A Review of “The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing”

I have been provided an opportunity from Katie Flasher, AKA The Girl with the Tree Tattoo to read her newest book “The Solo Practice Guide from Ballroom Dancing”.

I am a huge fan of hers and of her previous books in the “Dance Diaries” series, and her newest book is by far her best of the three.

Even though it is essentially a ‘how to’ book, it doesn’t read like one and in addition to the strategies and sharing her own experiences the book includes a number of additional resources including worksheets, calendars and videos. Katie has also created a facebook group which can be joined by purchasers of the book to share their own experiences, tips and insights, as well as get updates on the resource website.

The book is exceptionally well thought out and organized. It’s chapters cover Why, Where,  and What to include in your solo practice as well as sections on supplemental exercises to consider, and overall mindset–some of the psychological barriers and how to overcome them. Each section follows a logical sequence and Katie does an exceptional job of tying all the chapters together and relating them to the resources she provides.

Being someone who does and has been doing solo practice for a number of years now, many of the strategies Katie outlines in her book are almost exactly the same as those I use myself.

The best thing about the strategies are that they are versatile and adaptable for any dancer doing any style. Rather than give a precise syllabus, Katie focuses on providing tools to help a dancer be more organized and consistent in their solo practice so that they can achieve maximum benefit from it. All of the strategies are based on her own experiences which she adeptly weaves throughout the guide.

One of Katie’s biggest recommendations throughout, which I wholeheartedly agree with and also recommend, is to always keep your instructor involved. Even though you are practicing on your own, your instructor’s input is an essential part of the progress.

Whether you are new to dance or new to solo practice or a dancing veteran, anyone can benefit from the information in the guide. Even for myself, there were a couple of new tips and considerations which I will likely incorporate in my own solo practice.

The bottom line for this guide is that if you follow the tips and strategies in contains you can’t go wrong.

You will only improve.

The book is available for pre-order now at https://thegirlwiththetreetattoo.lpages.co/solo-practice-guide-preorders/

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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!

New Exercises!

I honestly cannot contain my excitement!

I guess it is a bit of a testimony to how bored I was feeling that a collection of new exercises added to 3 of my older ones has me completely overjoyed.

It’s not that my previous exercises weren’t challenging, I think it is just that I have been presented with a few fresh challenges to conquer.

I really like the combination I have now, it’s a good balance of standard and latin, exercises for working on slow and some for doing in time with the music. Even those exercises I am keeping have a new dimension to them.

Some of the exercises I am doing twice as long as others to give me time to fully focus in on them and concentrate more on details. Some of them are completely alien feeling and are going to take time to settle into something consistent.

So far, I have only gone through them once (in last night’s lesson and after), so I am still settling into a pattern that works. A couple of them need a little more clarification in a future lesson, but for the most part I am venturing forward and seeing how it goes.

Almost all of them are based on pieces from the current routines I am working on and developing skills needed to execute them.

My lesson yesterday was focused on the exercises as well as working on a small sequence from the waltz together (it’s also an exercise, but good to do together).

I had hoped to get to the studio tonight to run through some routines, but it isn’t going to happen as work has been crazy and ran later than expected eating up the time, combined with forgetting to eat all day (which is a priority now). After two days of pretty intense work I am pretty exhausted, but looking forward to the long weekend (although I do have to work Sunday morning).

My backpack is here! Unfortunately, it is stuck at the distribution warehouse waiting for me to pick it up, which I haven’t been able to do while they are open. Tomorrow looks promising though!

So does another round of exercises 🙂

Surprising myself

Every once in a while I discover I can do something I didn’t think I could.

Today it happened twice.

First, we were working on running through the jive routine at my lesson. After running through it once, we tried it a couple times with slow music, and finished trying almost to speed.

It went a lot better than I expected, although of course there were still some rough patches, especially the last run-through.

What surprised me was a couple of things that went much better than I expected. In particular, I was able to do my spins, even the 1.5 one in time with what speed we were working at. There were even a couple of spots where I have to be careful not to rush and get ahead.

There were a few really rough spots where my head and feet just couldn’t keep up, but when we finished working on the jive I could feel my head rapidly working to process everything I was taking in — spots to adjust, where Boss is position, where to use Boss to execute a move, where I really need to work through the choreography more.

Overall, it was really productive and I am hoping we will go through it again a couple more times later this week. More so than working on pieces, jive is a dance that I find I need to just ‘do’. It’s a dance where I just have to make myself do it at speed so I can stop thinking so much and just do it instinctively.

The other place I surprised myself today was during conditioning. I was trying out the new samba sequence which I spent my break times during work learning today. I wasn’t sure how it would go in time with the music, but it did surprise me that it went really well. Each time that I did it I was able to adjust and pull it a little more together, tighten up the technique some.

It’s going to be messy for a couple more weeks, but I asked Boss to hold off on giving me feedback for a couple week to allow me to work through the things I need to myself. He agreed, and we will see how that goes. I have a feeling there is crossover between what I note myself and what he wants me to work on, but we will see what he has to say in a couple weeks.

This week was also my second week back at the standard technique group class. It’s been a bit of a scramble to try and catch up, and there is some overlap with exercises from what I do at the gym and in my lesson. We are working on some body movement and preparation for turning right now and being really directionally challenged it’s a struggle. I don’t have time to let my mind process during the class, but at least by the end of it I could feel some pieces starting to fall together. We will see what results that bring to my standard.

I am also almost done my course for school. It is by far the most intense and I cannot wait to finish. With it behind me and feeling my energy lift a bit, I am looking at my schedule and seeing where I can add back a little more. There is a latin technique class on Thursday, but I don’t think I am quite ready to add that back yet.

As a compromise though, I have decided to add some time on Thursday evening to do the sequence self-practice I used to do on Sundays (which are now replacing my Monday practices to fit in the technique class). If I reach a point where I can keep up with adding that without my energy fading, then adding the latin class will be the final add for me. That would leave Tuesday and Saturdays as ‘rest’ days, and keep me active 5 days a week.

It all depends on my energy levels and I will have to keep an eye on them and be honest with myself if it seems I am overdoing things.

One thing I will say, the best part of tonight was doing some new and different things. The new conditioning sequence felt so refreshing and it’s a new challenge to work through. Boss also tells me he has some new exercise sequences for me and already started working through the New York sequence in the cha cha routine for me to focus on myself. My plan right now is to keep the exercises I know we are keeping and slowly add the new ones as he does.

With new things come new surprises.

Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Revisiting old friends

Meaning the latin routines.

I am not sure why, but my energy levels seem to be going from one extreme to the other lately. Monday to Wednesday my energy levels were really high, but then yesterday they seemed to crash and stay down today.

It was another day of struggling through things I normally have no problem with. I am really frustrated with that as the constant change from one extreme to the other makes being consistent with things hard.

Today in my lesson we were able to go through the samba and rumba after a quick review of the final few exercises we didn’t get to on Wednesday.

Still no changes to the exercises, but Boss is taking time to decide what he wants to do. He did come up with a new samba sequence for conditioning using elements from my routine that I need to work on.

Running through both routines went really well, but it is a lot like revisiting old friends and realizing some parts of their lives have changed.

The first tricky thing is to get my mind-set thinking more partner vs solo and that means not being surprised where Boss is, and not going off on my own in the direction I think I need to go.

The second is that as we work through the routines Boss seems surprised to discover there are pieces I either don’t really know or that I am doing something different from what I am supposed to.

This doesn’t surprise me at all because I know exactly where the spots are that I just ‘wing it’ a little because I was never sure exactly what the steps were, and these are the spots where he seems frustrated because I am doing it wrong. Boss has a tendency to imply that I have just made a mistake, not that I am doing something that is now an ingrained habit from months of just ‘winging it’. Over the past few months, he has asked me twice to let him know where the spots are that I am not sure of and told me we were going to review them and for one reason or another it never happened.

And now they are bad habits I have to try to correct. Old friends I am trying to reconnect with.

I am sure I wouldn’t be quite so frustrated if I didn’t feel so wiped by the time I got to my lesson, but work today just seemed to drain me. I got my stitches out this morning so maybe that has effects I don’t realize (not being able to feel where they were or the wound that is healing). My neck and shoulders is also acting up a lot today, with a lot of shooting pains going up the side of my neck from my shoulders without rhyme or reason.

Despite all that, going through the routines did help a lot. Already when I was practicing tonight I noticed myself incorporate the changes and that I was already more aware in my head where Boss at certain points in the routines and what the lead/follow needs to be.

So slowly, I am getting reacquainted with these old friends and figuring out how to reconnect.

They’ll come.

 

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.

The beginning of paso

That’s right, we started on the last latin routine last night.

We started by going through the Waltz and tango so they could be recorded. They went ok in the end, although I forgot an entire short line in the waltz so I am sure that doesn’t look quite so good. Due to technical issues we have to record the tango again. It was a little strange as due to the hall size and how much we can travel we had to start and stop some, but I think the intent was fulfilled.

We then reviewed the jive and began working through it looking at the lead/follow. It was pretty interesting as all the pieces were starting to come together and pieces of it are with the music. That’s quite the progress considering even a week ago I couldn’t quite remember the last section. I finally feel pretty confident in the sequence and I am looking forward to working on it more.

One other thing that happened last night was that during my practice I ran into an interesting problem — in three of my exercises, two in rumba and one in cha cha, I found myself getting frustrated because I couldn’t keep the exercises with the music. The reason — I was moving too fast. It took me a bit of work to slow myself down and use the time to move through the technique instead of just moving the feet to the next beat. It’s actually a really good problem to have.

And then there was paso. We had a general conversation about the styling in paso (hips forward, arm movements from the lats), and then dove into the sequence for the routine. The beginning is probably the most complicated part and we were able to work through it more or less until about 4 or 5 phrases in.

My mind just wants to completely focus on the footwork — whether I should be stepping with straight legs, or on heels or toes — and it is getting in my way right now.

That said, we seemed to be working through it faster than I expected and with a little luck we should be able to get through to the end of the first part in my next lesson tomorrow, which is also my last before I leave.

Well, that is enough procrastinating on school work, so I need to get my paper written to try to relieve some of this stress and so I can get a little excited about my upcoming cruise!

More Paso to follow…

Heatwave!

My car registered a temperature of 28 degrees (C) outside today.

That is incredibly warm for where I live, even in the summer.

Not being used to the heat, practice and my lesson tonight was incredibly hard. It was like the heat was just draining the energy from me. I even cut my practice a bit short to make sure I had enough energy for my lesson afterwards.

It’s amazing how much such a rapid change in temperature can affect things. Because it was such a quick change, there has been no time to adapt to it.

Despite the heat, my lesson went well. We were revisiting the end of the jive again as we went through it yesterday to finish it up, but there were large chunks that just didn’t stick for me.

It’s always that way for jive it seems. Slowly, piece by piece it will come together. I hope to have it down before I leave for the cruise next week.

Oh, did I mention I am going on a 2 week cruise with my mother and sister? We leave on Wednesday the 23rd and we are going to Northern Britain, Norway, Scotland and Iceland. It should be an interesting and great time, but I also hope to be able to keep up some with my practice and workouts. We are at sea almost every other day, so it will give me something to do.

Following the jive, we went through the rumba together and Boss clarified some points. One of the most interesting discoveries was that some of the work we have done on lead/follow were starting to be incorporated into almost all the steps. It was even a little bit evident in the jive.

What was nice was that I could feel my mind working through things and processing and looking for the right way to apply the lead/follow. That was interesting progress.

We ended by breaking down and looking at the beginning of our waltz, working through it in detail to give me some focus when while I am practicing on my own.

We were going to do conditioning tonight, but with the heat, it just didn’t seem like a good idea. I, for one, was certainly struggling, so we kept working on the waltz.

It’s not likely the heat will end anytime soon, but with some luck I should be able to adapt to it over the next couple days. My main task before my next lesson is to try and work through the jive to get all the steps into my brain so we can move on to the paso.

That’s a different type of heat.

Ok, Let’s Twist

I think I finally figured out what Boss has been asking me to do.

Better than that, I can actually feel when I do it and when I don’t.

It took the entire lesson to figure it out, but now that I have, it should be easier to start incorporating it and finding the places it should probably go.

Another mini-mountain semi conquered. I was even able to incorporate it into my samba conditioning but it took until the very last set to figure it out.

We also went through the samba, cha cha and jive together today, which was really helpful. We didn’t do any with the music, but just going through them together helped me to figure out a little better where Boss is during the steps. It helped me to identify a couple of places where I am turned in the wrong direction, but overall it seemed to go good.

Boss was already starting to identify some places that will need work, and he commented that one of the reasons I am having such a hard time getting the routines up to speed is because I am not using my power enough, and I am not twisting my body enough.

Fair enough. The twisting we have been going over and I just tonight starting to figure out that piece.

The power piece — well that is a whole other story, and one I will save for a little later this week. For now, I will say he is right and it is something I have noticed and have been thinking about.

Now that I have figured out the twisting, it gives me something to focus on while I am working through my routines. I certainly left my lesson intrigued.

At chiro today, the Dr. made some adjustments to my feet and right side of my pelvis and hip to try and see if he can’t get my right foot going in the right direction. He gave me a stretch to do on top of it and pretty much we will see what effect it has. Already, I can feel a difference and I have noticed an increased range of motion when turning inside. It’s optimistic for standard, which we are going to look at on Wednesday.

Perhaps this might fix my other twist.

Almost got the steps

But I admit to being a little concerned about everything else.

I am getting closer to having the steps down in 6 of the 9 routines. The jive is much more solid and coming. Today during my lesson we finished going through the quickstep and the waltz. I really hope they stick.

But while the steps are slowly coming together, a lot of the routine are obviously lacking the technique needed to pull them off. The worse is jive by far, but I have strange moments when working on samba that it is pretty obvious there are pieces missing.

It’s understandable as the focus has been on the routines and getting the steps down, although there have been some areas of technique we have looked at, especially in latin.

I don’t think I am completely without any technique or anything like that, but I have reached a point in a few of the routines where I can tell I should be doing more and I find myself trying to figure out how to do it.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, when working in cha cha, I can feel myself starting to focus a little more on the turns because as I speed it up I have to work harder to execute them. Some of it is triggering things I feel I used to know, like using my ribs to make the turn happen, but I don’t know if that is just something I do, or if it is something I should do.

One thing we have been focusing on lately is twisting of the hips. I feel like there is a little bit of a disconnect there for me because I have been asked to do it, but we have never discussed how to do it and I feel like I do it differently every time. I also feel like because I am figuring it out, I am also limiting myself because I don’t want to do it wrong.

In standard, I find myself questioning how I am rotating almost constantly. Because we were working on that some in the new year, I am cognizant of it, but it’s enough that I spend almost every step wondering if I am rotating wrong.

All this to say I hope the technique, or a review of the technique catches up soon. Some of the routines I can’t even imagine doing slow with the music right now, let along at full speed and with Boss. Quickstep and Jive are at the top of those lists. I am sure they will come though.

Next week is going to be a challenge. I am working crazy hours teaching for work and I don’t know if I will even be able to make it to 2 of my lessons. I am hoping to be able to mitigate things as best I can, but the entire week is going to be a bit exhausting. Following that, I am working on the east coast of Canada for another week.

I can’t help but feel like there are going to be some missed opportunities and that until I return in June my lessons are going to be a lot of review (mostly because there is not any time to develop new concepts — which is completely fair).

It’s just left me feeling like I need to scramble some, and I really can’t explain why. Perhaps it is simply that I don’t want all the travel in May to set me back like I felt happened with the travel in March and April.

Regardless, I am determined to get the steps for these routines down and feel comfortable with them so we can start focusing on the technique and really move them forward. It’s been a big jump to do these open routines, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The summer is going to be telling in many ways.

After the steps, time for the next layer.