Sway

And so it begins.

In all honesty, I have been secretly hoping that somehow I could just work through standard without having to actually figure out sway.

The problem is actually not with sway itself, I do do it, but it is more with the way to which is it referred in dance — namely ‘left’ and ‘right’.

I am really directionally challenged. Even natural and reverse turns I can’t really associate with the directions they turn. I know one goes one way, and the other goes the other way. One starts with one foot going back and the other starts with the other foot.

It’s just not how my mind works to think of turns. It’s one of the reasons I have so much trouble leaning visually. I can’t seem to translate what I see to what I need to do. Looking in the mirror is even worse.

So today in my lesson we were going through one of the exercises I am doing for standard which we call a continuous hover cross (no idea what others call it). I have been able to work through the footwork and rotations, so today Boss asked me to start adding in the sway.

And so the trouble started.

He showed me what sway I need and where it changes telling me it starts with right sway then changes to left (or vice versa, already can’t remember). What sticks with me is that it starts with my left side up (meaning the elbow I am looking at in closed position), followed by a switch.

I am not quite sure that is what Boss meant. There is some sort of rotation needed for sway, apparently from my knees, but I also know my top line tilts one way or the other. The change of the top line is what I can easily understand and see.

Boss could see my confusion and I couldn’t really explain to him while working through that step what I need to understand and make it work so I can focus on it.

But perhaps I need just some basics to get my mind working to figure out how I can refer to the sway positions that I can then relate to my body position.

The other problem is that I am not even sure how many sway positions there are. Somehow I think there are more than 2.

Somehow, I am going to need to sort this out.

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A Review of “The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing”

I have been provided an opportunity from Katie Flasher, AKA The Girl with the Tree Tattoo to read her newest book “The Solo Practice Guide from Ballroom Dancing”.

I am a huge fan of hers and of her previous books in the “Dance Diaries” series, and her newest book is by far her best of the three.

Even though it is essentially a ‘how to’ book, it doesn’t read like one and in addition to the strategies and sharing her own experiences the book includes a number of additional resources including worksheets, calendars and videos. Katie has also created a facebook group which can be joined by purchasers of the book to share their own experiences, tips and insights, as well as get updates on the resource website.

The book is exceptionally well thought out and organized. It’s chapters cover Why, Where,  and What to include in your solo practice as well as sections on supplemental exercises to consider, and overall mindset–some of the psychological barriers and how to overcome them. Each section follows a logical sequence and Katie does an exceptional job of tying all the chapters together and relating them to the resources she provides.

Being someone who does and has been doing solo practice for a number of years now, many of the strategies Katie outlines in her book are almost exactly the same as those I use myself.

The best thing about the strategies are that they are versatile and adaptable for any dancer doing any style. Rather than give a precise syllabus, Katie focuses on providing tools to help a dancer be more organized and consistent in their solo practice so that they can achieve maximum benefit from it. All of the strategies are based on her own experiences which she adeptly weaves throughout the guide.

One of Katie’s biggest recommendations throughout, which I wholeheartedly agree with and also recommend, is to always keep your instructor involved. Even though you are practicing on your own, your instructor’s input is an essential part of the progress.

Whether you are new to dance or new to solo practice or a dancing veteran, anyone can benefit from the information in the guide. Even for myself, there were a couple of new tips and considerations which I will likely incorporate in my own solo practice.

The bottom line for this guide is that if you follow the tips and strategies in contains you can’t go wrong.

You will only improve.

The book is available for pre-order now at https://thegirlwiththetreetattoo.lpages.co/solo-practice-guide-preorders/

An experiment

Ballet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks to be an experimental summer!

Surprising myself

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

Today it happened twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With new things come new surprises.

Can’t wait to see what’s next.

The beginning of paso

That’s right, we started on the last latin routine last night.

We started by going through the Waltz and tango so they could be recorded. They went ok in the end, although I forgot an entire short line in the waltz so I am sure that doesn’t look quite so good. Due to technical issues we have to record the tango again. It was a little strange as due to the hall size and how much we can travel we had to start and stop some, but I think the intent was fulfilled.

We then reviewed the jive and began working through it looking at the lead/follow. It was pretty interesting as all the pieces were starting to come together and pieces of it are with the music. That’s quite the progress considering even a week ago I couldn’t quite remember the last section. I finally feel pretty confident in the sequence and I am looking forward to working on it more.

One other thing that happened last night was that during my practice I ran into an interesting problem — in three of my exercises, two in rumba and one in cha cha, I found myself getting frustrated because I couldn’t keep the exercises with the music. The reason — I was moving too fast. It took me a bit of work to slow myself down and use the time to move through the technique instead of just moving the feet to the next beat. It’s actually a really good problem to have.

And then there was paso. We had a general conversation about the styling in paso (hips forward, arm movements from the lats), and then dove into the sequence for the routine. The beginning is probably the most complicated part and we were able to work through it more or less until about 4 or 5 phrases in.

My mind just wants to completely focus on the footwork — whether I should be stepping with straight legs, or on heels or toes — and it is getting in my way right now.

That said, we seemed to be working through it faster than I expected and with a little luck we should be able to get through to the end of the first part in my next lesson tomorrow, which is also my last before I leave.

Well, that is enough procrastinating on school work, so I need to get my paper written to try to relieve some of this stress and so I can get a little excited about my upcoming cruise!

More Paso to follow…

Pulling it all together

It’s a busy week and weekend ahead of me.

To prepare for leaving for the cruise next week, I need to get an assignment done for school. I have been working at it in segments, but each segment is like pulling teeth a little.

It doesn’t help that I seem to be in fuzzy head zone again. I really had hoped that was behind me.

I will get the paper finished, but it is going to be a challenge as it appears work is going to be ramped up some over the weekend while I am on call. I am just glad I am as far ahead as I am, or else I would be in a lot of trouble.

There are two reason for the title of this post though.

The first, I have been struggling in getting two major muscles to work together in a lot of my standard work recently. I had a meeting with my trainer at the gym and discovered it is also an issue when I do squats.

Essentially, when I engage my glute muscles I have a tendency to lose my core. This results in my upper body leaning back uncontrollably and my pelvis thrusting forward, making me feel off balance (because I am). I seem to have a habit of using either one or the other — engaging my core or using my glutes.

My challenge is to get them used to working together — allowing my glutes to drive me forward while keeping my core engaged to control my upper body. I can focus on this while I do my squats to help develop a new habit and muscle memory, and I am already focusing on this when I do my standard side step exercise. It’s coming but needs to be much more consistent to ‘pull it all together’.

The other reason for this post is that tonight during my lesson we were really able to pull together the jive. I finally have the steps more or less down, or at least to a place where I can work on it myself. After reviewing the steps with Boss, we tried sections of it to slow music. The interesting thing was that the first tempo we tried was too slow (not a bad problem to have!), and we had to go with slightly faster to better match the speed I have been spinning at (there are a lot of spins in our jive). It was pretty cool to see even a few sections come together with the music, even at a slower tempo (about 5-6 BPM slower than comp speed). I think the biggest surprise for me was to discover that even at that speed I could tell that I could do my spins faster.

It was great to put the work I have been doing in context. I have been missing that as much of what we have been doing has been working on getting the sequences down in sections, or small areas of technique. There hasn’t really been much opportunity to try to run through any of the routines with the exception of the rumba.

That is also going to change for standard, and already started some tonight. We were working through some of the details in the waltz, and we ended by trying to dance it with the tempo (something we haven’t attempted yet all the way through). Boss’s goal this week is to record the Waltz, Tango, and Quickstep with at least slow music for sending to a coach for feedback (one of the ones I have worked with last fall).

I think Boss is a really really brave man, especially for the Quickstep.

The waltz actually did not go too bad tonight, aside from a couple little hiccups. The first half of tango went well, but then Boss had to make a small change to one step and we ran out of time. I was actually pretty impressed with how both went, so I am not too worried about them.

Quickstep on the other hand…

I just can’t seem to wrap my head around how it is ever going to be possible to do with the music. I just can’t seem to figure out the flow of the steps with the timing although I am sure once we go through it a few times it will start to sort itself out.

Going through all the routines is the main plan for tomorrow’s lesson and then Friday we will record them. Fingers crossed.

After the recording, we are going to start working on the Paso — another dance I am anxious about. There is a lot of styling that just seems like when I do it it will only be awkward and clumsy looking.

I guess we will soon see how it all comes together.

Getting it done

It’s always a challenge to practice while you are traveling.

But I am getting it done.

Not only have I been able to get my practice in, but I have also been able to do my cardio and strength training, although all of that has been due to some good luck and being able to maximize your work time to finish up a bit early and your lunch times.

It’s certainly garnered a few different looks from others in the gym where I have been practicing. I guess they are not used to seeing ballroom in the gym.

Things have actually gone pretty good. A couple of the exercises I need Boss to look at because I think I have incorporated the twisting, but I am not sure (I could be just fooling myself).

The other thing I have been doing besides exercises are reviewing my routines daily. The standard ones each have 1 spot that needs a little review to smooth out, but overall, not too bad from start to finish.

The latin routines are also going quite well. I am pleasantly surprised that even the new section in jive is pretty together, although there is one step I need to go over with Boss to understand how to do my own steps without him.

In general, I am proud of the amount I have been able to do this week. Work has been a bit intense, but strange hours and before I left I set a goal to try to get my practice and training in, and I have done that!

That’s all for now, one more day here then I head back home on Friday and will have a lesson that night (my way to deal with jet leg). I am looking forward to it!

Digging in

We are starting to blend working on steps with technique.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power

Using my full power scares me.

I just don’t feel like I can control it and if I can’t control it it seems like a likely disaster.

There are times when I move and I really feel like I am on the edge of my control. I know I could do more or move more, but I don’t know how to do it without hurting myself.

It’s holding me back and I don’t really know how to get past it to move forward. I also don’t understand when I became so cautious and timid about my own dancing.

At the same time, it is also frustrating me because I feel like I am plateauing, especially in the work I am doing on my routines in latin. I really feel it in jive. I have finally gotten the footwork down on the part of the routine I have been working on, but it feels so slow and heavy and cumbersome.

It really feels like I will never be able to fully get that routine down and up to speed. Even when I try to lighten up the steps, it still feels like I am missing some major pieces of the puzzle.

It’s an odd crisis of confidence to face right now after coming so far. I am not really sure how I can get that confidence back, besides the obvious just giving my all and going for it. It’s unusual for me to feel that way, so it leaves me racking my brain a little to deal with it.

Perhaps it is only that I am sitting on the cusp of a bit of a breakthrough and I can feel that. Moving forward is possible, but it is going to need a a big push to get me moving down the other side.

It’s also similar in standard. I have gotten comfortable with doing my routines slow and steady, even Quickstep. The thought of trying any of them at full speed or with the music just seems a little impossible right now.

Perhaps it is just too soon to worry about. I know in Quickstep I am really worried about trying it together with Boss. I don’t want to trip him or risk hurting him.

We did go over the standard routines tonight and they didn’t go too bad. I was able to clarify some of the sections I wasn’t too sure about. We finished the lesson with the new waltz conditioning, and Boss did it a couple times with me, so I could get an idea of the difference between doing it on my own and with him.

That sequence does make me feel out of control at times. Especially as I tire near the end. It seems to be coming though, but there is lots to work on.

I am finding myself pretty exhausted this week. It’s been a while, more than 5 weeks, but I got hit with the frequent intense hot flashes this week and it is sapping my energy some. I was sweating so much this morning I was worried I would drip on my students as I was coaching them. Yuck.

I stayed for practice after my lesson tonight, but I could really feel myself run out of steam. I didn’t even try to run my routines with the music, as I felt like I could barely stand at that point, but I did review the footwork. The important thing is that I got it done.

One more long day at work followed immediately by dance. Friday should be shorter, although I have a formal dinner that night. Saturday will be school and relaxing before I cross the country on Sunday.

I hope the hot flashes settle by then, I’ll need my energy next week.

I have to give more thought to what I am feeling about using my power. I am sure once we start digging into the technique more on my routines a lot of things will just come.

And then there was jive…

And its going to be interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there was jive.