Seeing Standard Come Together

We recorded some videos yesterday.

Exclusively standard, we recorded the Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango line by line to make the best use of the hall.

We haven’t recorded these new standard routines at all except for 2 or 3 individual steps, so it was the first time to see the work I have been doing come together.

The waltz (which we have been working on the most) looked the most polished. I can truly say that I am proud of how the waltz looked and I was really surprised by parts of it. Probably for the first time in a very long time I could see a distinct improvement in standard. It was really great to see!

The foxtrot was not as strong, but it also showed great improvement, especially the first half we have worked on a lot recently. The last half needs work, but it is not a complete disaster. It’s passable, but obvious that it hasn’t been looked at a lot.

The tango was a different story. I couldn’t seem to settle into it, and the position change for tango from waltz and foxtrot really threw me off. We had been working a lot of position in the swing dances and one thing that really helped me and kept me grounded in those dance was stretching back into Boss’s right hand with my left shoulder blade. In tango, because the position is different, that ‘anchor’ just wasn’t there and that caused me to not feel like the position was ‘locking in’. It was obvious watching the videos that my position was all over the place. It was also obvious that I wasn’t completely confident with the steps and in places you could tell I felt a little like I was chasing Boss through the dance.

We started on the quickstep, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t ready to be recorded in time with the music as we haven’t really worked on it and we have never tried it at speed. We agreed to make it a project for this week in my lessons and to aim to record it next weekend along with some of the latin routines.

Today at my lesson, quickstep was indeed the theme. We managed to work through the first few lines to the third corner in time with the music, looking at details here and there as necessary. Honestly, the hardest part was getting started and into the first line as I kept miscounting steps. Once we got going, it seemed to come together a bit better.

We finished today with a new conditioning sequence for jive. It’s a challenging sequence with steps straight from my routine, including what is probably the most difficult part of the routine with a combination of turning sailor shuffles and simple spins. It is already coming together better than it was on Friday when I just learned it and I can tell that it is stressing my system (in a good way) more than the samba. It takes longer for my heart rate to recover and it is working my body in a different way.

On a final note today, I had my 6-month follow-up with my oncologist. It went really well and quick, with only one “Are you Kidding?” note when he asked if I would like to try the hormone therapy again now that my ovaries have been removed. I think he realized pretty quickly that I wouldn’t even consider it and switched his messaging to acknowledge that I did try it for more than 6 months and I did have a very toxic reaction, which did justify leaving it behind. The good news is that I will see him again in 6 months and after that I will switch to yearly follow-ups with him with check-ups with my family doctor in between. One more step forward.

I haven’t written much as work has continued to be crazy busy and that combined with school and trying to prepare to be away has left me pretty stressed. I am off 4 days this weekend and I cannot wait. It’s the first full weekend off I have been going pretty full tilt with work since I returned from the cruise and I can tell that the break is completely needed. With the long weekend the week after and no duty in sight, I will have three 4-day weeks in a row before a really busy push to the end of September. After that, it looks like I will be in Ottawa for a few days before getting ready for the extended work trip after that.

Boss has also asked me to consider doing one of the latin routines in a showcase event with one of the other local studios. I am thinking about it, but I am not sure any of the latin routines will be ready in time and I am hesitant to add to my stress levels trying to push to prepare it. Part of my doubt is that I am really not sure where any of the latin routines are at as far as doing them at speed with the music because other than rumba, we haven’t tried any of them. This week we should have a chance and I will make my decision from there. It would be nice to do a performance before I leave.

So perhaps next week I will be able to write about how the latin is coming together.

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And suddenly…

Things are making a lot of sense.

Somewhere between my last lesson and the lesson tonight a few things clicked together. The surprising thing is that it is not so much specific elements that has clicked together but more a realization and understanding of the level I am able to work at and that it is much higher than I give myself credit for.

I am not quite sure what triggered this but it seems to be a good thing. My mind has really zeroed in on pulling together a lot of details, processed them and been able to execute them all together.

There was just something about tonight’s lesson that seemed to come together. We weren’t doing anything different from what we usually did, but it just seemed to work much easier. Less time reviewing things and I was picking up the concepts and making the adjustments faster than I expected.

We were focusing on standard tonight, specifically two sequences of steps in waltz and foxtrot that have a lot of similarities. Both end with a lunge, but the entrance to and out of it is different, as is the sway going into the lunge.

It’s really a variation on a theme, but there are enough subtle differences that my mind needs to stay engaged. The nice thing as we moved through each of the sequences is that Boss would give some little directions for improvement and I was able to just incorporate them.

In the end, it was a really productive lesson that just seemed to flow. It was hard work, but it was paying off. We ended with the samba conditioning and while I was certainly tired, it also just seemed a little more refined and put together tonight.

At my last lesson, Boss asked me which latin dance I would prefer for a new sequence for conditioning – cha cha or jive. I originally said cha cha, thinking it might be more technical, but once I thought about it, jive made the most sense. I do the conditioning sequence in time with the music, and it is usually something from one of my routines.

Of all the routines, jive is going to be the trickiest to get up to speed. So, if I work on elements from the routine during conditioning in time with the music then my confidence will also go up in the steps. It’s also quite the cardio workout, there is no denying that!

I think I needed this small breakthrough this week as I had been feeling a bit complacent about dance – although perhaps that isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more that I have been feeling like I have been treading water and a little stagnant. It’s not only dance where I had been feeling that way, but a couple of changes seems to have made a big difference overall.

I also had a really productive weekend and cross a lot of things off my ‘to do’ list which has taken some loads off my mind.

It’s interesting how little changes can have big impacts.

“Knocked” Knees

One of the things Boss and I discovered and discussed 2 weeks ago is that I have “knocked” knees.

It was a discussion that came out of looking at the fallaway in standard and some of the issues I was having there. Because my knees tend to fall in, I have problems doing the fallaway and tend to feel like I am going to roll my ankle if I turn in my foot too much because I end up rolled onto the outside of my foot.

It was a long discussion with Boss trying to figure out how to explain what he was seeing and me trying to figure out how to move my muscles to fix it. I kept turning my knees out by rolling my feet out, but what is needed it for me to turn my knees out from my hips while keeping my feet balanced across the ball of my foot.

I did some research on my own and found this article which proved to be really useful : https://www.skyflohealth.com/knee-valgus/

I was able to also talk with the rehab specialist at work and do more experimenting myself. The result? I figured out how to engage my glutes and abductors to turn my knees out. Suddenly, a lot of the exercises I have been doing to help my knee issues made more sense.

The good news is that because I have been doing exercises with bands around my legs that focus on building abductor and the smaller glute muscle strength. My issue is that I haven’t taken what I have been doing to build strength and applied it in other areas.

This is turning out to be like a posture change. I have to constantly remind my muscles to fire and keep my knees turned out without letting my feet roll out. It’s building a new habit.

I have been working on it for almost 2 weeks now and I have actually seen and felt results.  One of the most significant was also something from ballet – I discovered I couldn’t put my feet together while sitting in a pike position because of the angle from my knees to my feet when my knees are together – now I can almost touch my feet.

At the gym, when I do my exercises with the band, since I am now focused on engaging my muscles to keep my knees out, I am suddenly finding the exercises much harder. I am going to have to go back to using just one band and the lightest one and rebuilding from there. After the first day, I was feeling DOMS in the right places, telling me I am doing the right thing.

I am also making a small but significant change to the ankle and foot strength exercises I am doing at the gym to help with my standard rise and fall. On the advice of the rehab specialist I am now doing them with a yoga block between my thighs while keeping my feet as close together as I can. This forces my muscles to engage and keep my knees out as I move through the movements. This is extremely intense and tricky – bringing these exercises to the next level.

The specialist made some changes this week to my program. I had been doing the same program since early in the new year and it was time to change up some exercises to challenge my muscles in a new way. She also added two exercises we hope will help my neck and shoulder issues. The other thing I have had to do to help with this is find a new style and size of bra that better supports my chest with less pressure on my shoulders.

After even one session with the new exercises I am feeling some good DOMS and am optimistic it will help resolve some of the issues I am feeling. On Friday I also had some dry needling relieve a knot in my left trap that has been aggravating things for a while.

Hopefully all of these small changes will add up to big improvements in the long run.

Sometimes half the battle is figuring out what is causing the problem.

Masters post #3 – “Boys” and “Girls” Sports

I came across an interesting article from Prince Edward Island today.

It can be found at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-sports-boys-girls-1.4764185

I found this article interesting because it talks about the idea that some sports are more for one gender than the other, and talks about how there are efforts being made to reduce those perceptions and encourage (in particular) girls to participate in sports traditionally thought to be for ‘boys’.

The article looks specifically at baseball as a case study. One of the things that is interesting is that in PEI, baseball is mixed in younger years and become segregated as children age. I have limited knowledge of baseball but my guess is that at that age girls options in baseball become more limited so they are encouraged to move to softball – a sport which appears to be more for ‘girls’.

The other interesting thing that caught my eye in this article is that a lot of girls seem to stop playing sports about the time they hit puberty and while the exact reason isn’t really known (they list some probable causes) I wonder about this a bit. I think we all know that puberty is a pretty confusing and difficult time for both genders, but what I wonder is how reducing sports participation (and activity) impacts the experience. From my own experience, I also stopped participating in gymnastics and swimming around puberty although the reason was more financial rather than desire. Part of me wonders if the difficulties I experienced in my early teens (including a big weight gain) may have been reduced if I had stayed more active. Activity is such a big part of my life now and a huge part of my stress relief.

Putting that aside, I wanted to air some thoughts about segregated sports in general. I do completely understand why it is good to have both male and female divisions in most sport, but competing in a (generally) mixed partnered sport myself, I wonder why there are not more options for mixed team sports – especially for youth.

I am aware of some leagues of soccer in my city that have mixed teams for adults. I am not familiar enough with other team sport associations to know if there are options in baseball, softball, field hockey, lacrosse, or other sports, and I am completely oblivious if any mixed options are available for teens.

I wonder this because I think of the advantages of dance – one of which is that from a young age children learn to be respectful of each other – regardless of gender. Its a lesson that could certainly transfer to other sports, at least in my opinion. Adding to that, it could also provide practical education for things which we seem to be questioning as society as a whole – such as equality between the sexes and gender roles.

If we grow up participating in sports together – as it appears we do when we are younger – perhaps the ideas of treating each other with respect, and equality are not things to question when we get older because it is part of our culture that the sexes always mix.

I am not saying there is no difference between the sexes, clearly there is or else we wouldn’t have them. But what I am saying is that perhaps we focus too much as a society on issues of sex and gender to the point that we almost make too big a deal – leading to segregation and the idea that some sports are for ‘boys’ and other are for ‘girls’.

Perhaps I am also very biased, after all I participate in a sport that should be for both sexes but is currently experiencing a severe shortage of male participants, but when I see an article like the one in the link it gets me thinking and wondering – why do we focus on segregating some sports and not offer more options for mixed teams?

Demand is part of it, I am sure. But that also begs the question – is there a lack of demand because it isn’t expected or offered? Is it because our cultural norm is to have separate teams?

Another interesting thing to note in the article is that some sports, dancesport included, are more popular with both sexes (or the opposite sex, such as field hockey mentioned in the article) in Europe and other places overseas.

Perhaps I have opened a can of worms here but I feel that this is an issue well worth thinking about.

Food for thought.

A New Name

You may notice something different about the blog.

About a month ago I started thinking that perhaps it is time for me to change the name of my blog to reflect that while my journey is not over, the active cancer part of the journey is. I couldn’t think of something at the time, but earlier this week, a name finally came to me. I rolled it around in my head and decided to go for it.

So this blog is now “Beyond Cancer Ballroom Dancer”.

I feel it is fitting because currently my blog is not about dancing through treatment anymore (thankfully) but its more about moving beyond cancer – figuring out how life works again after so much time spent focused on an illness.

And so it is.

I have been a bit quiet lately and for that I apologize. I was getting quite stressed between work, school, and dance and I had to take a step back to reset a little and decompress. I just really needed to take a little time to let my mind calm down so I could think again.

So that is what I have been doing. Focusing on checking things slowly off my ‘to do’ list until I reached a point where I felt like I was back to being a little ahead instead of feeling always behind.

It’s been a really crazy few months. It occurred to me as I was working this weekend that I have actually worked every long weekend since New Year’s, between being on course, being on duty and managing some media requests. It’s no wonder I feel a little like I haven’t stopped. Even the cruise that I was on for ‘vacation’ turned out to not be as relaxing as I hoped when it ended with me forgetting my bag and my ‘recovery’ days getting eaten up being stressed about replacing the things in it and making up for the school work I lost.

I will have a few days off in a couple weeks around the week before the next long weekend and I truly will have the entire Labour Day weekend off. I just need to get through the next couple weeks.

I am hoping tomorrow might be a bit of a funner day at work. As part of my job, I am required to maintain regular qualifications in weapons handling so tomorrow will be spent on the ranges shooting to requalify. Its something completely different and gets me out of the office. I expect to be hot and sweaty but feel like I truly accomplished something. After that, I am going to a dance performance show with a friend and will probably see another I haven’t seen in a long time. I really can’t wait.

I may be a bit absent for a little while yet, but I do promise to write about dance soon. I have been quite busy over the last couple weeks and after the small successes with the latin routines, we are now turning to standard and working in a lot of detail through those routines. The goal is to record them the weekend after next, in time with music, even if not at full strength. It should be interesting.

In the past couple weeks we have also discovered a new challenge for my body related to my knees that I have been actively focusing on fixing. I will speak some more about that too.

In the meantime, I leave you my name change which better speaks to the message I want to convey —

There is life beyond cancer.

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.

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.