Always Advance, Never Retire

…unless you’re dancing a ceili, of course!

Since I’m still on one Irish class a week until August, I did some at home practice last night during what would usually be my Thursday evening class time. I’m always so happy about the advances I make during at home practice, and last night was no different.

My main focus was on my new steps so I can have them squared away before learning even more new steps next Tuesday. I started in soft shoe working on my new slip jig. The new step is finally clicking, at least on my right foot! Previously I had difficulty with one of the turns and the little transition jumps and switches that surround it, and it’s finally starting to make sense when I execute it. I was even able to go (mostly) correct through the step with music up to tempo. The birdie step will still need a lot of work because I can’t get my foot anywhere close to a butt kick. Since I’m getting better at holding my leg up during a leap, at least part of the lack of birdie may be mental although I’m sure some strength and quickness will need to be built up too. But as we say, left foot happens, so there’s still a long way to go on perfecting the step. But I’m moving forward.

I also practiced my new treble jig. I practice in a yoga room at my apartment complex with a nice big mirror, so it’s ideal for dance but I can’t wear my hard shoes for fear of damaging the floor. While I do have a square of shower pan liner for dancing, it’s too small to practice any runs, so I usually wear my dance sneakers when practicing hard shoe at home. One problem I’ve been having for months is that my sneakers really hurt my arches, particularly on the outside of my foot. Early on with the problem I discovered tying them very tight helped the issue a bit, but it still ends up being so painful I can’t wear them for very long. In addition to concerns with injury, this means I have pain problems when I need sneakers for parades or other street performances where I can’t wear my dance shoes. I’ve tried all manner of arch supports in the shoes. Finally, exasperated, I stopped last night and retied them as loose as possible to the point where my feet were moving around in them. Voila…no more pain! Derp. At least I finally figured out the problem was that I was tying them too tight and can now dance pain-free in my sneakers!

On to the jig practice. I’ve got both steps down but I’m having problems falling behind on transitions and can’t keep up with the music in rhythm sections either. I can hear how the steps fit with the music just fine when listening, but as soon as I start to dance I just can’t keep up with the music. So, more practice is in order!

The last few minutes of my practice I spent on Blackbird. My tips are ever so slightly better and I’m remembering the step and first part of the set that I’ve learned and executing them better and in time to the music. If I’m ready to dance this set in September I’ll be super happy!

Bonus picture of me dancing last night. What is turnout?

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Back in the Studio

Last night was my first day back in the studio after the two week break for the North American Championships and summer workshop (clearly I didn’t attend either). It was challenging yet great to be back!

Summer workshop is the time of year my studio ditches almost all of the old choreography and we need to learn new steps. After drills (I’m so close to being able to do a punch with my left foot) it was time to work on the new soft shoe dances. I was in class with Prizewinners and Champs, so even though I’m not going to Oireachtas this year I was grouped with the Senior Ladies and worked on slip jig. A Prelim Champ level slip jig. I am in Novice. It was tough. I got fairly close to being able to do the choreography though, so perhaps with some work this week I’ll be able to dance it on the right foot at least by next Tuesday.

While I’m having trouble nailing one of the turns, another issue is the step ends with a new move for me: a birdie. A birdie is basically a leap except instead of switching feet, you land back on the same foot. I find it more difficult than a leap because landing on my jumping foot limits the amount of time in the air I have to kick my butt. I might end up needing a modification.

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A birdie

After slip jigs we moved on to hard shoe and I worked on the new treble jig. Prizewinners had a different choreography than Prelims fortunately, and it was much easier to pick up. I learned both the first and second steps and they’re quite similar to my old treble jig, same rhythm parts but in different orders. The biggest issue with this one is continued struggling to treble properly with my left foot and trying to retrain the muscle memory of my old jig!

Overall it was wonderful to be in class again. I could feel improvements I have made over the past year and have a ton of things to work on to better myself. And hopefully the pain in my toe is only temporary…

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My view leaving class last night. Great end to a great evening.

Plodding Along at 5 mph

I’ve slowly been working through my cross training. As I mentioned a few days ago, I did take a break to get my act together in other areas of my training/life, but I did some work previously and another run Sunday.

I’m very behind on my weight training – I missed the last two weeks! Unfortunately I didn’t get on it this past week as I wanted. No excuse really, I just prioritized other activities.

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Squat and rows are barbell weight, others are weight of each dumbbell

Sunday marked a halfway point in my conditioning running. As soon as I hit the trail that morning I could tell it would be a tough one. Apparently eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns weren’t good running fuel! I knew it was a bad idea, but my lovely boyfriend made me breakfast so how could I resist? After the run, I thanked him again profusely but told him I can’t eat like that on running morning anymore.

(L) Caught a picture of the giant white flower (R) A slightly different perspective of the trail than usual

Overall my recovery between runs was pretty poor, with my heart rate staying higher than previous weeks (in the low 150s as opposed to in the low 130s). However, after a little research it seems that if I stick with this training I should start seeing improvements with my heart rate taking longer to elevate and recovering more quickly between sets.

I’ve been slightly improving on my walking the past week than the week previous, but I’m still falling short of my 10k step goal most days. Been around 8k most days recently though, which isn’t too bad.

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I still haven’t managed to add in my other cross training: core and flexibility/mobility. I’m hoping to do so soon but for now I’d like to focus on sticking with my main cross training activities. That continues to be enough of a struggle. Even though I do feel motivated, it can be hard convincing myself that I can and should do so much exercise. And when I’m tired after a day of work…that I do really want to train.

Ballet!

And now for something completely different…I took my first ballet class this morning!

No, I’m not switching dance styles. I decided to take up ballet once a week as a cross training exercise. I’m hoping the slow, deliberate movements and learning of ballet will help with my turn out, arch, carriage, and balance, among other things. After my trial class this morning I do think it could be useful, so I bought a 10 class punch card at the studio I attended. I was happy to find them as they have a huge adult program!

Some initial impressions:

  • I still like Irish better. It’s a bit more exciting and the music is one hundred times better. I don’t hate classical music at all, I just really prefer traditional Irish music to the soft piano of ballet.
  • There were some movements quite similar to Irish, and some completely different. The whole concept of moving my arms, moving my head, and putting my heels on the floor and bending the knees was odd. Fifth position, points, and a close first position were the most similar to my Irish steps.
  • Working at the barre was great for concentrating on the line of my legs. I’m hopeful that it will help my turn out and how I tend to list to the side when all my weight is on one leg.
  • Although there is no dress code for adults and there was no one in a leotard and tights, I was very aware that I looked different than the rest of the class. I wore my typical Irish gear, but I was the only one not in leggings, not in a tank top, and wearing socks with my shoes. Now I know for next week!
  • The studio was SO WARM. A tank top next week is a must.
  • I liked how the instructor would walk around during exercises and physically correct our placement. I’m sure it would bother some people, but I don’t always understand how to move myself into position so I appreciated that it was done for me. It helped me feel the proper positions and work to achieve them on my own.
  • Ballet language =/= English, it’s French and I will need to do some learning! Today I learned:
    • Positions: first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. Irish uses an over-crossed fifth.
    • First position arms
    • Barre: A bar you exercise at to start class
    • Center: Put the bar away and dance on the floor without it
    • Plié: basically a turned out squat
    • Tendu: same as a point in Irish
    • Dégagé (I think?): lift the point (tendu) off the ground
    • Sous-sus: Jump into fifth position up on toes. This was the most similar thing to Irish that I did today.
    • Rond de jambe: I don’t remember learning this term but we definitely drilled this movement

While I absolutely prefer Irish, I do think the ballet work will help my form and my flexibility. I could feel that my feet and my legs had gotten a good workout during the class and had moved directions they aren’t used to going!

Another thing that excited me about trying a new dance style was I got to buy new gear! I love gear and was slightly disappointed that I didn’t need to buy new dance-specific attire too (although I hate tights so I don’t know why I’m disappointed). The only thing I needed to get were ballet shoes, but that was still fun. I got a beginner full sole leather slipper. Unboxing below!

I don’t know if this counts as a proper unboxing since I tried them on before I bought them.

They feel a bit odd since they aren’t a split sole and they fit a lot looser than ghillies. I hate the color pink, but I still really dig my shoes. The elastic was pre-sown on the inside and was rubbing my foot while I was starting the breaking in process, so I covered the ends that were rubbing in athletic tape. Worked perfectly! I’m looking forward to what the next few weeks will bring and if I’ll see any improvements in both my performance in ballet class and my performance in Irish class.

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The Nutrition Strugglebus

I’ve been trying to get my shit together the last couple weeks, hence the lack of updates. While cross training has been going well and I’ve made some dance advances*, I just can’t seem to stick to my eating plans. That’s been reflected in my weight, which has been bouncing near my “starting weight” from mid-May.

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Goal weight in green, planned loss rate in red, actual weight in blue.

I was doing mostly well the last couple weeks in June, then the first week of July I barely kept track of my intake. I’m glad I didn’t break 150 again, but I really need to get myself back on track.

This isn’t just a “I look bad and need to lose weight” thing, although aesthetics are certainly part of my desire and there’s no reason to deny that. Extra fat is unhealthy, period. There are too many studies and too much evidence for me to justify that my current body weight/body fat and current way of eating are in any way “healthy” or even acceptable. I want to have great quality of life for as many years as possible and to dance as long as possible. I want my optimal weight to power ratio for dance. I don’t want my feet and knees to hurt as much when I dance. I want to leap higher and stay higher on my toes. All of that is harder with extra weight. And independent of weight, I know that when I eat well vs. when I eat poorly, my performance and general feeling of well being is improved.

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Zucchini “pasta” with parmesan and ground turkey – great veggie infusion!

So why is it so hard to stick to?

Food is my way of coping with a lot. I get anxious about this or that, and eating is the easiest way to suppress that for a while. Sure, I could go for a walk, work out, any other distraction, but eating takes the least effort. And putting forth effort when anxious is very, very tough.

I’m also lazy outside of anxiety and looking for instant satisfaction. I wait until I’m hungry to eat and don’t want to put forth the effort to cook for 30 minutes, or wait for something healthy to finish cooking/baking because I’m hungry RIGHT NOW.

I still don’t understand how to overcome any of this, but I keep working on it. So far so good this week (three days, so long! ha). I’ve finished cleaning my apartment, which was way overdo and a clean apartment helps motivate me to stay on top of everything

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Low calorie dinner of champions: scrambled egg and turkey sausages.

from training and eating properly to otherwise being productive. I’ve stayed in my calories the last three days and avoided both eating and drinking temptations. I hope someday it will become habit, the way my poor eating became habit.

My training (both dance and cross) has fallen by the wayside the last week while I got myself together food and clean apartment wise, but today after work I will do my lifting. Dance class starts up next week but only once a week until the official summer session starts in August, so I will also continue working on my own.

The key will be to keep on top of my nutrition and not slipping into old habits. I have a good jumping off point, and I need to stay the course instead of drifting over to the side of the pool where it is necessary to build a new jumping point and try again.

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So much deliciousness when I’m not lazy.

*For cross training, I’ve been hanging in there on my runs and staying on schedule and working on amping up my weight lifting. For dance, I’m getting closer to a left punch and proper double ups and have been working on tips and shuffles. And I’m getting better at the bit of Blackbird I’ve learned!