Mixed Messages

“You can ask me any question about technique that you want.”

Except I can’t.

Boss said this last night at my lesson.  Two months ago he told me that I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions and that I should just do what he tells me, because he is the instructor and I am only the student.

(On a side note, he told me this at the same time he told me he is my instructor and not the Boss of my dancing.  I don’t think he realizes I am not his only student to refer to him this way and neither was I the first–its a habit I picked up from another of is students)

I don’t know how to ask questions without making him feel like I am undermining him as an instructor, though lord knows I have tried.

While its an interesting olive branch, history has shown me that whenever I ask questions it inevitably leads to conflict between us because one of 3 things happen (or sometimes all 3):

  1. He dismisses my question and says it either doesn’t matter or is something I ‘don’t need to worry about’.
  2. He assumes I am asking because I am trying to rush progress.
  3. He assumes that by asking I am really saying ‘Forget everything you think I should focus on and focus on only this instead because I want to’.

Very rarely is it numbers 2 or 3, and number 1 just leads me to frustration.  Whether a topic matters to him or not, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important to me and frequently on my mind (and sometimes interfering with other things I am working on).

More often than not, the question comes because I have observed something and am curious about it. Sometimes its related to a small personal project I am working on and I just need a bit of direction to know where to start to begin to work it out for myself.  Sometimes it is related to something else I am working on that my mind has latched on to and won’t let go.

An example–right now one of my exercises is rumba basic and focusing on making sure I step, then settle.  The biggest issue with this is when I step back with my right foot–I have a tendency to step there already settled with no way else to move my hip.  Its taken a lot of experimentation, but slowly I have found a way to step back on a straight leg without having my hip settled. This has led me to consider other steps where I step backwards, and to wonder about how to actually do rumba steps backwards, something I don’t recall working on in international rumba (I did it a lot in rhythm, but very different technique).  Its drawn my attention to the issue to the point that when I do figures with multiple back steps (like aida or reverse top) I find myself distracted by noticing I am not stepping right and trying to figure out how to fix it.  I have tried just walking backwards, but for whatever reason I can’t figure it out–there seems to be a big piece I am missing. In fact, it feels as though what I am doing might lead to injury of my hip as some of the movements I am trying to do are sometimes painful.

But if I ask Boss about that, he will likely think I am asking him to change my exercises or what he wants me to focus on (currently it seems to be forward steps), or he will tell me its something I don’t need to worry about right now.

But on the other hand, he has mentioned several times that my back steps in latin are not good, and while watching videos he has pointed out how others move backwards.

So I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place and mostly I just sort of wait and hope he will notice what is frustrating me and decide to address it.  Because I am not allowed to know his plan, I also have no way to know if my questions will just get naturally addressed when we get to that topic (if we get to that topic).

The rumba back steps are just one of the things I find myself wondering about and wanting to work on by myself.  I have time now since changing my practice schedule but I do feel like I don’t know where to start to work on them.  I am unsure enough that I am concerned I will teach myself wrong and develop bad habits or worse injure myself with bad technique.

But despite what Boss said at my lesson yesterday, I have been ‘bitten’ enough by questions being misinterpreted that I don’t feel I can ‘ask anything’ about technique–or anything really. I just don’t want to risk opening a giant can of worms.

So I wait and hope things will resolve themselves, and try not to let myself get too impatient or frustrated.

I can either ask questions or I can’t.

I don’t see how it can be both ways.

The Return and End of Smooth

Stopping dance proved to be disastrous for my health.

The day after I decided to stop, I had a complete breakdown and ended up at the ER.  I didn’t think it was possible to get worse than I was, but believe me, it was much much worse.  With everything else, the medication I was on gave me violent mood swings as levels of brain chemicals went up and down until a stable level was achieved.

It was the longest and most difficult 3 weeks of my life.  I really thought I might die, and to be honest, I wished the cancer had killed me.  It was a very very dark time.  On top of everything else, stopping dance actually made the grief I am going through over losing my fertility even more poignant, because I felt as though I had absolutely nothing left to hold on to. I had created a giant hole in my life that I could no longer fill and the little bit of joy and meaning I had in my life disappeared.

But somehow I got through it.  It took a lot of talk with mental health experts, time for medication to kick in and dose adjustments, and a complete reevaluation of my life and dance.

On top of the medical staff, I also (with their encouragement) talked with other dancers in the community (pro/am and amateur), non-dancers and Boss.  I took more than a week to go through and write out all of my thoughts on dance–what was important to me, what I wanted to do with dance, what I felt was missing, what needed to change, and where dance fit into my life–or where I wanted it to fit.  I wrote because that was the best way to express myself and let it all out.  It took me a week and was more than 10 pages, but it helped me find a place for dance in my life–even pro/am.

It took a while, because my energy levels have been quite non-existent and it took some lessons of just talking things through with Boss before I was ready to come back, and we were able to agree on changes that worked for both of us, and hopefully will help to address the issues I was struggling with.

There will be two significant changes to the structure of my lessons.  First, one lesson a week will be devoted to working on showcase/performance routines.  This is to give me an opportunity to be creative and collaborative in dance, something I was missing a lot.  Second, half a lesson every other week will be spent on ‘dance appreciation’.  Time to discuss dance, look at videos of different levels and styles, and develop my ability to think critically about dance and recognize various aspects of it.

My practice is changing as well.  I will still do some drilling, but it will not be the sole focus on my practice, it will be about 2/3rd of it.  The rest of the time will be spent on working through steps and routines as I want to.  The goal of that is to mix time spent drilling, which is more meditative, repetitive, and not requiring a lot of thought, with other aspects of dance that require me to ‘figure out’ and think through what I am working on.

I am also scaling back everything I am doing.  I will be focusing only on international style, and full gold routines for competing.  I will not be competing in smooth anymore.  Boss had wanted to turn the smooth routines into showcase routines, but to me it would be rubbing salt in the wound to work on the routines, but not be able to compete them.

And so ends smooth for me.

It is yet another casualty to cancer.  In all honesty, it hurts a lot, but at the same time I am grateful to still have some way to dance.  My relationships have also taken a huge loss and been damaged through the difficulties of the last month and I do fear they may never really mend.

I saw the surgeon and my hysterectomy will be likely end June/early July.  It will be 4-6 weeks of recovery off of dance and work.  It will be another slow and careful recovery.  The small silver lining is that with a little luck (and I am definitely due!) it will alleviate many of the symptoms from the hormone therapy as I will no longer need ovarian suppression and my hormone levels should fluctuate less allowing my mental health to stabilize.

In the meantime, I wait for a solid date for my surgery and attempt to hold my life together as best I can until then.  Every day is still a struggle, but the past week has seen me become a bit stronger and able to return to strength training.  This week allowed me to return to dance.

I am scared that everything will fall apart again before all of this is finished.  It’s taking a lot to control the depression and anxiety, and I am still in constant pain.  The hot flashes are happening in cycles indicating my ovaries are not as suppressed as they should be.  I have to have another shot in May, but the surgeon told me her goal is for it to be the last one. I truly hope so.

I am taking things one day at a time and trying to live my life as best I can.  I am so far able to work and keep up with it.  Strength training makes me feel better, not drained or exhausted and I am seeing genuine improvement in strength for the first time in almost a year.  In the middle of everything, I managed to finish the first 3 courses of my Masters, and am now working on my 4th.  So far, my lessons have been positive and also leave me feeling better than when I arrived.

I have slowly returned to myself and hope to maintain it.  I have lost much in the last month and I continue to grieve for my fertility–something I expect will continue until after the surgery when it is truly gone.  Things are rocky, difficult, but manageable.

At least for now.

I am back.

Another Surgery….

I have been quiet while having to deal with some health issues related to the hormone therapy.

I found out today that I will be having a total hysterectomy end June/early July.  The sincere hope is that once my ovaries are gone, my hormones will settle down and I can get back to feeling like myself again.

In the meantime, the hormone therapy has more or less crashed my entire system.  Because stopping the hormone therapy is not an option (the shot lasts until May), I have had to be treated with medication for the side effects.  Almost 4 weeks later, I seem to be finally starting to get to a functional point.

I say functional.  The psychiatrist who is treating me calls it ‘presenteeism’–it’s one step up from absenteeism.  Instead of being absent from my life, I am there, just not really participating.

To be perfectly honest, I have never felt worse in my life–including during chemo, radiation, and after surgery.  And I feel helpless to do anything about it, I can only manage it.

Slowly, the mental health issues are improving, but unfortunately the physical ones are not.  I am exhausted.  I am ready for bed at 6 pm after a full day of work.  It takes almost 12 hours for me to feel refreshed.  When I am awake, my energy is fairly fleeting.  It has improved a little in the last week (likely due to the medication), but it is still very restrictive.  I also ache all over.  If you have ever had aches from a fever, that is what I feel like all the time.  That in itself is exhausting.  Usually by 2 pm I have to take some ibuprofen to take the edge off.  I also have frequent headaches and right now the hot flashes are fairly frequent.

At least now, I have a general time frame to aim for when things might get better.  I say might because there is no way to know how my body will respond to surgical menopause versus chemical menopause, but there is a good chance that without my ovaries causing fluctuating hormone levels, things will stabilize and be more controllable.

This also makes very real for me something I have been avoiding–I will never have children.  It was highly unlikely before, but this makes it an absolute ‘no’. In many ways I am grieving for the children I will never have, and I have to acknowledge and give myself time to do that.

To be perfectly honest, I am not really sure if I ever would have had children or if it was something I wanted to do, but I took comfort in having the option. There is a lot more to that, but there are some things I need to keep to myself :).

I do have some dance news.

After I decided to stop dancing, I did go and advertise for a partner in the area where I live.  The response, I am sad to say was two offers for sex and one guy who was genuinely interested in dance, but who also was looking more for a relationship.  It was disappointing, but not really more than I expected, to be honest.

I had a fairly significant breakdown shortly after making my decision.

As part of that, I spent a lot of time discussing dance and what it means to me with my health care professionals.  They encouraged me to reevaluate and to talk to another dancer in the community.  They also pointed out that since my system was so depressed, no matter how much I might want to, I would never be able to see the good side to dance, only the bad.

It took a lot of talk, both with an amateur dancer who has also had breast cancer and previously danced pro/am herself when her partner was unwell, and talking with Boss, in addition to the health care professionals.

In the end, I decided to start writing.  I wrote about what led me to dance, what I enjoy about it, what I want from it, where I am, where I want to be, what I think of pro/am, how I want to learn–in short, 10 pages about dance, going through everything.

It was the most comprehensive evaluation of dance I have ever done, and it occurred to me that throughout my sickness I have had to reevaluate almost every area of my life–but I have never reevaluated dance.

It was long overdue, and it revealed a lot about what I really want and it is quite different from what I was doing and the direction I was going.

I don’t want to say more on that for now, but the evaluation is on-going.

One of the biggest obstacles I am encountering right now is actually the lack of energy, but I hope it will get better.

We shall see.  But now I seem to have something of a timeline for when this nightmare might end.

And so I fight on…

Struggling

I am filled with fear that the hormone therapy is having very negative side effects.

I did end up going to see the doctor again today about my sinuses and he prescribed some antibiotics as the weekend made clear that they are now quite likely infected.  With some luck, I should start to feel better by Wednesday.

But my fear is that the sinus infection is really only going to clear up the pain and pressure in my sinuses, but that the fatigue and achiness, and general listlessness and depression will remain.

I do expect some side effects from the hormone therapy, but at the same time I have to be able to have some quality of life and at least right now I don’t have that.

I am willing to believe that some of what I am feeling is due to being sick, but at the same time it would be naive of me to think that it is all the sinus infection.

My biggest concern is that I am pretty sure the hormone therapy is making me depressed and that to counter that it will be necessary to take anti-depressants.  I want to be clear that it is not the stigma of mental health that worries me, but the need to add yet more chemicals to my body to counter the effects of chemicals I am already forced to add to my body.  On top of that, anti-depressants have their own list of side effects and I am limited in those I can take because of the hormone therapy.  It’s just a big overwhelming mess and a road I really don’t want to go down.

But if I am realistic with myself, I am struggling a lot more than I should be right now.  I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I have started a new (old) position at work and I can’t seem to generate any excitement about it.  I go to practice dance and I wonder what the point is and I have no interest in what I am doing.  I am going through the motions like a robot.  I am working on a masters in a subject I usually feel very passionate about but can’t seem to motivate myself to do the readings or assignments.  I am usually very consistent about getting to the gym and doing strength training but I have no motivation for that either.

And while it seems like I am doing a lot, I have not been able to do even half as much as I was able to do previously.  I am very frustrated with that.  On top of that, despite being on the medication to promote weight loss for 4 months, my weight has barely budged–even with good (and prescribed) diet and regular exercise.

As time goes by, I find myself wondering more and more if I should just accept that the life I knew is over.  I should just be resigned to being overweight and heavy and feeling terrible.

So many people have been so supportive, but I feel rather guilty when they tell me over and over that I am so strong and brave for fighting and conquering cancer.  Yes, I was able to be strong and brave and had great support, but it seems that the price you pay for beating cancer is to feel miserable for the rest of your life. That is the truth of  my experience.  I am constantly beat down by my health no matter how hard I work to make it better and I am tired.

In fact, I am honestly completely exhausted.  I haven’t been sleeping well since my last shot to the point where I have been waking frequently throughout the night.  I was almost able to stop taking my insomnia medication (a big step back), but now I am finding it necessary to increase back to a full dose to see if that helps me sleep through the night.

I am not completely sure where to turn for this.  I almost have too many doctors.  Is this a problem for the oncologist? My family doctor? The mental health nurse?  It seems like if I go to one, I will be referred to another.  I am not scheduled to see the oncologist until April, and I am to see my family doctor next week.  Because of the sinus infection, I feel like I have missed far too much work due to illness, which is one of the issues I was sent back to this position to fix.

Regardless, it is obvious to me that I cannot continue living like this.  Part of me want to wait a couple days and see what goes away with the sinus infection, but the other part is very concerned that nothing but the pain and pressure in my face will leave.

I find that I am constantly trying to find something to get excited about–whether dance or work or school–and everything keeps falling short.  Once again I had a lesson where I found myself unable to concentrate and Boss had to repeatedly make changes to what we were working on.  At one point, I had a hot flash so bad while working on a standard exercise I had to push Boss away because I felt like his body heat was suffocating me.  That said, we do have a section of a rumba routine to add to the waltz routine from last week.

I just want things to get better and stay that way for a while.

That isn’t too much to ask, is it?

Pro/am isolation

I have been debating about whether to write a post about this or not for a while now.

One caveat I will say is that this is based on my own experiences in the community where I live, which is certainly unique compared to what I hear about others.

I will also say that in many ways, this is a post where I just need to vent and I apologize in advance for that.  Sometimes you just have to get things out before they consume you.

In all honesty, this could be a combination of post-comp crash combined with a hormone surge from my injection last week, although what I will speak about has been swirling in my brain for quite some time.

I have been feeling more and more isolated from the dance community lately and a big part of it seems to be that I am an unpartnered person trying to fit into a community that celebrates and embraces partnerships.

I don’t fit in with the competitive couples here because since I compete in pro/am I am not really considered a competitor.

I don’t fit in with the social dancers here because I am seen by them as more of a competitor.  And again, the majority of them from the studio where I dance are couples.

I feel like everywhere I turn I am encountering a situation that highlights the fact that I am a single person trying to do something meant for couples, and because of that, I just don’t fit in.  The more I try to fit in, the more isolated I feel.

One of the things I always like about dance is that it is a community of people who all have similar interests as me and a community with which I have a lot in common.  I enjoy and crave that sense of community. When I first moved to the city where I lived, I started dancing at a franchise studio which provided a great sense of community, even if I had issues with some of the other things about the franchise system.  While I know that leaving the franchise when I did was the best decision for me, I do miss the community I was a part of while I was there.

I did try to get involved with the local dance society, but because I am a pro/am student anything which I did was perceived as having the sole goal of trying to promote my instructor (even when it had nothing to do with him). I was told I couldn’t participate in events with am/am couples (as again any dancing I did with my instructor indirectly promoted him unfairly and not other instructors), and I was repeatedly accused of manipulating other members to make decisions in my instructor’s favour, even when I had no knowledge or involvement in those decisions.  After more than a year of dealing with this and the stress it caused me, I felt I had no choice but to remove myself from that community.  I don’t regret that decision, but I am sorry for the loss of interactions with those in the community who had nothing to do with the stress and drama. Even after leaving, I hear rumblings that similar things are occurring even without me being a convenient scapegoat.

I will admit that with the loss of this community, I have been trying to find a new one to fit into without success.  The isolation I feel has even led me to very seriously consider stopping dance and taking up another sport that does not require a partner (such as martial arts).  I am honestly quite frustrated that I will always be on the outside of the dance community here, competitive or social, simply because I am stuck being the ‘am’ in a pro/am relationship in order to compete and enjoy dance.

Being a pro/am student is hard.  It’s even harder when you are only 1 of 2 in an entire community of competitive dancers.  I didn’t get into dance with the intention of being a pro/am student (I didn’t even know it was possible or what it was when I started!), but that is how my dance journey has unfolded for me, and I don’t see that being able to be changed anytime soon if I want to continue dancing and competing.

Recently, a news article came out with information that the average age in the city where I live is 44–6 years older than what I am.  When it comes to dance, I can see how that demographic is played out.  We do have some university aged students that dance social through the university club.  Unfortunately, I am almost 20 years older than them.  We have a large social dance community, but the average age there is 60–almost 20 years older than me.  There is a huge gap between these two groups and that is where I fit, basically by myself.

Along with thinking about taking up a new sport, when the question of where I would be working came up, I also very seriously considered requesting a posting to another community in the hope that I might have a chance of finding a competitive partner and/or fitting better into the dance community.  That didn’t come to pass (as I have been posted back to the position I was in before I got sick, starting Wednesday), but it does still cross my mind.

Something else I will admit is that I often wonder if while doing pro/am on the one hand allows me to dance,  if on the other it is also holding me back from my goals as well. I think of what I want from dance, and being a pro/am student is not necessarily going to provide it.  I want to be part of the community, especially the competitive one.  It’s very difficult to not feel separate and singled out when you are practicing on a floor with competitive couples and you are the only single lady trying not to get run-over.

I don’t know if other pro/am students experience the same frustrations and feelings of isolation from the rest of the ballroom community, but I can say it’s something which I find myself feeling more and more, especially as I work to rebuild back into competitive shape.

A summary of the basic attitude towards pro/am from an amateur competitor is a conversation that occurred at the last competition I attended:

“Am lady: I wish I could compete at this comp, but my partner and I have been working on new routines at a new level for the last few months and they aren’t ready yet.

pro/am student: I can understand that, I also started working on new routines for my new level a couple months ago, but we are doing them here for experience even though they are still pretty new and shaky.

Am lady: Well, you are doing pro/am so that is like basically cheating.”

I don’t know where these feelings will take me in the future.  In many ways I feel ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’.  I won’t ever be accepted as a competitor here as long as I have to compete in pro/am.  But if I don’t compete in pro/am, I won’t be able to compete or even dance at all.

The logical part of my brain says to forget about community and just focus on my dancing and doing what I want to do. And believe me, I really wish I could and for many years I tried.  I am not sure if it is part of my recovery or the amount of time I have been dancing or that I am just seeking some support and recognition for the amount of work I put into my dancing and competing, but finding that sense of community just keeps becoming more and more important to me.

And that worries me for the future of my dancing.

If you are still here, thank you for reading the entire post and tolerating my need to vent.  I appreciate it very much.