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...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Marathon!

     I know it has been a long time, but I hadn't had a whole lot to say about Irish dance. If I had written a post about dance a month ago, it would have had a different tone. But as far as Irish dance goes, do you ever have a time when everything starts magically falling into place? Well, that was sort of this month for me. But that story will have to wait until later. First, here's a recap of the marathon.
     Training for the marathon really started getting rough about the last time I posted. I was up to the 14 or 15 mile long runs, and I think I may have already shared about having to ease up on my training. I was using Hal Higdon's Novice 1 plan and was feeling so good that I switched to Novice 2, but it was just too hard on my body, so I went back to Novice 1. I completed my first marathon with Novice 1 anyways, so I knew it could still work. Another thing I did was I actually ASKED FOR HELP! This is a BIG deal for me, because sometimes I'm just too embarrassed and try to figure things out on my own. My brother-in-law has run several marathons though, so I got some advice from him about nutrition and speed work/pace training. Because of the switch from Novice 2 to Novice 1 and the chaos of the holidays, I ended up with an extra taper week, and I missed a couple of workouts, but I had accepted that I did the best I could.
     Armed with a new belt-pouch thing for my running fuel, and some energy chews, we headed to Florida on January 6. It was awesome weather, but they were predicting a cold front. That night, we were walking around Disney Springs waiting for our table at Raglan Road (yes, even on a trip for running, I couldn't get away from Irish dance/music...we were too late to see the dancers, but they had a great Irish band). The news broke that the half-marathon had been cancelled! Never was I so happy to be running the full marathon. It ended up storming in the wee morning hours, so I guess it would have made run set-up a nightmare and could have been a dangerous situation with thousands of runners headed out to the start corrals so early in the morning. The runners made the best of the situation, and we even cheered on some runners who gathered to run the 1-mile jogging trail in front of our hotel the next morning as a makeshift half marathon. While we were at the running expo, the lines were insanely long as people tried to either get a gift card in exchange for their cancelled run registration or switched from the half to the full marathon (I can't imagine training for a half and suddenly switching to the full, but I don't blame them...I would have done it if I was in that situation, even if I had to walk the last 12 miles or so). It started raining and turned cooler as the day went on. I had a two-mile jog planned for the afternoon, so it would give me a chance to test the temperature and my gear.
     My gear. Ha ha! I live in the south and was traveling to Florida for the marathon. They say to do a long run in what you will think you will wear on race day. The warmest clothes I had done a long run in was a short-sleeved shirt with yoga pants. I ran on the treadmill when the temperature dipped below the 50s. My yoga pants were wide-legged, so I didn't want them dragging through puddles, and instead opted for capris. My husband had created some makeshift arm warmers out of old socks (I don't have the money for the fancy ones!), and it turned out I forgot to pack any long-sleeved running shirts. I added an old hat, and I was fine for my 2-mile jog. Actually, I got a bit warm and took off the gloves and hat I was wearing. But then, the temperature dropped even more.
     On the bright side, it was a clear day on marathon morning. The rain had moved out, but it was in the upper 30s. When I went to catch the bus from the motel, the feel was so different than during my previous marathon. People were sitting around the lobby, or hanging out in the restaurant, whereas last time there was a line for the 3:30 (yes, the 3:30 am!) bus. I walked right on, which made me even more nervous. I told myself to calm down though, I was just going to a marathon after all. I've been to Iraq, and here I was getting nervous about a marathon.
     I looked ridiculous. I was wearing black workout capris, with 2 layers of short-sleeved workout shirts (one tight-fitting, and one a unisex souvenir race shirt). I had one old pair of socks on my upper arms, and one on my lower arms, along with a pair of gloves. I wore a hat and in my fanny pack was a ear-warmer headband (I thought I might toss my hat to my husband when I saw him at mile 16 and switch to the headband...that didn't happen). I also brought an old high school sweatshirt that I planned to leave in the start corrals.
     Well, at least there was a lot of camaraderie among the thousands gathered to run in the cold. I met a couple of nice ladies near one of those portable heaters (it was off, but everyone gathered around as if it was the placebo effect). We chatted until I stopped at the port-a-pot on the way to Corral G. A couple of things about this race: You are assigned a corral based on a 10 mile or longer race completed more that 2 months, but less than 2 years, prior to the race. Also, you end up having to get there way early and standing/sitting around for a while. I got off the bus a little before 4 am. They let us in the corrals around 4:30, the race didn't start until 5:30, and Corral G didn't start until about 5:55. It is really hard to get warm and stay warm in those conditions, unless it was like last time, when it was in the low 60s at race start.
     I had been so angry I got in Corral G. I really thought I should be in Corral F, based off my last marathon finish, which was just under 4 hours, 14 minutes. Corral F was for 4:09 to 4:23. Corral G was 4:23 to 4:38. 4:38! There was no way I wanted to run that slowly. They based my placement on a half marathon I did at the beginning of October, toward the start of my training. All my pre-pregnancy races were either too short of distances or too long ago. I wasn't sure what to expect for my finish time, though. I really wanted a personal record, and of course I would have loved to get it under 4 hours, but 4 years had passed, and I had a baby since my first marathon. I wanted to run with a 4:15 pace group, but they were nowhere in sight, probably up in Corral F, which started 3 minutes before I did. Last marathon, I finished with a pace group, and it was so great, having a couple of experienced runners encouraging you and keeping you on track, and I had wished I had run more than just 6 miles or so with them. The one advantage of Corral G was that at least there was a trailer next to it that helped block the wind. Corral F didn't have that.
     Finally, we moved up to the start line. I was so sad to leave my sweatshirt behind, but I knew it would get too sweaty if I didn't. I could go on and on about my race experience and what I was thinking at any given time, but I will try to be brief. It was quite cold. I had put the ear warmer headband around my neck so I would have room in my fanny pack for my water bottle and ended up leaving it there for the first 10 miles or so, long after I threw the bottle out in the start corral. I ditched the top set of arm warmers in Tomorrowland, and took off my gloves for a little while, but later I ended up putting the gloves back on. It was coldest right as the sun was coming up. I was super-excited to see my husband and my smiling son, bundled up in his stroller, right before the 16 mile marker. By mile 17, I started getting warm, but that was short-lived, as the wind picked up on some open stretches of highway around mile 21 or so. I hit the wrong button on my watch in the pre-dawn hours, so I wasn't exactly sure how I was doing, but I suspected that I was not going to PR. Still, the clocks at the mile markers seemed to indicate I was going a steady pace.
     I was overjoyed to see the finish line at last and was overcome by the emotion of finishing the run, finishing the training, overcoming the recovery from childbirth, the 51 pounds or so of weight loss, the juggling of mommyhood and training, and the support of my family. I later found out my husband and son arrived in the finish line area a couple of minutes before I crossed the line and saw my big smile as I finished. When I came out of the runners' area, they were waiting for me, not just with the sweatshirt I asked them to bring, but also with a rose they purchased in front of Epcot. <3 I later found out my finish time was 4 hours, 22 minutes, and 28 seconds, about half a minute under the Corral F cut-off. Told ya I would finish in less than 4:23! :)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Timing

I know I haven't posted in a long time, but a lot has been happening with family life, and I've been so busy with the marathon training. On the bright side, my running has paid off, and I am now back in my pre-pregnancy jeans (even if my hips are still an inch or two wider than they used to be). The baby boy has gotten really needy lately and stopped taking bottles, so it looked like I was going to have to take a hiatus from dance. But fortunately, I'm in a really easy-going adult class, and my teacher let me bring him with me. My husband would participate in the warm-up and ceili dancing, then he'd watch the baby while I did solo steps. If the little one got fussy and needed a snack, I'd take a break and tend to him. This went on for about a month or so. Here I was lamenting how relaxed my class was, and then I ended up being the high maintenance one needing special accommodations. My classmates and teacher even helped watch the baby so I could compete in a local feis. I guess it is just not the right timing of my life for me to be in a hard-core class.

The post's title has a second meaning, too. I keep getting timing comments for my dances. I feel like, as an adult prizewinner, I should be past timing errors. I know it is sometimes a matter of stamina issues, or I get off on my hornpipe because I haven't rebuilt my ab muscles enough for snappy clicks, but I don't know what is going on with my reel. I think that is what makes me the most depressed...I actually feel like I did my reel well, only to not place because of "timing." Have I really gotten that bad? There's a voice in my head that tells me I may never achieve my goal of dropping down and dancing in "and-over" prizewinner. Maybe I'm just too old. But then I think, maybe it is just the timing of my life. If I could drill steps at home without a child either being under foot, or crying because I put him in the playpen, maybe I would improve. I guess it is silly to expect better results when I am not putting the work in at home. Maybe I just need to take a break from feising until I can devote more time to dance. On the bright side, at least I got 3rd out of 6 in treble jig, and I have a pretty challenging second step. I will try to remind myself that is my best result all year and stay positive about improvements. It's hard to, though, when you see your dance goals slipping further and further away.

Some of the family stuff that happened while I was away from blogging made me realize just how lucky I am to have my family. I am so blessed to have my baby, even if it means I'm not the dancer I once was. While I remain truly grateful for my son, and I know I would give anything to protect him, I don't want to completely throw away personal goals now that I am a mommy. I feel like that might tempt me to put pressure on him to have success in areas where I failed. I don't want to just live vicariously through him. So I'm going to keep things in perspective, and tell myself it is just the timing of my life. Right now I get to enjoy being a mommy to a baby. He won't be a baby forever, and maybe then I can come back to my dance goals.