Almost There

I can’t believe we fly for the competition tomorrow night.

For some reason it seems a little surreal. I feel really good heading into this competition. No, nothing will be ‘perfect’ (nothing ever is), but I know that I am as prepared as I am going to be and that I am stronger going into this competition than I have been since 2014.

That said, tomorrow night also still feels a million hours away.

I have been giving some thought as to what my own personal goals are for this competition. Basically, it is to do my best, complete every dance, and have fun. I deserve this and it is going to be great.

I have some legitimate concerns about endurance. All of my multi-dance events are scheduled in a row with no breaks between. That means I will do almost 20 dances in a row each day, pretty daunting considering I start struggling to get through 5 dances!

In the end, it is just a deep breath, visualizing my routines and keeping calm. I don’t need to over-do it, I need to stay relaxed and calm.

Easier said than done, right?

At least my heats are not at 7 am, they don’t start until 11 and noon each day which I definitely appreciate.

My new shoes should arrive today and I am going to pop home from work at lunch to see if they are they. I don’t have much time to break them in, but since they were ordered long-distance, I just hope they fit! 2 pairs are almost identical to shoes I already own, so it should be good. I have never worn standard shoes from this brand, but do have practice shoes from them. I will take both the new and old shoes with me, so I can adjust if needed.

One more lesson tonight to clean a couple of transitions, and then it is packing, one more day of work, and all focused on the competition.

The competition will include a pro showdance competition with 6 couples registered and more than anything I can’t wait to see that!

Almost there!

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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.

Latin reset

Sometimes you don’t know you are missing something until you discover it.

It’s been a busy week for me. I was traveling for work, and after returning Friday I went to visit with a friend for the long weekend.

One of the things I did while I was traveling for work was to take advantage of being somewhere new and to take coaching lessons.  I managed to fit 3 lessons into the short time I was there, but the exciting thing was that the couple I was working with are one of my favourite latin couples–and people I have wanted to work with for a long time.

I did one lesson with the lead and 2 with the follow and all 3 were absolutely amazing!

I have only once worked with a coach other than Boss on latin, and that was for one lesson while the others were focused on smooth. I have never worked in latin with another male dancer. In three lessons I was able to put together more than 3 pages of notes and felt like a sponge soaking up information.

Before I left, I had discussed with Boss some topics to focus on during my lessons and we sent 3 videos of cha cha, samba and paso for them to review ahead of time.  We decided to focus on connection and styling–both of which turned out to be exactly what I needed.

I feel like it has been quite a while since I have worked on more than just sequence of steps in latin as most of my lessons with Boss recently have been focused on standard and taking advantage of the progress I am making there.

In all honesty, I have felt a little bit like I was ‘spinning my wheels’ in latin and lacking some specific points to focus on. One week I would challenge myself with one thing, but then I would switch to something else and mainly I just kept working through my routines to get the choreography down.

The lessons with the coaches help to give me a new focus for latin and several new points to focus on which I really needed. Styling has been a big issue for a long time, but I felt I was lacking some specifics to focus on. Now I have a lot of specifics and I can’t wait to spend some time working through the things we talked about.

Eye contact, especially with my partner, was one of the really big things brought up in the lessons. I have always had problems with this, as when I work alone I tend to retreat into myself and look down when I think. It’s not that I haven’t been told to keep my eyes up before, part of it is just not being ready to commit to it. I can’t say for sure that I am really ready to commit to it, but it has become enough of a problem that it is officially annoying me.

I worked on arm movement with both of them, but with the lady we were able to work through the beginning of my cha cha and samba to ‘clean’ my arm movements and strengthen what I am doing so it is less ‘flappy’ and busy. We worked through a couple different options and came up with some solid movements for me to work through on my own.

I was also given exercises, both for connection and styling, but are diverse enough to include other aspects of technique (like weight transfer).

One of the most significant topics I discussed with the lady was that of using my body in my styling. Not only moving it, but also touching it, and touching it with commitment and purpose. She even gave me some exercises to develop a habit of doing this to work it into my routines and so that it looks (and feels) more natural. We had a discussion about why strong solid touch is preferred to doing something like a ‘shadowed outline’ and she pointed out it displays a difference in confidence, emphasizes the body shape, and shows commitment to the styling. All very logical reasoning.

I could go on for hours about all the different things we covered in the lessons, but to keep this short, I want to go back to my title. After doing these lessons I feel very renewed and reset when it comes to latin. I have some very specific things to focus on and build on, I feel I have some new goals (eye contact being at the top of the list), and it has renewed my enthusiasm and invigorated me for the future.

I really hope to work with this couple again soon. Among other things, I just had a blast and had fun digging into latin in as much detail as I tend to work in standard.

It’s less than 2 weeks to my next competition, so I don’t expect to be able to incorporate everything I want to do, but I hope at least some of the work will be able to come through.

I can’t believe it is only 2 weeks until the competition though. I feel like I have so much to do before then! My nerves are settling in a little and I know that practice next weekend will certainly ‘set the stage’ for me. Because I was away, I didn’t do practice this weekend, but although I am a little nervous about that I am also glad as well.  It forced me to relax and take a step back before the final push to the competition.

The couple I worked with will also be at the competition I am going to and I can’t wait to see them dance in person. I have always watched them on video or live stream, so seeing them compete live is going to be an extra bonus to the competition I am going to.

I am really happy I was able to schedule the coaching lessons into my work trip. It was a tiring trip, but so so worth it!

The Myth of Pro/am closed gold

I have discovered an unexpected aspect of pro/am.

There is a self-perpetuating cycle where there are almost no closed gold pro/am events. One of the main reasons there are no events is that there is no demand for them; no competitors. The main reasons there are no competitors? Lack of other competitors and events.

And so it seems the circle goes.

I discovered this when I was doing research into some potential competitions. I was very surprised to discover that there were almost no closed gold multi-dance or scholarship events in most of the competitions I was looking at.

Intrigued, I asked one organizer and posed a question to a pro/am forum I participate in.

The organizer said he stopped offering the events because no one was registering for them. The pro/am students said they weren’t competing in them because no one else was and they were rarely offered.

Because of this, most students said they just ‘jumped’ from silver to open.

It was also pointed out that there isn’t really a syllabus for gold in American style. The NDCA only has a list of restrictions (such as no entrances, no separations for more than 4 bars).

The bottom line to this is that I have had to rethink my current competition goals. I was going to focus on closed gold now that I am able to get back to competing consistently, but if there are no events, and no competition, there is really no point.

The competition I was going to do in the spring not only doesn’t have anything except single dances for closed gold, but it also significantly raised the prices for 2018. The combination of the two together, led me to decide to take it off the table as an option.

I discussed the issue with Boss as I want to have an idea of what is next after the competition in 3 weeks, and he had an interesting suggestion which we have combined with one of mine.

My time spent in silver was completely during the time I was sick. I really only did one competition in silver, and my routines were more bronze at that time. It was right before I was diagnosed. When it comes down to it, I basically haven’t done any competing in full silver. If I was an amateur competitor who collected points to determine my competitive level, I would have almost none for silver.

So that was what Boss proposed: that I consider competing in closed silver for syllabus level at the next few competitions and see how I place. We have some closed silver routines, and they could be modified to be more like competitive routines and less test routines. The goal would be to keep them short so they could also be used as drills and practice for the future.

The real focus would be on developing and learning open routines and steps for competing in open competitions and to begin to work at the open level.

It’s an interesting idea. Since I haven’t had an opportunity to really compete in silver, I really have no idea how I would do. I can let the results speak for when to leave silver behind. The gold steps I like can be part of the open routines.

I will still do my gold test when Boss thinks I am ready and it is able to be scheduled. Like the silver test I just did, we can spend some concentrated time working on gold routines to prepare for the test.

The part of this that was combined with my own proposal was a suggestion that we consider doing a competition earlier in the new year that would be cheaper than the one in the US we were looking at. The information for that competition isn’t out yet, but once it is we will look at it closer and decide then. After that comp, would be about 6 months until the next comp I want to do–a nice long time to keep developing the open routines and strengthening my dancing overall.

The small wrench is that I will be away from dance for about 2 weeks at the end of November as I will finally have my surgery to complete my reconstruction. It’s almost all ‘surface work’ and no muscle involvement, but it will still require time to recover. I will talk about that closer to the date.

So this unexpected twist in pro/am competitions has meant rethinking my approach to competing in order to align with what happens in practice versus theory. That said, now that I am clear on the next steps, I have 3 weeks to focus on my next competition which will be with my full gold routines I have been working on.

The future will of course include continuing to focus on building my fitness and endurance, but I feel a bit better about that since taking the step back yesterday. I feel much better and less drained after my lesson yesterday, so I am hoping that will translate into a strong rounds practice tomorrow.

I feel almost like a mythical creature aiming to do full gold routines at my next competition.

Perhaps I will shine like a unicorn 🙂

Disappointing myself

I am not, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I am.

It’s been a rough week for me.

My hormones started acting up on the weekend, giving me vivid and disturbing dreams and effecting my sleep. That made me tired overall. Coupled with that, this week has been ‘hot flash’-a-palooza with hot flashing coming 2-3 an hour–something else that has been sapping my energy. The amount I am sweating makes it hard to stay hydrated and that leaves me with a headache that won’t seem to go away.

All of that drain on my system has left me emotional, unfocused, unable to concentrate and unmotivated. Not to mention exhausted. It’s been a bad combination when the last thing I do every day is dance, since work gets first crack at my energy (and it has been using a lot of it).

It’s meant very difficult lessons, especially Wednesday and last night–to the point where I feel they have been pretty much unproductive.

I did start feeling a bit better yesterday and I slept much better Wednesday night, but work on Thursday literally had me running all over the place. It would have been an exhausting day for anyone.

Backing up a little, Monday’s lesson seemed to go ok. We worked on some pieces in foxtrot and waltz that needed cleaning and we did 7 rounds of Viennese Waltz. We actually worked on improving VW as we were doing it, focusing on fixing the sway, amount of travel, rotation and other things. Even though I was tiring, the way I was doing the dance seemed to improve throughout the lesson. I left the lesson feeling things clicking into place–not just in VW but for other standard dances.

Wednesday, we started out with a discussion about future competitions because I had noticed something (will elaborate in my next post) that warranted considering a change in approach after this competition coming up.

After that, we looked at latin, beginning with adding a piece to our cha cha so it is a bit longer. We managed to get the piece worked out, but my mind and my body were not quite communicating. We would work on a step and Boss would show me how to do it, but my body just refused to do it. I just left it for something for me to work on myself. After that, we had to look at another piece where our arm styling didn’t quite match because Boss wanted to do a hold for a bar, but I hadn’t planned for it so we kept missing it.

Then Boss told me he didn’t like the styling I was doing on one of the steps just before that piece and that hit me hard. I had spent more than 30 mins in a practice trying to figure out something to do for that step that wasn’t just me flapping my arms around, and I had been working on that styling for more than a month. Boss showed me some options for what he would prefer and honestly, I hated them all. They were too busy–exactly what I had been trying to avoid–and his main point was he didn’t want me holding my hands in one position. I spent another 30 mins during practice trying to come up with an option somewhere between and still have nothing.

The whole thing really shouldn’t be so difficult to fix, but it made me really upset and now I have no idea what to do.

After that, we worked out a section of paso where our arms weren’t matching and that went ok, except now coming out of that section I keep doing something strange (funny how arms can mess up the feet!). That I should be able to work out.

We ended the lesson working on a step in paso called ‘the twists’. I had thought I was actually doing pretty good on this step, but apparently I am not really. We didn’t get much time to focus on it.

I stayed for practice after, but other than trying to work out the cha cha hands (which I didn’t want to do, and seemed to just be spinning my wheels over), I couldn’t seem to find a single thing I wanted to work on. So, I did a lot of nothing. I worked over the beginning of the cha cha, reviewed the hands for paso and stood around a lot trying to figure out what to do. I just felt frustrated in general with my lack of focus and that upset me more, and I felt like my lesson hadn’t been very productive and then it was followed by an even less productive practice.

Thursday got even worse. As I said, I felt better Thursday morning, but by the end of my work day I could feel I was exhausted. I seriously considered canceling my lesson that night and just going to bed, but with Wednesday’s lesson being so bad, and only so many lessons until the competition, I figured that going and doing something would be better than skipping and doing nothing.

I am pretty sure I was wrong about that.

I could feel my mind being unfocused and scattered before I arrived. We started with a follow-up to our conversation on Wednesday, and that led to Boss telling me that during our VW rounds on Monday, while I started out better, I was tiring much quicker than during the previous week and the rounds practice on Sunday, and that I had to find a way to do better.

I was a little surprised because I had thought that overall the rounds had gone better on Monday and that I had been stronger. I know I was putting everything I had into them. It wasn’t a good way to start a lesson that would include more intervals.

Then the real problems started. we went back to working on the twists in paso and trying to get me to do all the movements I need to do. It was a disaster. Boss would tell me what I needed to do, I would agree, we would do it and nothing would happen. So he kept asking for more. I would try to do more. And nothing would happen. No matter what I tried to do, my body absolutely would not respond to what I was asking. Even simple things like keeping my head out or stepping on a straight leg–nope, wasn’t happening.

I just kept getting more and more upset the more we worked on it and Boss kept getting more frustrated because nothing was happening. Eventually, we just left it.

Then we went to start the VW intervals. Before we even started my mind was screaming it was a terrible idea. But I really wanted to try and do something productive in my lesson.

It was a huge mistake. My body stopped working after about 15 seconds. My mind shut down after 30s. At 45s, there was really no reason to continue, and I truly think that if I had finished the entire 1:30 round I would have collapsed. I literally felt myself shut down.

I was devastated. I had to leave the hall to collect myself because at that point I felt like a complete failure. My main goal for myself before this competition is to increase my endurance so I can get through a 5-dance event. And I can’t even do the exercises needed to begin to address that.

I was honestly ready to just go home, even though there was still 30 mins left to my lesson.

I stayed, and we worked on reviewing the cha cha and working out the new piece a bit better, and a step in jive, spanish arms, I had been struggling with. By the time we finished, the spanish arms seemed to be in a better place, but again I kept being unable to do what Boss was asking me.

Needless to say, I didn’t stay for the group class, and went to bed early last night.

I am hoping that writing out some of my frustrations will help settle me down. I have a lesson again tonight and I want to get through the VW rounds. I want to do something productive in my lesson and be able to work like I usually do.

I just don’t know if my mind and body are going to cooperate for that today.

I don’t work today, so that will help and I slept about 10 hours last night. I seem to be having less hot flashes today, although it is still early. I was going to practice at the hall today, but a big part of me is still saying ‘practice what?’ Even running through all my routines wouldn’t feel very productive right now.

So I am going to just do my lesson and see how it goes. If I am going to get anywhere close to being ready for this comp in 3 weeks, I need to get past this training hump and wall. I need to chalk this up to a bad week and move on.

Next week will be a bit disjointed. I am traveling for work, so I will have lessons with Boss only on Monday and Friday. I won’t have rounds practice on the weekend either as I will be away visiting a friend for Thanksgiving. Perhaps the break is what I need.

I think the thing that is disappointing me the most right now is that I was getting back into ‘full training mode’ and feeling really really good about it and this week is a huge set back from that. And I feel powerless to do anything about it. I try to push myself like I used to and instead of responding, my body shuts down. I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s worse because my mind seems to be shutting down with it, leaving me with nothing to even fall back on.

I am also concerned (and pretty much suspect) that Boss will decide it is all too much and start scaling back everything we are doing. I don’t want to do that as I need my body to adjust and get used to doing more.

I think that is one of the biggest issues. It’s been 2 weeks since there was a significant change in my activity levels (both work and dance), and it feels like I am sitting on an edge with a choice–I can retreat (which feels like giving in), or I can keep pushing and force myself to adjust. I think while I was sick, I gave in too much and my body and mind expects that.

As I said in a previous post–usually only the first two weeks suck. Well, this is week 2 and my body has pretty much thrown in every wrench it can think of to get me to back down.

And it is the fact that I am considering doing so that is disappointing me. Because that would be giving up.

And I know I am stronger than that.

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.

Rebuilding Confidence

This seems to be the centre of my issues in Standard.

On a side note, I was right about the infection and with some antibiotics, I am feeling much better and my energy has returned.

Back to standard, I had a brief discussion with Boss last night to try and sort through why I have so much anxiety about standard in general. It was a good discussion and helped me to start to work through some of the clutter in my brain.

It really does come down to confidence. I have no confidence in my stamina for standard. This is leading to a lot of fear and doubts and that is something I am not used to clouding how I dance.

We are doing a lot in standard, but I still can’t seem to get through 1 full dance without collapsing. I haven’t been able to notice any sort of increase in stamina (although I admit it’s been hard to track), and I am really concerned that I will have to dance 5 (will definitely happen), but even 10 or 15 dances in a row at the competition in October.

We will do standard rounds practice in a bigger hall this weekend, and the anxiety I am feeling approaching that is pretty high. I think among other things, what I fear the most is that the practice will confirm my fears, and I will be done for the entire practice after putting marginal effort into the first few dances.

All of that aside, during my lesson yesterday we were working on waltz and it gave me some time to process through some thoughts in context. One thing I realized is aside from stamina concerns, I also am not sure that I know my routines (which actually for the most part I do), and I am relying too much on what is being led instead of taking a little more initiative myself.  This almost puts me behind, but it also doesn’t let me take initiative in putting some effort and power into what I am doing.

The other thing I discovered is that my anxiety is also paralyzing me. I am not going ‘all out’ like I could because I am afraid of making mistakes and in general trying to control things too much. The general theme of comments from Boss tends to be that while I am doing some movements (such as swag, swing and using my head), I am not really embracing the movements fully and there is almost a point I reach where I physically stop the movement instead of following it through.

I think recognition of this is more than half the battle.

We did have some moments yesterday while working through specific parts of the routine that as I realized I do know the steps and stopped focusing on them so much I was able to start adding other elements to what I was doing–like leading with my head, using power on forward steps–and I think that began some baby steps to start to return my trust in my abilities.

Along with confidence, it seems I also have to relearn to trust my body.

I stayed and practiced after my lesson for almost an hour and took the time to run through all my routines except foxtrot which I will focus on more on Friday as I want to pick apart the timing some and hopefully will have more room. Just doing that, I started to realize that I do know about 95% of the steps in my routines, and a lot of them are fairly automatic, instead of taking a lot of thought. I think that went a long way to helping me rebuild the trust and confidence I need.

I think one of the main things is that right now in standard I am experiencing a lot of ‘trial and error’ in how we work. In order to figure out exactly what works, it’s necessary to try them and see how they go.

It means letting go and accepting that I might lose my balance, I might make an error and I could end up being completely wrong. I have a hard time with that.

But hopefully, more trial will mean less error and the more I force myself outside the comfort zone the more confident I will become in my ability to work there.

I think the knowing part of the battle is starting to materialize and now I feel ready to move onto the doing.

It’s time to step forward with confidence. I’ve earned it.

Standard Thoughts

I had an interesting night.

One of the things that became obvious was a possible explanation to how I have been feeling that is NOT a return of depression. From last night and into today, I developed clear signs of an infection–which may have started earlier in the week and was dismissed. I am going to head to a walk-in clinic today to get it sorted and have my fingers crossed some antibiotics will lead to improvements.

Beyond that potential explanation, I was able to work through and organize some thoughts about what is bothering me about standard.

At the top of the list is general anxiety about my stamina level and lack of confidence and how my stamina failing could affect the partnership and potentially lead to injury of myself or Boss.  I am also afraid if I do too much, then I will fail through the rest of the dancing.

I am really not sure how to attack this problem. I have gotten used to being ‘cautious’ and the solution seems to be beyond just ‘throwing caution to the wind’. Consciously, I may want to do this, but subconsciously there is a block and I am not really sure how to do it.

Beyond this, I have frustrations in specific dances.

Top of the list is tango. I can’t seem to settle into the right position. If I start out ok, as soon as I change to promenade position (which is its own problem), when I turn back to closed position its not the same position I came from.  I keep slipping outside of Boss and too bar to the left. We went over it a lot yesterday, but my mind still feels scattered and unsure. Even the footwork in tango seems to be working against me. I feel like I need to be able to twist my feet in directions they don’t want to go. I also can’t seem to get consistency in sharpness, or consistency in general in tango. It just seems like this dance is all over the place and not wanting to come together.

Quickstep is next. We have gone over steps I am having difficulties with multiple times and it just doesn’t seem to want to stick. I think of all the dances, quickstep is the one where I keep defaulting to be cautious and I have the least confidence. It is also the dance where any failure on my part is most likely to lead to trips, falls and injuries.

Foxtrot is a matter of timing. I keep finding myself rushing through the slow steps. It’s frustrating for me because timing (being a musician) is usually a strong suit for me (almost too much as I have a hard time working outside of timing), but whenever we do foxtrot, I feel like I have no timing or rhythm. I haven’t quite worked out a way to work on foxtrot timing slowly with music–although I know I used to be able to and focused on it.

There are a number of things I am working on remembering and recapturing in standard and it seems like every day the list grows. I also feel far too tense and afraid to relax.

I am really not sure how to work through everything that goes through my head in standard. I need it to all come together, and it seems like it is doing so much much slower than it used to–and that is frustrating in itself. I am used to picking up things and putting them together and incorporating them faster.

I am going to have to give more thought to standard and how to resolve some of these issues. Almost all of them are things I need to work out myself that Boss can’t really help with. They are personal blocks and challenges I need to overcome, although if I can figure out a way to do that, there may be a way Boss can help.

I feel like the answer is sitting on the tip of brain.

I hope it comes forward soon.

Trying to Remember What I Used to Know

Boss made an interesting observation tonight.

It was interesting in that it vocalized what had pretty much been going on in my head since I started back to dance–particularly in standard.

What he said is that he had observed that there were things I was doing pretty consistently before my surgery which I seemed to have forgotten about since I returned.

I have to agree with that, as one thing I have noticed during my lessons, particularly in standard, is that I have this scrambled feeling in my brain–like I am trying to grab onto all sorts of thoughts at the same time and translate that into my movements. As we move through different things, my mind jumps around from technical aspect to technical aspect to try and remember some of the things that were just on the cusp of becoming habits before surgery.

Different examples include allowing my feet to roll through the movements, stepping in CBMP going into turning figures (particularly natural figures), keeping my knees flexed, not turning out too far in promenade position and keeping my ribs forward to open up my position.

Boss has mentioned some of them, and some of them have come into my head as we review (although sometimes to the point of distracting me from other things I am supposed to be focusing on). I am sure there are still more I haven’t completely remembered. The biggest step seems to be remembering, and then consciously reworking them back into my dancing to remember the habit so I don’t have to think about them so much.

I hope, at least, that as things come up and we do more reviews, the ‘almost habits’ will slowly come back more consistently and continue building on what was developing before the surgery.

That said, today was a pretty productive lesson. We started with some of the standard drills that Boss has been developing for us to do together in Waltz and Tango. Both are made up of basic steps, but the point is to work through them using full technique and paying attention to all the details. In tango, it is also about developing some sharpness to the movement, and starting to differentiate between the different dances. That was just the warm-up, and from there we picked up where we left off yesterday with the Quickstep.

Thankfully, it seems my mind did process what we were trying to do yesterday and today I was better able to do what was needed in the hover corte.  I still hesitate a little in wanting to move my weight all the way over my right foot, but it is getting there more consistent. After reviewing that, we worked on the final step I needed to learn to finish the routine, which went quite well.  It will still need work, but I seem to have at least the basic understanding and we were able to do it in time and in some context.

We finished up working on foxtrot. When we worked with the coach last week, he made some small suggestions for changes in the final line of our routine, but we hadn’t had a chance to review it since then.  Tonight we went through it and refined it some.

Throughout my lessons, there are some small things Boss is drawing my attention to that apply through all routines and it gives me some detailed things to focus on as we work. One of the things I am discovering is that for a lot of the small points, while each has its own specifics, a recurring theme tends to be to let myself relax into things a little more and to try to not limit myself and the flow of movement. I tend to get rigid in some of my movements and in doing so, I don’t quite complete them.  It’s something to think about, and I wonder if that is part of the pre- and post-surgery difference–that I was starting to get move relaxed and confident about many of my techniques and the work I was doing, and now I am back to being more tentative again. I am almost trying too hard.

Which leads me to my final point tonight. I was going to stay and practice some after my lesson tonight, but at the end of my lesson, my entire body was screaming for a break and that it was done for the week, led by my knees which are quite inflamed between the return to dance, work and everything else. I have been trying to mitigate the flare up, but my success seems to be a little limited. I do have some ice, voltaren and tiger balm on them now to try to quiet them down.  I was told to expect this, I guess I am a little disappointed about how bad it is.

I didn’t stay and headed home as I can recognize that there is some bone-weariness creeping up on me, and my body needs the break.  I want to keep pushing, but my body isn’t ready for that yet and its a little frustrating. I am trying not to worry about it and let it get me down, but it is on my mind now and then. Part of me is afraid that this might be the beginning of going back to feeling as I was before surgery, although there is a distinct difference–particularly in energy level.  While I am tire and sore, I still have energy.  I am trying to have faith that it’s all normal and that with the break of the long weekend, and some planned rest, I will be ready to get back at things on Wednesday during my next lesson.

It’s not that I feel I have a lot to do, its more that there is a lot I want to do.

A lot I want to remember.

Bending the knee

It seems Jon Snow is not the only one reluctant to do this…

We were working on quickstep tonight (which for some reason seems like something I haven’t done in two years), and after starting with some clarification in the fishtail, we moved on to the hover corte, which is a new step for me in my gold routine.

Ever have a night where it seems like your mind and body just won’t work together?

That was me tonight. My mind understood (for the most part) what I needed to do, but my body just could not figure out how to consistently make it happen. That said, I am hopeful that it will be one of those things that once my mind has an opportunity to sleep on it (literally), it will process the information and start working out.

The root of the problem though seems to stem some from my knees, particularly my right knee.

As I have mentioned before, knee issues and knee pain have been an on-going thing for me since before cancer.  I tend towards patella femoral syndrome, which is an issue that takes a lot of time and strengthening to work out.  After 6 weeks off of activity, my knees were feeling pretty good, but of course returning to activity has caused them to flare up some (which I was told to expect). My right knee tends to be the instigator, and my left joins in when it has to compensate.

So what does this have to do with dance?

When my knees get sore, my mind starts to unconsciously compensate by avoiding bending them, and in particular by avoiding allowing me to put my weight on one of them at a time while bent.  It also knows that I tend to be more unstable when standing on a bent right leg.

Particularly in standard, I had been working on moving with bent legs through all my steps and to break myself of the habit of step on mostly straight legs. Part of it is a strength issue, the other is simply breaking habits and giving myself the permission to keep my legs bent. Stepping on a straight leg was one of the biggest issues tonight. What’s interesting, is that it was an issue almost always only when stepping on the right leg and having to rise.

Exactly what my body like to avoid doing.

I had a bit of a thought after I got home tonight and did an experiment that brought interesting results.  One of the things Boss seemed to be pointing out was that I had a reluctance to move my weight completely over my right leg when I know I will be changing direction, preferring to keep my weight more to left, and particularly to tend to thrust my right hip out to the side.

So, when I got home, I tried comparing what happens when I balance on each leg with a bent knee.  The result? I am quite stable and comfortable standing on a bent left knee, and it feels perfectly natural to do so without any help from my hip.  Standing on a bent right knee is a bit of a disaster.  I have to almost consciously think to keep my hip from falling out, and I can feel my foot moving back and forth to try to keep the balance.  I can also stand for a prolonged time on my left, but after 10 seconds on my right, I can feel my hip start to tire.

Well, that tells me where my body needs some concentrated work, beginning with just building endurance for standing on a bent right knee.

It’s an exercise I remember doing at some point 2-3 years ago.

I don’t know if that will help directly with dance (it can’t hurt, I suppose), but on top of that I will have to start forcing my mind to pay attention to how I am stepping on my right in standard–especially in pivoting or rising steps to start breaking my current habit and helping my body rebuild it’s strength.

Speaking of building strength, I have started doing 15 mins of body weight exercises at home every other day, mostly to help my knees (they are all exercises I was doing on direction from my trainer and physio before the surgery). Them plus pushups against the wall seem to be a good place to start with some strength training.

I also stayed to do some practice after my lesson tonight, although I compromised with myself and limited it to 30 minutes just to review my latin routines and some of the hand work I did last week. I also took some time to work on my traveling spins in paso and keeping my elbow in front of me, which was the second half of my lesson on Monday (natural rolls in samba was the first half). I couldn’t do quite as much as I wanted as I was feeling a bit light-headed and getting dizzy, so I erred on the side of caution and stopped spinning when my balance stopped cooperating.

I am finding myself a little more tired this week, but as my body is still adjusting to the stopping of the anti-depressants, and the return to work, its not unusual.  I also had a bit of a harder time sleeping Monday and Tuesday night with a sudden heat wave.  Since it cooled off today, I hope to sleep better tonight.

Speaking of sleep, over the next couple weeks I will be working on reducing the dose of my insomnia medication, another positive step. The reduction is in my control, but it seems that I am reaching the point where it will be possible, since a lot of the insomnia increasing medications are out of my system now. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

A lot of positive things going on, and thankfully nothing unexpected coming up (knock on wood!). There are a lot of gradual increases and I am keeping an eye on things as I go along.

8 Weeks until the competition. At this point, I am not too sure about how the preparation will go.  It seems like we are not quite covering as much in my lessons as Boss hopes, although I am optimistic it will pick up momentum once we get some of the major issues cleared up and out of the way.  Other than endurance in general (which is going to be an issue for some time), there is really only one routine I am completely unsure of (quickstep), one routine I lack some confidence in (especially in my ability to do it at full speed, paso), and a few routines with the odd step I am not sure about.  Its really not a bad place to be considering its been a week since I have started back to activity.

Overall, I am doing good. Looking forward to moving further on this path.

Lots to be optimistic about!