A Successful Performance

And two of my open latin routines are on the floor!

Some poeple can grow a human in 9 months. I can’t, so instead I grew 2 latin routines to initial performance level.

The showcase last night went really well, but instead of just talking about it, I am going to show you.

First, we did the open Cha cha then we did the open rumba.

It felt so good to be performing. I really didn’t realize how much I have missed preparing for a goal. We decided to do the cha cha just over a month ago, and added the rumba 3 weeks ago. I was really amazed how much we were able to polish up the routines in that short amount of time – especially as prior to that we hadn’t even tried either in time with the music.

I could go into multiple details about what was wrong with them – little stumbles, legs not quite straight, some strange styling – but that was not what last night was about.

Last night was about getting back on the floor, knowing I worked hard and taking the time to just enjoy dancing and presenting two challenging routines to a local audience who haven’t seen me perform since 2016.

I was approached by one of the local social dancers after the showcase and what she told me really stuck. She told me she really enjoyed watching me perform last night because she could see the pure joy I was experiencing being on the floor.

It really stuck out because she has seen me dance through my entire cancer journey and when it became known I had cancer she was one of the first to approach me and share that she too had battled cancer and won. Her sharing that with me helped me to realize I too could win this battle. Sadly, last night she shared she is once again battling and will be doing a form of chemo for the rest of her life. But to know that seeing me back on the floor and doing what I love meant a lot to her really touched me.

Cancer has not been nice to the dancers in my community. But we keep fighting and supporting each other to overcome it.

2 of 9 routines now on the floor! I am sure the others will follow in the new year after I get back from this upcoming extended work trip.

I reminded myself of something last night I hadn’t realized I had forgotten. It’s easy to always declare new routines ‘not ready’. The truth is that they are never ready, but at some point they need to be put on the floor so the next steps for them can be determined.

Ready for the next steps in cha cha and rumba now.

 

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Unlocking muscles

I have had an interesting encounter at acupuncture.

Last week I had an interesting conversation with my physiotherapist because I am encountering issues getting my left leg to engage and keep my left knee turned out. Progress for this on the right is going well, but my left just didn’t seem to want to work so I mentioned it to him.

He said that sometimes, an impinged nerve that is a little blocked can stop firing correctly meaning that the message to the muscle I am trying to engage might not be getting through. That can lead the muscle to going to sleep a bit and becoming dormant and more or less locked.

I then mentioned that to my acupuncturist later that evening. She found that interesting and did some dry needling in my hip which is one way to wake up a muscle and get it to unlock and start working again.

If you have ever had dry needling, you probably know what I am talking about. It’s not the most pleasant thing as when the needle is inserted and hits the right spot it sends almost an electrical zing through the muscle which leads it to contract and then let go. At least that is what I feel – the sensation for someone else could be different.

I didn’t fully understand until later in the week what she had been doing and its effects, but I did notice that it did suddenly get easier to maintain my knee out on my left side, and I could feel my hips firing to keep it out as I walked which was something I couldn’t feel before on my left side. Its been an interesting experience.

A small unpleasant side effect of that is that my knees have suddenly realized that they are working differently and they are not sure if they are happy about it. They have been aching more, especially the right, but its not a surprise when making changes to how you move. I hope they will adapt and settle soon though.

Today I had acupuncture again and that led to a new experience. As I have mentioned, I have been trying to work on my styling and engaging the right muscles to move my arms and encountering a lot of difficulty. After repeated trying, it was obvious something was not working right on my right side. I could feel the muscles working as I brought my arm forward but as I brought it back I could feel the muscles ‘let go’. Compared with the left I could tell something was up.

I mentioned it at my appointment, especially as it seemed to be relevant to fixing my neck and shoulders. She did some experiments first having me move my arms as I need to for dance to see what she could observe. She almost immediately noted that when I brought my arm back it appeared I was using the wrong muscles which left me fighting to keep my shoulder down.

She then had me repeat the action with her hand on my shoulder blade and that confirmed her suspicion – she found my rhomboid, which should have been engaging wasn’t doing anything noticeable. That led to some explorations in the muscles around my armpit and shoulder and she found two huge bundles of knotted muscles.

And so started a lot of dry needling and a lot of zings and hiccups as she called them. She did as much as I could tolerate and she felt practical and not too overwhelming in my armpit and then moved on to my shoulder blade and around my traps muscles over the top of the shoulder. She also put a stimulator on my shoulder blade to wake up the muscles.

It was not pleasant, to say the least, and I had sensations of ‘nervyness’ through my shoulders and down my arm. When the muscles let go and relaxed they also feel like they have just done a supper intense workout (which in some ways they have).

It is all worth it though because at the end of my session she had me repeat the movement again and the difference is incredible! I don’t feel like I am fighting to move my shoulder and arms through my right side any more. I don’t feel like I reach a point where I lose control of the shoulder and I can move it both forward and back without having to rely on my arm movement.

Both sides feel almost the same now. Its an amazing accomplishment for me!

If it keeps this way, then I might see some progress through my arms. For now and into tomorrow the entire area is very tender and sore. Muscles that have been locked into one position have relaxed for the first time in a while and they are almost breathing a sigh of relief. It would be a bonus if this leads to some relief of the back and shoulder issues.

Unfortunately I won’t see her again until the new year as she is away next week and I am away the week after until Christmas. I have physio later this week and should have it again next week so hopefully he can build on the success from today before I leave.

It just never occurred to me that some of my issues could be muscles just not working as they are supposed to. My physio said sometimes scar tissue can affect the nerves that fire certain muscles and that can lead to issues like I have encountered. Considering the amount of scar tissue around my shoulder and chest, there is no surprise. The muscle in my hip for keeping my left knee out has a nerve root based out of the damaged disc in my back. In the end it makes a lot of sense.

But the important thing is that my muscles appear to now be unlocked.

Finishing touches

I spent a big part of my lesson learning how to bow today.

It seems so simple. Don’t we all learn it as a kid? Well, apparently not dancesport style.

As we get closer to the performance on Saturday it is time to sort out these little details. The routines we are doing are meant for competition, but this is going to be a bit of a show.

Among other things, we had to figure out what to do for an opening and closing. We kept it simple in the end, but I think it will work. As I said, the trickiest part was sorting out how to make the bow works.

Other than that the main focus was on running through the routines and cleaning up a few areas that needed a little more work.

One of the things we had to do was sort out how I was responding to the lead in a few places. Especially when the lead is on my right side, I have a tendency to lock up and restrict my movement, which then makes is really difficult for Boss to lead me through steps, especially if I have to turn anywhere.

It took some experimenting, but in the end what worked was just relaxing in some spots and letting my arm go, and in others moving to the step when I felt the lead. It will work for now, and I am sure there are other spots we need to work out.

The routines are not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they will still look good and be passable. Considering this is the first time we will dance them, I feel pretty good about where they are right now.

I think Boss is pretty happy with them too. He was saying today that on Wednesday he plans to do some work on the other routines as we want to record them before I head to Ottawa at the beginning of the month.

The next two weeks are going to be pretty crazy, but I am just taking it one day at a time and looking forward to the performance this weekend.

Until then, its the finishing touches to build on the foundation we have.

Confidence

Usually when you see that in a title it’s because it is lacking.

I am actually finding the opposite. Last night I realized that I am slowly regaining my confidence back.

The odd thing is that I hadn’t even been really aware that I had lost it. But I suppose like most things you don’t realize something until you can see a big difference. I lost it gradually, but at yesterday’s lesson I realized there has been quite a change.

We were focusing on the rumba and cha cha yesterday as we continue to prepare for the showcase in two weeks. I can’t even really explain what I noticed was different except to say that I felt myself looking up more and feeling confident in bringing the routines to the next level. I was beginning to perform the routines instead of just working through the steps.

I felt better about how I looked doing the routines.

I am not sure what is triggering the change but part of it is having a performance to focus on. Another part of it is likely that I have been able to lose some of the chemo weight. Its appears to be a combination that just works.

I am not going to knock it. Instead I am just going to roll with it.

It helps that the routines seem to be coming together really well. We may have also decided on music yesterday, just from what we were using to practice.

We started by ironing out some of the details for some of the line features in the rumba. I have a roll-out to a lunge I wasn’t very sure of, especially the movements after the lunge. We were able to to get that working together, and the transition to the next step. It leaves only one more section to work out, and the routine will be in really good shape.

We also worked a little on the cha cha, working through the beginning and reviewing the section we worked on last week. We were able to run through 2/3rds of the routine before we ran out of time, at speed. It was also working well.

It puts us in a great place for the performance in 2 weeks. It’s been a while since I have felt this good about my dancing. It is making me look forward to what is next.

And hopefully more confidence will emerge.

Preparing to perform

So it appears we will be performing in two weeks.

We are focusing on latin and we will do the cha cha routine for sure, but we are also working on the rumba and will probably do that as well.

It’s a showcase for another local studio that Boss’s studio has been invited to participate in. It presented an opportunity for us to perform just before I leave for the rest of the fall, and gives us a goal for getting two routines ready to perform.

It just makes sense, especially since other than a really brief and quick demonstration back in July we haven’t done any competing or performing since last October.

Both routines are actually not in bad shape right now.

The cha cha we are able to get through in time with slow music and the medium music has only a couple of bumps but doesn’t completely fall apart. Since the last time we ran it in full, we have worked out almost all of the bumps, and most of the styling. In the end, the routine has only two major spots where arm styling is a concern and I have been working on them pretty hard.

The big thing we have been focusing on in the cha cha is the lead and follow as that is key to getting the turns on time and executing quite a few of the steps. It’s actually pretty together right now, but needs some polishing and running through a few more times to hopefully lock it down.

I have actually really enjoyed the concentrated focus on the cha cha routine to pull it together and it confirms for me that agreeing to do the performance has been the right thing to do to move some of the routines to the next level before I leave.

We started digging into the rumba on Monday. It’s actually also not in a bad place, but it also has a few bumps to iron out and we really need to go over the styling in detail. We ironed out one of the biggest bumps in the middle of the routine yesterday, taking the whole lesson, but it was time well spent as we were able to go through that section in time with the music several times.

The key to the rumba right now seems to be the timing. Its tricky because it varies quite a bit and there are holds and pauses for development – some of which are one bar, some are two. The trick is remembering how long to develop at what part.

The styling will also be tricky, especially some of the transitional pieces. I already accidentally clobbered Boss in the face yesterday in a combination of not getting my arm high enough and him having his head a little forward. Some of the hold changes are also tricky.

One of my biggest concerns about the styling is that I am not very good at developing some of the lines and some of them need a lot of very specific movements I just can’t seem to make work for me. One of the key parts of the routine has me do a double turn to roll-out into a side lunge stretching away from Boss. When I hit the lunge, I need to make sure I have reconnected with Boss after turning on my own and after I stretch away I am supposed to melt.

I don’t melt very well. I really think we need to considering another way of styling that step, whether it is to stretch it a little longer and then turn in for the transition which is to a pivot to a lunge done together. I hope it is something we look at a bit closer very soon. I know I can do a good stretch because we have done one in a previous showcase routine.

For both routines, it really is about polishing right now, minus a couple of timing and step bumps to work out. For the cha cha, I need to make sure I add more power and speed to my turns, and the rumba is about the timing and not rushing. I don’t feel relaxed about performing, but I am not feeling overly stressed about either routine not being ready.

At least not yet. We will see how I feel in a couple weeks.

The focus on latin and the details has really been interesting over the last week. I’ve really enjoyed what we have been doing and actually been surprised at how things have come together. I feel really good about the work we have done and while I know neither routine will go perfectly, I am starting to look forward to performing. I have missed it more than I realized.

More prep to go.

Finding the root of a problem

I had an insightful physio appointment today.

I haven’t had physio in a while as I had to cancel my last one and the therapist was on vacation. Most of my appointments had been more focused on providing relief to my neck and shoulders, but since I last saw him I have had some good progress through acupuncture, including release the knot in my trapezius.

This allowed the therapist to focus more on an evaluation to try and figure out what hasn’t been working around my shoulders so we can start to correct the issue.

What he discovered made perfect sense. My right serratus anterior muscle is extremely weak (I am almost not able to resist pressure against it at all), and is very limited in its range of motion.

The serratus anterior muscle runs from the shoulder blade along the outside of the torso and is connected to the 2nd to 8th ribs. It’s a very long muscle that pretty much runs from the armpit down your side. This muscle is what moves the shoulder blade around the ribs, moving it forward. It is a key muscle when you punch straight forward.

Strength in this muscle helps protect the rest of the shoulder and neck muscles from getting hammer backwards when there is resistance from the front. It’s also the muscle that keeps the arm in front of the body when it is held at 90 degrees.

This explains a big part of why the muscles on the right side of my neck and shoulders tend to easily get angry. It also explains why I have a hard time with lead and follow, arm movements and always seem to be allowing my right side to fall back behind me when I try to use my partner to turn.

Its something Boss and I have been trying to figure out for a few weeks now. In order to be able to counter resistance from Boss in many of my turns, I have to start with my arm almost straight out or else it goes too far behind me and it is like I am not there.

Since I have so little strength in the muscle, pretty much I am not there.

It’s hard to say why this muscle on this one side is so weak, but it is likely a combination of many things. First, the lymph nodes that were removed from my right armpit would have been sitting right on top of the muscle (as that is where they lie), and it would have been very difficult to remove them without causing at least minimal damage to the muscle. This area was also fully irradiated by the radiation. Then you add in several other surgeries to the area and a lot of time spent not being able to lift things, and shingles in the nerve that is connected to this muscle…well, it makes sense.

The good news is that now we have found the root of the problem, I can start working to fix it. I have 3 exercises to focus on for the next week – stretching the muscle to try to gain some range of motion back (the best stretch is the classic triceps stretch bending the elbow over the head), the waiter lift (which focuses on lifting the bent elbow straight up from a position like a waiter carrying a tray), and a lying punch (pushing a weight straight up from the shoulder without allowing the shoulder to raise towards my ears).

I expect to be a bit sore tomorrow after the work I have done on the muscle today.

It’s going to be a long process to restrengthen the muscle, but it’s very possible. As the muscle strengthens, some of the neck and shoulder pain should begin to subside (it’s only part of that problem), but I should also be able to move through my arm styling better (its a main muscle for properly moving the arm from the shoulder since it controls the shoulder blade), and it will help with my lead and follow in latin.

It’s something I can focus on while I am away since the exercises are easy to do in a confined space.

I have some other exercises to work on which should also help with the neck and shoulder issues.

I promise to write about dance next time. Lots of things have been happening, especially in latin as we prepare to perform in a couple weeks. It seems that we will be doing not only the cha cha, but we are now adding the rumba.

September is turning into a busy month.

Masters Post #4 – Tech for promoting niche sports

Last post for my current masters course!

Today I came across an interesting article found at https://grandstandcentral.com/how-niche-sports-can-use-tech-to-go-mainstream-1d4e2101971e

This caught my attention right off the bat because it immediately made me think of dance, for two reasons in particular – how it is becoming easier to access coverage of events – and how this evolution in technology is further weakening WDSF’s argument for pushing so hard to include dancesport in the Olympics.

For a recap on the Olympics issue, here is a link to a great blog post by George Pytlik that sums up the issue as well as the effects this is having on dancesport as a whole. I agree with the points he makes – the changes that have come about and the rift in the dance world due to the pursuit of the Olympic dream by WDSF have already gone too far.

I for one dread the day that is coming soon when we will start seeing numerous posts again about how WDSF is trying to get dancesport accepted into the next games that offers spots to new sports, and the social media fallout and debates that inevitably will come with it.

As you can see from George’s post, one of the main motivating factors that is identified by those who are pushing for this dream is that Olympic inclusion would result in an influx of money and mainstream coverage for dance.

Unfortunately, I just don’t see how this would happen given today’s technology and trends toward cord-cutting and online viewing on demand. In addition, as George also points out, there are many sports in the Olympics that receive almost no coverage, especially if there are no medals in that sport for the broadcast country.

The article I came across today also makes and interesting point that technological advances have resulted in making “niche” sports more interesting, particularly extreme sports which appear to be growing in popularity in general across social media. The more extreme, the more it attracts viewers. The more these sports grow in popularity, the more likely they are to attract spots and coverage in the Olympics over other sports that seem to be fading away – which includes dancesport.

But there is an area where dancesport is becoming more and more accessible to anyone who wants to look for it, and it is not on cable. It’s through social media and streaming sites.

I have already mentioned that I try (as much as work will permit me) to watch the 3 major UK dance festivals every year. When I can, I even schedule my work vacation to correlate with watching Blackpool. I don’t watch them on cable (I haven’t had cable since 2012), I watch them live on www.dsi-london.tv through an annual subscription. DSI London is only one of several live dance streaming ‘channels’ available and that does not even include some live streams available on youtube for free.

And that is just live events. Following any major competition, videos quickly become available and shared through social media channels, often including full finals, for anyone to watch.

Commentary on live feeds in another trend that appears to be becoming more commonplace, enough that NDCA has recently included rules about who can provide commentary during a competition (for example, anyone judging at the competition cannot).

Personally, I think commentary is an area where dancesport in particular could benefit the most in expanding its viewership online. Commentary helps to connect the average person with what they are watching (by explaining what is happening, what is good, what is not so good, and background on couples), and it also can build excitement and anticipation.

As an experiment, try watching a ‘mainstream’ sports event with the sound or commentary turned off – a World Cup clip, for example – and then watch it again with the commentary on. I am willing to be you notice a difference in your viewing experience.

Overall, I would say that in the past two years live streaming of dance events has really started expanding. We now have https://www.dancenetwork.tv/ , an online only channel dedicated to all types of dance, and does include live streaming of ballroom events.

There is no denying that technology is and has brought about many changes in the world, including making easily accessible information and products that previously would not have been. Global media no longer have as much control over what it is we watch and learn about as news broadcasts and cable programming is no longer sole source. If you see something new or interesting somewhere, a search online will quickly provide expanded sources to see, experience and learn more about it.

Dance still needs to be appropriately packaged and marketed to specific audiences. Cable shows such as Dancing with the Stars, World of Dance, and Strictly Come Dancing are always going to be more effective at reaching a more general population than this blog. Dance movies such as Shall we Dance, Take the Lead, Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom all resulted in ‘mini-crazes’ and more people interested in trying dance. It might be time for a new ballroom-based movie…

The point taken from this article is that any sport now has the potential to reach audiences it couldn’t before through today’s technology, and the sky is the limit for what potential future technology could unlock – like virtual reality.

Being a bit of a Star Trek geek, I just had a flash back to an episode of the The Next Generation where Data wanted to learn to dance for Chief O’Brien’s wedding. After consulting Dr Crusher, she suggested he ‘program up a virtual dance partner in the holodeck’. I can think of more than a few people who would find that option appealing for learning dance. Perhaps that will be possible in the future.

Perhaps.

Adjusting to my new body

It seems strange to say, but it’s only recently I have discovered how much my body has changed from my journey.

And it is still changing.

Some of the work I have been doing recently has really brought to light some of the challenges I am now facing due to the scar tissue and side effects of my cancer treatments and resulting surgeries. Some of these things really surprise me.

For example, today it really came home just how tight everything on my right side is – not just on my chest, but all the way down to my hip and hip flexors.

When I was doing my own practice, I was trying to focus on keeping my right side ‘up’ when working on standard because Boss made a small remark about my right side ‘still going down’. It was just one of those things I wanted to explore for myself and see what I found.

I am not sure what I found is that great. After only 15 minutes of trying to keep my right side pulled up, I felt what initially felt like a stretch at my right hip, but then turned into a pull, followed by burning. When I stopped, the burning has remained, right over my hip bone where the tissue feels incredibly tight.

Bottom line, my right side going down is a combination of me not paying enough attention to pull it up, and tightly stretched tissue working to pull it down.

It’s like the issue with my chest being constantly pulled down and irritating my neck and shoulders. I have to constantly work to try to keep pulling it up to allow the tissue to stretch so my body can adjust.

So it is apparently going to have to be for my right side too.

It’s not just in standard that this is affected. Latin is also suffering.

Aside from my range of motion through my shoulders being about half as much on my right as my left, it is also very difficult for me to keep my latin frame in front of me. We haven’t worked on that a lot until recently, but the work we have done has really surprised me with how difficult it is to the point of being mildly painful.

I know that when I cross my right arm too much across my chest the pulling has causes shooting pains across my chest muscle in the past. I am hoping it will work out in time.

There is probably another reason this has become more prominent lately, which is the other thing I am slowly trying to adjust to.

Finally, after more than a year past hormone treatment I am starting to experience consistent weight loss. I have lost almost 15 of the 40 lbs I gained through my treatments in the past 2 months and it is starting to have effects.

I wish I could say all the effects are positive, but unfortunately they aren’t. One of the effects is my body redistributing my weight, resulting in lost inches, but also leading to new places, like my hips and belly, feeling even tighter than they did before. My chest has also gone down 3 inches in size, but not evenly on each side meaning one side is heavier than the other.

The other thing that only just clued in today in conversation with my acupuncturist is that as my fat stores are being burned off, it is very likely that the toxins and hormones that have been stored in them are being released into my body. The hormones being released was something I had to deal with the first time I lost the weight before I got sick, but now there is probably some residual effects from chemo, radiation and hormone therapy.

It would explain why in the past two months I have had a resurgence of menopause symptoms after almost 4 months of them being settled down. During those 4 months, my weight sat pretty steady bouncing around the same 5 lbs up and down. Once I started consistently losing again the hot flashes started up and with it the other menopause symptoms and general feeling of not quite being well.

There is not much that can be done about it until the weight is lost, other than holding weight here and there to give my body some time to adjust and flush the toxins out. I have had to increase my water intake a little bit recently so that should also help, along with the cooler weather.

I am also experiencing something I also did with my previous weight loss which was my back injury becoming irritated every 10 lbs or so as it also tries to adjust to the new distribution of weight and new centre of gravity. That at least I know will work itself out with some exercises and about a week.

It should feel good to lose weight, but the process is really hard on your body. Essentially it is feeling starved all the time and having to use reserves it got used to having. Everything is changing including it’s shape, and as fat is being burned off what is stored in it is being released and needs to be flushed out. It’s constantly working hard and doesn’t get a lot of breaks to try to adapt to all the changes going on.

But once the weight is lost, it does get better. The body doesn’t have to work so hard to move itself. Energy levels go up as the body gets more efficient at using nutrients and repairing itself. It’s able to work better and harder with less side effects and that is really the goal.

So here is to hoping I am able to keep on track and slowly get back to the weight I was pre-diagnosis so I can finally get back to the goal I was aiming for and got derailed from – getting down to a healthy size and weight overall. I was about 25 lbs from that goal when I got sick after losing 75 already. Now I am about 50 lbs away.

What a difference that will make.

Lift off on styling

It appears Boss and I were on similar pages about what is needed for styling.

So, when I got to my lesson today, the first thing we started with was discussing arm styling and going through 3 basic exercises for me to add to my collection.

The first thing I noticed is that there is a lot of pulling at scar tissue and some of the movements hurt, although not intolerably. More like there is some very intense stretching going on through the tight muscles and scar tissue in my shoulders and upper chest.

I am optimistic that as I keep working on my arm styling the scar tissue will breakdown a little and free up my motion. There is already a noticeable lack of mobility on the right side, but I am trying to work through it. Until I start, I will never know.

After going through the basic movements we started to look at the cha cha to figure out how and where to apply them.

If I said it was a success, that would be a gross exaggeration. There is obviously a lot of work that needs to be done and of course my arms don’t want to work with my feet. But I have an idea of what I need to do in my head and I am optimistic with some work it will come together.

Oh, and we got through to the end of the second phrase. About 15 seconds of a 2 minute routine. It’s going to be quite a process, although now that both Boss and I have a better idea of how it needs to work, that should move things along a bit better.

Just the little bit of work we did today has me feeling much better about styling. I have something I can work on, so I know it can only get better. I feel like I am doing something productive to fix my styling – I am taking control of something over which I didn’t have any.

It’s certainly going to be a long term project, but since I will be traveling for work this fall and stuck in rather confined spaces without any studios to work in, 2+ months focused on arm work should go a long way.

In the mean time, I am hoping that I have enough time before the performance in Mid-September to clean up my arm work in the cha cha. After that, I can start looking at the other routines.

We finished the lesson today looking at a portion of the jive routine to try to clean it up as well.

It was a productive lesson, but more importantly, its the beginning of fixing the ‘gravy’ in my latin.

Latin Styling

We all have our weaknesses when it comes to dance.

Latin styling is definitely mine, and those demons came out really hard Friday night.

We have been working on the open cha cha routine and the steps and technique along with the lead/follow is slowly coming together really well – even with the music! We have narrowed it down to about 3 places where the transitions aren’t quite working yet and there are a couple places I get slightly behind the music turning. It’s been really good progress overall and is helping my confidence. I am pretty sure we will perform it on the 22nd of September.

BUT.

At the end of the lesson, Boss asked someone to record one section from the routine that is a series of NYs which I have been working on a lot and we have spent the most time working on together. In general, it wasn’t my best execution of the choreography, but it wasn’t bad.

What was terrible was my arm styling. Really, really abysmal. The worse thing is that the second time we recorded it, I was sure I had gotten 90% of the styling on point and executed well. Nope, not even close. The things I had thought I had “nailed” looked terrible. The angles of my arms were off, the positions were off, arms I was sure were straight looked bent and my shoulders looked up even though I was sure I was keeping them down. And those were the arm movements I thought I had done well. The others were a lot of flailing arms trying to figure out where to go.

It was mortifying and disappointing to watch. If I can’t fix my styling, there is no way I can perform that routine in 4 weeks without embarrassing myself.

Styling has really always been a big concern for me. A lot more so than Boss. It’s not something we even really focus on, in fact I can’t remember the last time we discussed it minus about 2 minutes to go over the arm positions for the NY sequence so I could practice it. I do remember doing some exercises in about 2013/2014 before Boss left the franchise. Almost every time I have asked Boss for some exercises or to work on it, it has somehow ended up in an argument.

For Boss, arms and styling are the ‘gravy’ put on top of a routine to polish them. For me, arms and styling are difficult, require work and repetition to gain confidence in the movement and I would prefer to incorporate them sooner in the learning process. The sooner, the better so I can get used to using them and ‘owning’ them.

Inevitably, what happens is not enough time (and sometimes almost no time) is spent on adding the styling and arms to a routine, or when we get to the point where Boss wants to add it, it is not enough time for me to be confident or comfortable with the styling. Usually at that point, we are committed to either performing or competing and I have no choice but to just do what I can and hope it looks ok.

I have worked on it here and there with female latin instructors as it pretty much is the first thing they focus in on after watching videos. It’s usually really routine focused.

For the most part, I have tried to figure it out on my own, but clearly that approach is not working, because I continue to feel terrible about it. In general, I know what the correct arm placements should be, but I either miss doing them right in context with a step or they just don’t look quite right. If I were to really describe it, I would say my arm movements don’t look ‘clean and tight’.

They look like the afterthought they generally are.

And that is a big part of the problem. When it comes to styling, I am way out of my comfort zone with even the most basic movements. Some people are very natural in how they move their arms. I am not. “Natural” for me is pretty clumsy and awkward. Oh, and one sided. I naturally move my left arm more than my right. For example, if I work on rumba basic, without thinking about my arms, my left will move with my hip movements and steps. My right will just hang limply.

Another problem that has come up recently just compounds the issue. As I have been working on lead/follow which uses some arm movements to mimic the connection with the partner, I have noticed that my range of motion is limited in some direction, likely due to the scar tissue around my chest. It’s particularly telling on the right side, which makes sense as it was the side that received radiation. For example, my right arm can only cross my chest about half the distance my left arm can before my right shoulder starts getting pulled up or in a strange direction, and I can’t stretch my right arm up the same distance as my left without my shoulder getting pulled up.

So, I have physical limitations, feel awkward and clumsy, lack confidence in my arm movements and often feel like the arm movements I am doing suit other (smaller and more feminine) ladies fine, but look contrived when I do them (likely due to me feeling awkward, clumsy and lacking confidence). It’s a bit of a vicious circle and I don’t know how to begin to sort it out.

Oh, I am also generally pretty conservative and self-conscious about my size and weight (regardless of what I weigh, I will always be a ‘solid’ woman). I don’t really ‘do’ feminine or sexy, and honestly don’t feel like I should. It’s not my style at all and when I do try, guess what? That’s what it looks like – someone trying to be something they are not. I have a hard time ‘owning’ something I wouldn’t even buy in the first place.

And maybe that is part of the issue. Like other areas in my life, I am trying to make myself fit into the mold that is expected instead of finding the mold that fits me.

I go to a coach to work on styling and generally I am given suggestions for styling for a particular step, but I don’t actually like any of them. To keep things moving (as I usually have only an hour) I chose whichever seems easiest. I might have an idea what I would like to do, but I don’t say that because I am embarrassed or have already convinced myself it’s not right or wouldn’t work. Since I don’t really have any experience with styling, its seems pretty arrogant of me to suggest something and assume it makes sense to someone who has been dancing most of their life. Sometimes, the suggestions do make complete sense or straightforward but I can’t seem to execute them right or figure out how to ‘own’ them.

Interestingly enough, I can’t recall anyone (other than Boss and that has been pretty limited) asking me to describe ‘my style’ or even what I see as ‘the character’ for a particular dance. Truthfully, my answers to those questions are something I keep pretty locked up because I am pretty sure that my answers are not ‘right’.

More often than not, I will go to a coach for styling on my own and together we will work out some arm movements or styling. Then I will work on them and try to get them to a point where I feel they are ‘presentable’ to Boss. Then I show them to him and one of three things happen: a) he doesn’t like them (and his poker face sucks), b) he sort of likes them, but they don’t really work with his part or what he is doing (so we try to adjust) or c) he likes them or accepts them and we try to go with them. Scenarios a) and b) happen the most, but usually when Boss doesn’t like something, in truth I am not crazy about it either (which probably also shows when I do it).

I actually hate showing any ideas for styling to Boss. It’s not because of anything he says or does, it’s completely a fear of rejection on my part. More often than not, if I am showing him something for styling it is because I am trying to put myself ‘out there’ and get out of my safe, conservative box. Therefore, I already feel like I am trying ‘too hard’.

One thing I really hate the most about styling is being told to ‘develop my own’. Why? Its not because I don’t have my own thoughts or an idea of my style, its because I have NO idea how to use styling to project it. When I am left to ‘develop my own’ styling, I just default to the things I see others doing because that is what I know. I really hate getting a routine that comes with the comment “I haven’t included much styling so you can develop your own.” I much prefer seeing what someone else will do, figuring out what I like and don’t from that and adjusting things where I need or want to. It’s easier to work on a ‘paint by numbers’ than a blank canvas for me.

So I have rambled on for quite a while and tossed a number of thoughts and demons into this post. Where does that leave me? I am not really sure. Here are some things I have discovered:

  1. Styling is always going to be hard for me. I have no confidence in how to execute the physical movements, and mentally I have no confidence any styling will look polished and appropriate for me.
  2. Whether intended or not, I feel like Boss avoids the topic of styling or is dismissive because he feels my concerns are unjustified. I feel like styling isn’t an issue for him because he has been doing it all his life and he doesn’t understand how difficult it is for me and how much I feel I need to work on it.
  3. I sometimes feel like time spent working on choreography and technique is wasted because styling that is poorly executed makes the whole package look under-prepared and sloppy.
  4. When I think of how I do styling right now, I feel like I am just madly flailing my arms around trying to ‘hit’ the right ‘pose’. The issue is not so much where I end up, but how I get there. I don’t know how to get there. I can’t think of a single styling movement I do that I feel good about.
  5. I need to stop being afraid to explore and advocate for my style when working with coaches. If I am not comfortable with something or feels like it doesn’t look right, I need to say so instead of hoping it will just magically come together with time.
  6. I need to find a female coach who is willing to go right back to basics on styling and have those ‘hard’ conversations with me. This is more a mental process than a physical one.
  7. I have a very good idea of how I would like to start to work on styling, but feel it would be unreasonable to impose that on a coach.
  8. Boss suggests and would prefer I work with someone who does jazz, modern, or contemporary for styling. I am INCREDIBLY uncomfortable with the idea because I just can’t relate to or connect with any of those styles. It’s a good idea, but I am not at a point where I feel it actually would benefit me yet. At this point, I am 95% sure it would overwhelm and frustrate me. I need to stick to what I know to start with and I know myself well enough that I have to start in my comfort zone before I can push myself out of it.
  9. I have no idea how to even begin to approach this productively with Boss, and by extension trying to find a coach who is willing to work with me on it in a way that works for and feel productive to me.
  10. When it comes down to it, I am just scared of what styling represents. Its putting myself ‘out there’ and honestly it is one of the reasons I dance – because it makes me get outside my comfort zone. I fear though that because I have allowed myself to avoid embracing styling I am missing and failing at one of my main dance goals.

Hopefully just writing all of this out will help me find a way to move forward.

In the end, despite all the coaching and support (and there is a lot!) I have when it comes to dance, I feel very very alone and left to flounder when it comes to styling because I am embarrassed by how hard it is for me – not just to do, but even to talk about. It’s a part of dance where the barriers are mental and I can’t figure out how to even start to break them down alone. I can’t seem to figure out how to initiate a conversation about it without it leading to either conflict or me feeling like I have been overwhelmed with the opinion of someone else.

Its hard to ask for help when you can’t figure out what it is you need.