Finishing touches

I spent a big part of my lesson learning how to bow today.

It seems so simple. Don’t we all learn it as a kid? Well, apparently not dancesport style.

As we get closer to the performance on Saturday it is time to sort out these little details. The routines we are doing are meant for competition, but this is going to be a bit of a show.

Among other things, we had to figure out what to do for an opening and closing. We kept it simple in the end, but I think it will work. As I said, the trickiest part was sorting out how to make the bow works.

Other than that the main focus was on running through the routines and cleaning up a few areas that needed a little more work.

One of the things we had to do was sort out how I was responding to the lead in a few places. Especially when the lead is on my right side, I have a tendency to lock up and restrict my movement, which then makes is really difficult for Boss to lead me through steps, especially if I have to turn anywhere.

It took some experimenting, but in the end what worked was just relaxing in some spots and letting my arm go, and in others moving to the step when I felt the lead. It will work for now, and I am sure there are other spots we need to work out.

The routines are not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they will still look good and be passable. Considering this is the first time we will dance them, I feel pretty good about where they are right now.

I think Boss is pretty happy with them too. He was saying today that on Wednesday he plans to do some work on the other routines as we want to record them before I head to Ottawa at the beginning of the month.

The next two weeks are going to be pretty crazy, but I am just taking it one day at a time and looking forward to the performance this weekend.

Until then, its the finishing touches to build on the foundation we have.

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Preparing to perform

So it appears we will be performing in two weeks.

We are focusing on latin and we will do the cha cha routine for sure, but we are also working on the rumba and will probably do that as well.

It’s a showcase for another local studio that Boss’s studio has been invited to participate in. It presented an opportunity for us to perform just before I leave for the rest of the fall, and gives us a goal for getting two routines ready to perform.

It just makes sense, especially since other than a really brief and quick demonstration back in July we haven’t done any competing or performing since last October.

Both routines are actually not in bad shape right now.

The cha cha we are able to get through in time with slow music and the medium music has only a couple of bumps but doesn’t completely fall apart. Since the last time we ran it in full, we have worked out almost all of the bumps, and most of the styling. In the end, the routine has only two major spots where arm styling is a concern and I have been working on them pretty hard.

The big thing we have been focusing on in the cha cha is the lead and follow as that is key to getting the turns on time and executing quite a few of the steps. It’s actually pretty together right now, but needs some polishing and running through a few more times to hopefully lock it down.

I have actually really enjoyed the concentrated focus on the cha cha routine to pull it together and it confirms for me that agreeing to do the performance has been the right thing to do to move some of the routines to the next level before I leave.

We started digging into the rumba on Monday. It’s actually also not in a bad place, but it also has a few bumps to iron out and we really need to go over the styling in detail. We ironed out one of the biggest bumps in the middle of the routine yesterday, taking the whole lesson, but it was time well spent as we were able to go through that section in time with the music several times.

The key to the rumba right now seems to be the timing. Its tricky because it varies quite a bit and there are holds and pauses for development – some of which are one bar, some are two. The trick is remembering how long to develop at what part.

The styling will also be tricky, especially some of the transitional pieces. I already accidentally clobbered Boss in the face yesterday in a combination of not getting my arm high enough and him having his head a little forward. Some of the hold changes are also tricky.

One of my biggest concerns about the styling is that I am not very good at developing some of the lines and some of them need a lot of very specific movements I just can’t seem to make work for me. One of the key parts of the routine has me do a double turn to roll-out into a side lunge stretching away from Boss. When I hit the lunge, I need to make sure I have reconnected with Boss after turning on my own and after I stretch away I am supposed to melt.

I don’t melt very well. I really think we need to considering another way of styling that step, whether it is to stretch it a little longer and then turn in for the transition which is to a pivot to a lunge done together. I hope it is something we look at a bit closer very soon. I know I can do a good stretch because we have done one in a previous showcase routine.

For both routines, it really is about polishing right now, minus a couple of timing and step bumps to work out. For the cha cha, I need to make sure I add more power and speed to my turns, and the rumba is about the timing and not rushing. I don’t feel relaxed about performing, but I am not feeling overly stressed about either routine not being ready.

At least not yet. We will see how I feel in a couple weeks.

The focus on latin and the details has really been interesting over the last week. I’ve really enjoyed what we have been doing and actually been surprised at how things have come together. I feel really good about the work we have done and while I know neither routine will go perfectly, I am starting to look forward to performing. I have missed it more than I realized.

More prep to go.

And suddenly…

Things are making a lot of sense.

Somewhere between my last lesson and the lesson tonight a few things clicked together. The surprising thing is that it is not so much specific elements that has clicked together but more a realization and understanding of the level I am able to work at and that it is much higher than I give myself credit for.

I am not quite sure what triggered this but it seems to be a good thing. My mind has really zeroed in on pulling together a lot of details, processed them and been able to execute them all together.

There was just something about tonight’s lesson that seemed to come together. We weren’t doing anything different from what we usually did, but it just seemed to work much easier. Less time reviewing things and I was picking up the concepts and making the adjustments faster than I expected.

We were focusing on standard tonight, specifically two sequences of steps in waltz and foxtrot that have a lot of similarities. Both end with a lunge, but the entrance to and out of it is different, as is the sway going into the lunge.

It’s really a variation on a theme, but there are enough subtle differences that my mind needs to stay engaged. The nice thing as we moved through each of the sequences is that Boss would give some little directions for improvement and I was able to just incorporate them.

In the end, it was a really productive lesson that just seemed to flow. It was hard work, but it was paying off. We ended with the samba conditioning and while I was certainly tired, it also just seemed a little more refined and put together tonight.

At my last lesson, Boss asked me which latin dance I would prefer for a new sequence for conditioning – cha cha or jive. I originally said cha cha, thinking it might be more technical, but once I thought about it, jive made the most sense. I do the conditioning sequence in time with the music, and it is usually something from one of my routines.

Of all the routines, jive is going to be the trickiest to get up to speed. So, if I work on elements from the routine during conditioning in time with the music then my confidence will also go up in the steps. It’s also quite the cardio workout, there is no denying that!

I think I needed this small breakthrough this week as I had been feeling a bit complacent about dance – although perhaps that isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more that I have been feeling like I have been treading water and a little stagnant. It’s not only dance where I had been feeling that way, but a couple of changes seems to have made a big difference overall.

I also had a really productive weekend and cross a lot of things off my ‘to do’ list which has taken some loads off my mind.

It’s interesting how little changes can have big impacts.

A Demonstration

I performed a demonstration with Boss last night at a charity fund-raiser.

We did a waltz routine which he choreographed on Wednesday and taught to me an hour before the event started.

The floors at the hall were a type of rubber and not wood, so needless to say they weren’t the easiest to dance on. Because of that, and a small space we were able to keep our dancing compact and the routine included a lot of line figures.

It went really well and seemed to be really well received. We were one of 5 couples doing demonstrations of different styles of partnered dancing (ballroom, west coast swing, blues, salsa, and fusion) to demonstrate how connection works through dancing, the theme of the fundraiser.

Doing the demonstration was fun, but it made me realize that I actually don’t remember the last time I performed (other than the competition last year), and what surprised me more was that I missed it.

Even though it was more or less a low-key demonstration it was fun and nice to go out and connect with an audience and share dance with them.

Aside from the demonstration, it was also fulfilling to learn a routine with some advanced steps in an hour and be able to perform it later that evening at a high level. I think that speaks to and gives insight and confirmation for myself just how much I have grown, even since my last competition.

It was a boost I needed after an insane week at work that involved pants publicly splitting, needing antibiotics, and watching my workload surge to the point I will need a couple hours this weekend to catch up and get back on track.

It also got the wheels turning in my head on the assignments for my current school course which I also desperately needed.

All that from a simple demonstration.

The little things

Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge the little things.

I had a good practice today minus one instance where I tripped over my own heel and fell into a somersault (that’s what I get for trying to be as compact as possible in cha cha!).

In many ways I needed a day like today to just relieve a bit of stress and give myself a bit of a boost.

The last couple weeks have been difficult for me in general. Work as always is busy, but more so than that is the on-going issues with my neck and shoulders. I have been taking muscle relaxants at night to try to calm them down some so they can strengthen and heal and for the most part it is helping.

But the side effects is not. The muscle relaxants leave me cloudy and exhausted. My body has a very hard time metabolizing them. It takes about 6 hours for them to take effect (usually it is about 30-45 mins), and worse I still feel the effects 12-16 hours later.

And that’s a half dose.

It’s always been an issue for me with this type of medication, which is why I try to avoid it where possible. Unfortunately, the issues with my neck and shoulder reached a point it could not be ignored. On top of that, if I can’t get the pain under control it will affect the opportunities I am given through work.

Worse than that, I am beginning to wonder if I will have to just live with this for the rest of my life due to the reconstruction I had. It may also be contributed to my new breasts being heavier (even though they are smaller) than my natural breasts. I don’t know what to think.

But back to today.

I stopped taking the muscle relaxants a couple days ago so I am finding I have a little more energy, and it took a little bit of effort to get myself to the studio for practice.

Once I got started though I ended up doing 90 minutes which was 30 more than I expected. I also had one of those days where things I have been struggling with for a while seemed to suddenly come together and work.

I was also able to review 4 of the 5 latin routines and finally quickstep seems to be getting under my feet (if not anywhere else).

It was a day of little victories, which was well needed after almost 2 weeks of struggling to get through full practices and flailing about trying to find a way to focus better on my routines.

One of the things that did come out of this week was also a decision between Boss and I not to compete this fall. If all goes well and I do end up traveling for work I will be away for 7 weeks, including those when we would compete, and the lead up to that travel is stressful enough without adding competing to the mix. So mutually we agreed to look at possibilities for competing again in the new year and go from there.

So today I am hanging on to and celebrating the small victories I have made. I am one more week left in the ballet workshop and in general I can say I am enjoying it, but have noticed the effect 2 extra hours of hard work has had on my energy levels overall (muscle relaxants aside).

This week will definitely be about the little things.

Sway

And so it begins.

In all honesty, I have been secretly hoping that somehow I could just work through standard without having to actually figure out sway.

The problem is actually not with sway itself, I do do it, but it is more with the way to which is it referred in dance — namely ‘left’ and ‘right’.

I am really directionally challenged. Even natural and reverse turns I can’t really associate with the directions they turn. I know one goes one way, and the other goes the other way. One starts with one foot going back and the other starts with the other foot.

It’s just not how my mind works to think of turns. It’s one of the reasons I have so much trouble leaning visually. I can’t seem to translate what I see to what I need to do. Looking in the mirror is even worse.

So today in my lesson we were going through one of the exercises I am doing for standard which we call a continuous hover cross (no idea what others call it). I have been able to work through the footwork and rotations, so today Boss asked me to start adding in the sway.

And so the trouble started.

He showed me what sway I need and where it changes telling me it starts with right sway then changes to left (or vice versa, already can’t remember). What sticks with me is that it starts with my left side up (meaning the elbow I am looking at in closed position), followed by a switch.

I am not quite sure that is what Boss meant. There is some sort of rotation needed for sway, apparently from my knees, but I also know my top line tilts one way or the other. The change of the top line is what I can easily understand and see.

Boss could see my confusion and I couldn’t really explain to him while working through that step what I need to understand and make it work so I can focus on it.

But perhaps I need just some basics to get my mind working to figure out how I can refer to the sway positions that I can then relate to my body position.

The other problem is that I am not even sure how many sway positions there are. Somehow I think there are more than 2.

Somehow, I am going to need to sort this out.

A Review of “The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing”

I have been provided an opportunity from Katie Flasher, AKA The Girl with the Tree Tattoo to read her newest book “The Solo Practice Guide from Ballroom Dancing”.

I am a huge fan of hers and of her previous books in the “Dance Diaries” series, and her newest book is by far her best of the three.

Even though it is essentially a ‘how to’ book, it doesn’t read like one and in addition to the strategies and sharing her own experiences the book includes a number of additional resources including worksheets, calendars and videos. Katie has also created a facebook group which can be joined by purchasers of the book to share their own experiences, tips and insights, as well as get updates on the resource website.

The book is exceptionally well thought out and organized. It’s chapters cover Why, Where,  and What to include in your solo practice as well as sections on supplemental exercises to consider, and overall mindset–some of the psychological barriers and how to overcome them. Each section follows a logical sequence and Katie does an exceptional job of tying all the chapters together and relating them to the resources she provides.

Being someone who does and has been doing solo practice for a number of years now, many of the strategies Katie outlines in her book are almost exactly the same as those I use myself.

The best thing about the strategies are that they are versatile and adaptable for any dancer doing any style. Rather than give a precise syllabus, Katie focuses on providing tools to help a dancer be more organized and consistent in their solo practice so that they can achieve maximum benefit from it. All of the strategies are based on her own experiences which she adeptly weaves throughout the guide.

One of Katie’s biggest recommendations throughout, which I wholeheartedly agree with and also recommend, is to always keep your instructor involved. Even though you are practicing on your own, your instructor’s input is an essential part of the progress.

Whether you are new to dance or new to solo practice or a dancing veteran, anyone can benefit from the information in the guide. Even for myself, there were a couple of new tips and considerations which I will likely incorporate in my own solo practice.

The bottom line for this guide is that if you follow the tips and strategies in contains you can’t go wrong.

You will only improve.

The book is available for pre-order now at https://thegirlwiththetreetattoo.lpages.co/solo-practice-guide-preorders/

An experiment

Ballet.

Yep, for the month of July I am taking adult beginner ballet twice a week.

I have had one class so far and it was interesting. We are starting with covering the basic positions and got to 4th. We did some demi plies and tendues.

I am doing better than I thought I would. The main thing I have to watch is to not let my right foot roll too far forward in some of the positions and put too much pressure on my knees. I actually have a pretty good turnout (on both sides!) which also surprised me. I am very interested to see how this goes.

I decided to try this as Boss has been recommending it for a few years now and finally I found a brief workshop that happened to work with my schedule. It’s a good way to connect with my muscles and use them in a slightly different way, as well as create body awareness in places I have very little and develop some movements that will help, especially with latin.

I love how structured the class is at the school I am working at. Baby steps the entire way, but important steps. Slow and steady. Right up my alley.

There is even potential to continue in the fall, depending on what happens with work and how the rest of the month goes. After all, it been only one lesson.

I just decided I wanted to do something different that scared me a little, and ballet seemed to fit. It’s a challenge and something fresh. So far, a great decision.

I also decided to experiment in another area of dance – a new standard dress working with a new designer. I love all of my competition dresses I have had, but I wanted to get outside the box and little and see what someone new might suggest. I was able to meet with the new designer over the weekend and I am waiting now to see what she has come up with. She has some interesting ideas I would have never considered so I am curious to see how it turns out. Yet another thing that is a bit outside my comfort zone and scares me a little.

I think I need to stretch myself with these things. I have gotten a bit too comfortable lately and while that is not a bad thing by any means it does limit growth. Even in my lessons with Boss there is a bit of a theme of me staying in my comfort zone (especially in standard) when I really need to push myself out of it and start challenging myself a little more. It’s not that what I do is ‘easy’, but I am comfortable with the challenge I have been presented and that I can overcome it without too much time.

I did have a lesson tonight that also surprised me. One of my new exercises is focuses on a sequence of New York variation in cha cha from our open routine. 2 weeks ago Boss gave me a little bit of direction for it, and then left me to work out the rest. I have been working on it in detail trying to focus on the points he mentioned, but I didn’t feel like I fully understood what he was looking for.

It appears I did, for the most part, without even realizing it. What started as an intention to just ‘go through the exercise’, actually turned into being able to work through the entire sequence in detail in time with the music together with Boss. There were a few points to work through in the beginning, but once I figured out what was needed I was able to adjust and adapt and pull the piece together.

It’s a key section of the routine I managed to progress quite a bit in less than two weeks. Now I have further details and adjustments to work on when I do my exercises for the next few weeks, and I know I can do it at speed. A real surprise overall!

The other thing I asked from Boss, now that I am feeling fairly stable with all but 3 of my routines, is some direction for working on them further on my own. I am hoping that will help relieve some of the stagnation and feeling of being unproductive and only focused on steps when I work through routines on my own. I feel like I have pieces here and there were I apply things, but it is quite jumbled and all over the place with no consistency, so essentially I have asked Boss to help me organize my practice better.

Finally, next week I begin a new course for school and this blog will be part of it! For this course I have to write 4 blog posts reflecting on a story in the media related to a sport and it’s impact on society. I am still waiting further details, but the posts will appear here, so stay tuned and thanks for participating in my education!

It looks to be an experimental summer!

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.

Milestone reached

Whew!

I finally started feeling better yesterday (thank goodness!), and along with it came the completion of going through all 9 routines during my lesson yesterday!

It’s been a pretty long road for this. Yesterday we reviewed the end of the Paso and finished the foxtrot meaning I now have the steps for all 9 routines in my head.

Now I just have to finish solidifying my memorization, get the timing down and do about a million other things to get them ready to perform, but minor details 😉 At least I have the ‘working’ knowledge down.

I should be able to work through all the routines on my own now, although admittedly, some are more solid than others (afterall, paso and foxtrot are only a couple days old!).

It still feels like a good milestone to celebrate, although I really have no idea if and/or when we will actually put them on the floor at a competition.

There is still a lot of work to do, but at this point its about building layers on the foundation, rather than trying to build a foundation, and that feels better.

My ‘one week post vacation grace period’ I gave myself ends today, so tomorrow it is fully back at it. Due to some schedule changes in the studio, my practice time for exercises is shifting slightly from MWF to SunWF, and I will be adding a standard technique class on Mondays after my lesson. I will be dancing slightly more than I was before my vacation, but very marginally and I am hoping it won’t cause problems. My intent is to add a little more to what I was doing and see how it goes as the level I was at before seemed to be working well.

I am (or at least should be) home for the entire summer and I am looking forward to it. Besides being home, there are no surgeries, no treatments, not even any medical appointments (except a 6-month follow-up) until the fall. For the first time since 2014 my summer is all mine to work consistently on dance, fitness, school and work.

I also have only 2 more weeks of my current course for school (which is definitely the most intense), and then I am on to two courses which are completely led by me giving much more flexibility.

I am eager to see what improvements I can make with just over 2 months of consistent work.

Time to get started.