Digging in

We are starting to blend working on steps with technique.

I had a lesson Thursday night which was a bit of a hybrid.

First, we worked on the jive and adding another small section for me to work on while I am away. If all goes well, I should be able to have it down so I can learn the final piece when I get back, leaving only Paso and Foxtrot to learn.

Once we had gone through the new section a couple times, Boss decided to try the jive with slow music (almost half speed) and see how it went.

It actually went well, and better than he expected. It certainly went better than I expected!

Actually, once it was put in context with Boss it made a lot more sense than what I have been working on. There was one spot I wasn’t doing right (it’s much easier than my version–whew!!), and one spot that I couldn’t quite get to in the timing, but even Boss remarked that he wasn’t quite ready for me to have the steps down as well as I did.

And, it’s actually quite a fun little routine. I can’t wait to try it a little faster, but I am nervous about it at the same time.

The second half of the lesson was focused on one of the promenade footwork pieces in tango.

We have worked on it before, but we were working on my position and tightening it up a bit and making it look sharper. Promenade position continues to be a bit of an achilles heel for me, but it seemed like I made a little bit of progress.

One of the more difficult things I am struggling with right now is best described as trying to balance as a couple vs balancing on my own. It requires me to keep my energy and position forward into Boss so that he can do the same to find a point where we more or less balance against each other.

I always feel like I am going to push Boss over (which is actually more or less what I am supposed to feel like). It’s still a bit of trial and error though because there is such a small window where it isn’t too forward or too back.

In the tango, there is one piece in the sequence we were working on that it is crucial we do this or one or both of us will lose our balance. By the end of the lesson I seemed to have gotten more consistent with finding it, but I could still feel the doubt in my mind every time we worked through that section. I am sure it will come with time and confidence.

At the end of the lesson, one of the other students recorded the sequence of us doing it in time with regular tempo music. I was pretty surprised at how it looked. The sharpness really stood out, and there was only one place where I have to have a look at my timing as my feet were quite out-of-sync with Boss. Overall, that is going to be a pretty impressive section in our routine.

Digging into a couple sections in my routines really went a long way to helping me feel more productive in my work and helping me to understand a bit more of the context to the full routine rather than just my part. It’s funny because a lot of the things we have worked on are coming out when we dance together, often without me realizing it (or Boss sometimes), which is a pleasant surprise.

When I get back from my work trip next week, Boss told me we are going to start digging even more into the routines as we finish up going over the steps for the 2 we haven’t looked at yet and I am looking forward to that. I have 7 lessons between when I return from this trip and when I leave for my next just after the long weekend in May. I hope that I will be able to get the sequence of steps for all 9 routines down enough that I can keep working through them while I am away.

After that second trip, I should be here all summer and I am looking forward to it. I just realized it is the first summer since I was diagnosed where I am not on any therapies, not recovering from any surgeries, and not biding time waiting for a surgery. It’s the first summer that is completely my own. What a concept!!

It should leave lots of time for digging before the fall.

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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.

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.

Rumba-ing in the Right Direction

Tonight’s lesson had an unexpected high note.

We started by reviewing an exercise section for the jive at my request so that I would have something from jive to work on while I am away. Following that, I needed 3 small clarifications in cha cha to tighten that up.

Once those little things were out of the way, Boss wanted to work on the rumba to go through it with me dancing on my own all the way to the end. It took most of the lesson, but I was able to go through both the new section and the entire routine on my own. Boss even found a few different areas to give some coaching for technique to work on while I am away.

Since we had some time left at the end of the lesson, Boss decided to give the full rumba a try together with the music. It wasn’t flawless, of course, but it didn’t fall apart either. We had enough time to run it three times in a row from top to bottom.

Unexpectedly, I have one entire open routine I can actually ‘run through’!

Now the real work on the routine will begin–cleaning it, making it consistent, and styling. The work we already did on connection was already starting to show, but there is obviously a lot that still needs to happen.

Not to mention there are 8 other routines to finish learning to get to the same point. None of them are at the point where I can run through them fully on my own yet, and 2 (almost 3 if you count jive), I am not able to work through on my own yet at all (including the 2 most difficult).

But it’s a starting point. First one routine settles in, then others follow.

I am off for 3 weeks in Europe tomorrow for work and a mini-vacation at the end. It’s going to be a busy time, but I am really hopeful that I will be able to find some time to run through things for dance, as well as some strength training. I already feel a bit paranoid I will lose all of the progress I have made recently while I am away. Fingers crossed it doesn’t degrade too much.

I actually managed to get everything done I wanted to before I leave. I have a school paper due this weekend, which I finished just before dance tonight, I have a group project due while I am away but my group (many of whom are also away at the same time due to Easter) and I agreed to work ahead on it, so it is almost finished too. I got all my work stuff completed as well, although that had me at work after dance last night to finish it up.

I am even packed, which is pretty good for me since I don’t leave until noon tomorrow 🙂 .

The only small potential hiccup I am watching is a snow storm coming through one of the airports I am going to transition through. I am hoping it will be cleared out by the time I get there tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t know if I will be able to post much while I am away, but I do promise to catch up when I get back.

I am going to ride my rumba high for a little bit.

And hope everything isn’t too different when I get back.

I think they think I am nuts…

Some of the social dancers at the studio, that is.

Either that, or they just don’t believe me when I say I am not preparing for a competition right now.

I don’t know what it was about tonight but I got asked by three different dancers “What competition are you preparing for?” (I still hate that question, BTW)

It was actually getting a bit comical when after the third time my response of “none right now” was met with a look of sheer incredulity.

I guess it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to them for me to be working as hard as they see me working without any competition motivating it.

It’s interesting though that they just assume I have a competition coming up considering compared with the amateur couples, I have only done one competition (most of them have done 3 or 4 since last September). Perhaps it is the way I work that they just automatically equate with competing.

That said, these are people who see me at the studio 3 times a week (well 4 the last 3 due to me being away), and usually when they arrive I am either practicing on my own or doing cardio conditioning, either by myself or with Boss, both of which I can imagine look pretty intense from the outside.

It’s interesting sometimes to see your work from the perspective of others. Truth be known, I don’t really have any routines near to being competition ready, and from now until June I am in and out of town pretty consistently. Most of them will be at more lessons than I will over the next month.

This week, my focus is trying to get the pieces of the routines Boss and I have gone over into my head consistent enough to work on my own while I am away. I just pray I have time to get practice in as the schedule will be pretty hectic, both during the course I will be doing and the vacation time after.

That said, I know myself well enough that I will find time here and there to fit things in, even if not as consistently as I would like.

Almost all the routines are coming along pretty good, and we have even added to the cha cha and waltz with a likelihood of adding to the rumba or samba tomorrow.

Jive is another story, but my guess is it will be on the list to tackle when I get back. I feel back because we spent a lesson going through it, and Boss even identified a couple pieces for me to work on and when I went to work on it myself on Sunday I discovered that pretty much after the second step it was all a blank including the pieces to work on.

(although one of them was ‘kick ball changes’, something I seem to have a complete mental block on)

So am I working for a competition?

There are none on the near horizon and I have no idea if any will appear.

But, I am still working as though there is one coming up — so I can be ready, just in case.

That isn’t nuts, is it?

Surprising Boss

Well, that doesn’t happen very often.

He was surprised last week with how far my samba had progressed, and tonight I went through the waltz for him and he was surprised because he hadn’t realized I had worked so much on it.

In fact, he even commented on how in the past two weeks he has noticed that all the routines I have been working on have really started coming together and that there has been a lot of progress in general lately.

Boss isn’t one to give compliments lightly, so he has to be pretty impressed to mention it so openly. He also acknowledged that he thought I was a little crazy to want to work on so many different routines at one time instead of just one from top to bottom but that he had to admit what I was doing seemed to be working.

The biggest contributor to the progress is the simple fact that in the past couple weeks I have figured out firstly how to work most efficiently through the routines, and secondly I have been able to be more consistent in my practice overall.

Once I figured out the best way for me to work on my own, it was easy to figure out what I needed from Boss in my lessons to enable that. Primarily, it was time working through steps on my own in lessons as I do in my practice with his coaching when I can’t figure out what comes next.

I also realized that I can’t quite process entire routines at once, so I needed to break them up, and I need to be able to acknowledge when I have reached my limit for working on a particular routine.

The interesting thing is that while we work through the routines, each time we go over it we are able to add another layer of technique and correct things because I am a little more confident in what I need to do. It’s a great side effect, for lack of a better description.

Things are going so well, that tonight Boss offered me a choice for what to do next–whether to start working on another routine (which he figured was my preference) or keep working on the routines we have already done. I chose a new routine as I feel ready to take on a little more without compromising what I am already working on.

We had a discussion about which dance to do next and I offered either Quickstep or Paso. We are getting down to the dances that are going to require a lot of working and repetition to really get sorted out (foxtrot/paso), and the dances that while will be easier than others to get into my head, will take a lot of work on my own to fully execute (quickstep/jive). I picked one of each to break up the volume/type of work.

We are going to start with Quickstep tomorrow, and following that we will start to dive into the paso.

I leave for Europe in just over a week, and I hope that before I go I will have a strong foundation to work on my own through the routines, just drilling the sections I have done over and over while I am away.

Perhaps I will surprise Boss again.

Samba Surprise

Saaay Whaaaaat???

Yes, of all the dances we did tonight, samba went the best. I was even able to do the first 1/3 of the routine with Boss in time with slow samba music. Boss was completely surprised by that.

I was a little less so as I already knew I could do the first 1/4 because of focus practice I had done on it a few weeks ago. I had been able to at least maintain that. The rest of the third following where I usually stop was the surprise for me.

I have slowly been working to try and get to the halfway point, but it is not quite there. After the halfway point there is still pretty much a blank even though we went through the entire routine yesterday (and again tonight).

Considering I am still completely fogged out (this afternoon in first aid I couldn’t remember what number came after 6 in a 10 count twice during CPR practice), my lesson went much better than yesterday. I did ask Boss to break up the lesson into different dances, which he did tonight and definitely helped (although I think he is not too sure).

We started with reviewing the rumba (although not with any music), and after about the halfway point he could see me start to get a vacant stare. We still went through the entire routine before stopping, although the last half is still pretty blank for me. I might be able to reach the full halfway point on my own in practice tomorrow. That’s my hope at least…

One thing that did seem improved in the rumba was the connection, or the consistency of the connection. The work we have been doing is starting to generate ‘triggers’ for me so that I do notice when the connection is missing, and I can feel myself try to re-engage it.

I have to try to work out the timing a bit better on my own tomorrow. I can do it with Boss counting, but when I am on my own the count gets a bit lost without him to lead and prompt my movements.

What I really need to do is go through the steps on my own with Boss correcting and coaching as needed. Once we do that, I am fairly confident I can go away on my own and work out the final pieces and start adding the layers of technique. We didn’t have time to do that today before my brain was full for rumba, so we moved on to the Cha Cha.

The Cha Cha also went better than I expected. There were a lot of blank spots, but there are small sections of the routine that I am starting to do by muscle memory when led, if not quite consciously yet. I am pretty sure Boss could tell when I reached the point where things were no longer computing for me, but we pushed through to the end.

I haven’t worked through Cha Cha on my own yet, so that will be on the docket for tomorrow’s practice. I need to see how far I am able to figure out on my own and I am hoping about half. Some of the footwork gets pretty intricate in the middle, but I do know that usually cha cha is a dance I am able to pick up fairly quickly.

We ended with the samba and were able to go through the first 1/3 twice with the slow music, the second time to make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke. I blanked on a couple of steps, but was able to catch up later. Samba is usually the dance I struggle with learning the most next to paso, so tonight was certainly encouraging.

I hope my lesson tomorrow goes just as well and also has a bit of a surprise in it.

We haven’t done the waltz recently…

General Musings

I feel like I need to just catch up.

After my lesson yesterday, I realized there are quite a few random and disjointed thoughts swirling around in my head about dance, none of which (on the surface) are ready for their own post. So I thought I would just collect them here and see what comes out.

Yesterday was a review of 2 of the open standard routines, one of which needed some additions to bring it to the proper time. We started with Quickstep (which needed the additions). Of all the dances, Quickstep is definitely the one that changes the most from syllabus to open level. I am finding it intimidating on the one hand, but ready to dive into the challenge on the other.

Following QS, we went through the Foxtrot, which was more a case of me trying to follow what Boss was leading as, like the QS, we haven’t really worked on it or run it together. I think the main point of the first part of the lesson was for Boss to simultaneously review the routines (it had been since before Christmas for both), and determine the places where I need the most work so we can start focusing on them in lessons.

I am going to be away for 3 weeks beginning the middle of March, so until then I will have 4 lessons a week to sort of pre-make-up the time. I am looking forward to the concentrated block.

When I get back from that trip, Boss tells me he hopes to have some news about us dancing together more as he has an injury that will be reassessed. I am eager to hear what he will have to say but don’t hold out for much beyond working together more in lessons. Competing is more or less up to him right now and I don’t seem him as eager to get back on the floor. For me, there is so much to do I am not in any rush myself.

I still haven’t completely figured out how to work through the open routines on my own yet, but I can feel ideas peculating in the back of my mind. Have to let them settle.

After the QS and Fox, we worked a little bit on Tango before going into tango conditioning (which is 4-step, promenade close, drag, back corte repeated for a set amount of time followed by rest till my pulse recovers and repeat). I was surprised that Boss did the entire set with me (which certainly got the pulse up!). Usually I do all conditioning on my own while he monitors time and the technique, although the last couple times he has done the last set with me. I think he is testing out his injury a little and seeing where he is at for conditioning (generally much better than me!).

There is a strength and quality about my movement in standard right now that is new. When we were doing tango, Boss kept asking me if I could feel that I am now ‘using my legs’, but while I can tell there are different elements happening, I can’t (yet) equate or describe what I am doing or where it is coming from. In tango especially, I am willing to bet it is different if I don’t try to focus on doing something and just let myself move. There is definitely something happening in my ‘natural’ movement I can feel my mind trying to latch on to.

In retrospect, the same could be applied to both foxtrot and quickstep. There was something about how I was moving in general that was different (and I think positive), although perhaps not completely consistent that is coming from somewhere (likely some of the exercises I am doing). Like I tried to describe above, I can feel the difference, but I can’t describe it or say what it is I am doing and I think trying to figure it out changes it. Again, I think Boss recognizes it more that I do (and thinks I am better aware of it than I am). It’ s like I just want to work through some things in standard until I can understand what I am doing so that I don’t ruin it by ‘trying’.

Some general thoughts on Latin–

Ever have something seem just a little bit out of the reach of your brain and you keep doing it but you can tell it is just a little off? That was me until a week ago in back steps. Boss had explained them (again) and I had begun work on them, but right away I could tell I was missing a big piece. The way I was focusing on the movement was off. We had gone through several different versions of the same thing–focusing on hip, moving leg, feet, turnout, it just always seemed a little ‘off’. Two weeks we hit on it though–for me, I need to focus on the standing leg and everything else tends to move as it should. Once I centred in on that, the back walks seem to have ‘clicked’ together and what Boss is describing and what I am doing now makes sense.

Love those ‘aha’ moments but man, they tend to make you want to pull hair out getting there!

For latin routines, I am feeling pretty good on the two sections I am working on in both Rumba and Samba and am ready to try to venture out. The technique is of course not fully there, but the sequence and timing is coming more naturally and taking less thought, which is my first goal with the routines. Once I have the movements joined and flowing, I can start pulling apart the technique as we work on them in lessons. I hope to equally be able to do the first part of the waltz when I get back to regular practice on Wednesday.

My schedule was a bit disrupted last week while my father was visiting, which was expected. He has headed back home today, so tomorrow it’s off and running again.

The other thing we have been working on in latin is the connection between us, the action and reaction, and keeping our weight (meaning mine mostly) forward towards Boss. It’s another thing, like the movement in standard that I can feel my mind processing through in the background. Something that needs to become an innate habit and is almost there, but not quite.

In both cases, it is like I am standing on the edge of a cliff, almost ready to jump, but not quite sure if I brought the right harnesses. Eventually, I just need to do it, but there are still too many options and directions to go for me to be completely ready to take the plunge.

It’s a bit of a fascinating time for me in dance, with a lot more going on that I have had in a while. I can feel myself slowly preparing for bringing things to the next level, so that I have a chance of making it work when I get there.

More baby steps, but not bad for recovering.

It’s a rumba!

At least it has the appearance of one now.

My last few lessons have been focused on working through the choreography for the new open rumba. It’s taken a few lessons due to the intricacies of the steps, but tonight we were able to go through the entire routine top to bottom with slow music without any major hiccups or restarts.

It’s quite an achievement as its a long routine with a lot of details and changes in timing. It’s also a routine unlike any I have done before so I am giving myself a little pat on the back for being able to get it together. A week ago, I was sure it would be at least another week before we got even close to doing it without stop, let alone to the music.

That’s not to say its good to go. There are definitely a lot more details to work out and technical points that are lacking, but the foundation is there and that is a positive step. I also still need to fully work out my timing and become more confident in it.

Even just working through the choreography I am already understanding where work needs to be done. Just to execute the choreography properly requires a lot of trust and connection through the lead and follow. I can’t do all of the steps on my own as I am used to rely on, or at least it won’t really work if I do that. That has led to a bit of a steep curve, but just the need to use it has already starting clicking into place some of the tactile things I need to understand. I feel there has been some growth in that area. Its interesting how a lack of option can affect things.

I find all of it fascinating and I have surprised myself in learning pieces of this. I know where I need to focus some of my own practice and I am eager to start digging into this myself.

Unfortunately, that may have to wait a bit. Once again, my neck muscles are acting up, although it appears to be more related to work and sitting at a computer than dance or anything more physical. Despite that, I am at a point where if I can’t get my neck muscles to relax, they are signalling they are going to seize up again. I saw the doc today and was referred for both acupuncture and physio, but was unable to get an appointment for either until next week. In the mean time, I have some stretches and some pain relievers to try and keep it from locking up on me.

Isn’t that always the way?

I did have a productive weekend that allowed me to catch up on work and school as I had hoped, so my stress levels are much better now. Getting through the rumba has contributed to that so I hope my neck will keep playing nice and allowing me to keep dancing until I can get it fully relieved.

In addition to the rumba, we will be continuing to work on the tango and I was told to expect to start working through the samba next week.

Suddenly, learning 9 open routines doesn’t seem as daunting.

All that from learning a rumba.

Made it…

…to the end of the week.

I have two days off physically, but mentally I have a lot to do this weekend, including some school and work, as well as some more transcribing of routines for dance. My work week went a little unexpectedly sideways and left me unable to do the things I wanted to get done to deal with emerging things. I am sure it happens at every job.

My work description itself is changing, almost daily at this point and one of the things I have to do is figure out a structure and plan for my office now that I have more people and more responsibility. That is going to take some heavy thinking.

I had hoped for a bit more of a break this weekend, but if I get the things I hope to finished I know that next weekend I will be able to relax more and focus on the things I want to focus on, rather that those I have to focus on.

Moving from work, it was a productive night at my lesson.

We have been working on the new open rumba routine and we have worked through about 1/2 – 2/3rds of it, and Boss told me he intends to try to finish it up next week.

It is interesting what I am discovering just working through the choreography. It has highlighted some gaps in things I haven’t really worked on and essentially provided a bit of a ‘to do’ list, once we have worked through the routine.

Some of the specific things I know I will need to work on is the connection within the partnership, allowing myself to use my partner to execute more challenging parts, and some elements such as rondes and stylistic details.

As we work through it though, I am feeling better about the routines and that they are doable and achievable and not quite as complicated and complex as they might seem.

It ended a rough week on a positive note, and one which I certainly needed.

It helped me make it through.