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.

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Milestone reached

Whew!

I finally started feeling better yesterday (thank goodness!), and along with it came the completion of going through all 9 routines during my lesson yesterday!

It’s been a pretty long road for this. Yesterday we reviewed the end of the Paso and finished the foxtrot meaning I now have the steps for all 9 routines in my head.

Now I just have to finish solidifying my memorization, get the timing down and do about a million other things to get them ready to perform, but minor details 😉 At least I have the ‘working’ knowledge down.

I should be able to work through all the routines on my own now, although admittedly, some are more solid than others (afterall, paso and foxtrot are only a couple days old!).

It still feels like a good milestone to celebrate, although I really have no idea if and/or when we will actually put them on the floor at a competition.

There is still a lot of work to do, but at this point its about building layers on the foundation, rather than trying to build a foundation, and that feels better.

My ‘one week post vacation grace period’ I gave myself ends today, so tomorrow it is fully back at it. Due to some schedule changes in the studio, my practice time for exercises is shifting slightly from MWF to SunWF, and I will be adding a standard technique class on Mondays after my lesson. I will be dancing slightly more than I was before my vacation, but very marginally and I am hoping it won’t cause problems. My intent is to add a little more to what I was doing and see how it goes as the level I was at before seemed to be working well.

I am (or at least should be) home for the entire summer and I am looking forward to it. Besides being home, there are no surgeries, no treatments, not even any medical appointments (except a 6-month follow-up) until the fall. For the first time since 2014 my summer is all mine to work consistently on dance, fitness, school and work.

I also have only 2 more weeks of my current course for school (which is definitely the most intense), and then I am on to two courses which are completely led by me giving much more flexibility.

I am eager to see what improvements I can make with just over 2 months of consistent work.

Time to get started.

Noticing changes

And good ones.

The first thing I can say is that I feel more motivated than ever these days, but to go along with that I actually have the energy to back it up. That is the biggest change I have noticed recently, and it has trickle down effects.

When I go to work now, I finally feel like I can push my hardest to do what I need to do and I feel like I am reaching my max as I work. It’s been a long while since I felt that. I have also noticed small changes that are significant, like my spins are getting faster and I have a little more control over things.

I also don’t need as much sleep. Instead of needing 8-10 hours a night, I tend to average 6-7 and I don’t feel exhausted during the days. When I get home from dance now I don’t feel like it’s a rush to get to bed.

I seem to finally have the first section of the jive in my head, and it only took reviewing it over 3 lessons. I was able to get through it 3 times during practice today.

In my lesson, we went through a new section for the quickstep, leaving us about 4 full steps from the end, so we should finish it on Friday. Boss also gave me a new sequence from waltz for conditioning, which is certainly more challenging than just change steps. It consists of a fallaway followed by a reverse turn then a natural turn. It requires a lot of thinking to figure out the alignment and with the changing rotations it takes a lot of control.

I was also able to review the tango during practice and it is not too bad, I really need to dig into it a bit more. I was also able to work more on the cha cha which I am slowly putting to music, currently with the tempo reduced by a rate of 6 (no idea what it means, but that’s what my mp3 player says). I hope to be able to work to -5 or -4 by Sunday.

I am working on the same goal with the samba, although it’s a -5 right now. I hope to start on the rumba on Sunday too, although I hope no more than a -3.

I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the routines, although we haven’t started paso or foxtrot yet.

One of the other changes I have seen is a small increase in speed. I don’t feel quite so heavy and slow right now and I can feel my body starting to react and move faster.

Overall, things seem to be looking up. I hope I can maintain the momentum I currently have over the next couple weeks while work intensifies with teaching and some more travel. It’s going to be a challenge, but I feel up for it.

Yet another one of the little changes.

And then there was jive…

And its going to be interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there was jive.

Am I failing?

In most areas of my life, I can say without a doubt I am doing really good.

But one area continues to haunt me, and that is fitness overall.

I feel like fitness is something I am constantly working at, but it just never seems to improve.

My dancing improves, my health improves, my strength even improves, but my overall fitness is stuck and with it my weight is stuck too. And one is directly related to the other.

I have always battled with fitness and weight demons. I probably always will. It took me a lot of hard work and time to get to where I was before I was diagnosed, which was probably the fittest I had been since I was under 20.

One of the my biggest fear when I was diagnosed was that I would lose my fitness and gain weight, which in the end was inevitable for a number of reasons, but my biggest fear right now is that I will never get it back.

That I am not doing enough to take it back. That I am failing myself.

And worse–that there is nothing I can do to have it back. That my body and fitness has been permanently damaged by cancer.

Those are the dark places my mind goes as I continue to struggle to find my way back to feeling strong and fit again. Like anything is possible – a feeling that is still eluding me.

I do know that nothing is ever going to be as it was, and it is only recently that I realized that perhaps the reason I seem to keep failing is that I am still trying to go back to doing things as I did before I was diagnosed, which doesn’t work for me anymore, even if it did then.

Too much has changed.

The program I used to follow has changed a lot, but more than that my eating habits, foods I like, and fitness needs have also changed.

Dance used to be an almost purely cardio activity, but now its much more technical and less go go go all the time, so I need to include cardio in my weight training. I can’t run anymore due to the knee issues, so I need to substitute that with something. I have lost most of my upper body strength and that is taking a long time to rebuild.

My body is still recovering from major surgeries, one of which was less than a year ago.

It’s all led me to make a big change. And changes are scary. And perhaps this change is admittance that I haven’t been doing enough.

I am trying a new eating program that involves essentially tracking one thing – calories in vs calories out. Its much simpler than what I was doing, and perhaps that is what scares me some, but perhaps that is what I need.

I have also given myself permission to go with eating habits that suit me.

Among other things, eating 3 large meals a day doesn’t work for me. Neither does eating as soon as I wake up (meaning breakfast). I discovered what works for me is to eat small light things, mostly fruit, but also some yogurt and nuts throughout the day, and have one main meal in the evening (usually before or between dance). I usually eat between 11 am and 8 pm (7 most nights) and when I do that, I feel better.

My trainer also changed some things up so now I do weight training only twice a week and have one day that is just sustained cardio (elliptical since no running), followed by my dance exercises.

The best thing I can do for my fitness now is convince my body to shed the extra weight its gotten used to carrying around (again) from my treatments. It’s fighting back hard, which is why I keep beating myself up and worrying that I am not doing enough.

But I think it isn’t that I am not doing enough, its that I have been doing the wrong things.

So hopefully the new changes will make a difference. Hopefully it will be enough. Hopefully I can finally succeed.

A lot depends on it, not just dance but also my job, not to mention my health.

I was told something tonight that perhaps will help me keep consistent and give me something to aim for: there is a possibility I will be able to compete again this fall. It’s still a big maybe and depends on a few different factors coming together, but it’s a possibility. Finally.

Everyday I feel like I am fighting an uphill battle, except I am on an escalator going the wrong way. Perhaps to go up I need to get off and go around to the other side.

I know there is more I can do.

Hopefully I have found the way to do it better.

We all have our demons. Mine talk about failing to do enough to be stronger.

Time to shut them down before they take over.

Interesting side effect

Something interesting happened tonight.

I had a crazy day at work (which wasn’t unexpected after 3 days away!), after which I went to the studio to practice and for my lesson.

Practice went better, there was just something different about it today I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It continued during my lesson, but really came to light during the conditioning today which was samba.

It seems that my time away, and time away from dance allowed some things to click that had been sitting in limbo. Like the physical break allowed my mind to process things. In particular in the samba conditioning, I finally seemed to be able to put together the body movement with some sharpness–something I had been trying to do before I left.

There was a different freedom to what I was doing I can’t really fully explain. Almost like something that was holding me back had relaxed and let go. Boss even commented that it was the best dancing I had done all night (which I was more than willing to agree with).

We started with a review of the standard routines and I could tell from the beginning I just wasn’t feeling “settled” with standard. It just felt off and like something was missing. It was a quick review though and I think it improved as we progressed. We did do some of the tango with the music today so that was a good step.

I think I am ready to move to new sections in the standard routines, but I will leave that up to Boss.

Boss also told me today that he noticed it is time to progress some of my exercises, so Wednesday we are going to have a look at those, as well as the new section in samba we began on Friday.

We also went through the few spots in the cha cha and rumba I couldn’t quite remember, so hopefully I am good to go with them to solidify them to prepare for adding another piece in cha cha (the rumba I have the entire routine memorized, more or less now), and to review the jive, which I have nothing of on my own right now.

Of course, then there is foxtrot and paso, neither of which we have looked at yet, but slowly the routines that seemed impossible are slowly getting in my head and feet.

What I didn’t expect while I was away, was to come back to find that some of the things that seemed just out of my grasp before I left have come together. Still a lot of work to be done.

But that’s a side effect I can live with 🙂

Making Sacrifices (again)

The time has come to accept that I still can’t do everything I would like…again.

I have really been struggling lately. My energy levels are just not where I would like them to be. I am struggling through the week (and granted weeks have been hard lately), but I am finding myself unable to fully recharge during the time off on the weekend.

I have one week to go until 2 weeks of vacation. I hope that the 2 weeks will give me a chance to reset my energy levels.

But that doesn’t really solve the problem overall. I don’t seem to have a baseline right now that I can maintain, let alone build on. I keep hoping my body will adjust to what seems to me to be a minimal activity level, but I keep hitting road blocks.

That said, the little I am doing seems to be stabilizing a little…but only when the menopause symptoms are set to low.

It seems these are the centre of the issue right now. I have noticed that when the intensity and frequency of the hot flashes are high, its all I can do to get through a day. My energy seems to be used up producing the hot flashes. They also wake me up at night meaning I am not getting as rested as I am at other times.

Cutting back on activity does seem to make the symptoms worse. That in itself is a good reason to try and keep up some level of activity throughout the day. My current baseline is 3 hours of strength training with 3 dance lessons and about an hour and a half of practice in a week. I would like to double the practice time, but for now I am letting my energy levels dictate how much I do, without pushing too hard. I came close to that goal last week.

Where the sacrifices have really come are the group classes. I enjoy doing them but they are at 8 pm at night and it is turning out that is too late for me, even twice a week. My energy levels are regularly sending me to bed just after 9 right now.

So I am accepting a little bit of temporary defeat right now for group classes and reducing my goal activity level overall until I reach a point where I can consistently maintain the basic level without feeling exhausted all the time.

I am optimistic that as I continue to settle into a regular schedule I will notice an improvement overall–not only with energy but also with the menopause symptoms.

The worse thing about the menopause symptoms is that there is no way of knowing how long my body will continue to produce them. I could experience them until the age when my body would have naturally finished menopause in my 50s or even 60s. I am trying to accept them as the new normal and keeping an eye on them because if they do get severe there are some (although limited in my case) options for treating them. Unfortunately most of those options are not without their own side effects.

So a period of sacrifice, although I hope temporary. I am working to try to reduce the strain and demands on my body through weight management and getting a lot of rest, but both of those are dependent on a lot of different things.

Until then, I hope to be able to get through 12 weeks of relatively consistent minimal (to me) activity levels and then re-evaluate everything from there.

On a dance note, Boss and I seem to have finished up going through the exercises and we both seem to be on the same page about where to focus my energy right now. I am excited and optimistic about what we will be doing, and after a long period of flux it seems things are settling into a routine again.

As much as sacrifices suck, when done for the right reason they are worth it. Getting back to a ‘normal’ level of activity that will allow for increases in the future is the short term pain for long term gain.

Consistent work should bring consistent results.

All in good time.

Adding Technique

Because we have been working on learning choreography, technique has fallen a little to the side recently.

Part of that is because I am limited in the amount I can do and the amount of time I am spending dancing because of my neck issue.

I saw the acupuncturist yesterday and got a little bit of relief for my neck which has mostly shifted the pain from stabbing burning pain to more of an ache. In some ways it is almost worse, but I have more mobility in the others and I am not experiencing spasms. This freed me up a bit.

We were able to work all the way through the rest of the samba today as well.

Both of those factors together led to some time to talk about two aspects of technique. The first deals with my foot position when moving backward in latin and the other deals with swiveling my hips without moving my shoulders and keeping my weight forward into my partner. Both of these are going to be a big focus for a while.

In particular, the hips movement will be important because so many steps in my new latin routines require exactly that movement and that I am able to maintain my weight forward so that both I and my partner can use each other to execute the steps.

It was a bit refreshing to take a step back from just doing choreography tonight. We were able to dig into the technique of the samba a little. We haven’t run it from top to bottom yet, but I suspect that will be in the near future.

My head feels clearer today and I hope it is the beginning of a period of clarity and sharpness. I could certainly use it.

At my lesson tomorrow, Boss talked a little about potentially working on the waltz or we will finish off the samba. As long as my neck feels up to it, I don’t mind returning to standard for a bit. It will be a nice change.

I still feel scattered, but I know this week is busy and stressful on both work and school fronts, so I am giving myself a break on the dance front. I hope to reset next week when things return more to a normal pace. I have more appointments for my neck which should also hopefully help.

In the meantime, I have a little technique to work on.

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.

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!