Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Disappointment and New Beginnings

     My last blog was written at Oireachtas, the day before team competitions. One of the teams I was on practiced a lot the night before, but sometimes, things happen when you are on that big stage. It was 75% of the team's first O, and no one on that team had done the Oireachtas ceili competition before. As for my other team, my teammates are great, but we were a little disorganized and could have committed more time to practicing. Either way, both teams placed last, but in those particular competitions, all the teams were recalled. One of the more disappointing parts of the night was waiting for awards, only to learn adult ceilis were being bumped to the last awards that would be announced. We were moved so that college-aged kids could get their awards sooner. I think I'd have been more understanding if it was so 8 year olds didn't have to stay up late. The longer we waited, the more the team bonded over complaining about various aspects of being adult dancers in adult class, adult competition. Unfortunately, our adult class teacher, who always has a fabulous attitude about everything, had a work conflict and couldn't attend. So one of our gripes was about how one of the other teachers left the room right when the adult competition was about to begin. I understand there are a lot of other competitions to see, but it still didn't feel good to get the impression you are less important...which was only reinforced when pictures were being taken with the champs during adult awards, while my adult team panicked that we wouldn't have a teacher to go up on stage with us if we placed top 3 :( The best part that came out of the night was that even though I knew I would be moving to another state, I hoped to someday room with my old teammates at a future Oireachtas.
     Oh, did I mention my husband's job transferred him again? So yeah, I am now at a new school, but I am taking classes with not just the prizewinner kids, but sometimes in combined classes with the champs. One of my teachers started out as an adult dancer, so I just know I am in the right place to achieve my goals, even if I feel like I am dancing terribly next to the champs. I finally get the chance to really push myself again, be a valued member of the school, and be treated like any other dancer. I am even in a ceili class and hope to do "and over" ceili at an Oireachtas someday! I look forward to my first performance and first "and-over" feis! I hope to have good things to share with you in the future.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Perseverance

     I know it has been a long time since I have posted, but a lot has happened these past few months. If I would have posted shortly after my last post, I would have told about how I decided I needed to drop down. I wanted to do a big feis that has a lot of adult competitors in August (and it is usually pretty fun, too), but then I hoped to drop down in the fall. I was getting resentful of the adults who were in "and-overs" and got frustrated when there were only a couple of adult competitors. I didn't want to suck the joy out of competition for my friends and competitors who enjoy the adult division. It is the right choice for some people, but for me, it wasn't where I wanted to be. I didn't think it was fair to the other adults for me to continue to compete if I was going to be a grump when less than 5 people signed up. So I made the decision that I either needed to drop down or quit competing.
      However, in the meantime, a potentially life-altering event happened to my family. My dear toddler son developed transverse myelitis overnight. It's an autoimmune inflammation of the myelin coating of the spinal cord, and he went from running up and down the hallway one night, to losing the use of his legs the next day. My previously-active boy was reduced to using his arms to drag his lower body across the floor. When we got the diagnosis, we were told that the odds of recovery were 1 in 3 for a full recovery, 1 in 3 for some improvement, and there was a 1 in 3 chance he would be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. I didn't want to dance anymore...the joy was sucked out of me as I wondered if my little boy would ever be able to kick his feet again. The first course of treatment, 5 days of IV steroids, produced minimal results. They started talking about him needing inpatient rehab, but first they wanted to try 5 sessions of plasma transfer, which would be done through a central line catheter every other day. What followed next was somewhat miraculous. After each plasma transfer, he got more and more mobility. As soon as I saw him able to bend his knees again, I thought about how Irish dance might be good therapy for him to work on fine motor skills of his feet and ankles. I imagined dancing in the parent-child competition someday and not caring how we did, knowing it would just be a victory to get up there. After about 15 days in the hospital, he was discharged, and after two months of outpatient therapy, he seems to be a normal toddler, but my perspective has definitely changed.
     Suddenly I realized that sometimes the true victory really is just getting up there. Sometimes your best might not be good enough to place, but that is okay, as long as you gave it your best. I don't want to take for granted my ability to get up there and dance. I had the chance to put this newfound perspective into action later in the summer. Remember that big feis I was talking about? Initially, I wanted to place 1st or 2nd in all my competitions. However, I got a shoulder overuse injury, and that, combined with a nagging ab/rib injury, and anxiety from all the stress I was under as my kiddo was recouperating, meant I was not feeling my best on competition day. I almost pulled out of the feis, but made myself do it since I had already paid the entry fee. I didn't do my best, but I did the best that I could that day, and even managed to take home some bling in my hardshoe! But in the weeks that followed, I got a hurtful e-mail from one of my feis friends. And I found out we would be moving again, thanks to my husband's job.
     Then my dropping-down plans were derailed, but for a good reason. My school decided to field adult ceili teams for Oireachtas for the first time in 9 years. My husband's new position wouldn't start until after the O, so I made plans for my first Oireachtas! I had a new plan: focus on traditional set and ceilis so my upper-body injuries would heal, and I would be ready to drop down after the move.
     I did 2 feisanna in the lead-up to Oireachtas. At the first one, I only did teams, because there were not a lot of adult competitors in the other dances, and I knew I wouldn't be happy competing solos. At the second one, I didn't do as well as I had hoped in some of my solos, but according to plan, my focus was on the O dances. At that feis, I got first in trad set in what was perhaps tied for my biggest Irish dance competition to date! One ceili team got 1st and another 2nd.
     I went into the Oireachtas feeling good. I was a little timid on my trad set, and was mad at myself for a couple of little things, but I was confident I recalled...until the recall list went up without my name on it. I was so frustrated, but I tried to keep everything in perspective. It is just a dance contest. I hope to be back next year, but in the 15 and over category. For now, I shift my focus to teams, and I persevere.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Grade Exams

Bottom line up front: I passed! Yay! I conquered grade 6! Now for the good (camaraderie and my grade), the bad (traffic), and the ugly (parking!).

So a Friday night in the city is always going to have a bit rough of traffic, and I was running a little late, but I wasn't too concerned. One of my classmates said I wouldn't have to be there right at 5 pm (at first I freaked out when I found out it started at 5 and not 7, as I had anticipated). I had to meet up with my husband at the feis hotel (it was local to me) to pass the kiddo to him for the evening. At least the hotel had free parking, or so I thought, based on when I was there in November or October 2015 and again in November 2016. Upon arriving, I went to the same parking lot where my teacher and I parked for the November feis, but this time, a parking attendant turned me away and said it was just for long-term parking for the airport. A parking garage looked closed, so I went to another lot and couldn't find a space. I saw my husband's vehicle, but he had already gone inside to look for me, because I told him we were parking in the back lot. A parking attendant came up to me and told me the lot was full, but that I could pay to valet park, if that was okay. I told him, no, it was not okay, and explained that I would just pull over to the side and go find my husband, then take his spot when he left, because he was just there to pick up my kid. I told him I'd rather just skip the event than pay the valet parking (I was ticked off at the whole mess, that was likely created by the hotel just trying to make more money). As I was getting my kiddo out of the car, the parking attendant acted like where I pulled off to park was okay to just stay and make a parking spot there. They also tried to swindle my husband out of three extra dollars for parking by making him pay in person and telling him that he was there longer than half an hour. He didn't have cash, so he ended up paying at the machine, which charged him the correct amount. This whole situation stressed me out, so I'm glad I had a little bit of time before I danced.

By the time I got to the room for grade exams, they were in between grade 1 dances. The doors were locked, but a teenage girl taking grades 7 and 8 let me in. I was so impressed with how she and the teenager taking grade 6 with me treated me like an equal. Later on, I was talking with one of my classmates from the adult class, as well as some of the kids and teens we met at the workshop. Plus, there was another adult from a different school in the area. She was dancing in the and-overs, so it renewed my resolve to someday drop down.

I don't know what was my favorite part of the day- how everyone treated us adults like any other dancers, or the B+ I got for grade 6. A B+ ...the grade I was hoping for! I have seen champs get A- s, and I know I have a lot of technique issues to work on, so I aimed for a B+ and achieved it :) Most of the comments were stuff I already knew, like pointing my toes more and getting higher on toes.

I will be missing a lot of class this month for family obligations, but my next goal is to prep for grade exam 7 and at least the ceili and trad set portions of grade 8. And just maybe, I will get the courage to drop down within the next year :)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I Believe I Can Fly

I don't know why I had so much energy tonight, but I felt like I was really lifting off the ground at class tonight. I was even trying to work more on toe point. I think I need to do like fellow blogger/Irish dancer Kay and do some exercises to work on toe height. My upper body is still a challenge, but overall, I felt pretty good tonight. In ceili, I was partnered with my awesome classmate who owns the awesome solo dress, and I always feel like she pushes me to be better with my form. This was one of those nights when I sort of felt like my work was paying off a bit. I've really been trying to work on slip jig lately. I even stopped and ran through my newest step at a little pavilion at the park yesterday, and imaginary slip jig music was in my head when I went for my jog. Even though my clicks, especially on left foot, weren't where they were pre-pregnancy, I think I am finally getting back in my groove (or rut...I still have a long way to go). I think that with the proper training and hard work, I could make it to prelims someday. Of course I would have to drop down first, and I already feel like I take dance more seriously than my classmates, and I worry about sucking the fun out of it for them (even though I am having the most fun when I have a competitive goal to work towards). For now, I am just working on getting through grade exams. I'm thinking it was not such a great idea to take a grade exam exactly 1 week after St. Patrick's Day, since we aren't having class next week, and today's class was mostly focused on St. Patrick's Day stuff. Good thing I am only doing grade exam 6. Now if only I could kick my butt more on the Blackbird.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

When Everything Goes Right

     Two weeks ago, my dance school's main teacher taught our class. He doesn't usually, as I go to a humongous school, and the adult class has their own separate teacher. I was a little bit nervous, because I felt like this would be perhaps my only chance to be noticed for being something more than just another adult dancer. I always imagine scenarios in my head, hoping that everything will play out in the most favorable way, and while it didn't quite go as I had imagined, it was a pretty good night, and February was a great month for Irish dance :)
     I felt like I was catching on to the new steps pretty quickly, and sometimes while I was walking through them, he would watch me and comment when I got a segment right. The best part of the evening came when my usual teacher was telling the lead teacher about me signing up to do grade exam 6. Turns out they were having a grade exam prep workshop that weekend...with the rest of the students. I got an invite to go to a workshop with everyone else! Another one of the adults and I made plans to attend. Plus, the teacher told me I could stop by during the regular prizewinner class to work on my steps for grade exams! Unfortunately, it will probably be unlikely that my husband can make it home from work in time to watch the baby while I go to dance class at 5 in the evening (adult life, sigh), but it was exciting and nerve-wracking to get the invitation.
     The workshop went well. I was nervous, because I felt like I was going to a new school for the first time, but it was the same school I've been at for a year and a half, just with a different teacher and different classmates. They did some drills I didn't know, but the teacher was understanding, and some of the teens were helpful, too. They went through the earlier grades' material really fast, but it was a good challenge to be thrown in to learn the basic steps. During the last half of the workshop, we worked on our feis stuff. I sort of felt like I was being thrown in the deep end, as we did the lead-around we had just learned two days earlier. Still, it was good to get feedback on my regular two reel steps. (We were doing three steps since most of the dancers were champs.)
     I was glad there were two of us adults there. My treble jig's second step is a mess (even though I have been working on it for a year or so), and the only reason I did it was so my adult classmate would have someone to dance with. However, the teacher stopped the music in the middle because I was so off-time, and asked one of the younger champs to go to the other side of the studio to help me with the new treble jig step the adults just learned two days earlier (I didn't realize I should have prepared that step). Part of me feels like I should be mortified that I messed up so bad, but maybe it is maturity that I am actually kind of glad it worked out. I got confirmation that I should give up on my old step for now and do a different one, and I got help with learning another one. My classmate doesn't do non-traditional hornpipe yet, so I asked a couple of the teenage girls if I could dance my two steps with them. I was a little timid, but I got a thumbs-up from my teacher. This, along with the "great hornpipe rhythm" comment that I got at my last feis, confirms that I may finally be conquering the hornpipe.
     In other exciting Irish dance news, one of my classmates was looking for someone to wear her old solo dress to feis in. She doesn't compete solos anymore and just wanted to see her dress danced in again. It is not only a gorgeous dress, in a beautiful royal blue that is totally my color, but also it is themed after a science fiction show that my friends and I watch. My husband loves the show, and we even chose my son's name from the name of one of the characters on it. So here is this amazing dress, and IT FIT ME! My teacher (the adult class' teacher) said it was a smidgen short, but as long as I wore black tights, I could wear it. I was overjoyed and signed up for a feis specifically to wear the dress. This was a week before the workshop, but I only signed up for reel, slip jig, and hornpipe because I didn't want to disgrace the dress with my shoddy treble jig, and I had to cut costs, so I cut out traditional set.
     The week following the workshop, I felt like my slip jig was finally clicking, like I was finally getting the rhythm and corrected a spot that I had been messing up on for a while. I have the stamina for the two and half steps for the grade exam, but I need a little more work on the newest step (the half step) I learned. I've also finished learning the Blackbird, and I even taught Siege of Ennis to my class to practice for the grade exam. It was a good month of Irish dance :)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Blast from the Past

     The other night, we were playing board games, and my husband asked what genre of music I wanted as our background music (we were playing YouTube videos through the Roku stick). I said "late '90s pop," and many of the songs had some connection to high school or college memories, whether it was watching them on VH1 after school, dancing to them in dance team, or listening to them on a "Now That's What I Call Music" Volume # in the single digits. When a song called "C'est la Vie" came on, I reminisced about doing a color guard flag twirling routine to it for a 4-H talent contest called "Share the Fun." I recalled listening to it over and over again on my sister's tape player, carefully choreographing a routine that I taught to my sister and a friend. I knew it was by an Irish group and that there was a little interlude of Irish music, but I don't know if I had ever seen the video before. As I was watching it the other night, I noticed that they not only break out into a little Irish dance in the video, but they are doing a 4-hand reel! I wouldn't have known what a 4-hand was back in the late '90s anyways, but it was just another one of those moments when I thought, had I only been inspired to start Irish dance as a teenager. But then again, the nearest Irish dance school was an hour and a half away, so maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but I just wish there wasn't so much judgement against adults who only want the same opportunities to dance despite not being able to start dancing as a youth. Anyways, it was a fun blast from the past. Our color guard routine didn't place at Share the Fun, but imagine if I would have danced a reel...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Discipline

     My discipline is often lacking when it comes to practicing. I just have troubles focusing sometimes. Also, my discipline has been lacking when it comes to desserts...Kroger was sold out of our usual dark chocolate-covered almonds, which is just the right little sweet treat, so we've been baking desserts and buying ice cream instead. Without a race to train for, my running has slacked off. However, I did want to share about how disciplined I was with pre-race and during the race marathon nutrition.
     After my first marathon, I was miserable. We'll just sum it up by saying "gastrointestinal distress," for about the first 4 hours or so following the marathon. This time, I read a lot about pre-race nutrition and was trying to be strategic about what to eat (simple carbs, some protein), and what not to eat (fatty foods, whole grains), along with hydration strategy, in the couple of days leading up to the race. As for during the race, my brother-in-law had advised me to use energy gels, instead of just a trial-sized energy bar and a banana over the whole course of the race (which was what I did in 2013). I tested out various energy gels and chews, trying to find which ones were the easiest to take, tasted the best, and had more room for error in the goo/chew/water ratio.
     I studied the course map of water breaks and planned out how many chews I would take when. I strayed slightly from the plan, but for the most part, stayed on schedule. In order to not mix chews with energy drink, I only grabbed water at the water stops. I wanted to eat the banana they handed out, but I skipped it, sticking to my plan. Some spectators were handing out everything from Twinkies to pretzel sticks along the course, but I stuck to my plan. I even ran through the candy stop in the last few miles of the race, because I had a plan. It totally paid off...I didn't have to make a bathroom stop during the race, and even though I went to a Port-a-pot shortly after finishing and went again before my shower (we're talking #2 here), my stomach generally felt pretty good. So good that I ate Subway for lunch and we went to visit a friend of my husband's that afternoon. Discipline and dedication! Now to apply that to the rest of my endeavors...