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.

Advertisements

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.

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 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.

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.

Heatwave!

My car registered a temperature of 28 degrees (C) outside today.

That is incredibly warm for where I live, even in the summer.

Not being used to the heat, practice and my lesson tonight was incredibly hard. It was like the heat was just draining the energy from me. I even cut my practice a bit short to make sure I had enough energy for my lesson afterwards.

It’s amazing how much such a rapid change in temperature can affect things. Because it was such a quick change, there has been no time to adapt to it.

Despite the heat, my lesson went well. We were revisiting the end of the jive again as we went through it yesterday to finish it up, but there were large chunks that just didn’t stick for me.

It’s always that way for jive it seems. Slowly, piece by piece it will come together. I hope to have it down before I leave for the cruise next week.

Oh, did I mention I am going on a 2 week cruise with my mother and sister? We leave on Wednesday the 23rd and we are going to Northern Britain, Norway, Scotland and Iceland. It should be an interesting and great time, but I also hope to be able to keep up some with my practice and workouts. We are at sea almost every other day, so it will give me something to do.

Following the jive, we went through the rumba together and Boss clarified some points. One of the most interesting discoveries was that some of the work we have done on lead/follow were starting to be incorporated into almost all the steps. It was even a little bit evident in the jive.

What was nice was that I could feel my mind working through things and processing and looking for the right way to apply the lead/follow. That was interesting progress.

We ended by breaking down and looking at the beginning of our waltz, working through it in detail to give me some focus when while I am practicing on my own.

We were going to do conditioning tonight, but with the heat, it just didn’t seem like a good idea. I, for one, was certainly struggling, so we kept working on the waltz.

It’s not likely the heat will end anytime soon, but with some luck I should be able to adapt to it over the next couple days. My main task before my next lesson is to try and work through the jive to get all the steps into my brain so we can move on to the paso.

That’s a different type of heat.

Almost got the steps

But I admit to being a little concerned about everything else.

I am getting closer to having the steps down in 6 of the 9 routines. The jive is much more solid and coming. Today during my lesson we finished going through the quickstep and the waltz. I really hope they stick.

But while the steps are slowly coming together, a lot of the routine are obviously lacking the technique needed to pull them off. The worse is jive by far, but I have strange moments when working on samba that it is pretty obvious there are pieces missing.

It’s understandable as the focus has been on the routines and getting the steps down, although there have been some areas of technique we have looked at, especially in latin.

I don’t think I am completely without any technique or anything like that, but I have reached a point in a few of the routines where I can tell I should be doing more and I find myself trying to figure out how to do it.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, when working in cha cha, I can feel myself starting to focus a little more on the turns because as I speed it up I have to work harder to execute them. Some of it is triggering things I feel I used to know, like using my ribs to make the turn happen, but I don’t know if that is just something I do, or if it is something I should do.

One thing we have been focusing on lately is twisting of the hips. I feel like there is a little bit of a disconnect there for me because I have been asked to do it, but we have never discussed how to do it and I feel like I do it differently every time. I also feel like because I am figuring it out, I am also limiting myself because I don’t want to do it wrong.

In standard, I find myself questioning how I am rotating almost constantly. Because we were working on that some in the new year, I am cognizant of it, but it’s enough that I spend almost every step wondering if I am rotating wrong.

All this to say I hope the technique, or a review of the technique catches up soon. Some of the routines I can’t even imagine doing slow with the music right now, let along at full speed and with Boss. Quickstep and Jive are at the top of those lists. I am sure they will come though.

Next week is going to be a challenge. I am working crazy hours teaching for work and I don’t know if I will even be able to make it to 2 of my lessons. I am hoping to be able to mitigate things as best I can, but the entire week is going to be a bit exhausting. Following that, I am working on the east coast of Canada for another week.

I can’t help but feel like there are going to be some missed opportunities and that until I return in June my lessons are going to be a lot of review (mostly because there is not any time to develop new concepts — which is completely fair).

It’s just left me feeling like I need to scramble some, and I really can’t explain why. Perhaps it is simply that I don’t want all the travel in May to set me back like I felt happened with the travel in March and April.

Regardless, I am determined to get the steps for these routines down and feel comfortable with them so we can start focusing on the technique and really move them forward. It’s been a big jump to do these open routines, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The summer is going to be telling in many ways.

After the steps, time for the next layer.

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.