Back on the Floor!

Yes, finally!!

I was cleared to return to all activities yesterday, and I celebrated by having a lesson. 9 weeks until the competition, so a lot of work to do.

The lesson last night was very interesting and telling.

It ended up being later in the evening than I usually have a lesson and I was worried I would be too tired, but I was so anxious to get back on the floor I pushed it aside.

It was good that I did.

The start of the lesson was really really rough. We were working on standard since I have a couple coaching lessons this week and we started by reviewing and walking through our gold routines. I really felt like a wet blanket with no strength, and my mind was racing in about 50 different directions as my body tried to figure out what was going on. By the time we finished walking through the quickstep, I was honestly feeling quite panicked, and really couldn’t figure out what was going on.

We took a bit of a break before looking at specific parts of the routines that we will focus on for the coaching.

It turned out that break was what my mind needed to reconnect with my body and to trust that my body knew and was capable of doing what it needed.

After that, it was like the weight I have been carrying on my shoulders for the last 6 months disappeared. I felt my mind relax and organize itself, and as Boss and I prepared to work through one segment of our waltz, everything just came back together.

Actually, it came together better than it has in a longer time than I can remember.

It was like I needed the rough start for my mind to assess the state of my body and once it decided that all the movements were ok, it gave permission.  I could use my full strength and power, was able to move into full hold and to follow what Boss was doing. By the end of the lesson we were even traveling significantly more down the floor than we have in a very long time.

The best way I can describe the feeling is to say I felt free and free to dance. There wasn’t anything holding me back anymore–no hormone issues, no depression, no muscle weakness, no fuzzy head, and no fatigue.

In fact, I felt more energized after the lesson than I was before it–something that hasn’t happened since before I was diagnosed. I had honestly forgotten what that feels like.

I was able to ask my body to do things, and it responded–usually better than I expected, and much more than I have become used to.

Needless to say, I was pretty shocked and overwhelmed. I found confidence in my movement that had been missing for a very long time.

Aside from completely surprising myself, Boss seemed to be completely over the moon. I don’t think he has said he was pleased so many times in a lesson before. Considering how my previous recoveries and issues with treatments have gone, I can’t blame him–this ‘comeback’ is in a class by itself. He commented that I was dancing better than he was prepared for.

A lot of pieces that were only just swirling around in pieces before my surgery seemed to click into place while I was recovering. It’s a testament to how even when you have to take a break physically, mentally your mind may still be working. I could almost feel them all fall into place.

Of course, that’s not to say that everything was easy. It has been 6 weeks since I have really done any activity except light walking in the last 2 weeks. I was getting winded easy, and my pulse was racing. I could feel how out of shape and out of conditioning I am. It’s going to take a lot of work to get that moving forward again. While I could do full power in short segments, I know that attempting even one full routine at that power would be pretty draining. Overall, the lesson was fantastically terrible–a lot of success mixed with hard work that demonstrates there is a lot more to be done.

But its baby steps. The foundation is there. I achieve beyond my own goal in that lesson, in that after the initial ‘trial’, I was able to push myself fully through the rest of the lesson without giving up. While this lesson was hard, the next will be a little easier and I will be able to push longer and further.

It’s like remembering something from childhood–I know I used to be able to do it, but the details are fuzzy.

They are becoming more clear now.

I feel much more optimistic about the coaching on Wednesday, and my ability to get through 2 45 min lessons. The last time this coach was here, the work with him triggered a few things falling into place in standard that had been eluding me, and I am hopeful at something similar may be possible this time too. We (and by ‘we’, I mean Boss) have a good plan for things to work on, and if it is even remotely similar to last night, it’s going to be fun.

Fun. There’s a word I haven’t used in relation to dance in a long time. It feels good. Fun.

After last night’s lesson, I expected to wake up sore, especially in the surgical area, and completely tired and drained today from so much effort last night.

In another surprise, I woke up with tons of energy after sleeping better than I have in quite some time, and while I am moderately sore in the muscles I haven’t used in a long time, my belly and abdomen feel the same as they did before the lesson yesterday.

I am sooooo pleased to not have adverse after-effects! (I was pretty worried).

I expect my upper back, shoulder and leg muscles will be a little more sore tomorrow, but nothing unusual.

As a bonus to all of this, my doctor and I decided this morning to stop the anti-depressants, and see how it goes. The last 3 days I have been feeling symptoms of being over medicated again, and since I am on the lowest dose now, the next step is to stop and see how I feel in 2 weeks once my system has adjusted.  I can always go back if I need them. It’s the last of the medications I had to take to counter-act side effects of the hormone therapy.

In fact, I am now officially back to taking only the medications I was taking before I was diagnosed (actually one less, since one was a hormone supplement), one for insomnia, one for allergies. It’s another way to feel free.

Something else I haven’t mentioned which may be contributing to the increase in energy I am having–since the surgery I have lost 10 of the 40 lbs I gained during treatment, with only small diet changes on my part. Finally, it seems my body is ready to get fit again. It’s something I will need to stay on top of, but it’s the first real weight progress I have seen in over a year, and I finally feel motivated again to keep focusing on it.

In a lot of ways, my life is finally starting to resemble what it was pre-cancer, and I hope the momentum I now have continues to keep me moving forward. I am back to work next week, and looking forward to it. I have almost finished the 5th course for my masters.

And now I feel like I am ready and capable of getting back to fully dancing again.

Even more, I feel like I can really hope again.

It’s been a long time coming.

A plan coming together

Monday seems such a long way off.

On Monday I see the surgeon and should get my clearance to return to activities, including dance. The following week I return to work half days.

Since I have an idea of when I will be returning to dance, I was able to sit down with Boss and put together some thoughts for competing, and how to get back into training.

Among other things, we decided on a competition goal–that is just over 9 weeks away. 9 weeks of working to prepare for a competition that is nearby, but still requires a plane ride. Before that, I may do a solo at a local comp, but I haven’t quite decided on that yet.

We also took a look into the new year, and right now we are looking to attend a bigger competition in the US in the spring. After that, plans are in the works for a unique opportunity, but more on that later.

Even though it is really in the short-term, I am relieved to have a competition goal to work towards. I suddenly feel like I have focus for dance again and I am eager to get started.

We have a plan for the first few lessons to get an idea of how things feel and where I am at.

For myself, my goal is to start with the regular 3 lessons a week, and when things feel good and stable then work to add practices and eventually group classes from there. When I can handle 3 lessons and work, then I will add some more activity. As eager as I am to get working, I am not eager to move too fast and end up injured.

I am finding I have a renewed motivation towards dance. Even though I will have one more surgery in October (after the comp), finally there is really nothing looming on the horizon for me.  I can get back to moving through things as I want to without medical interference.

Among other things, I finally found the word that has been eluding me for about 6 months. The word is ‘effort’. It may seem strange, but through my illness I have gotten use to reducing the effort I put into lessons and practices in order to conserve energy. It’s made me cautious, and it has also limited my endurance and conditioning because I never really push myself.

I have realized that I don’t want to play in this ‘safe’ zone anymore and want to get back to pushing my way through everything I do with my full effort. I really hope I will be able to translate that back into dance. I feel like I have allowed myself to get lazy, and it doesn’t sit well with me.

I think the challenge of competing in only 9 weeks is exactly what I need to help remotivate me. Outside of dance, there is renewed energy in a few different areas of my life as all is connected.

I have different ideas for things I want to do and how I want to approach practice and preparation over the next few weeks. I only hope that Boss will also be on board.

Slowly the plan is coming together.

Why compete?

Why, indeed.

After sorting through thoughts in my last post, I guess I realized I need to figure out what drives me to compete, or rather what makes a competition interesting or worth competing in.

  • Competitions give me a real and tangible goal within a set time period.

I am a very goal-oriented person and having a competition to prepare for gives me something to focus on and a specific time within which to do it.  I need that to feel grounded in my dancing.  It’s not about specific goals within my dancing, but giving something to aim for.

  • Competitions set time frames for measuring progress.

It’s not really about how much progress is made between competitions, but more about having a definitive time to evaluate. It’s an opportunity to record my dancing under pressure and to compare it with previous videos.

  • Competitions help me feel structured in my dancing.

Along with being goal-oriented, I need structure, and really don’t do well if I feel there is no rhyme or reason to what I am doing. Competing gives me that structure–there are levels, others to compare to, things to evaluate.

  • The impact of a competition should reflect the price.

It doesn’t make sense to spend a large amount to attend a small competition, where I may be alone on the floor. It also doesn’t make sense to spend a small amount to attend a large competition that I have to travel to. The two parts need to balance and sometimes this can be the trickiest part. There are never any guarantees.

  • It’s not a competition if I am alone.

In order to compete, there needs to be someone to compete against. There is competitiveness in my nature, although its not always evident and I can say I am not comfortable with it. While I see the value in comparing my dancing against what I did at previous events, there is an element to competing with others on the floor that increases the drive to do well. It’s motivating.

  • Competitions motivate me.

There is something about competing that motivates and drives me more than just performing or social dancing. There is a thrill to it, and in many ways it is the time I feel comfortable acknowledging that I have done something well. It’s when I allow myself to really give myself credit, but it also gives an external justification too. It’s someone who doesn’t see me dancing all the time giving approval (or sometimes signalling problems).

  • Competing is the reward I give myself for hard work.

While I have lots of personal reasons for wanting to work hard, wanting to do well at a competition also plays a part. Competitions are something I earn. I work hard to save the money to attend, so I also owe it to myself to work hard to prepare for them. Competitions are an opportunity to have fun after putting in the hard work to prepare. Because I know I have worked hard, when I go to compete I can just enjoy the full experience, including traveling, the showcases/performances, and knowing I have done well.

Looking at this list, I can see where most of my recent competitions, and even my preparation for them have missed the mark for me. I also see that one of the things I experienced the most in the past 6 months was preparing for my silver test, which is very telling. Once my last competition was over, I felt very lost and aimless until the test prep started.

Part of me is scared about returning to dance without having decided on a competition goal. I am worried that for one reason or another, my next competition will be once again one of the same local competitions I have been doing for the last 2.5 years.

I am very worried deep down that if I can’t settle on some goals, especially for competing, I will lose the motivation I have gained following the surgery, and I will start to question why I dance–a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down again.

I feel like I lost some of the reasons why I dance in recent months, really since my mastectomies and reconstruction and all the issues with the hormone therapy. I got stagnant and I want to break that cycle. More than that, I need to break that cycle. I feel like I call myself a competitive dancer, but I have no right to since I never really compete.

I feel like I am pretending. Perhaps that is the root of the problem.

It’s time to get back on a full competition floor.

Trying to catch the thoughts

Have you ever felt like there were a bunch of related thoughts swirling around your head but you couldn’t just quite get them to all come together?

That’s a bit like what I feel right now and I’m hoping that by writing it out a little bit I might be able to figure out some of the directions that my mind is wanting to go in.

I still continue to do well with recovering, but as my recovery continues I find I’m turning towards the future and getting back to the activities that I enjoy and that includes dance.

I find myself thinking about dance a lot these days probably mostly because I am unable to do it. What is on my mind the most is how my return to dance will look like, what steps I will have to take to get back. But the bigger question seems to be not do I want to go back, but how do I want to go back. What is it that will motivate me? That’s the question that seems to be forefront of my mind right now.

I was in a pretty sorry place before the surgery although I was trying to ignore that, it’s certainly had an effect on how I was dancing at the time. I wanted to wait until after surgery to begin to deal with it.

I am having a hard time because I am not sure how I want to return to competing. There are days when I’m not sure that I want to compete. But those are also the same days that I know I need to compete.

I feel indifferent to competing right now. Somewhere in the last 3 years of treatments and recoveries, my focus, drive, and motivation for competing has changed. It’s left me feeling like I haven’t done a real competition since 2014.

It concerns me because it affects the mind-set with which I am trying to determine when and where to compete.

The last few comps I have done I felt indifferent about the results. Even hearing Boss talk about how I did at the last comp in January never excited or motivated me.

Somewhere, while I was sick, I lost the fire and drive that kept me focused on my competitive goals. The inner strength that pushed me through the preparation. The sense of satisfaction I used to feel at the end of every lesson knowing that I had put everything I had into every movement to reach my limit every lesson.

Confession time. It’s been a long time since I have felt fulfilled and satisfied with my performance in a lesson.

Very few of my lessons in the past 6 months have sparked interest from me. I do what I need to in order to go through the motions, but nothing is driving me. I can’t seem to figure out or nail down the goal I have been working on. So I gave up trying.

The worse thing is that when I look at the recordings of the gold routines we made, I can see quite obviously that I am just going through the steps. I am not dancing and I am not trying to.

I don’t know if I really remember what it felt like to put 110% into every step all the time any more. But I want to get back to doing that, instead of working through the budgeting of energy I have developed such a strong habit of doing.

I want to feel myself get strong again and I want to return to dance knowing there is a clear reasonable and practicable competition goal to prepare for. Not one “just to get on the floor”, but one I can feel motivated and driven to prepare for.

I just don’t know that such a comp exists right now.

One of my biggest fears in looking at returning to dance is that it will be the same as before–no real focus or goal for motivation. That it will still be stagnant and I will be bored with it no matter how hard I try not to be.

I don’t know where to start, but waiting to start is the hardest thing I am facing right now.

I miss dance, but I fear I miss the ghost of what my dancing was before I got sick.

I don’t know what direction to go, but I know I need to figure out how to get the fire and passion back in my dance, not to mention the drive and motivation that comes from having a goal to work towards.

I am afraid I will end up in a circle of never committing to competitions because I feel I will be disappointed by the experience of them before I go.

I have had perhaps too many ‘meh’  competitions in my recent past due to health. Too many comps attended I didn’t really want to attend. Too many comps I was unable to get excited about. Too many comps I didn’t feel challenged to prepare for.

I want to get out of this rut. I want to set a comp goal and focus on it. Focus the preparation for it. Know I won’t be alone on the floor and that I will have a chance of placing well because I worked hard to do so. Get a real idea of where I am at.

But sometimes wishes are only wishes and dreams depend too much on the will of others.

Sometimes it’s better to keep thoughts swirling to yourself.

Then you don’t risk disappointing others.

Silver Test

All done!

I passed with the comment ‘highly commended’ which is the highest comment.

Sorry I haven’t written, life seems to have been crazy lately!

I have been on call for work and people are calling a lot. We also have a major event happening next week that is filling time.  I feel like I haven’t stopped.  My phone also died so that took time to get a replacement (why is it so complicated???).

I am also strongly considering another major purchase in my life, but more to follow on that.

Back to the test, it went really well–better than I expected. VW was not too bad and Quickstep only got really questionable at the end.  All the routines went as expected.  All my comments were positive or provided great feedback, some of which was pretty expected (like work on getting my feet closed parallel in heel turns).  Overall I was told that I was at a really good level for silver, and the adjudicator even asked if I would be doing my gold test with the group working for October (which I won’t, especially since I won’t be able to dance almost all summer).  It was a surprise, but on the whole I am not in a hurry to do my next test.

So now the silver test is behind me and we are back to working out gold routines. We had a brief conversation on Monday about whether the routines should be strictly by the syllabus as necessary for testing, or more flexible and ‘showy’ for competition.  Since my focus now (one day!) is for competition, that is what we are doing.  Boss decided to adjust some of the previous routines we had done (particularly rumba), but even after that we now have solid sequences for rumba, cha cha, foxtrot, tango and quickstep.  Most of the samba and waltz are done, but Boss said he will make some adjustments to those routines.  That leave paso (probably the trickiest to choreograph) and jive.  We did go over one of the gold jive steps I will need.

My focus really from now until surgery is to get those new sequences into my feet. 3 weeks left, so should be doable.

About to finish my current course in my masters too!  Means in two weeks I should have the syllabus for the next one and hope it is flexible enough my surgery shouldn’t interfere too much. Fingers crossed.

There seem to be a lot of silver linings this week 🙂

Open Mixed Division

I fully recognize I am probably about to open a can of worms, and bring up potentially controversial issues.

I want to start by saying this is only the result of my own late night insomniac thinking, and none of the examples used are of people or situations I actually know.  They are all hypothetical.  I also recognize that as only a pro/am student, there are perhaps elements of both the professional and amateur world which I do not know.

One of the triggering things for this is the recent announcement that in 2018 Blackpool will hold a separate Teacher/Student division where ‘amateur’ teachers can dance with their students.  This is separate from Pro/Am where ‘professional’ teachers dance with their students.

This announcement is interesting, because according to the British Dance Council Rulebook:

18.

Loss of Amateur Status

(a) A competitor’s amateur status will be deemed lost if:

i. accepts remuneration in cash for the use of their name as a dancer in an advertisement;

ii. declares themselves to be a professional;

iii. passes a teaching entrance examination of any of the ballroom branches of an examining teacher organisation;

iv. acts as a teacher of dancing, with or without a fee, unless under the supervision of a qualified professional;

v. organises dances for personal profit;

vi. participates in a competition or match limited to professionals;

vii. acts as an MC for the purpose of leading dances or calling sets.

viii. adjudicates at a dancing competition

I do note this rule book is scheduled to be amended in January 2018, so perhaps points i, iii, and iv (or others) will be amended.

I want to point out that these are the British rules only.  I know that in the US, from discussions I have seen on forums the only way to be considered a professional is item ii.  In Canada, under Canada Dancesport Rules, amateurs who have achieved specific placings (I think top 3 in the Canadian Closed) may teach provided they pass appropriate exams, don’t charge over a certain amount per lesson, and report all earning from teaching to the CDS (there are other conditions, but those are the main ones).

So, what is my point? And why is it potentially controversial?

It just seems to me that the dance world is really starting to ‘split hairs’ when it comes to the number of different divisions and eligibility required for them, especially when talking about the open level (as a point of note, Blackpool only offers open level events).  There is a lot of dividing going on, at least on paper, in what appears to be an effort to maintain integrity of the words ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ (although as said above, I recognize this is very simplified).  There are so many different ‘statuses’ of couples competing right now, but are they, and their level of dance really that different?

Usually, when the average person thinks ‘professional’ they think of someone who makes their living by that trade.  In dance, someone who teaches and performs for compensation, and an ‘amateur’ is someone for whom dancing is done purely for the enjoyment of doing it without compensation (and usually paying to do it).

In the dance world, at least in the US as a prime example, this is not the case.  Whether you are an amateur or professional is based solely on what you want to call yourself and what division you would like to compete in.  One does not automatically imply by the title they are better dancers than the other.  In fact, looking just at the number of former amateurs who seem to automatically go to the semi or even final of the pro division, it would imply the level of dancing is fairly even–which begs the question why are there so many divisions?

Let’s break down some of the divisions:

  1. Professional – couple consisting of two partners registered as professionals.  Most likely both teach.
  2. Pro/Am – couple consisting of a teacher registered as a professional dancing with an amateur student who does no teaching whatsoever.
  3. Teacher/Student – couple consisting of a teacher registered as an amateur dancing with an amateur student who does no teaching whatsoever.
  4. Mixed Amateur – (presumably does not apply to open events) a couple consisting of a higher level amateur dancing with a lower level amateur.  eg. an open amateur competing with a silver amateur.  ( I believe only the lower level partner is judged, and the higher amateur does not teach the lower, but may teach others).
  5. Student/Student – (again, does not seem to apply to open events) a mixed amateur couple consisting of two pro/am students. (I admit to not being very familiar with this division, so could be wrong).
  6. Amateur/Amateur – two partners registered as amateurs competing together. One or both of the partners may teach, or neither may teach.

Numbers 2-5 have a further breakdown by age, usually adult (16-35), senior I (36-50), senior II (51+). Some have further divisions.  There are the odd ‘senior’ professional events, but not very common. For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to focus on types 1, 2, 3, and 6.

Currently, all 4 of these couples are unable to compete directly against each other.  The competitive events are completely separate.  Pro/ams do not compete with teacher/student, and pro couples don’t compete with amateur couples.  From what I have seen in some forums, the reason is (or used to be) that it was felt unfair to mix competitors of different statuses.  That amateur couples would be unfairly outclassed by professional couples and that pro/am couples would upstage teacher/student couples.

Personally, I am not seeing this to be the case, and I have seen many arguments that the quality of amateur couples are equal, if not better than professionals.  I think all divisions have both strong, medium and weak couples.  In the end, regardless of status, it is two people dancing on the floor.

A thought that occurred to me though–what stops a teacher/student couple from competing in am/am events?

Consider this. An Amateur teacher is aged 42.  He is no longer competing as an amateur because his partner decided not to continue dance.  Lacking a steady partner, he sees not reason to declare ‘professional’ status, but does compete with his students in the teacher/student division.  However, he has 3 open-level students aged 36, 41, and 48, who all want to go to the same competition and compete in the multi-dance/scholarship events. He cannot compete with more than one student in the same event.  He can compete with the youngest student in the ‘A’ (under 35) event (as it is possible to dance down an age), but only one of his other two students can do the ‘B’ (36-50) event.  Neither student is willing to give up the opportunity for the other.  So, since he is 42, he registers the 3rd student in the senior I amateur event, as both qualify for that age category, and both are amateurs.

Is there anything to prevent this?  I haven’t seen anything on it, but in order to compete in teacher/student as the ‘teacher’ do you have to be also compete with a dedicated amateur partner?  It doesn’t appear to be a necessity, just is the general practice.

When I think of amateur competitions, it occurs to me that there are at least 3 types of couples competing on the floor–couples where neither partner teaches, where one partner teaches, and where both partners teach. Does one type of couple have an advantage over the others on the floor? On the surface it doesn’t seem to.

So, after laying out all this, I can see a case for a new division–mixed open–where the only eligibility is that both partners meet the age requirements, regardless of individual status (pro, am, student).  In this division (let’s use senior I for an example), all open level, there could be pro couples, am couples, pro/am couples and teacher/student couples all competing against each other, provided every individual on the floor was over 35. It would certainly recognize that as much as the dance world is trying to keep all these divisions separate, the lines between them are blurred and there is less of a distinction in level.

But could you imagine the fall-out if an am couple were placed above a pro couple, or if a pro/am couple was placed above and am couple?  What if a teacher/student couple won the event?

I think these questions and potential fall-out are exactly why this mixed open division does not exist and likely never will.  It’s not unheard of in other sports though–think of hockey where both professional and amateur players compete together in the olympics, similarly with basketball.

I want to be clear, I am not advocating for one or the other, or that we get rid of any of the current divisions.  Sheer variety of couples will mean that other separate events will need to be continued–most pro/am couples have large age differences between the teacher and student, for example, and a mixed open division would only be possible for open events.  Certainly not syllabus.

But to me, it’s an interesting question to ask.  Would there be an unfair advantage for one type of couple over the other if this event existed? Would that be negated by knowing what you are registering for (if you know you are registering for an event with a mixed variety of couples, can you then complain the pro couple had an advantage?  I think not–its what you signed up for).

I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this.  As I said, most of this is just some logical reasoning and thought processes generated from the recent announcement of including not only pro/am, but a separate teacher/student event at Blackpool.  I guess the main question that popped to my mind was–why are these separate events?

Perhaps that is just an uncomfortable question that shouldn’t be asked.

But I did anyway.

Feel free to share and give opinions–just please be respectful.

 

Bitter smooth

I don’t know why I still feel upset about stopping smooth, but I do.

Perhaps it is just that I have watched others compete in it recently (in case you are in a dance bubble, Blackpool is on, absolutely fabulous to watch and had Pro/am events in 4 styles and pro American style events for the first time), and that is just highlighting the loss to me.

I am not even really sure why I feel bitter about it, except to know that I do and it is obviously still a very raw wound.

I am not even sure who to talk to about it as the decision was made by Boss not to compete in it anymore and he said he won’t discuss that decision.

I guess in some way, I am bitter because I invested a lot of time and resources into it and now I feel all of that is wasted. There is a beautiful smooth dress in my closet I doubt I will ever wear again, I invested in having the routines choreographed, coaching lessons, shoes and considerable lesson time to get the routines competition ready.

Perhaps it is only that I am stuck somewhere between denial and anger in the stages of grief as I don’t really have an outlet to deal with it. Other dancers still ask me if I am doing it and that is a hard reminder. I keep getting hit harder than I should be when something reminds me.

I think one of the things most significant about smooth was that because we only did open and it wasn’t part of my international program, I felt really free doing it. I could relax and let go in ways I haven’t let discovered how to do in Standard and Latin. And it suited me well. Without realizing it,  it became an interesting outlet and bridge for me that helped make the crazy pro/am dance world make sense.

I Don’t want to dwell on it, and it is usually not my style, so it irks me I still get upset about it. I feel pretty powerless about it and that in some ways one aspect of dance I really enjoyed has now been ruined for me. I can’t seem to watch it without being filled with negative emotions.

II want to move on, but for whatever reason, I can’t.

At least not yet.

Missing Smooth

I was hit by something unexpected tonight.

When I got home from work, I turned on the live stream of the Emerald Ball to see where things were at. It was smooth heats, and in the first one was a couple I had competed against at VCC.

It’s hard to explain how I felt. I kept watching though probably I shouldn’t have, and it was more smooth multi-dances. I kept picturing how my routines would have fit on the floor, if I was able to compete in smooth anymore.

It affected me more than I realized, and stuck in my mind well past after I stopped watching.

I went to practice tonight, but things didn’t go well at all. I was working on my rumba which went fine, then waltz and little bit of samba, when suddenly I got hit with wave after wave of nausea that kept getting more intense. I could feel it building to a panic attack (also made no sense), so I decided to leave. I had dry heaves by my car (so grateful not to throw up in public!), but was hit with the attack by the time I got home.

My mind was racing with too many things, but I got to my medication and that helped calm me down. I was also able to take prescription medications for the nausea.

This was similar, yet different from Monday, but equally frustrating. Once again I am having to give into sickness.

I think watching just overwhelmed me more than I realized –it was smooth, a competition I really want to do, and it highlighted that besides missing smooth, I am missing competing in general. I don’t know when I will be able to do it again. October is the plan now, but it seems years away and whenever we set a goal that far away…it never materializes.

I think I have already just written off the idea of competing–I mean really competing outside of BC–as impossible.

It was a lot to come crashing into my mind tonight, I think. Just too much reality I am not yet ready to face. I feel like I have lost so much in the past two months and can barely hang on to what I have left.

But at least I have somethings.

The silver test is scheduled and paid for to take place next month. I hope nothing happens between now and then (and I can remember closed silver!).

Something small to hang onto while I miss others.

Perhaps I won’t be watching the rest of the emerald ball.

Competing Criteria

You would think that choosing a competition to go to would be a pretty straight-forward thing.

Apparently not.

Now that I have my masters residency behind me, I am looking to decide on competitions to give me something concrete to focus on.  What I have discovered is that because my focus for competing (when I was sick it was more about just getting on the floor) has shifted, deciding on a competition is not as simple as it was before.  A big part of that problem is that while I know my focus in competing has shifted, I am not quite sure what it has shifted to.

As a pro/am student, when choosing competitions it is easy to focus on the bottom line–what can I afford, what is the best value for my money and when can I afford it.  I feel like that is a big part of what has been driving my decisions for competitions.

But the question I would like to be asking first is: What is the best value for my dancing?

And that is harder to nail down.  Right now, I am doing a lot of shifting and rebuilding.  I am changing levels and that means learning new routines.  I want to focus more on closed events, but at the same time I don’t want to disregard the open events so we are also looking to work with a choreographer to develop open routines.  I am trying to rebuild the strength and fitness I lost while sick, while at the same time (hopefully) also improving my technique and overall dancing.

When looking at where to compete right now, the biggest issue is that Boss and I haven’t really set any competition goals.  We seem to be going about it backwards.  We are looking at competitions, and then setting goals for them.  I think I would rather look at what I want to achieve from a competition and then see what competition will fit that goal–and still be affordable.

One of the biggest issues with this right now is that we are heading into summer when competition are few and far between.  On top of this, competing in the US is pretty much off the table with the increasing prices there and the exchange rate.  Not to mention the political climate and travel unpredictability.

While I may be ready to put routines on the floor this summer, there really isn’t a competitive opportunity to do that.  That will mean shifting the focus a bit and looking either longer term, or shorter term.  Do I try to do a comp at the end of June, or do I wait and do two in the fall?  If I do one in June, my routines aren’t likely to be very polished and it would be basically trialing them at the competition.  How much do I want to spend on doing that?  Do I want to use most of my competing budget to attend a competition (which would be great), with routines that aren’t well polished and not likely to be competitive?  Or would it be better to find a more local competition with smaller events to get those routines on the floor before going out against the ‘big dogs’.

Part of this is that as much as I like to support the local competitions, I inevitably end up competing against the same people, getting the same results, being seen by the same judges.  The pro/am portion of these competitions is always small without much variety.  The same 3 teachers bring out the same 2-3 students in multiple events.  I have become quite disenchanted with that.  I really want to branch out and get on the floor in a new area against new people I don’t usually compete against.

But again, it brings me back to the question–when dance-wise is the best time to do this so that the opportunity is not wasted due to lack of preparation time?  It’s one thing to feel ‘ready’.  It’s another to not have routines or be able to complete a full round on the floor.

Whatever I decide, the one thing I need to be sure of is that it is a decision I can accept.  If not, I will only resent it and that is not good for me or my dancing.  It’s a lot to think on, but the only rush is my desire to have a firm goal to focus on.

Competing, especially pro/am is an investment and as such takes a lot of thought and consideration.  But it is important to remember that it is not just an investment of money–it is also an investment of time, practice, discipline, motivation and personal well-being.

The trick is to figure out what meets the value for all those criteria.

Pro/am isolation

I have been debating about whether to write a post about this or not for a while now.

One caveat I will say is that this is based on my own experiences in the community where I live, which is certainly unique compared to what I hear about others.

I will also say that in many ways, this is a post where I just need to vent and I apologize in advance for that.  Sometimes you just have to get things out before they consume you.

In all honesty, this could be a combination of post-comp crash combined with a hormone surge from my injection last week, although what I will speak about has been swirling in my brain for quite some time.

I have been feeling more and more isolated from the dance community lately and a big part of it seems to be that I am an unpartnered person trying to fit into a community that celebrates and embraces partnerships.

I don’t fit in with the competitive couples here because since I compete in pro/am I am not really considered a competitor.

I don’t fit in with the social dancers here because I am seen by them as more of a competitor.  And again, the majority of them from the studio where I dance are couples.

I feel like everywhere I turn I am encountering a situation that highlights the fact that I am a single person trying to do something meant for couples, and because of that, I just don’t fit in.  The more I try to fit in, the more isolated I feel.

One of the things I always like about dance is that it is a community of people who all have similar interests as me and a community with which I have a lot in common.  I enjoy and crave that sense of community. When I first moved to the city where I lived, I started dancing at a franchise studio which provided a great sense of community, even if I had issues with some of the other things about the franchise system.  While I know that leaving the franchise when I did was the best decision for me, I do miss the community I was a part of while I was there.

I did try to get involved with the local dance society, but because I am a pro/am student anything which I did was perceived as having the sole goal of trying to promote my instructor (even when it had nothing to do with him). I was told I couldn’t participate in events with am/am couples (as again any dancing I did with my instructor indirectly promoted him unfairly and not other instructors), and I was repeatedly accused of manipulating other members to make decisions in my instructor’s favour, even when I had no knowledge or involvement in those decisions.  After more than a year of dealing with this and the stress it caused me, I felt I had no choice but to remove myself from that community.  I don’t regret that decision, but I am sorry for the loss of interactions with those in the community who had nothing to do with the stress and drama. Even after leaving, I hear rumblings that similar things are occurring even without me being a convenient scapegoat.

I will admit that with the loss of this community, I have been trying to find a new one to fit into without success.  The isolation I feel has even led me to very seriously consider stopping dance and taking up another sport that does not require a partner (such as martial arts).  I am honestly quite frustrated that I will always be on the outside of the dance community here, competitive or social, simply because I am stuck being the ‘am’ in a pro/am relationship in order to compete and enjoy dance.

Being a pro/am student is hard.  It’s even harder when you are only 1 of 2 in an entire community of competitive dancers.  I didn’t get into dance with the intention of being a pro/am student (I didn’t even know it was possible or what it was when I started!), but that is how my dance journey has unfolded for me, and I don’t see that being able to be changed anytime soon if I want to continue dancing and competing.

Recently, a news article came out with information that the average age in the city where I live is 44–6 years older than what I am.  When it comes to dance, I can see how that demographic is played out.  We do have some university aged students that dance social through the university club.  Unfortunately, I am almost 20 years older than them.  We have a large social dance community, but the average age there is 60–almost 20 years older than me.  There is a huge gap between these two groups and that is where I fit, basically by myself.

Along with thinking about taking up a new sport, when the question of where I would be working came up, I also very seriously considered requesting a posting to another community in the hope that I might have a chance of finding a competitive partner and/or fitting better into the dance community.  That didn’t come to pass (as I have been posted back to the position I was in before I got sick, starting Wednesday), but it does still cross my mind.

Something else I will admit is that I often wonder if while doing pro/am on the one hand allows me to dance,  if on the other it is also holding me back from my goals as well. I think of what I want from dance, and being a pro/am student is not necessarily going to provide it.  I want to be part of the community, especially the competitive one.  It’s very difficult to not feel separate and singled out when you are practicing on a floor with competitive couples and you are the only single lady trying not to get run-over.

I don’t know if other pro/am students experience the same frustrations and feelings of isolation from the rest of the ballroom community, but I can say it’s something which I find myself feeling more and more, especially as I work to rebuild back into competitive shape.

A summary of the basic attitude towards pro/am from an amateur competitor is a conversation that occurred at the last competition I attended:

“Am lady: I wish I could compete at this comp, but my partner and I have been working on new routines at a new level for the last few months and they aren’t ready yet.

pro/am student: I can understand that, I also started working on new routines for my new level a couple months ago, but we are doing them here for experience even though they are still pretty new and shaky.

Am lady: Well, you are doing pro/am so that is like basically cheating.”

I don’t know where these feelings will take me in the future.  In many ways I feel ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’.  I won’t ever be accepted as a competitor here as long as I have to compete in pro/am.  But if I don’t compete in pro/am, I won’t be able to compete or even dance at all.

The logical part of my brain says to forget about community and just focus on my dancing and doing what I want to do. And believe me, I really wish I could and for many years I tried.  I am not sure if it is part of my recovery or the amount of time I have been dancing or that I am just seeking some support and recognition for the amount of work I put into my dancing and competing, but finding that sense of community just keeps becoming more and more important to me.

And that worries me for the future of my dancing.

If you are still here, thank you for reading the entire post and tolerating my need to vent.  I appreciate it very much.