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.

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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.

Surprising Boss

Well, that doesn’t happen very often.

He was surprised last week with how far my samba had progressed, and tonight I went through the waltz for him and he was surprised because he hadn’t realized I had worked so much on it.

In fact, he even commented on how in the past two weeks he has noticed that all the routines I have been working on have really started coming together and that there has been a lot of progress in general lately.

Boss isn’t one to give compliments lightly, so he has to be pretty impressed to mention it so openly. He also acknowledged that he thought I was a little crazy to want to work on so many different routines at one time instead of just one from top to bottom but that he had to admit what I was doing seemed to be working.

The biggest contributor to the progress is the simple fact that in the past couple weeks I have figured out firstly how to work most efficiently through the routines, and secondly I have been able to be more consistent in my practice overall.

Once I figured out the best way for me to work on my own, it was easy to figure out what I needed from Boss in my lessons to enable that. Primarily, it was time working through steps on my own in lessons as I do in my practice with his coaching when I can’t figure out what comes next.

I also realized that I can’t quite process entire routines at once, so I needed to break them up, and I need to be able to acknowledge when I have reached my limit for working on a particular routine.

The interesting thing is that while we work through the routines, each time we go over it we are able to add another layer of technique and correct things because I am a little more confident in what I need to do. It’s a great side effect, for lack of a better description.

Things are going so well, that tonight Boss offered me a choice for what to do next–whether to start working on another routine (which he figured was my preference) or keep working on the routines we have already done. I chose a new routine as I feel ready to take on a little more without compromising what I am already working on.

We had a discussion about which dance to do next and I offered either Quickstep or Paso. We are getting down to the dances that are going to require a lot of working and repetition to really get sorted out (foxtrot/paso), and the dances that while will be easier than others to get into my head, will take a lot of work on my own to fully execute (quickstep/jive). I picked one of each to break up the volume/type of work.

We are going to start with Quickstep tomorrow, and following that we will start to dive into the paso.

I leave for Europe in just over a week, and I hope that before I go I will have a strong foundation to work on my own through the routines, just drilling the sections I have done over and over while I am away.

Perhaps I will surprise Boss again.

General Musings

I feel like I need to just catch up.

After my lesson yesterday, I realized there are quite a few random and disjointed thoughts swirling around in my head about dance, none of which (on the surface) are ready for their own post. So I thought I would just collect them here and see what comes out.

Yesterday was a review of 2 of the open standard routines, one of which needed some additions to bring it to the proper time. We started with Quickstep (which needed the additions). Of all the dances, Quickstep is definitely the one that changes the most from syllabus to open level. I am finding it intimidating on the one hand, but ready to dive into the challenge on the other.

Following QS, we went through the Foxtrot, which was more a case of me trying to follow what Boss was leading as, like the QS, we haven’t really worked on it or run it together. I think the main point of the first part of the lesson was for Boss to simultaneously review the routines (it had been since before Christmas for both), and determine the places where I need the most work so we can start focusing on them in lessons.

I am going to be away for 3 weeks beginning the middle of March, so until then I will have 4 lessons a week to sort of pre-make-up the time. I am looking forward to the concentrated block.

When I get back from that trip, Boss tells me he hopes to have some news about us dancing together more as he has an injury that will be reassessed. I am eager to hear what he will have to say but don’t hold out for much beyond working together more in lessons. Competing is more or less up to him right now and I don’t seem him as eager to get back on the floor. For me, there is so much to do I am not in any rush myself.

I still haven’t completely figured out how to work through the open routines on my own yet, but I can feel ideas peculating in the back of my mind. Have to let them settle.

After the QS and Fox, we worked a little bit on Tango before going into tango conditioning (which is 4-step, promenade close, drag, back corte repeated for a set amount of time followed by rest till my pulse recovers and repeat). I was surprised that Boss did the entire set with me (which certainly got the pulse up!). Usually I do all conditioning on my own while he monitors time and the technique, although the last couple times he has done the last set with me. I think he is testing out his injury a little and seeing where he is at for conditioning (generally much better than me!).

There is a strength and quality about my movement in standard right now that is new. When we were doing tango, Boss kept asking me if I could feel that I am now ‘using my legs’, but while I can tell there are different elements happening, I can’t (yet) equate or describe what I am doing or where it is coming from. In tango especially, I am willing to bet it is different if I don’t try to focus on doing something and just let myself move. There is definitely something happening in my ‘natural’ movement I can feel my mind trying to latch on to.

In retrospect, the same could be applied to both foxtrot and quickstep. There was something about how I was moving in general that was different (and I think positive), although perhaps not completely consistent that is coming from somewhere (likely some of the exercises I am doing). Like I tried to describe above, I can feel the difference, but I can’t describe it or say what it is I am doing and I think trying to figure it out changes it. Again, I think Boss recognizes it more that I do (and thinks I am better aware of it than I am). It’ s like I just want to work through some things in standard until I can understand what I am doing so that I don’t ruin it by ‘trying’.

Some general thoughts on Latin–

Ever have something seem just a little bit out of the reach of your brain and you keep doing it but you can tell it is just a little off? That was me until a week ago in back steps. Boss had explained them (again) and I had begun work on them, but right away I could tell I was missing a big piece. The way I was focusing on the movement was off. We had gone through several different versions of the same thing–focusing on hip, moving leg, feet, turnout, it just always seemed a little ‘off’. Two weeks we hit on it though–for me, I need to focus on the standing leg and everything else tends to move as it should. Once I centred in on that, the back walks seem to have ‘clicked’ together and what Boss is describing and what I am doing now makes sense.

Love those ‘aha’ moments but man, they tend to make you want to pull hair out getting there!

For latin routines, I am feeling pretty good on the two sections I am working on in both Rumba and Samba and am ready to try to venture out. The technique is of course not fully there, but the sequence and timing is coming more naturally and taking less thought, which is my first goal with the routines. Once I have the movements joined and flowing, I can start pulling apart the technique as we work on them in lessons. I hope to equally be able to do the first part of the waltz when I get back to regular practice on Wednesday.

My schedule was a bit disrupted last week while my father was visiting, which was expected. He has headed back home today, so tomorrow it’s off and running again.

The other thing we have been working on in latin is the connection between us, the action and reaction, and keeping our weight (meaning mine mostly) forward towards Boss. It’s another thing, like the movement in standard that I can feel my mind processing through in the background. Something that needs to become an innate habit and is almost there, but not quite.

In both cases, it is like I am standing on the edge of a cliff, almost ready to jump, but not quite sure if I brought the right harnesses. Eventually, I just need to do it, but there are still too many options and directions to go for me to be completely ready to take the plunge.

It’s a bit of a fascinating time for me in dance, with a lot more going on that I have had in a while. I can feel myself slowly preparing for bringing things to the next level, so that I have a chance of making it work when I get there.

More baby steps, but not bad for recovering.

Sometimes, you just have to purge…

My Christmas vacation started with a mission.

I am not quite sure where it came from, but I started my vacation determined to purge extra stuff from my life. I actually still had things I have moved 3 times without unpacking them. They are now gone.

I also replaced my bedroom furniture, something I have been wanting to do for quite some time. My old stuff had reached the end of it’s life. If you rubbed against it, you got splinters. Some of the drawers were unusable.

I also replaced the shelves in my living room, mainly just for a change.

In the end, I tossed out 5 contractor bags full of things plus 3 containers, I also donated 2 bags of clothes, and DVDs. I feel 100% lighter, although the process is still on-going.

The old stuff has left and the new stuff should arrive in a couple hours. Then I can relax knowing I am going into the new year without a lot of excess baggage, and launching myself into a true period of renewal.

It’s amazing how much just letting go of stuff (even if you had forgotten you had it) can make you feel better.

On a dance note, I had my final lesson yesterday and it was indeed the final open routine, quickstep. That finishes up all the standard routines and leaves us ready to move forward in the new year.

I hope next week allows for the final bit of healing I need, letting me truly launch into the new year with all cylinders firing.

Never underestimate the power of a good purge.