And suddenly…

Things are making a lot of sense.

Somewhere between my last lesson and the lesson tonight a few things clicked together. The surprising thing is that it is not so much specific elements that has clicked together but more a realization and understanding of the level I am able to work at and that it is much higher than I give myself credit for.

I am not quite sure what triggered this but it seems to be a good thing. My mind has really zeroed in on pulling together a lot of details, processed them and been able to execute them all together.

There was just something about tonight’s lesson that seemed to come together. We weren’t doing anything different from what we usually did, but it just seemed to work much easier. Less time reviewing things and I was picking up the concepts and making the adjustments faster than I expected.

We were focusing on standard tonight, specifically two sequences of steps in waltz and foxtrot that have a lot of similarities. Both end with a lunge, but the entrance to and out of it is different, as is the sway going into the lunge.

It’s really a variation on a theme, but there are enough subtle differences that my mind needs to stay engaged. The nice thing as we moved through each of the sequences is that Boss would give some little directions for improvement and I was able to just incorporate them.

In the end, it was a really productive lesson that just seemed to flow. It was hard work, but it was paying off. We ended with the samba conditioning and while I was certainly tired, it also just seemed a little more refined and put together tonight.

At my last lesson, Boss asked me which latin dance I would prefer for a new sequence for conditioning – cha cha or jive. I originally said cha cha, thinking it might be more technical, but once I thought about it, jive made the most sense. I do the conditioning sequence in time with the music, and it is usually something from one of my routines.

Of all the routines, jive is going to be the trickiest to get up to speed. So, if I work on elements from the routine during conditioning in time with the music then my confidence will also go up in the steps. It’s also quite the cardio workout, there is no denying that!

I think I needed this small breakthrough this week as I had been feeling a bit complacent about dance – although perhaps that isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more that I have been feeling like I have been treading water and a little stagnant. It’s not only dance where I had been feeling that way, but a couple of changes seems to have made a big difference overall.

I also had a really productive weekend and cross a lot of things off my ‘to do’ list which has taken some loads off my mind.

It’s interesting how little changes can have big impacts.

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A New Name

You may notice something different about the blog.

About a month ago I started thinking that perhaps it is time for me to change the name of my blog to reflect that while my journey is not over, the active cancer part of the journey is. I couldn’t think of something at the time, but earlier this week, a name finally came to me. I rolled it around in my head and decided to go for it.

So this blog is now “Beyond Cancer Ballroom Dancer”.

I feel it is fitting because currently my blog is not about dancing through treatment anymore (thankfully) but its more about moving beyond cancer – figuring out how life works again after so much time spent focused on an illness.

And so it is.

I have been a bit quiet lately and for that I apologize. I was getting quite stressed between work, school, and dance and I had to take a step back to reset a little and decompress. I just really needed to take a little time to let my mind calm down so I could think again.

So that is what I have been doing. Focusing on checking things slowly off my ‘to do’ list until I reached a point where I felt like I was back to being a little ahead instead of feeling always behind.

It’s been a really crazy few months. It occurred to me as I was working this weekend that I have actually worked every long weekend since New Year’s, between being on course, being on duty and managing some media requests. It’s no wonder I feel a little like I haven’t stopped. Even the cruise that I was on for ‘vacation’ turned out to not be as relaxing as I hoped when it ended with me forgetting my bag and my ‘recovery’ days getting eaten up being stressed about replacing the things in it and making up for the school work I lost.

I will have a few days off in a couple weeks around the week before the next long weekend and I truly will have the entire Labour Day weekend off. I just need to get through the next couple weeks.

I am hoping tomorrow might be a bit of a funner day at work. As part of my job, I am required to maintain regular qualifications in weapons handling so tomorrow will be spent on the ranges shooting to requalify. Its something completely different and gets me out of the office. I expect to be hot and sweaty but feel like I truly accomplished something. After that, I am going to a dance performance show with a friend and will probably see another I haven’t seen in a long time. I really can’t wait.

I may be a bit absent for a little while yet, but I do promise to write about dance soon. I have been quite busy over the last couple weeks and after the small successes with the latin routines, we are now turning to standard and working in a lot of detail through those routines. The goal is to record them the weekend after next, in time with music, even if not at full strength. It should be interesting.

In the past couple weeks we have also discovered a new challenge for my body related to my knees that I have been actively focusing on fixing. I will speak some more about that too.

In the meantime, I leave you my name change which better speaks to the message I want to convey —

There is life beyond cancer.

A Demonstration

I performed a demonstration with Boss last night at a charity fund-raiser.

We did a waltz routine which he choreographed on Wednesday and taught to me an hour before the event started.

The floors at the hall were a type of rubber and not wood, so needless to say they weren’t the easiest to dance on. Because of that, and a small space we were able to keep our dancing compact and the routine included a lot of line figures.

It went really well and seemed to be really well received. We were one of 5 couples doing demonstrations of different styles of partnered dancing (ballroom, west coast swing, blues, salsa, and fusion) to demonstrate how connection works through dancing, the theme of the fundraiser.

Doing the demonstration was fun, but it made me realize that I actually don’t remember the last time I performed (other than the competition last year), and what surprised me more was that I missed it.

Even though it was more or less a low-key demonstration it was fun and nice to go out and connect with an audience and share dance with them.

Aside from the demonstration, it was also fulfilling to learn a routine with some advanced steps in an hour and be able to perform it later that evening at a high level. I think that speaks to and gives insight and confirmation for myself just how much I have grown, even since my last competition.

It was a boost I needed after an insane week at work that involved pants publicly splitting, needing antibiotics, and watching my workload surge to the point I will need a couple hours this weekend to catch up and get back on track.

It also got the wheels turning in my head on the assignments for my current school course which I also desperately needed.

All that from a simple demonstration.

A reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait.

An experiment

Ballet.

Yep, for the month of July I am taking adult beginner ballet twice a week.

I have had one class so far and it was interesting. We are starting with covering the basic positions and got to 4th. We did some demi plies and tendues.

I am doing better than I thought I would. The main thing I have to watch is to not let my right foot roll too far forward in some of the positions and put too much pressure on my knees. I actually have a pretty good turnout (on both sides!) which also surprised me. I am very interested to see how this goes.

I decided to try this as Boss has been recommending it for a few years now and finally I found a brief workshop that happened to work with my schedule. It’s a good way to connect with my muscles and use them in a slightly different way, as well as create body awareness in places I have very little and develop some movements that will help, especially with latin.

I love how structured the class is at the school I am working at. Baby steps the entire way, but important steps. Slow and steady. Right up my alley.

There is even potential to continue in the fall, depending on what happens with work and how the rest of the month goes. After all, it been only one lesson.

I just decided I wanted to do something different that scared me a little, and ballet seemed to fit. It’s a challenge and something fresh. So far, a great decision.

I also decided to experiment in another area of dance – a new standard dress working with a new designer. I love all of my competition dresses I have had, but I wanted to get outside the box and little and see what someone new might suggest. I was able to meet with the new designer over the weekend and I am waiting now to see what she has come up with. She has some interesting ideas I would have never considered so I am curious to see how it turns out. Yet another thing that is a bit outside my comfort zone and scares me a little.

I think I need to stretch myself with these things. I have gotten a bit too comfortable lately and while that is not a bad thing by any means it does limit growth. Even in my lessons with Boss there is a bit of a theme of me staying in my comfort zone (especially in standard) when I really need to push myself out of it and start challenging myself a little more. It’s not that what I do is ‘easy’, but I am comfortable with the challenge I have been presented and that I can overcome it without too much time.

I did have a lesson tonight that also surprised me. One of my new exercises is focuses on a sequence of New York variation in cha cha from our open routine. 2 weeks ago Boss gave me a little bit of direction for it, and then left me to work out the rest. I have been working on it in detail trying to focus on the points he mentioned, but I didn’t feel like I fully understood what he was looking for.

It appears I did, for the most part, without even realizing it. What started as an intention to just ‘go through the exercise’, actually turned into being able to work through the entire sequence in detail in time with the music together with Boss. There were a few points to work through in the beginning, but once I figured out what was needed I was able to adjust and adapt and pull the piece together.

It’s a key section of the routine I managed to progress quite a bit in less than two weeks. Now I have further details and adjustments to work on when I do my exercises for the next few weeks, and I know I can do it at speed. A real surprise overall!

The other thing I asked from Boss, now that I am feeling fairly stable with all but 3 of my routines, is some direction for working on them further on my own. I am hoping that will help relieve some of the stagnation and feeling of being unproductive and only focused on steps when I work through routines on my own. I feel like I have pieces here and there were I apply things, but it is quite jumbled and all over the place with no consistency, so essentially I have asked Boss to help me organize my practice better.

Finally, next week I begin a new course for school and this blog will be part of it! For this course I have to write 4 blog posts reflecting on a story in the media related to a sport and it’s impact on society. I am still waiting further details, but the posts will appear here, so stay tuned and thanks for participating in my education!

It looks to be an experimental summer!

Ups and Downs…

I had a really good lesson today, but it took a while to get there.

We started by reviewing the exercises I have been doing for about the past 6 months.

I was really finding myself frustrated as we went through these, and honestly I can’t really figure out why.

We were going through them and Boss was giving feedback and some points for adjustment for them. For the most part they were good, but in all honesty I have been doing most of them for so long at this point I am just bored with more than half of them and the idea of doing them for perhaps another 6 months just seemed too much.

Of course, they are not perfect and there is always room for improvement and new elements to add. But I really feel I need a way to refresh my practice to keep me motivated or I worry it will just get harder and harder to do it. I know that I have been hoping for some changes since April.

Boss does plan to make some changes, but he is still planning out for himself exactly what changes he wants to make and what elements he still wants to focus on. The majority of my practice exercises are latin-based because standard work we will be doing more during lessons and together.

The second half of my lesson went much better. We started reviewing the latin routines tonight beginning with the cha cha and finishing with the samba, or at least most of it.

I can’t remember the last time we worked through the cha cha from top to bottom. In fact, I am pretty sure we haven’t done the full routine, only the segments we did as I learned the choreography.

I was pretty surprised how well it went and just from that run through I felt myself pick up on a lot of elements I have been searching for in my own practice. We were able to clarify a couple of areas where the steps weren’t quite clear, and for myself I was able to pick out places where I need to work through the lead and follow a bit more to make sure I am engaging my muscles to work with Boss.

That is an interesting new element to my solo practice. About a month and a half ago I started to notice that when I practice my latin routines on my own I started engaging my muscles and kinetically simulating how the lead and follow should work. It’s not consistent through the routine, but there are certain places where I can feel it working. It’s especially noticeable for me in the rumba, and hope it will keep translating to the other routines. I now have a lot of different places to add this in the cha cha, just from the run-through today.

We finished with samba, and that too was really useful. The most interesting thing about samba was that a lot of it was able to be done with slow music, and as we moved through it I could feel it click together like I hadn’t before. It also surprised me how well it went. We got almost to the end before we had to stop. The lead and follow seems to be more there in the samba than I expected, but it could be the work we did in the cha cha just before it that triggered my mind to be attuned to it.

Despite the rough start to the lesson with the exercises, it really finished on a high note. My energy is definitely back and improving. I had a little bit of a ‘high’ at the end of my lesson and what we finished with felt really good. I could feel my mind churning to assimilate the routines and all the information and try to absorb it like a sponge. It left me looking forward to my next lesson when we will continue the review.

So a little down, but a lot of ups.

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.

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.

Rumba-ing in the Right Direction

Tonight’s lesson had an unexpected high note.

We started by reviewing an exercise section for the jive at my request so that I would have something from jive to work on while I am away. Following that, I needed 3 small clarifications in cha cha to tighten that up.

Once those little things were out of the way, Boss wanted to work on the rumba to go through it with me dancing on my own all the way to the end. It took most of the lesson, but I was able to go through both the new section and the entire routine on my own. Boss even found a few different areas to give some coaching for technique to work on while I am away.

Since we had some time left at the end of the lesson, Boss decided to give the full rumba a try together with the music. It wasn’t flawless, of course, but it didn’t fall apart either. We had enough time to run it three times in a row from top to bottom.

Unexpectedly, I have one entire open routine I can actually ‘run through’!

Now the real work on the routine will begin–cleaning it, making it consistent, and styling. The work we already did on connection was already starting to show, but there is obviously a lot that still needs to happen.

Not to mention there are 8 other routines to finish learning to get to the same point. None of them are at the point where I can run through them fully on my own yet, and 2 (almost 3 if you count jive), I am not able to work through on my own yet at all (including the 2 most difficult).

But it’s a starting point. First one routine settles in, then others follow.

I am off for 3 weeks in Europe tomorrow for work and a mini-vacation at the end. It’s going to be a busy time, but I am really hopeful that I will be able to find some time to run through things for dance, as well as some strength training. I already feel a bit paranoid I will lose all of the progress I have made recently while I am away. Fingers crossed it doesn’t degrade too much.

I actually managed to get everything done I wanted to before I leave. I have a school paper due this weekend, which I finished just before dance tonight, I have a group project due while I am away but my group (many of whom are also away at the same time due to Easter) and I agreed to work ahead on it, so it is almost finished too. I got all my work stuff completed as well, although that had me at work after dance last night to finish it up.

I am even packed, which is pretty good for me since I don’t leave until noon tomorrow 🙂 .

The only small potential hiccup I am watching is a snow storm coming through one of the airports I am going to transition through. I am hoping it will be cleared out by the time I get there tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t know if I will be able to post much while I am away, but I do promise to catch up when I get back.

I am going to ride my rumba high for a little bit.

And hope everything isn’t too different when I get back.

Starting to fly on my own

Well, maybe not fly exactly.

The routines are slowly starting to take shape. Three of them are becoming pretty solid in my feet and two more are starting to get consistent.

The trickiest part is trying to take what I do with Boss and figure out how to execute it on my own. We are even starting to work through some of the technique for the section I know.

To put it simply, I am starting to feel like the routines are becoming doable and not quite so overwhelming.

I have also found some time to focus just on the routines, which is something I have been missing. Boss was able to make some extra time available at the studio on Sundays, so I am going to make that my routine time. It is also time to ‘catch up’ if for some reason I missed a practice during the week.

In other news, the ‘fog’ begun lifting at about 4 pm on Friday. I had a few foggy hours on both Saturday, Sunday and today, but the clear moments are much longer. It’s such a relief to have clarity again. My energy and productivity seems up some, so I hope it lasts and I skip the usual week of intense frequent hot flashes. Fingers crossed, so far so good.

My lessons this week, at least tonight and Wednesday should be focused on going through things on my own with Boss coaching. That will go a long way in solidifying the routines for me before I go away, so I can keep working through them while overseas–one of my main goals right now.

I gave Boss a list tonight of some of the things I would like to go through and hopefully the lesson this week will cover all of it. We already got through quite a bit tonight as it is a lot of small details.

We are also progressing with the conditioning. On the advice of my trainer, we raised the threshold of recovery to when I get under 140 BPM instead of under 130 to push my limits a bit more. It means less time recovering and more time moving. It’s more exhausting, but that is a good thing and why we do it at the end of my lesson.

The only slightly awkward thing is that my lesson is almost always just before a group class, which means I do most of my conditioning with a group of waiting students watching. It’s a little weird and sometimes they don’t realize they have walked into my lesson and start trying to ask Boss questions or pay for their class. It’s getting a little better though.

Sometimes, improvements seem to take forever to come and stick. This week, it seems that the work I have been doing is starting to pay off.  There are other signs of progression not only in dance, but in my strength and health in general. I am less tired and exhausted overall, sleeping a bit better, and feeling stronger as I move.

All signs that flying is not far off…