My new favourite muscles

Well, more like a love/hate relationship.

It’s taken a long time and a lot of work, but over the last couples months I have finally discovered and figure out (mostly) how to isolate my upper back muscles around my shoulders.  I have been working on them for a long time, but it’s only recently I have been able to actually feel them move.

On the other hand, now that I know where they are and how to use them, I can’t ignore them anymore, and I can tell when they are not moving right.

This somehow makes things simpler and harder at the same time.

Depending on whether I am doing latin or standard, its necessary to figure out how to move them differently.  I have also been working on strengthening them during my strength training, which is also difficult as they are hard muscles to target.  As I have noticed more awareness, I have noticed though that it is becoming easier to do these exercises right.  Doing this has highlighted the strength difference between my right and left side as I work each side separately, but slowly it is starting to even out.

The progress is encouraging, but I still get frustrated sometimes when I can’t quite figure out what I am trying to do with them.  Sometimes though I move them without realizing it, and that is always a surprise.  It’s interesting how many movements in dance involve them.

On a slightly related note, I keep encountering something frustrating with the muscles/tendons on the right side of my neck.  I am not sure if it is related to my treatment, specifically the radiation (because of scar tissue), but I have noticed that after every lesson, and practice where I am stretching my neck for standard I wake up the following morning with a stiff neck that is just a little too far on side of pain for comfort. I spend the entire next day aching through my neck and unable to fully turn my head to the left.

The odd, frustrating and difficult thing is that when I am working on standard and stretching, I don’t feel anything that tells me I am overextending to the point of minor injury. It doesn’t seem to be getting worse, but it isn’t getting better either.  The thankful thing is that it rarely lasts more than the day after.  I am really not sure how to manage this, but hope that it doesn’t get worse and progress to a worse injury.  I have previously had an issue where the entire muscle seized up for a week and it is something I have no wish to repeat.

Muscles are strange things sometimes.

On a different note, I have figure out why I wasn’t feeling very well over the last couple days, and why I suddenly had a burst of energy last night.  I accidentally missed one and perhaps two of my hormone therapy medication.  I usually sort out all my medications for the week in advance, but last week I didn’t have enough of my hormone therapy because I had to pick up a refill at the pharmacy.  Once I picked up the refill, I forgot to add the missing doses to my medications for the end of the week, and didn’t notice it was missing until this morning.  What I was feeling was likely withdrawal from missing the doses, followed by the side effects lifting.

It was a brief ray of light, but also it’s a little disheartening that today I am back to feeling achy and lacking energy again as my body readjusts to the medication.  It certainly tells me that what I am feeling are indeed side effects.

But at least in the meantime I have new muscles and sensations to explore.

Competitive Practice

Well, I made it through.

It wasn’t always elegant, and we had to stop and reset here and there, but for the most part I was able to get through each routine at least once without stopping.

We did a bit of a graduated increase in standard–first we did compact almost practice hold just to go through the steps, then Boss told me to slowly start to stretch out, and to use my power to move.

I am still being far more cautious than he would like, but it is slowly coming.  I was able to pinpoint at the end of today the areas where I am still not quite sure of the timing or footwork.  Waltz still remains the most solid right now, and foxtrot is actually not too bad either.  Tango is almost there, and Quickstep had a few issues where I am not sure what I am doing, but I just keep my feel moving.  I think it gave Boss good feedback on what we need to work on and focus on for next week (other than the solo).

We also did one lap of the floor in Viennese Waltz today, and that is where I am really feeling my lack of endurance coming into play.  For each of the routines, I definitely hit a point where I could feel I reached the last of my energy.  Thankfully, it was near the end of the round in most cases.

I am pretty pleased with how things went today as I honestly did expect more hiccups.  It was nice to get on the floor with the other competitive couples in the area for the first time in more than a year.  I have missed these practices for sure.

Latin didn’t go too bad either, although there were almost more issues than in standard.  I kept forgetting the same part in samba (but Boss kept forgetting a different one), and I wasn’t quite able to get all the turns in cha cha (according to Boss I am turning to much for the time I have, and I can agree with that).  Rumba went the best today, just small hiccups in the extended ending Boss added on Friday.  Paso definitely needs some review, and I was doing my old jive routine, so it went well–until I ran out of steam (but I almost made it through and with my knees up!).

Yesterday, I had a dress fitting and it was pretty exciting.  We are at the point where the stoning is starting! Both dresses are looking really amazing, even before the stones and I can’t wait until the next time I get to try them.

Next week is going to be pretty busy.  On Monday we are going to review the routines, and on Wednesday and Thursday we will work on the solo.  I should have the skirt for the solo ready to start practicing in next weekend.  I can’t believe it is already halfway through September!

Today is the one year anniversary from my last radiation treatment–what a difference a year makes!

Comp Preparation

3 more weeks until the competition–Yikes!!

I have some good news from this week.  After an exhausting Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (where I didn’t even think it would be safe to drive to practice 😦 ), at about 5 pm on Thursday I suddenly had a complete turn-around and burst of energy which has continued into today.

This turn-around and other symptoms make me strongly suspect that the extreme fatigue, mind fuzziness, difficulty thinking, etc. is actually hormone related.  Looking back, the last time I felt that bad was about 4 weeks ago.  It could be a sign that despite the chemopause and hormone therapy, my body is still trying to be cyclical.  I have noted on my calendar what happened and when, and I am going to see if it happens again in about 4 weeks.  Interestingly, it was the appearance of the full moon that triggered to me that perhaps this is cyclical, and not just a random occurrence, as I remember feeling ‘off’ the last time the moon was almost full.  If I didn’t know better, I would almost think I had a bout of extreme PMS.

That aside, preparations for the competition are continuing.  All the routines are choreographed now, and this week Boss and I spent time running through them and getting them to a point where I can do them mostly from start to finish in preparation for the competitive run-through practice on Sunday.

The latin routines, with the exception of a small piece near the end of the samba I need to remind myself about are in really good shape.  I need to focus in a bit on my styling for them now and focus on working through them ‘all out’.

The standard routines are coming, but taking more work than the latin routines.  Waltz is in the best place right now, with (shockingly) Quickstep just behind followed by tango and Foxtrot.  I have the routines written out now, which seems to be key for me to memorize and understand them, and they are at a place where I should be able to get through them from top to bottom without too much incident.

The biggest thing the standard routines need right now is confidence.  When I get to a part I am not too sure of, I tend to tense up, and then my shoulders hunch, especially my right side.  I also tend to start moving small and cautiously.  Today, we had some spots where I felt confident enough to really ‘let out the gas’, and it is pretty interesting when I do.  My goal is to get to that point through all the routines and hold nothing back.  Boss is working on encouraging me to use my power in standard (while still being controlled), and helping me to really realize what I am capable of.  The more we run through the routines the more I realize how cautious I am normally and how much I hold back, but at the same time, each time I allow myself to really go for it, it is a victory.

I think one of the most challenging things I will encounter at this competition is to keep myself in check and to not ‘overdo’ it by pushing beyond what I can control.  It’s a fine line.  I need to be confident in my movement, but I also need to be able to keep the confidence within the realm of what I can control.

Boss told me 2 weeks ago that he had been reviewing our previous competition videos and that he found it really interesting.  When I asked him why it was interesting, he said he was really looking forward to seeing what will happen once I am in full power and control and at my ‘top form’.  Of the videos from my last 3 competitions, I wasn’t completely 100% for any of them, due to illness or injury.

The entry list for the competition I am doing is out and I was pleasantly surprised to see that in latin I will be against 3 other competitors in most of my single dances, and will have competition in both of my multi-dances.  That is really encouraging and awesome for this competition, considering last year I was alone.  Great growth and kudos to the organizers for that.  In standard I am alone, except possibly in my multi-dance, which takes a little bit of pressure off it.  It’s been quite some time since I have had competition, and it does make me a little nervous as all the students I am against are people who I have neither danced with nor seen previously, but it is exciting nonetheless.

Despite the nervousness, I am just trying to remind myself that the goal of this competition is simply to get the routines on the floor.  If I can do that, mission accomplished!  It’s great though to be excited about a competition, as it’s been a while since I have been.

We didn’t work on the solo this week, but we are supposed to do that on Monday.  I know that the practice on Sunday will certainly highlight the areas that still need some work, and that will likely set the stage for the preparations over the next 3 weeks.

On a different front, my dresses are coming along really well!  I have a fitting tomorrow, and following that they should be at the stage where the stoning will start, to really get them towards the final product.  The third dress should be started as well (the smooth dress), and I am excited to see all three!  I am also having a skirt made for my solo, so I am hoping there is a little bit of progress on that too as I think it will be useful to practice with it as soon as I can (no pressure to my awesome dressmaker!!).

So along with a debut of new open silver routines, I am also going to be debuting two new dresses, a new solo routine with a new skirt.  Lots of exciting things happening!

I am nervous for the rehearsal on Sunday.  It’s been more than a year since I have done any of these practices and I am not entirely sure I have the endurance to be up to the challenge.  I am going to try my best though!  I was joking with Boss tonight that my goal for Sunday is to get through everything without falling down–although I think I was more than half serious!  His goal is for me to do things ‘compact’ the first round and then to ‘open up the gas’ for the second one.  Interesting how we have different perspectives :). We will see who has the best predictions.

It’s been a while since I have been in full ‘competition prep mode’ and I am finding the change refreshing.  I think even seeing that I have actual competition in some of my heats has helped to motivate me some.  Lots to do, but I think for the goals I hope to achieve with this competition, I am in a good place.

By the way–tomorrow is my one year anniversary for my last radiation treatment!

Frustration

Sometimes I feel like I am thinking through water.

One of the side effects of chemo and radiation that seems to be lingering is how quickly I get mentally fatigued.  By the end of the day, especially on Monday, my brain feels really fuzzy and I just can’t seem to process things.

Monday can be especially frustrating as by the time I get to my lesson I am really near the end of my limits.  I practice before my lesson, and I do strength training earlier in the day, on top of a full day of work.  My lesson is more or less the last thing I do, and I am first to admit I have a hard time staying ‘on my game’.

Today was no exception.  We were working on the open standard routines, going through the choreography and trying to run-through the sequences with the music as best I could.  Usually, I can pick up the footwork and timing of new choreography really quickly, but today I kept making the same mistakes over and over and I just couldn’t seem to get my mind to wrap around what I was doing.  I just couldn’t keep track of where I was and what I was trying to do.

Boss was trying really hard to be patient, but I could tell he was also getting frustrated.  He is not used to me struggling so much with something, and certainly not used to me making the same mistakes repeatedly.

It wasn’t helping that I hadn’t had a chance to review the standard sequences, and get the footwork into my feet.  That is my plan before my lesson on Thursday–to get comfortable moving through the steps and timing in all 7 open sequences so that we can start working on other details (like the shaping), and so that when the competitive practice comes on Sunday, I will be able to run-through the sequences.

Frustration is bound to happen here and there.  I am still adjusting, and it hasn’t even been a full year since I finished radiation yet.  Almost there, but not quite.  I have seen some good progress, but I am still not quite where I was.  I am ready though to put in a bit of extra time to reach my goals.  I just hope my body holds out for it.

I did try running again today, but I am not sure yet if I can say it was a success.  My knees are definitely stiff and sore tonight, more so than they have been.  Tomorrow will be the teller–if they are ok tomorrow I am good to go.  If they are still sore, I am not.

Fingers crossed that today will be the only frustrating thing this week.

Shimmy Shimmy Shake

Oh good lord…

That was my exact response when Boss proposed we do a section of ‘shimmying’ in our open samba routine.

But, I have been trying to get out of my comfort zone and shimmying is definitely out there.  After a few rather hilarious attempts to get me shimmying rather than twisting, it seemed to start to come together.  The worse part is that I will have to spend a lot of random moments shimmying to keep the sensation in my head…so guess what I may be doing in the office tomorrow to get out of my chair.  Thankfully my colleagues are used to me doing random weird dance things.

Today’s lesson was about putting together 3 open latin routine for the competition in October.  Mostly, Boss added some open variations to the routines I already had, so it wasn’t too complicated but each routine certainly has it’s challenges.  Samba seems to be the trickiest, but it was last tonight and my mental capacity was definitely fading.  My mind was just spinning trying to keep track of all the steps.

We were able to record Boss doing my steps for all 3 routines so I have something to reference when I have some time to think through the routines.  I like the variations a lot and look forward to seeing what will happen with the standard routines on Thursday.

It occurred to me this weekend that there are only 6 weeks left until this competition.  We will be sending in the entries soon, and booking the hotel.  I am excited and nervous at the same time.  It’s been a really long time since I have done focused work to prepare for a competition and it still seems a bit surreal.  We are even starting to do some planning for the competition after that in January.

There are only 3 open latin routines so far because I will only be doing 3 latin dances.  We actually have elements for the 4th (jive), but none of the events I will do at this upcoming competition will have either jive or paso, so they are not a priority right now.

In standard, Boss told me he will do more of the same–substitute some open steps into my existing routines, at least for Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot.  Quickstep I imagine is a lot more tricky as open Quickstep is very different from syllabus Quickstep.  I guess I will see on Thursday.  For my Viennese Waltz we will try adding some pivots and see how they go.  We have been working on them, so I hope they will go well.  I actually haven’t really done VW in almost 6 months, so that should be an interesting experiment.

One thing the open latin routines don’t have that I think I would like to see added is a small entrance to the routines.  I will have to float that idea by boss.  I have some ideas, and I think something to ‘set the stage’ might be interesting.

Tomorrow is another step forward–I have a dress fitting!  I haven’t seen my dresses in over a month, so I am really looking forward to see where they are at.  We are getting to the stage where soon the sparkly stuff will be coming out, so that is really exciting.  The competition in October will be my ‘debut’ for these new dresses.

Going back to shimmying, the reason it is so outside my comfort zone is that I am still thinking a lot of the shape I used to be.  In the last few weeks, weight has actually started to come off, instead of just reducing in size, but I still see myself as someone much larger than I actually am.  So the idea of shimmying and shaking immediately brings to mind that it’s too flamboyant and that I shouldn’t be doing it.  Boss thinks the whole effect is a lot of fun and he has me doing a lot of hip movements in all the routines.  I guess it’s good to show off my ‘ass’ets.  Boss did make a point that I can do a lot of these things because it doesn’t take a lot of momentum for me to have a good effect. That is one thing I can’t disagree with.

The routines in general have given me some things to think about and consider.  There are elements where I get to bring some of my personality to the routines, and I need to figure out how to do that.  It’s a challenge, outside my comfort zone, and probably just what I need.

 

 

Chemoversary

1 year since my last chemo treatment.

Seems almost impossible at this point looking back.  All I remember was feeling bad that I felt so sick and weak at the time I didn’t have the energy to celebrate then.

So much has happened in the last year and I have come so far.  I have had radiation, shingles, 3 surgeries, returned to work, returned to strength training, returned to running and returned to structured dance training.  I have hair now!

There were some goals I reached (such as performing, regular workouts, structured eating), and some that are still works in progress (still have the extra 30lbs hanging around from chemo, even though I am smaller!).

I wonder if July 17th will be a day that will stick in my head for a long time yet.  It is almost a milestone, where I can look back over the last year and see the progress I have done.

Even a year later, I still suffer from side effects from the treatments.  I am still showing signs of premature menopause and it is getting less likely that will ever reverse.  I am still struggling with dry skin, something I never had before chemo.  My brain still gets very foggy and I have a hard time processing things verbally.  I often forget words in the middle of a sentence.

But I am here and in general doing well.  Last week was a challenge as I got a stomach virus which messed up the levels of HT in my system and caused side effects from that to act up.  I think I slept more than 12 hours 5 out of the last 7 days, but have had to take full doses of my insomnia meds to do so.

That’s the trickiest thing I am encountering right now–how to tell what is side effects, what is an actual illness and what is just general fatigue?  I am looking forward at the next two weeks and taking them to be the real adjustment period to working 6 hour days.

I also see a physio therapist next week for my knees–hopefully that will help and ‘reduce activity’ won’t be the first thing on the menu.

I missed practice and my lesson at the end of last week, but made it up on Friday (the lesson anyway).  It was a great lesson–Boss and I were working through the first smooth routine designed for us by the judge I mentioned.  Such a fun routine!

I will post more about that next week.  Boss also told me he is ready to discuss goals now that he knows where I am physically so I am looking forward to that.

I am going to leave you with something I haven’t done, and likely won’t again–before, during and after photos.  So here you–this is me 1 week before chemo, about halfway through, and me today.

Keep smiling and dancing!

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Viennese Waltz

I have to admit that this is probably one of my most favourite dances.

Keywords for Viennese Waltz are classical, elegant, moving, floating, simple.

I love the simplistic look of this dance.  Too bad it is not as simple to execute!!  I think it appeals to me because there is a short list of very specific steps, and that is it.  When I watch competitions I love watching VW because it is possible to really see all the couples move together, often doing the same steps.

This dance moves and at the same time couples just seem to float across the floor.  I love the feeling of it when it is going well because the momentum almost carries me through half the step.  It’s an opportunity to let go a little and to be carried away with the dance.  Doing VW it’s easy to imagine a fairy princess with her prince moving together in simple harmony.  Almost like there is no one else on the dance floor (if you move enough, there almost isn’t!).

The classical elegance of steps that look simple and easy when they are done well just has an enchanting appeal for me.  Even the music invites a feeling of lilting sway on a sunny day.  The dance just reminds me of days gone by and fond memories.  It is royal, rich, classy and elegant.

It’s Viennese Waltz.

Fitbit fitness

I meant to post yesterday, but the day got a little away from me.  Probably I will post twice today.

It turns out, the radiation might not be causing all the nausea and fatigue after all.  It seems I have an infection so now I am on antibiotics, but I could be feeling a lot better by tomorrow.  I really hope it’s the infection causing the issues.  Fingers crossed.

I mentioned before that I have fitbit charge HR watch that I use to keep track of my daily calorie burns, sleep, weight and heart rate.  I have it set so that it ‘buzzes’ when I reach my goal calorie burn for the day.  It’s pretty interesting to see how much more calories I burn on dance days VS non dance days.

Up until the end of last week, I had been pretty consistent with my diet, practice and exercise and getting my fitbit ‘buzz’ almost every day.  As a result, my weight finally started to slowly go down at about 1/2-1.5 lbs/week.  It’s not much, but it is something.  Looking at that, it has helped me to figure out that I would like to be close to or below 200lbs again by my surgery.  That leaves me 12 weeks to get there, and if I can stay on track with my little buzzy friend, it should be quite doable.

The biggest hurdle will be the radiation fatigue, but so far so good, knock on wood.

I am still a little frustrated with the chemo weight gain, but that’s life and time to move on.  As I start to near the end of my journey I can look more and more to the future beyond it, and I really look forward to that.

In the meantime, I have good, strong and clear goals, a diet plan that works for me, a way to track my activity, solid exercises and a lot of motivation.

Political Frustrations

My lesson got cancelled tonight due to hall issues because of the long weekend.  I really feel for Boss because when it comes to halls, he really has the worse luck.

Secretly I was a little relieved.  I went hiking with a friend earlier today and didn’t get a chance to nap after so I am feeling a little pooped.

Since I didn’t have a lesson today, and won’t have one until Thursday, I decided I will try to write a couple posts I have been hoping to write for a little while now.

The first one is about my frustrations with the current political situation in the dance world, or at least in my local area.

I don’t know how it is everywhere else, but here the local dancesport association seems to be at war with the national dance council.  It’s the competitors that are losing out with this.

What is happening is that every national dance council sanctioned competition is suddenly finding a dancesport competition pop up the week before it.  So essentially, competitors are being asked to choose which competition they want to support, and the competitive community, such that it is, is being divided meaning that each competition only has half the competitors and half the support.

I had an interesting conversation on the weekend with Boss and 2 of the local competitive couples and was surprised to learn that the competitive couples had little idea about how the politics were affecting things.  Each couple has 2 different coaches (one works with Boss and Instructor #2, the other a dancesport amateur couple) that represents the 2 different associations.  We started by discussing the situation in the US, which is different from here in Canada, where amateur competitors can teach full time and make a living without losing their amateur status.  It appears that whether one is pro or amateur is only a competitive choice.

In Canada, amateurs can teach once they have reached a certain point at the championship level, but they are limited in how much they can charge.

This means that amateurs can undercut the professionals by charging less and not having to necessarily rely on it for their living.  There doesn’t seem to be any limit on how much they can teach, only how much they can charge. I can see where it is such a source of frustration for the local pros here who are struggling to survive.

Going back to competitions, the divide between the organizations and multiple competitions appearing so close together (1 weekend apart) is making things hard for everyone.  The dancesport competitions don’t have pro/am, although one of them has a ‘student/teacher’ division, which to me is just pro/am in disguise.  If you teach and make money from dancing, you are a professional and your student is an amateur.  Being a pro/am competitor, which is a very very small part of the dance community here, the little bit of competition I could have expected seems to be dwindling in numbers as coaches are taking sides.

You can feel the divide in the community around here and it is unfortunate.  We used to have ‘dual-sanctioned’ competitions, but that isn’t possible anymore.  Competitors are being asked to choose, or belong to both organizations.  I feel like everyone is losing out in the end.

I am just a lowly pro/am competitor, who doesn’t benefit really from either association and doesn’t even have to belong to one association or both to compete, but I still feel the pressure building.

The province where I live has a very strong amateur competitive community and little respect for pro/am competitors.  I used to belong to the local dancesport association, but left it after I attended an AGM and was told plainly that if they didn’t need pro/am competitors to fund their competitions, they wouldn’t have pro/am events.  As a pro/am competitor, I am NOT responsible for subsidizing amateur dancing.  Unfortunately, more and more that seems the way things are.

I was talking about the upcoming competition with one of the local amateur couples and they were complaining that in order to compete at the same competition they would have to pay $100 for membership in the National association, bringing their entire total for entries to $150.  I can sympathize, but at the same time, for me to dance 1/2 as many dances as they could, it cost me very close to 4 figures–almost 10 times more.

As the political frustrations grow, so too does it make it harder to swallow the costs.  As less amateur couples compete at each comp, I can easily see the prices for pro/am entries going up.

I am sorry for a bit of a long rant, but sometimes the best way to get frustrations out is to voice them and move on. I know not everyone will agree with my assessment of the situation, but it is my own assessment and my opinion and what I am seeing as a pro/am competitor, so I hope you can forgive me if you don’t agree.

I hope the situation isn’t as heated or as bad where you are, and that the ‘politicking’ isn’t causing pressure.

I just want to be able to afford to dance as much as possible wherever the opportunities may be without worrying about who is sanctioning what, who is supporting it and where it is.

Especially with my health over the last year, I guess I am feeling this a little more than I need to. Having to cut back on dance and especially competing for my health I am very aware of every opportunity I miss, and to see people fighting and dividing the dance community over extra competitions that are in direct competition with each other hits me very hard.

I just want to compete and dance.

9 more to go

Finally!! Less than double digits left to go for my radiation.

I cannot wait for radiation to be over, but I am glad that I only have 4 days next week, and then just 5 the week after.

I am finding radiation harder in a lot of ways than chemotherapy.  When I was on chemo, I got a break between treatments, and even if I didn’t want to dance on a certain day, I knew that I would feel better after I danced.

That is not happening with radiation.  I skipped most of practice last night, but I did do practice today. What I am finding though, is that with radiation my motivation, even while I am practicing is really waning.  I practice, but I can’t say I feel better afterward.  In fact, I have a hard time to get through all of my practice, and today after practice I slept for 2 hours right after.

I guess the main thing is that I did get through my practice, even though I didn’t want to, and that it was productive.  I was able to incorporate many of the changes Boss asked me to do during my lessons, so that is a good thing.

We had a small hiccup with the competition, in that one of Boss’s students decided not to go, meaning higher costs for all, but in the end I decided to do it. I need something to focus on this fall too much not to.  It won’t be much of a competition, but it will be something and in the end I miss competing and enjoy competing too much to pass it up.  I am hopeful there will be other students there in my age and level.  I am still waiting to here if medal testing will be possible.

Even with the lack in motivation, I remain optimistic for the next few weeks.  If I have to give myself a break, I will.  If I have to reduce my practice I will.  But I have a strong goal and that is what I am aiming for.

Competitive round practice this weekend.  We will see how that goes.