Settling into a groove

Finally.

The best thing I can say about this week is that I feel almost normal. The hot flashes have backed off and are down to 4-6 in a day versus 1-2 an hour. My head is clear and I have energy. I am having a little trouble sleeping (can’t have everything I guess), but its more my usual insomnia than waking up all night with hot flashes and weird dreams.

The worse is that my left side is really unhappy. The worse part is my ankle, perhaps my achilles, but my knee, hip and elbow have also been tweaky. I am guessing it is all related and seems to be the small changes in movement I am making–particularly in footwork. It’s still manageable, but I have a suspicion its going to get really angry before it gets better. Something else to follow-up with physio.

All of that aside, I am getting into a regular and consistent pattern of working that already is feeling productive and good. I have worked out a pattern for exercises and feel focused on them, and slowly working through my routines on my own. Samba seems to be the most productive so far, but rumba isn’t that far behind.

In standard, we are working on the open waltz and I haven’t quite found a way to work on it, but I know it will be coming in my lessons. We are going through the steps in detail and differentiating which steps are in CBMP, require more rotation or less, etc. It might seem fairly straight forward and intuitive, but for me it is not.

Building on the work we did in standard, Boss has identified for me about three different ways to place my foot as I move–straight forward, under my head or under my elbow–depending on how much rotation is needed for the step. Under my elbow is usually full CBMP with under my head in the middle.

We are now going through the steps in the open waltz and figuring out which step requires which movement. It’s not quite sticking like I wish it would and when I work on my own I am sure there are times I must be turning the wrong way. It’ll come though.

Tonight my lesson was focused on Latin, which is another way things are getting into a grove–a lesson on standard, a lesson on latin and my third lesson in between.

We were able to clean up some of the sections in both routines I have been working on myself, and after running through them on my own tonight I am ready to head into working through the next section on my own. The latin routines seem to be going easier than standard, but that is not surprise to me.

We also started working on connection and lead and follow, doing exercises in keeping my weight forward and towards my partner while moving and responding to Boss’s lead without losing the connection. It’s a lot of feeling and processing things, so pretty much right up my alley, although still challenging.

When working on the routines, I could start to understand where developing that sensitivity is going to help and already I am starting to apply it to the routines in little pieces. I just have to work on doing so more consistently because when I do it Boss can respond and actually lead me, but if I don’t we are both stuck trying to dance on our own.

Similarly, in standard Boss was telling me that I have to make sure I stay consistent with my upper body and head position and stretching–even when we are not moving at full strength in our feet–so that we can consistently counter-balance each other. If we don’t, the entire movement of the dance changes and again we are each then trying to dance separately.

Its given me a lot to process this week in a good way, including a better understanding of the demands that this next level is going to make on me and how I need to respond to move into it. I am not there yet, but I have a better understanding already of the amount of work ahead of me and what it is going to take to get there.

I feel better prepared to move ahead and much less out of my depth. I am starting to feel these routines are doable, and able to do well.

It’s a good grove to be in.

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Refocusing Exercises

My last two lessons have been about exercises.

It’s a refreshing change actually as it has been a while since I have focused on exercises and what I was doing got a bit lost in the shuffle between surgery, Christmas and a high work tempo. Actually, because work has been quite challenging lately, working on the exercises has been quite welcomed.

I am a bit of a strange nut (in case you haven’t figured that out). I like working on exercises. It’s ‘me’ time and very meditative. I enjoy doing the repetitions as it’s a time to focus inward and just allow myself to feel how my body is moving. It’s a time to connect with me. I have missed it during the last few weeks when between neck issues and crazy work and school schedules I haven’t been able to do it.

We are starting a bit fresh on these exercises. Many of them are things I have done before, but we are breaking them down a bit further into finer details than previously. Looking at those details, should help correct some of the enduring issues that are a bit of a gap in my dancing.

I group my exercises into three groups right now. The first two should be obvious–latin and standard–but the third I call my strength/gym exercises. That is because I do them at the end of my strength training, while at the gym, and in sneakers instead of dance shoes. There are strengthening elements to them more so than specific techniques like working on foot and body rise as well as hip mobility and core endurance to support it. They take about 10 minutes at the end of my gym time during the day.

We have the latin exercises more or less worked out and for now, I am doing them slow so I can pay attention to the details, but also build some muscle memory and give time for me to think about what I need to do. They are focused on hip settling movements, back steps and the foot work for back steps and some elements from my open routines. It’s a good combination of exercises and right now I just need to figure out how much time to spend on each–whether a block of time or number of repetitions and how to track that. I should figure that out by Friday.

We just started to dig into the standard exercises tonight. They seem to have two focuses–footwork, or upper body work–both of which need some fine tuning for open routines. We are working on foot and body rise as well as the connection between the two sides of my upper body. Some of them I am doing in socks, and some in shoes. I have found some new muscles, in particular how to engage my inner thigh muscles and my lats. I am looking forward to sussing them out a bit more during my next lesson on Sunday.

Because of my next, we also got away from doing cardio rounds, so I hope we will get back to doing those next week as things settle into a grove.

Boss and I seem to be pretty agreed to give about 2 weeks for me to work through the new exercises and build up my muscle memory before revisiting and pushing them forward a bit. I feel it’s important to establish that time line because I have a tendency to get too comfortable in an exercises, especially when it is slow, and need a bit of a regular push to move it forward. It’s not so much about progressing as allowing myself to get too bogged in the details going slow that I end up over-thinking when I try to do things faster instead of trusting what I learn. If I am not pushed out of my slow and steady comfort zone, I would happily never leave it.

It’s interesting what we have already discovered in breaking down these exercises. Among other things, my tendency to over turn out my right hip actually limits my mobility on my left. It’s amazing how often we have discovered that when working in latin its quite common for me to end up with my right foot facing almost sideways, while my left foot is forward to compensate. When moving my right foot backward, I have a tendency to put my heel down to the side instead of straight back which leaves my right hip too turned out and facing towards the right instead of forward. Its really highlighted the difference between my two sides.

I have also found the mirror to be a bit of a hindrance because it confuses me a little (I can’t quite wrap my head around what I see being the opposite of what I feel) and it encourages me to look down at my feet when I need to be looking up. It’s also become a bit of a crutch for how I move my feet as in order to make a correction I need to understand the feeling of what is turned out too much or too little and the mirror takes away an element of trial and error that I personally need to go through. So in the studio I am moving away from the mirror.

On a slightly different note, I found out this week that I will be in Europe for training for 2 weeks in March. I am also going to take a week of vacation while I am there, so I won’t have lessons for 3 weeks then. Boss told me tonight he hopes to have some sort of update about competing when I get back and I hope it is a positive one or at least something that gives some direction. I guess I will see then.

I will also be away for the first week in May and the last week followed by the first week of June. There is also a strong possibility I will be away for work again over the summer, but it will be a little while before I hear more about that. As I said at the beginning of the year, it is shaping up to be a busy one.

Already, I have one more full week of work then I am off for two weeks of vacation. It’s a little bittersweet because I originally took the time off because there was a plan to compete then, but that isn’t going to happen now. My father is coming to visit for the first time since I moved here, so at least there will be something interesting going on. I haven’t seen him since I went back east between chemo and radiation so I am looking forward to the visit.

I can’t believe that January is already over. Usually this time of year seems so slow! Guess that is what happens when you get busy. I also finally have my physio appointment tomorrow to see what is going on with my neck.  That should help all over.

I did start tracking my menopausal symptoms, BTW. Already, it’s been interesting what I have found out. Following the terrible week of not being able to think, I suddenly had things come into focus and sharpen up, but with it came a bout of incredibly intense hot flashes that are sapping my energy and strength while making it difficult to sleep. I figure after a couple more days it should shift again, hopefully to the ‘mini-flashes’ that are much easier to deal with. It should be interesting to see if there is a cyclical pattern.

I am definitely ready to slow down a little and refocus.

Adding Technique

Because we have been working on learning choreography, technique has fallen a little to the side recently.

Part of that is because I am limited in the amount I can do and the amount of time I am spending dancing because of my neck issue.

I saw the acupuncturist yesterday and got a little bit of relief for my neck which has mostly shifted the pain from stabbing burning pain to more of an ache. In some ways it is almost worse, but I have more mobility in the others and I am not experiencing spasms. This freed me up a bit.

We were able to work all the way through the rest of the samba today as well.

Both of those factors together led to some time to talk about two aspects of technique. The first deals with my foot position when moving backward in latin and the other deals with swiveling my hips without moving my shoulders and keeping my weight forward into my partner. Both of these are going to be a big focus for a while.

In particular, the hips movement will be important because so many steps in my new latin routines require exactly that movement and that I am able to maintain my weight forward so that both I and my partner can use each other to execute the steps.

It was a bit refreshing to take a step back from just doing choreography tonight. We were able to dig into the technique of the samba a little. We haven’t run it from top to bottom yet, but I suspect that will be in the near future.

My head feels clearer today and I hope it is the beginning of a period of clarity and sharpness. I could certainly use it.

At my lesson tomorrow, Boss talked a little about potentially working on the waltz or we will finish off the samba. As long as my neck feels up to it, I don’t mind returning to standard for a bit. It will be a nice change.

I still feel scattered, but I know this week is busy and stressful on both work and school fronts, so I am giving myself a break on the dance front. I hope to reset next week when things return more to a normal pace. I have more appointments for my neck which should also hopefully help.

In the meantime, I have a little technique to work on.

Finding something that has been elusive…

Every once in a while something comes together.

Bonus when it is something you have been trying to figure out for a while.

During my last two individual practices, I suddenly was able to pull together something that I have been trying to figure out for longer than I can remember. I could tell it was close, but that it was still just on the cusps of not quite being there.

And now it seems to have finally developed, at least preliminarily.

A feeling of connection complete from one side to the other around my back in standard. Basically, I can finally feel a connection from elbow to elbow when I hold up my arms in standard frame.

It seems strange to say, but it’s an odd sensation for me. It can be a bit fleeting and honestly it feels like there is a band from one elbow to the other, but I can tell when it falls into place and when it doesn’t. Previously, I could connect with one side or the other but not across.

How did this happen?

It is a little strange the steps that seems to have led to this. First it was a matter of developing awareness of moving my shoulder blades separate from my ribs, then it was developing awareness of when one side was leading versus another. This was followed by working to make sure one side or the other was leading and engaged at all times. Once that developed, I noticed that I had to be careful that when I was leading with one side forward, I wasn’t allowing the opposite side to fall back (it still has to stay forward too so I don’t end up turned). Once I added engaging the opposite side to keep it from falling back, suddenly the two sides connected together.

This has been at least a two year process for me, beginning with no awareness or understanding of when one side or the other moved anywhere. I had to keep doing it to figure out what I was feeling, as I wasn’t sure and when it finally clicked together what it was and I realized it was something Boss and other coaches have been telling me to look for it took me a few moments to completely process it. It was the ultimate ‘aha’ moment.

At least I hope I am feeling what I think I am feeling. I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with Boss yet. I could be just doing something completely strange and not realize it.

But there is a glimmer of hope…

I might figure out this whole standard thing yet.

Re-learning to push

Push through the walls, that is.

In the last week I have discovered that I am re-learning something I didn’t fully know I had forgotten–that is pushing through walls.

By walls, I mean those moments when you are working physically and you feel like you have reached your limits, but then you dig a little deeper and find another small burst of energy to get you over the hump.

The biggest difference for me is that I find energy now when I dig deeper, which is a sign of on-going recovery. What I am having to remember is how to dig for that energy and push just that little bit more to bring myself to the next level.

This week is “week 2” of adjusting to a new schedule so I feel pretty tired, achy and worn out a little. But I am pushing through it as best I can, knowing that I will be able to rest on the weekend and that next week will be better.

It’s surprising me a little how surprised I am about rediscovering this ability, but more than that, a big part of it is realizing how much I thought I was pushing through things before but wasn’t. Although that is not entirely accurate either. I think it would be more accurate to say that I am surprised to discover that I was pushing, but I wasn’t pushing very well or as much as I really could.

I am battling through things and I know it will bring results in the long run.  The trick is knowing when I am at a wall that can be pushed through, and when I am actually done. So far, I am reaching walls I can climb and I hope it continues, but I will see what the next couple days bring.

I have a lesson again tomorrow night and in line with what I am discovering about being able to push harder than I could I have also been discovering some new things at dance too. I will try to write about them tomorrow night.

It seems I am coming into a period of discovery in general.

And that is one of the best parts of dance.

Transcribing routines

I have a big task before me.

Before I can start working on routines, I have to have them written out. So, with the new latin routines I just received I have to take the time to go through the video and write down what I see the lady doing to make it relevant to me. Then I have to go through again and figure out how the timing fits with what I have written.

I have transcribed the rumba so far. It took me more than 3 hours to write out a 2 minute routine. There was a lot of going back and forth over the same 10 seconds of video to double check things like what foot was moving or supporting (I can be directionally challenged, so this means a lot of double checking), and then figuring out the best was to describe the movement I see in the video.

Since these are open routines, few of the steps are fully recognizable, although many are variations on popular steps. The problem is ‘sliding doors variation’ doesn’t really tell me anything.

This weekend I hope to get through either the cha cha or samba. I haven’t decided which yet as cha cha may be easier, samba is trickier because I have a harder time recognizing steps.

I hope it won’t take another 3 hours!

On the standard side, we are working through the open tango. We were able to more or less walk through it tonight from top to bottom with a couple hiccups here and there. I have the steps written out, but already there are slight variations as we work through the routine. I am waiting for the final version from Boss with the timing as that will help me start to work through it on my own.

Anyone else finding this week really long? I don’t know why, but I find it hard to believe it’s only just Friday. On the other hand, I feel like I still have a lot to do before returning to work next week! Perhaps it is just that this has been a productive week for me, but quite repetitive doing similar things every day (bit of school, bit of dance, going to the gym, repeat). My body can feel the extra activity I have been doing this week as well and it is definitely tired.

I actually expect that I will feel pretty exhausted by the end of next week, but that it will get better after that as I adjust back to my full routine.

Just keep breathing and on top of the things I need to do.

Like transcribing videos.

And 2018 begins…

Off and running into the New Year!

I am not back to work until Monday, but this week has seen the return to weight training and the return to dance. I haven’t been able to do weight training since my surgery and dance was quite scattered after with the incision opening and the holidays.

All that to say I feel like I am shaking off a lot of rust and dust.

One thing that was a happy surprise is that in addition to the open standard routines Boss put together before the holidays, I now have 5 new open latin routines put together by the couple I worked with during my work trip in October.

It’s a happy surprise as I didn’t expect all 5 routines so soon, and was told to expect them later in the new year. I received the videos of all the routines yesterday and I am still digesting and processing them. I am super excited to start working on them.

I really enjoyed working with this couple back in October and I have been looking for other ways to work with them some more. I guess my enthusiasm rubbed off because Boss suggested we ask them to do routines for us. They have never done routines for a pro/am couple, so it was a new experience for them, but I am beyond thrilled with what they have come up with. Among other things, it’s obvious they took into account what they noticed from working with me. The routines have a way of playing to my strengths while still challenging me to work on the areas I still need to develop.

All nine (latin and standard) routines are going to push me out of my comfort zone in a good way and in a way I really need to be pushed. I wrote a bit about that before the end of the year and 2018 looks well on track to do just that.

I had my first lesson back tonight and the main focus was tango. We started working on the sequence for the new open tango, and I have a new mini-sequence from tango for doing conditioning (before the holidays I was doing waltz).

I also took 30 minutes tonight just to work through some things on my own and see how things feel after the surgery. I was focusing on latin because I haven’t done it in a while and my hips and belly had new incisions (and new scar tissue). It was enough to tell me I need to get back into the habit of moving them regularly as they feel very tight and almost unmoveable. It will work out, but it’s going to take some consistent movement to get the bugs out.

2018 has started with a fire hose of information for me and I am working to get it under control before I return to work next week and add to it. Lots to do, but already 2018 is looking to be the year for me.

About time!

Analytics

As much as I am a kinesthetic learner, I have some analytical tendencies too.

I am not completely analytical, as I really don’t do well with geometry and math, so I am not paying attention to things like degree of rotation. But I do find myself enjoying exploring deep details and figuring out how they all come together.

We are doing that a lot in standard right now.

The focus for standard right now is a lot about how. How I step, whether straight back or forward, on an angle, in CBMP, and how I move my upper body–what side is leading forward, how much do I rotate. It’s a lot of layers together and I am enjoying it.

The interesting thing is that it’s a lot of information, and it is not quite all coming together but it is not stressing me out as once it may have. I think that is because I have all the information I need and can feel my mind (and by extension my body) working to process it and put it all together.

We are working through tango right now. Taking the silver sequences I have and breaking them down in detail. Working through them both fast and slow. The slow stuff is great because I can fully think through all the things I need to do. The fast stuff challenges me and forces me to work on processing it faster.

It’s a different way of approaching things, but I am really enjoying it.

My lessons have been all standard lately due to the issues with the stitches in my hip, but I am ok with that. I have one more lesson tomorrow where I am told we will do the final open standard routine (quickstep) and record it, which sets us up nicely for working in the new year when my stitches will be healed up.

I have one week off of dance, then back at it. Looking forward to the break, but I am finding I am more excited for the new year than I have been in a long time. I will talk more on that soon.

Who knew analyzing could be so much fun??

My (REAL) Dance Goals

I have a difficult time admitting to my goals.

I think one of the things that I personally struggle with when it comes to goals is that for some reason I feel they should be complicated and specific by my goals are and always have been really very simple.

I have two. Both are more about the experience and process than any tangible thing.

My goals are simple:

-to enjoy the experience of learning

-to enjoy the experience of competing

That’s it. There are no levels, placings, techniques or other things linked to it. It’s all about the experience of learning to dance and the experience of being on a competition floor. That is what matters to me when it comes to dance. And if I had to rank them (as recently I have had to do), then learning comes first.

To elaborate on each:

-Learning. I absolutely enjoy learning, whatever it is. I like analyzing, challenging myself, discovering new details and learning about myself and my capabilities in the process. It is the most important thing to me when it comes to dancing. I started with virtually nothing. In my past I have done classes in highland dance, country line dance, hip hop, and belly dance but none of them stuck because they weren’t for me (except maybe highland, but that ended because my teacher moved).

One of the reasons none of them stuck–there was no one to share the learning experience with on a one-on-one basis, although if there had been, perhaps it would have been different. As much as I am learning from an instructor and having the opportunity to develop myself, there is an aspect to ballroom where I have to share with others. At some times, perhaps others even learn from me.

The challenge of learning remains the most important part of dance for me and I don’t see that changing. From my perspective, the only thing that would enhance that would be the opportunity to teach that learning to others, as one never truly really learns something until they are able to teach it to someone else (of course I am very passionate about teaching, so perhaps I am biased on that). Teaching seems to be an evolution of learning.

-Competing. Competing is another aspect of learning for me, and it is truly about the experience. About challenging myself to get out there and in 1:30 show what I know and what I am capable of. Its a 1:30 to share what I have learned with others and perhaps inspire them to learn too. Competing has never been about winning or placements for me. It’s been about growth, stretching myself, learning about myself, seeing what I am capable of and getting outside of box I allow myself to be in during my regular life. Competing is the one opportunity I have to get out and feel like I have achieved something, and that is before the placing or marks come it.

Every competitive experience for me is an achievement and represents one moment in my life where I took a risk and got out there and did SOMETHING. The challenge of competing in ballroom is that I have to work with someone else for that achievement. I can’t just rely on myself which is my natural inclination to do. It’s a team effort and the challenge for me is to rise to the expectation of my partner and make him proud (whoever he is, instructor or otherwise) of what we are able to accomplish together. I want to feel as though I belong on the floor with the people I am competing with, and I don’t want to be the person who is automatically considered for last, but beyond that, I just want to be there and enjoy doing what I love to work for.

But that’s it.

I know I should probably have more concrete and specific goals, and ones that are more driven by reality than passion, but in the end it is just not what I want. I don’t want to limit myself. I just want to enjoy what I do.

As far as learning, I have no specific goals because I don’t know what I don’t know. As far as I am concerned, what I learn next or need to focus on is up to my instructor (even if in collaboration with others).  I just want to understand what I am trying to learn.

There are a lot of things I want to experience within the dance world.

 

Catching up and letting go of the dance control freak

I call this ‘catching up’ because I think these are some thought processes that needed to happen back in September after my last surgery.  I think Boss already reached these conclusions (and been telling me these things), but I just haven’t really had time until now to figure them out for myself (which is needed).

The surgery in July triggered a huge change for me generally. I can’t really explain the full extent of the difference, except that now I can fully live through my days instead of just doing the minimum. The same applies to dance. Prior to the surgery I was in a place where I had to pick and choose what I could do and focus on and what I could do was very limited. Even when I was trying to push hard, everything was less than I expected and underwhelming. I wanted to work hard but couldn’t and was trying to adjust to that. I look at the videos from my silver test and I see a dancer who is exhausted and trying not to show it who doesn’t really reach the limits of anything due to lack of energy.

The return after surgery was bigger than I could even process. I suddenly had all this energy and range of things I could do that previously just wouldn’t work. Even speed was eluding me as I found myself moving faster than I intended. I felt like I was handed all these gifts and I couldn’t figure out which ones to open, and when I did I couldn’t figure out exactly what to do with them. I still haven’t figured it out.

At the time, not sorting through things was ok because I had routines to learn to get ready for a competition which gave me something easy I could focus on and really I was just continuing the work I had been doing in standard, and of course conditioning was very much (and still is) needed.

Before and after the competition, I had coaching from 3 amazing coaches to process, all of which opened up the door of possibilities a lot wider than I expected or perhaps was ready for. All of the lessons showed me I am capable of doing much more than I thought I could do.

One of the things that seems to be a recurring theme for me is that I have become far too cautious. There was a time for that, but it is now over. I can push to my limits again, but I haven’t figured out how to do that or how to be comfortable doing that again.

It’s been a theme in my lessons and I recognize that, but until now I haven’t really been able to figure out what that means for me and how to turn it from a weakness to a strength. I haven’t been able to figure out how to frame it so doing it is no longer feels like a mistake. In short, I haven’t quite figured out yet how to give myself permission to fully explore my limits all the time.

That is the main thing I have been using this time to figure out. If I don’t have the right mind-set and approach it’s not going to work.

It’s been a long time since the work I have been doing in dance has ‘scared’ me. I have been doing a lot of safe and controlled things. Even working on my own, I spend so much time doing things slowly and ‘perfectly’ that a lot of them I never try at proper speed (because you can’t control as much as you can slowly). I have become a dance control freak, and at some point I allowed myself to become afraid of taking risks and being scared. It wasn’t that way when I first started dancing.

I recognize that in some ways, it’s not all a bad thing. There are some things that need that control. But the problem is that I am trying to control everything and it is keeping me from stretching myself. I have become too comfortable in my ‘comfort zone’.

So, I have fully come to the realization (and there were seeds before) that I need to start pushing myself outside my comfort zone on a regular basis to move forward. The biggest obstacle holding me back right now is myself.

I don’t know what I am capable of anymore. I don’t even fully have faith in what others are telling me I am capable of now.

All of this is to say that I have arrived. I have at least begun to understand what needs to be done to work towards new goals. It’s a combination of faith, trial and error, not holding back and facing (again) my fear of failure that tends to paralyze me at the last minute. Instead of asking myself how can I do this perfectly, I need to be asking myself how can I do this more, where are the limits of this.

That’s not to say it’s going to be rainbows and puppies from now on. It’s a big change of mind-set and that takes time, a lot of doing by trying, and a lot of asking myself if I could be doing more.

It also means being more willing to let mistakes happen like losing balance and more trust in myself and Boss. It also means letting go of always wanting to do slow and perfect practice and making sure that anything I do slow, I also do at speed (which is not a regular habit now).

The seeds are sewn and starting to branch out and percolate. I have a week before I can return to dance after the most recent surgery, but I am starting to get restless, so it’s a good sign. It’s also been more than a week since I have had to take my insomnia medication and my sleep continues to improve. I am also only needing strong pain medication at night and should be able to stop even that by the end of the week.

I am healing, both physically and I am catching up on the mental healing that began after my last surgery in July. There is nothing except time in front of me to stretch myself and reach those limits I have been shying away from.

Time to let go of the dance control freak.