A week of coaching

Last week I did seven coaching lessons.

All of them were really interesting and fun. I had two lessons with two different instructors – one a standard lead, the other a latin follow and three with a latin lead.

The latin couple were the ones who choreographed my open latin routines which was an advantage as they were familiar with what I have been working on. We sent them all videos of recent work before I arrived and Boss sent them messages to let them know what he would like me to work on.

I started by working with the standard coach, who was someone I haven’t worked with since my first two years of dancing. Interestingly, he is also working with another of Boss’s students who in working for a year in Ottawa, so he was a little bit familiar with the style of Boss’s students.

Boss had two specific sections of sequences from our waltz and tango he wanted him to look at, so that is what we did. One of the first things he suggested was that we try a more off-set position for standard to see if it had a positive effect. It actually made a big difference in ways I can’t fully describe but it allowed me to travel more and gave me a little more freedom in movement and shaping.

We also talked about thinking of lifting my sternum through my position to connect with my partner at the ribs, and using this to project up through shaping. We also talked about being a little more grounded in my steps and being sure not to rush through them.

Finally, in tango we also talked about position and connecting more through my left arm to the point where we could dance full steps while only maintaining hold on that side. The other interesting thing was to think of resisting against the partner as we move – so if I was moving back, I needed to think of resisting his forward movement through my ribs.

I was really tired and jet-legged when I had those lessons and I was concerned I didn’t retain much from them, but today working with Boss it appears I retained more than I thought to the point I was doing things differently without fully realizing what I was doing.

From there I moved on to Latin coaching. My first lessons were with the lead and they started with him looking at the videos and asking what I would like to work on. I talked about the state of all the routines and mentioned that paso was probably the roughest. So paso was what we worked on.

At the end of the first two lessons, we had gone through the first half of the routine in detail and cleaned and adjusted parts as needed. We talked a lot about position and the use of the knees and forward pelvis. We also found a lot of steps in paso which I have a natural tendency to turn into standard so we worked on identifying and fixing those sections. He also made some small adjustments to the choreography so it worked better for me. We were able to record the first half together for Boss.

At the end of the second lesson we took 10 minutes to look at the samba and he identified 3 steps that needed a little more clarification. That was a fast and furious section, and I am not sure I completely got all the steps down in the end, but I have an idea how to adjust.

My final lesson with him was focused on cha cha and twisting was the name of the game. We took one section of the routine and worked on getting me to twist more and to separate the twisting from the rest of my body movement. From there we looked at some specific steps (like swivels) and cleaned up one section of the routine which was a bit messy. We were able to record that section to make it more clear for Boss.

My other lessons were with the latin follow and they were focused on styling, and some technical exercises for lead/follow and using the ankles to help travel. The interesting thing about those lessons was that we talked about 4 different hip levels and how to use them, as well as a breakdown of the aims/goals of styling in each style, which are all different. I got some really good exercises out of those lessons, especially focused on styling.

I have had two lessons now with Boss since I got back and they have been focused on going over what I did with the coaches and developing a program for practice while I am away. I have a bunch of new exercises from all three coaches so I want to incorporate them into my work while I am away.

I will talk more about those preparations tomorrow.

Once a year I get this opportunity to work with these coaches and its always been a really positive experience. I hope the future presents more opportunities for us to work together again.

But for now, a week of coaching is a valuable experience.

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Seeing Standard Come Together

We recorded some videos yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Routine Test

At least an informal one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another test of routines.

The beginning of paso

That’s right, we started on the last latin routine last night.

We started by going through the Waltz and tango so they could be recorded. They went ok in the end, although I forgot an entire short line in the waltz so I am sure that doesn’t look quite so good. Due to technical issues we have to record the tango again. It was a little strange as due to the hall size and how much we can travel we had to start and stop some, but I think the intent was fulfilled.

We then reviewed the jive and began working through it looking at the lead/follow. It was pretty interesting as all the pieces were starting to come together and pieces of it are with the music. That’s quite the progress considering even a week ago I couldn’t quite remember the last section. I finally feel pretty confident in the sequence and I am looking forward to working on it more.

One other thing that happened last night was that during my practice I ran into an interesting problem — in three of my exercises, two in rumba and one in cha cha, I found myself getting frustrated because I couldn’t keep the exercises with the music. The reason — I was moving too fast. It took me a bit of work to slow myself down and use the time to move through the technique instead of just moving the feet to the next beat. It’s actually a really good problem to have.

And then there was paso. We had a general conversation about the styling in paso (hips forward, arm movements from the lats), and then dove into the sequence for the routine. The beginning is probably the most complicated part and we were able to work through it more or less until about 4 or 5 phrases in.

My mind just wants to completely focus on the footwork — whether I should be stepping with straight legs, or on heels or toes — and it is getting in my way right now.

That said, we seemed to be working through it faster than I expected and with a little luck we should be able to get through to the end of the first part in my next lesson tomorrow, which is also my last before I leave.

Well, that is enough procrastinating on school work, so I need to get my paper written to try to relieve some of this stress and so I can get a little excited about my upcoming cruise!

More Paso to follow…

Pulling it all together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quickstep on the other hand…

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

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

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

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

Digging in

We are starting to blend working on steps with technique.

I had a lesson Thursday night which was a bit of a hybrid.

First, we worked on the jive and adding another small section for me to work on while I am away. If all goes well, I should be able to have it down so I can learn the final piece when I get back, leaving only Paso and Foxtrot to learn.

Once we had gone through the new section a couple times, Boss decided to try the jive with slow music (almost half speed) and see how it went.

It actually went well, and better than he expected. It certainly went better than I expected!

Actually, once it was put in context with Boss it made a lot more sense than what I have been working on. There was one spot I wasn’t doing right (it’s much easier than my version–whew!!), and one spot that I couldn’t quite get to in the timing, but even Boss remarked that he wasn’t quite ready for me to have the steps down as well as I did.

And, it’s actually quite a fun little routine. I can’t wait to try it a little faster, but I am nervous about it at the same time.

The second half of the lesson was focused on one of the promenade footwork pieces in tango.

We have worked on it before, but we were working on my position and tightening it up a bit and making it look sharper. Promenade position continues to be a bit of an achilles heel for me, but it seemed like I made a little bit of progress.

One of the more difficult things I am struggling with right now is best described as trying to balance as a couple vs balancing on my own. It requires me to keep my energy and position forward into Boss so that he can do the same to find a point where we more or less balance against each other.

I always feel like I am going to push Boss over (which is actually more or less what I am supposed to feel like). It’s still a bit of trial and error though because there is such a small window where it isn’t too forward or too back.

In the tango, there is one piece in the sequence we were working on that it is crucial we do this or one or both of us will lose our balance. By the end of the lesson I seemed to have gotten more consistent with finding it, but I could still feel the doubt in my mind every time we worked through that section. I am sure it will come with time and confidence.

At the end of the lesson, one of the other students recorded the sequence of us doing it in time with regular tempo music. I was pretty surprised at how it looked. The sharpness really stood out, and there was only one place where I have to have a look at my timing as my feet were quite out-of-sync with Boss. Overall, that is going to be a pretty impressive section in our routine.

Digging into a couple sections in my routines really went a long way to helping me feel more productive in my work and helping me to understand a bit more of the context to the full routine rather than just my part. It’s funny because a lot of the things we have worked on are coming out when we dance together, often without me realizing it (or Boss sometimes), which is a pleasant surprise.

When I get back from my work trip next week, Boss told me we are going to start digging even more into the routines as we finish up going over the steps for the 2 we haven’t looked at yet and I am looking forward to that. I have 7 lessons between when I return from this trip and when I leave for my next just after the long weekend in May. I hope that I will be able to get the sequence of steps for all 9 routines down enough that I can keep working through them while I am away.

After that second trip, I should be here all summer and I am looking forward to it. I just realized it is the first summer since I was diagnosed where I am not on any therapies, not recovering from any surgeries, and not biding time waiting for a surgery. It’s the first summer that is completely my own. What a concept!!

It should leave lots of time for digging before the fall.

Noticing changes

And good ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another one of the little changes.

Jive frustrations

But first something positive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is jive…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Square One

But in a good way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting side effect

Something interesting happened tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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