A New Chapter

I’ve been thinking a lot about dance lately.

It started before the cruise and has continued into this week.

I think the time away from competing, as difficult as it has been, has been good for me. I can genuinely say that I am enjoying being able to take the time to dig into the details of the routines and steps and movements that I am doing. I’ve been able to connect with my body and dance in a way I didn’t expect.

And I really really like it.

That’s not to say I don’t want to compete anymore, absolutely I do!

But I am not in a rush to do it. I also don’t find I have a need to do it as much as I felt I did before.

What I crave most from dance right now is the experience of it. Yes, competing is part of the experience, but it is no longer the main goal for me.

Right now, I want to see how far I can continue to develop and grow through dance. I want to keep developing those details, keep pushing myself, keep working to see what I can do.

I want to inspire others to dance and to be an example for other dancers to look up to. I have overcome a lot to be where I am right now and I know life is going to continue to throw obstacles at me, whether in dance or other areas of my life. That is just how life goes. By meeting those challenges, that is how we grow and get stronger.

I have grown a lot and come so far in dance, and there is so much more of this journey left.

But right now I feel my focus in dance needs a slightly different focus. I want to focus more on development.

For the past 8 months or so, my dance journey has been focused on me and my development. I haven’t really been able to do that since before I got sick because there was always a competition or test or performance I was preparing for. During that time, that prep and focus on tangible goals was what I needed.

I am surprised to discover that I don’t really need that sort of focus anymore.

I do still have a need and desire to compete and perform, but it is not as pressing. When I do it, I want to do it to show my progress, and mostly it’s to show that progress to myself. I feel that competitions, and by extension performance (I would much much rather compete than perform) are necessary to help give a limit to break up phases of development. They give a timeline for taking a step back, evaluating, and refocusing.

For the past year, I have enjoyed working with Boss more than I have during the 5 years prior to it. We really have come into a solid grove with how we work, and it really is at a higher level than I ever really thought possible, in consideration of the struggles we had trying to get and stay on the same page before that. There is an element of mutual respect I never expected.

It makes me optimistic and eager to see where Boss’s teaching will lead me next.

I am so grateful that I discovered pro/am, despite the unique challenges it presents. Without it, I likely would have stopped dancing a long time ago and I would definitely not be where I am now. The opportunity it provides me is unmatched.

I don’t know what the future holds. I expect at some point my career will take me to a new location and that will mean new dance experiences. For now, I intend to embrace the opportunities Boss gives me as best I can. I don’t know what all those opportunities will be, but I do know I will continue to get fitter, healthier and feel better — which finally brings me back full circle to the main reasons I started dancing in the first place. Before I found dance, I was very lost and broken.

Through dance I have become strong and confident. I would never have beaten cancer without it. Words cannot express my gratitude for those who have been part of my dance journey, especially Boss who never gave up on me, even when I seemed determine to give up on dance, myself, and to make it as difficult as possible.

This has been such a long time coming.

It’s time for a new chapter in dance for me. I am not quite sure where it will go, but I know it will be great and ideas are already forming. Once I can get them organized into some sort of sense, I will present them to Boss and see what he suggests.

I’m excited for this new chapter and where it will lead me.

Time to start writing.

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Rebuilding Strength

That has been a big focus of mine lately.

It’s not just in and for dance. Since returning to activity after my last surgery I have been able to consistently get back in the habit of regular strength training and rebuilding the strength I lost through all my treatments. It’s a little overwhelming the distance I have to go, but it gets better every day.

Having energy again is a huge difference and I feel like I have more every day.

To give an example of how much I need to rebuild, where prior to getting sick I would pull 120 lbs, now I am at 70. But I started at 60 just over two weeks ago.

I enjoy strength training. There is always a goal to aim for and you have to push for your best every time to reach a new one. I take my time and it usually clears my head during the day making me more productive at work and other activities. I work on improving endurance a lot too.

When I was on the hormone therapy I had such little energy I couldn’t do strength training. During the brief 4-month period I tried, muscle weakness meant I rarely saw increases in weight.

Since the surgery it has been so different.

Dance and strength training support each other. What I am doing in dance now actually relates a lot to the strength exercises I am doing–particularly in regards to my right foot and knee.

I am doing a lot of exercises right now to build strength around my knee and increase stability and I am finding that both dance and strength training are going hand in hand for this. One of the things I have found out (through discussions with my trainer) is that on my right side, my inner and outer thigh muscles don’t quite fire the way they are supposed to meaning that my knee collapses in and I also don’t use my glute minimus muscles to stabilize myself. That leads to my foot falling out to help support my body. It’s been something I have been doing for a long time and I have to re-teach my body to correct it.

Even then, it might not be possible to ever fully correct it but I am determined to try.

Among other things, it means paying attention to how I walk on a normal basis and being conscious of keeping my knees pulled out as I walk and not allowing them to fall in.

Something I am doing seems to be making a difference. I can tell because it’s been a pain in my ass.

Literally.

Because my glute muscles are working in a different way, I am getting some DOMS on my right side. It’s tricky for having to work at a computer at work, but since it’s a positive sign, I am ok with it. I just have to keep persistent with it. I don’t think I have quite gotten my inner thighs to start engaging, but I think it is coming.

I am doing some dance exercises to work on the inner thighs, in particular controlling closing my legs in standard. I am going to keep trying to do it.

The bottom line is finally I can feel some of my strength returning and I can see potential for returning to where I was.

I have also loss 1/3 of the weight I gained during chemo–and still counting! Creeping closer to halfway.

This is me time.

Finally.

Working out a plan

It seems things have settled.

But boy was it rocky to get there.

We have a plan.

I did go to my lesson on Wednesday, but I took some advice from the lovely Girl with the Tree Tattoo and put together my thoughts and frustrations and asked Boss for 5 minutes at the beginning of my lesson to just vent and let it all out.

It turned into a productive conversation that gave more clarity than previous conversations. One of the first things I mentioned was that I felt a little confused about what I was being told because at times it seemed contradictory. The biggest point to come out of that is that Boss is unable to support competing for at least 6 months to a year, and can’t say right now if he will return to competing or not after that.

Well, neither can I. Anything can happen in a year. I know that better than anyone. 2 weeks ago, while waiting for my biopsy result, I wasn’t sure if I would see my 40th birthday.

Life can change on a dime for all sorts of reasons.

All that to say that I know I won’t be competing with Boss for probably at least a year. After that, no one can really say what might be possible. Maybe he will be willing and able to compete, maybe he won’t.

Maybe I won’t be able to compete. You never know.

I don’t work with Boss because he was willing to be a warm body on a competition floor. While competing is one goal of mine, it is not the only one and it is not the most important one either. I work with him because he is able and willing to teach at the level I want and I can take lessons consistently throughout the week. He is also open to communicating, and does both long and short-term planning for lessons. Going to any other instructor, particularly commuting, eliminates a lot of those advantages, particularly being able to work with lessons throughout the week which is the most important thing for me.

Boss did suggest an option that I may consider in the future (for example if he is still unable to compete this time next year), but for now I don’t see it as necessary (not to mention it would be a bit costly).

After all of that, we did come to a plan that works.

I have no issues with not competing for 6 months to a year. I see it as an opportunity to work on my own technique and particularly focus on some details that require more in-depth and long term focus to sort out–things I can’t focus on while preparing to compete. In particular, trying to sort out the issue with my right foot turning out and lacking the strength to stay turned in. Other things include specific techniques in latin, CBMP in standard (I am just starting to scratch the surface on understanding that), and connection in latin.

Boss and I also discussed how I want to structure lessons for the next little while. We agreed that I would stick with 3 a week (as that’s the level I am happiest with), but two would be on things he wants to work on, but the third lesson would be directed by questions, topics that I want to work on (which I will provide to him in advance). I have already given him something for the first one.

My lessons in general will be focused more on individual conditioning and exercises for technique, although I have some routines that have details that need to be worked out. Now is an opportunity to do that. I see all the work I do now will only make my stronger in the future.

The most interesting thing about the discussion we had was that Boss told me he would like me to be more involved in my learning now as I have reached a point where I should be. It’s an interesting concept.

Finally, I had a couple ideas for evaluating progress without competing. First, as we are going to be doing some specific exercises (most from coaches), so I had the idea of filming me doing all the exercises (once we figure out what they will be), and then refilming them in 3 months to play side by side and see if there is any difference.

The second idea was that if I am not competing, then I am saving money. Something valuable I do with it that is still dance related (and cheaper than competing) is to do some coaching lessons. Already the last coach I worked with is going to be returning in February, so I have an opportunity to be able to afford more lessons with him, and Boss suggested a different coach for latin who may be possible to work with in the near-term (I have worked with her before and enjoyed it  a lot).

I am very glad and relieved to have a plan in place, for at least the next 6 months. In June, there will be a time to re-evaluate where everything is at, but until then I am happy with the plan. I have just over a week until my next surgery which will mean some brief time away from dancing. I am glad to have this sorted now.

Competing strong

Sorry for the delay in writing!

I have been busy beyond competing (more on that later) and this is the first opportunity I have had to write about the comp.  I did post some pics on facebook if you follow me there (www.facebook.com/bcballroomdancer).

Overall, this was my strongest competition since before I got sick. Hands down. That’s not to say it was my best dancing, but I felt prepared, my endurance (for the most part was there), I didn’t feel like I was dying after only a couple dances. I felt like I belonged on the floor and that I was competitive, not just dancing as something to do.

I won my closed gold multidance in Ballroom although it was a rule 10 and 11 win (meaning they had to split the tie twice more or less), and I am very proud of that–my first ‘win’ in closed gold! I was also 5th in both open scholarships of 6 couples and even stole a few points from those that placed above me in ballroom.

Ballroom was definitely the stronger of the two styles for me at this competition. Considering the amount of work I have been putting into it, it should have been, and it has paid off. I felt quite strong and confident in the ballroom heats, even though endurance was a challenge. I was surprised to see I received a 1 place mark in VW from one judge in a 5-dance championship that finished with the VW.

There were a lot of positives for me in standard. It took a round to settle down a little and adjust to things like my dress. At the start I was almost too relaxed in trying to keep myself calm and from trying too hard, but hit a good balance for the other rounds. Boss was really happy with how it all went, and I really have no complaints about standard. Yes, there are always little things, and lots to improve, but I was more consistent and solid in standard than I have been in any previous competition. That was a big win for me!

Latin was a much different story, and I am less impressed with my performance there. I had some very high points, and I had some lower ones. In one of my 4-dance gold multi-dances, I didn’t win the event, but I did sweep the rumba. Looking at the videos though, my styling still leaves much to be desired, and I just didn’t seem to be ‘finishing’ all my lines as I danced. My energy level was not where it needed to be for latin and I was having a hard time keeping focused.

So I own the less than stellar latin performance. It was good, but not my best. Among other things, I was having trouble feeling settled in my shoes, and I think the fatigue from standard the day before also played a role and upset my hormones a little bit (I was a hot flash queen that day).

That said, when it came to the 5-dance scholarship, I just went out and had some fun and worried less about trying to be perfect.

One of the biggest ‘wins’ I experienced overall was random strangers making an effort to tell me how much they enjoyed my dancing–seeking me out specifically in the crowd of competitors I was just on the floor with. For me, that is better than a thousand trophies and it happened after events in both standard and latin.

The biggest challenge I faced over the weekend was blisters. My shoes started out feeling wonderful, but then in the last afternoon event in standard I suddenly felt some pain. The result was 2 blisters on each foot, one on the heel, the other in the arch (which seemed a strange place). I put some blister pads on them for the scholarship and covered those with tap, but they didn’t stay in place. By the time I got to the latin scholarship, I had 11 blisters, all of which had popped, some of which were bleeding. I knew that breaking in new shoes would cause some problems (even old shoes can) and had taken some measures and preparations, but my feet seemed to just ‘give up’ in trying to keep skin. Even duct tape didn’t help. I am doing a lot of feet soaking these days.

My shoes are pretty much broken in now, but I won’t be able to tell until all the blisters heel if adjustments need to be made and where. Despite the blisters, they were more comfortable at the end of the comp. I also had issues with my feet swelling and that didn’t help either.

My latin shoes were the strangest to deal with. I had worked with them before I left and they felt fine. But at the comp the heel of my foot kept sliding out and I had a hard time getting the strap tight enough to hold it in place.  I am going to have to revisit them. I am wondering if they are too short in the end even though they are the same size as my last ones–but with a lower heel.

Hopefully in about 2 weeks I can do a good assessment with fresh feet.

The final ‘snag’ in the competition happened at the end of the standard rounds (and thankfully the end!). My dress is stretch velvet and when I am sweaty can be difficult to get the sleeves off.  I friend was helping me and when she pulled the arm I heard a ripping sound! Unfortunately, the dress tore just under the right arm, in the fabric just adjacent to the seam. Because the tear is in the fabric, I don’t know if it can be repairable without being too visible. It may be the end for that dress….an expensive tear!

In all, I am very proud of myself and how I danced this weekend–even latin. I wanted to be able to get through all my dances strongly, which I did, do well in standard (because of the focus we have been giving it), and enjoy dancing in latin. I achieved that. I know Boss is especially happy with the standard and we haven’t had a chance to discuss latin although we know there were challenges there.

The biggest achievement from the competition was being able to feel myself staying strong, and it has given us lots of feedback for the future 🙂

We should be sitting down to discuss the plan for the future over the next couple days, but mainly I am taking it easy right now. The exception, of course was that I had 3 coaching lessons with a standard coach yesterday that were a lot of fun and able to build on the competition. I will write about that shortly.

I will also write a review of the competition for those who might be interested in competing there some day. I would definitely recommend it and I think we are already making plans to return!

Achievement unlocked: Compete strong during recovery!

Disappointing myself

I am not, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I am.

It’s been a rough week for me.

My hormones started acting up on the weekend, giving me vivid and disturbing dreams and effecting my sleep. That made me tired overall. Coupled with that, this week has been ‘hot flash’-a-palooza with hot flashing coming 2-3 an hour–something else that has been sapping my energy. The amount I am sweating makes it hard to stay hydrated and that leaves me with a headache that won’t seem to go away.

All of that drain on my system has left me emotional, unfocused, unable to concentrate and unmotivated. Not to mention exhausted. It’s been a bad combination when the last thing I do every day is dance, since work gets first crack at my energy (and it has been using a lot of it).

It’s meant very difficult lessons, especially Wednesday and last night–to the point where I feel they have been pretty much unproductive.

I did start feeling a bit better yesterday and I slept much better Wednesday night, but work on Thursday literally had me running all over the place. It would have been an exhausting day for anyone.

Backing up a little, Monday’s lesson seemed to go ok. We worked on some pieces in foxtrot and waltz that needed cleaning and we did 7 rounds of Viennese Waltz. We actually worked on improving VW as we were doing it, focusing on fixing the sway, amount of travel, rotation and other things. Even though I was tiring, the way I was doing the dance seemed to improve throughout the lesson. I left the lesson feeling things clicking into place–not just in VW but for other standard dances.

Wednesday, we started out with a discussion about future competitions because I had noticed something (will elaborate in my next post) that warranted considering a change in approach after this competition coming up.

After that, we looked at latin, beginning with adding a piece to our cha cha so it is a bit longer. We managed to get the piece worked out, but my mind and my body were not quite communicating. We would work on a step and Boss would show me how to do it, but my body just refused to do it. I just left it for something for me to work on myself. After that, we had to look at another piece where our arm styling didn’t quite match because Boss wanted to do a hold for a bar, but I hadn’t planned for it so we kept missing it.

Then Boss told me he didn’t like the styling I was doing on one of the steps just before that piece and that hit me hard. I had spent more than 30 mins in a practice trying to figure out something to do for that step that wasn’t just me flapping my arms around, and I had been working on that styling for more than a month. Boss showed me some options for what he would prefer and honestly, I hated them all. They were too busy–exactly what I had been trying to avoid–and his main point was he didn’t want me holding my hands in one position. I spent another 30 mins during practice trying to come up with an option somewhere between and still have nothing.

The whole thing really shouldn’t be so difficult to fix, but it made me really upset and now I have no idea what to do.

After that, we worked out a section of paso where our arms weren’t matching and that went ok, except now coming out of that section I keep doing something strange (funny how arms can mess up the feet!). That I should be able to work out.

We ended the lesson working on a step in paso called ‘the twists’. I had thought I was actually doing pretty good on this step, but apparently I am not really. We didn’t get much time to focus on it.

I stayed for practice after, but other than trying to work out the cha cha hands (which I didn’t want to do, and seemed to just be spinning my wheels over), I couldn’t seem to find a single thing I wanted to work on. So, I did a lot of nothing. I worked over the beginning of the cha cha, reviewed the hands for paso and stood around a lot trying to figure out what to do. I just felt frustrated in general with my lack of focus and that upset me more, and I felt like my lesson hadn’t been very productive and then it was followed by an even less productive practice.

Thursday got even worse. As I said, I felt better Thursday morning, but by the end of my work day I could feel I was exhausted. I seriously considered canceling my lesson that night and just going to bed, but with Wednesday’s lesson being so bad, and only so many lessons until the competition, I figured that going and doing something would be better than skipping and doing nothing.

I am pretty sure I was wrong about that.

I could feel my mind being unfocused and scattered before I arrived. We started with a follow-up to our conversation on Wednesday, and that led to Boss telling me that during our VW rounds on Monday, while I started out better, I was tiring much quicker than during the previous week and the rounds practice on Sunday, and that I had to find a way to do better.

I was a little surprised because I had thought that overall the rounds had gone better on Monday and that I had been stronger. I know I was putting everything I had into them. It wasn’t a good way to start a lesson that would include more intervals.

Then the real problems started. we went back to working on the twists in paso and trying to get me to do all the movements I need to do. It was a disaster. Boss would tell me what I needed to do, I would agree, we would do it and nothing would happen. So he kept asking for more. I would try to do more. And nothing would happen. No matter what I tried to do, my body absolutely would not respond to what I was asking. Even simple things like keeping my head out or stepping on a straight leg–nope, wasn’t happening.

I just kept getting more and more upset the more we worked on it and Boss kept getting more frustrated because nothing was happening. Eventually, we just left it.

Then we went to start the VW intervals. Before we even started my mind was screaming it was a terrible idea. But I really wanted to try and do something productive in my lesson.

It was a huge mistake. My body stopped working after about 15 seconds. My mind shut down after 30s. At 45s, there was really no reason to continue, and I truly think that if I had finished the entire 1:30 round I would have collapsed. I literally felt myself shut down.

I was devastated. I had to leave the hall to collect myself because at that point I felt like a complete failure. My main goal for myself before this competition is to increase my endurance so I can get through a 5-dance event. And I can’t even do the exercises needed to begin to address that.

I was honestly ready to just go home, even though there was still 30 mins left to my lesson.

I stayed, and we worked on reviewing the cha cha and working out the new piece a bit better, and a step in jive, spanish arms, I had been struggling with. By the time we finished, the spanish arms seemed to be in a better place, but again I kept being unable to do what Boss was asking me.

Needless to say, I didn’t stay for the group class, and went to bed early last night.

I am hoping that writing out some of my frustrations will help settle me down. I have a lesson again tonight and I want to get through the VW rounds. I want to do something productive in my lesson and be able to work like I usually do.

I just don’t know if my mind and body are going to cooperate for that today.

I don’t work today, so that will help and I slept about 10 hours last night. I seem to be having less hot flashes today, although it is still early. I was going to practice at the hall today, but a big part of me is still saying ‘practice what?’ Even running through all my routines wouldn’t feel very productive right now.

So I am going to just do my lesson and see how it goes. If I am going to get anywhere close to being ready for this comp in 3 weeks, I need to get past this training hump and wall. I need to chalk this up to a bad week and move on.

Next week will be a bit disjointed. I am traveling for work, so I will have lessons with Boss only on Monday and Friday. I won’t have rounds practice on the weekend either as I will be away visiting a friend for Thanksgiving. Perhaps the break is what I need.

I think the thing that is disappointing me the most right now is that I was getting back into ‘full training mode’ and feeling really really good about it and this week is a huge set back from that. And I feel powerless to do anything about it. I try to push myself like I used to and instead of responding, my body shuts down. I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s worse because my mind seems to be shutting down with it, leaving me with nothing to even fall back on.

I am also concerned (and pretty much suspect) that Boss will decide it is all too much and start scaling back everything we are doing. I don’t want to do that as I need my body to adjust and get used to doing more.

I think that is one of the biggest issues. It’s been 2 weeks since there was a significant change in my activity levels (both work and dance), and it feels like I am sitting on an edge with a choice–I can retreat (which feels like giving in), or I can keep pushing and force myself to adjust. I think while I was sick, I gave in too much and my body and mind expects that.

As I said in a previous post–usually only the first two weeks suck. Well, this is week 2 and my body has pretty much thrown in every wrench it can think of to get me to back down.

And it is the fact that I am considering doing so that is disappointing me. Because that would be giving up.

And I know I am stronger than that.

Bending the knee

It seems Jon Snow is not the only one reluctant to do this…

We were working on quickstep tonight (which for some reason seems like something I haven’t done in two years), and after starting with some clarification in the fishtail, we moved on to the hover corte, which is a new step for me in my gold routine.

Ever have a night where it seems like your mind and body just won’t work together?

That was me tonight. My mind understood (for the most part) what I needed to do, but my body just could not figure out how to consistently make it happen. That said, I am hopeful that it will be one of those things that once my mind has an opportunity to sleep on it (literally), it will process the information and start working out.

The root of the problem though seems to stem some from my knees, particularly my right knee.

As I have mentioned before, knee issues and knee pain have been an on-going thing for me since before cancer.  I tend towards patella femoral syndrome, which is an issue that takes a lot of time and strengthening to work out.  After 6 weeks off of activity, my knees were feeling pretty good, but of course returning to activity has caused them to flare up some (which I was told to expect). My right knee tends to be the instigator, and my left joins in when it has to compensate.

So what does this have to do with dance?

When my knees get sore, my mind starts to unconsciously compensate by avoiding bending them, and in particular by avoiding allowing me to put my weight on one of them at a time while bent.  It also knows that I tend to be more unstable when standing on a bent right leg.

Particularly in standard, I had been working on moving with bent legs through all my steps and to break myself of the habit of step on mostly straight legs. Part of it is a strength issue, the other is simply breaking habits and giving myself the permission to keep my legs bent. Stepping on a straight leg was one of the biggest issues tonight. What’s interesting, is that it was an issue almost always only when stepping on the right leg and having to rise.

Exactly what my body like to avoid doing.

I had a bit of a thought after I got home tonight and did an experiment that brought interesting results.  One of the things Boss seemed to be pointing out was that I had a reluctance to move my weight completely over my right leg when I know I will be changing direction, preferring to keep my weight more to left, and particularly to tend to thrust my right hip out to the side.

So, when I got home, I tried comparing what happens when I balance on each leg with a bent knee.  The result? I am quite stable and comfortable standing on a bent left knee, and it feels perfectly natural to do so without any help from my hip.  Standing on a bent right knee is a bit of a disaster.  I have to almost consciously think to keep my hip from falling out, and I can feel my foot moving back and forth to try to keep the balance.  I can also stand for a prolonged time on my left, but after 10 seconds on my right, I can feel my hip start to tire.

Well, that tells me where my body needs some concentrated work, beginning with just building endurance for standing on a bent right knee.

It’s an exercise I remember doing at some point 2-3 years ago.

I don’t know if that will help directly with dance (it can’t hurt, I suppose), but on top of that I will have to start forcing my mind to pay attention to how I am stepping on my right in standard–especially in pivoting or rising steps to start breaking my current habit and helping my body rebuild it’s strength.

Speaking of building strength, I have started doing 15 mins of body weight exercises at home every other day, mostly to help my knees (they are all exercises I was doing on direction from my trainer and physio before the surgery). Them plus pushups against the wall seem to be a good place to start with some strength training.

I also stayed to do some practice after my lesson tonight, although I compromised with myself and limited it to 30 minutes just to review my latin routines and some of the hand work I did last week. I also took some time to work on my traveling spins in paso and keeping my elbow in front of me, which was the second half of my lesson on Monday (natural rolls in samba was the first half). I couldn’t do quite as much as I wanted as I was feeling a bit light-headed and getting dizzy, so I erred on the side of caution and stopped spinning when my balance stopped cooperating.

I am finding myself a little more tired this week, but as my body is still adjusting to the stopping of the anti-depressants, and the return to work, its not unusual.  I also had a bit of a harder time sleeping Monday and Tuesday night with a sudden heat wave.  Since it cooled off today, I hope to sleep better tonight.

Speaking of sleep, over the next couple weeks I will be working on reducing the dose of my insomnia medication, another positive step. The reduction is in my control, but it seems that I am reaching the point where it will be possible, since a lot of the insomnia increasing medications are out of my system now. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

A lot of positive things going on, and thankfully nothing unexpected coming up (knock on wood!). There are a lot of gradual increases and I am keeping an eye on things as I go along.

8 Weeks until the competition. At this point, I am not too sure about how the preparation will go.  It seems like we are not quite covering as much in my lessons as Boss hopes, although I am optimistic it will pick up momentum once we get some of the major issues cleared up and out of the way.  Other than endurance in general (which is going to be an issue for some time), there is really only one routine I am completely unsure of (quickstep), one routine I lack some confidence in (especially in my ability to do it at full speed, paso), and a few routines with the odd step I am not sure about.  Its really not a bad place to be considering its been a week since I have started back to activity.

Overall, I am doing good. Looking forward to moving further on this path.

Lots to be optimistic about!

Back on the Floor!

Yes, finally!!

I was cleared to return to all activities yesterday, and I celebrated by having a lesson. 9 weeks until the competition, so a lot of work to do.

The lesson last night was very interesting and telling.

It ended up being later in the evening than I usually have a lesson and I was worried I would be too tired, but I was so anxious to get back on the floor I pushed it aside.

It was good that I did.

The start of the lesson was really really rough. We were working on standard since I have a couple coaching lessons this week and we started by reviewing and walking through our gold routines. I really felt like a wet blanket with no strength, and my mind was racing in about 50 different directions as my body tried to figure out what was going on. By the time we finished walking through the quickstep, I was honestly feeling quite panicked, and really couldn’t figure out what was going on.

We took a bit of a break before looking at specific parts of the routines that we will focus on for the coaching.

It turned out that break was what my mind needed to reconnect with my body and to trust that my body knew and was capable of doing what it needed.

After that, it was like the weight I have been carrying on my shoulders for the last 6 months disappeared. I felt my mind relax and organize itself, and as Boss and I prepared to work through one segment of our waltz, everything just came back together.

Actually, it came together better than it has in a longer time than I can remember.

It was like I needed the rough start for my mind to assess the state of my body and once it decided that all the movements were ok, it gave permission.  I could use my full strength and power, was able to move into full hold and to follow what Boss was doing. By the end of the lesson we were even traveling significantly more down the floor than we have in a very long time.

The best way I can describe the feeling is to say I felt free and free to dance. There wasn’t anything holding me back anymore–no hormone issues, no depression, no muscle weakness, no fuzzy head, and no fatigue.

In fact, I felt more energized after the lesson than I was before it–something that hasn’t happened since before I was diagnosed. I had honestly forgotten what that feels like.

I was able to ask my body to do things, and it responded–usually better than I expected, and much more than I have become used to.

Needless to say, I was pretty shocked and overwhelmed. I found confidence in my movement that had been missing for a very long time.

Aside from completely surprising myself, Boss seemed to be completely over the moon. I don’t think he has said he was pleased so many times in a lesson before. Considering how my previous recoveries and issues with treatments have gone, I can’t blame him–this ‘comeback’ is in a class by itself. He commented that I was dancing better than he was prepared for.

A lot of pieces that were only just swirling around in pieces before my surgery seemed to click into place while I was recovering. It’s a testament to how even when you have to take a break physically, mentally your mind may still be working. I could almost feel them all fall into place.

Of course, that’s not to say that everything was easy. It has been 6 weeks since I have really done any activity except light walking in the last 2 weeks. I was getting winded easy, and my pulse was racing. I could feel how out of shape and out of conditioning I am. It’s going to take a lot of work to get that moving forward again. While I could do full power in short segments, I know that attempting even one full routine at that power would be pretty draining. Overall, the lesson was fantastically terrible–a lot of success mixed with hard work that demonstrates there is a lot more to be done.

But its baby steps. The foundation is there. I achieve beyond my own goal in that lesson, in that after the initial ‘trial’, I was able to push myself fully through the rest of the lesson without giving up. While this lesson was hard, the next will be a little easier and I will be able to push longer and further.

It’s like remembering something from childhood–I know I used to be able to do it, but the details are fuzzy.

They are becoming more clear now.

I feel much more optimistic about the coaching on Wednesday, and my ability to get through 2 45 min lessons. The last time this coach was here, the work with him triggered a few things falling into place in standard that had been eluding me, and I am hopeful at something similar may be possible this time too. We (and by ‘we’, I mean Boss) have a good plan for things to work on, and if it is even remotely similar to last night, it’s going to be fun.

Fun. There’s a word I haven’t used in relation to dance in a long time. It feels good. Fun.

After last night’s lesson, I expected to wake up sore, especially in the surgical area, and completely tired and drained today from so much effort last night.

In another surprise, I woke up with tons of energy after sleeping better than I have in quite some time, and while I am moderately sore in the muscles I haven’t used in a long time, my belly and abdomen feel the same as they did before the lesson yesterday.

I am sooooo pleased to not have adverse after-effects! (I was pretty worried).

I expect my upper back, shoulder and leg muscles will be a little more sore tomorrow, but nothing unusual.

As a bonus to all of this, my doctor and I decided this morning to stop the anti-depressants, and see how it goes. The last 3 days I have been feeling symptoms of being over medicated again, and since I am on the lowest dose now, the next step is to stop and see how I feel in 2 weeks once my system has adjusted.  I can always go back if I need them. It’s the last of the medications I had to take to counter-act side effects of the hormone therapy.

In fact, I am now officially back to taking only the medications I was taking before I was diagnosed (actually one less, since one was a hormone supplement), one for insomnia, one for allergies. It’s another way to feel free.

Something else I haven’t mentioned which may be contributing to the increase in energy I am having–since the surgery I have lost 10 of the 40 lbs I gained during treatment, with only small diet changes on my part. Finally, it seems my body is ready to get fit again. It’s something I will need to stay on top of, but it’s the first real weight progress I have seen in over a year, and I finally feel motivated again to keep focusing on it.

In a lot of ways, my life is finally starting to resemble what it was pre-cancer, and I hope the momentum I now have continues to keep me moving forward. I am back to work next week, and looking forward to it. I have almost finished the 5th course for my masters.

And now I feel like I am ready and capable of getting back to fully dancing again.

Even more, I feel like I can really hope again.

It’s been a long time coming.

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…