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.

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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!

Practice Makes Less Terrible

Dance school is out for about a month, so what is a Novice/Prizewinner to do with herself? Suck a little less, naturally!20170704_095432

This month, without the added stress of getting to class and perfecting steps, I’m pulling back and focusing on technique as well as cross training. Yesterday I went down to my little personal studio (yea), strapped on the hard shoes, and spent about 30 min working solely on my trebles. I brushed out and in over and over, maintaining the proper treble start/end place of my foot flexed just about at ankle height of my non-working foot. I held on to the wall and trebled until all beats were consistently clear. Then I did the same, but without hanging on to the wall. Then I treble-stepped my way around the entire floor over and over and over again. Took a break by running Job of Journeywork, then realized there is no way I’ll be dancing that number at my feis in a couple weeks because I’d rather focus on perfecting my main four dances. Back to treble-stepping.

I started in my new hard shoes but they were just killing my feet and I couldn’t work well with technique, so I switched back to the old ones. I really need to stretch them more before I can dance at all. Being between sizes is the worst!

After exhausting my hard shoe attention span, I switched to my ghillies and ran leaps. I’m working on getting a better leap and moving towards the hanging leap. I thought I was doing better, so I took a video to confirm. The answer is no – I’m not doing better at hanging at all. The leap doesn’t look bad, but it’s still a “baby leap” and needs work if I want to get to Prelim. I did a drill where I tried to hold one leg out while jumping and tucking my leg underneath (basically this movement) four times, switching my working leg on the fourth jump but holding the first leg up and out as long as possible before making the switch. My jumping leg barely left the ground and I had a hard time switching, so I think continuing work on this drill and improving my strength in my jump will be a key component of getting a hanging leap.

My core goal is to do 20 min twice a week and actually be able to hold my plank or continue my drills for a full minute by August, which is what we do in our Drills class and I can never keep up with!

Outside of my little bubble, the North American Nationals are currently taking place. My teacher, who is my age and a huge inspiration to me, danced yesterday. She had been in a car accident recently and it really derailed her training, and she told me she felt very unprepared (to the point of almost pulling out of the competition). Instead, she placed 28th out of about 70 (maybe more) dancers! It’s her best placing in years (maybe even ever, I’m not sure). Of all the amazing things she does and is, the fact that she keeps improving every year since I started studying under her is hugely motivating. I’m hoping to make Open Champion before she retires from competing so I can dance with her at least once.

Building A Dance Floor

I benefited a lot from other blogs in designing and building my dance floor/exercise room, so I thought I’d give back by describing my process!

In theory what I did could be done in a weekend or two by someone dedicated, but due to all the other projects involved in purchasing a new house (and procrastination) I didn’t actually get around to finishing it for about six months. A lot of that time was spent collecting materials and designing. Fortunately my dance studio was expanding into a new space right around the time I bought my house, so I go a good discount on leftover materials:

  • Thick (about 3/4″) plywood boards for the dance surface
  • Dance underlayment foam
  • Shower pan liner (the cheap version of marley flooring)

I also had to purchase several materials:

  • Vapor barrier
  • 2×4’s to spring the floor
  • Hardware for assembly (screws, glue, tape, joining plates)
  • Mirrors (a great deal – $50 for 10 mirrored closet doors on Craigslist)
  • Foam flooring for the non-dance areas

All told I think I spent < $500 on the whole room. For comparison, I saw just the marley covering (proper marley, not shower pan liner) for sale for $355 in a size to cover my dance floor area, or putting up 8 new mirrors would have been around $400. It wasn’t cheap, but I tried to be thrifty!

Once we had gotten the plywood boards for the dance surface into our basement (we had to cut them in half because we have an extra small landing, which involved buying sawhorses and borrowing a circular saw), I was able to plan out the dimensions for actually springing the floor.

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For my non-American readers who use a superior measurement system, there are about 2.5 centimeters in an inch, and about 30.5 cm in a foot. Also, in my defense, I really was looking for Duck Tape, which is a brand name for duct tape, because they had an electrical grade version.

I decided to go with one layer of 2×4’s with further cushioning provided by the dance floor foam underlayment. My fiancé and I went back and forth quite a bit on this one, trying to balance spring and reducing impact with providing enough support under the boards. We finally settled on the above design.

Once the boards and hardware were all purchased, we could finally start building. I first laid out the vapor barrier for the dance floor portion and then put out the boards.

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Before assembling the frame, I went ahead and cut out strips for each board from my roll of foam. There wasn’t quite enough from my studio’s leftovers to do both sides of the boards or to just lay it completely out under the plywood boards. We had the store cut the boards to size for us so they would fit in our car, but they weren’t particularly accurate so some adjustments were needed.

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Next was putting the frame together. I used mending plates for the assembly. While good for this kind of joining, they were pretty painful to use properly. If I was doing it again, I would get the kind with holes to put nails through instead of the kind with little spikes on the back.

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Once the frame was together, I glued the foam on the top using gorilla glue. If I were to do this again I would use a more instantaneous glue. Unfortunately my glue type required both clamping and several hours of set time. Progress was halted while I made some makeshift clamping attempts and let the glue dry.

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Once all the foam was set, we screwed the plywood boards onto the frame. At this point I realized I had improperly measured and one set of boards was wider than the other two sets. Creative screwing was applied due to frame overlap and we declared it “good enough”, but if you build a dance floor remember to measure carefully and don’t assume things are symmetrical!

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The final step for this part of the project was to cut and apply the shower pan liner (marley) covering!

To finish off the room, I wanted to set up an exercise area in the other corner of the L-shaped room using foam puzzle piece flooring and put up mirrors on as many walls as possible. That started with the vapor barrier on the basement floor.

As soon as the underlayment was down, I added the foam puzzle pieces. The ones I ordered sort of look like wood grain, which I thought was nice. These went down pretty easily though I had to cut to size in many areas. They cut with the boxcutter but it was a bit of effort due to their thickness. This flooring provides a bit of relief from the impact of weight lifting and are nice for floor work.

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While I still have a few details to conquer (I want to clean the printing off the dance floor, add trophy/medal display shelving, add a short barre, and remove some of the clutter that remains), the room is mostly done, functional, and is looking way better than its previous incarnation as unfinished storage space! The foam flooring and mirrors especially help the room feel lighter and more spacious.

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Shufflin’

After two weeks out on work travel (including an ugly encounter with hail), I was finally able to get back to classes this week. That’s not to say I didn’t do at least a little bit of training – a bit of strength and conditioning in the hotel for example as well as using my nearly finished home studio. But, it wasn’t close to what was going on in class and I’m shuffling around on sore legs today!

A couple examples of my hotel exercises – toe raises/stands and working on my ankle and foot strength
with the resistance band.

Monday was our drills class, and I was the only Novice/Prizewinner of the bunch. It was very difficult to keep up in some aspects. While everyone else was breathing heavy too, I was trying not to throw up from the exertion. I really need to work on improving my stamina.

I had made some progress with my double ups previously, which is a trick where you jump on one leg and lift the other above your knee and shake your foot twice. A demo can be found here, with the full movement shown around 0:45. I practiced this move on Monday in class, but I couldn’t get the double movement in my raised leg at all. Same happened on Tuesday’s class… It’s frustrating to go backward.

I did do well, based on teacher praise, on a drill where we walked the length of the floor to practice straight legs. We would reach forward with a pointed toe on the right, bring our feet together (think turned out relevé in first or making a triangle between your feet and the floor), then reach out with the pointed toe on the left and repeat down the floor. Actually managing straight legs the whole way is great progress for me! I’m also getting good lift on my leaps and getting close to the hanging leap goal.

My regular class was on Tuesday and again was a haul due to having so few people (5) in the class right now. We practiced all our feis dances and tried to apply corrections. My foot placement on my light jig received praise from the teacher, plus a “keep the back foot turned out but it’s getting better.” Things to work on included making the reel nice and lively and focus on hard shoe turn out. Our teacher encouraged us to start by making each of our bangs with a nice turned out foot, and as long as I don’t space out (which happens a lot) during the feis I will try to apply this in hopes of a good score.

Today is my last class for over a month and I’m pretty bummed to be out of the studio so long. On the plus side, though, now that my dance space at home is functional I will make the most of this time to work on details like hanging leaps and better trebles, as well as spinning up some of my cross training.

I Think I Can Finally Consider Myself a Prizewinner

The problem with grades is it’s hard to tell what level you really are, because each dance is advanced independently. What do you call someone with 2 dances in Beginner 2, 2 dances in Novice, and 3 dances in Prizewinner?

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Feis friends

For me, though, I think I might finally accept the title of Prizewinner, because I now have 4 dances moved up! Finally, finally, finally, I have advanced a dance that matters for prelim by winning 1st place in my slip jig last weekend!

I’m really happy about how the feis went. I placed solidly in my reel with a 4th, which was one of my goals, and I advanced my slip jig with a win which was the thing I was really hoping would happen! I also got a 3rd in my treble jig…just one place shy of advancement! I pooched my hornpipe, though. My step starts with 2 bangs, then a run straight forward. The girl dancing with me didn’t move over very far when we stepped forward, then she cut right in front of me as I tried to move forward! I never managed to recover, and generally it was just horrible after that. But, it was only horrible enough to get me 1 point shy of placing, so there’s still hope! I also placed 3rd in the slip jig special. For this I got a trophy that says, not third place, but just “Special” on it. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit the past week announcing that I’m special to friends and presenting my trophy to prove it. It’s probably my least favorite yet most entertaining trophy to date. It even beats the trophy of a bee I got in 5th grade for winning the spelling bee.

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I’ve wanted an Irish dance crown for about three years now. It’s small compared to most, but I’m happy!

Between dancing and tearing down (my school hosts the feis so we must involuntarily volunteer to help), I had over 20,000 steps on the day. I also took the opportunity to buy a new headband to go with my new dress (as a purple flower fascinator no longer matches, of course) and I will be debuting a new wig at next month’s feis!

Despite getting turned around/lost on the way down to the feis, frantically buying a headpiece to go with my new dress before the feis started, realizing I didn’t know how to pin in a headpiece and having to cobble together something that wouldn’t fall off my head, practicing only modestly due to lack of space and high winds outside where the only practice space existed, losing my dress shields and making makeshift ones out of extra kickpants, getting dressed and waiting to start only to have start time pushed back an hour, running outside and finding my dress shields on the ground outside my car, returning and trying to keep warm, then finally getting to start only to have the music very difficult to follow, it was still a great feis. A friend of mine was in the adult competition at the same time so I wasn’t lonely, and I achieved my goals of placing in the reel, advancing my slip jig, and placing well in the treble jig. Sans the hornpipe mishap, I’m pretty happy with my results and I had fun doing it.

This one is always special to me, because three years ago this was my very first feis after about a year of recreational dancing and where the madness all started. I’ve found a picture of myself from each of the three years (four feiseanna total), mostly creeping in the background of others’ photos since I don’t have a feis mom to document me. From little adult Beginner to now an &Over Prizewinner, I’ve come a long way! Though, I still need to work on my stage face.

Last Practice

Last practice before the feis tomorrow, anyway. I have tons of practice to do for probably the rest of my life!

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First official use of almost finished home dance floor

Overall I’m still feeling (fairly) confident. I don’t have room for long runs in my basement, so I focused more on smaller pieces of my dances. I practiced my lifts and buttkicks for my leaps for my reel. I still can’t quite do a hanging leap, but I really want to get some good lift going and get as close as possible. It helped to warm up by doing a one-two-switch-switch and swinging up my leg as if to leap, but not actually switching legs. This is something we always do in drills class, and I think I will do it at the feis for warm up as well, maybe even just before I dance. I also worked on thinking about pointed toes and turnout/cross while also dancing.

I practiced some of my more intricate footwork for the slip jig. Again, worried about pointed toes and turnout/cross. I also tend to sickle my foot on my cuts. I worked a bit longer on this dance because I think this is the one I have a chance of moving up tomorrow. Not too long, though, because I’m in that place where there are definitely improvements to make, but I’m also as prepared as possible for tomorrow so there is no

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I couldn’t find the artist’s name, but this is accurate.

point in over-practicing now. The additional work can be done in the next month leading up to another competition. I’ll just have to remember to concentrate on the pointed toes/all the things while I’m dancing at the feis – but on stage I usually just go into autopilot mode unfortunately.

I spent most of my time on my hard shoe, because I’m terrible. I decided since hornpipe is always at the end of class and I’m exhausted, it would be important to run my hornpipe straight through before getting too worn out. So I did, two and a quarter times, and I made it. The first time I had to abort because I kicked myself on a front click (ugh), the second time I made it all the way through but had some timing errors, and the third time was the charm. I practiced some rhythm sections after to try to get better with timing and beats. Again, it’s as good as it’s going to get for tomorrow.

Finally, the treble jig. As I was getting ready to dance, my fiancé came down to express his desire for dinner, then decided he was going to judge my treble jig. I actually made it through the whole thing without mistakes and even my beats sounded pretty good (for me, anyway). His response: aren’t you supposed to turn your feet out? Yes, my feet turn completely straight during hard shoe. Ugh. I went through again thinking only about turn out, then got a nice soliloquy about practice and muscle memory. It finally dawned on him that I have a competition Saturday and it obviously wouldn’t be fixed in a day, so he tried to reassure me. In the end…I’m not going to worry too much about turn out in order to get good beats and look comfortable and fluid, but on rhythm parts where I face front I will try to focus on turn out and cross.

And that’s a wrap. Today is the traditional rest-before-feis day, then tomorrow it’s go time!

 

T-2 Days ‘Til Feis

Tuesday was my last dance class before competition this weekend. As always, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but overall I’m happy with where I’m sitting.

The hard shoe is more difficult than the soft shoe for most people in my class, so we ran through our start (always soft shoe) pretty quickly. Light jig went well for me, single jig went less well but still okay. Both are in Prizewinner and are not needed to qualify for Prelim, so I’m just doing them out of requirement now and not really putting forth much practice effort to improve. My teacher was pleased with everyone’s reel and we just did a couple times through with emphasis on pointing toes and keeping legs straight. My reel felt good in class with no major problems, so at the feis I’m going to focus on straight legs, pointed toes, and to a lesser degree turnout, and hope for the best. It’s always my worst soft shoe dance and I’ve only placed once out of five competitions and two specials since dropping down. Honestly, just placing out of the nine expected competitors would be an accomplishment.

Last soft shoe was the slip jig, which we spent a bit more time with. Pointed toes were again our biggest issue, so we ran through a few times with instruction to only focus on those. Our final time through we did a “recall”, which mimics a competition in that about ~50% of us are called back to do one more step down the line. I was part of the recall – shocking really considering how exhausted I was meaning my dancing wasn’t as good as it could have been. I didn’t win the sticker out of the three of us recalled (and a little sad I recalled because I needed a break). My teacher did say we all did well and it was hard to choose, but she went with the kid who was the most graceful as a slip jig should be (more flowing as opposed to the reel which is sharp and powerful). I usually grace it up okay so I’ll chalk that one up to being exhausted. I’ve been consistently placing in this dance my last few feiseanna, even second once, and it’s really the one dance I have any hope of moving up this weekend so I’m really going to try my best. There are just eight people signed up, though, so that means only a first place will move me up.

After the quick soft shoe session, it was time for lots of drilling on my weakness: hard shoe. We blew through traditional sets pretty quickly, and this is my other dance that I have in Prizewinner and doesn’t count for Prelim (whyyyy are those my only Prizewinner dances???), so I’m not particularly worried about my placing for that one anymore.

We worked mostly on the treble jig. For tap folk, trebles are similar to a shuffle – an out motion followed by an in. My trebles suck. I can’t do slow ones, my foot placement is wrong, and I can’t balance. My teacher said it’s probably the number one thing I need to work on. Fortunately I now have a dance floor so I can do so, but in the meantime I’ll have to fake it at the feis because bad muscle memory is a hard thing to break. I normally do a decent job on my treble jig, and there are 11 people signed up, so if everyone attends a 2nd place would do for moving it up.

I was dying during my hornpipe as per usual. We all went down the line due to many having timing problems. My teacher said it was okay but choppy for me, as in each piece did not flow well to the next, and it may have been due to having just recently learned the new step. I had a surprise 2nd place in my hornpipe last feis, and I’m hoping to keep the momentum as there are 10 people signed up which would make 2nd place count for moving up.

Overall, I’m going to practice once more tonight with a Friday night rest but I’m hopeful for a good feis this weekend. If I can place my reel and/or move up at least one dance, it will be a very awesome feis. If I can just keep from falling on my butt, as always that would be great too! But I’d really, really like to move up at least one of the four dances that actually count for getting into Prelim Champ level.

To finish, a quick glimpse into Irish dancer competition life – my leg tan is in progress for Saturday:

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