Finishing touches

I spent a big part of my lesson learning how to bow today.

It seems so simple. Don’t we all learn it as a kid? Well, apparently not dancesport style.

As we get closer to the performance on Saturday it is time to sort out these little details. The routines we are doing are meant for competition, but this is going to be a bit of a show.

Among other things, we had to figure out what to do for an opening and closing. We kept it simple in the end, but I think it will work. As I said, the trickiest part was sorting out how to make the bow works.

Other than that the main focus was on running through the routines and cleaning up a few areas that needed a little more work.

One of the things we had to do was sort out how I was responding to the lead in a few places. Especially when the lead is on my right side, I have a tendency to lock up and restrict my movement, which then makes is really difficult for Boss to lead me through steps, especially if I have to turn anywhere.

It took some experimenting, but in the end what worked was just relaxing in some spots and letting my arm go, and in others moving to the step when I felt the lead. It will work for now, and I am sure there are other spots we need to work out.

The routines are not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they will still look good and be passable. Considering this is the first time we will dance them, I feel pretty good about where they are right now.

I think Boss is pretty happy with them too. He was saying today that on Wednesday he plans to do some work on the other routines as we want to record them before I head to Ottawa at the beginning of the month.

The next two weeks are going to be pretty crazy, but I am just taking it one day at a time and looking forward to the performance this weekend.

Until then, its the finishing touches to build on the foundation we have.

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Preparing to perform

So it appears we will be performing in two weeks.

We are focusing on latin and we will do the cha cha routine for sure, but we are also working on the rumba and will probably do that as well.

It’s a showcase for another local studio that Boss’s studio has been invited to participate in. It presented an opportunity for us to perform just before I leave for the rest of the fall, and gives us a goal for getting two routines ready to perform.

It just makes sense, especially since other than a really brief and quick demonstration back in July we haven’t done any competing or performing since last October.

Both routines are actually not in bad shape right now.

The cha cha we are able to get through in time with slow music and the medium music has only a couple of bumps but doesn’t completely fall apart. Since the last time we ran it in full, we have worked out almost all of the bumps, and most of the styling. In the end, the routine has only two major spots where arm styling is a concern and I have been working on them pretty hard.

The big thing we have been focusing on in the cha cha is the lead and follow as that is key to getting the turns on time and executing quite a few of the steps. It’s actually pretty together right now, but needs some polishing and running through a few more times to hopefully lock it down.

I have actually really enjoyed the concentrated focus on the cha cha routine to pull it together and it confirms for me that agreeing to do the performance has been the right thing to do to move some of the routines to the next level before I leave.

We started digging into the rumba on Monday. It’s actually also not in a bad place, but it also has a few bumps to iron out and we really need to go over the styling in detail. We ironed out one of the biggest bumps in the middle of the routine yesterday, taking the whole lesson, but it was time well spent as we were able to go through that section in time with the music several times.

The key to the rumba right now seems to be the timing. Its tricky because it varies quite a bit and there are holds and pauses for development – some of which are one bar, some are two. The trick is remembering how long to develop at what part.

The styling will also be tricky, especially some of the transitional pieces. I already accidentally clobbered Boss in the face yesterday in a combination of not getting my arm high enough and him having his head a little forward. Some of the hold changes are also tricky.

One of my biggest concerns about the styling is that I am not very good at developing some of the lines and some of them need a lot of very specific movements I just can’t seem to make work for me. One of the key parts of the routine has me do a double turn to roll-out into a side lunge stretching away from Boss. When I hit the lunge, I need to make sure I have reconnected with Boss after turning on my own and after I stretch away I am supposed to melt.

I don’t melt very well. I really think we need to considering another way of styling that step, whether it is to stretch it a little longer and then turn in for the transition which is to a pivot to a lunge done together. I hope it is something we look at a bit closer very soon. I know I can do a good stretch because we have done one in a previous showcase routine.

For both routines, it really is about polishing right now, minus a couple of timing and step bumps to work out. For the cha cha, I need to make sure I add more power and speed to my turns, and the rumba is about the timing and not rushing. I don’t feel relaxed about performing, but I am not feeling overly stressed about either routine not being ready.

At least not yet. We will see how I feel in a couple weeks.

The focus on latin and the details has really been interesting over the last week. I’ve really enjoyed what we have been doing and actually been surprised at how things have come together. I feel really good about the work we have done and while I know neither routine will go perfectly, I am starting to look forward to performing. I have missed it more than I realized.

More prep to go.

Seeing Standard Come Together

We recorded some videos yesterday.

Exclusively standard, we recorded the Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango line by line to make the best use of the hall.

We haven’t recorded these new standard routines at all except for 2 or 3 individual steps, so it was the first time to see the work I have been doing come together.

The waltz (which we have been working on the most) looked the most polished. I can truly say that I am proud of how the waltz looked and I was really surprised by parts of it. Probably for the first time in a very long time I could see a distinct improvement in standard. It was really great to see!

The foxtrot was not as strong, but it also showed great improvement, especially the first half we have worked on a lot recently. The last half needs work, but it is not a complete disaster. It’s passable, but obvious that it hasn’t been looked at a lot.

The tango was a different story. I couldn’t seem to settle into it, and the position change for tango from waltz and foxtrot really threw me off. We had been working a lot of position in the swing dances and one thing that really helped me and kept me grounded in those dance was stretching back into Boss’s right hand with my left shoulder blade. In tango, because the position is different, that ‘anchor’ just wasn’t there and that caused me to not feel like the position was ‘locking in’. It was obvious watching the videos that my position was all over the place. It was also obvious that I wasn’t completely confident with the steps and in places you could tell I felt a little like I was chasing Boss through the dance.

We started on the quickstep, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t ready to be recorded in time with the music as we haven’t really worked on it and we have never tried it at speed. We agreed to make it a project for this week in my lessons and to aim to record it next weekend along with some of the latin routines.

Today at my lesson, quickstep was indeed the theme. We managed to work through the first few lines to the third corner in time with the music, looking at details here and there as necessary. Honestly, the hardest part was getting started and into the first line as I kept miscounting steps. Once we got going, it seemed to come together a bit better.

We finished today with a new conditioning sequence for jive. It’s a challenging sequence with steps straight from my routine, including what is probably the most difficult part of the routine with a combination of turning sailor shuffles and simple spins. It is already coming together better than it was on Friday when I just learned it and I can tell that it is stressing my system (in a good way) more than the samba. It takes longer for my heart rate to recover and it is working my body in a different way.

On a final note today, I had my 6-month follow-up with my oncologist. It went really well and quick, with only one “Are you Kidding?” note when he asked if I would like to try the hormone therapy again now that my ovaries have been removed. I think he realized pretty quickly that I wouldn’t even consider it and switched his messaging to acknowledge that I did try it for more than 6 months and I did have a very toxic reaction, which did justify leaving it behind. The good news is that I will see him again in 6 months and after that I will switch to yearly follow-ups with him with check-ups with my family doctor in between. One more step forward.

I haven’t written much as work has continued to be crazy busy and that combined with school and trying to prepare to be away has left me pretty stressed. I am off 4 days this weekend and I cannot wait. It’s the first full weekend off I have been going pretty full tilt with work since I returned from the cruise and I can tell that the break is completely needed. With the long weekend the week after and no duty in sight, I will have three 4-day weeks in a row before a really busy push to the end of September. After that, it looks like I will be in Ottawa for a few days before getting ready for the extended work trip after that.

Boss has also asked me to consider doing one of the latin routines in a showcase event with one of the other local studios. I am thinking about it, but I am not sure any of the latin routines will be ready in time and I am hesitant to add to my stress levels trying to push to prepare it. Part of my doubt is that I am really not sure where any of the latin routines are at as far as doing them at speed with the music because other than rumba, we haven’t tried any of them. This week we should have a chance and I will make my decision from there. It would be nice to do a performance before I leave.

So perhaps next week I will be able to write about how the latin is coming together.

And suddenly…

Things are making a lot of sense.

Somewhere between my last lesson and the lesson tonight a few things clicked together. The surprising thing is that it is not so much specific elements that has clicked together but more a realization and understanding of the level I am able to work at and that it is much higher than I give myself credit for.

I am not quite sure what triggered this but it seems to be a good thing. My mind has really zeroed in on pulling together a lot of details, processed them and been able to execute them all together.

There was just something about tonight’s lesson that seemed to come together. We weren’t doing anything different from what we usually did, but it just seemed to work much easier. Less time reviewing things and I was picking up the concepts and making the adjustments faster than I expected.

We were focusing on standard tonight, specifically two sequences of steps in waltz and foxtrot that have a lot of similarities. Both end with a lunge, but the entrance to and out of it is different, as is the sway going into the lunge.

It’s really a variation on a theme, but there are enough subtle differences that my mind needs to stay engaged. The nice thing as we moved through each of the sequences is that Boss would give some little directions for improvement and I was able to just incorporate them.

In the end, it was a really productive lesson that just seemed to flow. It was hard work, but it was paying off. We ended with the samba conditioning and while I was certainly tired, it also just seemed a little more refined and put together tonight.

At my last lesson, Boss asked me which latin dance I would prefer for a new sequence for conditioning – cha cha or jive. I originally said cha cha, thinking it might be more technical, but once I thought about it, jive made the most sense. I do the conditioning sequence in time with the music, and it is usually something from one of my routines.

Of all the routines, jive is going to be the trickiest to get up to speed. So, if I work on elements from the routine during conditioning in time with the music then my confidence will also go up in the steps. It’s also quite the cardio workout, there is no denying that!

I think I needed this small breakthrough this week as I had been feeling a bit complacent about dance – although perhaps that isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more that I have been feeling like I have been treading water and a little stagnant. It’s not only dance where I had been feeling that way, but a couple of changes seems to have made a big difference overall.

I also had a really productive weekend and cross a lot of things off my ‘to do’ list which has taken some loads off my mind.

It’s interesting how little changes can have big impacts.

Masters post #3 – “Boys” and “Girls” Sports

I came across an interesting article from Prince Edward Island today.

It can be found at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-sports-boys-girls-1.4764185

I found this article interesting because it talks about the idea that some sports are more for one gender than the other, and talks about how there are efforts being made to reduce those perceptions and encourage (in particular) girls to participate in sports traditionally thought to be for ‘boys’.

The article looks specifically at baseball as a case study. One of the things that is interesting is that in PEI, baseball is mixed in younger years and become segregated as children age. I have limited knowledge of baseball but my guess is that at that age girls options in baseball become more limited so they are encouraged to move to softball – a sport which appears to be more for ‘girls’.

The other interesting thing that caught my eye in this article is that a lot of girls seem to stop playing sports about the time they hit puberty and while the exact reason isn’t really known (they list some probable causes) I wonder about this a bit. I think we all know that puberty is a pretty confusing and difficult time for both genders, but what I wonder is how reducing sports participation (and activity) impacts the experience. From my own experience, I also stopped participating in gymnastics and swimming around puberty although the reason was more financial rather than desire. Part of me wonders if the difficulties I experienced in my early teens (including a big weight gain) may have been reduced if I had stayed more active. Activity is such a big part of my life now and a huge part of my stress relief.

Putting that aside, I wanted to air some thoughts about segregated sports in general. I do completely understand why it is good to have both male and female divisions in most sport, but competing in a (generally) mixed partnered sport myself, I wonder why there are not more options for mixed team sports – especially for youth.

I am aware of some leagues of soccer in my city that have mixed teams for adults. I am not familiar enough with other team sport associations to know if there are options in baseball, softball, field hockey, lacrosse, or other sports, and I am completely oblivious if any mixed options are available for teens.

I wonder this because I think of the advantages of dance – one of which is that from a young age children learn to be respectful of each other – regardless of gender. Its a lesson that could certainly transfer to other sports, at least in my opinion. Adding to that, it could also provide practical education for things which we seem to be questioning as society as a whole – such as equality between the sexes and gender roles.

If we grow up participating in sports together – as it appears we do when we are younger – perhaps the ideas of treating each other with respect, and equality are not things to question when we get older because it is part of our culture that the sexes always mix.

I am not saying there is no difference between the sexes, clearly there is or else we wouldn’t have them. But what I am saying is that perhaps we focus too much as a society on issues of sex and gender to the point that we almost make too big a deal – leading to segregation and the idea that some sports are for ‘boys’ and other are for ‘girls’.

Perhaps I am also very biased, after all I participate in a sport that should be for both sexes but is currently experiencing a severe shortage of male participants, but when I see an article like the one in the link it gets me thinking and wondering – why do we focus on segregating some sports and not offer more options for mixed teams?

Demand is part of it, I am sure. But that also begs the question – is there a lack of demand because it isn’t expected or offered? Is it because our cultural norm is to have separate teams?

Another interesting thing to note in the article is that some sports, dancesport included, are more popular with both sexes (or the opposite sex, such as field hockey mentioned in the article) in Europe and other places overseas.

Perhaps I have opened a can of worms here but I feel that this is an issue well worth thinking about.

Food for thought.

A New Name

You may notice something different about the blog.

About a month ago I started thinking that perhaps it is time for me to change the name of my blog to reflect that while my journey is not over, the active cancer part of the journey is. I couldn’t think of something at the time, but earlier this week, a name finally came to me. I rolled it around in my head and decided to go for it.

So this blog is now “Beyond Cancer Ballroom Dancer”.

I feel it is fitting because currently my blog is not about dancing through treatment anymore (thankfully) but its more about moving beyond cancer – figuring out how life works again after so much time spent focused on an illness.

And so it is.

I have been a bit quiet lately and for that I apologize. I was getting quite stressed between work, school, and dance and I had to take a step back to reset a little and decompress. I just really needed to take a little time to let my mind calm down so I could think again.

So that is what I have been doing. Focusing on checking things slowly off my ‘to do’ list until I reached a point where I felt like I was back to being a little ahead instead of feeling always behind.

It’s been a really crazy few months. It occurred to me as I was working this weekend that I have actually worked every long weekend since New Year’s, between being on course, being on duty and managing some media requests. It’s no wonder I feel a little like I haven’t stopped. Even the cruise that I was on for ‘vacation’ turned out to not be as relaxing as I hoped when it ended with me forgetting my bag and my ‘recovery’ days getting eaten up being stressed about replacing the things in it and making up for the school work I lost.

I will have a few days off in a couple weeks around the week before the next long weekend and I truly will have the entire Labour Day weekend off. I just need to get through the next couple weeks.

I am hoping tomorrow might be a bit of a funner day at work. As part of my job, I am required to maintain regular qualifications in weapons handling so tomorrow will be spent on the ranges shooting to requalify. Its something completely different and gets me out of the office. I expect to be hot and sweaty but feel like I truly accomplished something. After that, I am going to a dance performance show with a friend and will probably see another I haven’t seen in a long time. I really can’t wait.

I may be a bit absent for a little while yet, but I do promise to write about dance soon. I have been quite busy over the last couple weeks and after the small successes with the latin routines, we are now turning to standard and working in a lot of detail through those routines. The goal is to record them the weekend after next, in time with music, even if not at full strength. It should be interesting.

In the past couple weeks we have also discovered a new challenge for my body related to my knees that I have been actively focusing on fixing. I will speak some more about that too.

In the meantime, I leave you my name change which better speaks to the message I want to convey —

There is life beyond cancer.

A Demonstration

I performed a demonstration with Boss last night at a charity fund-raiser.

We did a waltz routine which he choreographed on Wednesday and taught to me an hour before the event started.

The floors at the hall were a type of rubber and not wood, so needless to say they weren’t the easiest to dance on. Because of that, and a small space we were able to keep our dancing compact and the routine included a lot of line figures.

It went really well and seemed to be really well received. We were one of 5 couples doing demonstrations of different styles of partnered dancing (ballroom, west coast swing, blues, salsa, and fusion) to demonstrate how connection works through dancing, the theme of the fundraiser.

Doing the demonstration was fun, but it made me realize that I actually don’t remember the last time I performed (other than the competition last year), and what surprised me more was that I missed it.

Even though it was more or less a low-key demonstration it was fun and nice to go out and connect with an audience and share dance with them.

Aside from the demonstration, it was also fulfilling to learn a routine with some advanced steps in an hour and be able to perform it later that evening at a high level. I think that speaks to and gives insight and confirmation for myself just how much I have grown, even since my last competition.

It was a boost I needed after an insane week at work that involved pants publicly splitting, needing antibiotics, and watching my workload surge to the point I will need a couple hours this weekend to catch up and get back on track.

It also got the wheels turning in my head on the assignments for my current school course which I also desperately needed.

All that from a simple demonstration.

The little things

Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge the little things.

I had a good practice today minus one instance where I tripped over my own heel and fell into a somersault (that’s what I get for trying to be as compact as possible in cha cha!).

In many ways I needed a day like today to just relieve a bit of stress and give myself a bit of a boost.

The last couple weeks have been difficult for me in general. Work as always is busy, but more so than that is the on-going issues with my neck and shoulders. I have been taking muscle relaxants at night to try to calm them down some so they can strengthen and heal and for the most part it is helping.

But the side effects is not. The muscle relaxants leave me cloudy and exhausted. My body has a very hard time metabolizing them. It takes about 6 hours for them to take effect (usually it is about 30-45 mins), and worse I still feel the effects 12-16 hours later.

And that’s a half dose.

It’s always been an issue for me with this type of medication, which is why I try to avoid it where possible. Unfortunately, the issues with my neck and shoulder reached a point it could not be ignored. On top of that, if I can’t get the pain under control it will affect the opportunities I am given through work.

Worse than that, I am beginning to wonder if I will have to just live with this for the rest of my life due to the reconstruction I had. It may also be contributed to my new breasts being heavier (even though they are smaller) than my natural breasts. I don’t know what to think.

But back to today.

I stopped taking the muscle relaxants a couple days ago so I am finding I have a little more energy, and it took a little bit of effort to get myself to the studio for practice.

Once I got started though I ended up doing 90 minutes which was 30 more than I expected. I also had one of those days where things I have been struggling with for a while seemed to suddenly come together and work.

I was also able to review 4 of the 5 latin routines and finally quickstep seems to be getting under my feet (if not anywhere else).

It was a day of little victories, which was well needed after almost 2 weeks of struggling to get through full practices and flailing about trying to find a way to focus better on my routines.

One of the things that did come out of this week was also a decision between Boss and I not to compete this fall. If all goes well and I do end up traveling for work I will be away for 7 weeks, including those when we would compete, and the lead up to that travel is stressful enough without adding competing to the mix. So mutually we agreed to look at possibilities for competing again in the new year and go from there.

So today I am hanging on to and celebrating the small victories I have made. I am one more week left in the ballet workshop and in general I can say I am enjoying it, but have noticed the effect 2 extra hours of hard work has had on my energy levels overall (muscle relaxants aside).

This week will definitely be about the little things.

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.

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/