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 🙂

One-woman Disaster

That is how I feel today.

But let me elaborate.  It really has not been my day or night.

It started this afternoon at work.  During lunch, my computer randomly crashed twice and told me that the video card was failing.  It made work difficult when each restart took more than 20 minutes to boot up.

Then, I was almost hit by a car on my way to dance. Thankfully almost. I was coming out of my driveway on my scooter and there is a large white panel van that parks on the side of the road just next to our driveway.  The issue is that the way the road is built, and because it has no windows, the van completely blocks the view to the right.  To compensate, you have to look down past all the cars that are parked (about 500 m) to the bottom of the hill and then keep track of the cars you see coming until there is a break.

The issue is that there is an intersection and other driveways you can’t see.  So even though it might look clear all the way down the hill, cars could turn on to the road without you seeing them. That’s what happened tonight.  I was slowly peeking out around the van and discovered a car coming right for me.  So I ended up braking hard, losing my balance and falling over, landing mostly on my scooter.  Missed the car (which stopped and asked if I was all right), and thankfully didn’t hit anything hard.  Cracked the windshield of my scooter in two though when it hit the pavement.  I was able to get it upright and started again, and assessed that I had bruised my shins and had a small scrape on one leg. Mostly I was shaken up.

Following that, I got to dance.  I had received some unexpected news about what to expect for my recovery from surgery yesterday and that has possible repercussions for dance–particularly competing in the fall.  Long story short, it could be 12 weeks after my surgery before I will be able to dance, particularly for any length of time without pain and pulling.  It’s quite different from the 6 weeks I was initially told to expect.  That required a bit of a conversation with Boss, but pretty much at this point I haven’t really gotten to a place where I can completely process this and start to adjust my goals. Again.

The conversation itself wasn’t bad, it was just a disappointing one to have to have.  That said, I still have my silver test this weekend and work to prepare, so it was another lesson dedicated to rounds and running through the routines.  We started with latin tonight, which didn’t go too bad, although jive is still a bit questionable for endurance.  Following that, we moved to standard.  That was going pretty well…

Until I caught my heel on the cuff of my pants during the quickstep and fell over backwards hitting my left hand and hip pretty far.  Also ripped the hem of my pants.  That actually hurt more than falling on my scooter. Go figure.

In general, I was ok, just bruised.  Had to work out my left ankle a little bit, but after rolling up my pants we were able to continue with the lesson and get through the Quickstep.  We followed that with Viennese Waltz.  We did a full minute of that, but I was really dying after 45 seconds.  We ended with a section of foxtrot I was blanking on a bit to review it, but by the second run through of that I could tell I was pretty done.

One comment Boss made tonight and my last lesson is that he is finding my endurance is improving, and the most significant thing is that when I get tired I am better able to compensate instead of just completely sinking and collapsing. It’s good to hear because compared to where I was before I got sick and had treatments I would say I am about half where I was–especially in VW, QS, and Jive.  Cha Cha can also be questionable sometimes.

What’s a little disheartening about that is after up to 12 weeks off to recover from surgery, I am going to have to start over on a lot of things–rebuilding endurance being one of them.  I have been there before though and my focus right now is to try and build as good a base as I can so hopefully there will still be some when I am ready to come back.

I really hope the falls tonight won’t result in me waking up broken tomorrow.  I also wrenched my shoulder trying to open a door (seriously–how does that happen??), burned my hand on coffee and spilled it in my scooter case.  All signs I should have just call it a night.  I didn’t though, I stayed for practice and was able to run through all my routines on my own except paso.  I had a long epsom salt bath after so hopefully that will head off some of the bruising coming my way.

As far as the test, I still feel pretty good about it aside from the endurance issues.  I have most of the routines down and that is helping my confidence. Fingers crossed my body holds out till then.

I discussed with Boss tonight the idea of filming the routines during the test.  It will be up to the adjudicator, but I am hoping we will be able to.  It’s been almost 6 months since we recorded anything, and at least according to Boss there has been a lot of changes.  I toyed with the idea of filming them before the test, but I don’t want things I may see in the videos to distract from the test, or to kill my confidence.  While probably things will look better than I expect, I don’t want to risk that they might possibly look worse.  Better to keep going the direction I am going at this point, and evaluate later.

After the test, I have 4 weeks until surgery.  Mainly, I want to get all the gold routines laid out and if possible filmed so I have them to refer to while I recover.  One of the things I want to have a look at (and should be able to) is to figure out the styling for latin and put together some ideas where needed.

In all honesty, I think that is the main part missing from the silver latin routines, but I am trying not to let myself worry about that.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day.

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.

 

Cha Cha Conundrum

It appears I am focusing on latin lately.

It makes sense as now I have 4 of the 5 latin routines for my test and more so than standard I need to try to get them memorized.  For whatever reason, if I blank in standard I can just resort to following (which sometimes may be better!) but I have a harder time doing this in latin.

Working on the latin routines has been, well, strange.

Of all of them, cha cha is definitely the strangest.

It took me most of practice last night just to work out the timing for the routine with Boss’s help.  There seemed to be a lot of steps I really had no clue how to do on my own, and that is a little concerning.  I went in early tonight to practice some before the latin class because I honestly wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay late enough for the class (I did in the end, but I was pretty much a zombie the whole time).  I managed to get through the rumba, minus one step at the beginning, then I focused on cha cha.

One of the most odd things about latin in general, whether rumba, samba, cha cha or Jive is that anything we do in hold seems completely alien to me–like I have never done anything in hold for Latin before.  It’s to the point where I find myself questioning where I am supposed to put my left hand (shoulder, back, bicep?), and I keep stretching my right arm out like for standard (and then constantly reminding myself to drop my elbow–at least I remind myself!). I feel like I am either too close or too far, about to trip Boss or fall over forward.  It’s really bizarre.

And then there is cha cha specifically.  For whatever reason, as I am working on it I can’t seem to incorporate ANY technique I have worked on.  Of course then I remind myself that I can’t really remember the last time I worked on cha cha technique that wasn’t forward lock steps, cuban breaks or time steps–but I can’t seem to put even those into context.  Most of my latin focus lately has been rumba (for the last couple years) or samba (more lately).  Rumba technique has a lot of crossover, but that just isn’t coming into cha cha.

Granted, I really am focusing on working out the sequence of steps right now, but I guess I expected that I should be able to at least do a basic step with some semblance of technique (which isn’t happening right now).  When I try, the best I can describe is that it feels ‘odd’ and like I am trying too hard and off balance.  And that is just the basic step, and other steps feel like there is no hip movement going on and I can’t keep my legs straight.  In short, nothing about cha cha seems to be muscle memory or automatic, but I do vaguely remember a time it was.

I am really confused about this.  I know I can do time steps, whether fast or slow, with no issue on my own, and even with Boss they are not too bad.  But the minute I do a step that is pretty much not lateral side to side (and has forward and back steps), it just gets weird.

I can’t figure out if this the work I am and have done in rumba trying to adapt to cha cha (but not really succeeding with the speed), or if I have really forgotten my cha cha technique. Even New Yorks feel weird and off balance.

It doesn’t bode well for my test, although I probably have higher expectations of myself than Boss does.  At this point though, I feel like the cha cha I do now is actually weaker than the cha cha I was able to do for my bronze test, and it is really uncomfortable to feel.

Samba still has that in/out feeling for technique I have described before, the out being mainly the voltas and some rocks (which are more a I hate how rocks look issue).  I haven’t had a chance to work on it on my own yet, but I am not concerned about it as samba routines seem to come together fairly easily for me.  It will be a project for tomorrow’s practice.

Jive was actually a bit of  a pleasant surprise.  It’s a bit like samba in that the technique comes in and out, but it is more ‘in’ than ‘out’ than I expected.  Practicing it on my own is a bit tricky as in the end the ladies part is a lot of just turning (while the man’s part has hand changes) and without a partner for reference it is hard to know what direction I am supposed to be facing. I still have to work out the timing for it, but that will be the main focus for tomorrow’s practice.  The main thing I need to figure out is where the knee lifts are and making sure I do the rock step on bent knees (which is easier for me than straight as it’s an ingrained habit from my rhythm days that seems to have stuck).  Once I remember that, it came together better.  Endurance still sucks though.

So I am not really sure what to do about my cha cha conundrum.  Really at this point, I don’t think there is much I can do as the test is only two weeks away.  Better to focus on the things I can control, improve, or at least stabilize, rumba, samba and jive, and be prepared for cha cha to be a mini disaster.

Haven’t done the silver Paso yet, but I am hopeful it will be pretty much my old closed silver routine which should come back fairly easy.  I can’t think of any silver steps in Paso that would give me issue, and because it is mostly in hold it is easier to follow than the other latin dances.

I haven’t started working on the standard routines yet, although I have them as I feel latin is where I need to focus–it is more independent than standard.  I have also done a lot of work in standard lately so the steps and techniques are more familiar (and they transfer more through each dance).

I have surprised myself lately with the amount of energy I have had for my own practice–far exceeding what I expected to be able to do.  The side effects from my injection are starting to abate and I even slept through the night last night–first time I can remember in recent history.

So it appears cha cha somewhere went sideways in the last 6 months–literally–side steps seems to be the extent of what I can do.

Working Lesson

Unfortunately, not a lesson full of hard work, but one where work obligations interfered.

Sometimes, but thankfully not often, my job requires me to put in extra time unexpectedly.  Tonight was one of those nights.  An issue came up almost at the end of the day and I ended up staying longer after work to begin to address it.  I made it to my lesson on time, but had to spend part of the beginning responding to the issue more and waiting for a response.  I had to spend time during my lesson to respond further.  After my lesson, I actually had to drive into work for 10 minutes before grabbing supper and returning back to the studio hoping to practice.  Unfortunately, I still had a little more work to do before I could eat my supper and in the end I got only 15 minutes of practice time.

At least it doesn’t happen too often.

Despite the distractions, my lesson went really well.  It was all standard and almost completely lead/follow.  We were going through routines to begin preparing for my test, so reviewing silver steps in WTFQ.

I was actually a bit surprised at how well I was able to follow.  A few small hiccups (like I completely forgot that there are lock steps in Quickstep–Doh!!), but for the most part not too bad.  Waltz was the best, and Quickstep the weakest, but I was really impressed that I was able to follow almost all heel turns in foxtrot–something I don’t think I would have been able to do about a year ago.

In the end, we seem to have some fairly good sequences for all 4 dances with just a few parts to iron out.  Boss is going to send me the sequences so that when I have time (obviously wasn’t going to happen tonight!), I can work through them on my own to get them in my head before the test.

I am fighting a bit of a cold and hadn’t eaten well today due to running out of time, so I tired out a bit quickly in my lesson.  It was good to do Quickstep though because I haven’t done it in a while.  I feel like I haven’t done any of the faster dances lately (although I have done samba which is a little in the middle), and last week I found myself craving them a little, especially cha cha.

I hope this cold will clear out tomorrow (it seems to be on its way), and that work will settle down some so I have enough energy to get to the latin technique class.  I missed last week as I was just too exhausted to go without feeling like I would be compromising my health.  This week seems to be better in general, despite the cold. Fingers crossed.

I am excited for Blackpool to start next week, but this year I don’t know how much I will be able to watch! I had originally planned to take time off from work, but some really high profile events came up making that impracticable.  I just hope to get a little bit of time at work, or that I will be able to get replays of each day.

BTW, school is progressing.  I am halfway through my current course and ahead of the game despite recent challenges. A few more weeks to go and another course in the can.  My next course will be challenging as I will my surgery shortly after it starts and I don’t know how that will effect it.  On the one hand, I will be at home recovering and it will give me something to do.  On the other, I am supposed to be at home recovering.  Time will tell on that one.

Considering I essentially worked all through my lesson, I am really happy with how much we still got done.  We got through each routine at least twice, and even my position wasn’t too bad.  I may finally be starting to gain some confidence in my standard position.

Hopefully next lesson will be more focused on ‘working’ instead of on work!

The strength to walk away…

I walked away from dance yesterday.

It was and continues to be the hardest thing I have done.

The worse part is that I am not walking away from dance, I am walking away from pro/am.

I don’t want to keep pretending that pro/am works for me any more.

I used to think that at least pro/am gives me an option for dancing and that it is better than not dancing at all.  But I was wrong. At least if I am not dancing at all I don’t know what I am missing.  With pro/am I am constantly stuck at the side of the dance hall by myself watching amateur couples practice and work with their partners.  I am constantly reminded of what I lack (a partner), and I am forever on the outside of the dance community.

I don’t really have control over my dancing.  Budget is the first determining factor (because of the high prices), and once that is determined, Boss decides the rest.  I decide how much I practice on my own. Yay me–I can be the poster girl for individual practice.

This hasn’t come up all of a sudden, it’s been a long time coming.  I have been trying to ignore it and to just keep telling myself–pro/am is better than nothing, at least you can afford pro/am, someday you won’t need to do pro/am anymore.

But those lies just aren’t working anymore.  It’s not how I want to dance, and I am ashamed of that. It’s making me miserable and it is time to accept that.

There have been a few things that have brought this about.  First is my health and the effects it is having on all areas of my life.  It makes me feel even more isolated and alone and I am still waiting for treatments to make some sort of impact. But as I wait and try to work through it, it just keeps highlighting to me how alone and unsupported I when it comes to dancing.

I had coaching lessons with two different coaches last week, one for standard and the other for smooth and latin.  While there were some really good points for me as an individual dancer, I realized that most of the lessons, especially in standard, were addressing issues that had to do with couple connection and how we move together.  As I advance in dancing, that is coming up more and more, and there is nothing I can do to improve or work on that by myself.  At worse, I felt that the lessons were more for Boss than they were for me, although I do know it would make my lessons better.

One of the reasons I dance is because I want to be part of the competitive dance community.  I want to feel like I belong somewhere and that there is support from that community when I need it.  Last week I say a concrete example that I am not part of that community and when I asked I was told it wasn’t personal, it was just that they never see me–which is true.  Before I got diagnosed, I was at almost every competitor’s practice and spent time with the competitors.  They even put together a card and chipped in for flowers when I started chemo.  But I had to stop doing those practices because of chemo, and I have never been really given the opportunity to return to them consistently.  All of this just highlights how different I am from the other competitors, and I really don’t want to be different.

On the weekend there was a social dance that I went to and I was really proud that I managed to stay the whole time without feeling overwhelmed after a day of coaching lessons.  It was a huge achievement for me.  But that dance also starkly reminded me how long it’s been since I really danced and did more than just drilling–and again that I have no control over that.  I have never been a social dancer.  I used to go to social dances just for the extra cardio, but as I was sick and able to attend them less that benefit went away.  I also have to admit that I just don’t enjoy doing the same 3 or 4 basic steps over and over, and that is what the leaders here know and do.

There are all sorts of other similar things like that, but in the end, none of the problems have to do with actual dancing.  It’s all about how I have to dance, and how that makes me feel.  I want to be stronger and to think that all of that just doesn’t matter and that I should just enjoy the dancing I can do in my lessons and on my own in the studio.  I want to be stronger so that working on my own is enough.  But I can’t pretend that it is anymore.  It’s just not for the type of dancer I want to be–which is and always has been a competitor.

I am very ashamed to admit that pro/am is not enough and that I don’t have the strength to keep fighting this uphill battle and that after everything I have been through, in the end the best option is to stop doing it.

I feel empty and gutted.

It took everything I had, but in the end I found the strength to walk away from something that clearly wasn’t working.

I have to keep walking.

Standard trials

Yay, a dance post!

It won’t be a long one, but I wanted to post a little bit about dance since I have been quite ‘gloom and doom’ lately.

I had a coaching lesson in standard yesterday that was quite interesting.  The coach I was working with comes from a background of thought and approach in dance that is quite different from what I am used to. The approach certainly simplifies things in comparison to others.

We focused mainly on foxtrot and on the body movement through foxtrot steps.  We talked a little about position, but mainly it was about connection, smoothing the steps and moving through them.

The biggest difference was mainly in what I was thinking about when we were dancing.  I wasn’t thinking about my hands, arms, or hips.  I was more focused on upper body–chest and shoulder blades–and didn’t even really realize it until I thought about it some after the lesson.  We covered a few different specific steps in my routines to see what differences there were in the approach and it was pretty interesting.  It was the same…and yet not.

I haven’t worked with a male coach in standard before, so it was interesting to get that perspective.  My mind is still trying to process all the information, but Boss took lots of notes which he said he would share with me.

I started my new medication yesterday and for a little while, I did feel better–thankfully that lasted through the lessons.  My head felt more clear and able to process.  Unfortunately, by about 7 pm my system seemed to crash and I got really overwhelmed.  I couldn’t finish practice because couldn’t concentrate anymore and nothing made I was doing made sense and that led to a panic attack.  I think in general my system got over-stimulated, and since I had just started the medication there is far too little in my system to sustain any sort of effects.

I can’t say if I feel better or worse today, but perhaps a little more clear-headed.  I am just trying to give the time spent with the coach yesterday time to process as Boss asked me to try to describe and/or replicate what I was doing for my lesson on Monday.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to really do that in a way that will be meaningful to Boss, but I will try. Or at least try not to let it overwhelm me.

Baby steps to try and get past this latest health hiccup.  More coaching with a different coach in smooth and latin later this week.

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.

Pro/Am Review of Vancouver Challenge Cup

As promised, here is a review of the competition I did this weekend. Please keep in mind that this review is based on my perceptions as a pro/am student.

The event:

Vancouver Challenge Cup (VCC) is in its 4th year and is held at the Hellenic Centre in Vancouver in January.  The comp includes events for pro/am, and am/am and includes a lot of fun events such as mixers, jack/jill events, a team match, and ends with a pretty amazing ‘Pro show’.  Overall, it is a very fun event with a great atmosphere, well attended with an active audience and provides a great experience.  It is organized by Michel Guimond, Clara Shih and David Marisigan, who have done a wonderful job improving on it each year.

The Good:

-VCC is one of the most affordable comps I have seen.  The pro/am entry prices are amongst the lowest in the country ($25 for a single dance) and you can purchase a competitor’s pass for $35 that gives you entrance to the full event.

-Pro/am students are given coupons for $3, $2 or $1 off the following year’s event for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in all events except scholarships (which had separate monetary prizes for placing).  Medals were given for top 3 placements in multi-dances and scholarships. In addition, each student was provided a voucher for a free photo print of them from the competition.

-In previous years, the floor has been slippery, but this year it was just right.

-Entries are done through o2cm, and the detailed results were available online immediately following the event.

-The organizers were very accommodating and helpful.  When an issue was identified, efforts were made to rectify it quickly.

-The competition ran on time with no unnecessary delays and included lots of general dancing to allow for warm-up and breaks between events.

-Water was available throughout the competition, both with and without lemon, and it was replenished constantly.

-The changing rooms were large and people were not tripping over each other trying to get changed.  There were mirrors in the change room and it was located next to the bathroom.

-The awards ceremonies were close after the events occurred and line-ups were done for multi-dances (top 3 only).  Awards were given in blocks by students for single dances.

-There was a bar available that also sold basic food throughout the comp.

-For the most part, the music was good–a mix of contemporary and classic dance tracks.

-Personal videotaping and photography was permitted throughout the event.

The ‘Not so Good’:

-While the prices for this comp are amazing, it does require a mandatory minimum of single dances to do scholarships.  The prizes awarded for scholarship were inconsistent, and not really explained.  2nd in a 3-person latin scholarship was $100, but 2nd in a 3-person smooth scholarship was $50.

-There is no separate ‘warm-up’ floor, so the options were to dance during general dancing, or to work in a corner of the building, which resulted in many couples crowding together behind the audience tables and making it difficult to move around.

-The pro/am heats were shorter than am/am heats.  Three times the paso doble played did not follow traditional phrasing and did not have highlights.  It was also cut at least 2 phrases before where the second highlight would have been.  Complaints were made after the 1-dance championships and it was fixed for the 5-dance, but the same issues was experienced again the following morning.

-The open am/am heats announced placements for everyone in the final, not just the top 3, and couple recognition was done during 5-dance open am/am events, but there was no recognition for the pro/am events.

-The comp gave awards for the top EIGHT pro/am TEACHERs, but only recognized the ONE top student. I do understand the desire and need to recognize teachers and encourage them for bringing their students, but the appreciation for pro/am students was a little lacking (see also my point just above about couple recognition).

-This comp does not appear to be invigilated for pro/am events and while it does have ‘closed’ events, students only have to do a minimum percentage of closed syllabus steps in the closed level (for example 50% bronze steps for closed bronze).  It is an interesting way of looking at the events, but I did see one student doing gold steps in a closed bronze/silver multi-dance.  It is my personal preference, but I feel that closed syllabus events should include only steps for that level.  There are open events for doing higher-level and/or open steps.

-This event has separate ‘divisions’ for the multi and scholarship events to allow instructors to dance with more than one student in the same event, and all events are open ages.  However, sometimes 3 different students/instructors get registered in 3 different divisions resulting in them all being uncontested instead of competing against each other.  Myself, I would like to see these redundancies eliminated, although it is possible that some pro/am students don’t want to compete against anyone else.

Overall, this really is a great event and it is arguably the biggest pro/am event in BC.  It has had a steady increase in pro/am participation each year and this year almost all multi and scholarship events had multiple couples competing together.  There were a lot of good points and the ‘not-so-good’ points are honestly me being a little picky and/or issues that I hope will be easily rectified for the future.

I would highly recommend this event to any pro/am student looking for something different.  Keep in mind that Vancouver in January is like April everywhere else in Canada–a great added ‘perk’!

Congratulations again to Michel, Clara, and David!