Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 2

Let’s pick up where we left off last week. If you are new here, be sure to go back and check out Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1 to get yourself all caught up!

Before I start in on anything new, I feel like I should reiterate the disclaimers that I posted last week, just in case anyone new here does not want to follow the above link and read them there:


DISCLAIMER #1: Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful. There is no shame in modifying your movements or using lighter weights if it helps you finish your workouts successfully.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple., which are the same rules I like to use for dancing:

  1. Safety – always rule number one. We want to get results, not get hurt!
  2. Form – form (a.k.a. technique) is crucial while exercising just like it is while dancing.
  3. Fun – having fun is what keeps you coming back to dance, right? If you apply that same line of thought to exercise, having fun will help keep you working out to improve yourself. Fun is important!

DISCLAIMER #3: Resistance training is important, even for ladies. ESPECIALLY for ladies that avoid doing resistance training altogether. You can do cardio workouts until you keel over, but it probably isn’t going to give you that toned look that you were going for. Adding in weight training will help.

If you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless your hormone levels are super messed up, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add lots of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. Period. Full stop. End of line.

Ladies can build a bunch of muscle, but to do so requires a much more meticulous level of eating than a male has to do in order to build muscle mass. Plus you would have to be eating something like one gram of protein for every two pounds of body weight you have in order to build muscle fast. And it would have to be real meat, not vegetable proteins like tofu, because eating a lot of meat will help increase your natural testosterone production, which in turn helps you develop more muscle.

Are you planning on eating that much meat? Or taking testosterone supplements? If not, you shouldn’t worry about gaining weight by building muscle through weight training. More often, women find that they lose weight through weight training because it can burn a lot more calories when you push yourself. If you find yourself gaining weight after a short period of weight training, most likely the problem is something in your diet, such as not actually sticking to your calorie goals.


With those disclaimers out of the way again, there are a couple of new areas of fitness that I want to talk about this week. I’ll start off by touching on core fitness, then spend a little time talking about balance, and finally I’ll give you some thoughts on eating to fuel all of this physical activity. Sound like a good plan to you? Let’s get started!

CORE

This is probably the area of the body that you thought I was going to do second, right? And for good reason – the core is really important for a whole lot of what happens in dancing any style. Plus, if you want to compete at high levels in Latin or Rhythm, where the guys wear shirts that seem to be unbuttoned down to their pants and the ladies wear dresses that seem to be made of little more than floss and sequins, having a strong and toned core can help give you the body confidence to throw on an outfit like that and hold your head high!

I might even be willing to make the argument that the body confidence could do more to help improve your dancing than anything else, but that’s probably a topic for a whole post all by itself…

The way a lot of people think (I was certainly guilty of this in my youth), they assumes that Core = Abs, so their instinct is to lay on the floor to do a million crunches to try and develop a six-pack. But I promise you that if you look in the mirror, you will notice that your core is shaped more like a rounded box, so to truly have a strong core you need to work on all four sides!  We already talked about the back separately, since I feel that it needs its own section, so let’s look at the other three sides of this hyperrectangle below your head, shall we?

Crunches, Et Al.
Most of the exercises that you will find to work on the front of your core (i.e. the abs) are going to be some variation of this movement, so I can’t really get away from mentioning it. Since I’m pretty sure that everyone has done at least one basic crunch before and knows what it looks like, let’s look at some more advanced variations to build on that baseline.

Remember last week when I mentioned taking a weighted plate from a barbell and holding it to your forehead while doing Cobra? How about your take that same plate and put it behind your head like a pillow and do a crunch! As before, increasing the resistance will help you build more strength than just using body weight alone.

How about you try doing crunches slowly to really feel the burn! Start off by doing three seconds as you crunch all the way up, and then three seconds to lower back down. If you’re feeling super strong, make it six seconds! Personally I wouldn’t make them any longer than that. Five crunches at six seconds up, six seconds down will already take you over a minute to finish, and you don’t want to be lying on the floor forever, right?

Oblique V-Ups
This movement is sure to work the sides of your core. Lay down on one side and bend at the waist like a V. Let your lower arm just rest on the ground – but be sure to keep it loose. Pushing up with the arm isn’t working your obliques! Take the fingertips of your upper arm and hold them at your temple so that your elbow is pointing toward the ceiling. Now bring your upper body and your legs up off the ground to try and touch your elbow to the side of your upper leg. If you can get it – great! If not, come as close as you can and try and do better each time you do this exercise.

Pause for a second at the top and then lower yourself back down to your starting position. In order to balance on your hip when you lift your upper body and legs off the floor, you may need to lean back some, and that’s OK! Just don’t lean back too far, or you risk rolling yourself onto your back. If you’re in public and you accidentally roll onto your back, try quickly rolling to your other side and starting the Oblique V-Ups – it will look like you totally planned it, and people will think you’re super smooth!

Plank Twists
This is a great movement for working your whole core. Holding a plank properly forces you to engage everything so that you don’t stick your butt up in the air, and bringing your legs underneath you really works your hip flexors and your obliques. Plus, this movement is more fun than just holding a plank without moving.
Start out by getting into a plank. Make sure it’s a good one, with your heels going back, your back and neck straight and your butt in line. Now, take one leg and bend it, raising your knee up as you twist your body to the opposite side of the leg that you are moving. Keep the leg off the floor the whole time, and try your best to get your upper thigh perpendicular with your body. Rotate the body back as you replace the leg – now you’re back in plank position. Repeat with the opposite leg, switching back and forth on each repetition.

Russian Twist
This is another move that is more synergistic in nature, working multiple sides of the core in one exercise. The rotational action here should feel really familiar to anyone who dances ballroom styles and uses figures with a lot of Contra-Body Movement (CBM).

There are multiple variations of this movement that you can do depending on your fitness level. The most basic involves sitting down, feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent, and leaning backward as far as you can go while keeping your back straight and your feet on the floor. In this position, clasp your hands together like one big fist and then twist your body from side to side, striking the ground with your hands on each side as you twist back and forth.

If you feel like the basic version is too easy, the next step would be to lift your legs off the ground and hold them up so that your shins are parallel with the floor as you twist back and forth. When you feel like you’ve mastered that variation, it’s time to add some resistance. Go back to the basic setup, keeping your feet on the floor. Now take a single dumbbell and hold it in both hands. Keep the weight more toward the center of your body the whole time – the weight is used to make it harder for you to hold your body up on an angle as you twist, trying to bring your elbows as close to the floor as you can.

Once you get super strong, try combining both variations! Use the weight to add resistance against your upper body, and then lift your legs off the floor at the same time! If you get through this variation without breaking a sweat, you should feel pretty accomplished with your core fitness.

Misc.
There are lots of programs out there specifically designed to work on core strength. For example, Pilates focuses on core work quite a bit, as you might know if you’ve ever taken a class. But the amazing thing about core work is that it is incorporated into almost every workout that you do. Martial arts will help you work your core if you are doing the movements right. So does Yoga. So do even basic exercises like push-ups, where you really need to keep your core engaged the whole time to keep from having a bow in your back. You just can’t escape!

Like all other muscle groups though, you don’t want to destroy your core by working it super hard every day. It’s one thing to work the core in a secondary manner as a byproduct of working your other muscle groups – it’s another thing entirely to focus on a routine built specifically for core strengthening. Try to limit focused core work to no more than three times a week with at least a day in between to give your muscles a chance to recover.

BALANCE

I’ve been told often enough by various strangers over the years, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky that you have such good balance.’ That not really true – I had to work on it to make my balance look this good. And unless you have some kind of medical condition that upsets your body’s ability to remain stable, balance is something that you can work to improve as well.

The good news is that there are things that you can do to work on balance that aren’t as boring as standing around on one leg. I have done balance training in Yoga lots of times, but I found that a lot of the poses that they used were some variation of doing just that. Think about Tree pose, for example, or Warrior III, or Half Moon (if you don’t know what these poses are, you can find pictures online pretty easily). Holding poses like these can certainly help you improve, but as a dancer the first thing that you are usually asked to do is to be able to balance yourself while moving around. Creating the fancy lines where you are balancing in one place with little movement usually comes later.

That’s not the Tree Pose I meant!

So, I like to practice balance while doing other exercises that force me to move around! Last week I mentioned doing Single-Leg Calf Raises, which is a perfect example of this concept. You have to balance yourself on one leg, but then you are also moving your body as you perform the calf raise. Think about doing a Natural Turn in the Waltz, where you have to remain balanced as you plant one foot and rise up on your toes while drawing your other leg in to close. Tell me you can’t see the similarities!

Another exercise I mentioned previously that this concept works well with are the Lateral Raises for your shoulders. You can easily transition to standing on one leg while lifting your arms to your sides. In fact, a lot of common upper body exercises can be modified in this way – Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Shoulder Presses, and so on. Doing any of these movements while standing on one leg will help you improve the strength in your ankles and knees needed for balance, all while you also working on another body part at the same time! Plus, I personally think it is more entertaining than just standing there staring at a wall.

But balance is more than just how well the ankles and knees can hold you up – there is a lot that core strength can do as well to help improve your balance. If you stand up right now and lift one leg off the floor, do you find yourself engaging the muscles in your core to help keep your spine in one place over your standing leg? Training your core muscles to help keep your spine stable can do wonders for you!

One entertaining way that I’ve found to do this is actually through push-ups. In normal push-ups you have to keep your core engaged to help keep your spine straight while you raise and lower yourself. Now, as a challenge, how about you find a couple of medicine balls (the solid kind, not the squishy kind) and put one under each hand. That’ll make you keep your core engaged to keep from falling over!

Too easy for you? Make it one medicine ball under both hands, or find two more medicine balls for a total of four and put one under each hand AND one under each foot! If that’s still too easy, find yourself one of those bigger stability balls and try to do push-ups while gripping either side of that thing. If you’re a glutton for punishment, try putting your feet up on the stability ball while you put your hands on top of one of those medicine balls you thought were too easy earlier. Yeah, using your core to balance your body while your feet are on a stability ball and your hands on the medicine ball is hard all by itself, and on top of that I’m asking you to try doing push-ups at the same time! Not so easy anymore, is it?

My point from all this is that if you want better balance, you need to work on it, but you don’t have to be bored while doing it. Yes, Yoga certainly can be great for improving balance, and also helping you calm your mind as you get into the flow, but there are other options out there. Over the years I’ve done all of these – including Yoga – to continue challenging myself, and challenge is what helps me improve and break through my plateaus. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have good balance if you weren’t born with it – work on it and see how much better you can get!

NUTRITION

To get the results that you want out of any fitness regimen, you have to eat properly. Pure and simple. There’s no magic involved with being in shape – it’s all achievable through having a proper fitness plan and putting the right fuel into your body.

I’m going to start off by telling you the unpopular advice that you probably don’t want to hear: if you want to eat for the body you dream of, you have to eat right. That means that you should start today, go through your refrigerator and all your cupboards and THROW. OUT. ALL. THE. CRAP.

I know, it’s bad to waste food. If it makes you feel better, give it all away instead. If it’s unopened, donate it to a food pantry somewhere. If you have opened sweets, take them to work and pawn them off on your coworkers. Just get rid of it somehow. DO NOT EAT IT!

If you are looking to do something transformational with your body, like lose a large amount of weight or build up a lot of muscle, you have to eat for those results. Once you have those results you can have some of those ‘treats’ around, but until you achieve what you want it is better to not even have the temptation. Cake and ice cream? You don’t need it. Chips? How about no. Pizza? Don’t even go there. Beer, wine or liquor? Naught but empty calories. Get them all out of your house and don’t buy any more until you achieve the results you want! Even after you succeed, you should limit what you have in your house to avoid undoing everything you’ve worked so hard for.

Don’t tell me that it’s too hard. I do it all the time. I don’t eat donuts when someone at the office brings in a box to share with everyone for free. There is almost never any ‘snack foods’ at my house, even when I really want some. I will go out with friends to bars and only have water while everyone else has adult beverages. If I can do it, you can do it too! All it takes is a little willpower to make a huge difference in your dietary intake.
Now, once the crap in your house is gone, we have to do a little math. I know… not many people like math, but trust me – these are important numbers that you will want to have in mind constantly while you are training. These calculations are what works best for me, so I will be using myself as the example. If you find that these mock-up calculations don’t work for you, I would recommend seeing a specialist to get specific recommendations for your body.

The first thing we need to do is calculate your caloric baseline, or how many calories you should eat per day just to keep on keeping-on. The math is pretty simple:

If you live a sedentary lifestyle when not working out (desk job, lots of time in front of the TV), use (Current Weight) * 11

If you live a moderately active lifestyle when not working out (walk a lot, always park in the back of parking lots, play with your kids all the time), use (Current Weight) * 12

If you live an active lifestyle when not working out (never sit down all day, don’t own a TV or a couch because you are always traveling and sightseeing), use (Current Weight) * 13

For example: I have a sedentary job, where I am always at my desk or sitting in meetings when I’m at work. When I’m not at work though, I spend six days a week at the dance studio. For me, the moderate plan works best. My current weight is roughly 205lbs, so 205 * 12 = 2,460 calories per day is my baseline..

Now, we need to add in calories for your workouts. This is where it will be harder for me to give you guidance unless you are on some kind of regular workout plan where you can get approximate calorie burn estimates, but there are three principles that holds true no matter what you are doing:

  1. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn while working out (but not zero calories – you still need some fuel for the workout!).
  2. If you want to maintain your weight, you need to eat the same amount of calories you burn while working out.
  3. If you want to build muscle mass, you need to eat more calories than you burn while working out.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

My food intake for working out also factors in my rough body fat percentage (8%), and the fact that I work out six days a week with one day of rest. I am currently looking to maintain my current weight, so I am adding in 600 calories a day to fuel my workouts. 2,460 + 600 = 3,060, which I round down to 3,000 calories every day just to make my life easier.

Because I am working out six days a week, I eat the same amount of calories every day, including on my one day of rest (to give my body the fuel to repair itself). If you are not working out that frequently, your overall weekly caloric intake will look different from mine.

Now, let’s talk about what you want to eat. To make life easier, lump foods into three major categories:

Proteins – This is your primary nutrient for building muscle, because it is the only nutrient that the body can convert into muscle tissue

Carbohydrates – Carbs are not to be avoided, because these are what your body will use for fuel! Energy is essential for… well, for life. The problem with avoiding carbohydrates in your diet is that your body’s first response to get the energy it needs will be to start breaking down your muscle tissue, which is not a good thing if you want to keep those strength gains that all the exercise gives you!

Fats – another primary source for energy that your body actually requires. I know that talking about eating fats sounds terrible, but eating well does not mean eliminating fat entirely from your diet. You just have to be sure that you eat the right kinds of fats! Healthy fats will also help you fight inflammation, joint pain and muscle soreness – three problems that can keep a lot of people from going back to work out again day after day.

For me, lately my meal plans fall into two categories: a muscle building plan, and a body sculpting plan. When eating to build muscle, I have to eat a lot to fuel my cells to work hard and build back bigger. Even right now, when I am just trying to maintain my weight, I eat as if I am building muscle. My calories break down per day to roughly 25% Proteins, 60% Carbohydrates, 15% Fats.

When I finish up a phase of training and I want to burn off any excess fat accumulation to really give me that more defined look in my musculature, for a short period of time I will cut back on the calories to fuel my workouts (down to about 200 calories rather than 600) and change up my breakdown to 50% Proteins, 30% Carbohydrates, 20% Fats. This is only a short term change, usually no more than a month.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, wait a minute – you’re currently eating 3,000 calories a day, and 60% off that is carbohydrates? I can’t imagine that you eat 1,800 calories worth of bread a day! That’s nuts!” Well, you would be right. The thing is, carbohydrates has to be further broken down into the major food groups that give you carbohydrates – obviously there are starches like bread, but this also includes legumes, fruits and vegetables.

These four categories should all be included in your calculations when you plan out your meals. If you only eat starches for carbohydrates, you will miss out on a lot of the dietary vitamins and minerals that your body craves! If you look at that 1,800 calories of “carbohydrates” I am eating per day, it’s actually more like 35% starches, 30% legumes, 25% fruits and 10% vegetables.

(I know that having only 10% vegetables seems really low, but if you realize that 2 cups of raw spinach, or 1 cup of raw carrots, or 1 cup of raw bell peppers is only roughly 25 calories, then you’ll see that I am actually eating a lot of plants just to hit that 10% mark every day!)

So how does this all work for you? Well, in all of the good diet plans I’ve used over the years to help fuel my workouts, the constant recommendations have always been that if you want to lose weight you want to eat a higher protein, lower carbohydrate and fat mix, and if you don’t need to lose weight and need energy to fuel your body through all your daily activities you need a higher carbohydrate, lower protein and fat mix.

If you are just starting out and have some fat to burn while you build strength, try starting off with a 40% Protein, 30% Carbohydrate and 30% Fat mix. That is a pretty safe starting range that will help you learn what how you feel. I would highly recommend going back and reevaluating your plan every 30 days. As you burn off the fat that you wanted, start converting to more carbohydrates instead of proteins. Don’t forget to recalculate your calorie intake if your weight has changed as well!

Of course, going back to my first point, that 40/30/30 mix only works if the food you’re eating is good. If you are still eating crap, even if you manage to fit the crap into the mix calorie-wise, you are not going to get the results you desire. Yes, that bag of chips on your counter is TECHNICALLY a starch, and thus a carbohydrate, but you don’t need all the extra salt and grease that’s also included in that bag! Just get rid of it!

Think about how much more satisfied you would be if you took that 300 calories from the bag of chips and instead made a salad with chickpeas (for your legumes servings) and spinach and some apple slices, with an ounce of shredded cheese thrown into the mix for a protein serving. If you’re feeling super fancy, you can sprinkle a tablespoon of crushed walnuts on top for one of your good fat servings for the day. 300 calories of a salad like that is a lot more food, so you will definitely feel more full when finished, and there will be less food regret afterward!


Sorry for making this so long again. Hopefully some of this information was useful for all of you out there. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me! If I don’t know the answer, I can usually at least point you in the right direction. I’ve been living this lifestyle for a decade now, so I’ve learned a thing or two in that time.

I’ll get back to talking about specific dance things next week, I promise. Until that time, <Insert the motivational workout tagline you like here>!
-stay with the fight
-don’t stop until you’re proud
-you don’t get the ass you want by sitting on it
-do your best, forget the rest
-keep pushing
-whatever it takes
-you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great

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Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1

It’s funny – remember last week, when I asked whether anyone would be interested in some pointers on fitness-type things for dance? Well, on Saturday evening as I was finishing my normal workout, I got a text message from a dance instructor at a studio where I go to practice a lot. He wanted to know if I would come out to the studio on Sunday afternoon to take a Pilates class with him. The studio was being rented out for an hour that afternoon to do a special ‘Pilates for Dancers’ class, and I think he wanted to make sure he wasn’t the only guy there.

Since I’m always up for any kind of physical challenge, of course I went! That felt like a sign to me that I needed to go through with writing all of these notes down for all of you. Before I start though, let me get some disclaimers out of the way before we talk about anything specific…


DISCLAIMER #1: Most likely I don’t know you, so I don’t know anything about your strengths/weaknesses/injuries/preferences. Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. For example, you wouldn’t try to do push-ups if you were born with no arms, right?

If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful.

DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple. I also keep these same rules in mind while I am dancing, because they are just as meaningful in that context:

  1. Safety – please, please, please make sure to keep yourself and those around you safe when working out.
  2. Form – much like dancing, form and technique is super important while exercising. A few repetitions with perfect form will help you get results faster than a bunch of repetitions with crappy form.
  3. Fun – you just have to have fun! If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it! I don’t mean that every exercise you do is going to be fun. The workouts I do when I decide to push my limits and increase the size of the weights I use are always kind of terrible… but overall I still find the physical exertion to be fun, and the results I’ve gotten make it even more enjoyable!

DISCLAIMER #3: Yes, I am going to talk a lot about lifting weights. If you and I were to ever talk about fitness in person, I would always strongly recommend lifting weights, even for women. Cardio-type exercises alone are not enough to create the type of body that people usually describe to me that they want when they say they want to be “in shape.” Resistance training needs to be used in conjunction.

This disclaimer will emphasize this point right not – if you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless you have a major hormonal imbalance, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies, which is what helps men build muscle faster. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add pounds of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. It’s just not going to happen, end of story.

I could send you article after article about this if you don’t believe me. If you are starting to work out and you are putting on weight, the most likely reason is not that you are building a bunch of muscle. Period. End of story. To build a bunch of muscle you have to be lifting a lot of heavy weights, eating a lot more calories than you need to the point that eating is making you almost uncomfortably full, and taking the right supplements to encourage muscle growth. Are you planning on doing all that? I doubt it.

So if you want to add in a couple of days of weight training each week and you find yourself gaining weight after two or three weeks, we would need to go back and check your diet, because most likely that is the culprit. Usually we’d find that you are eating more than you think because you are suddenly hungrier with the increase in activity. That is why it is SUPER IMPORTANT to set a nutrition plan with at least a base calorie goal and macronutrient spread before you start any exercise regimen, and then STICK. TO. IT. Snacking on top of your meal plan is what causes the weight gain for most people.

Sounds so simple, right? We’ll talk more about eating later, I promise.


OK, with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about exercise ideas that are, in my personal experience, most helpful for dancers. I’ll break this down by body sections to keep the groupings logical. Let’s start off by talking about what, in my opinion, are the most important body parts for dancing.

LEGS

Who really likes to work their legs? Not a lot of people. But since you are a dancer, you know that almost every action that you do starts with the legs. They are the engine of all your dance movements, which is why I believe that having strong legs is so important for a dancer. Think of strong legs like driving down the highway, riding around in a muscle car with a throaty V8. Having weak legs is more like riding down the street on top of your robotic vacuum cleaner. Which one would you prefer?

I cannot recommend enough spending at least one day a week on an all-around leg improvement workout. There are so many benefits to doing so. But for this post, let’s keep things simple and look at the two different categories of leg exercises you need for dancing: leg strength, and leg speed/agility.

Leg Strength: This is, simply put, how strong your legs are, which will definitely help you push off that standing leg as you move yourself around. Part of strength training should also be muscle endurance training, which will help your legs perform at a high level for longer periods of time. Don’t you want to do 50 heats at a competition without feeling wasted afterward instead of 20 ? How about 100 heats, or maybe more?

Leg Speed & Agility: This is how fast you can move your legs with precision. Really important for those faster tempo dances like Cha-Cha or Quickstep. It’s one thing to be able to move your legs fast, but you also need to be able to do it while placing the leg exactly where you want instead of just looking like your legs are flailing wildly.

Let’s get a bit more specific, starting with leg strength.

Note:
I like to keep it old-school when weightlifting. All the resistance exercises I will talk about going forward can be done using basic weights (barbels or dumbbells) and other simple pieces of equipment (a solid chair, weight bench, etc.) that should be easy to find. No complicated fitness contraptions will be required!

Calf Raises
Ladies, if you compete in Latin dances and wear the short dresses (like I often see at competitions), you should really want to have strong calves. Not only will they look nice when you do a press line, but strong calves will help you stand forward on your toes better in heels.

This is a simple exercise – take two dumbbells and hold one in each hand while resting them on your shoulders. Depending on the type of dumbbell and the weight of it, you might consider putting a towel down on your shoulders to protect your skin. With the weights secure, raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

We want to do three sets like this: first set with your toes pointed straight forward, second set with the toes turned out, and the third set with the toes turned in toward each other.


I guess I should quickly mention what a ‘Set’ would be for you. The general rule of thumb I like to use is as follows…

-To build muscle, you want to use as heavy weight as you can to complete 8 to 10 reps. You should start to feel the burn around number repetition number 6.

-To tone muscle and build endurance, you want to use lighter weights and do 15 reps. The weights can’t be super light, because you still want to feel the burn, but this time the burn should come around the 12th repetition.


Single-Leg Calf Raise
This exercise will help you work on balance as well as strength. If your balance isn’t that great right now, do this exercise near a wall so that you can put a hand up to steady yourself as needed. Don’t keep your hand on the wall the entire time though, or else you really aren’t going to do as much to build the strength in the ankle that would help improve your balance.

These are similar to the normal Calf Raises, but we are going to be standing on one foot. This time, take a single dumbbell and hold it in the arm that corresponds with the leg that you are standing on. Use lighter weights here if you need to because of the balance component. Put all of your weight on one leg and hook your other foot behind the ankle of the standing leg. Keep the arm with the weight hanging at your side with the weight in line with your body. Raise yourself up onto your toes as high as you can, pause for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.

Because we are standing on one leg, you only do these with the toes pointed forward. Make sure to do this with both legs! You don’t want to be lopsided, after all. 🙂

Forward & Backward Lunges
If you do any of the ballroom dances in American Smooth or International Standard, you should know that to properly travel you have to be able to accept the weight into your moving leg as you shift from one standing leg to another on a traveling step (‘traveling step’ being defined as a step where you are driving yourself forward/backward in a figure, as opposed to rotational steps or non-traveling steps in a figure). I have found that an exercise that really helps me work on transferring weight and accepting the weight into my new leg is by doing Forward and Backward Lunges.

From a standing position with your feet underneath you about shoulder width apart, take one weight in each hand and hold them at your side. To do a Forward Lunge, step forward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower the body until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your front leg backward to the starting position.

To do a Backward Lunge, step backward with one leg as far as you are comfortable going and then lower your body down toward the floor between your legs in the same manner. Keep your back knee bent and try to lower until your front leg is in a 90° angle – i.e. with your upper leg parallel to the floor – but don’t go any lower. Pause for a second when you hit your lowest point and then raise your body back up and step your back leg forward back into the starting position.

Speed & Agility
There are a couple of different kinds of workouts that I enjoy using to help improve my own speed and agility. One recommendation I have is looking into Plyometrics, a.k.a. ‘Jump Training’ – literally doing exercises where you are jumping off the ground. This is a higher-impact type of workout, so make sure that you feel comfortable with that before you try it out, and only do the workouts somewhere where you have a padded floor. A gym with concrete floors would be a terrible life choice.

Plyometrics will really help you develop that explosive power in your legs that you need to move quickly, and learning to jump with targets will help you improve the precision in your movements. If you decide to give it a try based on my advice, I bet you will thank me when you are hopping around like a pro during your Quickstep routine!

If a high-impact workout like Plyometrics seems like a bit too much for you, the other recommendation that I have that can help improve the speed and agility of your legs is taking up some form of martial arts. This is something that I will probably reference quite a few times, because there is so much about training for martial arts that can really benefit you as a dancer. You don’t have to spend a bunch of time working toward gaining a black belt to get the benefits – any type of martial arts program that involves kick actions can help you build leg speed.

I am not an affiliate with any program, nor am I trying to sell you on anything, but since I am being specific about exercises that I like to do in this post… I used to live near a place that offered BodyCombat classes. I love BodyCombat. Seriously. Imagine doing various martial arts moves in time to awesome music – that’s what BodyCombat is. As a dancer, that sort of workout might be right up your alley. It’s certainly up mine. 😉

If there’s a place near you that offers live classes, drop in once and see if you like it. If you don’t have a place near you but you have an empty room in your house (with a well padded floor for jump kicks), the online classes they offer are also fun. Make sure you have good speakers on your computer though, because it’s so much more fun when you pump up the jams!

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Enough about the legs. Let’s move on to what I think is the next most important area of your body as a dancer. It’s probably not the one that you’re thinking, but I’ll cover that one in a bit.

BACK

Yeah, I’m going to pull the back muscles out specifically rather than group them in with the core muscles like other people do.

There is so much that having strong muscles in your back does to help you as a competitive dancer. Strengthening the muscles in your mid-back helps you stand taller, and all dancers know how important posture is when dancing competitively. I was always taught that any arm motions that I might do when dancing are supposed to originate from the muscles in my back, specifically the rear deltoids (‘delts’) and the latissimus dorsi (‘lats’). For example, when I dance competitively I always find myself keeping my frame wide by pulling my lats out to the sides.

Aside from the benefits to your dancing, strengthening the muscles in your back can help protect your spine better, allowing you to avoid back injuries. Back muscles are super important!

Reverse Flys
This is a really great exercise for strengthening your rear delts. The rear delts are a small muscle group, so when you do Reverse Flys you don’t need a lot of weight. There are two ways to do rear flys – one gives you the option to brace your upper body against something, which will allow you to use slightly heavier weights. But even braced, 20lbs is going to seem super heavy for most people, so be sure to choose the right weight and stay safe!

Standing Reverse Flys are done by setting your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your back flat and bending at the waist, pushing your glutes out behind you. You want to bend so that your upper body is at slightly more than a 45° angle, but not so much that your back is parallel to the floor – that’s too much.

Let the arms dangle down toward the floor with the elbows slightly bent and a weight in each hand. Bring the arms up until your elbows are in a straight line with one-another, pause for one second, then lower them back down. Be sure to lower the weights slowly and with control, otherwise you risk slamming the weights into each other at the bottom with your fingers stuck in between. Ouch!

If you have a weight bench available to you, you can raise the bench up until it is in the medium position and rest your chest against the bench while you perform the movement. As I said, this will help you brace your body, and can help you try the exercise with slightly heavier weights, but make sure you still stay safe!

Cobra/Superman
A simple pair of exercises that are really good for strengthening the muscles in your lower back. The only difference between the two is whether you leave your legs on the ground or not.

Start out lying on the floor on your stomach with your legs together. For Cobra you can place your hands flat on the floor next to your head; Superman obviously has to have the arms held straight out in front of you. Inhale and raise your upper body off the floor to do Cobra, and raise both the upper body and lower body off the floor as you inhale to do Superman. Make sure that you keep looking down at the floor while you do this to avoid any strain in the neck. Pause for a second when you’ve raised up as high as you can go, then exhale as you bring yourself back down to your starting position.

For a simple variation to help build more strength while doing Cobra, you can take a light weight (a barbel plate works great for this) and rest your forehead against it. Hold the weight against your forehead as you inhale and raise your upper body off the floor. This will increase the resistance that your lower back muscles have to lift while doing the exercise.

Overhand Pull-Ups
You’re probably all going to hate me for recommending these, but this is another super simple exercise that helps strengthen the muscles in the mid back. While doing Chin-Ups is also helpful, a lot of people tend to incorporate a lot of bicep work when they do Chin-Ups – we want to focus on the back muscles here, so I recommend making sure that you are wrapping your hands over the top of the bar before pulling yourself up.

The trick to Pull-Ups is to make sure that you are pulling from the muscles that run underneath your shoulders and in the middle of the back. If you are feeling a lot of the pull from anywhere else, you are probably doing the action wrong. Keep your hands on the bar at about shoulder width to start with if you don’t really do Pull-Ups right now. As you get stronger, you can try widening your grip to challenge yourself, or bringing your hands closer together if you want an even harder challenge!

If you are not strong enough to do a Pull-Up right now, bring over a chair to the bar and put your feet up on it. Taking the weight of your legs out of the mix will make the Pull-Up easier. Over time you can graduate to using only one leg, and then to doing one or two with no legs on the chair and the rest using the chair, and finally to not using the chair at all. As always, modify to be successful rather than avoid something you think is too hard!

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SHOULDERS AND ARMS

We’re going to attach these two muscle groups together (Ha! See what I did there?).

The shoulders and arms are used quite a bit while dancing. Are you holding some kind of frame with your partner? The shoulders and arms are involved there! Are you competing in American Smooth or Rhythm or International Latin, and while in an open position with your partner and you don’t want to have your free arm hanging down like a limp noodle? The shoulders and arms are involved here too!

One big complaint that I hear from instructors I know who compete in Pro/Am is that, after dancing a bunch of rounds, their partner starts to get tired and struggles to keep their frame up. As their partner begins to droop, they tend to put a lot more weight on their Pro, which can put the Pro under a lot of physical stress. These Pros work at keeping their own strength and stamina up to help alleviate this problem, but wouldn’t it be better if their Amateur took away some of this burden by improving their own strength and stamina to keep their frame up stronger for longer?

Upright Rows
If you don’t know by now, I personally compete in International Standard, so keeping my own frame up is critical when I am out on the floor in front of the judges. If you compete in American Smooth, especially in the Closed Syllabus levels, there are requirements for how much of your routine has to be in closed dance frame as well. For the ballroom-style dances in Smooth or Standard, I find that Upright Rows are the perfect activity to train me to keep my elbows up while under pressure.

These can be done using either a barbel or with dumbbells. A barbel can help keep your elbows level as you lift, but if you have wrist issues a dumbbell will allow you to rotate your wrist more freely with the weight to stay comfortable.

Standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent to protect your back, hold the weights down in front of you with your arms fully extended. Draw the weights up the front of your body, bending your elbows and pulling them back in the process. Pause at the top for a second when the bar/weights are under your chin, and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.

Lateral Raises
Here’s another exercise that helps you strengthen the muscles involved with bringing your arms up. This movement focuses more on the muscle at the side of the shoulders.

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Grab a pair of dumbbells (you want lighter weights here) and hold them at your sides. Bend the elbows slightly – locking the elbows during this exercise can be painful. Raise the weights up to your sides until the arms are in line with your shoulders. Pause for a second at the top and then lower the weights back down slowly.

Tricep Extensions
The triceps are the muscles at the back of your arms. A lot of people spend tons of time working on the biceps in the front of the arms, but the tricep muscles are actually underneath more of the surface area of the arm than the biceps, so why wouldn’t you want to work on improving the triceps as well?

These are also the muscles that you use to pull your lower arm out when you extend your arms straight, so strengthening them will help you with that action. Don’t you want to have amazingly toned upper arms when you throw your arms out for Crossover Breaks or New Yorkers while dancing the Rumba or Cha-Cha?

Like with the Upright Rows you can do these with either a barbel or with dumbbells. This exercise is done lying down, either on the floor or on a bench. Start off by taking the weights in hand and holding your arms up straight away from the floor. Keep your elbows in – if your elbows start to drift away from your chest, either fight to keep them in or use lighter weights.

Bend your elbows to lower the weights down. If using a barbel, you would be lowering the bar toward your forehead; if using dumbbells you are lowering the weights to either side of your head. Make sure to control the weights on the way down! Pause for a second at the bottom, then slowly extend the arms back to the starting position.

I shouldn’t really have to say this, but please don’t crush your face while doing this exercise…

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Man, I feel like I’ve gone on forever, and there is so much more that I could say! So many more exercises that I could recommend in each section! But, unfortunately, I am not trying to design an entire workout routine here, I’m just offering up some notable exercises that I like to do which help pinpoint muscles used in dance.

Because this is already super long… how about I cut this in half and we’ll go over part two next week? Stay with me, and next week I will go over exercises to help dancers with their core, we’ll talk a bit about balance work, and finally I’ll spend some time talking about eating to help fuel these sorts of workouts.

Check out part two of this topic in next week’s post!

But Oh, How I Changed And Oh, How I’ve Grown

**I feel like I’ve had this song in my head pretty much every day since I first heard it. It may be my current favorite song.**

Here we are! It’s 2019 already! Would you look at that. It feels like just yesterday I was in high school, dreading the thought of deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. If I had the chance, I would totally go back in time and tell my young self that nothing I was worrying about at that time would matter, because somehow 20-ish years later I will be spending most of my free time training to be a competitive dancer. The look on my young face would be priceless I bet.

How did you end up ringing in the new year? I did it the same way that I’ve done it the last few years of my life – out on the dance floor! I spent New Year’s Eve at the Electric Dance Hall having fun with a bunch of people, dancing the previous year away. It’s one way to make sure that I get to start the year off on the right foot!

(Actually, the left foot, since, you know, that’s how I usually have to start…)

I like the way that Lord Junior runs his New Year’s Eve parties. It’s basically the kind of party that he would hold at his house for all his friends – if his house were a big dance hall. He had cut off a section of the dance floor in the back by moving up a line of chairs. In the segregated area he set up a bunch of tables for various games that people could play if they needed to give their legs a rest throughout the evening. Which was good, because he was planning on letting people dance all night long! Of all the dance parties I saw on the calendar for New Year’s Eve in my area, Lord Junior’s was the one that was open the longest – he started the night off at 8:00PM with a basic dance lesson for all the newbies, and the party was slated to go until ‘?’. I left the studio pretty late, shortly after 1:00AM I think, and there were still a fair number of people hanging out and having fun at that time.

There were a bunch of faces that I didn’t recognize at the party that night. Many of them were brand new to dancing and out looking for a different way to party on New Year’s Eve. As I said, at the beginning of the evening Lord Junior offered a dance lesson for everyone, and spent the hour covering really basic American Rumba and American Foxtrot. He promised all the newcomers that the DJ would play a fair number of these throughout the evening so that they could all get out on the floor and mess around with the steps he was showing them.

Somehow the class ended up with more men than women, so I opted to sit out so that others could take my place. Lord Junior convinced his wife (who was hanging around in the back of the studio) to come join the class, which made the number of men and women even. I wasn’t too sad about sitting out, believe it or not. See, I had stuck to my normal workout schedule just before I came to the party that day. I’ve switched back to doing heavy weight training after taking a couple of months off to let my body recover, and it was leg day that day, so I was definitely feeling my legs protest by that time. Having an hour during the class where I could just sit down and give my legs a chance to rest before dancing was actually really nice for me.

Once the class was over, everyone was released to have fun for the rest of the night. I think I spent much of the time that night alternating between dancing with people I knew and helping out newcomers with dances they didn’t know. Later on in the evening, Lord Junior roped me into going over to play one of the games with him that needed more people. He was super excited about playing the game (I think he had a bit of the champagne by that time), so of course I couldn’t let him down! That was a lot of fun.

At some point in the evening after the class finished up, I was looking out over the dance floor, and I was surprised to see that a familiar face that I hadn’t seen in a really long time had shown up. It was Young Dave! Yeah, that guy! That takes me all the way back to my days dancing at a franchise studio! I’m not entirely sure what brought him out to the party that night. Quite a while ago he disappeared from the dance world as the franchise studio gobbled him up with plans to turn him into a dance instructor. I heard later that those plans didn’t work out so well for him, and then he injured himself and basically gave up dance entirely. But I guess he’s back! Maybe this is a good sign – I assigned him one of the funniest Lego figures back in the day, and I was sad when he stopped showing up so I didn’t get to use that figure in pictures anymore.

While I’m on the subject of young dudes who came to the New Year’s Eve party, I think that Sparkledancer might have made a new friend that night. She had come to the party, but I didn’t see her for much of the night as she was bouncing around, dancing with her husband and talking to various people who wanted her attention. There was this one guy that I had never met before that kept going over to talk to her. I was introduced to him at one point by Sparkledancer – I think she did it so that he would talk to me for a while so she could run off and get a break. I don’t think he came to the party with anyone… or even knew anyone at the party before he showed up. That might explain why he latched on to Sparkledancer to talk to all night. She’s kind to strays like that. After all, she has kept talking to me for all these years. 🙂

Funny enough, I got a couple of texts from Sparkledancer the next day about this same guy. At some point during the night, she had exchanged phone numbers with him. From what I could gather from her story, he was a franchise studio student who was looking to branch out into the wider ballroom community. Partly that seems to be due to the high costs of the franchise studio which he didn’t want to pay any more, but also because it sounds like his old instructor left his studio, and this guy thinks that he knows more than the new girl who the franchise paired him with. So Sparkledancer offered to help be his guide to the wider ballroom community, and got his contact information for that reason.

She texted me on New Year’s Day to tell me that he was sending her a lot of messages to talk about dance and where he was hoping to go in the dance world. He has been dancing for two years now, and has had three different instructors at the franchise studio. He says that he wants to get into competitive dancing, but the franchise studio he is at doesn’t offer many competitions throughout the year and he isn’t sure if his franchise instructor would go to outside competitions with him. But he also told Sparkledancer that he doesn’t really want to work to be a competitor in the normal way. He wants to start going through and learn the figures so he can compete in Bronze, Silver and Gold, but he doesn’t want to worry about learning the technique until he finishes getting through all that. Huh.

But competing, much like taking lessons at his franchise studio, is also an expensive option, so he was asking her all about the cost benefits of having an Amateur partner for competing instead of trying to do Pro/Am, like she and I are doing. The creepy thing that Sparkledancer was telling me that I guess the guy was mentioning over and over is that he seems determined to find a dance partner and then also make that girl his life partner, so he wouldn’t stop asking Sparkledancer where he could go to meet all the young ballroom girls. I think she told me that he said he was 26 or 28, so he is looking for a girl who is between 20 and 24 who is also single.

To that end, it appears that he had developed a weird interest in Lord Junior’s current intern at the Electric Dance Hall. Lord Junior has this girl who I think is in her mid-twenties that he has been training so that she could become a dance instructor someday. She helps out at the studio with running the front desk and cleaning in return for free lessons from Lord Junior toward that end. The new guy met her at the New Year’s Eve party, and I guess she made a big impression on him. Probably because she was dressed to party in tight leggings and a crop top. Intern girl is funny sometimes – she’ll dress like that, which seems to imply that she wants attention, but if you spend any time talking to her you would find out that she is super shy and tends to avoid attention. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, new guy asked Sparkledancer several times about Intern girl, trying to pass off his inquiries as questions about what level she is and whether the two of them were the same so that they could start training together. That would be one thing, but Sparkledancer was texting me and saying that he was throwing out leading phrases to try to get Sparkledancer to give him personal information about Intern girl. That… sounded kind of creepy to me. Funny, but creepy.

(Also, as an update, I saw Intern girl tonight when I was at the studio practicing. She said that the guy had found her on some social media site, and had sent her a couple of messages. I guess it wasn’t just Sparkledancer that he was using to find out information – he also went right to the source! Intern girl, as you might guess, thought it was strange that a dude that she met only once was asking her all kinds of things, so she just deleted the messages he sent.)

So that was the fun dance related stuff that brought my previous year to a close and ushered in the new one. Good times all around!

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Now that the year is all over, I sit here staring at this page, trying to look back over the last year I had in dancing to think about where it’s taken me. Let’s see…

2018 saw me really embrace the competitive side of dancing and all but walk away from social dancing in that pursuit. Throughout 2017, when I first decided to start seriously competing, I tried to maintain the same level of social dancing that I had been doing up until that point. It got to be a lot, and the social dancing wasn’t really helping me remove all of those bad habits that the social dancing had caused me to develop in the first place. Throughout the past year the amount of time that I went out was cut back more and more, and by the end of the year I got down to only going out to dance parties maybe once or twice a month. That’s probably pretty apparent if I were to flip back through my notes and compare the types of things that I have been talking about lately with what I was talking about at this time the year before.

That doesn’t mean that I have been dancing any less though. If anything, the sheer amount of time that I spend at a dance studio per week has increased dramatically because I am out trying to get in more practice time. That is one of the downsides of dancing Amateur that most people who dance Pro/Am don’t even consider – I have to practice a lot to ensure that I can do everything correctly without even thinking about it, because I don’t have a Professional who could cover for any mistakes I might make.

Note: I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing. My coach admitted to me earlier this year that there are times that he hates competing in Pro/Am competitions. He is a retired World Champion (the real kind, where he won titles in major International competitions, not just the kind from the competition circuit in this country where they call their winners ‘World Champion’ for some weird reason even if all the competitors dancing are from the same state). His Pro/Am students are paying him for his expertise as a retired World Champion. If his students get tired during a competition, or do their techniques incorrectly, he has compensated for them so that those ladies will still win their competition. He told me that doing that sort of thing – leading and adjusting his student’s actions with his frame so that they always look good and always win their rounds – is really hard on his body. So yes, a Professional admitted to me that he will go out of his way to cover for mistakes his students might make.

I’m not saying that Pros have to do that for all students, just that (as an Amateur) I don’t even have that possibility. If my partner or I screw up, we both are getting judged for what we do, so there isn’t someone in our partnership who could cover it up… anyway, this is getting way off from the point that I was trying to make. Let’s circle back around again…

Also, in order to keep up with the high pace of improvement and change that my coach desires of my partner and I, practicing so much to make sure that any changes we make in our coaching sessions becomes muscle memory is not really optional for me. I must have things down before the next time I see him, so that I don’t let him down and so that we can continue moving forward. So I practice a lot now – much more than I did throughout 2017. I have actually been thinking about moving so that I am closer to one of the dance studios that I practice at in 2019 because I spend so much time practicing. Getting rid of the drive time would be great! Then I could spend all that extra time doing more practice, right? Right!? Sigh…

But the results of all the work over the last year have been better than I expected. I went to a lot more competitions than I thought I would when the year started (I think I did seven or eight of them – but don’t quote me on that). I placed a lot higher than I was expecting to in most of them. There were even a couple of competitions that I did where my coach was one of the judges, so aside from getting back placements I was also able to get back direct feedback on what I needed to improve while competing from him, which is super helpful. We’ll see if all the hard work in 2018 pays dividends for the competitions that I do in 2019.

I also worked with my coach to play the dance politics game from a very different side throughout last year. For example, one competition that I was told to go to earlier in the year I didn’t actually dance against anyone, and I knew I wouldn’t be going into the event. The organizers of the competition are important judges in the circuit, so I was told to make a showing there to help create some name recognition for myself with them. On top of that, there were several coaching sessions that I took with visitors who also judge competitions, for the same name-recognition reason. This side of dance politics is kind of an expensive game to play, and I don’t really like it all that much. But my coach thinks that it is important, and he hasn’t steered me wrong about anything yet, so I will keep following his recommendations. I’m sure there will be more political games for me in the year to come.

Based on how last year went, I have been wondering if I like being a true competitive dancer more than what I was doing before that, where I was mostly a social dancer who would get talked into competing occasionally. I’m not entirely sure. There are aspects of being a competitor that I like, but there are also a lot of pieces that are frustrating. Maybe I will spend some time in the future writing specifically about the trade-offs and detriments I see now that I am spending all my time focusing on competing instead of focusing on having fun as a dancer. That might be interesting. I’ll make a note about that so that I don’t forget.

Anyway… enough about that. 2018 was good in reflection, and I am looking forward to seeing where the adventures take me in 2019. There’s the potential for lots of crazy things if I end up doing all the things that my coach has been trying to talk me into doing. Bigger competitions, overseas competitions, training camps, meeting more people. He even talked about taking Sparkledancer and I to go to some dance event in his home country, and while we were there he would take all his students to his parent’s house so that we could experience his mother’s traditional cooking. I don’t know if I will end up doing all that next year, because theoretically I will only be competing in Silver at that point and it seems like a bit much, but there is potential so I’m not going to flat-out say no. We’ll have to see what happens!

Are you ready? I am! One more deep breath, and then let’s take off into 2019!

I’m super excited because tomorrow is my first ‘off’ day since changing out my workout schedule at the beginning of the week. The schedule I chose to take up is a five-on, one-off mix, which means I’m still technically working out six days a week, except for that one magical week down the road where the stars all align and then I will have an off day on the first day of the week, then five days of workouts, then a second off day on the very last day of the week! Calendar craziness!

My plan for tomorrow is that I’m going to use the time I normally reserve for my workouts to just stretch for a while. Since I made such a dramatic shift in the types of exercise blocks I am doing, my body is telling me that it’s a little unhappy – but in that good way, where your muscles are just complaining because you had been doing the same thing for several weeks and they had adapted to doing that, and now you are forcing them to work hard and adapt to something completely new. It’s the kind of pain that I love, because it tells me that I am working hard. Even so, a nice, quiet hour of stretching everything just sounds magical to me, so I am looking forward to it.

I imagine that there might be some people out there that are feeling the same way as I am – or maybe worse than I am – if they decided that regular exercise was their chosen resolution for the year. Obviously this feeling of soreness is something that I am used to, since I do this to myself fairly regularly to help avoid getting stuck at plateaus in my fitness. Exercise isn’t a resolution for me obviously, it’s just part of my normal lifestyle.

For people who didn’t really exercise very often and may now be trying to exercise frequently, I would guess that they are much worse for the wear than I am. You don’t necessarily want to follow my plan of action – I prefer to use stretching to alleviate any soreness I cause myself. I tend to stay away from drugs, even common pain relievers, unless I have no other recourse but to take them. So your mileage may vary.

To anyone out there trying their best to improve their fitness in 2019, I want to say that I am proud of you for making that choice. I hope that you not only reach, but then surpass any goals that you have set for yourself. And I believe that you can do that as long as you stick with it. If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that the first week is always the hardest. Don’t run away from the pain and soreness that you have right now – embrace that feeling, because it means that your body is changing! And wasn’t that what you were going for in the first place?

Let’s do awesome things this year. Whatever it takes!

Yeah, I’m Gonna Let It Slide

So, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, it has been two years since I started writing this. The natural question that comes up is ‘how far have you come in that time?’ I’ve been thinking about that for the last couple of days, and I finally decided to go before the Council of Great Dance Leads to discuss my answer.
Slide1  The answer I came up with is: it all depends on the perspective. From my own perspective, when I go out and dance it doesn’t really seem to me like much has changed between what I was writing about a year ago versus what I am writing about today. Watching myself dance, it doesn’t really look all that different to me either (the parts I can see at least – when I keep my head in the proper place, I can’t always watch myself in a mirror). Yet other people say that I’ve been getting better. Sir Steven, the person I obviously work with the most, has recently said quite frequently that when Sparkledancer and I are working on things we are doing much better than he’s ever seen us do before. Lord Junior, who is the next person I spend the most time working on improving things with, has also said that things have been looking a lot better. In his Latin Technique class for instance, we don’t devolve into doing nothing but New Yorkers nearly as often as we did when I first started going to that class. Based on what those two say, it would seem that things have indeed improved in the last year.

But it still doesn’t feel like things have really moved up a level. I’ve mentioned before that I view myself as dancing “Silver-Plated Bronze” level, and I think that description still fits. So, if people are telling me that things are looking better, and those people are trustworthy since they are the ones who are teaching me to be better, does that mean that the Silver-plating atop my Bronze is getting thicker? If that’s the case, will I always feel that solid Bronze core? I’ve been wondering if that’s actually what I’ve been feeling about how my dancing has progressed. In the past I’ve been told that when you are going through the ranks as a dancer, Bronze-level is where the majority of your figures come from. Moving up to Silver, you learn only a few new figures, but mostly it is a major transition in the way you dance. Then when you finally reach Gold level there are only a couple of new figures to pick up, and the majority of what you work on is technical pointers to further refine everything, which continues on ad infinitum. When looked at through that lens, maybe I am always going to feel like a Bronze-level dancer deep down because that is where much of what I do came from, even if the way I do things changes dramatically. So as I move through this level, the Silver plating on my Bronze core will get thicker until I finish Silver level, and then we’ll start Gold plating things. I’ll end up being a “Gold-Plated Silver-Plated Bronze” level dancer rather than ever being a pure Silver-Level or Gold-Level dancer. Do other people feel the same way? Does what I’m saying make any sense, or am I just confusing things?

The Council of Great Dance Leads just stared at me blankly as I described my train of thought. Leaders don’t necessarily make great philosophers, I guess. In the end, they left me to my thoughts, leaving separately to go help out others with their wisdom.
Slide2  Anyway, I heard there is a Silver-Level Waltz workshop going on at the Endless Dance Hall this weekend. All the workshops I have gone to in the past have never specified what level they are, but this one does specifically say that it is Silver. I’m thinking about going to this workshop to see if I can cut it in what they are doing, just to show myself that I either do or do not belong in Silver-Level. It would be fitting though if it turns out to be an International Waltz workshop, when all I’ve done lately is American. I might look really out of place if that happens. Maybe I should find out what I’d be getting myself into before I go…

The reason I can possibly go to this workshop this weekend is because Sparkledancer has a scheduling conflict this next weekend, so we moved our coaching session to yesterday night at the Electric Dance Hall so that she could make it. Working through things on a weeknight meant that there would be a group class going on at the same time, and since the floor space of every other dance hall I’ve been to is less than the floor space of the Endless Dance Hall, we were competing for space when we started working on things. We began the night with Waltz and Foxtrot, and the class that Lord Junior had going that night was Slide3Viennese Waltz, so things felt a bit dangerous at times as we started in the back corner of the floor and moved toward the front, and they started in the front and moved toward the back while working on their Natural Rotations (there were no collisions luckily). It helps that Lord Junior likes to talk a lot when he explains points for dances, so there were long stretches where we could move down the floor and everyone else was down at the other end just standing there and listening to him speak. About halfway through class they moved down to the back of the room and began working on Fleckerls, so that freed up the front half of the studio for us to use without worrying about crossing lines any longer.

Once we had half the floor to ourselves, Sir Steven had us switch to something completely different. We started talking about the Pasodoble routine we are going to do for the upcoming performance this summer. A while back, I had thrown out the challenge that Sir Steven could make the choreography as athletic as possible if he wanted to – I spend a lot of time keeping myself in shape, so I have no problem with testing myself. That night, Sir Steven introduced to us the start of what he had in mind to live up to that challenge. He wanted to put in a particular lift at the end of the routine. He started going over it by having Sparkledancer sit on the floor, hold her legs out ninety degrees from each other and then bend her knees ninety degrees. He called it the “half-swastika” look to describe exactly what she should be doing. I would be hooking my arms underneath her shoulders and twirling her around while she holds her legs in that position. Basically, we will get to the part in our routine, open up so that we are side-by-side with me holding her left palm with my right hand, then I will roll her in toward me and hook my arms under her shoulders as she lifts her legs to be parallel to the floor. I will do three pivots to my left, then I will set her down on the floor and give her a slight push, letting the momentum spin her along the floor away from me. As we practiced things that night, we did not do the part where she would spin on the floor. She happened to be wearing pants that did not cover her whole legs that evening, so as soon as the skin of her calves hit the wooden floor there was no further sliding without the possibility of some pretty bad floor burn. We only had to try sliding her along the floor to discover that. From then on, I would just put her down gently and we’d pretend that she was spinning along. She promised that the next time we practiced this move, she would wear pants that covered all her skin to prevent injury.

Working on that lift has got to be the most amusing thing I have done in a dance lesson in quite a while. When I got home and was reflecting on the evening, the thing that stood out most that I didn’t realize at the time was that the whole 25-minutes that we worked through things, where I was holding Sparkledancer off the floor countless times, I never once felt like I was going to fall over. I was in my Latin shoes the whole time too. There were times when I had my knees bent much more than Sparkledancer did as I lunged to the side to grab her, so when my arms went under her arms she would drop down an inch or two onto my arms. She’s a very light person, but dropping like that at the fast pace we were moving was Slide4enough to make my back leg come off the floor. Even when that happened, and I would be standing on one foot in two-inch heels, I never felt like I was going to fall over. I guess that means that all that work I’ve done to improve my balance – all those times I would do weird things like stand on one leg and do bicep curls or shoulder presses and wondered to myself if it would actually help me with anything – this proves that all that work has actually paid off. Of the three keys to ultimate fitness (i.e. speed, balance and range of motion), I guess I might be doing pretty well with at least one of them.

I did talk with Sparkledancer a bit before we both left the dance hall for the night, and she said that her armpits kind of hurt from being held off the floor from there so many times. So the notes I have for anyone else who wants to practice doing this move are 1) make sure the lady is wearing pants long enough to cover her skin so she can slide along the wooden floor without getting floor burn, and 2) don’t repeat the movement so frequently for a long period of time so that you don’t hurt your dance partner’s armpits. Hopefully those notes will help someone else trying to do the same lift. If you are doing the same thing and would like any more pointers, just let me know!