Re-learning to push

Push through the walls, that is.

In the last week I have discovered that I am re-learning something I didn’t fully know I had forgotten–that is pushing through walls.

By walls, I mean those moments when you are working physically and you feel like you have reached your limits, but then you dig a little deeper and find another small burst of energy to get you over the hump.

The biggest difference for me is that I find energy now when I dig deeper, which is a sign of on-going recovery. What I am having to remember is how to dig for that energy and push just that little bit more to bring myself to the next level.

This week is “week 2” of adjusting to a new schedule so I feel pretty tired, achy and worn out a little. But I am pushing through it as best I can, knowing that I will be able to rest on the weekend and that next week will be better.

It’s surprising me a little how surprised I am about rediscovering this ability, but more than that, a big part of it is realizing how much I thought I was pushing through things before but wasn’t. Although that is not entirely accurate either. I think it would be more accurate to say that I am surprised to discover that I was pushing, but I wasn’t pushing very well or as much as I really could.

I am battling through things and I know it will bring results in the long run.  The trick is knowing when I am at a wall that can be pushed through, and when I am actually done. So far, I am reaching walls I can climb and I hope it continues, but I will see what the next couple days bring.

I have a lesson again tomorrow night and in line with what I am discovering about being able to push harder than I could I have also been discovering some new things at dance too. I will try to write about them tomorrow night.

It seems I am coming into a period of discovery in general.

And that is one of the best parts of dance.

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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!

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.

Learning to Relax

Sounds simple, right?

I am discovering it is not so much.

One of my biggest challenges in latin right now is allowing myself to relax and let my hips move. Of course, ‘relax’ is a relative term.

I have some new latin exercises, and while I was doing one of them I noticed that I was constantly fighting against allowing my hips to move. In fact, I realized further that I wasn’t really sure when my hips were supposed to be moving and in what timing. I did a little experiment and discovered that when it comes to movements changing direction I either settled on my hip directly, or didn’t settle at all–especially going forward and back.

So now I have a new exercise specific to moving forward, back and to the side with full hip movements. I am still not sure what I am supposed to be doing when I move forward, and I am pretty sure the back movement is a little on the sketchy (meaning bent leg) side, but for now I have to just keep doing it and work against the instinct to stay rigid and controlled (meaning not move).

It’s a battle I am finding in all my latin exercises right now.

I have a new favourite step….NOT!! But I am really am trying to make it one. On my request (yep, I asked for this), I am working on voltas in samba. I am at the stage where either my body moves, or my timing is right. Both don’t happen together yet. It took me two practices just to figure out a good way to work on them, and to convince myself that doing them slowly every time is not going to help that I stop moving my body when my feet move faster.

I am almost trying too hard to make movements happen instead of relaxing and letting them happen.

But, knowing is half the battle.

One area where I am too relaxed is my eyes. I am still dropping them or not raising them at all when I work on latin. My ‘deep concentration’ mode involves staring without focus at the floor, or my feet in the mirror. There are so many layers to this issue, it is going to have to be an entire other blog post.

My one victory this week is that finally, yesterday, I was doing some of my dance exercises and I felt it! My inner thighs started working and engaging! It’s taken more than two weeks of trying and trying to get them to activate in even one exercise. And slowly the work seems to be spreading.

Lessons are going well. Slowly, we are developing exercises, and just over 15 minutes of each lesson is spent on cardio conditioning which I need both for dance and general fitness. Depending on whether it is a standard or latin day, I do 1:30 of an exercise (change steps in waltz, a sequence in samba) full out as much as I can. Then we check my pulse, and time the recovery. When it reaches ‘pre-work’ level, I do it again. Essentially, dance interval training.

With the progress I am seeing now, I hope I don’t take too much of a step back with the break following the surgery next week. It’s a fairly simple surgery, with a (relatively) short recovery and I hope to be back at it again soon. 2 more lessons before then, although I am not sure the up-coming surgery is going to help much with letting myself relax.

I think I will need to explore more in the future the barriers preventing me from fully letting go and risking performing a wrong movement.

In the end, it is about risking relaxation.

How messed up is that?

Rebuilding Strength

That has been a big focus of mine lately.

It’s not just in and for dance. Since returning to activity after my last surgery I have been able to consistently get back in the habit of regular strength training and rebuilding the strength I lost through all my treatments. It’s a little overwhelming the distance I have to go, but it gets better every day.

Having energy again is a huge difference and I feel like I have more every day.

To give an example of how much I need to rebuild, where prior to getting sick I would pull 120 lbs, now I am at 70. But I started at 60 just over two weeks ago.

I enjoy strength training. There is always a goal to aim for and you have to push for your best every time to reach a new one. I take my time and it usually clears my head during the day making me more productive at work and other activities. I work on improving endurance a lot too.

When I was on the hormone therapy I had such little energy I couldn’t do strength training. During the brief 4-month period I tried, muscle weakness meant I rarely saw increases in weight.

Since the surgery it has been so different.

Dance and strength training support each other. What I am doing in dance now actually relates a lot to the strength exercises I am doing–particularly in regards to my right foot and knee.

I am doing a lot of exercises right now to build strength around my knee and increase stability and I am finding that both dance and strength training are going hand in hand for this. One of the things I have found out (through discussions with my trainer) is that on my right side, my inner and outer thigh muscles don’t quite fire the way they are supposed to meaning that my knee collapses in and I also don’t use my glute minimus muscles to stabilize myself. That leads to my foot falling out to help support my body. It’s been something I have been doing for a long time and I have to re-teach my body to correct it.

Even then, it might not be possible to ever fully correct it but I am determined to try.

Among other things, it means paying attention to how I walk on a normal basis and being conscious of keeping my knees pulled out as I walk and not allowing them to fall in.

Something I am doing seems to be making a difference. I can tell because it’s been a pain in my ass.

Literally.

Because my glute muscles are working in a different way, I am getting some DOMS on my right side. It’s tricky for having to work at a computer at work, but since it’s a positive sign, I am ok with it. I just have to keep persistent with it. I don’t think I have quite gotten my inner thighs to start engaging, but I think it is coming.

I am doing some dance exercises to work on the inner thighs, in particular controlling closing my legs in standard. I am going to keep trying to do it.

The bottom line is finally I can feel some of my strength returning and I can see potential for returning to where I was.

I have also loss 1/3 of the weight I gained during chemo–and still counting! Creeping closer to halfway.

This is me time.

Finally.

Working out a plan

It seems things have settled.

But boy was it rocky to get there.

We have a plan.

I did go to my lesson on Wednesday, but I took some advice from the lovely Girl with the Tree Tattoo and put together my thoughts and frustrations and asked Boss for 5 minutes at the beginning of my lesson to just vent and let it all out.

It turned into a productive conversation that gave more clarity than previous conversations. One of the first things I mentioned was that I felt a little confused about what I was being told because at times it seemed contradictory. The biggest point to come out of that is that Boss is unable to support competing for at least 6 months to a year, and can’t say right now if he will return to competing or not after that.

Well, neither can I. Anything can happen in a year. I know that better than anyone. 2 weeks ago, while waiting for my biopsy result, I wasn’t sure if I would see my 40th birthday.

Life can change on a dime for all sorts of reasons.

All that to say that I know I won’t be competing with Boss for probably at least a year. After that, no one can really say what might be possible. Maybe he will be willing and able to compete, maybe he won’t.

Maybe I won’t be able to compete. You never know.

I don’t work with Boss because he was willing to be a warm body on a competition floor. While competing is one goal of mine, it is not the only one and it is not the most important one either. I work with him because he is able and willing to teach at the level I want and I can take lessons consistently throughout the week. He is also open to communicating, and does both long and short-term planning for lessons. Going to any other instructor, particularly commuting, eliminates a lot of those advantages, particularly being able to work with lessons throughout the week which is the most important thing for me.

Boss did suggest an option that I may consider in the future (for example if he is still unable to compete this time next year), but for now I don’t see it as necessary (not to mention it would be a bit costly).

After all of that, we did come to a plan that works.

I have no issues with not competing for 6 months to a year. I see it as an opportunity to work on my own technique and particularly focus on some details that require more in-depth and long term focus to sort out–things I can’t focus on while preparing to compete. In particular, trying to sort out the issue with my right foot turning out and lacking the strength to stay turned in. Other things include specific techniques in latin, CBMP in standard (I am just starting to scratch the surface on understanding that), and connection in latin.

Boss and I also discussed how I want to structure lessons for the next little while. We agreed that I would stick with 3 a week (as that’s the level I am happiest with), but two would be on things he wants to work on, but the third lesson would be directed by questions, topics that I want to work on (which I will provide to him in advance). I have already given him something for the first one.

My lessons in general will be focused more on individual conditioning and exercises for technique, although I have some routines that have details that need to be worked out. Now is an opportunity to do that. I see all the work I do now will only make my stronger in the future.

The most interesting thing about the discussion we had was that Boss told me he would like me to be more involved in my learning now as I have reached a point where I should be. It’s an interesting concept.

Finally, I had a couple ideas for evaluating progress without competing. First, as we are going to be doing some specific exercises (most from coaches), so I had the idea of filming me doing all the exercises (once we figure out what they will be), and then refilming them in 3 months to play side by side and see if there is any difference.

The second idea was that if I am not competing, then I am saving money. Something valuable I do with it that is still dance related (and cheaper than competing) is to do some coaching lessons. Already the last coach I worked with is going to be returning in February, so I have an opportunity to be able to afford more lessons with him, and Boss suggested a different coach for latin who may be possible to work with in the near-term (I have worked with her before and enjoyed it  a lot).

I am very glad and relieved to have a plan in place, for at least the next 6 months. In June, there will be a time to re-evaluate where everything is at, but until then I am happy with the plan. I have just over a week until my next surgery which will mean some brief time away from dancing. I am glad to have this sorted now.

Planning for the future

The other thing that happened last week was sitting down with Boss and going over the plan for moving forward until the next competition which should hopefully be in February.

Prior to the competition, we had had a preliminary conversation about where we want to go next, so there were no real surprises.

Boss sent me an outline of the plan before the lesson, which gave us a starting point to work from for our discussion. We were completely on the same page which makes things easy.

During my lesson we discussed the plan, as well as my plans for strength training which I hope to return to next week and how one can support the other an vice versa. We then took some time to look at the videos from the competition and discuss points from there.

The plan (on paper) is relatively simple. Boss has (already) developed some short closed silver sequences which will be competition routines, but more so mini-sequences with aspects of technique I need to focus on. Essentially, they are comp routines and exercises in one.

Adding to this, and where the competition training focus will mostly be will be some open routines–standard developed by Boss and Latin done with another professional couple.

We are also going to work on developing the waltz solo routine we have been trying to put together since the end of summer. The intent is to perform that solo at a local competition in January, and again at the competition in February. My restriction on that is only that the sequence needs to be choreographed before the end of November as I don’t want to be rushing to put it together. We will see how that goes.

I will start back to my lessons tonight, which I expect will begin with going over the new silver sequences to see how they go. There are some interesting combinations already and I am eager to try them out.

I have 1 month until my next surgery, which is the completion of my reconstruction and should only sideline me for 2 weeks, if not less. For myself, I would like to have the silver sequences down, the solo choreographed, and at least some of the open routines ‘mapped out’. But that is what I would like to do.

The plan, is completely Boss’s and up to him to execute 🙂

OH! I had some success in fixing the tear in my standard dress. Hopefully that will last!

Refinding my strength

I had an interesting revelation 2 weeks ago.

I was practicing and I noticed something was feeling different. Or rather, I was noticing something I hadn’t realized had been missing.

I could feel strength in my body.

For the first time in almost 3 years I could feel the strength moving through my body from my feet to my head and back down into the floor. It was like my muscles just suddenly woke up and realized they have a job to do.

It’s a hard feeling to describe and since I am a very tactile person it is probably more obvious to me than those who are less so, but in many ways this is where I draw my power from. I use this feeling through my body to push down into the floor and move my entire body.

For me, that is what ‘feeling grounded’ means.

It took me a while to figure out what I was feeling, but it also took a bit of time to realize I have to use it properly and exercise some control.  Some speed came back with it that I didn’t expect, and I have spent the last 2 weeks fighting a tendency to get ahead of the music–especially in cha cha and quickstep–something I don’t think was possible even a month ago. Paying attention to that, I think my movement have also gotten a bit sharper.

I don’t know why this sensation came back all of a sudden, it could be a number of things–the ‘magic’ 2 years post radiation milestone, 2 years post major surgery, adjusting to the hormonal changes from my last surgery, general recovery. Likely it’s a combination of things, but I am not going to dwell on it.

It’s a good time to have it though as I am competing on Friday (this FRIDAY!) and Saturday. I had a good run-through of standard at the rounds practice yesterday and it was easy to see where the work on my endurance is starting to pay off.  I was not tiring and ‘dying’ so soon yesterday and when I was, there were times I was able to recover and finish strong.

We did a latin run-through on Friday which was a little bit disastrous a I kept blanking on routines, and styling, but our second time through was smoother. We will do another latin run-through tonight I hope will be better.

After tonight, I have one more lesson before the competition, so right now it is mainly things that can be fixed short-term, cleaning, and run throughs.  I am excited to get out on the floor again but I can’t say I have much as far as expectations.  I just want to go and enjoy myself and see how it goes. If I can keep myself ‘calm’ and from ‘trying too hard’ there is potential for some good dancing.

As I continue on this journey, it does amaze me as I recover things I didn’t know I had lost. This feeling of strength is one of them and I can’t wait to keep building on it after this competition to prepare for the next one.

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

The little things

I had my first ’rounds’ practice today in more than a year.

There were some small victories I want to celebrate.

I made it through the entire practice without completely dying and using my frame. I even had a little energy left over.

I missed the final quickstep because I had a blister pop quite badly during the foxtrot just before. That’s what happens when you don’t wear competition shoes for 9 months–you forget where the ‘rub’ spots are.

I made it through 2 Viennese Waltzes in the centre of 5 dances for 1:30 without having to stop, and still being able to move through the dance. Boss even commented on how it was better from Thursday. I thought I wouldn’t even get through the start of the second one as I felt I was exhausted after the waltz and tango, but I surprised myself by being able to muster my energy and dance the entire way through.

I did have some difficulties (aside from 3 blisters). My left side tired much quicker than I expected in standard. I was much more tired for the second round of latin than I expected. Once my body tires out, I lose the muscle memories of my routines and start missing things. My upper body also starts to collapse making it harder for me to follow and respond to Boss’s lead.

The rounds gave me an opportunity to experiment with moving my upper body and using my head in standard. It was inconsistent, especially at the beginning, but I think it started to settle out some by the final rounds. It’s something I will need to continue to work on more, and a big part of it is needing to become more comfortable with what I can do.

Overall, Boss also seemed pleased with how things went, although we will have to discuss some points more tomorrow during my next lesson. At least for me, it seems Quickstep is the weakest dance/routine, followed by tango. A big victory was going through the paso routine at full speed (for the first time), twice. The second time I was even able to add some power to my steps and it seemed there was shaping.

The latin routines went well, although the first round was a little rough. We were able to identify spots in 3 routines where we have to agree better on the hands and hold, and it turns out that the cha cha routine is shorter than we expected (we made it through almost 2 full loops in 1:30).

Hopefully subsequent practices will only build on today’s and things will become stronger and smoother as we get closer to the competition. 4 more weeks to go.

I do want to say that I found something today I didn’t fully realize I had lost. The we did today was strong and intense, but underneath, I was enjoying myself more than I had in a very long time. I had a moment where I felt pure joy.

It’s definitely the little things.

It only ‘sucks’ for two weeks…

Usually…

We started a new aspect of training in my lessons this week–specifically aimed at increasing my conditioning and cardio endurance. It was something we spoke about prior to my surgery, but hadn’t consistently applied it yet.

We have now.

What we have started doing is essentially the ballroom dance version of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). The second half of my lesson is spent doing 1:30 intervals of Viennese Waltz or Jive (depending on the day), with 3 minutes spent working on less intense sections of my routines or ‘rest’.

Yesterday we actually tried alternating jive and samba for the intervals, but today we upped the ante with 7 rounds of VW. We had to cut down the time for the final two rounds to only 1 minute, but I got through them.

Barely.

As mentioned, we had to cut down the interval times for the last two rounds, and I barely made it through them. In the second last, my feet just stopped working and keeping time, I finished the last feeling very light headed and had some minor dry heaves.

I still religiously wear a fitbit, so I made a point of checking my pulse. One thing I noticed–the first 4 rounds, my pulse recovered from over 160 to less than 140 before we started again. With the last 3 rounds, my pulse recovered a lot less, and before the final round, it didn’t recover at all and was reading 158 before we started. It was 170 when we finished.

I have done HIIT training before, a lot (but never through dance), so I had an idea what to expect, and I have an idea what to expect. Boss told me his intention is to do this during my lessons for the next little while, since we have them regularly 3 times a week. I am perfectly game as I know my stamina and cardio endurance for dance is not likely to improve much otherwise.

From previous experience, it usually takes about 2 weeks for me to start feeling some improvement. I wouldn’t say things get easier, but I should be able to push harder through the full interval without fading so much.

It’s a little scary how much my endurance has suffered while I have been sick. The extra weight I am carrying isn’t going to help much either, but hopefully the intervals will also help it to keep gradually going down. I have been at a plateau for 4 weeks now, and I hope this might help push me through it.

I am trying to approach the intervals with as much drive as I can. Already, the ‘average heart rate’ for my lessons has increased from 115 to 135, which is a good sign. They are meant to be difficult and exhausting, and truly they are going to ‘suck’ for about 2 weeks before I will start feeling stronger. I just keep reminding myself of that.

I actually really hope that we will be able to continue with the intervals through the lessons. I know that beside being hard on me, they are difficult on Boss too (although less so). If we can keep consistent with them, then I hope when it comes to the competition in a month, I will be able to be more confident in my ability to get through a 5-dance scholarship.

After my lesson, I was even able to stay for latin technique class, which really surprised me. I had a little time to rest and really recover, and the class was less intense than my lesson (I think anything will be now!). I was happy to be able to complete it after such a hard lesson.

Boss and I had a quick talk about the group classes, as I have been trying to regularly attend them. Particularly on Mondays, I have a lesson, then usually I do some practice between my lesson and the group class. I asked what he would prefer–I cut back practice some to make the class a priority, or focus on the practice and skip the class if I am too tired. We both agreed that the class should be the priority for now. It gives me a chance to do drills I would do in practice, and it allows Boss to see things that may need to be worked on in my lesson.

Among the stress of the intervals tonight, I also had a revelation about ‘stretching back’ in standard versus ‘leaning back’ (or falling back). The first one involves stretching back from my shoulders and neck, but still keeping my ribs and chest forward. That is what I need to be doing and need to work on doing more. The second one happens when I stretch my hips forward, but let my upper body fall back from them. It brings my entire upper body behind me, hence the feeling of falling.

As we were working on foxtrot between rounds, I was able to work with this newfound knowledge and explore a bit how much stretching I could do before over doing it. There still seems to be more I can do, but doing it free up Boss some and allows us to work together a bit more in standard. I need to allow this to process more so I can apply it to the other dances.

It’s great to see a definite improvement in an area I have been working on for a while, especially when the rest of my lesson was difficult and I was bordering on exhaustion.

It’s the silver lining in many ways of my mind being freed up as my body physically grows tired. I look forward to seeing what other small improvements might be on the horizon, and seeing where the work on the conditioning takes me.

It should only ‘suck’ for 2 weeks.