A reflection

It occurred to me today that this time a year ago I was preparing for my total hysterectomy.

In some ways, I can’t believe its only been a year because the difference is incredible.

This time last year, I couldn’t work full days. I was exhausted all the time. I was still on hormone therapy so my mood was all over the place. I was depressed and on strong anti-depressants. I couldn’t sleep so I was on strong regular sleeping medication. I was plagued with hot flashes and most days I felt like I couldn’t think.

I was living through the nightmare of my final days of preventative breast cancer treatments, waiting and hoping that having the full hysterectomy would bring an end to the treatments and side effects and give me my life back, without knowing what the result would be.

It turned out to be better than I or my doctors had hoped.

It was a really difficult decision to make, essentially giving up any chance to bear a child, but once it was made I didn’t look back. In the end, despite what I lost it was the right decision.

Fast forward to today, 1 year later. I have energy. My strength is returning. I am losing the chemo weight. I feel motivated, strong and positive again. I am enjoying my life. The only regular “medications” I take are vitamins. I am back to taking medication for insomnia about once a week and a half dose at that.

I am fully back to work and achieving great things. I am more than halfway through a masters degree. I am dancing on a regular basis and gaining strength with noticeable improvements at the gym.

There is still a long way to go but I am definitely moving forward again. Some elusive goals are starting to look like they will be achievable sooner than I had hoped.

It is amazing the difference that a year can make, and as I reflect I also feel myself doing some small reevaluating and looking at some of the things I want to make a priority for the next year.

Lots of adventures still to have, now that I am healthy enough to fully have and enjoy them.

I can’t wait.

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A New Chapter

I’ve been thinking a lot about dance lately.

It started before the cruise and has continued into this week.

I think the time away from competing, as difficult as it has been, has been good for me. I can genuinely say that I am enjoying being able to take the time to dig into the details of the routines and steps and movements that I am doing. I’ve been able to connect with my body and dance in a way I didn’t expect.

And I really really like it.

That’s not to say I don’t want to compete anymore, absolutely I do!

But I am not in a rush to do it. I also don’t find I have a need to do it as much as I felt I did before.

What I crave most from dance right now is the experience of it. Yes, competing is part of the experience, but it is no longer the main goal for me.

Right now, I want to see how far I can continue to develop and grow through dance. I want to keep developing those details, keep pushing myself, keep working to see what I can do.

I want to inspire others to dance and to be an example for other dancers to look up to. I have overcome a lot to be where I am right now and I know life is going to continue to throw obstacles at me, whether in dance or other areas of my life. That is just how life goes. By meeting those challenges, that is how we grow and get stronger.

I have grown a lot and come so far in dance, and there is so much more of this journey left.

But right now I feel my focus in dance needs a slightly different focus. I want to focus more on development.

For the past 8 months or so, my dance journey has been focused on me and my development. I haven’t really been able to do that since before I got sick because there was always a competition or test or performance I was preparing for. During that time, that prep and focus on tangible goals was what I needed.

I am surprised to discover that I don’t really need that sort of focus anymore.

I do still have a need and desire to compete and perform, but it is not as pressing. When I do it, I want to do it to show my progress, and mostly it’s to show that progress to myself. I feel that competitions, and by extension performance (I would much much rather compete than perform) are necessary to help give a limit to break up phases of development. They give a timeline for taking a step back, evaluating, and refocusing.

For the past year, I have enjoyed working with Boss more than I have during the 5 years prior to it. We really have come into a solid grove with how we work, and it really is at a higher level than I ever really thought possible, in consideration of the struggles we had trying to get and stay on the same page before that. There is an element of mutual respect I never expected.

It makes me optimistic and eager to see where Boss’s teaching will lead me next.

I am so grateful that I discovered pro/am, despite the unique challenges it presents. Without it, I likely would have stopped dancing a long time ago and I would definitely not be where I am now. The opportunity it provides me is unmatched.

I don’t know what the future holds. I expect at some point my career will take me to a new location and that will mean new dance experiences. For now, I intend to embrace the opportunities Boss gives me as best I can. I don’t know what all those opportunities will be, but I do know I will continue to get fitter, healthier and feel better — which finally brings me back full circle to the main reasons I started dancing in the first place. Before I found dance, I was very lost and broken.

Through dance I have become strong and confident. I would never have beaten cancer without it. Words cannot express my gratitude for those who have been part of my dance journey, especially Boss who never gave up on me, even when I seemed determine to give up on dance, myself, and to make it as difficult as possible.

This has been such a long time coming.

It’s time for a new chapter in dance for me. I am not quite sure where it will go, but I know it will be great and ideas are already forming. Once I can get them organized into some sort of sense, I will present them to Boss and see what he suggests.

I’m excited for this new chapter and where it will lead me.

Time to start writing.

When tragedy strikes…

A member of our dance studio suddenly passed away in her sleep last week.

I found out the news on my way home from out east when I asked why classes were suddenly canceled. Needless to say, it was not what I expected.

In addition to being a dancer at the studio, she was also Boss’s part-time admin assistant. She had remarked to some dancers one night she wasn’t feeling well and when she didn’t show up at the studio and couldn’t be reached Boss and her dance partner became concerned and went to her home, where they found she had passed.

She has no family in the area so we are waiting to hopefully hear about a service here, but likely it will be out east where she is from. I don’t know her age but I believe she was late 50s to early 60s.

The gap at the studio without her will be profoundly felt. As Boss’s admin assistant, she interacted with almost every student, regularly attended group classes and was preparing for a medal test to take place next month with her dance partner.

A death in any community is always felt, but none more so than in a community as small as ours. The full implications are only beginning now and even myself I am not sure I have completely processed that she is gone.

Lessons resumed today but even something as straightforward as scheduling lessons now has different considerations. Boss and I tried to scheduled my next set of lessons for after my next return and it led to discussions about how things will likely be rearranged in the studio schedule. We put off scheduling for now until things settle a little. There will probably be some impact on some planned coaching as it was related to the upcoming medal test.

I anticipate a bit of a hard week coming up at the studio as people slowly learn the news.

Rest in Peace my dancing friend. As you dance among the stars, you will be missed in the studio here on earth.

Blogger Appreciation Award

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I have recently been recognized for the Blogger Appreciation Award, and I want to take a moment to complete the rules of:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Use the award image.
  3. Write a paragraph of something positive about yourself.
  4. Nominate and notify as many bloggers as you wish.

So for number one, I was nominated by DWall of Facing Diagonal Wall , with an overwhelming description of my blog and what he likes about it. I think it was a bit overwhelming because as much as he enjoys and admires my blog, his blog was one of the first ballroom blogs I stumbled across and strongly contributed to me beginning to write here. When I found his blog, I read a few posts and related to it so much I went back to the beginning and read they entire blog in almost one sitting. Having been doing pro/am and experienced the franchise system, I understood a lot of what he was writing. At that time, I was going through chemo and it got me thinking that blogging might be as an outlet to air some of my frustrations, work through the stress and provide information for others struggling like I was. And so this blog was born.

Something positive about me–like DWall said in his post, I am a fighter. I have been through a lot and still keep smiling and pushing forward. When faced with choices between fighting on or giving up, I always choose fight, even if I have to change my tactics and retreat a little before finding that way forward.

There are two other bloggers I want to nominate, both of which also contributed to inspiring me to start my own blog and share my story. I follow both of them regularly and never miss a post.

The first is Adventures in the Dance Kingdom by The Thesbian. I love his cast of characters and lego figure photos he includes with every post. I can’t imagine the time it takes to plan and stage each photo. He writes about being a male amateur competitor and some of the quirks and quarks that come with that and shares his journey and interactions with other in his Kingdom in great detail. He has embarked on a new journey recently with his competing and I wish him and SparkleDancer luck!

The second is The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. I really hope to meet this amazing lady some day. Her blog and experiences, while she focuses on a different style, very much echo my own. We both have moments of self-doubt we overcome and we both are struggling to pro/am competitors and all the challenges that includes. She is an avid writer (with 2 ballroom dance e-books out!), and very passionate about her blog and dancing. She is very open and regularly posts videos and photos, something that I am much less inclined to do. I love how she always puts herself out there.

I am so very humbled and encouraged to see that my writings (and occasional rants) are enjoyed by so many in so many ways. As things start to settle in my life (in theory), I plan to try to write a little more often as I continue my journey with Boss in dance and recovering and surviving. You all help keep me motivated and inspired.

Happy reading 🙂

Settling into a groove

Finally.

The best thing I can say about this week is that I feel almost normal. The hot flashes have backed off and are down to 4-6 in a day versus 1-2 an hour. My head is clear and I have energy. I am having a little trouble sleeping (can’t have everything I guess), but its more my usual insomnia than waking up all night with hot flashes and weird dreams.

The worse is that my left side is really unhappy. The worse part is my ankle, perhaps my achilles, but my knee, hip and elbow have also been tweaky. I am guessing it is all related and seems to be the small changes in movement I am making–particularly in footwork. It’s still manageable, but I have a suspicion its going to get really angry before it gets better. Something else to follow-up with physio.

All of that aside, I am getting into a regular and consistent pattern of working that already is feeling productive and good. I have worked out a pattern for exercises and feel focused on them, and slowly working through my routines on my own. Samba seems to be the most productive so far, but rumba isn’t that far behind.

In standard, we are working on the open waltz and I haven’t quite found a way to work on it, but I know it will be coming in my lessons. We are going through the steps in detail and differentiating which steps are in CBMP, require more rotation or less, etc. It might seem fairly straight forward and intuitive, but for me it is not.

Building on the work we did in standard, Boss has identified for me about three different ways to place my foot as I move–straight forward, under my head or under my elbow–depending on how much rotation is needed for the step. Under my elbow is usually full CBMP with under my head in the middle.

We are now going through the steps in the open waltz and figuring out which step requires which movement. It’s not quite sticking like I wish it would and when I work on my own I am sure there are times I must be turning the wrong way. It’ll come though.

Tonight my lesson was focused on Latin, which is another way things are getting into a grove–a lesson on standard, a lesson on latin and my third lesson in between.

We were able to clean up some of the sections in both routines I have been working on myself, and after running through them on my own tonight I am ready to head into working through the next section on my own. The latin routines seem to be going easier than standard, but that is not surprise to me.

We also started working on connection and lead and follow, doing exercises in keeping my weight forward and towards my partner while moving and responding to Boss’s lead without losing the connection. It’s a lot of feeling and processing things, so pretty much right up my alley, although still challenging.

When working on the routines, I could start to understand where developing that sensitivity is going to help and already I am starting to apply it to the routines in little pieces. I just have to work on doing so more consistently because when I do it Boss can respond and actually lead me, but if I don’t we are both stuck trying to dance on our own.

Similarly, in standard Boss was telling me that I have to make sure I stay consistent with my upper body and head position and stretching–even when we are not moving at full strength in our feet–so that we can consistently counter-balance each other. If we don’t, the entire movement of the dance changes and again we are each then trying to dance separately.

Its given me a lot to process this week in a good way, including a better understanding of the demands that this next level is going to make on me and how I need to respond to move into it. I am not there yet, but I have a better understanding already of the amount of work ahead of me and what it is going to take to get there.

I feel better prepared to move ahead and much less out of my depth. I am starting to feel these routines are doable, and able to do well.

It’s a good grove to be in.

What’s next?

I am really growing to hate that question.

It seems like every time I am at the studio someone asks me that. It’s not any malice on their part, they have just seen me working in my lesson and they are genuinely curious about what I am training for.

The problem is that I don’t know the answer to that. And every time someone asks me, it makes it harder to convince myself that it doesn’t bother me.

It does. A lot.

I feel like I am coasting along and I can feel it starting to wear on me. My motivation is down and it has become too easy to decide not to go to the studio or do a class because I don’t have anything to prepare for. Just from that alone, I know I have to find some time to take a hard look at how I am approaching dance right now and figure out what works for my new reality. Until then, I have pretty much been approaching dance in the same way as though nothing has changed and I have some sort of competitive goal or event I am preparing for.

It doesn’t upset me. I am beyond that part of this, but it is more acceptance and the realization that things have changed so I have to adapt my approach until things change again.

And it is more than just dance. There have been a lot of other changes in my life I have to adapt to as well. As I am turning the corner in my recovery, the time has come for me to start focusing on opportunities for my career. It is once again moving forward in a big way, similarly to how it was before I got sick, and it has recently gained a lot of momentum. I am really fortunate that I truly love and am passionate about what I do.

Before I got sick, I did very well in balancing work and dance. When I was away for work, I had exercises I would do in the confined spaces to maintain my dance fitness and growth even without lessons or a studio.

But in those days, a lot of the work I did needed to be done on my own. I still need to develop myself but partner work has become more important. The things I was doing then were also much easier.

That said, I know I will adapt and figure out a way to balance both again.

I know that Boss has a plan, or is figuring out a plan. I also know that he won’t share that plan with me until he is ready and there is really no point in asking until he does. Otherwise, asking tends to add pressure and that leads to conflict. I have learned it is best to just him go through his process and figure things out on his own and let him tell me.

I can tell that there is something percolating because he told me yesterday that I need to get my neck figured out so we can start working on things other than choreography. There has also been some focus on latin technique lately and new elements added to it, which also speaks to their being a plan or evolving plan.

At this point, I think he is waiting for me to be ready to work and focus again, which I openly admit during the last few weeks with a lot of stress at work and school and my neck issues I haven’t been ready to do. But perhaps how I am feeling tonight is a sign that I am ready to refocus and figure out how to do that and what that means without a competitive goal.

I think a lot of what I am feeling has nothing to do with not competing, but more that I feel my dance is unstructured right now. I am not even really sure what to do for exercises. The ones that I have I don’t understand enough for them to have meaning for me and that is probably the biggest problem. I had asked Boss to go over my exercises, but then my neck acted up and I haven’t been able to practice and working on the exercises just wasn’t a good idea.

So a lot of things are riding on getting my neck back to normal. There is small progress, but it is still short-lived and the end of the day still finds my next burning with fatigue and tightness that is an aching pain. I really hope that the small exercises I am doing keeps it moving in a positive direction. I would really really like to get back to the gym and practice next week, especially since both the work and school stress is moving behind me.

Despite the barriers that I feel are blocking me, they still don’t affect the fact that I just don’t know what is next or when. It doesn’t make being asked that question any easier.

For now, I just hope there will be an answer some day.

As a quick aside, I read an excellent article from one of the instructors in my region about personality types and how they affect how you dance. It’s a great overview so I wanted to share it: Personality Types in Dance . If you don’t follow George’s blog, I highly recommend it, and hope you enjoy his articles as much as I do.

And 2018 begins…

Off and running into the New Year!

I am not back to work until Monday, but this week has seen the return to weight training and the return to dance. I haven’t been able to do weight training since my surgery and dance was quite scattered after with the incision opening and the holidays.

All that to say I feel like I am shaking off a lot of rust and dust.

One thing that was a happy surprise is that in addition to the open standard routines Boss put together before the holidays, I now have 5 new open latin routines put together by the couple I worked with during my work trip in October.

It’s a happy surprise as I didn’t expect all 5 routines so soon, and was told to expect them later in the new year. I received the videos of all the routines yesterday and I am still digesting and processing them. I am super excited to start working on them.

I really enjoyed working with this couple back in October and I have been looking for other ways to work with them some more. I guess my enthusiasm rubbed off because Boss suggested we ask them to do routines for us. They have never done routines for a pro/am couple, so it was a new experience for them, but I am beyond thrilled with what they have come up with. Among other things, it’s obvious they took into account what they noticed from working with me. The routines have a way of playing to my strengths while still challenging me to work on the areas I still need to develop.

All nine (latin and standard) routines are going to push me out of my comfort zone in a good way and in a way I really need to be pushed. I wrote a bit about that before the end of the year and 2018 looks well on track to do just that.

I had my first lesson back tonight and the main focus was tango. We started working on the sequence for the new open tango, and I have a new mini-sequence from tango for doing conditioning (before the holidays I was doing waltz).

I also took 30 minutes tonight just to work through some things on my own and see how things feel after the surgery. I was focusing on latin because I haven’t done it in a while and my hips and belly had new incisions (and new scar tissue). It was enough to tell me I need to get back into the habit of moving them regularly as they feel very tight and almost unmoveable. It will work out, but it’s going to take some consistent movement to get the bugs out.

2018 has started with a fire hose of information for me and I am working to get it under control before I return to work next week and add to it. Lots to do, but already 2018 is looking to be the year for me.

About time!

2017 Reflections and the impact of living past cancer

Like most, I find myself thinking about 2017.

2017 was a rough year for me. Certainly it was a lot tougher than I expected at the beginning of the year.

I had 2 major surgeries, spent the beginning of the year fighting debilitating side effects from hormone therapy, and lost any possibility to compete in the near future.

But I also completed almost 1/2 of my masters degree with a strong average, competed twice, including in open smooth and gold level, had a strong recovery, lost a third of the chemo weight, had successes at work, bought a new car, and felt my strength return for the first time since 2015.

I may recognize the good easier than the bad and I accept that as a gift.

Some things will continue for 2018. My degree will be only 3 months from completion, I expect work to keep progressing (especially since I can work full-time again now), recovery will continue and with it strength and weight loss. Dance will progress and while I am not going to be competing, I do have the time to focus on me and strengthen my dancing overall.

Cancer taught me a lot of hard lessons, not only about life but also about myself. It showed me strength and discipline I didn’t realize I had, helped me to determine what is truly important to me and to let go of those that are not.

Now, more than ever before, I can truly say that I am happy and content with where I am and where I am going. But that contentment comes more from knowing I am going some where, even if I don’t know the destination. I just want (and intend) to keep going there.

I don’t know what the future will bring. I don’t know when I will compete next, but I know at some point I will. In the meantime, I will continue to learn. I was told by work I can “reasonably” expect to stay in my current geographic location for 3-5 years and I am pleased with that. I am working to make sure I am well set up for my future.

The biggest takeaway from 2017 for me is reaching a point where I feel like I have a future I can look to again.

While dealing with cancer, the future disappeared. Not because the projected outcome was bleak or dismal, but only because it takes so much energy to fight cancer it is necessary to keep focused on the present and take things one day at a time. You focus on treatments–when the next one will be, whether the next day, week or 3 weeks–and work to get yourself there as positively as possible.

I am not sure I would have realized how important things such as dance and my work are to me if I hadn’t had to fight to keep them in my life. It gives me a different perspective on them and I fully believes shapes decisions I make about them–because I know now what is important about them.

This fall, I was put in a position where I had to decide what was more important to me in dance, competing or my process for learning. I would have made a different decision in 2014, and I know I would have regretted it and possibly ended up stopping dance.

I am comfortable in my decision, but also find myself a bit resigned–at least for now. I am resigned to the fact that current circumstances mean I can’t participate in dance how I would fully like to, but the circumstances are just that–current. They will change and I will adapt to new circumstances then. There will come a time when I can determine those circumstances, but it is not yet. There is a time for everything.

So as 2017 comes to an end, those are the thoughts that are bringing me into 2018.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year!

My (REAL) Dance Goals

I have a difficult time admitting to my goals.

I think one of the things that I personally struggle with when it comes to goals is that for some reason I feel they should be complicated and specific by my goals are and always have been really very simple.

I have two. Both are more about the experience and process than any tangible thing.

My goals are simple:

-to enjoy the experience of learning

-to enjoy the experience of competing

That’s it. There are no levels, placings, techniques or other things linked to it. It’s all about the experience of learning to dance and the experience of being on a competition floor. That is what matters to me when it comes to dance. And if I had to rank them (as recently I have had to do), then learning comes first.

To elaborate on each:

-Learning. I absolutely enjoy learning, whatever it is. I like analyzing, challenging myself, discovering new details and learning about myself and my capabilities in the process. It is the most important thing to me when it comes to dancing. I started with virtually nothing. In my past I have done classes in highland dance, country line dance, hip hop, and belly dance but none of them stuck because they weren’t for me (except maybe highland, but that ended because my teacher moved).

One of the reasons none of them stuck–there was no one to share the learning experience with on a one-on-one basis, although if there had been, perhaps it would have been different. As much as I am learning from an instructor and having the opportunity to develop myself, there is an aspect to ballroom where I have to share with others. At some times, perhaps others even learn from me.

The challenge of learning remains the most important part of dance for me and I don’t see that changing. From my perspective, the only thing that would enhance that would be the opportunity to teach that learning to others, as one never truly really learns something until they are able to teach it to someone else (of course I am very passionate about teaching, so perhaps I am biased on that). Teaching seems to be an evolution of learning.

-Competing. Competing is another aspect of learning for me, and it is truly about the experience. About challenging myself to get out there and in 1:30 show what I know and what I am capable of. Its a 1:30 to share what I have learned with others and perhaps inspire them to learn too. Competing has never been about winning or placements for me. It’s been about growth, stretching myself, learning about myself, seeing what I am capable of and getting outside of box I allow myself to be in during my regular life. Competing is the one opportunity I have to get out and feel like I have achieved something, and that is before the placing or marks come it.

Every competitive experience for me is an achievement and represents one moment in my life where I took a risk and got out there and did SOMETHING. The challenge of competing in ballroom is that I have to work with someone else for that achievement. I can’t just rely on myself which is my natural inclination to do. It’s a team effort and the challenge for me is to rise to the expectation of my partner and make him proud (whoever he is, instructor or otherwise) of what we are able to accomplish together. I want to feel as though I belong on the floor with the people I am competing with, and I don’t want to be the person who is automatically considered for last, but beyond that, I just want to be there and enjoy doing what I love to work for.

But that’s it.

I know I should probably have more concrete and specific goals, and ones that are more driven by reality than passion, but in the end it is just not what I want. I don’t want to limit myself. I just want to enjoy what I do.

As far as learning, I have no specific goals because I don’t know what I don’t know. As far as I am concerned, what I learn next or need to focus on is up to my instructor (even if in collaboration with others).  I just want to understand what I am trying to learn.

There are a lot of things I want to experience within the dance world.

 

An off week

I am back to dancing this week.

That said, while the week started strongly, yesterday and today (although less today) I was just off. I can’t even really describe why.

Yesterday, I did a little bit of practice to try and get my body back into the habit of moving again and almost from the beginning it just didn’t feel right. My entire body felt like it weighed twice what it does and getting any part of it to move too far too much effort.

It was disappointing because Monday I had energy and a good return. Even Boss commented on my strength of movement being unexpected. We covered a lot in that lesson including a lot of detailed work on the silver tango sequence. We even ended with normal HIIT conditioning using change steps.

Wednesday’s lesson just was off. I felt like I had a headache, but didn’t, that I was dizzy, but not quite, and had some vertigo. I also had some very intense hot flashes to the point I had to separate from Boss and wait for them to pass. We went over the new foxtrot open routine and filmed Boss’s part. After that, we reviewed the silver foxtrot sequence.

Because of how I was feeling, we didn’t do the conditioning last night and ended with the foxtrot.

Tonight was also a bit low key, but still productive. We reviewed the open routines for Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot and I wrote them down so I have them and can start preparing to learn them. We had a good conversation about my thoughts while I was healing and finished with the samba HIIT conditioning exercise. Beginning in January, we will start progressing the conditioning as I seem to have stabilized with what we are doing now, so it is time to start reducing the rest time between intervals.

Despite my lessons being less intense this week, there was a lot of productivity. I think what I was feeling yesterday and today are just the usual 2-week post surgery slump that tends to happen. I am confident I will strengthen as I work through next week and continue to recover.

One small disappointment from this week is that on Monday I discovered I cannot dance in contact until my chest finishes healing. The friction (which I cannot feel) causes the delicate incisions on the reconstruction to open and bleed. I have to be careful sleeping not to cause damage. I am hopeful that it will finish healing by January, but it is hard to say as it is a difficult place to heal.

Until then, I will need to work on my own or out of body contact (or in latin). There are certainly no lack of options.

A good week back, even if I feel like I am off.