at shaming, which was published on July 15th, the day of the World Cup Final.

You all know that I am an avid fan of watching ballroom dance, but the other sports tournaments I go out of my way to watch are the World and Euro Cup. I don’t follow soccer any other time, but watch as many tournament games as I can. I like the dynamics of soccer and the fact that in many cases the winner is not chosen so much by skill or strategy (although it certainly helps!), but by elements of luck at play. You can never really predict what is going to happen.

This is much like this article, which is actually one of several that have been published by different outlets throughout the World Cup that attempt to highlight what many feel are archaic Russian values towards women.

As the title suggests, this article speaks about the public shaming that has been a theme throughout the World Cup which at it’s worse suggests that Russian women are shamelessly seeking “liaisons” with all the foreigners come to play and watch the tournament. From there, what often follows in these stories is an examination of Russian values towards women and how ‘behind the times’ they are with the west.

With the west.

That is a phrase that grinds me a little. Who are we in the west to say that our values are superior and that any society that doesn’t hold them are backwards or behind?

Going a step further, my first thought on seeing these stories is “Why is this news?”

Granted, the Burger King offer was certainly not a shining moment of marketing. The comments made by Pletnyova and Besedin are extremely off side.

But I have a hard time thinking that the behaviours, attitudes towards them (both for and against), and commentaries are much different from what could be observed at any international sporting event — even in the U.S. or Canada.

On top of that, there seems to be an assumption that any woman seen interacting with foreign fans (such as the one in the photo with this article) is doing so with the sole motivation of developing a sexual relationship.

Like anywhere, I am willing to bet some are, some aren’t, and some are just ‘going with it’ to see what happens. Overall, I would hazard to guess the main goal for everyone is to have fun, whether with other Russians, Europeans, South Americans or otherwise.

What a novel idea!

This is news to those of us in the western world because for the most part it plays into the stereotypes and prejudices we already have of eastern European society and values. This is the type of commentary and controversy we expect to see — that women are shamed and repressed and live in a country akin to the 1950s where few are allowed to work or hold powerful positions. We in the western world enable this to be news.

It would be naive to think that a major tournament could take place in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, without any sort of examination of society. Similar stories appeared around the Olympics, especially leading up to them.

I think instead of focusing on the surface message of this story, there are messages much deeper if we want to see them. There are some similarities, not just differences. Russia has feminists (which is generally known), but the story of Mariam strikes me as an everyday story — two people met through chance and formed a relationship. It just happens one is Russian, one is Mexican.

Sporting events, such as the World Cup do provide opportunities for global engagement and interaction. That is one of the aims and goals of most international events. Hosting one inevitably brings a magnifying glass onto the hosts. In many ways this is a reason to bid to host an event such as this. It’s a chance to highlight one’s country, including those any issues which may be abundant in that society. But instead of comparing West vs East, maybe what we need is a better understanding of Eastern European culture as a whole – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I argue that understanding is strongly lacking in North America, and there is little desire to learn beyond what mass media tells us (which often is exactly what we want to see and hear).

It’s too bad. We certainly have our own good, bad and ugly too. Makes me wonder if the shoes were reversed how a tournament hosted in North America would be covered by Russian Media.

All of this to say – be willing to dig below the surface of news stories about other societies.

There are always two sides to every story.

Sway

And so it begins.

In all honesty, I have been secretly hoping that somehow I could just work through standard without having to actually figure out sway.

The problem is actually not with sway itself, I do do it, but it is more with the way to which is it referred in dance — namely ‘left’ and ‘right’.

I am really directionally challenged. Even natural and reverse turns I can’t really associate with the directions they turn. I know one goes one way, and the other goes the other way. One starts with one foot going back and the other starts with the other foot.

It’s just not how my mind works to think of turns. It’s one of the reasons I have so much trouble leaning visually. I can’t seem to translate what I see to what I need to do. Looking in the mirror is even worse.

So today in my lesson we were going through one of the exercises I am doing for standard which we call a continuous hover cross (no idea what others call it). I have been able to work through the footwork and rotations, so today Boss asked me to start adding in the sway.

And so the trouble started.

He showed me what sway I need and where it changes telling me it starts with right sway then changes to left (or vice versa, already can’t remember). What sticks with me is that it starts with my left side up (meaning the elbow I am looking at in closed position), followed by a switch.

I am not quite sure that is what Boss meant. There is some sort of rotation needed for sway, apparently from my knees, but I also know my top line tilts one way or the other. The change of the top line is what I can easily understand and see.

Boss could see my confusion and I couldn’t really explain to him while working through that step what I need to understand and make it work so I can focus on it.

But perhaps I need just some basics to get my mind working to figure out how I can refer to the sway positions that I can then relate to my body position.

The other problem is that I am not even sure how many sway positions there are. Somehow I think there are more than 2.

Somehow, I am going to need to sort this out.

Emerging

There’s been a change for me recently.

It has taken until now to fully understand what it is. It’s actually quite simple — I am finally beginning to emerge past my illness. It’s finally starting to be in the distance of my rearview mirror, instead of sitting in my rear window.

It feels good, like baggage I am leaving behind.

Part of it is that I feel as though I am moving forward instead of just trying to get where I was. It’s not that I am back where I was, but that I am just taking a different road to some place new.

It’s interesting, new, and unexpected. Not that I really thought I could go back, but just that I didn’t think forward would come so soon.

I am seeing progress in a lot of different areas of my life and that momentum is what is pushing me forward. I feel as though I am ready to take on new challenges again and to conquer new goals.

I feel strong again, mentally and physically. That’s the biggest difference in the last few weeks. I feel grounded and content. I like where I am now.

Oncologists are still going to be part of my life for at least a few more years, but my appointments with them are pretty straight-forward and not much different from an appointment with my regular doctor.

I am not on any regular medications and haven’t been for so long when I had to pick up a temporary prescription lately the pharmacist remarked he didn’t know I was still here!

It was the same when I saw my family doctor about my neck and shoulders this week – he remarked it had been a while since he had seen me (granted he’s my alternate as my usual doc is on maternity leave).

It occurred to me that I no longer organize my life according to doctor appointments (and until that occurred to me, I hadn’t realized I was doing that!).

I have thought about changing my name on here. When I first created the blog and chose my name I wanted something that talked about my journey but that could also be still used when I was ready to change it. That is why the address is “bcballroomdancer”. I am a dancer who lives in British Columbia, Canada.

I don’t think I am completely ready to make that change yet, but the time will be coming soon. I still have things to offer those who are dealing with breast cancer, its treatments, and side effects, and my own journey is not over (I still have side effects myself) and I don’t want to lose those things.

Do you have any thoughts? I would love to hear them. Perhaps you have an idea for a name that still represents my journey, but is more obvious I have survived?

I feel like I am coming out of my cocoon, but I am not quite sure I am a butterfly.

Yet…

Finding a solution…

It’s possible I have finally found the source/cause of my on-going shoulder and neck pain.

I have ballet to thank for that.

While I was at ballet and doing my exercises, I was getting a repeated correction to lift my chest and bring my shoulders down as opposed to opening my chest up and pulling my shoulders back.

I have heard this a lot recently in dance, particularly latin, and it seems that keeping my shoulders down is another issue I am constantly battling.

For some reason, it just sort of clicked together for me to lift my chest and when I did I actually felt my shoulders relax – something I had been wanting to feel for months now.

I did some checking in the mirror over the weekend because I was concerned by lifting my chest I was also thrusting it out and throwing my shoulders back. In fact, lifting my chest has only a small impact on my posture overall, but it does immediately cause my shoulders to relax and lower.

It’s not all quick fix though.

When my shoulders relax, I feel pulling from under my shoulder blades from where things are pulled tight. In addition, I have to continuously work to pull my chest up because my belly is so tight from my reconstruction still. I have to keep working it until it stretches out. I have to relearn how to breathe as the pull compresses my diaphragm some. I am hoping it will gradually work itself out.

The good news is that in only 2 days I have finally seen an improvement in my neck and shoulder pain. Today my shoulders didn’t start to burn and get sore until after I finished work when previously I would be in pain by 9 am.

I will have physio tomorrow, so I am hoping to gain some exercises or tips to help with the stretching. In the meantime, I am working to keep my chest up while sitting, walking and standing to continue to give my shoulders some relief.

The bonus is my posture will improve too.