A Return to Strength

Thursday is supposed to be strength day, but it’s usually extra rest day because I never 20171207_181216.jpgwant to do it when I get home from work. So yesterday was more about “do it before you get lazy” than actually accomplishing much of anything strength-related.

Previously I had been working through the New Rules of Lifting program. After reading Lauren Early’s Irish dance training book, though, I started to wonder if the general strength approach was really the right one. Having no other ideas where to go, I still just went with it because otherwise I was at a loss. Now, though, I’m taking a more targeted approach.

As I mentioned, yesterday was more about just getting in the habit than really accomplishing anything. I decided on my way home from work that I should go through my two Irish dance training books (pictured above) and devise a plan that would help me personally. Five minutes before I want to work out is not a good time to develop a new plan.

Fortunately Lauren Early’s book has an off season suggested weight training plan written out, so I did an abbreviated version of that combined with a balancing exercise from Peter O’Grady’s book. The off season goal is to balance my imbalances that have developed during dance to stave off injury and generally get a good structural base going into my pre-season (with in season being Oireachtas in late November – my main goal for the next year).

After five minutes of mobility and another five of core (45 sec plank, 35 sec of the horrible leg thing on each side, 1 min of lower leg raises, and 25 sec of this plank-and-raise-opposite-arms-and-legs thing), I moved on to standing rows, back extensions, weighted squats, weighted side step ups, hamstring curls, and toe lifts. I finished up with some one foot balances and five minutes of flexibility. Again, with the goal of just being there, I only did 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps. I also learned that I must have a large rib cage, because I’m not particularly thin and it hurts when I lay on my stomach on the padding-over-concrete floor.

In the end it was about 25 min of strength with the total session being 40 min. Not terribly long, but I did make my goal of actually doing something. For next week I plan to have a plan…I will likely follow the Lauren Early-suggested routine with a couple extra stability-focused exercises. Today would normally be a rest day, but since Monday I was sick and Wednesday I didn’t have class and was lazy, tonight is a dance practice night.

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Stamina Work

I finally dove back into some cross training yesterday with a return to my stamina-building running intervals. The plan is to do 10 sets of a 2 minute run at 75% speed followed by a 2 minute walk. The walk interval is supposed to decrease by 10 seconds each week (or 5 seconds for those with a lower fitness base, i.e., me) until you reach a set of 2 minutes running/1 minute walking. The goal of the exercise is to improve heart rate recovery speed and set up a good fitness base. After this and closer to Oireachtas, the exercises will switch to being more sprint-based for explosiveness and lactic acid management.

I never get very far with this as it’s easy for me to get lazy about the running component of training. I like how I feel afterward, but I don’t really enjoy running and I certainly don’t enjoy getting my butt out the door to do it.

However, I had a fiancé’s help this morning and so I went, and I’m very glad. I started off pretty well with the first 5 sets, getting my heart rate back down to about 130 each walking interval. After that it was more difficult, and the last 3 sets I only got down to about 145. The problem with not recovering is there less room for the heart rate to climb, so I hit my max too soon into the run (or dance). I also felt that heavy feeling in my legs like I do in dance class and at the end of my hornpipe. But overall I’m happy with how the run went. Because there is so much time until Oireachtas, based on my training schedule I have enough time to do a couple weeks at 2 minute walks before I start decreasing each week. Since I struggle so much in class and in longer dances at the feis, stamina is something I really must build. After all, champion level dances are longer!

My new schedule also has my mobility, core, and flexibility training mashed in with my dance and other cross training sessions. I’m starting out small at only 5 minutes each as my goal.

Mobility exercises with toe raises and turnout

In Drills class this is easy because we hit all these components in the class anyway, but it can be a struggle on other days. Today right after returning home from my lovely intervals around the lake, I went downstairs and did 5 minutes of each exercise. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Baby steps until I get used to longer workout sessions.

Jockey to the Fair

After successfully learning and polishing Blackbird, we’re having a little fun in Traditional Sets class. My teacher opened up the class for drop in and we’re spending the last two classes of the session learning Jockey to the Fair!

This is one of the less common traditional sets, set in a jig time compared with Blackbird, which is a hornpipe. And, it’s a lot of fun! I’ve really enjoyed two things about this class: working on basics in terms of hard shoe technique, and the bit different technique of set dances.

Since I’m just a Prizewinner, I typically don’t throw anything fancy into my standard dances. But set dances have all sorts of traditional fun: rocks, tips, drums, different sorts of clicks (heel clicks are forbidden). There’s less pressure on as well in terms of competing. While Traditional Set is something we do compete, and Jockey to the Fair can be used for that, right now I’m sticking with Blackbird which means I’m learning a new dance, with fun techniques, just because I can!

We learned the right foot of the step and the first couple combinations of the set part. This is an every-other-week class, so I have a bit of time now to figure out the step on the left leg.

Here’s a great video of the dance. It’s really fun – feels like you’re just tapping and skipping away happily.

Trebling Along

Last night was my regular solo class with my little Novice/Prizewinner friends. I miss my adult friend (she’s busy getting her Master’s degree and so on hiatus), but I’ve long since gotten used to being the only old person in a sea of 10-12 year olds. Though at the moment there are only six to eight of us, which means very few breaks!

Unfortunately my legs were heavy from Drills on Monday, and so class started off slow and painful for me. After mobility warm up, we did a drill for each soft shoe dance before executing it. Some positives though: I got a “good placement” comment during my light jig and a “good” during one of the slip jig drills. The end of the slip jig is tough to get moving on: after a point and grapevine type move back and forth we go into three quick points with alternating legs and butt kicks thrown in, a lift, then two jumps. I, along with others, have been having trouble nailing down the points by moving quickly enough. It was great to get a “good” in response to this drill, but I was pooped by the end of running the slip jig twice and that quickness didn’t last! I really need to work on my stamina – it’s not the cardio so much as my legs turning into bricks and not moving.

After a bit of core (the move we affectionately refer to as the horrible leg thing), it was hard shoe time. If you’ve ever read one of my posts, you know my feelings towards hard shoe.

We ran sets first and my Blackbird is still coming along and remains my set of choice. My teacher gave us a slight modification where instead of a tip-cut-heel-step motion, we take out the tip and just go into the cut-heel-step to keep us on time. It worked well since we were getting slowed down by the tip.

Side note for non-Irish dancers: Traditional sets are performed roughly the same throughout the world, with small variations between schools. They are a lot of fun to learn due to the history, and contemporary movements like toe stands or front clicks are not permitted. This is a good example of my set Blackbird, though my ending is a touch different. And this is a good example of dance being for everyone!

We spent the rest of the time focusing on our treble jigs, with just a quick run-through of hornpipe in the last few minutes of class. After going through our first step once, our teacher had us drill a treble and toe up and bang bang move that appears a lot in everyone’s steps. Then my least favorite thing ever – going down the line one by one for feedback. I am NOT good at hard shoe, I am without fail one of the worst dancers (if not the worst) when we go down the line like that. My turn came up and was followed by, “Your treble is so much better!” So, after feeling so out of shape and near defeat at not being able to keep up in the slip jig earlier in class, I was feeling on top of the world! I just struggle so much with hard shoe, the feeling of knowing that I’m finally improving this portion of it is indescribable.

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Accurate depiction of my reaction to the better trebles comment

While I still have more work to do in my updated Prizewinner steps, particularly the end of the second, it’s nice to see progress being made!

Jet Dragging

I thought jet drag was a better description of the symptoms than just jet lag.

As I was once told, though, exercise really helps and I got a boat-full of exercise last night at drills class! And it did help – not only was I able to stay up until almost 10pm, but aside from the usual “wake up at 2am because it’s 9am in the UK”, I actually slept until my alarm. So, if you’re having issues with jet lag, make sure to get your dance on!

I was definitely dragging though, and drills may be my shortest class but it’s my most intense. We started off with our usual mobility exercises for warm up, then moved straight into point drills, jump drills, and cross key drills. I’m getting close to getting the double wham (I don’t know why that’s our lingo, but it’s an entrechat to my ballet friends). Another favorite jump from drills is the butterfly, which I can usually get but I was out of steam by that point and not jumping high enough.

After a water break, we went across the floor with leaps, step togethers, trick of choice, and high kicks. It was tough and I fell behind a couple times, but fortunately my teacher seemed understanding of my jet lag situation and I didn’t drop out of any passes. Even though I’m usually worn out by this point, going across the floor is always a favorite.

We took it to the floor for some core/flexibility, then came the dreaded last 15 min of class – hard shoe. I’m probably the only Irish dancer in the world who hates hard shoe, but between the painful shoes and my lack of dancing skill, I do hate it. We did a full two steps worth (32 bars in 6/8) of a jig drill on the right leg, took an 8 bar break, then did it again for 32 bars on the left leg. This was an “easy stamina” exercise and I could barely lift my leg by the end. Of course, we immediately followed with more jig drills where during your 8 bars “rest” you do squats. So, 32 bars of jig drills and 32 bars of squats alternating. We followed up with some hornpipe and treble reel drills. Although completely spent by the end, I did get a good feeling of the importance of the back foot during the treble reel.

My legs and core aren’t sore today, so I’m anticipating tomorrow will hurt. It was a great class though, and hopefully I’m done jet dragging for solo class tonight! If you find yourself in a tough sleep pattern like jet lag, I recommend giving a good dose of exercise a try. It was the last thing I wanted to do after work but I never regret going.

Intermediate Goal: Oireachtas 2018

A bit of a jet-lagged ramble this morning as I’m recently returned from the UK. Prior to leaving, the U.S. Western Region Oireachtas was held and fortunately via Facebook I was

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Gratuitous photo from the UK

able to watch a live stream of the awards the first night (was flying/traveling the rest of the time).

Irish is one of those forms of dance that has a huge competitive element depending on your school. While we do performances, I dance at a school where most of the focus lies on competing. The one deviation would be St. Patrick’s season, where we do a marathon of performances across the region. I’ve danced at a number of local feiseanna, or Irish dance competitions. Oireachtas is the next level, referred to as a Major. Majors encompass national-scale competitions (like the North American Irish Dance Championships or All Irelands) and the World Championships. Regional competitions are often included under the Major umbrella as well (though I’ve heard some people do not consider them as such).

Qualification criteria is what all Majors have in common. At the regional Oireachtas level, at least for my region, this criteria comes from the school. At our school, in order to compete in the solo competitions at Oireachtas you must have at least 3 of your main 4 dances at the Prizewinner level. I currently have 2: slip jig and treble jig.

But watching the results is pretty infectious. The more I cheered for the recalls, podium placements, and world qualifiers from my school, the more I wanted to be there in person to experience it myself. I was so thrilled when a girl from my Novice/Prizewinner class recalled (score in top 50% after 2 rounds, dance a 3rd round for final placement and award) and there was an unexpected world qualification to be excited for as well! A fellow adult, who has been struggling in Prelim the past year but has started placing recently, moved up almost 30 places from last year’s placement too.

While it will take a lot of work to be presentable at that level (i.e., not dead last), I really only need to advance one more dance from Novice to Prizewinner by June workshop to be eligible (assuming my school doesn’t update the rules). That’s a very doable goal. A little more of a stretch is to be in Prelim by then, which is safe from any rule updates. Then, of course, the most ambitious goal of all: not dead last at the Oireachtas.

I think I can get there.

Work Woes

One of the things getting in the way of my training (or, more accurately, I’m letting get in the way of my training) is work. I’ve had meetings galore the last couple weeks, which not only gave occasion to miss some class last week but also resulted in tiredness, over-it-ness, and laziness. As you can see from my training calendar, my post-feis resolve wore out quickly while faced with workshops, long meetings, and prep for demonstrations and more workshops while somehow needing to finish my normal work:

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Very adult problems, but onward and upward. As I hinted above, I’ll only overcome this if I prioritize my training. So, despite going to the UK this weekend (hey, work is busy but has its perks!), I’m aiming to get a solid week of training in before I take off.

Because I really, really, REALLY want to qualify for the Oireachtas next year (regional championships; they’re dancing this weekend) and ideally I’d like to do it by being in Prelim before summer camp in June. At minimum, I need to get one of my last two Novice dances into Prizewinner. It will take a ton of work, so we’ll see if I’m up for the challenge.

Just for fun, here’s a couple from my latest cool work thing: a conference in Taiwan last month and swinging back through Japan on the way home.

Quick Update to the Never-Updating Blog

I’m still swamped between work, travel, dance, wedding, and house stuff, but I’ve had two feiseanna since my last update so here’s a quick update!

My feis in October was definitely my best showing since dropping down. Though no dances advanced, I was 2nd in my reel and 3rd in both treble jig and hornpipe. I consistently have trouble placing in those dances, so having solid placements was welcome. I also had a medal high count of 5, so only 2 dances with no placement.

Today’s feis was definitely not my best overall – a 1st, a 4th, and a 5th – but there were some definite positives. For one, that 1st moved up my treble jig! I now only have two dances left in Novice. Although the 4th in the reel was disappointing, consistent placings are a good thing as I didn’t place in reel 4 out of my first 5 feiseanna since dropping down, and now this is my 3rd placing in the last 4 feiseanna. Also, my first time dancing a new trad set (Blackbird) and I placed in Prizewinner trad set for the first time since dropping down! But, still a bit disappointed with my reel placing and lack of hornpipe or Prizewinner slip jig placements.

There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m at least moving forward in general if not in every aspect, at least somewhere.

Some medals, a glowstick trophy, shoe polishing, and creeping in the background of some others’ photos as I didn’t have any taken of me directly.

 

Still Dancing

I should edit the tagline to read: “The blog that never updates”.

I’m still dancing and trying to crank on my training, but never seem to find time for updates anymore. In the spirit of “let’s try this again”, here is the current state of affairs:

  • I’m still unhappy about my last feis and working to make it up on 1 Oct
  • We got mostly new steps for Irish Dance New Year, or end of summer for normal folks
    • The treble jig is officially boring
    • The new reel is so much fun and I love it
    • The new hornpipe is pretty great too
    • The slip jig updates are overall excellent
    • Overall, the new steps are an improvement in my book
  • I’ve advanced from Fundamentals to Beginner for my ballet class last week and it was tough/humbling – there should really be something between Fundamentals and Beginner I think!
  • I’m challenging myself to get down to a healthier weight and stick to a training schedule, it’s hit and miss so far but better than I did in June and July
  • In class last week I got two stickers and I’m proud of myself because apparently I’m a child

A few improvements I’ve made include more stamina for classes and making it halfway through the hornpipe before losing steam.

Last night’s drills class was a good indication of the progress I think I’m making. While I was breathing heavy and felt like throwing up at one point, I was able to complete all my drills except a couple early bow outs at the last rep during hard shoe at the end of class. While I did receive corrections, I also received praise for my leaps and a couple other steps we were doing.

So, onward and upward and we’ll see if I can give myself time to update consistently…

Feis Flounders

I hate performing badly at a feis. So many hours of work and preparation go into about 10 total minutes of dancing on stage, and if I screw it up I feel like the ultimate failure. How, after a year (or sometimes more) of dancing the same steps do I suddenly end up

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Shining my shoes and packing the night before.

making up the ending of my slip jig and fudging around trying to do the same thing on the left leg to salvage the dance?

 

 

That didn’t happen last weekend. What happened last weekend was actually worse: feeling like you nailed your dances, then still placing poorly. Just not being a good enough dancer really feels worse than accidentally messing up, because all your excuses are out the window.

My fiancé actually attended this feis, which was wonderful until my angry breakdown at awards. I was having a great time dancing, talking with my fellow competitors backstage, arriving early enough to watch some of my favorite youngins compete, and just having my fiancé around for only the second time ever (due to ongoing work conflicts). The only dances I felt bad about were the hornpipe, in which I ran out of steam at the end, and my traditional set which was new and I wasn’t expecting to place in anyway.

The verdict at awards? No placing in the reel, no moving up my hard shoe dances. A couple fourths and a fifth out of seven dances.

Disappointing, though my lovely fiancé tried to cheer me up by saying I did dance well, it was just a very high level of competition, and describing how much better I was than the one other time almost 3 years ago he saw me dance. So, disappointment aside, I’m at least happy to have placed in the reel special (though not in the actual competition why?) and go to pick up my medals.

Just kidding – they’ve run out of medals and I’m supposedly going to receive mine in the mail. Great. At least I have the awards for the special to look forward to, because I like getting trophies and being in an actual award presentation rather than just picking up medals at a table.

Just kidding again – after waiting for about an hour for the awards to be called, I finally get frustrated and go to ask about it. Apparently I missed the presentation (when? I went straight there after competitions were finished, they never did present my competition and I know it) and only first place received a trophy for some bizarre reason, so I got a crappy medal and an apology. At that point all the frustration came out. We always tell the kids having fun competing is all that matters, but deep down it is a competition, we all want to win, and I want to finally get my butt into prelim.

Of course, the only way to do that is to get over it and improve. Same old story in the judges comments with turnout and staying up off my heels being the key feedback. I have a couple more weeks until classes start again, so I’m buckling down and focusing on getting the strength and muscle memory to make that technique autopilot so I don’t have to confuzzle my brain trying to remember both steps and technique. My next feis will be October 1, which is plenty of time to “get good”.

On a more positive note, I’m happy with my new look: dress, hair accessory, and I debuted a new wig. And not attending alone means I finally got some feis pictures.

And a final pick-me-up, because I need to remind myself that this isn’t all impossible. Backstage we were joking that in a combined single jig comp the youngest age (11) would probably be the winner, rather than us older folk. I mentioned I was probably the worst dancer in a class full of 8 to 12 year olds, and one of the other girls exclaims, “But you’re such a good dancer!” That pretty much made my year!