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’.

Smoothing Viennese Waltz

Lucky you, you get to be my study break for tonight!

Actually, compared to the weekend, today has been a bit light on studying as I am taking time to do some of the assignments and allow my brain to process the reading I have been doing.

I also had two lessons today (yay vacation!), both of which went a long way to helping me feel a little more calm about the competition this weekend.  The main thing we worked on was the smooth Viennese Waltz, which is probably the weakest routine right now.  We had an opportunity to work in my gym so we were able to look at the alignment of the routines and figure out where it needed to start and where to travel to.

The other aspect of the routine we were working on was making some small ‘tweaks’ to help it flow a little more smoothly.  We made one major change to one of the routine in one of the long lines, but the other changes have been small.  We still have a little more to work out, but we will have another lesson in the gym on Tuesday and it is wider than the studio for working out routines.

My second lesson was about solidifying the changes in VW, as well as going over some of the small issues encountered during yesterday’s practice in cha cha, samba, and paso.  At the end of the lesson, Boss wanted to go through a section of the rumba for himself and to try a styling change in the sliding doors.  One thing we did discover yesterday was that our rumba routine is a bit long now, which makes me sad as my favourite part is the circulating hip twists near the end–which we will likely not be able to do as comps have a habit of cutting pro/am heats short.

I am finding myself feeling a bit nervous and anxious today, but I am pretty sure it is only side effects of the injection last week.  I have been having more frequent hot flashes and it would not surprise me if I had a bit of a ‘hormone surge’ over the next couple days.  It already seems to be calming down though so that is positive.

I have basically ‘mapped’ out the rest of my week to organize and balance school with the competition preps and get all my readings and assignments done. I feel good about where I am and if all goes well I should be able to relax at the comp and just enjoy it without worrying about other things needing to get done.

Another thing of significance today is that it is my birthday.  Another year older and another year surviving cancer!

Wish me luck in getting all my tasks done!

First lessons of 2017

I have already had 4 lessons this year.

Sheesh. Seems to be a lot.  On top of that, I am participating in a ‘Ballroom Boot Camp’ this week, which is extra work.

Yesterday’s first lesson was a styling lesson focused on Cha cha and jive.  It was good to work out some of the points and timing of the styling.  I need to think some on what I do in the beginning of the cha cha though, I have a bar that works and another bar that isn’t quite there yet.

Jive was tricky.  Of all the dances, it seems that I have forgotten the most about jive technique–staying forward, keeping steps compact, using my core to lift my legs. It was a good review though and we worked out some of the styling points in that routine as well.

My second lesson yesterday worked through a few different pieces of standard and smooth tango.  We made some changes in the standard tango last week so we needed to review them and put them in context. In the smooth tango we reviewed some of the changes we made there.  Lots of detail work, but all went well.

The boot camp was fun–it was some circuit training, breathing and stretching.  I am having some issues with my neck right now, which hindered me a little, but I am hoping the tension will let go soon.  It has happened before, but much worse–my entire trapezius went into spasm and seized up.  I couldn’t turn my head almost at all when that happened.  So far, it is not that bad and it does seem to be moving around and changing which is a good sign.  I have been doing a lot of preventative work including heat, voltaren, gentle stretching and trying to avoid anything that hurts.

Today we started with running through parts of the smooth tango, and then it was smooth Viennese Waltz the rest of the time–working through the steps and running them with the music.  We did forget one section, but we did get a lot of progress done.

My lesson tonight was also focused on the smooth VW.  Running through bigger chunks of the routine in time with the music and making some small adjustments as needed.  It’s a pretty intense routine and I have to hand it to those who dance smooth for being able to put all the pieces together in a VW routine.  I am looking forward to running it more in a bigger space and now I know what part of the routine I need to sort out on my own.

Tomorrow we should run through and discuss the styling for the smooth tango.  It’s not that the styling is complicated, but Boss and I need to agree on it in order for it to work.  After my lesson, there is the next session of the bootcamp, which I am looking forward to.

Already a busy and positive start to 2017!

Tango

Ever have a dance you just can’t seem to get comfortable with?

That’s tango for me–at least tango position.

Ever since my surgery, I just can’t seem to find the right position for tango, I am either too far back or too hunched forward.  There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground–I am either not using my abs enough, or I am using them too much.  On top of that, I continually seem to be turning my left side out too, which loses the connection with Boss.

We did work a lot on tango tonight.  We have a syncopated sequence at the beginning that I tend to get behind on that got ironed out, and then we switched to another line.  As we were working through it, Boss suddenly decided he wanted to add a fallaway whisk and a contra check to the routine, since we have them both in other routines and they go very well.  One of the lines in particular is quite basic so the whisk will up the ante on it a bit.

To fit the contra check in, there had to be some adjustments to a back open promenade that require some quick head changes and rapid movements.  It took a bit of work today, but we seemed to get it to work.  I hope it sticks, but it should.

Back to tango position, it just seems like I never really get settled.  I start out well, and then as I move through the choreography and change from closed to promenade positions it just deteriorates.  I can see more concentrated work on tango position going onto my ‘to do’ list for after the competition. It drives me a little crazy because tango used to be a very consistent dance for me.

We did review the Quickstep today at the start of the lesson and it is coming along.  It took a couple run throughs to get everything working again but it did come together fairly quickly.  For some reason my head, of all things, keeps throwing me off.

I spent an hour working on paso at the gym today, and by the end of it I was able to go through it with music at about half speed 5 times consistently.  There was one spot where I could tell I had the timing wrong, but I reviewed it with Boss when I got to my lesson so I know where the error was.  I did try it at speed a few times, and the first time I did get through it, but every time after that fell apart in the second phrase.  I chalked it up to fatigue and patted myself on the back for getting through it once at speed and consistently at slow speed.  I hope to have medium speed music for the weekend to help bridge the gap and get my mind and feet thinking faster.

One more lesson this year (although I will have a styling session tomorrow).  My guess is it will be a combination of tango and foxtrot, but we will see.

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.

Smooth day

In a couple of ways.

First, thanks to the very low vacancy rate in the city where I live, I was able to find a new roommate. One major stress relief down.

Second, after 5 days off of hormone therapy, I can safely say I feel better and stronger. Much more like myself.

So that leads me to dance.

Today Boss and I ran through 2 of my smooth routines–waltz and tango, and we were even able to get through the smooth routine in time with the music–minus a few spins I forgot about.

It was great to spend some focused time on the routines and to start to feel like I am getting them into my feet.  Tango I have memorized pretty well, but not enough to do with the music.  Waltz is definitely coming along.  We started working on the foxtrot some, but ran out of time before we could really get through it.

I felt really different today working in the studio.  There was just a sense and feeling I haven’t felt in a long time and didn’t know it was gone.  I just felt ‘on’ in a way I haven’t in a while.

That said, I had to cut my own practice short because I ended up with a really intense headache out of the blue.  In the grand scheme of things, it was minor, but still disappointing whenever I have to throw in the towel on something.

At least hormonally, I should have about 2 weeks of being clear and myself before my hormones get all wonky again.  I hope to make the best of it. As the smooth routines are the weakest right now, I hope to focus on them next week and I am even going to suggest to Boss doing 4 lessons instead of 3, one for each dance to focus on them before doing a smooth-focused rounds practice on the weekend.  I want to make sure that I am in the best position for running the routines before the practice. I think the intent is to record the routines to send them to the coach who choreographed them for feedback before the competition in January.

I have my first fitting for my smooth dress tomorrow and I am really looking forward to it, even though it will probably be nothing more than a body suit and underdress.  It’s just good to be moving forward on it and I can’t wait for when all 3 dresses are completely finished (the other 2 are getting a lot of additional stoning).

I will also have a rounds practice for my international style this weekend and I am interested to see how things go with the new latin routines–or rather the variations on the old routines.  The cha cha and samba should be pretty good. Jive is a little iffy, and rumba we made changes to, but only went through it once, so it will be rough.

I am expecting/hoping standard will go well.  I have two new strong focuses–trying to be consistent in the power of my movements and keeping my left side connected with Boss.  If I get at least one of those, it will be a major success.  I have a feeling though that the strength I seem to have recovered over the last couple days will have an interesting effect on the practice.

Here’s to hoping for at least 2 weeks of smooth sailing.

On a random note–I love December.  When I got diagnosed with Cancer I bought an advent calendar to count down the days until my first surgery (the dates didn’t line up, but it worked), and the tradition stuck.

Who can argue with daily chocolate???

So how about a dance post?

Despite everything that has been going on, I have been able to get some dancing in, and the activity actually helps some with the symptoms.

I haven’t gotten in as much dancing as I would have liked, but something is always better than nothing.

I did have a rounds practice on Sunday, which was fairly interesting considering I was having intermittent moments of dizzyness and light-headedness and had to stop more than I would have liked.

Aside from that though, there were moments when things seemed to be finally coming together. After the first round in standard, Boss told me to focus on keeping my core connected with him and that made for some interesting 2nd and 3rd round dancing.  The result was that I was more aware of when my left side opened up away from him so I felt like I was spending every dance fighting with myself to keep my core where it needed to be. Boss told me yesterday he thought that was great because I kept noticing and correcting when I opened up. Ah, the differing perspectives.

Boss and I had a brief discussion yesterday about the practice on Sunday and there were two things of note that came out of that.  The first was that Boss told me most of my standard routines are pretty disastrous because my footwork sucks.  But then he told me it was ok since I just seemed incapable of rolling through my foot properly.

*sigh*. There is nothing I hate more than being told I am incapable of doing something which I have neither been told I need to work on nor given direction on where in my routines I should be focusing on it.  How can I be capable of something I am not really aware of having to do?  I am not even sure what specifically he is talking about when he says ‘footwork’ and ‘rolling’.

The other discussion was a bit more interesting.  Boss expressed frustration that I seem to have developed a habit of going really big on some steps and then tightening up small on others.  It’s like I let the gas out then apply the hand break while still revved up every now and then.  He found it fairly strange that I seemed to just stop traveling at certain points in routines, but then start moving again at others.

This makes perfect sense to me. Besides the fact that I haven’t really been encouraged to travel during my routines in quite some time (and honestly have forgotten a bit how to do it), when I come to a step that I am not quite sure of, or I don’t trust myself to be able to control the momentum, I immediately start to ‘err’ on the side of caution because I don’t want to screw up and hurt myself or Boss.  So those steps get small.  Then when I reach a step I am more confident in, I go back to putting everything I have into doing it.

I wasn’t fully consciously aware that I was doing that, but I wasn’t surprised when he mentioned it.  We did a section from our Waltz that the steps needed to be clarified on and it ended with a Wing to a Fallaway.  I am never sure how much I can step during the Wing (and apparently I move far enough), but Boss made a point of showing where I can take the opportunity to move more once we get into the fallaway.

It’s enough to give me something to think about and put into my own practice until the next time we do rounds (which could be in 2, 3, or 4 weeks–I haven’t been told yet).  Together with the focus on the connection and keeping my left side turned in, that gives me two very solid things to focus on during those practices, now that I am much more grounded in the choreography.

The other thing I heard yesterday that I don’t think I ever thought I heard was that I was doing CBMP when I wasn’t supposed to and that was complicating some of my quickstep steps.  Go figure–I have spend months trying to make sure I am using CBMP when I need to that I have apparently overdone it.

I have an extra lesson this week to make up for the one I missed last week, and I suspect my lessons will focus on the smooth routines for the next little while.  The tango and foxtrot are coming together a little bit (tango more than foxtrot), and I think there is an intent to pull the waltz together too.  Boss mentioned an idea of doing a rounds practice with just smooth in a few weeks, so we will see what happens with that.

The other thing of dancing note that happened recently was a bit of a strange conversation with one of the amateur couples.  They recently started coming more and more to the studio for their own practice and last Friday they were there not only for my lesson, but also had to share space with me while I did a practice after.  Their initial comment was ‘Wow! You work just as hard as Boss does’ (which was a little bit insulting considering the level of their surprise at that), but then on Sunday they clarified that they had no idea that I worked so much and so hard on my dancing.  They have been dancing in the community for quite some time, but their experience seeing me work has been only since I was sick, not before (as I practiced in a different hall).  It was an interesting conversation which ended with them expressing some genuine respect that I work 100% all the time–even on my own.  Perhaps it’s a mini pro/am victory of sort for the community. (The community where I live has a general lack of understanding and respect for pro/am dancers and we are seen as being ‘carried’ by our pros and ‘not real dancers’–I have been told that by amateur dancers).

I continue to be frustrated about my health but it does seem to finally be settling down (fingers crossed).  The one thing I am finding most difficult is that my mind is fuzzy and foggy all the time and I can’t seem to remember simple things.  It means a lot of repetition and makes me worried about the idea that I am supposed to perform one of the smooth routines (dance still to be confirmed) in less than 2 weeks.  Normally, that wouldn’t be a big deal, but since I can’t seem to retain much these days….OY.

But tomorrow is a new day, and hopefully a stronger, more clear-headed one.