An experiment

Ballet.

Yep, for the month of July I am taking adult beginner ballet twice a week.

I have had one class so far and it was interesting. We are starting with covering the basic positions and got to 4th. We did some demi plies and tendues.

I am doing better than I thought I would. The main thing I have to watch is to not let my right foot roll too far forward in some of the positions and put too much pressure on my knees. I actually have a pretty good turnout (on both sides!) which also surprised me. I am very interested to see how this goes.

I decided to try this as Boss has been recommending it for a few years now and finally I found a brief workshop that happened to work with my schedule. It’s a good way to connect with my muscles and use them in a slightly different way, as well as create body awareness in places I have very little and develop some movements that will help, especially with latin.

I love how structured the class is at the school I am working at. Baby steps the entire way, but important steps. Slow and steady. Right up my alley.

There is even potential to continue in the fall, depending on what happens with work and how the rest of the month goes. After all, it been only one lesson.

I just decided I wanted to do something different that scared me a little, and ballet seemed to fit. It’s a challenge and something fresh. So far, a great decision.

I also decided to experiment in another area of dance – a new standard dress working with a new designer. I love all of my competition dresses I have had, but I wanted to get outside the box and little and see what someone new might suggest. I was able to meet with the new designer over the weekend and I am waiting now to see what she has come up with. She has some interesting ideas I would have never considered so I am curious to see how it turns out. Yet another thing that is a bit outside my comfort zone and scares me a little.

I think I need to stretch myself with these things. I have gotten a bit too comfortable lately and while that is not a bad thing by any means it does limit growth. Even in my lessons with Boss there is a bit of a theme of me staying in my comfort zone (especially in standard) when I really need to push myself out of it and start challenging myself a little more. It’s not that what I do is ‘easy’, but I am comfortable with the challenge I have been presented and that I can overcome it without too much time.

I did have a lesson tonight that also surprised me. One of my new exercises is focuses on a sequence of New York variation in cha cha from our open routine. 2 weeks ago Boss gave me a little bit of direction for it, and then left me to work out the rest. I have been working on it in detail trying to focus on the points he mentioned, but I didn’t feel like I fully understood what he was looking for.

It appears I did, for the most part, without even realizing it. What started as an intention to just ‘go through the exercise’, actually turned into being able to work through the entire sequence in detail in time with the music together with Boss. There were a few points to work through in the beginning, but once I figured out what was needed I was able to adjust and adapt and pull the piece together.

It’s a key section of the routine I managed to progress quite a bit in less than two weeks. Now I have further details and adjustments to work on when I do my exercises for the next few weeks, and I know I can do it at speed. A real surprise overall!

The other thing I asked from Boss, now that I am feeling fairly stable with all but 3 of my routines, is some direction for working on them further on my own. I am hoping that will help relieve some of the stagnation and feeling of being unproductive and only focused on steps when I work through routines on my own. I feel like I have pieces here and there were I apply things, but it is quite jumbled and all over the place with no consistency, so essentially I have asked Boss to help me organize my practice better.

Finally, next week I begin a new course for school and this blog will be part of it! For this course I have to write 4 blog posts reflecting on a story in the media related to a sport and it’s impact on society. I am still waiting further details, but the posts will appear here, so stay tuned and thanks for participating in my education!

It looks to be an experimental summer!

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Surprising myself

Every once in a while I discover I can do something I didn’t think I could.

Today it happened twice.

First, we were working on running through the jive routine at my lesson. After running through it once, we tried it a couple times with slow music, and finished trying almost to speed.

It went a lot better than I expected, although of course there were still some rough patches, especially the last run-through.

What surprised me was a couple of things that went much better than I expected. In particular, I was able to do my spins, even the 1.5 one in time with what speed we were working at. There were even a couple of spots where I have to be careful not to rush and get ahead.

There were a few really rough spots where my head and feet just couldn’t keep up, but when we finished working on the jive I could feel my head rapidly working to process everything I was taking in — spots to adjust, where Boss is position, where to use Boss to execute a move, where I really need to work through the choreography more.

Overall, it was really productive and I am hoping we will go through it again a couple more times later this week. More so than working on pieces, jive is a dance that I find I need to just ‘do’. It’s a dance where I just have to make myself do it at speed so I can stop thinking so much and just do it instinctively.

The other place I surprised myself today was during conditioning. I was trying out the new samba sequence which I spent my break times during work learning today. I wasn’t sure how it would go in time with the music, but it did surprise me that it went really well. Each time that I did it I was able to adjust and pull it a little more together, tighten up the technique some.

It’s going to be messy for a couple more weeks, but I asked Boss to hold off on giving me feedback for a couple week to allow me to work through the things I need to myself. He agreed, and we will see how that goes. I have a feeling there is crossover between what I note myself and what he wants me to work on, but we will see what he has to say in a couple weeks.

This week was also my second week back at the standard technique group class. It’s been a bit of a scramble to try and catch up, and there is some overlap with exercises from what I do at the gym and in my lesson. We are working on some body movement and preparation for turning right now and being really directionally challenged it’s a struggle. I don’t have time to let my mind process during the class, but at least by the end of it I could feel some pieces starting to fall together. We will see what results that bring to my standard.

I am also almost done my course for school. It is by far the most intense and I cannot wait to finish. With it behind me and feeling my energy lift a bit, I am looking at my schedule and seeing where I can add back a little more. There is a latin technique class on Thursday, but I don’t think I am quite ready to add that back yet.

As a compromise though, I have decided to add some time on Thursday evening to do the sequence self-practice I used to do on Sundays (which are now replacing my Monday practices to fit in the technique class). If I reach a point where I can keep up with adding that without my energy fading, then adding the latin class will be the final add for me. That would leave Tuesday and Saturdays as ‘rest’ days, and keep me active 5 days a week.

It all depends on my energy levels and I will have to keep an eye on them and be honest with myself if it seems I am overdoing things.

One thing I will say, the best part of tonight was doing some new and different things. The new conditioning sequence felt so refreshing and it’s a new challenge to work through. Boss also tells me he has some new exercise sequences for me and already started working through the New York sequence in the cha cha routine for me to focus on myself. My plan right now is to keep the exercises I know we are keeping and slowly add the new ones as he does.

With new things come new surprises.

Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Ups and Downs…

I had a really good lesson today, but it took a while to get there.

We started by reviewing the exercises I have been doing for about the past 6 months.

I was really finding myself frustrated as we went through these, and honestly I can’t really figure out why.

We were going through them and Boss was giving feedback and some points for adjustment for them. For the most part they were good, but in all honesty I have been doing most of them for so long at this point I am just bored with more than half of them and the idea of doing them for perhaps another 6 months just seemed too much.

Of course, they are not perfect and there is always room for improvement and new elements to add. But I really feel I need a way to refresh my practice to keep me motivated or I worry it will just get harder and harder to do it. I know that I have been hoping for some changes since April.

Boss does plan to make some changes, but he is still planning out for himself exactly what changes he wants to make and what elements he still wants to focus on. The majority of my practice exercises are latin-based because standard work we will be doing more during lessons and together.

The second half of my lesson went much better. We started reviewing the latin routines tonight beginning with the cha cha and finishing with the samba, or at least most of it.

I can’t remember the last time we worked through the cha cha from top to bottom. In fact, I am pretty sure we haven’t done the full routine, only the segments we did as I learned the choreography.

I was pretty surprised how well it went and just from that run through I felt myself pick up on a lot of elements I have been searching for in my own practice. We were able to clarify a couple of areas where the steps weren’t quite clear, and for myself I was able to pick out places where I need to work through the lead and follow a bit more to make sure I am engaging my muscles to work with Boss.

That is an interesting new element to my solo practice. About a month and a half ago I started to notice that when I practice my latin routines on my own I started engaging my muscles and kinetically simulating how the lead and follow should work. It’s not consistent through the routine, but there are certain places where I can feel it working. It’s especially noticeable for me in the rumba, and hope it will keep translating to the other routines. I now have a lot of different places to add this in the cha cha, just from the run-through today.

We finished with samba, and that too was really useful. The most interesting thing about samba was that a lot of it was able to be done with slow music, and as we moved through it I could feel it click together like I hadn’t before. It also surprised me how well it went. We got almost to the end before we had to stop. The lead and follow seems to be more there in the samba than I expected, but it could be the work we did in the cha cha just before it that triggered my mind to be attuned to it.

Despite the rough start to the lesson with the exercises, it really finished on a high note. My energy is definitely back and improving. I had a little bit of a ‘high’ at the end of my lesson and what we finished with felt really good. I could feel my mind churning to assimilate the routines and all the information and try to absorb it like a sponge. It left me looking forward to my next lesson when we will continue the review.

So a little down, but a lot of ups.

Ok, Let’s Twist

I think I finally figured out what Boss has been asking me to do.

Better than that, I can actually feel when I do it and when I don’t.

It took the entire lesson to figure it out, but now that I have, it should be easier to start incorporating it and finding the places it should probably go.

Another mini-mountain semi conquered. I was even able to incorporate it into my samba conditioning but it took until the very last set to figure it out.

We also went through the samba, cha cha and jive together today, which was really helpful. We didn’t do any with the music, but just going through them together helped me to figure out a little better where Boss is during the steps. It helped me to identify a couple of places where I am turned in the wrong direction, but overall it seemed to go good.

Boss was already starting to identify some places that will need work, and he commented that one of the reasons I am having such a hard time getting the routines up to speed is because I am not using my power enough, and I am not twisting my body enough.

Fair enough. The twisting we have been going over and I just tonight starting to figure out that piece.

The power piece — well that is a whole other story, and one I will save for a little later this week. For now, I will say he is right and it is something I have noticed and have been thinking about.

Now that I have figured out the twisting, it gives me something to focus on while I am working through my routines. I certainly left my lesson intrigued.

At chiro today, the Dr. made some adjustments to my feet and right side of my pelvis and hip to try and see if he can’t get my right foot going in the right direction. He gave me a stretch to do on top of it and pretty much we will see what effect it has. Already, I can feel a difference and I have noticed an increased range of motion when turning inside. It’s optimistic for standard, which we are going to look at on Wednesday.

Perhaps this might fix my other twist.

Almost got the steps

But I admit to being a little concerned about everything else.

I am getting closer to having the steps down in 6 of the 9 routines. The jive is much more solid and coming. Today during my lesson we finished going through the quickstep and the waltz. I really hope they stick.

But while the steps are slowly coming together, a lot of the routine are obviously lacking the technique needed to pull them off. The worse is jive by far, but I have strange moments when working on samba that it is pretty obvious there are pieces missing.

It’s understandable as the focus has been on the routines and getting the steps down, although there have been some areas of technique we have looked at, especially in latin.

I don’t think I am completely without any technique or anything like that, but I have reached a point in a few of the routines where I can tell I should be doing more and I find myself trying to figure out how to do it.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, when working in cha cha, I can feel myself starting to focus a little more on the turns because as I speed it up I have to work harder to execute them. Some of it is triggering things I feel I used to know, like using my ribs to make the turn happen, but I don’t know if that is just something I do, or if it is something I should do.

One thing we have been focusing on lately is twisting of the hips. I feel like there is a little bit of a disconnect there for me because I have been asked to do it, but we have never discussed how to do it and I feel like I do it differently every time. I also feel like because I am figuring it out, I am also limiting myself because I don’t want to do it wrong.

In standard, I find myself questioning how I am rotating almost constantly. Because we were working on that some in the new year, I am cognizant of it, but it’s enough that I spend almost every step wondering if I am rotating wrong.

All this to say I hope the technique, or a review of the technique catches up soon. Some of the routines I can’t even imagine doing slow with the music right now, let along at full speed and with Boss. Quickstep and Jive are at the top of those lists. I am sure they will come though.

Next week is going to be a challenge. I am working crazy hours teaching for work and I don’t know if I will even be able to make it to 2 of my lessons. I am hoping to be able to mitigate things as best I can, but the entire week is going to be a bit exhausting. Following that, I am working on the east coast of Canada for another week.

I can’t help but feel like there are going to be some missed opportunities and that until I return in June my lessons are going to be a lot of review (mostly because there is not any time to develop new concepts — which is completely fair).

It’s just left me feeling like I need to scramble some, and I really can’t explain why. Perhaps it is simply that I don’t want all the travel in May to set me back like I felt happened with the travel in March and April.

Regardless, I am determined to get the steps for these routines down and feel comfortable with them so we can start focusing on the technique and really move them forward. It’s been a big jump to do these open routines, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The summer is going to be telling in many ways.

After the steps, time for the next layer.

Noticing changes

And good ones.

The first thing I can say is that I feel more motivated than ever these days, but to go along with that I actually have the energy to back it up. That is the biggest change I have noticed recently, and it has trickle down effects.

When I go to work now, I finally feel like I can push my hardest to do what I need to do and I feel like I am reaching my max as I work. It’s been a long while since I felt that. I have also noticed small changes that are significant, like my spins are getting faster and I have a little more control over things.

I also don’t need as much sleep. Instead of needing 8-10 hours a night, I tend to average 6-7 and I don’t feel exhausted during the days. When I get home from dance now I don’t feel like it’s a rush to get to bed.

I seem to finally have the first section of the jive in my head, and it only took reviewing it over 3 lessons. I was able to get through it 3 times during practice today.

In my lesson, we went through a new section for the quickstep, leaving us about 4 full steps from the end, so we should finish it on Friday. Boss also gave me a new sequence from waltz for conditioning, which is certainly more challenging than just change steps. It consists of a fallaway followed by a reverse turn then a natural turn. It requires a lot of thinking to figure out the alignment and with the changing rotations it takes a lot of control.

I was also able to review the tango during practice and it is not too bad, I really need to dig into it a bit more. I was also able to work more on the cha cha which I am slowly putting to music, currently with the tempo reduced by a rate of 6 (no idea what it means, but that’s what my mp3 player says). I hope to be able to work to -5 or -4 by Sunday.

I am working on the same goal with the samba, although it’s a -5 right now. I hope to start on the rumba on Sunday too, although I hope no more than a -3.

I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the routines, although we haven’t started paso or foxtrot yet.

One of the other changes I have seen is a small increase in speed. I don’t feel quite so heavy and slow right now and I can feel my body starting to react and move faster.

Overall, things seem to be looking up. I hope I can maintain the momentum I currently have over the next couple weeks while work intensifies with teaching and some more travel. It’s going to be a challenge, but I feel up for it.

Yet another one of the little changes.

Jive frustrations

But first something positive!

As I mentioned, I had my first appointment with a chiropractor last week to try and see what can be done about my on-going neck issues. In short, from about my mid-back up to my neck, nothing is really moving and everything – joints, muscles – are just pulled like bow strings. It’s been like this pretty much since my DIEP reconstruction which is not a surprise considering they pull everything down in the front which affects the back.

The chiropractor seemed optimistic, but he was pretty clear that until some things start moving, its almost impossible to tell what is unhappy versus what is just too tight. He decided to start with 4 adjustments in my mid-back, most being on the left side. When he finished he told me to go about my usual activities, but not to be surprised if I was a bit sore the following day and keep an eye out for other side effects.

Well, I wasn’t sore. What did happen turned into a shock to the system. The following day I was working through my dance exercises at the gym and discovered when I went to work on my hip rotations that I could suddenly move my left hip as much as my right without any extra effort.

This is HUGE! I have been frustrated and struggling throughout the months I have been working on moving my hips more with trying to get my left hip range of motion to equal my right AND without having to move my left shoulder to do it. Whatever the chiropractor did, it freed up my left hip.

Call me converted. I am curious to seen what my appointment tomorrow will result in.

The difference is so much that later Friday evening when I was doing my exercises at the studio I was having some trouble reacting to how much my hip was moving and twisting.

And then there is jive…

This routine is going to take a while to figure out. I went to do it today and basically any step that involved any sort of turn (which is about 80% of them) just wouldn’t work out. I tried a different type of turn, I tried turning the other way, I tried a different count or entry but nothing made it work. So, of the 6 or 8 phrases we worked on, I can remember all the steps to 2 of them.

I was able to do it on my own when we finished with jive during my last lesson. Both Friday and today it is like there are giant holes in my memory. Boss told me to look at the video from the choreographers, but that just confused me further.

So, there is going to need to be some time spent on jive in my next few lessons until I can get myself through the routine at least slowly. And it is going to be frustrating the whole way through.

I am ready though. I got through samba, I can get through jive.

Speaking of samba, I have a new MP3 player because my ipod shuffle is losing its battery power. The bonus feature in my new MP3 is that it allows me to slow down or speed up songs. So, today I started working on the cha cha and samba in time with the music slowed down. Cha cha went better than samba, but its a start. I will do the same thing with rumba as well next week.

Next week should be a return to working on the standard routines, so hopefully we can finish up waltz and quickstep (we did tango, but I just hope I remember it and the changes). Last up is the foxtrot which we have gone over once, but I think the last time was just after Christmas or even before.

Tomorrow is also my 6-month follow-up with the oncologist. Not expecting any surprises, and hopefully it will be a quick in/out followed by see you in another 6 months.

And then there was jive…

And its going to be interesting.

This week has mostly had a latin focus, with a little bit of tango at the beginning the week to work through some changes to make the phrasing work better.

It’s been a productive week in that we finished off the last pieces of both the samba and cha cha so I can work through the full routines on my own before starting to dig into the jive tonight.

I also had a new exercise added — batacudas in samba — which are needed for the open samba routine. The good news for them is that I have the foundation for them from all the work I have been doing to move my hips and once I work through the mechanics for executing them better they should come along without too much grief.

Getting the last bit of samba and cha cha in my head is proving to be more challenging than I would expect, mostly because my mind keeps trying to over-complicate simple steps (which Boss apparently finds fascinating), but by the end of practice tonight they seemed to both be there. Fingers crossed they stay.

So with 3 of the 5 routines building a steady foundation, it was time to move on to number 4. We had briefly run through the first section of the jive before I left for Europe, but it didn’t stick well and there wasn’t time to reinforce it then. Tonight was a bit of a review, but mostly it was attacking it fresh.

The jive gets complicated because I have a number of similar figures with small variations and I keep mixing up which variation goes when. And that is before even considering the speed, which is going to be a whole other obstacle later. One step at a time.

Already I have found that thinking too much will quickly get me into trouble in jive. I did have some opportunity in my lesson to run through some sections on my own, but I needed to review and work through cha cha and samba at practice so I didn’t get to reinforce it tonight. It will be first on my list for Friday’s practice, and hopefully we will review it again during my lesson tomorrow night (I would be really surprised if we didn’t). I find myself looking forward to Sunday to be able to work through all the routines and really see where they are.

I am finding myself a little more invigorated this week. I think even just the possibility of competing again has breathed some new energy into my dance and motivation and it is showing.

I also can’t discount that my energy levels have steadily been rising overall, and the conditioning does seem to be paying off. My recovery times have been going down steadily to the point where I recover fast enough now it takes me almost 5 minutes less to do the same amount of intervals. I didn’t realize it had been reduced so much and tonight Boss and I agreed to fill a full 15 minutes beginning with Monday’s lessons going forward. It’s going to be an interesting challenge, but I can’t deny that the conditioning is no longer tiring me as much as it used to.

The biggest difference I am finding is that my workouts, practice and lessons are leaving me feeling accomplished instead of exhausted, and that’s been a long time coming. I am still adapting to the changes I am making in my diet, but already I feel stronger and better about eating. In a random exchange, at acupuncture yesterday my practitioner commented that she could see some definite changes in my body. It’s quite possible my body is doing its thing where it gets leaner without really losing weight. Time will tell on that.

I am a little nervous about the challenge of the jive, but I am also excited at it as well. With a little bit of luck, it is possible that we may get all the way through it before I leave for my next work trip on May 6th.

There is still lots to do in standard as we only have the tango in full (provided I can incorporate the recent changes), but both Waltz and Quickstep are ready to be added to, if not finished off.

That really leaves foxtrot and paso, both of which are going to be major challenges, paso more so.

Tomorrow is my first appointment (ever) with a chiropractor to try to figure out and hopefully get some help with my neck. It continues to cause me issues, although they seem to be caused more by my work than by anything physical I do. Acupuncture helps a little for relief, but it is very temporary and the physio exercises don’t seem to be helping so physio actually recommended I be referred to chiro. I have been referred to a chiro sports specialist so that should help, but I really have no idea what to expect. At this point anything would be helpful.

And that’s a summary of how this week is going and my dive into a new routine as I finish those that were works in progress (although they always are works in progress!).

And then there was jive.

Back to Square One

But in a good way.

Tonight is the first night since I returned that I can confidently say I am where I was, or even a little bit ahead of where I was before I left.

I actually got to the gym today at work, so that was a good start. I was able to do my gym dance exercises for the first time and they went well.

My lesson also went pretty well, with the exception of a messy bit at the end, which I will get to later.

We were working on tango, specifically adding the second half so I can work on the entire routine on my own. It went well and by the end of the lesson I was able to work through the new section on my own, and during my practice tonight I was able to put it all together.

My standard frame seemed to be much better tonight than it was on Monday and I could feel my brain a little more relaxed and focused for the work. Boss remarked almost immediately that my right side was more engaged, so I took that as a good sign.

We were able to work through pieces of the routine with slow music, which led to discovering a need for Boss to clarify the timing in a couple line steps.

We ended the lesson with conditioning in change steps and it honestly started out as a bit of a disaster. I felt like jelly. I just couldn’t seem to settle into the steps, and I couldn’t seem to keep control over what I was doing. Even my brain seemed scattered and running all over the place to try to figure out what I needed to do.

In hindsight, I think my core was exhausted some from the return to the focused work. Part of my gym exercises is about 3 minutes of figure 8 work for latin. I could definitely feel my abs tiring when I was doing it and it was a bit of a fight to get to the end. My balance actually was off all afternoon, which also makes sense.

I guess the good thing is that I was able to pull it together some, although pretty inconsistently, for a couple of the last rounds.

We were also able to review and clarify one of my exercises to give it more focus, which is something I need in all my exercises right now, and which we are slowly going through.

My own practice tonight went well too. Better than it has since I returned. Besides my regular exercises, I was able to go through all 6 routines I am working on right now, and rumba and tango I can do from top to bottom, Samba we need to clarify the new piece, but Waltz, Cha Cha and Quickstep are ready for new pieces to be added.  Boss told me he wanted to finish both a standard and latin routine this week, and we have tango finished now, and he had forgotten we had already finished rumba (so I am not sure if that counts).

I am pretty happy with where I am at. Boss even remarked on watching me work through the cha cha and seemed pretty happy with how it looked. None of the routine are with the music yet, but I am trying to at least attempt to do them with a consistent count. My next goal, after getting the footwork down is to tighten up the timing for myself and make sure that the holds are right and that the sections that move keep moving.

My next lesson is Friday, so we will see what that will bring. I expect the review of my exercises as Boss mentioned a few times tonight he wants to go through them all, and quite honestly I could use a couple changes just to freshen things up.

But it’s good to be back to square one.

Interesting side effect

Something interesting happened tonight.

I had a crazy day at work (which wasn’t unexpected after 3 days away!), after which I went to the studio to practice and for my lesson.

Practice went better, there was just something different about it today I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It continued during my lesson, but really came to light during the conditioning today which was samba.

It seems that my time away, and time away from dance allowed some things to click that had been sitting in limbo. Like the physical break allowed my mind to process things. In particular in the samba conditioning, I finally seemed to be able to put together the body movement with some sharpness–something I had been trying to do before I left.

There was a different freedom to what I was doing I can’t really fully explain. Almost like something that was holding me back had relaxed and let go. Boss even commented that it was the best dancing I had done all night (which I was more than willing to agree with).

We started with a review of the standard routines and I could tell from the beginning I just wasn’t feeling “settled” with standard. It just felt off and like something was missing. It was a quick review though and I think it improved as we progressed. We did do some of the tango with the music today so that was a good step.

I think I am ready to move to new sections in the standard routines, but I will leave that up to Boss.

Boss also told me today that he noticed it is time to progress some of my exercises, so Wednesday we are going to have a look at those, as well as the new section in samba we began on Friday.

We also went through the few spots in the cha cha and rumba I couldn’t quite remember, so hopefully I am good to go with them to solidify them to prepare for adding another piece in cha cha (the rumba I have the entire routine memorized, more or less now), and to review the jive, which I have nothing of on my own right now.

Of course, then there is foxtrot and paso, neither of which we have looked at yet, but slowly the routines that seemed impossible are slowly getting in my head and feet.

What I didn’t expect while I was away, was to come back to find that some of the things that seemed just out of my grasp before I left have come together. Still a lot of work to be done.

But that’s a side effect I can live with 🙂