Tattooed ballroom dancer and writer, Author of the Dance Diaries series. The Girl with the Tree Tattoo seeks to encourage other ballroom dancers (or anyone with a passion really!) by sharing the obstacles she encounters and overcomes on her journey to become a champion-level professional dancer. Follow her journey of self-discovery through ballroom here.
I’m having the worst time deciding how I want to start this blog post, so I’m writing this sentence just so there is something written. Maybe it will start flowing from here.
Or we can skip to the end – I had a simply wonderful time at Desert Classic this past week! It was the perfect mix of work and pleasure and left me feeling relaxed and fulfilled. I had a couple moments watching the competition when I felt that bittersweet wish to be the one on the dance floor, not in the audience, but actually those moments were far fewer than I expected. I was too busy enjoying myself, cheering others on, and connecting with dance friends, both new and old.
The days leading up to my departure for the competition were crazy. I was working overtime for the day job to make up for the lack of PTO I had banked. Along with last week’s blog post, I had an interview with another website to finish. Physical therapy was Monday evening. My dance lesson was Tuesday evening. I had to clean my entire apartment in preparation for my dogsitter, who stays at my place while I’m gone. There was also laundry and packing. Yeah…there was a lot going on.
I felt like I was on track to get things done until Sunday evening, when I had one of those “oh shit” moments and suddenly it felt like I had no time at all to finish everything I was supposed to finish. It all got done though. Tuesday night, I was on my feet for probably five hours straight, so it’s no surprise that my knees flared up and I was walking funny at work the next morning. I was supposed to drive to the competition Wednesday afternoon and I was a little worried that it would be a rough drive. My knees did ok; I felt them more when I finally got out of the car at the hotel.
Naturally, my room was like a mile hike from the lobby. When the guy who checked me in drew on the resort map how to get from the parking area to my room, I looked at him and said as nicely as I could, “listen, I have bad knees and they’re flared up today. Isn’t there a shorter way?” There wasn’t, but luckily, my room was closer to the ballroom (although the route included a large set of stairs).
Geographical location aside, the hotel was super nice and the ballroom was full of beautiful dancers. I watched pretty much every pro-am Smooth round Thursday morning to afternoon, starting from Heat 1 at 8am. Teacher was competing with one student in Bronze and he was nice enough to hang out to watch some of the Open heats with me. I took notes on what I saw that I liked and disliked, and what I wanted to make sure I showed in my own dancing in Open.
Thursday evening, I held a meetup for The Girl with the Tree Tattoo followers. I admit I was a little nervous about it. I don’t have a great track record for organizing events and people showing up. But my fears were unfounded. Plenty of people showed up, including dancers I hadn’t met in person before and one whom I hadn’t seen in over six years!
When ballroom dancers pose for a photo
Check out my Instagram page for more photos from the meetup. Lots of smiles, lots of hugs, and lots of dance talk. For someone who is very strongly introverted, I had a wonderful time welcoming and chatting with everyone.
Friday, I cheered on my dance friends in International Ballroom (a.k.a. Standard) and then enjoyed some pool time before going to watch the pros dance Smooth and Latin. While I wished I had been able to compete at this event, at the same time, it was nice to be there and not have to stress. I could eat the dessert or order the extra drink (don’t tell my 90-day program coaches). I didn’t have to watch what heat was coming up to see if I had enough time to run to the restroom. I could just be there and enjoy.
I have to say – if this is a glimpse of what my future could be like when I no longer need a day job because the brand has grown enough to support itself and my life, the future is looking good! Of course, in the future, I’ll also be competing, but the idea of getting to attend more competitions to meet with my readers and support them in person is very appealing.
Back at the home studio, Teacher and I didn’t waste any time in getting to work to prepare for our next competition goal, Embassy Ball. Only a month and a half to go! We spent an entire lesson on Foxtrot and at risk of jinxing myself, it’s shaping up to be a really cool routine.
Congratulations to everyone who competed at Desert Classic and I can’t wait to join you on the dance floor.
This countdown series certainly took a different turn from my other competition countdown series. Although, it isn’t the first one in which I ended up not competing. That’s part of the fun of blogging about my journey as it happens instead of telling a story that’s already over; not even I know what’s going to happen next!
After a couple of very stressful weeks, this past one brought some positive news for once. I was making different efforts to move my knee recovery along. I started taking turmeric supplements. Since going up the stairs to my apartment hurt my knees more than going down, I started taking the elevator up every day even if my knees felt ok in the moment. I spent my last couple weekend solo practices at home mapping out the timing and steps of my routines instead of actual dancing in the studio.
One or all efforts seem to be working! I was unsure because my knees were talking more (i.e., cracking and popping) and while they weren’t hurting so much, they would still get tight and feel unstable. My physical therapist was very pleased though. She said she felt a lot less fluid in the knees and we were finally getting most of the scar tissue and knots cleared out of the muscles around them. We had held off on any PT exercises for a few weeks to focus on reducing the inflammation, and she concluded it was time to bring them back.
The next test came in my dance lesson on Wednesday. I still had knee pain with the side and forward lunges in the Tango we were working on, but it didn’t last and I didn’t feel any significant swelling by the time the lesson was over. The funny thing is my hips were actually more sore than my knees this week, probably from bringing back the PT exercises and my therapist having to fix the alignment of my left hip (separate problem).
Teacher had to cancel our Friday lesson, but I had the opportunity to practice with another student instead! Doing an hour of actual dancing instead of bits of dancing mixed in with discussion worked my knees a lot more, so they were sore, but still, not as bad on the pain scale as in the past. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ve turned another corner. Very cautiously since I’ve thought this way before and then hit a major setback. So we’ll just take this one day at a time!
The Open routines are continuing to develop. We’ve focused on Waltz and Tango as those are the two I’ve mapped out on paper so far. It seems ironic that I’m a writer, but I really don’t like writing out my routines. I much prefer to study my dancing via video. Still, it’s been a good challenging exercise, even as I sigh heavily through it. It’s also exposed how poorly I know some of the names of the syllabus steps. Another irony – vocabulary has never been my strong suit.
I had a moment in my Wednesday lesson when we were trying something different in a section of the Tango. My arm started to style by itself, but I quickly stopped it and apologized for not knowing what I was doing. Teacher protested, saying it was good and fit the movement.
This moment came back to me while I was watching an IGTV post by Jo Jo Diggs. At one point, she says you have to trust yourself to do what you love. It struck me how long my list of to-dos was that I thought I needed to complete in order to be able to do what I love (ballroom dance). I had my day-to-day responsibilities and obligations. I had to study and practice my dances. I had to make enough money to pay for everything.
Nowhere on the list was “trust myself.”
That was all I needed in that Tango moment. If I had just trusted myself to style my arm the way the dancer inside me wanted to style it, it would have been a great, spontaneously creative moment. Instead, I squashed it and apologized for my behavior.
Another moment in that lesson highlighted my lack of self-trust. There was mention of another student who would be ready to compete in Open A Smooth next year (A being the age group). Even though I turned 36 this year, I’ve decided to continue competing in the A age group. So if Teacher has two of us, we’ll just need to coordinate who competes at which event. When I heard this news though, I felt threatened, like I was going to be replaced. I immediately assumed she was prettier, stronger, more flexible, and just overall more talented than I was, and somehow that meant I was done for.
Of course, this reaction had nothing to do with reality or this other dancer I’ve never met. It had everything to do with me not trusting myself to do what I love, which was causing me to look for external validation and fall into the comparison trap.
Jo Jo’s message was timely and it helped me quickly check myself and refocus on my own journey. It’s nice to observe that even as I continue to falter and catch myself comparing my journey to others, each time, I’m able to recover and refocus more quickly. That’s the point of all this right? Each attempt is a little better than the one before. Bit by bit, we improve and grow.
I’ve written about trust, both of others and yourself, a LOT on this blog because it is such a key companion on this adventure. Self-trust is especially important. Without it, we play small, we hold back and frankly, we don’t enjoy the experience as much as we could have.
So for everyone prepping for Desert Classic this coming week, take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and say, “I trust you!”
You’re not alone. Your teacher will be there with you. Your dance friends will be there with you. I will be there cheering you on! Even the judges want you to just go for it because they know how much more fun it is to dance when you fully trust yourself.
Trust yourself to do what you love.
P.S. – I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that if you are going to be at Desert and would like a copy of The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing, let me know ASAP. I’ll have a few copies with me, but two are already spoken for. So tell me now if you want to reserve a copy for yourself or a friend.
I feel like I say this every year now, but I can’t believe tomorrow marks the beginning of the second half of the year. 2019 is halfway over!
I still have a couple more weeks to go before I hit the halfway mark of this 90-day transformation program. Today marks the end of week 4, and it felt like a good time to update you guys on my progress.
I’ve been sharing my prescribed meals and daily thoughts about this program on my Instagram stories, but I’ll give you the broader view here.
In the Week 1 post, I wrote that one of the most difficult things for me was actually eating all of the food on my daily meal plan. It was way more volume and included a TON more meat than I’m used to. That aspect was hitting the wallet kind of hard too.
By Week 3, we had worked out a much better rhythm: lighter breakfast, small morning snack, lunch split into two larger “snacks”, another small afternoon snack, and then a larger dinner. I’ve heard that you’re not supposed to eat a huge dinner and a larger breakfast is better, but my body just doesn’t work well that way. If you’re trying to improve your diet, it’s important to pay attention to how your body reacts to not just what you eat, but when you eat and how much you eat. My body doesn’t like to eat a lot in the morning, but it does need to eat something or I get very cranky. I also end up wanting a mid-morning snack, but again, nothing huge. Small portions at more frequent intervals through the day and then a larger portion towards the end of the day seem to work best for me.
I’m still having to buy a lot of meat for my meal plans, mainly chicken and ground turkey. Luckily, there was a BOGO sale on both at the beginning of Week 4, so I stocked up and didn’t need to buy any more this weekend for Week 5. Salad is another staple. I sorely miss my tortellini, but they did include spaghetti for dinner for Week 5!
I’m already thinking about what maintenance mode is going to look like after I complete this program. I know for a fact that I won’t continue buying this much chicken and ground turkey, so I’m considering the other possible protein options that will still provide the correct amount of protein (since I know I was eating way less protein than I should have been before the program).
I’ve already developed a love affair for Quest protein bars*. The cookies and cream flavor reminds me of a chewy Chips Ahoy cookie. The birthday cake flavor reminds me of those sugar cookies you get in the bakery of the grocery store that have a layer of icing as thick as the cookie (sooo good). The s’mores flavor runs a very close second to the cookies and cream flavor. I also tried a double chocolate chunk flavor. That one was pretty good, but not quite as good as the others. It was kind of like a brownie that was baked with too much flour. During my grocery run today, I picked up the chocolate chip cookie dough flavor. Keep an eye on my IG stories to see what I think of that one.
The thing I like about these bars is they satisfy my sweet craving. After a lunch of salad, chicken and whatever else, I crave a dessert. The Quest bar* is the perfect afternoon snack in that respect. Of course, I end up wanting another one after dinner, but I’ve been able to resist and just have a cup of herbal tea that’s naturally sweet. I know there are plenty of other protein bars out there, but the Quest ones get a thumbs up from me.
The woman handling the meal planning for this program also told me about ready-made protein shakes available at one of those buy-in-bulk warehouses. I’ll be trying those out at some point. It could be a good alternative for protein in the morning if I don’t feel like stuffing myself with egg whites.
On the fitness side of the program, there’s also been quite a lot of trial and error in figuring out what exercises I can do at home that won’t aggravate my knees. Some I didn’t think would be a problem caused pretty bad flareups. I’m to a point where I’ve found at least a few exercise videos that I can do in their entirety without affecting my knees. The second coach of the transformation program who handles the calorie burn goals and provides guidance on fitness also gave me some specific sets of exercises to do this week.
I’ve realized that I don’t do well making up a workout routine. That’s why I liked going to Zumba and Burn classes and now use workout videos online. I don’t want to have to think about what exercises I’m going to do, I just want someone to tell me what to do and for how long. So even if they’re “boring” as the coaches warned me, I’d rather have someone give me a workout set than me have to make one up. Everything is more boring than dancing anyway, but I can’t do that full out so I’ll do what I can do.
My results so far on this program have been really good! I lost almost 6 pounds in the first 3 weeks. I gained about two of those pounds back in the 4th week, but fluctuations are to be expected. Plus, they had raised my daily calories slightly, anticipating me to be exercising and dancing more. Then my knees flared up. The week was also stressful on multiple levels, and the pounds like to stick to you more when you’re stressed. I’ve lost about 1% body fat overall, and we’re expecting to see more of a drop there as I build more lean muscle.
My weekly fitness goal has been to burn 1,000 calories, split up among aerobic, interval and resistance training. This was supposed to be in addition to my dance training. I haven’t met that goal any week so far, but my heart rate monitor app* tells me that I’ve burned 2,934 calories since I started using it in Week 2. So I’ve come close to averaging 1,000 per week if you include my ballroom dancing. I also don’t wear it every time I walk the dogs and there were a couple lessons I just forgot. So a few calories were burned but not recorded.
If you recall, my personal goals for this program were to build strength and stamina leading up to Desert Classic. Losing the few pounds I had gained since my knee injuries was a secondary goal that would easily be achieved through focus on the primary goals. Well, I’m not competing at Desert, as you know (click here if you don’t), but my goals remain the same for the program. The target end date has just shifted.
I’m trying really hard to release the frustration I feel over the physical limitations created by my knee injuries. During my last dance lesson, I couldn’t help but comment that the routine would be a lot of fun if I was actually able to dance it. There has been about 50% improvement in the three months of physical therapy, and I’m told that the rate of progress sounds about right. I’m just impatient. But I know what happens when I get stubborn and push myself, and I don’t want to have to write another blog post saying I won’t be competing at Embassy either.
So I hope I can increase that calorie burn this week, but at the same time, I’m refusing to push too hard too soon. I have a follow-up with my orthopedist and a dance lesson the same evening. I decided to hold off on any additional exercise beyond walking the dogs until then, so my knees will hopefully be calmed down for both appointments. I’ve even changed my solo practice. I’m not going to the studio and instead mapping out the timing and steps of my routines on paper at home. Some weeks, it felt like it didn’t matter if I rested or pushed myself, my knees would flare up either way. I’m hoping that’s just me being frustrated and my extra efforts to rest will make a difference.
I thought this post would be coming out next week, but the wait ended early. If you’ve been following along, you know Teacher and I set a go/no-go date by which we would do a final assessment of our Open routines and decide if they would be ready to debut at Desert Classic. I was determined to get them ready, as I’ve grown weary of sitting on the sidelines since my last competition at the end of August. But as Treebeard liked to say, don’t be hasty. Being determined is one thing. Actually being ready is another.
To keep you from shivering too much from anticipation, I’ll just come out with it.
(Bonus points to those who can name the movie references.)
I won’t be competing at Desert Classic.
The fact of the matter is the routines aren’t quite ready. Especially Viennese since we’ve barely touched it since it was first choreographed.
Put mildly, I’m disappointed. Put more honestly, I’m heartbroken. I really believed I’d be able to reach this goal and to be presented a checklist of how I’ve fallen short is disheartening. I feel like I let myself, Teacher and all of you down. I’m the Girl who overcomes all obstacles on her journey to achieving her dreams, right?! Limited private lessons, knee injuries, financial shortages – none of it should have stopped me. But it did this time.
Teacher and I spent most of Wednesday’s lesson talking about whether I was ready or not. I threw in a few mini tantrums for good measure. Even though I knew he was right in his points about the level the routines were presently at and where they needed to be in order to make a good showing at the Open level, I didn’t want to listen because all of the demons were waking up.
If you’ve followed me for awhile, you know I have an issue with being “enough.” One of the oldest demons in my brain is fueled by the thought that I am not good enough and therefore don’t belong where I want to belong. I don’t have enough money, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not feminine enough, I’m not flexible enough, I’m not extroverted enough, I don’t conform enough…all of these have threatened my sense of belonging in the ballroom world.
To date, I’ve proven these ideas to be false. Year after year, I’ve found one way or another to pay for competitions. I’ve proven that you can be yourself and win a World title. I’ve built my business around this idea of staying true to yourself and doing the work, and you’ll succeed. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be you.
Well, I’ve been me. I showed up and did the work. I worked so hard to get my body leaner and stronger for Open that I woke up the chondromalasia in my knees that hadn’t said a peep in years. I did my best to balance rest and dance training. Some days, I limped out of the studio, and others, I would stay home instead of going to practice because just walking the dogs was making me hobble. I even signed up for a 90-day program to get my nutrition on point while my knees were healing. My bank account was getting skinny faster than I was, but it would all be worth it when I got to step onto that competition floor again.
I did my best and it wasn’t good enough. That’s what echoed in my head while Teacher tried to explain to me the higher standards and expectations that came with competing in Open. It brought back memories of Embassy Ball 2017 where I thought I had danced my best and placed my worst in my competitive career. I had found my gaps and corrected them, returning to win the World title in 2018.
But the gaps were in my training. My solo practice was unfocused. This time, the “gaps” are my two bad knees. In the lessons and practices I did go to, I was physically limited. I had to mark my steps or go easy in any moves requiring me to lunge or put all of my weight on one bent leg (which are almost all of the moves, of course). My full-out versions of the routines are lacking because I haven’t been able to dance them full out. Even though I know blaming myself for not being able to fully function while injured doesn’t make sense, it feels like my fault anyway.
Embassy Ball is coming up again in a couple months. I really didn’t want it to be my first Open event, but Teacher believes we’ll be more properly prepared by then. Plus it’s local, so it’s silly to skip just because I wanted to be able to do at least one comp before that one. If I compete there, it will be a full year between competitions. That, to be frank, sucks.
My level of frustration peaked this past week, so much so that I cancelled my Friday lesson. I was still too upset to be able to focus, so why waste a lesson? It’s difficult to describe what this frustration feels like, but I’m pretty sure everyone’s experienced it at some point. You do everything you’re supposed to and it still doesn’t work out. You used to be capable of something, but now you’re not for reasons out of your control. You’re told you can become capable again, but have no idea when that will be. You only know when you’ve set yourself back from pushing too hard past a limit that didn’t used to register as a limit.
You know the insult added to these injuries? They’re only bad enough to keep me from what I love doing. I can still go to work, shop for groceries, and clean my kitchen. I just can’t dance.
I’m working really hard to feel gratitude that my knees aren’t worse and the injuries didn’t require surgery, which would have delayed my return to the competition floor even more. It hasn’t quite broken through yet. In a twisted way, I almost think it would have been easier to handle if I did require surgery. Then at least, there would have been a clearer cutoff from dance. With damaged cartilage that would calm down one week and flare up the next, I was just slowed down. I was still dancing to some extent, and so I let myself believe I could still do what I set out to do, as if I was completely healthy.
I took this weekend to rest both my mind and my body. My knees flared up during a long walk with my dogs, but I needed to get out with them for some time in nature (as much as we can get in our little city parks). I haven’t come around to the idea that Embassy is now the next goal, but maybe publishing this post will help. I have a lot of self-blame, guilt and resentment to let go of as well. There’s so much of it that I’m assuming it was building up behind a wall of denial long before Teacher and I discussed whether I was really ready to compete last week.
This sucks, guys, it really does. And I feel compelled to say I’m sorry for letting anyone down who was excited to see me compete again. The consolation prize is I’m still going to Desert to spectate. I know a bunch of you are going to be there to compete and I’m honestly excited to cheer you on! I had so much fun cheering you on at California Open in February. I think it’ll be a great way for me to not focus on myself and support my fellow dancers. I know you all have your own obstacles and I’m so proud of every one of you for not giving up and working your way past each one.
I’ll be honest, I spent some of this weekend wondering if I was still cut out for this. Maybe Silver was as good as I was going to be. If Open was only going to bring more pressure to be others’ version of perfect and the resulting devastation every time I didn’t meet those standards, maybe I didn’t have it in me to be a great dancer, only a good syllabus dancer. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I certainly didn’t take into account the added challenge of my knee issues or only having one lesson per week. If it was anyone else telling me this story, I would start to get exasperated and finally exclaim, “give yourself a break! You’re only human!”
Isn’t it funny how easily we give grace to others for being human, but rarely to ourselves? Are we all actually aliens masquerading as human, giving each other grace because we think we’re the only superhumans? Although I joke that I’m part Vulcan, I have to accept that I am in fact human. So I’m not going to give up, but I will try to give myself a break.
I’m not sure what that’s going to look like yet. I can’t slow down that much on training if I’m actually going to enter Embassy! Teacher suggested doing more non-dancing solo practices instead of putting pressure on myself to get into the studio every weekend. I guess I’ll start there.
This question can have very simple implications or very deep ones. If I asked you one morning if you were ready for work, you’d run a simple checklist through your head and be able to quickly respond yes or no. But if I asked you if you were ready for the big presentation at work that took you months of preparation, you might hesitate as you processed last minute jitters and considered more than just a checklist to determine your readiness.
Same can be applied to ballroom (and really, what can’t?). Are you ready for your lesson? Simple yes or no. Are you ready for your last lesson before your competition? You might need a little more time to consider.
As I mentioned last week, Teacher and I have a go/no-go lesson set to decide once and for all if I’m ready to debut at the Open level at Desert Classic. For those expecting me to be at the comp, don’t worry. Even if it’s a “no-go”, I’ll still be there to cheer everyone else on. We should have a Girl with the Tree Tattoo meetup!
With D Day (Decision Day) drawing closer, this concept of readiness has been winding through my brain. The little demons in my head are having a field day, of course, whispering I won’t be ready, I’m not good enough, I peaked at Silver, etc., etc. Change the record, boys, we’ve heard this one before! Still, I’m human and so it’s difficult to ignore the doubts, however old or small.
How do you know if you’re ready? On one hand, I don’t think you’re ever 100% prepared because there are always unknown variables at a competition. How close do you need to be to 100% though? Do you need to have your choreography memorized and be able to dance it completely on your own? Or do you just need to know it well enough that you can follow your partner through the fuzzy spots? What if you don’t have choreography?
People have competed mere weeks after they started dancing. Were they fully ready? Probably not. But then again, if they were entering the Newcomer or Bronze levels, is it less critical? Can you be less prepared at the lower levels?
Actually, it wasn’t that bad. It was incredibly stressful in the moment, but looking back, I feel like we gave a decent performance. Even if I did mix up my American Foxtrot and International Foxtrot routines.
Open Smooth is different. We’re not in closed the entire time, so I can’t rely on being able to just connect with my partner and move where he tells me to move. It’ll be a lot more obvious if I forget my steps in Open.
You could say that the more advanced or complex the dance is, the closer to 100% you want to get. But we’re really just talking about the technical and logistical aspects there. Knowledge and understanding of steps, timing, styling, expression, etc. Then there is the mental and emotional aspects. If you have doubts creeping through your gray matter, you may not feel ready no matter how well you’re able to execute your dance moves. If your doubts get really bad, they may start affecting how you dance, which will make you feel even less ready. How do you know if it’s just your nerves or if you really aren’t ready?
I at least have some predefined parameters by which to determine my readiness for Desert Classic. If I can demonstrate I can do certain things on my own, then we’re good to go. If not, well then I stay on the sidelines for a little while longer. I’m determined to compete of course, but at the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that we only returned to the Viennese routine last week. I also can’t ignore the fact that I’m busting my butt in practice to make sure I’m ready to go!
Setting mini goals to help you decide if you’re ready to compete or not is a good way to combat the uncertainty. If the goal is clear and specific, such as you’re able to dance your routines by yourself or you’re able to follow your teacher to the music, then it takes out the part where you wring your hands as you try to decide. Either you meet your goal or you don’t.
At the same time, I like to be reasonably flexible. Say you don’t meet your goal but you come really close. If you’re feeling really positive about what you can do, then go for it! Or don’t. These competitions aren’t one-time events. They happen every year and there are enough of them that you could compete almost every weekend if you so chose. So while it’s good to feel more or less prepared and confident, if you don’t and you still want to compete OR if you don’t and you don’t want to compete, then that’s fine! It’s just one event. There will be another one. At least that’s what I try to tell myself when I start getting on my own case about making sure I’m ready for Desert.
I think what I’m beginning to conclude is the way to tell if you’re ready is to honestly ask yourself if you’re ready! I know, terrible conclusion. Let’s see if I can make it better.
The trouble with defining the point where you’re ready is it’s so variable from person to person. One person can train for 6 months (or almost a year) and still not feel ready to compete. Another person can train for 6 weeks and feel more than ready.
Part of it also depends on your goal(s) for the event itself. Are you just looking to go out and enjoy yourself? Are you trying to move up the competitive ranks? Are you wanting to make a big impression? What you ultimately want to accomplish at a competition also plays a role in determining your readiness.
Teacher and I have discussed our goals for my first Open-level competition. On one hand, I just want to get out there. I miss competing and it feels crazy that it’s been almost a year since my last event. The year is almost halfway over and I haven’t competed once!
On the other hand, I don’t want this to be like my Standard debut, full of stress because I didn’t know my routines and we barely had any time to practice together. I want to walk out with the confidence that comes with being well-rehearsed. Let’s not forget my ongoing knee issues. Last week, I was like we’ve got this, no problem! The doubts are getting a little more active as we get closer to D Day, but I still think we’ve got this. I’m just more aware of the mountain of work left to do to ensure that it is gotten.
Speaking of which, I better finish this off and head to bed. Gotta get up early tomorrow so I can get in extra practice time!
Let me know how you decide if/when you’re ready for your next competition in the comments below!
Week 2 of my 90-day transformation program officially started on Monday, with a new meal plan. This week features a lot of turkey and I forgot how expensive turkey is compared to the $2/lb chicken breasts I usually buy. I also realized how rarely I actually buy meat, now that I’m having to buy it to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. It adds up! I requested cheaper protein for next week’s meal plan, like lentils.
Week 1 went pretty well. I actually dropped a couple pounds on the scale, though I fully expect the numbers to fluctuate as I move through this program. I didn’t get to exercise much due to my knee flareup, but I ordered a heart rate monitor* for the first time and had fun seeing how many calories I burned during my lesson and then two practice sessions.
I’ve never tracked my calorie burn or heart rate before, so this HR monitor feels like a new toy and I found the novelty of it makes me want to do more so I can see the numbers change. Whatever works, right!
The most challenging thing for me in Week 1 of the program was actually eating all of the food prescribed to me. This is probably the reason I dropped a couple pounds even though I didn’t exercise much beyond my dancing. The meal plan includes breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. I cut down on the amount of egg whites I made with breakfast as I felt overfull on the first day. I had to split lunch into two phases an hour apart in order to eat everything. So really, I ended up with a breakfast, a dinner, and four snacks. I tracked which meals I ate each day and most days, I skipped at least one of the snacks. It was just so much food! The woman who planned my meals said I’m the first to complain my meal plan has too much food.
It’s really highlighted how much I undereat overall and in particular, protein. It also highlighted how much more fat I’m consuming than I think. I downloaded a meal planning app that calculates your calories and macros to prep a 7th day meal plan (we’re allowed to go off the prescribed plan for one day a week, as long as we stick within our calorie and macro goals). I tried entering stuff I would normally eat. I was under the mark on the total calories, about on point for carbs, under for protein, and over for fat. Interesting. Also, glad I don’t have to do that for every day.
The other big challenge is meal prepping and cleanup. First world problems, right? I’m a one-pot kind of a gal when it comes to dinner (i.e., pasta!). I pop a bagel in the toaster oven for breakfast. I grab whatever leftovers there are from dinner and throw them in my lunch bag. With this program, I’m having to prepare full meals that require more than just the toaster oven or a pot of boiling water. I have a special adversity to washing dishes, and I was starting to sigh heavily over having to wash the same pots or pans every day over and over to cook the different meals.
I think this is where the meal prepping is supposed to come in. You make all your food at the beginning of the week and put it in containers that you just pull out each day. But I can’t cook everything ahead of time. I don’t like the idea of reheating egg whites or turkey bacon on Friday morning that I originally cooked on Sunday. Some stuff, sure. I cooked a few chicken breasts Sunday night for the lunches this week, but I’ll still need to cook at least one more before the week ends. I cooked a whole bunch of brown rice to go with my Week 1 dinner (and still had to cook more later in the week). I went the easy route on the vegetables and bought a bunch of frozen, steam-in-bag packs.
I just don’t have time to prep a entire week of meals completely on a Sunday that involves more than boiling a pot of water or turning on the oven. I can cook a few chicken breasts and a pot of rice while I work on other stuff, but that’s it. This week’s first blog post was published Monday night instead of Sunday because the day was too busy and I wasn’t able to finish it. So forget also cooking a week’s worth of food.
Enough bitching and moaning though. Week 1 was good overall. On the days I didn’t feel overfull or my day’s schedule didn’t allow me to eat at regular intervals, the meal plan flowed nicely. I didn’t include as many egg whites as prescribed for breakfast, but I started to feel peckish around the right time for each subsequent snack/meal. I can’t say if I’ve noticed a change in my energy level, but as I mentioned in the last post, my knees are doing better! Protein is essential for recovery and repair within the body. Coincidence?
Week 2 feels like a ton of food too. I had breakfast late on Day 1 (Monday), and ended up eating my morning snack for lunch instead of the prescribed lunch because that’s all I was hungry for. No afternoon snack and 2-3 hours after I ate dinner, I was still feeling full.
I’m used to eating a bigger dinner, so that one’s not too much of an issue. It’s the bigger breakfast and lunch that make me go “whoa, you want me to eat how much??” Splitting up the lunch helped a lot in Week 1, so I’ll do the same this week. I think I’ve written here before that I eat like a hobbit. Not necessarily the quantity of food, but the frequency (breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, etc). I snack through the day and then usually have a bigger dinner. This meal plan with its meat in every major meal is keeping me fuller longer, so I’m not wanting to eat as often. I don’t think that’s good or bad; it’s just what I’m experiencing.
I’m aiming to get some non-dance workouts in this week. This week’s schedule shifted, so Thursday and Friday evenings are now looking mostly open (knock on wood). Usually the opposite happens. One thing gets thrown off in my very full schedule and it has a severe domino effect until I just have to sacrifice something. Looks like the odds are in my favor though to get my sweat on toward the end of the week. Someone hold me accountable to that!
We’re just getting started in this program, so I still have plenty of time to find my groove in this thing. I can do this!
The countdown has begun! Desert Classic Dancesport Championships is only a month away. I’ve booked my hotel room and confirmed my dress rental. I plan on getting entries done this weekend if not sooner. Only thing left is the dancing (small detail).
Teacher and I have agreed on a “go/no go” date to finally decide whether our Open routines are ready to debut. I’m obviously determined to go, while Teacher seems to be cautiously optimistic. Interesting to see roles reversed. Usually I’m the one with reservations about whether I’ll be ready. I understand his caution though. He doesn’t want me to spend my hard-earned, limited funds on an event before we’re well-enough prepared; doing so could lead to me regretting entering the comp instead of basking in my Open debut.
My impulse to throw caution to the wind though is stemming an itch I haven’t been able to scratch since August last year. I want to get out on the floor again! It’s been almost a year since I last competed and I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines, practicing while others perform. I’ve had a lot of delays since last summer too, between financial crunches and physical injury. My knees are healing and my competition funds are ready to be spent. So let’s go!
I think it’s good that he’s cautious this time when I’m ready to jump ahead. It balances the energy. If you had two people cautious or two people gung-ho about competing before they’re completely ready, either way, the results wouldn’t be good. So while I’m impatiently like “come oooonnnnn, let’s goooooo!” when he’s like “wait, hold up, we haven’t shored up this dance yet.”, I’m glad we have that counterbalance, even if I feel annoyed in the moment that he’s not as eager to go as I am right now.
Funny thing is I’m not only having to wait for our final decision to compete at Desert, I’m also having to remind myself to wait in our dancing. When we went through our Foxtrot to music last week, it went well, but apparently I was not waiting for Teacher’s lead. Like at all. Anywhere. I just needed to slow down and chill through the whole dance.
That’s an unfortunate downside of solo practice for a Follow. If you spend more time practicing on your own than with a partner, you can get used to doing all of the steps by yourself without having to wait for a lead. When you’re practicing a specific routine, like for a showcase or a competition, you can find yourself going full steam ahead during partner practice while your Lead is left behind.
That’s why I emphasize the importance of including your teacher or partner in your solo practice in The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing. You can’t learn ballroom just by practicing on your own. You need time with a partner as well, so you can learn and practice the lead and follow aspect. Not to mention just to get used to having a body in front of you while you’re dancing!
My strategy to combat this is to work on the connection with my own body during my solo practice, so there is an easier and stronger connection to my partner when we dance together. During the Smooth Congress at Emerald Ball, David Hamilton talked about the common center between dance partners. He emphasized that in order to connect to that common center, you had to be connected to your own center. It reminds me of the electrical circuit experiments we did in school to learn about how electricity works. You had to connect all of the circuits in order for the energy to flow and power the lightbulb or clock or whatever you were using. In order for a Follow to feel a Lead’s cue to do the next move (i.e., their energy), the Follow’s internal circuits all have to be connected, which then can connect to the common center circuit which then connects to the Lead’s internal circuits.
Maybe my geeky glasses are pushed too far up my nose, but that’s what I think about. It’s all about building a solid path for the energy to flow. But I feel like I’ve gotten off topic slightly…
My mantra for my knee recovery has transferred to my dancing. Patience, patience, patience. It’s so easy to act on the anticipation of the next move, especially when anticipating versus responding to the lead can be just a split second apart. As an audience member, you can see it though. You can tell the difference between two people doing matching steps and two people truly dancing together as one.
Speaking of knees, they seem to be doing better! I don’t want to jinx it, but you may have seen on social media that I practiced in heels for the first time in over two months this past weekend. Twice! Never got above a 3 on the pain scale, which is really good for where I’ve been. So yay! Hopefully last week’s setback was the last big hurdle and it’s all downhill to full recovery from here. Of course, patience, patience, patience. I don’t want to push myself too hard and go backwards again. Nevertheless, it does make me feel optimistic.
That’s it from here. I was going to give you an update on the 90-day transformation program, but it ended up going way too long, so I cut it out and pasted it into a new blog post. I’ll publish it mid-week.
The older I get and the more I aim to do with my life, the more I realize how important and effective it is to have a support system. I was raised to be a strong and independent woman, and I am. I’ve accomplished a great deal on my own. I’ve accomplished a great deal more when I’ve had support.
Recognizing how much more successful I am in achieving my goals when I have a support system set up helped me release the guilt I was carrying over spending heaps of money on those goals. I wouldn’t have made it this far in ballroom dancing without the support of my family and friends (and Teacher of course!). The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing would not have been published last year if it weren’t for the support from my business coaches and the Girl with the Tree Tattoo tribe. I wouldn’t have seen such a dramatic change in my physique through the Burn fitness program if I didn’t have that structure for support and accountability.
More recently, I’m grateful for support from my physical therapist who understands my dance goals and is working with me to make those happen, instead of telling me I need to just stop. Her support has allowed me to continue training while healing my knees.
The support I have for the different areas of my life – business, dance, health, etc. – comes in different forms. Sometimes, it’s just a motivational “you’ve got this!” Sometimes it’s accountability like the prescheduled Burn classes that were expecting me. Sometimes it’s action that moves me forward on my path in a way I couldn’t do by myself, like my physical therapy or key insights or action steps provided by my business coaches. All of it has made an impact.
Now, as we enter June and continue the countdown to Desert (5.5 weeks!), I’m adding another layer of support. At the same studio where I did the Burn program, I signed up for a 90-day transformation program. This program incorporates both fitness and nutrition for a more well-rounded and personalized approach to my physical health. After my knee issues forced me to slow down, I wasn’t surprised that I gained back some of the weight I lost in Burn. It wasn’t a lot, but enough that I felt uncomfortable. I could feel the extra weight, especially when I danced.
I knew I could turn to my diet to help offset the decrease in physical activity. If I was burning fewer calories, I should consume fewer and make sure the ones I do consume are providing the greatest nutritional value. Improving my diet would also be beneficial for my knee recovery. I also had recommendations from my PT on exercises I could do that wouldn’t strain my knees to keep me active. Win win, right? It should be no problem making that shift!
Yeah, it would work well for maybe a couple days and then I’d get stressed or depressed and buy some kind of sugary treat. I’d plan on working out one evening, but by the time I got home, I’d be tired and tell myself tomorrow. I knew what I should do, but I wasn’t doing it.
Enter Michelle and Maria. Maria owns Hard Core Fitness Studio and Michelle is an instructor-in-training. They had just finished a 90-day challenge during which Michelle lost something like 55 pounds! I followed her progress on Instagram and was continuously inspired by how diligent she was with her workout and meal plans. And yet, I still wasn’t taking much action myself.
You can hear Michelle’s story on Hard Core Fitness’ podcast. After everything they had accomplished through this challenge, they decided to partner to create a program that would allow others to achieve incredible results like Michelle had. I emailed to claim my spot as soon as they launched it.
Like I mentioned above, the program is personalized and incorporates both fitness and nutrition. I had my initial assessment and meeting with them this past Saturday. We took measurements, set fitness goals and discussed my likes and dislikes when it came to food, so Michelle could prepare a complete meal plan for the upcoming week.
I’ve never been one to count calories or calculate macros, even though I do love a good spreadsheet of numbers. It was just too much work to measure out exact servings and track everything I ate throughout the day. Ugh!
With this program, Michelle did all the work for me. She sent me exactly what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack (I made it clear I eat like a hobbit). I did have to do a little measuring and weighing as I prepped lunch and part of dinner for tomorrow, but at least that was it. I didn’t have to figure out what calories or protein or carbs or whatever were attached to what I was eating (rolling my eyes just thinking about that work). I just have to eat the food in the amounts they tell me to eat it.
I also have fitness goals structured around calorie burn and types of workouts, i.e., aerobic, interval and resistance. I am free to pick the specific exercises, which is crucial since I can’t do the majority of typical aerobic exercises with my knees the way they are right now. I’ve never tracked calorie burn either, but I’ve ordered a heart rate monitor that will do that for me too.
Of course, this program is an additional investment for me, but as I wrote last week, I know I’m worth the investment and so I’m not bothered by it. I’ll figure out how to pay for it one way or another, and I know I’ll be much better prepared physically to take on my first competition at the Open level. Could I have done all of the calculations, meal plans, and fitness goals myself? Yes. Would I have done it all and then followed through on the plans and goals? Definitely not.
This area is one where I need a lot of support in the form of accountability and direction. Just tell me what to do and then check in with me to make sure I do it. If I have those two factors working for me, then I know I’ll actually follow through and take action. I think it’s the good student in me. If I’m given homework that I know I’ll have to turn in next class, I’m doing it. It was always mortifying to me to have to admit to a teacher that I didn’t get my homework done.
For even more accountability and because I love sharing with you guys, I’ll be documenting my experiences and progress here and on Instagram stories.
To start, here are the “before” pictures:
Before you say anything about me already being thin or in decent shape, let me be clear. This journey isn’t all about weight loss or looking good in a bikini for the summer. It’s about me wanting to feel awesome when I’m dancing. I want to build my strength, flexibility and stamina, so I can kill my first Open-level performance. And yes, I want to lose the few pounds I gained because doing that will reduce the pressure on my knee joints and help them heal faster. There may not be much of an outward transformation over the next 90 days, but that’s not my focus. My focus is inward.
So stay tuned! It’s going to be an exciting summer!
This past week, I posted on social media about finally having my “oh shit” moment about competing at Desert Classic. Six weeks and four days to go! Teacher said we needed to make sure we had a game plan and pick a go/no-go date. He believed we’d be ready, but with me only taking one lesson per week, I had to be on point with my solo practices.
Then of course, as we went through Waltz, everything I wasn’t solid on yet came to light and it all congealed into this icky coat of self-doubt. Shit.
I decided to take some of the pressure off myself by adding an additional weekly lesson for the month of June. That gives me four extra lessons with Teacher. I was able to do it just like that because my next lesson package is due at the beginning of the month anyway, so the money was already ready and waiting. I’ll just use up the package faster and then cut back on lessons again, but I won’t need to until after Desert.
After almost 7 years of ballroom dancing, I still have to budget to the penny to be able to pay for private lessons, competitions, and the occasional dance camp or workshop. What has changed is my attitude around spending that money.
I used to carry a LOT of guilt about spending money on this “luxury hobby” that I really had no business doing. It was a “waste” of money, especially for someone living paycheck to paycheck. This wasn’t just an internal dialogue. Whether out of concern, judgment or jealousy, others let me know how “frivolous” they thought I was being.
But ballroom dancing was making me happy, happier than I had been in years. I was growing stronger, both physically and mentally. I was more confident. Was that really a “waste”?
For those of us not independently wealthy, it can be hard to justify the financial reality of our ballroom passion. After all, we’re adults and we have responsibilities. Our non-dance friends raise their eyebrows when we admit how much we spend to dress up in rhinestones and dance for 10 minutes at a competition. It’s not like we’re going to do anything with all this stuff anyway (I turned that one around on the naysayers, didn’t I?).
It’s taken a long time and a lot of mental work, but I’m finally releasing these limiting beliefs that actually didn’t originate within. They’re beliefs I absorbed from other people or society in general. I didn’t need to try to justify my financial decisions against these beliefs because they weren’t mine.
Letting go of the guilt and recognizing that I am worth making the investment into my dancing, and later my business, has made the actual budgeting a lot easier to handle. I’m clear on my priorities, so it doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice to pinch pennies when I shop for groceries or opt for a budget-friendly cell phone instead of the latest and greatest. I also don’t feel guilty when I write a check for my next batch of lessons or pay for another month of business coaching. I’m making intentional trade-offs in order to direct my money toward what makes me feel fulfilled. Sounds pretty financially smart to me!
Depends on your goal, I suppose. If you want to live a safe and secure life and die with as much money saved as possible, my financial strategy is not the one for you. It works for me though. I’ve accomplished more in the past few years than probably in my entire life. My business mentor commented yesterday that I’ve changed so much even in just the past year. A friend who has worked at the desk next to mine for over a decade (and three different companies) has told me she’s loved watching me change and grow as I’ve pursued my passions.
That personal growth is worth the investment in my humble, non-financial-expert opinion. The fact that I’ve been able to impact other lives in a positive way at the same time makes it worth even more.
If you’re carrying some guilt or shame around the money you spend on your ballroom dancing, just know you’re not alone and you have my permission to let it go. You’re worth the investment and the trade-offs. You know the incredible impact ballroom dancing has had on your life! How is that not worth it? So what if you don’t go out to eat or shop at less expensive stores?
I’m living proof that it’s entirely possible to be a responsible adult and be a competitive ballroom dancer (and a successful one at that!) on a limited budget. It takes careful planning and intentional trade-offs, but when you get to walk out on that dance floor, none of that matters. What matters is you get to do what you love.
This turned into a more inspirational post than I thought it would! I hope you found it helpful. Follow me on social media (links in side bar) for more thoughts and tips on how I align the budget to finance my dancing dreams. If you want all of my tips and tricks right now, check out Dance Diaries: Ballroom Budgeting. If you could use some guidance in more aspects of your dance journey than just the budget, the best deal is the Girl with the Tree Tattoo collection, which includes both Dance Diaries books and The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing.
Come back next week to hear about another investment I’m making for the betterment of self. Happy dancing!
Did you see my social media post from a few days ago? I finally got the green light from my physical therapist to dance full out in my lesson. No more marking or holding back! I was excited, relieved, and a little nervous. I was tired of having to hold back. I just wanted to dance! But what if my knees didn’t do well? What if I regressed right back to the pain I was experiencing before starting PT?
Interestingly, I did feel like I took a step back this week, but not because of dancing. Quite the opposite.
My dance lesson was on Wednesday evening. My knees had been a little sore all day, but I was looking forward to actually dancing too much to worry. We worked on Waltz, as it had been awhile since we touched that dance. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had not lost as much flexibility as I thought I had when we got to the part of the routine with the first leg lift.
By the end of the lesson, I was on a total dancer’s high. My knees hurt but not that bad. A few weeks ago, I would have been hobbling out of the studio after dancing that much. But I wasn’t! It was a beautiful reminder of what I had been missing. While I was still enjoying my lessons even when I had to just mark or go easy, there was so much more that I wasn’t getting to experience. Being able to dance like I was before without the painful consequences was also motivating. Now more than ever, I wanted to make sure I was prepared to compete in July.
Only two days later, I was reminded that I wasn’t “cured” and needed to continue taking things one step at a time. Thursday, the day after my lesson, my knees felt fine. A little sore but nothing unexpected. Friday was another story. I couldn’t understand why, but my knees hurt like the dickens that morning. I felt like I couldn’t get any work done at the office because I wasn’t comfortable sitting and I wasn’t comfortable standing. I went for a couple walks as advised by my PT, but even those I had to make slow and short because my knees were so stiff and achy.
I had a PT appointment on Friday evening, and “what gives?” was the essence of the first words out of my mouth. I wondered if this was like when you do a hard workout and your muscles are more sore the second day after compared to the first day. Did I aggravate my knees during Wednesday’s lesson and this was a delayed reaction?
My PT was on vacation, and I was seeing a sub in the meantime. While she hadn’t been working with me up until that point, she didn’t think it was my dancing that triggered my knees. She asked what I had done on Thursday. Nothing active, I told her. I had the day job, I had a meeting with the director of Rx Ballroom Dance, and then I was on my computer for the rest of the night. I was basically sitting all day.
That’s what did it, she said.
Friday wasn’t the first time I’d heard this. My main PT had said the same thing when I came to an appointment exasperated over my knees hurting again. The pain would increase the day after a day of being sedentary. Not moving was aggravating my knees more than dancing full out. She also pointed out that the bent position of the knee while I’m sitting is actually stressful for the joint, particularly the knee cap.
There’s been a lot of research in recent decades about the health effects of sitting at a desk all day. Studies have linked sitting all day to increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and plain ‘ol death, among other things. Add increased recovery time for knee injuries to the list.
Of course, spending all day dancing probably wouldn’t be great for my knees either. What’s interesting and important to note is “taking it easy” applies to both physical activity and rest. My PT has advised me to make sure I’m not sitting too long at work, but also not standing too long. I need to get up regularly and go for a walk, but not a super long walk.
Sometimes when people get injured, they develop a fear or anxiety about pushing themselves physically again. I know I felt a twinge of it as the thought that I’d never be able to dance without pain again bounced around in my head. Some lessons, I felt nervous about doing more than walking through my routines because I was afraid of causing more damage. The instinct to avoid damage is to stop or do less. Ironically, stopping is proving to be just as, if not more, harmful to my recovery.
Moderation is key. With so much of my life being spent sitting in front of a computer, I have to be extra conscious about taking regular breaks to move my body (like now while I write this blog post). I take this as a really good sign though. My body wants me to move! I don’t need to worry about my body failing to support me and my passion for dance. We’re on the same page.
On that note, I’m going to end here so I can do my PT exercises before I hit the sack. I’m looking forward to my next dance lesson.