Jelly Legs

A three hour practice + forgetting my toe pads = sad dancer feet.

Despite my lapse in toe pad judgment, the rehearsal went extremely well. Not just for me, but for our entire studio. Our teacher even told us that it was the best we’ve ever looked, and this is our seventh year of St. Patrick’s performances and third year for our recital.

The adults aren’t in much of the first act, so we took the time to practice our special

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Ow.

numbers at the end of the first/beginning of the second acts. Our ceili went far better than last Thursday, so I’m much less worried about that. We may end up giving each other verbal cues on stage Sunday, but at least we aren’t bumping into each other because someone goes the wrong direction. We ran through the hour long show twice during practice, plus some additional practice in between, so I was very sore when I got home and a foot soak was a must. Overall, though, I’d say we’re ready! I’m also really excited that my 2-hand reel choreography that I created with a fellow adult student will be featured in the show.

Yesterday was my regular novice/prizewinner class, and we did a combination of solos and team dances. My feet and legs were still a bit sore/painful from Monday’s practice, so I was having trouble putting in full effort. However, it was a very good class. I have a few things to work on and I’m not sure how to do it in the next couple weeks due to St. Patrick’s Day, but hopefully I’ll find the time/space. My punch is too fast in my first step of my reel and I’m getting off time (along with everyone else) with a new update to our second step of the treble jig. My teacher took out a part of the reel that had been vexing me, though, so I’m very excited about the new update! It just wasn’t good choreography, so I’m glad she changed what the school directors gave her. We also did a lot of stepping through the hornpipe which was extremely helpful. However…there is a lot of left leg work to do still.

Today is a rest day from dance, and my feet are absolutely thrilled.

Normal Operations May Suspend in the Wake of St. Patrick’s Day

If I only update erratically, or not at all, don’t despair – I’ve simply fallen into the hole that is St. Patrick’s Day. ‘Tis the season!shamrock-stpatrick_82r

After four dance classes last week (St. Pat’s practice, regular novice/prizewinner class, adult class for St. Pat’s, and ballet) I amazingly still love dancing, but it’s only going to keep ramping up from here.

Show practice went very well last week. We had time to run the show twice and hit the few areas that need tweaking on top of that. It’s not perfect, but we’re sitting pretty and I’m hopeful my team will do an excellent job. Regular class went well too. After my feis results the previous weekend I have been determined to work hardest on turnout and cross. I have a long way to go but I’ve already progressed over the previous few years and I will continue to do so. Adult class was also enjoyable. I hated how late it was (I didn’t get home until almost 10pm), but it was nice to be back with my adults again and not be the worst dancer in class for once! We practiced our special adult-only numbers for the recital.

Speaking of…it’s all about to start! This Sunday is our parade followed by our recital, and that’s followed Friday by 9 (!) shows from 9am to 8pm, then a couple performances on Saturday. Dancing legs, give me strength! I had 12 e-mails about show stuff yesterday. That’s fewer total shows than last year, but I think it’s because St. Patrick’s Day is on a Friday instead of the middle of the week. Seems like there is less interest in having us the weekend before/after, but we’re completely booked the day of.

To round out this healthy complaining (don’t we all have a love/hate relationship with St. Patrick’s Day?), it really frustrates me when we’re doing a dance like a ceili, which is SO DEPENDENT on you knowing your own spot and carrying your own weight for the team, and someone continually screws it up. It’s fine if we’re just having fun in class, but I get frustrated when we’re practicing for a performance and someone’s continued poor dancing/ability to know where to be on stage throws off the whole team. I’m really hoping it goes better tonight and the culprit practiced over the weekend, because I think it’s very embarrassing to have a ceili fall apart on stage. It’s like that time in middle school band where our director stopped and restarted one of our pieces because there was no salvaging how badly it went off the first time.

An up, a down, and a decision

I had a double feis this past weekend, which is one feis Saturday and a completely different feis Sunday, rather than the more typical set up of one feis but different competitions (usually a champ day and a grades day) each day.

The first day was great. I messed up my reel, of course, as I always mess it up due to nerves, but overall I was pretty happy with my dancing. I got a 2nd in my slip jig, which was very exciting, and I placed in my treble jig, traditional set, and light jig. After having problems placing in the big 4 dances (reel, slip jig, treble jig, and hornpipe) since dropping down, these were good results and the most places I have gotten in a single feis since dropping down.

The second day had me questioning my entire participation in this sport. I had a good time during competition and felt that I did well, maybe even better than the day before especially for my reel. Then I saw my results: 5th in my reel, 4th in my slip jig, and that was it. I was so disappointed and angry. I had seen other dancers thinking they didn’t do that well, and here I was with poor placings while those others got many placings/high placings. How terrible must I look to do poorly next to them? Is my entire perception of myself and my ability a lie?

I spent the entire drive home doing a mix of stewing and contemplating. Clearly I had two choices before me.

The first was quitting. I had a good run, but I just started too late. I’m too old, too heavy, too bad, too lazy. Who am I kidding thinking I’m a good dancer, or could ever hope to be one? Why am I trying to keep up with kids? There’s no hope for a 28 year old beginner. Maybe I’ll just take the adult class once a week for exercise. Maybe I’ll switch to ballet, where there are no competitions. Or maybe I’ll just stop all together. I could do a lot of other things with my time. I could try harder at work. I could do a lot of hiking again. Maybe I’ll just sink all my money into traveling. Maybe I’ll just sit on my couch and get fat.

The second was trying harder. Throwing myself into practice and perfecting my technique.

I chose the second. And thus starts a new chapter in my dance career. I’ve crossed the threshold from beginner to thinking I’m good, and now I’ve crossed the next which is knowing my weaknesses and making them better.

On Wednesday I’ll be getting the last supplies I need to build my home studio, and I will practice until I have so much turn out and cross that I’ll bring tears to the eyes of the judges who are so insistent that my turnout and cross isn’t there.

My next feis is in May, and I will make damn sure it goes better than yesterday. This blog’s tagline will come true in the not so distant future.

Because when it all comes down to it, I love being a dancer, I enjoy performing, and I had a lot of fun at the feiseanna this weekend, sans the existential crisis after awards on Sunday. Dance makes me happy.

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Awards from the better of my two days

Loving the Studio

There are many days after work where going to dance feels like the last thing I want to do. I’m worn out, I’m hungry, there’s a million things to do at home that I’d ignore anyway if I stayed home, the usual excuses.

However, with St. Patrick’s Day coming up I knew I needed to make it to Monday class, and with a double feis next weekend I knew I needed to make it to Novice/Prizewinner class. And I’m so glad I did, because when I’m in the studio and dancing I am very happy indeed!

Monday Teams practice is especially important to attend because if you are missing, you’re not just impacting yourself but the entire team. We ran through our entire show (~30 min long) twice. Overall it was going very well and I’m confident we’ll kill it during the crazy whirlwind of shows next month! There are a few spacing and “staying in a straight line” issues to fix, but in general no major kinks.

Solo practice was hit and miss for me yesterday. Lots of stickers for the kiddos for Valentine’s Day, so we did a lot of recalls (dance once, then about 1/2 or so dance one step a second time for stickers/bragging rights). I didn’t recall (bottom 4 of 10) in the light jig despite thinking I had done well. Good marks for single jig and reel, but then I didn’t recall for the slip jig. Fortunately I got specific correction that I executed all steps properly, but needed more turn out and cross. Since that was a focus of the light jig as well, that was likely my problem there even though I thought I had nailed it. At least I know what to practice! I also got an honorable mention for best arms in the show-version of the slip jig. Adding arm motions really makes the dancing feel more like a performance and art, rather than simply a competitive sport. I love being able to both compete and perform.

Hard shoe was all around bad. I am doing better in my traditional set (St. Patrick’s Day) compared with how I’ve done traditionally, and I’m nailing butt kicks and whatnot, but I always feel messy and like I don’t have strength or know what I’m doing in the hard shoe dances. Treble jig is feeling more solid (and I got a sticker for that one), except for the new second step. Depending on how it’s going next week, I might run the old way for the feis just to increase my chances of medaling. Hornpipe still feels awful. The first step is getting more solid, but I’m a mess in my second step. I need to hurry up and build my home practice space so I can go through it slowly and just work on improving my hard shoe performance in general.

One positive though. We were drilling the end of our hornpipe step because no one was getting in all the butt kicks. It’s treble toe treble hop back, with a butt kick before the toe and on the hop back. The teacher explained there were two main issues, one being just not moving our legs fast enough. I was an example of legs not moving fast enough, but the positive was in using me as an example, she also pointed out that she could tell I was trying hard, and that I always try very hard in class, but I wasn’t getting it because my legs were still moving a bit too slow. Even though I need to improve my leg speed, being recognized for my hard work in class was very rewarding!

Sticker Love!

I’m officially not to old to appreciate a sticker as a reward for good work! I got two on Tuesday, one in slip jig and one in hornpipe.

We did a combination of practice for St. Patrick’s Day and solos practice in Tuesday class. The Fairy Reel still makes my old lady feet hurt, but I made it through, and my solo reel is starting to come along well. Now that I can finally do punches, the update to the first step is solid. The second step is a bit more shaky, but we drilled the new end piece a while and it’s starting to get better. I just need to concentrate more on keeping my legs straight and snappy.

For slip jig, we practiced with arm motions again that will be used for performances. I’m only doing the second steps for St. Patrick’s Day, and I still have a hard time coming out of the turn on my left leg and into the leap when doing the arm motions. We did a step down the line after practicing slip jig, and I was honorable mention after the top two for arm motion. Ballet is coming in handy yet again!

Of course, no class would be complete without hard shoe, my nemesis. I can tell the dances are starting to improve in general, which is good, but I’m still not happy about it. I really need to get my practice space built at the new house! We did a Novice vs. Prizewinner buttkick competition for our hornpipes and the Novices somehow won. I got most of my buttkicks in, but I still can’t move my legs fast enough on a fast treble hop back/toe to kick my butt on the way down.

Performance practice on Monday went great as well. My teacher thinks my team will be ready to run the entire show next week, which is unprecedented. The little champs are still having a hard time keeping a straight line or knowing where they need to be in relation to each other on stage, but the beginners and adults are all doing pretty well. One of the Beginner 2’s is dead set on being able to do some hard shoe in the shows, so I sat down with her after class to write down the set part of St. Patrick’s Day (the set dance) so she can practice at home. I remember how badly I wanted to do hard shoe my first St. Patrick’s Day too, so I’d like to see her succeed. Now that I’m older, though, sometimes I wouldn’t mind sitting out the hard shoe numbers!

Cross Training Ramp Up

Now that I’ve settled in with three dance classes a week (2 Irish, 1 ballet), the time has come to incorporate my cross training! I’ve been adding to my training load slowly since the beginning of the year to avoid the burn out of too much training at once.

Yesterday was my first run. Due to my backslide, I’m starting right where I did a year ago (oh dear, 2016 feels like a waste) with my intervals. I walked to a little reservoir near my house that has a nice 0.6 mile (~1 km for my metric friends) dirt path around it. It has been beautifully warm around here the last couple days. A bit of wind, sunny, and 50 F (10 C) when I was out. Fortunately no sunburn despite forgetting my sunblock! I did 10 sets of 2 min running, 2 min walking, My heart rate recovered fairy well for the first 8 sets, down to around 130 bpm or less by the end of each walking interval, but the last 2 I could only get down to around 140 bpm. I’m not sure if the path is more flat than the one I used to run before moving, or if by some miracle I’m in better shape than a few months ago, but I was pleased with how it all went.

No photos, but the trail had a gorgeous view of the mountains. I avoided all geese, and even saw some sea gulls (who are a long, long way from the sea!). Also saw a kestrel perched nearby.

Let the Madness Begin!

Last night officially began our first St. Patrick’s Day practice! Overall I was really happy with how my team did. There are a few champs who need to get their head in the game and pay attention to proper positioning on stage/when to come out/how to stay in a line, but the littles were well-behaved enough and the adults are great. We actually ran the entire show in our 1.5 hours of practice, which is unheard of for the first practice of the season.

I hope the champs will come along quickly. They definitely have the capability, but I think because they focus so much on the competition side they can have trouble transitioning from solo competitions to group performances. Especially my champs, we only have one ~20 year old and the rest are only 10 to 13 years old. On the competition stage, you’re really only worried about yourself and where you’re positioned. When you’re performing, you need to worry about where you are in relation to everyone else, how to cohesively blend in with the group, and express more emotion/artistry than just flawless technique.

Of course I was dying during the last hard shoe number. I managed to maintain my weight instead of gain during my ~2 week break (I’m not much of a stick-to-it type I guess), but I really want to be in shape for March. Leading a team gives me a higher feeling of responsibility to be on top of my game.

Overall, there’s a lot to polish, but I think my team is in good starting shape and I’m looking forward to the shows!

A Brief Glimpse into the Mind

Well, into my mind, anyway.

I have not been up to snuff on keeping in my calories this week. Given the wonderful job I did the first week, I’m dreading my Sunday weigh in. If I maintained I can take that, but I worry I gained.

I’m not writing for pity or scolding, though. I’m writing because something occurred to me this morning.

The past couple weeks with the stress of work and my move, I’ve had a lot of “problems”. I worried about a bladder infection, bladder cancer, meningitis, chest pains, and whooping cough. There was nothing physically wrong with me that whole time. I’m probably forgetting some other mystery ailments. Then I realized last night, after eating far, far too much food, that it was the first evening in a long couple weeks that I felt fine.

But, I don’t like being fat and it negatively impacts everything I want to do. I need to figure out how to calm myself without it and return to rational land.

New Steps, Old Brain

One of my strengths in dance has always been my ability to pick up quickly on new steps. I remember them as soon as I’m shown them, and pretty quickly they make it to my feet. They don’t look good, they aren’t properly executed, but at least I know what they’re supposed to be. And while I’m still above average in that regard, I think my brain is starting to suffer from an attack of old or is too filled with old steps.

After scrambling to class after work and jumping in a few minutes late, we breezed through our light, single, and slip jigs to work on some changed in the reel. To encourage the kids, my teacher cheerfully informed us that the open champs have the same step in their reel, so aren’t we glad to have it in our novice/prizewinner step? Not me, no. But I caught on soon enough.

We drilled the right leg, then the brave children decided we should dance both right and left leg of the updated step. After a successful run through the right leg, I went into autopilot and bungled my old step with the update in my left leg. A few more runs saw it stick, but I’ll need to drill it at home to be sure. We then drilled the change in our second step, and I caught on amazingly quickly. Of course, left leg happens, but I was pleased by the end of soft shoe.

Soft shoe time always ends too soon, so we were on to changing into our hard shoes and going over the changes to the treble jig. Everything made sense in my brain, but going through to my legs is a completely different story. I also haven’t picked up on how the new steps fit in with the music. So there will be a lot of mental drilling along with physically walking those steps.

No classes for me for a while now due to going out of town for a work conference, so hopefully I’ll have the new steps somewhat engrained in my legs before I return!

Return to the Studio

This week I returned to our beautiful, newly expanded Irish dance studio. I felt like a bum being out of town and unable to help with the construction work for prepping the new addition to our studio space, but I am certainly enjoying the results. We used to have a large studio (~950 sq ft), small studio (380 sq ft), and tiny waiting/entrance space that was only about 60 sq ft, or smaller than a mid-size bedroom. As our classes grew, you can imagine it was difficult to fit 20 students plus their doting parents who insisted on making sure young Jenny tied her shoes right or needed to know what steps Kevin needs to work on at home and no, that simply cannot wait until we’re cleared out of the waiting area and beginning class inside the studio. We also couldn’t fit in a line across the back in the big studio anymore for many classes and needed two lines for drills. Our teacher has grown the studio so much in only four years!

We finally expanded into the neighboring space though, and now our small studio has become the new, spacious, amazing waiting room and our big studio is now the small one! I loved being in the new, bigger studio but I especially loved being in the big waiting room.

I was also able to get plywood, foam, and floor covering leftovers for my home studio I plan to build for a grand total of $90, saving about $300. Now I just need lumber for the framing, a glassless mirror, a ballet barre, and some foam squares for the non-dance workout area and I’ll be set in that room!

This blog is about my dancing, though, so back to that. The return to Irish went okay, but I could tell I had been off for a few weeks based on how winded I got. It was difficult to hornpipe by the end of class, and I need to remember my toe pads next time for sure! Overall, I was happy to be back, I was not completely disappointed in myself, but my exhaustion level tells me (a) I need to get back to running and (b) I’m happy I decided to postpone my next feis until February.