Quickstep

My lesson today was more than an hour on quickstep.

That’s a feat in itself.

It was good though because we were able to completely review the routine and work through some of the trouble spots.

Quickstep is interesting because while you need to know your steps, you also don’t really have the time to think about them, so you have to trust your feet know what they are doing as you move along.

My feet are not quite there yet.

One of the most revealing things from today was realizing that the quickstep routine is quite fragmented in my mind. I know it in sections – the sections I practice to fit in the smaller hall we normally work in. Today we were in a bigger hall that is closer to regulation size and that meant working to keep the routine moving – and immediately highlighted that once we switched to a new section my brain kept expecting to start.

I suspect there may be a similar issue in the other standard routines as well. One of the ways we will be fixing that is working in the bigger hall twice a month until competing – that should highlight all those gaps pretty quickly.

The other thing I noticed in quickstep, which I did notice in the work we did last week, was that there seems to be a lot of things coming together for me in standard right now. Its like my mind processed them over the break and they just make sense. There are a lot of ‘aha’ moments going on – especially when it comes to moving my body in standard.

For example, something that seemed to constantly elude me was my promenade position. I could hold it when I was standing on my own, but somehow whenever I put it into context it just didn’t manifest in the same way. Something was off, but I could never figure out why the two felt so different when they were meant to be the same. Somehow it pulled together for me and I know what I need to do to create the same feeling. For me, its more about thinking of pulling my left shoulder and elbow back instead of just facing forward. Somehow this thought locks the position into place. I think this has come from the tango work I did in Ottawa for some reason.

Its not consistent yet, but my mind is starting to consistently remind myself and check when I turn to promenade to see if the right feeling is there. I can feel muscle memory starting to develop. Working in quickstep today was really helpful as I feel like that is the dance where the position is the most crucial overall – without a strong position, the entire dance will fall apart due to the momentum and speed. It needs that support.

I had asked to work on quickstep specifically because I felt it was the one standard routine we just don’t quite have together yet. We haven’t really done any of it to the music and we haven’t yet gone all the way through it without a mini disaster.

Because quickstep is the last dance we do in standard and we are most tired when we do it (not to mention the momentum and pace of it), for me its really important that we have it down solid and feel confident and comfortable with it. Of all the routines, this is the one I need to know inside and out so that when I get to that point in a comp no matter how tired I am I know it is there.

Basically, I feel like if I can do the quickstep routine, then I can do any of them. The rest is almost gravy.

I predict a lot of quickstep in the future – although the progress seems to be moving quickly since we are concentrating on it. I also know that every adjustment we make in quickstep will translate into the other dances – especially the waltz and foxtrot.

Some other areas where my mind seems to be pulling things together are in my feet position (closing them just seems to happen easier now), keeping my knees bent, power, and my upper body position in general. Somehow it all seems different and better. I am not sure if its perception or perhaps just a change in focus in my mind.

Regardless, it seems like there has been a fundamental jump forward for me in standard and I am looking forward to see where it goes.

Quickstep is only the beginning.

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Seeing Standard Come Together

We recorded some videos yesterday.

Exclusively standard, we recorded the Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango line by line to make the best use of the hall.

We haven’t recorded these new standard routines at all except for 2 or 3 individual steps, so it was the first time to see the work I have been doing come together.

The waltz (which we have been working on the most) looked the most polished. I can truly say that I am proud of how the waltz looked and I was really surprised by parts of it. Probably for the first time in a very long time I could see a distinct improvement in standard. It was really great to see!

The foxtrot was not as strong, but it also showed great improvement, especially the first half we have worked on a lot recently. The last half needs work, but it is not a complete disaster. It’s passable, but obvious that it hasn’t been looked at a lot.

The tango was a different story. I couldn’t seem to settle into it, and the position change for tango from waltz and foxtrot really threw me off. We had been working a lot of position in the swing dances and one thing that really helped me and kept me grounded in those dance was stretching back into Boss’s right hand with my left shoulder blade. In tango, because the position is different, that ‘anchor’ just wasn’t there and that caused me to not feel like the position was ‘locking in’. It was obvious watching the videos that my position was all over the place. It was also obvious that I wasn’t completely confident with the steps and in places you could tell I felt a little like I was chasing Boss through the dance.

We started on the quickstep, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t ready to be recorded in time with the music as we haven’t really worked on it and we have never tried it at speed. We agreed to make it a project for this week in my lessons and to aim to record it next weekend along with some of the latin routines.

Today at my lesson, quickstep was indeed the theme. We managed to work through the first few lines to the third corner in time with the music, looking at details here and there as necessary. Honestly, the hardest part was getting started and into the first line as I kept miscounting steps. Once we got going, it seemed to come together a bit better.

We finished today with a new conditioning sequence for jive. It’s a challenging sequence with steps straight from my routine, including what is probably the most difficult part of the routine with a combination of turning sailor shuffles and simple spins. It is already coming together better than it was on Friday when I just learned it and I can tell that it is stressing my system (in a good way) more than the samba. It takes longer for my heart rate to recover and it is working my body in a different way.

On a final note today, I had my 6-month follow-up with my oncologist. It went really well and quick, with only one “Are you Kidding?” note when he asked if I would like to try the hormone therapy again now that my ovaries have been removed. I think he realized pretty quickly that I wouldn’t even consider it and switched his messaging to acknowledge that I did try it for more than 6 months and I did have a very toxic reaction, which did justify leaving it behind. The good news is that I will see him again in 6 months and after that I will switch to yearly follow-ups with him with check-ups with my family doctor in between. One more step forward.

I haven’t written much as work has continued to be crazy busy and that combined with school and trying to prepare to be away has left me pretty stressed. I am off 4 days this weekend and I cannot wait. It’s the first full weekend off I have been going pretty full tilt with work since I returned from the cruise and I can tell that the break is completely needed. With the long weekend the week after and no duty in sight, I will have three 4-day weeks in a row before a really busy push to the end of September. After that, it looks like I will be in Ottawa for a few days before getting ready for the extended work trip after that.

Boss has also asked me to consider doing one of the latin routines in a showcase event with one of the other local studios. I am thinking about it, but I am not sure any of the latin routines will be ready in time and I am hesitant to add to my stress levels trying to push to prepare it. Part of my doubt is that I am really not sure where any of the latin routines are at as far as doing them at speed with the music because other than rumba, we haven’t tried any of them. This week we should have a chance and I will make my decision from there. It would be nice to do a performance before I leave.

So perhaps next week I will be able to write about how the latin is coming together.

A Routine Test

At least an informal one.

It was a bit of a surprise when I arrived at my lesson today that Boss told me he wanted to see me walk through the steps of all the standard routines and the samba and rumba by myself.

I hadn’t reviewed them, except for samba, in some time, so I was surprised and felt a little unprepared. I also was not feeling well and exhausted from work.

Despite that, I was actually surprised by how well it went. There was at least one spot in each routine I was not clear on (but I knew that and exactly where they were), but the work I had been doing in memorizing the steps in the routines showed and for the most part I was able to move through them from top to bottom without any major mishaps.

After we finished running through all the routines Boss wanted to see, we went over a couple of the spots where things were not clear to try to clarify them in the tango. We were able to sort out another sequence for me to work through on my own during my solo practice.

Wednesday Boss told me he hopes to run through each of the latin routines to slow music. I am a little nervous about it, but I know we have already run through most of the jive, rumba and samba. We have also do large pieces of the paso. It’s really the cha cha I am not sure of.

Regardless of that, I am looking forward to seeing how it goes. Perhaps there are some surprises waiting.

Yet another test of routines.

Pulling it all together

It’s a busy week and weekend ahead of me.

To prepare for leaving for the cruise next week, I need to get an assignment done for school. I have been working at it in segments, but each segment is like pulling teeth a little.

It doesn’t help that I seem to be in fuzzy head zone again. I really had hoped that was behind me.

I will get the paper finished, but it is going to be a challenge as it appears work is going to be ramped up some over the weekend while I am on call. I am just glad I am as far ahead as I am, or else I would be in a lot of trouble.

There are two reason for the title of this post though.

The first, I have been struggling in getting two major muscles to work together in a lot of my standard work recently. I had a meeting with my trainer at the gym and discovered it is also an issue when I do squats.

Essentially, when I engage my glute muscles I have a tendency to lose my core. This results in my upper body leaning back uncontrollably and my pelvis thrusting forward, making me feel off balance (because I am). I seem to have a habit of using either one or the other — engaging my core or using my glutes.

My challenge is to get them used to working together — allowing my glutes to drive me forward while keeping my core engaged to control my upper body. I can focus on this while I do my squats to help develop a new habit and muscle memory, and I am already focusing on this when I do my standard side step exercise. It’s coming but needs to be much more consistent to ‘pull it all together’.

The other reason for this post is that tonight during my lesson we were really able to pull together the jive. I finally have the steps more or less down, or at least to a place where I can work on it myself. After reviewing the steps with Boss, we tried sections of it to slow music. The interesting thing was that the first tempo we tried was too slow (not a bad problem to have!), and we had to go with slightly faster to better match the speed I have been spinning at (there are a lot of spins in our jive). It was pretty cool to see even a few sections come together with the music, even at a slower tempo (about 5-6 BPM slower than comp speed). I think the biggest surprise for me was to discover that even at that speed I could tell that I could do my spins faster.

It was great to put the work I have been doing in context. I have been missing that as much of what we have been doing has been working on getting the sequences down in sections, or small areas of technique. There hasn’t really been much opportunity to try to run through any of the routines with the exception of the rumba.

That is also going to change for standard, and already started some tonight. We were working through some of the details in the waltz, and we ended by trying to dance it with the tempo (something we haven’t attempted yet all the way through). Boss’s goal this week is to record the Waltz, Tango, and Quickstep with at least slow music for sending to a coach for feedback (one of the ones I have worked with last fall).

I think Boss is a really really brave man, especially for the Quickstep.

The waltz actually did not go too bad tonight, aside from a couple little hiccups. The first half of tango went well, but then Boss had to make a small change to one step and we ran out of time. I was actually pretty impressed with how both went, so I am not too worried about them.

Quickstep on the other hand…

I just can’t seem to wrap my head around how it is ever going to be possible to do with the music. I just can’t seem to figure out the flow of the steps with the timing although I am sure once we go through it a few times it will start to sort itself out.

Going through all the routines is the main plan for tomorrow’s lesson and then Friday we will record them. Fingers crossed.

After the recording, we are going to start working on the Paso — another dance I am anxious about. There is a lot of styling that just seems like when I do it it will only be awkward and clumsy looking.

I guess we will soon see how it all comes together.

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.

Noticing changes

And good ones.

The first thing I can say is that I feel more motivated than ever these days, but to go along with that I actually have the energy to back it up. That is the biggest change I have noticed recently, and it has trickle down effects.

When I go to work now, I finally feel like I can push my hardest to do what I need to do and I feel like I am reaching my max as I work. It’s been a long while since I felt that. I have also noticed small changes that are significant, like my spins are getting faster and I have a little more control over things.

I also don’t need as much sleep. Instead of needing 8-10 hours a night, I tend to average 6-7 and I don’t feel exhausted during the days. When I get home from dance now I don’t feel like it’s a rush to get to bed.

I seem to finally have the first section of the jive in my head, and it only took reviewing it over 3 lessons. I was able to get through it 3 times during practice today.

In my lesson, we went through a new section for the quickstep, leaving us about 4 full steps from the end, so we should finish it on Friday. Boss also gave me a new sequence from waltz for conditioning, which is certainly more challenging than just change steps. It consists of a fallaway followed by a reverse turn then a natural turn. It requires a lot of thinking to figure out the alignment and with the changing rotations it takes a lot of control.

I was also able to review the tango during practice and it is not too bad, I really need to dig into it a bit more. I was also able to work more on the cha cha which I am slowly putting to music, currently with the tempo reduced by a rate of 6 (no idea what it means, but that’s what my mp3 player says). I hope to be able to work to -5 or -4 by Sunday.

I am working on the same goal with the samba, although it’s a -5 right now. I hope to start on the rumba on Sunday too, although I hope no more than a -3.

I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the routines, although we haven’t started paso or foxtrot yet.

One of the other changes I have seen is a small increase in speed. I don’t feel quite so heavy and slow right now and I can feel my body starting to react and move faster.

Overall, things seem to be looking up. I hope I can maintain the momentum I currently have over the next couple weeks while work intensifies with teaching and some more travel. It’s going to be a challenge, but I feel up for it.

Yet another one of the little changes.

Jive frustrations

But first something positive!

As I mentioned, I had my first appointment with a chiropractor last week to try and see what can be done about my on-going neck issues. In short, from about my mid-back up to my neck, nothing is really moving and everything – joints, muscles – are just pulled like bow strings. It’s been like this pretty much since my DIEP reconstruction which is not a surprise considering they pull everything down in the front which affects the back.

The chiropractor seemed optimistic, but he was pretty clear that until some things start moving, its almost impossible to tell what is unhappy versus what is just too tight. He decided to start with 4 adjustments in my mid-back, most being on the left side. When he finished he told me to go about my usual activities, but not to be surprised if I was a bit sore the following day and keep an eye out for other side effects.

Well, I wasn’t sore. What did happen turned into a shock to the system. The following day I was working through my dance exercises at the gym and discovered when I went to work on my hip rotations that I could suddenly move my left hip as much as my right without any extra effort.

This is HUGE! I have been frustrated and struggling throughout the months I have been working on moving my hips more with trying to get my left hip range of motion to equal my right AND without having to move my left shoulder to do it. Whatever the chiropractor did, it freed up my left hip.

Call me converted. I am curious to seen what my appointment tomorrow will result in.

The difference is so much that later Friday evening when I was doing my exercises at the studio I was having some trouble reacting to how much my hip was moving and twisting.

And then there is jive…

This routine is going to take a while to figure out. I went to do it today and basically any step that involved any sort of turn (which is about 80% of them) just wouldn’t work out. I tried a different type of turn, I tried turning the other way, I tried a different count or entry but nothing made it work. So, of the 6 or 8 phrases we worked on, I can remember all the steps to 2 of them.

I was able to do it on my own when we finished with jive during my last lesson. Both Friday and today it is like there are giant holes in my memory. Boss told me to look at the video from the choreographers, but that just confused me further.

So, there is going to need to be some time spent on jive in my next few lessons until I can get myself through the routine at least slowly. And it is going to be frustrating the whole way through.

I am ready though. I got through samba, I can get through jive.

Speaking of samba, I have a new MP3 player because my ipod shuffle is losing its battery power. The bonus feature in my new MP3 is that it allows me to slow down or speed up songs. So, today I started working on the cha cha and samba in time with the music slowed down. Cha cha went better than samba, but its a start. I will do the same thing with rumba as well next week.

Next week should be a return to working on the standard routines, so hopefully we can finish up waltz and quickstep (we did tango, but I just hope I remember it and the changes). Last up is the foxtrot which we have gone over once, but I think the last time was just after Christmas or even before.

Tomorrow is also my 6-month follow-up with the oncologist. Not expecting any surprises, and hopefully it will be a quick in/out followed by see you in another 6 months.

Back to Square One

But in a good way.

Tonight is the first night since I returned that I can confidently say I am where I was, or even a little bit ahead of where I was before I left.

I actually got to the gym today at work, so that was a good start. I was able to do my gym dance exercises for the first time and they went well.

My lesson also went pretty well, with the exception of a messy bit at the end, which I will get to later.

We were working on tango, specifically adding the second half so I can work on the entire routine on my own. It went well and by the end of the lesson I was able to work through the new section on my own, and during my practice tonight I was able to put it all together.

My standard frame seemed to be much better tonight than it was on Monday and I could feel my brain a little more relaxed and focused for the work. Boss remarked almost immediately that my right side was more engaged, so I took that as a good sign.

We were able to work through pieces of the routine with slow music, which led to discovering a need for Boss to clarify the timing in a couple line steps.

We ended the lesson with conditioning in change steps and it honestly started out as a bit of a disaster. I felt like jelly. I just couldn’t seem to settle into the steps, and I couldn’t seem to keep control over what I was doing. Even my brain seemed scattered and running all over the place to try to figure out what I needed to do.

In hindsight, I think my core was exhausted some from the return to the focused work. Part of my gym exercises is about 3 minutes of figure 8 work for latin. I could definitely feel my abs tiring when I was doing it and it was a bit of a fight to get to the end. My balance actually was off all afternoon, which also makes sense.

I guess the good thing is that I was able to pull it together some, although pretty inconsistently, for a couple of the last rounds.

We were also able to review and clarify one of my exercises to give it more focus, which is something I need in all my exercises right now, and which we are slowly going through.

My own practice tonight went well too. Better than it has since I returned. Besides my regular exercises, I was able to go through all 6 routines I am working on right now, and rumba and tango I can do from top to bottom, Samba we need to clarify the new piece, but Waltz, Cha Cha and Quickstep are ready for new pieces to be added.  Boss told me he wanted to finish both a standard and latin routine this week, and we have tango finished now, and he had forgotten we had already finished rumba (so I am not sure if that counts).

I am pretty happy with where I am at. Boss even remarked on watching me work through the cha cha and seemed pretty happy with how it looked. None of the routine are with the music yet, but I am trying to at least attempt to do them with a consistent count. My next goal, after getting the footwork down is to tighten up the timing for myself and make sure that the holds are right and that the sections that move keep moving.

My next lesson is Friday, so we will see what that will bring. I expect the review of my exercises as Boss mentioned a few times tonight he wants to go through them all, and quite honestly I could use a couple changes just to freshen things up.

But it’s good to be back to square one.

Interesting side effect

Something interesting happened tonight.

I had a crazy day at work (which wasn’t unexpected after 3 days away!), after which I went to the studio to practice and for my lesson.

Practice went better, there was just something different about it today I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It continued during my lesson, but really came to light during the conditioning today which was samba.

It seems that my time away, and time away from dance allowed some things to click that had been sitting in limbo. Like the physical break allowed my mind to process things. In particular in the samba conditioning, I finally seemed to be able to put together the body movement with some sharpness–something I had been trying to do before I left.

There was a different freedom to what I was doing I can’t really fully explain. Almost like something that was holding me back had relaxed and let go. Boss even commented that it was the best dancing I had done all night (which I was more than willing to agree with).

We started with a review of the standard routines and I could tell from the beginning I just wasn’t feeling “settled” with standard. It just felt off and like something was missing. It was a quick review though and I think it improved as we progressed. We did do some of the tango with the music today so that was a good step.

I think I am ready to move to new sections in the standard routines, but I will leave that up to Boss.

Boss also told me today that he noticed it is time to progress some of my exercises, so Wednesday we are going to have a look at those, as well as the new section in samba we began on Friday.

We also went through the few spots in the cha cha and rumba I couldn’t quite remember, so hopefully I am good to go with them to solidify them to prepare for adding another piece in cha cha (the rumba I have the entire routine memorized, more or less now), and to review the jive, which I have nothing of on my own right now.

Of course, then there is foxtrot and paso, neither of which we have looked at yet, but slowly the routines that seemed impossible are slowly getting in my head and feet.

What I didn’t expect while I was away, was to come back to find that some of the things that seemed just out of my grasp before I left have come together. Still a lot of work to be done.

But that’s a side effect I can live with 🙂

Quick-stepping

As planned, tonight’s lesson was all about Quickstep.

It went quite well. We have gone over it a few times before, but tonight was the first time for me to work through the steps on my own. By the end of the lesson, we had gone through about half the routine which was the goal for the lesson.

It went as I predicted — rather quick to go through, but a lot of work needs to be done on my own to gain confidence in the steps and to gain the speed needed to execute them. There is a lot of control needed so that things don’t go off the rails.

One of the things about this quickstep routine is that there are, more than any other dance, a lot of steps that are fundamental to the routine, but that aren’t really done a lot in syllabus routines. It’s not that they are complicated, they just take focus at the front end and small changes of mindset. I can easily see where I can over-complicate things if I over-think.

I am glad things went so well. I had a bit of a trying day with low energy and strength, mainly due to the effects of almost a full week of intense hot flashes taking it’s toll on me. It was most noticeable during the cardio conditioning at the end of my lesson. My legs kept feeling like jelly and I just couldn’t push them through the full 1:30 at full capacity. I had something similar during strength training this morning – exercises that usually I have no issue with were tiring me out and a struggle halfway through my sets.

It should work its way out over the weekend, and I can’t wait. I am on leave until Wednesday, but I have some paperwork that needs to be done before then, so my weekend will be busy. I also have a paper to write for school that needs to be finished before I leave for Europe next week.

Because I am going to be away for three weeks, I have been doing some extra lessons. My next one will be on Sunday morning. Although I originally asked to do Paso, when I thought about it more it occurred to me that it might be better to do jive as similar to quickstep there is more for me to do on my own than in lessons. Once we go through it I can start working on that, leaving Paso and Foxtrot to be worked out in lessons, as they will need.

After my lesson on Sunday, my plan is to go through the routines I have done this week and reinforce them. I hope it will become a regular Sunday routine when I get back.

Some more time quick-stepping away.