Gear Switch – Performance Time

Now that I have no feiseanna for a while, it’s time to switch gears and focus on the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day marathon. I’m once again a team lead this year, and at last Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.02.52 AMnight’s practice our teacher wasn’t able to be there so we were running on our own. This year is a bit difficult for us all for a couple reasons. First, we’ve changed our normal show to go along with what our other school studios do in performances. The goal is understandable and admirable: a consistent show allows people from all studios to participate in performances across the area and no one is excluded because a certain studio does different choreography. But in addition to learning new steps, there are some things about the new show I just plain don’t like and thought were better the old way. And by some things, I mean most of the things. I’ve got no say though, so I’m trying to accept it. Second, we have no kids. The adults have to cover all Beginner and Novice-level steps in addition to our usual dances. It’s lame to dance something that is super simple and only looks good when small children do it due to that simpleness, and it’s also a cardio nightmare to be in twice as much of the show as usual!

But, back to last night. I love the kids and my adult friends, but I totally understand how my teacher can get frustrated with the lack of listening! Whenever I tried to make some comments or give a direction, there were always a few people not listening. Just like last year, I get the sense that I’m not really in charge or team lead.

Aside from that, we did okay and made it through the show twice, though with some hiccups. I have a lot of concerns with people not knowing steps and where to be when they need to be there. I’m one of those people, unfortunately, because I totally pooched the four hand reel and will need to study the video a lot in order to get it under control. Unlike our old six hand reel from last year, I can’t easily perform in any spot I’m needed. Even in my normal spot I struggle with some of the style thrown in to better match what the main studio performs. I’m glad we’re no longer the unspoken of step child of my school, but I do miss some of the freedoms we had.

Regardless, we made it through two runs of the show and I have an adult champ helping me keep the younger champs under control. All should be well by mid March, hopefully! Back to solo dancing in Novice/Prizewinner class tonight.

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A Tale of Two Feiseanna

My double feis weekend has come and gone. Unfortunately I didn’t move up my Novice reel and hornpipe like I was hoping, but I had a lot of fun and some pretty awesome things happened all the same!

I started off the night before the first feis in the traditional manner: tanning and combing out some of the frizz from my wig. I also set out all the hair and makeup accessories I would need in the morning to make it as stress free as possible. I rounded out the night by polishing my shoes and packing my feis bag.

The grades started pretty late – after 3pm, so that gave me plenty of time to sleep in and take my time with breakfast and wig-placing. The first day I was happy with the smaller bump, but not as thrilled with the double-donut in the center. Too tall, too painful. But it did the job on Saturday.

 

The roads were snowy, but it wasn’t terrible and we got to the venue plenty early and with no issues. I had a lot of fun dancing, but I wasn’t expecting much in terms of results. Boy was I wrong! Even though placing out of reel and hornpipe did not happen, I did make my goal of finally placing in my Prizewinner slip jig, and to top it off I tied for fifth in the reel special and achieved a new drop-down personal best of placing in six out of the seven dances.

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I was a bit worried about day 2, since last time I attempted this double feis thing the second day was extremely disappointing. I’m old, I need recovery time. In my normal fashion, I didn’t try quite as hard at prepping Saturday night as seen by the disastrous counter top. I did quite like what I did with my wig this time around though, using two small donuts side by side. This is my new go to.

Add to everything that I had tweaked my knee during the treble jig the previous day and was still feeling it this morning. Fortunately the pain went away after a good warm up, and I felt awesome through my soft shoe save a mistake at the end of my reel that I was sure cost me first. I felt pretty weak on all my hard shoes, and the placings reflected that: no placements on those three dances, no placement at all on the reel (why I still don’t know – it felt good), and no placement in my reel special this time. However, despite only placing in three of my dances the most amazing thing happened: first place in my Prizewinner slip jig! I have qualified a dance for preliminary championships!

So, despite not achieving my reel and hornpipe goals, I overshot a mere placement in slip jig to fully win it today and qualify it. That along with the personal bests yesterday: I’ll take it. But, if I’m going to qualify to attend Oireachtas this year, I really need to whip my reel and hornpipe into shape. I only have one more feis in June to move up one of those so I can take the proper summer workshop classes to learn my steps, and need both up in Prizewinner to qualify to go.

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A Tan and a Dream

My fake tan has just faded from the last feis, and tonight it will be time for a new one! I’m trying to overcome my fears from my last time out doing a double feis, and I signed up for both days this weekend. Due to my wedding, I only have this weekend and a feis in June to get one more Novice dance moved up in order to participate in the champ summer camp and a chance to attend Oireachtas for the first time.

This is the same double feis that I foolishly attempted last year. I felt exhausted 20170715_214041.jpgafter my feis a couple weeks ago, and I’m worried about my stamina through the weekend. But, onward and upward. This year, I’m coming into the competition with only two novice dances remaining and a prizewinner win under my belt.

I felt great in class on Tuesday. There’s always something to improve, but my first time through each dance went well until the stamina drop happened during the second/third/fifth repeats. I have three main goals for the weekend: move up my reel, move up my hornpipe, place in my slip jig. For my reel, I’m going to be careful of my timing and concentrate on that and pointed toes and, as I’m able, drill those cross keys before my dance starts. For my hornpipe, it’s mostly hoping for the best but will include a touch bigger front clicks and being cognizant of the difference between hornpipe and jig trebles (jump into hornpipe, don’t step). For my slip jig, turnout and cross only. The banes of my dancing existence. I will also not be complacent on Saturday. I remember how my last double feis went, and Sunday isn’t a second chance as much as I might hope due to the fact that I’m old and it’s hard to recover. On Saturday, I will pretend there is no Sunday.

To add to my nerves, it’s supposed to snow and possibly freezing drizzle overnight and tomorrow, and I hate driving out in the weather. Hopefully the roads are kept maintained and it won’t be a problem!

So – I’m worried about stamina, worried about how bad my reel and hornpipe are, worried about how there are only 3 feiseanna, the 2 this weekend and 1 in June, to move up one more dance so I can attend summer camp and be on my way to qualifying for Oireachtas attendance, and worried about how bad the roads will be tomorrow. Oh, yes, and worried about driving home after dark because our competitions don’t start until late afternoon. How do I deal with the anxiety? Rituals, of course!

Aside from the usual – same breakfast, pack the night before, tan, set out hair/makeup, I’m making a change. Every feis morning, without fail, I leave the house angry and stressed because I can’t manage a front poof. It always looks awful even after taking way more time than I allotted and I’m rushing out the door after. This weekend, I’m doing away with the front poof! I’ll give myself a bit of volume in the front just so they aren’t completely flat and strange compared to the wig, but that’s it. I’m hoping cutting out this really unnecessary stresser will give me a better attitude going into the competition.

Also on Saturday, one of the adults from my studio is competing for the very first time! Unfortunately we’ll be in different rooms, but I’m very excited for her and hope she has a great time. Feising is so much more fun with friends.

Rebuilding Confidence

Back in December, right after my last post, I had a confidence and stage presence workshop. I was super excited for it and couldn’t wait to post about it when it was done.

Instead, I barely kept it together at the studio and cried the entire drive home.

It started in my traditional set workshop. I was having a rough time and really feeling emotional about not getting it for some reason. Right after was our confidence workshop, so I went into it with a bad attitude to start. The beginning was alright – I took a ton of notes and even though I didn’t get as much help as I had hoped (meaning no magic injection of winning ability), I did get a bunch of tips to follow up on in terms of look, preparation, and the mental game.

Then we danced.

I was the only Prizewinner amongst champs as well as the only adult who wasn’t in Open. We started in hard shoe and we had to dance alone, with the goal being to repeat with confidence after an initial run based on the workshop’s principles (facial expression, posture, attitude). World solo qualifiers, then me. In hard shoe. Which I suck at. I have never felt so, so very insignificant, awful, or terrible. It’s so hard not just being the worst dancer in the room, but the worst by miles. My darling fiancĂ© tried to comfort me when I got home, but I was utterly inconsolable at that point. I was so, so embarrassed and angry and such a failure.

So, I pouted. I didn’t blog. I hated everything dance-related for a short time. Then I knew I wanted to be better.

Fast forward a couple months, and I’m heading into a double feis this weekend with plenty of work to do, but continued practice and cross-training, a new 1st place in Prizewinner treble jig under my belt, the assurance that my trebles and hard shoe techniques are getting better from my teacher, and the goal of qualifying to attend the regional oireachtas. I still love it. And I’m done pouting.

Who knew a confidence workshop could be so deflating?

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.

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 fiancĂ©’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.