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.

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.

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.

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.