Why compete?

Why, indeed.

After sorting through thoughts in my last post, I guess I realized I need to figure out what drives me to compete, or rather what makes a competition interesting or worth competing in.

  • Competitions give me a real and tangible goal within a set time period.

I am a very goal-oriented person and having a competition to prepare for gives me something to focus on and a specific time within which to do it.  I need that to feel grounded in my dancing.  It’s not about specific goals within my dancing, but giving something to aim for.

  • Competitions set time frames for measuring progress.

It’s not really about how much progress is made between competitions, but more about having a definitive time to evaluate. It’s an opportunity to record my dancing under pressure and to compare it with previous videos.

  • Competitions help me feel structured in my dancing.

Along with being goal-oriented, I need structure, and really don’t do well if I feel there is no rhyme or reason to what I am doing. Competing gives me that structure–there are levels, others to compare to, things to evaluate.

  • The impact of a competition should reflect the price.

It doesn’t make sense to spend a large amount to attend a small competition, where I may be alone on the floor. It also doesn’t make sense to spend a small amount to attend a large competition that I have to travel to. The two parts need to balance and sometimes this can be the trickiest part. There are never any guarantees.

  • It’s not a competition if I am alone.

In order to compete, there needs to be someone to compete against. There is competitiveness in my nature, although its not always evident and I can say I am not comfortable with it. While I see the value in comparing my dancing against what I did at previous events, there is an element to competing with others on the floor that increases the drive to do well. It’s motivating.

  • Competitions motivate me.

There is something about competing that motivates and drives me more than just performing or social dancing. There is a thrill to it, and in many ways it is the time I feel comfortable acknowledging that I have done something well. It’s when I allow myself to really give myself credit, but it also gives an external justification too. It’s someone who doesn’t see me dancing all the time giving approval (or sometimes signalling problems).

  • Competing is the reward I give myself for hard work.

While I have lots of personal reasons for wanting to work hard, wanting to do well at a competition also plays a part. Competitions are something I earn. I work hard to save the money to attend, so I also owe it to myself to work hard to prepare for them. Competitions are an opportunity to have fun after putting in the hard work to prepare. Because I know I have worked hard, when I go to compete I can just enjoy the full experience, including traveling, the showcases/performances, and knowing I have done well.

Looking at this list, I can see where most of my recent competitions, and even my preparation for them have missed the mark for me. I also see that one of the things I experienced the most in the past 6 months was preparing for my silver test, which is very telling. Once my last competition was over, I felt very lost and aimless until the test prep started.

Part of me is scared about returning to dance without having decided on a competition goal. I am worried that for one reason or another, my next competition will be once again one of the same local competitions I have been doing for the last 2.5 years.

I am very worried deep down that if I can’t settle on some goals, especially for competing, I will lose the motivation I have gained following the surgery, and I will start to question why I dance–a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down again.

I feel like I lost some of the reasons why I dance in recent months, really since my mastectomies and reconstruction and all the issues with the hormone therapy. I got stagnant and I want to break that cycle. More than that, I need to break that cycle. I feel like I call myself a competitive dancer, but I have no right to since I never really compete.

I feel like I am pretending. Perhaps that is the root of the problem.

It’s time to get back on a full competition floor.

A Discovery

I had an interesting lesson yesterday.

When I got to the studio, I really wasn’t sure how the lesson would go. Even Boss remarked when I arrived he could see I was already tired.  It had been a long week at work. I had things (and so did Boss) that I wanted to accomplish so I took things carefully and just saw where they went.

We started by going over a new step in my Gold Quickstep routine, which I found pretty interesting. Unlike other Quickstep steps, this one is the hover corte and it is more about slow control.  It took some experimenting, but in the end it seemed to come together pretty well.

Following that, we started breaking down the Gold Paso Doble. In particular, we worked on sorting out the footwork–which steps are on heels vs those on the toes.  Sorting that out actually helped a lot as for most steps it helped them make more sense, or a little easier to execute.

Once we had gone through the steps, we were able to go through the entire routine 3 or 4 times in a row with slower music.  Somewhere in the middle of those run-throughs, I noticed a chance, something I had felt or done in a very long time.

There just started to be some energy to my dancing and with that came some confidence.  In particular, I do promenade and counter promenade spins (which are a series of underarm spirals) and I was finding my spirals were a little sharper, quicker, and had some more drive.  In our last run through, I even found myself using some drive through some of the steps I wasn’t so sure about before.  Even Boss remarked he noticed a difference. It was a remarkable and unexpected discovery to find in my dancing–again it was like remembering something I used to know and having it bubble to the surface.

I hope these sorts of discoveries will be plentiful as I begin to return back to dance following my recovery.

I am not sure where the sudden spurt of energy and confidence came from, but I will take it when I can.  We ended the lesson running through the Gold Cha Cha routine, and that also went quite well with a little more ‘vibrancy’ than I have felt in a long time.  I know there have been some small changes in diet and supplements so a part of me is wondering if that has an effect.

I have 3 more lessons until my surgery, and I hope that my energy will stay up since it seems to want to return a little.  I know part of the plan is to record all of the gold routines, and Boss told me he would like to use one lesson to discuss ideas for two different showcase routines we have in the works.

I woke up this morning to a surprise 🙂 A while ago I did an interview with The Dancing Housewife Show, and this morning the podcast interview was posted! I hope you enjoy the interview!

It’s a beautiful long weekend in Canada and Happy Canada 150 to all!

Foxtrot Vs Waltz

I discovered an interesting thing tonight.

I honestly probably always knew it, but it never struck me so obviously before.  Perhaps it was just the order I was working tonight.

During my own practice, I worked on getting down the sequence of the silver foxtrot routine (which I was able to do–Yay me!).  Following that, I switched to waltz.  What surprised me was discovering that the footwork and movement in the two dances is actually quite different.  The way I discovered it was that in trying to do my waltz routine, I kept falling into doing foxtrot steps.

It occurred to me that foxtrot has much more progressive movements where waltz has more turning.  In foxtrot I frequently need to pass my feet while waltz involves a lot of opening the legs to turn.  It wasn’t until I had to transition between the two that I realized this.  In fact, when I started the waltz, it took me some time to figure out how to do a natural turn and a basic weave.

The other surprise I had for myself tonight was that while working on my own in foxtrot I kept running out of room without even trying.  I seem to be traveling a lot more than I did before, and even more than I do with Boss (although he has a better idea of how to fill the space we have than I do).  I didn’t even realize I was trying to move, but I must have been.

We worked on the shaping in the paso routine today, as well as some other details.  One thing I will say I am really enjoying about preparing this routines are how detailed and ‘by the book’ we are working.  Believe me, it is surprises how many steps in Paso Doble are done on the ball of the foot.  I feel like I am prancing a lot–although that may be the point.

Following the paso we worked on the foxtrot to work through some of the steps I wasn’t too sure of and to run it a few times, so I could practice it later on my own.  One of the things that Boss kept emphasizing was the difference in how I am moving in standard in general (but foxtrot specifically), and how I am supporting myself from my feet and that is allowing my upper body to be more free.  I guess I am not pulling so much and it’s been a profound difference.  I hope the stability sticks.

For my part, I can say that I am noticing two things more than previously–how I am using my feet, and that I am able to and am developing a good habit of keeping my knees flexed as I move which seems to be helping.  I do feel stronger through my feet and legs.  However, when my endurance runs out, it is still a sudden and huge deficit of strength and everything collapses beyond my control.

I really hope I am able to work through it for the test.  We did the paso routine four times in a row today and by the 4th time my legs had turned to jelly and my balance was wavering.  I felt pretty weak.  I was able to rally for the foxtrot, but consistently after one round of the ballroom my strength would start to fail me.

Boss told me that the plan for Friday is to go through all the routines and do rounds.  I am a little nervous about that, but hope it won’t be as bad as I fear.  I am on vacation from work until Monday, so I should be pretty well rested.

One of the nice perks about being on vacation is that I will be able to watch the final two days of Blackpool–the professional events, which I expect will be pretty amazing!  The dancing so far in all events has been spectacular and I really can’t wait for tomorrow and Friday.

At least doing rounds, I don’t have to worry about confusing waltz and foxtrot–waltz always comes first and there is tango in the middle to refresh my mind.

Fingers crossed it all goes well.

Eyes up

This is my new challenge.

As I mentioned previously, when I do my exercises and personal practice, I find it meditative and tend to go a little inside myself and just focus on the sensations of my body moving.

Unfortunately, when I do this I tend to focus my eyes on nothing and typically cast my eyes (and my head) down towards the floor.  It’s a habit which comes back to haunt me a little as when I concentrate, that is my ‘default’ mode.

Yesterday in my lesson, we went through all of my exercises as Boss had already noticed a few things that needed to be addressed.  Number one on his list was that I need to do all my exercises keeping my eyes and head up, with my chest lifted–just as it has to be when in standard position.  Latin exercises are more focused forward.  The biggest thing is to keep my gaze up from the floor.

This shouldn’t be hard to do, but for some reason it just doesn’t quite gel with what I do naturally, so it takes a lot of conscious thought.  But habits are build through perseverance so time to keep on myself and develop a new one.  This will also help with my endurance for maintaining my standard position in the long run.  It certainly is learning a new way to concentrate and focus internally.  It should be a good challenge (like I don’t have enough already!).

For the most part, it seems the exercises are going well, even though it’s only been a week I have been working on them.  Some of the biggest changes came in latin exercises focused on rumba walks (hardly a surprise!) and bota fogos.  It’s good to know that things already seem to be rebuilding.  Boss mentioned we might start working on some sequences this week, but honestly I am in no rush.  I like what we are doing now.

Boss asked me to provide him with some feedback for things I am not sure of on the exercises, but I told him I wanted to wait until after Wednesday’s practice to give myself time to evaluate, and settle into more consistent practice.  I find if I don’t give myself time then things get confusing as my body hasn’t figured out what it is doing in the first place before I start making changes.  I am quite happy with how things are feeling already (as far as consistency) and there are really only a couple exercises our of 18 that continue to vex me.

So now I will add in keeping my eyes up and see how that changes things.  Part of the issue is just being comfortable with myself and not trying to ‘hide’ inside myself too much as I work.  On the one hand, it is great how focused I get, but on the other….

I need to be able to dance ‘out’.

As ready as ready can be

Last lessons before the competition are done!

Today was about putting together last minute pieces to the smooth VW and ironing out a few ‘odd spots’ that creeped up in some of the routines as we were running them today.

I feel very good about where I am right now.  Will the routines go perfect and be as strong as possible? No, I don’t expect that, but I do know that the routines will go as well as they can and I will be dancing them instead of just trying to ‘get through’ them.

I realized earlier this week that I am actually quite proud of myself for making the health decisions I did last month that ultimately led to me getting back to being ‘myself’.  Because of that, for the last month I have been able to train better and harder than I have been able to in over 2 years, and the difference is incredible.

On top of that, I am right ‘on target’ with my studying for the week, and aside from a break to get the mandatory mani/pedi for the comp, I should be able to finish up all the work for this week before we leave, leaving me able to relax some and perhaps even get a ‘jump’ on next week’s work over the weekend.

I have one of my dresses back and ready to go, and the other 2 should be ready by noon tomorrow.   I know my dressmaker has been working constantly to get all the stoning done and what I saw of the dresses tonight look absolutely fabulous.  I can’t wait to wear them and sparkle all over the floor.

I got the instructions/demonstration for doing my hair today and it kept itself up all day through 2 intense lessons, acupuncture and a lot of sweat.  That’s promising 🙂

I hope everything goes as expected tomorrow, and plan to just enjoy the experience competing this weekend.

After all, I have already won–I am able to dance again!

Now, I can ‘dance’

I had a bit of a revelation last night.

Since my focus for this upcoming competition is not just on ‘getting through the routines’, there is a completely different focus now.  Now I can actually ‘dance’ the routines–and it seems like it’s been a long time since I have been able to do that.

It’s created a really positive ‘switch’ in my mind and one that I think I needed.  Last night, we were working through rumba, samba and paso and beginning with rumba this revelation suddenly came to the surface.  Especially with rumba as there are times when I can really move through the timing.

Needless to say, I am suddenly just enjoying how I am dancing much more than I have in a very long time.  Or rather I feel like I CAN enjoy what I am doing without having to worry that my legs will give out or I won’t be able to control something. It’s very liberating.

One of the biggest switch is that now when I ask my body to use a little bit of power, it responds.

We were working on Paso last night, in particular a step called ‘the twists’ which involves me moving around Boss then doing a heal turn before moving around him again. It’s a step that moves a lot and involves a lot of shaping when it is done right.  It also involves changing the ‘epicentre’ of the rotation from one partner to the other.  We were working on this switch last night and for whatever reason, I felt very free in what I was doing as well as strong throughout the movement.

Yesterday seems to be a start of a bit of a reawakening that I think has been coming since I stopped the hormone therapy last month and started to get my hormones under control.  I was feeling some small side effects from the injection yesterday–such as nausea, headaches and light-headedness, but already today I can feel myself experiencing the same recovery of energy I had after the last injection.  Definitely a huge relief being only 1 week from competition.

If I were to summarize how I am feeling, I would say that I really just realized that going to this competition, I can actually compete, instead of feeling like ‘filler’ on the floor.  I am trying to keep control, but I can certainly say that excitement for the competition is starting to build–in a good way.

There is still a lot to do to finish the preparations for this competition, but already I feel more prepared and ready for this competition than I have since 2014.

I am ready to dance.

Welcome 2017!

I am not one for resolutions.

I do however give myself something to focus on each year–like a goal for the year.

The last two years of my life have been given to cancer.  In 2015 my goal was to get through all my treatments as best and as positively as I could.  In 2016 my goal was to recover from all my treatments, return to work, and get back to a normal life.

I have decided that 2017 is going to be about me.

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the hormone therapy.  While I am now on an ovarian suppressant, my oncologist hinted that once I am stable on it he would like me to try a different type of hormone therapy with it.

It would take a lot of very strong and positive convincing for me to go back to taking hormone therapy again.  I felt so terrible while I was taking the hormone therapy even though I tried very hard to convince myself that I was doing ok.  Now that I am free from it’s influence, it is very easy and startling to see how much of an impact it had on every aspect of my life.

While I understand the benefits taking hormone therapy provides to preventing a recurrence of cancer, I also understand that for me, there is no value in extending my life if I am not able to live it.  So without any regrets, I will refuse to return to HT.  I might have a shorter life, but I will live it fully. I will not go back to feeling that bad again.

With the newfound vigor I have discovered, I find myself truly looking forward to the year ahead and focusing on me.  I am going to start my masters degree in a week, I am going to compete in 3, and I am going to keep my energy focused on the things that are important to me.

As far as dance, I decided a couple weeks ago that I want to reset and get back to some basics after this competition.  With my recent reawakening, I have realized that I have lost some of the basic skills I had before I got sick and I need to take the time to redevelop them.  I also want to rebuild my strength, fitness and endurance.

2017 is going to be MY year.

Dance Day

If you’re on vacation, why not dance?

It was a busy but really productive day today in my dance world.

First, I had my styling detail session with Boss, or at least the first session.  We worked through rumba, paso and samba, which are probably the easiest routines for us to work on for styling as a lot of it was either already worked out some, or has a lot of time in hold (paso and samba).  It was really productive though to go through each routine in detail and figure out things like where we connect, where I need to make sure my hands are so we can connect (hard to do an underarm turn if my hand is down!), and to try a little bit of some new things (skirt work!).

Going through the styling details like that also helped cement the routines together and provide some symmetry where we were missing some before.  I finally worked out my shimmy part in samba–I just have to keep my confidence through it!

Later in the day I had a dress fitting for my smooth dress, and it is really coming along well!  It was also Boss’s first time seeing the smooth dress, and he seemed to be pleasantly surprised to like it.  We only had a few details to adjust and sort out, but it is well on it’s way to coming together.  I also got to see all the stones for it, and I got to see some of the stoning progress on my latin dress (which looks So amazing now!).  I am really excited for how all of the dresses are coming together.

In the evening I had a regular lesson, although not at the usual hall due to the holidays.  We spent the lesson working through the waltz routine in little details, fixing the places where I just didn’t seem to keep it together.  We spent the most time on the fallaway and slip pivot to the contra check, and it finally clicked together for me how all those pieces work together and how the contra check is supposed to work.  Because the hall was smaller we were limited to doing small segments at a time, but that worked really well.

It was nice to spend some time on standard today, it’s been a little while as we have been working getting the smooth and latin routines together.  Boss told me today we are making a little bit of a change from what we usually do.  Instead of using the legs to travel, he has me focusing more on using the legs for swing, sway and rotation.  It’s a small change, but I like it a lot.  I feel a little more controlled in moving, and finally I can feel standard starting to take shape beyond just the steps.

We did discover a bit of an anomaly in how I get into position.  I have a habit of stepping too far forward, which puts me too close, but I also tend to lead with my left side forward, which also puts me too far to the left side.  It took a little bit of adjustment and trial and error, but I realized I was doing that because with the loss of sensation through my chest, lower belly and upper thighs, I started using my left hip as my ‘grounding point’ to figure out when I was in position.  Unfortunately, this tends to wrap me too much around Boss’s side, so we were working on finding new ways and a new grounding point and a visual clue to help me out.  What seems to work for now is to make sure I come straight towards Boss, aiming to put the edge of my right side in his centre, and to only take two steps forward (left foot, right foot) and let Boss close the gap if needed from there.  It’s a small change of habit that I am sure I am going to have lots of practice with over the next few lessons.

Boss said today that the intent is to keep working through the standard routines over the lessons this week and I am looking forward to digging into the rest of them some more (waltz is the easiest dance for me to pick up, so the rest should be challenging).

One of the biggest advantages to how I have been feeling lately is that my mind is sharp and focused again and that really showed today.  I can feel all of the information from today processing in my brain and I can tell it’s going to stick.  I have also had more energy lately which is also helping a lot and I am really feeling a lot like my old self.

As I continue to feel better, it amazes me the details that are coming back.  Things that I used to do automatically (like travel, press into the floor, stretch through my whole body) are suddenly coming back–and I didn’t even realize I had stopped doing them.  I just feel so much stronger overall and more connected with myself than I have been in a very long time–and not only in dance.  It’s such a relief.

Even my lessons have been a bit more intense requiring a lot more effort lately and I have been a bit proud of myself for being able to step up.  It seems like it has been a long time since I have had lessons that have been a lot of ‘go go go’ and I am really enjoying that.  I hope that my endurance is also improving.  For the first time in a long time, I feel like I am really preparing for a competition–not just going through the motions.

It’s back to work tomorrow, at least partly, and I have lessons every night the rest of this week, and will have another styling session on Friday.

I keep saying it over and over–but it’s really true now.

I’m Back.

Turning Point

At least I hope so.

At the risk of jinxing myself, I want to say that in comparison with how I have been feeling the last few months I feel fan-freakin’-tastic.

My head is clear, I have energy, some of my confidence is back and I feel motivated again.  I also slept 8-hours straight 2 nights in a row without waking up.  I can’t even remember the last time that happened.

I really felt it today during competitive rounds practice.  It was a hard practice, but it was hard for all the right reasons.  Boss wouldn’t let me skip dances or stop–even if all I was doing was keeping my legs moving (which happened a bit in Viennese Waltz and Quickstep).  The best thing was that when I wanted to push my limits–my body listened.  It wasn’t happy about it, but it kept going.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel absolutely exhausted at the end of practice, even though I did more than I have done in quite some time.  I even worked some on my spins this evening as regaining my confidence in my spins is one of my short-term goals.

I bought a ‘Turnboard’ this weekend.  I am not sure if you know what that is (you can google it though), but it’s basically a piece of plastic you can stand on and spin.  It helps you keep your balance but it also makes spinning easier due to less friction.

I got it yesterday and already I have discovered a rather significant fact about my body.  When I stand on my right foot and turn right things are pretty good.  I am balanced, I have some speed and I could easily do more than one rotation.  But when I switch legs and turn left it’s like night and day.  I can barely get more than 3/4s of a rotation, my balance is terrible and I am slow.  It’s a huge and unexpected difference, but it certainly tells me what I need to work on more.

I think that has to do with a couple different factors.  My right side is weaker in general from the surgeries and that is my ‘cancer’ side.  But my left side is also bigger–bigger in the chest, and bigger over the hips (enough you can see the difference).  It makes sense that having more on one side would affect my centre of balance.  ‘Centre’ is a bit of a loose term.  I have a feeling my centre is a little ‘off to the right’ to balance it all out.

With my motivation returning, I am starting to find myself understanding more and more how I want to restart in the New Year.  I really want to get back to basics, but also to work on rebuilding my conditioning.  Certainly by the end of practice today I was motivated to not have to work so hard to get through a practice–to work on making it easier on my body.  I just hope my body keeps cooperating and that my energy and motivation remains strong.

I hope this truly is the turning point it appears to be.  I am tired of having to fight so hard to do the things I want to do and until today I really didn’t realize how exhausting it was.

Time will tell, and all I can do is keep taking things one day at a time.

The Dancer that I Used to Be

I feel like I have been saying ‘I used to…’ a lot lately.

Somewhere in the middle of all of the health struggles I have been dealing with lately, something interesting occurred to me.

In many ways, I have been trying to go back to being the dancer I remember before I got sick.  I was faster, sharper, fitter and more grounded. I think my thinking was that if I could get back to that place, then I would be able to move forward again to become the dancer I want to be.

But it is time for that thinking to be put away.

I will never be the dancer I was again.  Simply because you can’t go back. The past is the past and while it may seem a bit like the ‘glory’ days, by always wallowing in ‘what used to be’ you will never be able to move forward.

I need to take a giant step back and have a look at the dancer I am now. And accept her. Only then can I figure out how to become the dancer I want to be–by figuring out where I am now and leaving behind where I was before.

Sure, I am slower, out of sorts and struggling with several things that used to come easily to me.  But there are also some aspects to who I am now I didn’t have back then.  I have more control now of my body in general.  I have improved technique and styling.  I am able to do more complicated patterns.

I have been focusing a lot of what I lost instead of appreciating what I have gained–simply because somehow I convinced myself that the gains don’t count if they aren’t done with the speed, precision, strength and fitness I had before.

But they are still gains. There is still a strong foundation to my dancing that I have built up over the past 6 years.  I haven’t lost that.  I just have to figure out how to work with what I have now, and how to use the different strengths I have now.

Once I understand the dancer I am now, I can work better to become the dancer I want to be.  And I am not sure it is still the same dancer I wanted to be before I got sick–only because there are limitations I have to work with now I didn’t have before (like having no feeling in my chest, lower belly and upper thighs).

Among other things, I need to figure out how to take the strengths I have now and build on them for the future.  My strengths used to be my speed and endurance, and those were things I focused on and took advantage of previously.  But I am older and wiser now and that means making adjustments to use my assets to my advantage.

I don’t really know what those assets and strengths are right now because I am still experiencing too much flux to really settle into them.  Something that is good one day is not so great the next.

But this is an opportunity to explore.  With any luck, after I see the specialist next week I will be able to start on something that will lead me to start feeling better again.  Even having a plan in place would be much better than what I have now which is nothing.

But the main thing is that I am recognizing and putting aside the dancer I used to be.  She had her strengths, she had very ambitious goals. But she is now a ghost of the past.  I can only get better from where I am now, not by trying to go back to where I was.

It’s interesting that this revelation of sorts came about through working on the open smooth routines.  They are slowly starting to come together, and as I work on them it occurs to me that while I might feel myself missing some aspects of the dancer I was, I am very glad for aspects of the dancer I am now–the dancer I used to be would not be able to do these routines as well as I can do them now–and I think that is something I really needed to figure out.

My struggles continue and likely will for some time.  But by letting go of the past and the dancer I used to be perhaps now I can focus on the dancer I am now–even if she is not what I had hoped or expected before I got sick.

It’s time for some new hopes and goals that look to the future and leave the past behind.