Ready to Move Down in the World

My last few dance classes have been great. I can feel myself getting better and it’s a wonderful feeling. While there’s still room for improvement (especially in hard shoe), I’m happy with the progress I’m making and I’m looking forward to drilling some of my weak areas between now and the start of our summer session. The last couple classes I’ve been getting praise from the teacher and even used as an example of how to perform some moves and an example of continued improvement. And last night was a major step: permission to move down in the world!

By move down, of course, I mean dropping down! I got the affirmative to go ahead and drop down for the feis this September and to start taking a new class. Dropping down is the Irish dance term (at least in CLRG circles) for moving out of the Adult category of competitions into the &over age categories. But what does this mean?

Adult &Over
Must be over 18 and out of regular competitions for at least 5 years. An Adult Beginner cannot have taken Irish dance lessons before they turned 18. No restrictions on current age, time in competition, or age of first lessons.
Only one age level, named “Adult”. Competitions are split level by age, with &Over being the highest age category. Typically between 13&Over and 15&Over in grades, and 17&Over to 21&Over in championships.
Only Beginner, Novice, and Prizewinner levels (“grades”). No championships. All levels are included: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Novice, Prizewinner, Preliminary Champion, and Open Champion. Grades and Championships are run quite differently.
Can dance either traditional or slow hard shoe speeds starting in Novice. Can dance either traditional or slow hard shoe speeds starting in Novice.
Although there are exceptions, generally competitors are friendly and not cut throat. Higher standard of dancing at each level and generally quite competitive.
Women are required to wear black tights…I guess to cover old lady legs? Girls/women may compete in either black tights or poodle socks.
May wear solo costumes according to school policy. May wear solo costumes according to school policy.
Depending on the feis, there may be no Adult trophy specials or there may be several, including specials that are “champion-style”, which mimic Championship competitions. One or two trophy specials per feis for both grades and championships. Grade specials are almost never “champion-style”.
Numbers vary wildly. Some feiseanna may have 7 to 10 competitors per competition, others may only have 1 competitor. Beginner 1 and 2 &Over competition numbers are usually small and may not reach the required 5. There are rarely less than 5 competitors in Novice and Prizewinner. Many times ages are combined to produce the required 5, so there is a much larger change of having enough people.
A competitor in the Adult category typically takes special Adult classes at their school. These may move at a slower pace in both activity and learning steps, involve additional instruction such as ceili dancing instead of only solo dancing, and are usually filled with like-aged friends who can relate to problems and situations unique to adults. Some schools may include simpler steps in their adult classes, and there is usually more room for socializing and less expectations on stamina, high lifts, and butt kicks. Classes are divided by level and older folks will be lumped in with younger kids, particularly at Novice and Prizewinner levels where the next oldest person may only be 10 or 12 years old. These classes are stricter on performing at high levels of stamina, getting all your kicks up high, and limiting socialization during class. Some schools, like mine, are very accepting and the kids don’t mind your presence at all, but in other schools they may take a while to warm up to you.
Limited participation in Major competitions. Typically this involves a traditional set competition and/or Adult ceili. There are no Adult competitions at the World Championships. No limit on competing at Majors. Solo, ceili, and/or traditional set competitions exist for all age levels with participation either earned by teacher permission or placings at qualifying events, depending on the Major.

These are just a few points of comparison based on my personal experience. If any adult dancers are reading this who are considering starting competitions or dropping down, here are a few of my thoughts on the decision.

  1. You should definitely try out at least one competition. Not everyone enjoys competing, and that’s totally fine! But I absolutely love it and would hate for anyone to miss out on it because they are nervous or think there is no place in feiseanna for adults. If you’d like to try it, go for it! You can always start at the Adult level and drop down when ready, even if it’s only after 1 feis as an Adult.
  2. If you are attending a school that is not supportive of your goals as an adult dancer, be those to dance just for exercise, perform, compete, or work your way into Champion levels, consider transferring. While CLRG is still rather discriminatory towards adults, many schools are very adult friendly and depending on where you are located you may be able to find a school more in line with your personal goals. You should have the opportunity to dance in performances, wear a blingy solo dress, compete in feiseanna or at Majors, wear a wig, show off your old lady legs in socks, or just get a good workout a couple times a week if you want!
  3. I never Irish danced until age 28. I found starting off in Adult classes and Adult competitions was a good way to learn the dances, figure out my abilities, and get started in competing in a lower stress environment. Once I knew I wanted to perform at the highest level I could possibly achieve and not be confined by the Adult competition limits, I decided to drop down with teacher permission. Some adults stay in Adult competitions for their entire dancing careers, and there’s no shame in that!
  4. If you’re considering whether to start off in the regular age grades or Adults, or if you’re thinking about dropping down, make sure you talk to your TC. Requirements vary between schools. You may have to achieve certain placements and levels in Adult competitions first, and/or you may need to switch out of your Adult class and dance with the kiddos, which means leaving behind your friends not only during competitions but also not seeing them regularly at the school.
  5. The main driving forces behind my decision to drop down were:
    1. The opportunity to work my way into Champion levels and attend Majors
    2. The wildly varying number of Adult competitors from year to year, between different levels, and at different feiseanna, while in &Overs there will rarely be heartburn while waiting for the numbers to reach 5

Overall, dropping down is a huge decision and one not to take lightly, as reverting back to Adult competition means taking a 5 year break from competing. However, I’m really excited about this opportunity and am really looking forward to the feis in September, even if it’s pretty nerve wracking!

Cross Training Update

I’m still trying to work myself into keeping on schedule with my cross training. Slowly, I’m getting more in the groove. Having to dance against the kids in 75 days is motivating.

So far I’ve been sticking to weight training and running and haven’t incorporated flexibility and core yet. I’ve done my weight training session the past two weeks, and the goal is to do about 16 weeks of sessions, increasing the weight each time an exercise is done while decreasing the number of reps to encourage heavier weights. This is based on New Rules of Lifting, except only once a week instead of 3 times a week as suggested in Lauren Early‘s book.

Not much weight yet, but I’m working on it. Only squats and dead lifts are barbell weight, while the rest are the weight of an individual dumbbell. The “60 lbs” for push ups actually means 60 degrees.

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I also did my second run today. It was SO HOT out! I wish I had hit the trail earlier. First few runs and recoveries went well, but I was having trouble recovering towards the end and keeping my heart rate down in the walking segments. Still some work to do, but hopefully following my program will get me there. I was dancing horribly by the last dance of our show on Saturday, and I know speeding up my recovery ability will help with that.

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Even though it was hot, it was a beautiful day on the trail. The grass is starting to turn brown given that it’s been 90-100 deg F most days the last couple weeks, but there were still a ton of wild flowers growing. I wish I had a chance to stop and take some flower pictures, but Irish dance training waits for no one! There were some especially large white flowers that were gorgeous. The meadowlarks were out in force and singing beautifully, and I even saw a coyote in the grass today. That was much more unnerving than the beautiful meadowlark song!

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I’m also trying to keep up with getting enough steps. I’m not making my 10k goal each day, so there’s definite room for improvement. But I’m working on keeping it up and hope to start making my daily goals.

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Daily Writing Prompt: Open

I haven’t responded to the writing prompts from The Daily Post before, though I do notice them each day. Today, however, that one-word prompt carries special meaning for me in the context of this blog.

Open.

13322208_488329754699185_446992760155568038_nOf course, the word Open means something much different to a competitive Irish dancer than it might to someone who isn’t immersed in that culture. It doesn’t mean to be spread wide, or for the door to be ajar, or to be welcoming to all. It means to be the best. To be an Open Champion means you’ve made it to the top. You’re in the major leagues now. You clawed your way up through the grades and won three (in my region, at least) preliminary championship competitions. You don’t tottle through seven dances anymore, you perfect one treble jig or hornpipe, one reel or slip jig, and one set dance designed only for you. You float across a large stage. You don’t just get a few medals to mark a single win, you get a sash and a trophy and you stand on the podium. You command the respect and hard work of your teachers. You’re the best of the best. This is the top.

Except…it’s not the top. When you first advance from Preliminary to Open f6c85c5939561cb4f9cfd5aecce80726Championships, you may find yourself fighting hard just so you don’t finish last. You may be competing against dancers that have been in the game 20 or more years. You may not recall at Oireachtas. Even if you qualify for Worlds, an elite group indeed!, you’re still fighting for a recall there. You want to become a World Medal Holder. And when you are, you want to get in the top 5 and on the podium. When you make it to the podium, you want to be the World Champion.

And when you’re the World Champion? You want to keep improving. You want to be the World Champion next year. And the next. A never-ending quest of self improvement.

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Even though I’ll never be a World Champion, I will still strive for it. The beauty of all this is there is never a ceiling. There is always a new goal to aim for. This is why I’m dropping down. Not because I think I’ll ever be a World Medal Holder, but because I want to chase it. I want to chase Open. The “Adult” category has been good to me in many aspects, but I’m pushing against the ceiling already in just two years. Even if I did win 1st place in every Prizewinner dance, where’s the excitement in that? It doesn’t get me to Worlds. It doesn’t even get me to Preliminary Championships. I don’t want to be contained and dancing at the same nominal level for the next 10 to 20 years. I want my potential and possibilities open. I want to be Open.

In dropping down, I’m issuing a challenge to myself. Keep working. Keep running. Keep dancing. Keep dreaming.

Open, I’m coming after you.

…And Then I Get Sick

After coming out of my feis ready and motivated to mount my campaign to drop down and dominate &overs, I ended up being sick the last couple days. I’m feeling much better today, but I missed two days of dance! I know some people feel like they must attend class/workout no matter what, but this was honestly not the type of illness one should be persevering through. Also, my personal moral code states that if you’re sick, stay at damn home until you’re well and quit infecting everyone else! So, home I stayed with limited walking as that made everything worse.

I’m feeling much better today, though, and made it into the office (I’m thankful for “work from home” options!). On the schedule for today is weight lifting. And of course, focusing back on proper food intake.

Before I got sick, though, I took a rest day on Saturday and got back to running on Sunday. I’m going with my off season endurance/recovery training for about 7 weeks, then I’m going to switch to a preseason regime of sprints. That will lead into the end of the year feis season and my first feiseanna dropped down. It was my first run in a while, and I headed out fairly early to beat the heat. I tend to work out more in the afternoons/evenings, so it’s a bit tough for me to get out the door and train hard before noon. When the high is in the 90s, though? I’m motivated to go early when it’s still in the 70s and the sun doesn’t want to turn me into a tomato.

So it was 10 sets of 2 minutes running, 2 minutes walking out on the trail. I started struggling a bit towards the 7th set, but I made it through and am hopeful next week will be even better. And with all the rain we’ve been having, the trail was beautiful. The Meadowlarks were out in force, and I even saw a Bullock’s oriole!

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Beautiful day on the trail

In the interest of transparency, here are my stats from the run. Yes, I’m slow. Like, hella slow. Which is why I’m training. Because I’m überslow.

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Feis Report

A resounding “meh” from the feis yesterday. My dancing was okay, and I was pretty middle of the pack all around. On one hand, it’s good that I’m holding my own in Prizewinner. On the other hand, how the hell am I going to do in regular age grades if I can’t score better in Adult? I’m not sure if the fact that others in the group have been dancing 8 to 10 years compared to my 3 is a comfort or an excuse. Probably a bit of both.

We were being rushed to make room for the champs and had to be in a gym with competing music from the figures. Overall a negative experience and none of us were happy. The numbers were good for my competitions, though, so that was a positive!

Breakdown by dance:

  • Reel: No place out of 8. I always get nervous on this one and definitely flubbed the first few steps of the dance. One point behind 4th, the last place awarded.
  • Light Jig: Happy with this one, 2nd of 8. Very happy about my “good turn out” comment from the judge!
  • Slip Jig: Was *not* happy that the musician flubbed this music! Another group even had to restart, but the other girl and myself needed to persevere. 5th place out of 9.
  • Single Jig: I felt fairly good with this one, 3rd of 7.
  • Double Jig: Oh no, I had to dance alone at the end of the line! I usually like to have other dancers cover my lack of good hard shoe beats, but still got 3rd of 7.
  • Hornpipe: This one felt weak. I went with the traditional speed, even though I don’t do that dance very well, because I knew it was a throwaway even with the slow hornpipe so there was no point in exhausting myself. No place of 5, 1 point behind 3rd.
  • Traditional Set: This went okay, 3rd of 6. Another comment about my poor rocks, but at least I kept my right foot turned out!
  • Treble Reel Special: I dance this okay, but not very well. I knew I wouldn’t place and indeed I didn’t. 1 point behind 4th place, out of 7.
  • 2 Hand Jig: 1st of 1! We were really hoping for some competition, but I think we danced it well anyway and I did an impressively fast costume switch between my solo dress and my black team outfit.

My main comments were to stay on my toes in soft shoe, some issues with turnout, and apparently I wasn’t keeping my knees together in my hard shoe. Overall I didn’t feel as prepared as usual or as strong in my dancing. A lot of work to do before September! I haven’t decided if I want to compete next month but if I do, it will be in Adult.

The only picture I have of myself at the feis looks a bit creepy in the back of the Treble Reel Special. But I did okay and got a few medals. Lots of work ahead of me!

(L) Hair and makeup finished, ready to leave! (M) Treble Reel Special (R) Medals

Also this feis was my very first in 2014, so I like to use it as a benchmark of my progress. I thought it would be fun to compare this feis across 3 years. I’ve definitely come a long way, not only in levels I’m competing but also in some of my dances, especially Double Jig.

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So I officially start my third year of feising with a decent performance in Adult Prizewinner and ready to drop down. Crazy compared to April 2013, when I bumbled around in my very first Irish dance class!

You Were Gone Forever, I Counted

I went through a bit of a slump in May. I used moving out of my horrid apartment as an excuse, both before (I’m getting ready to move and can’t stand being here, I’ll train later) and after (I just moved, I’m tired, I’m unpacking, I’ll train later). But later never comes.

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Moving is tough

In my defense, my cat was pretty worn out from the move too and he didn’t even have to pack or haul boxes.

Then I tried getting myself back into gear, but can’t seem to manage much at a time. So I decided to hold off blogging until I was officially back to doing everything on my list. We see how that went! I never got totally on track and never came back to the blog.

But I decided the blog helped motivate me and track my progress, so I’m back anyway. I’m not doing everything in my schedule yet, but I’m working on it. And that’s okay. It might stick easier to take baby steps and it certainly is easier to get back on track without the all or nothing mentality. So with that in mind, here’s a quick round up of what I’ve been working on the last month or so.

Dance:

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    Ghillie lines = hard work, right?

    I made progress on my punches! I can officially do one with the right leg. The left leg still needs work.

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    I’m competing on Friday in the adult category and that may be my last adult competition before dropping down this fall.

  • I’m in a teams class now and loving it. I was hoping to do Oireachtas but it’s not clear if we’ll have enough older folks for a 15&over team. If the dancers want to field an adult team, I’ll wait until January of 2017 to drop down from adults. I suspect we won’t have enough competitive adults, though.
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Performance fun last weekend

Training:

  • I want to focus on getting in better shape this summer in preparation for dropping down in September. To that end, I’ll be doing my “off season” training to build that fitness baseline while I work on losing weight. I just didn’t make enough progress since January. I also restructured my week. I find it easier to have Friday off because I can motivate myself better on the weekends due to free time. If I do take a teams class this fall, it might be on Fridays and in that case Wednesday will be the new off day.
    • Monday: Dance class (2 hours)
    • Tuesday: Dance class (1.5 hours), flexibility (20 min)
    • Wednesday: Weight lifting (NROLFW), core (20 min)

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      ‘Tis the season to start wearing sunblock on running days.

    • Thursday: Dance class (1.5 hours), foam rolling
    • Friday: off
    • Saturday: Dance practice (1 hour), flexibility (20 min)
    • Sunday: Running program, core (20 min)
  • I haven’t stuck to every thing on every day. At all. But I’ve been fairly consistent with dance class. Going forward, I’m going to ramp up lifting and running before I worry about the flexibility/core pieces. They’re important, but it’s too much to get into at once.
  • I’m trying to get spun back up on all aspects of my training without taking an “all or nothing” mindset when I miss a session.

Nutrition:

  • Struggle bus! I’ve been on and off here, seemingly one day good and one day poor. But I keep coming back to it.
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Some meal prepping this week…mason jar salads

  • With a 0.75 lb loss per week rate I’d hit my goal weight around St. Patrick’s Day 2017. I thought it was a very auspicious day to have as the end goal!
  • I’m a couple pounds down from my highest, but more or less holding steady.
  • I have a really nice spreadsheet tracking weight, calories, and Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). I’m glad I found it and it helps motivate me, even if only every other day. Right now a little behind on my St. Pat’s target.

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  • Hit or miss with steps. I’m doing mediocre, but need to be more consistent.

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I won’t be lifting on Wednesday since I compete on Friday, so my main training goals this week are to keep my nutrition in check and attend all my dance classes. One last push to the feis, then settling in for summer with training for dropping down!