Categotry Archives: dance

Journal posts for CaySwann Dance

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Better Living with Modern Medicines

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One of my typical disclaimers when I teach bellydance, even before I lead anyone through a warm-up stretch, is as follows: “I am not a medically trained professional. Please do not make me take you to a medically trained professional. Listen to your body and only do what *your* body will allow you to do today.” Paired with my teaching motto, “No Pressure, No Shame,” I will not pressure you to do more than you can physically, safely do. Nor should anyone feel any pressure from anyone else in the class. Likewise, I encourage everyone to heed this advice for their own internal monologue. Please do not shame yourself.

Now, I may ask you to stretch your current abilities as best as you are able, but never with pressure and never with shame. And never to the point that I should have to take you to see a medically trained professional.

So. Time to take my own medicine. Time to listen more carefully to my body. And never to pressure myself and NEVER to shame myself for acknowledging where *this* body, *today*, can take me.

Today, I can do two things new. I can turn my neck to the right (yay! tiny internal victory dance!). And today I was able to lie flat on the bed with a pillow under both shoulder blades, stretching both arms out to my sides (as if my arms are top bar of a T and my torso is the center vertical line). That’s new. I couldn’t do those things yesterday. Actually, I couldn’t lie flat on my back at all yesterday. So yay me.

And here comes the tough thing: Encouraging myself to still rest, relax, stretch slowly so that my body will *continue* to recover and rebuild properly. Have you ever had a tiny muscle spasm in your eyelid or on your face? I can feel tiny spasms like that in the lateral portion of my right deltoid. Yesterday’s major pain seemed to be centered in both the posterior portion of right deltiod as well as the entire trapezius. (Note: All these medical terms are courtesy of google, wikipedia, and image searches. I had no idea what to call each of these, only ten minutes ago).

My trapezius has relaxed considerably. The deltoid now just twitches intermittently. And I feel human. What a difference a day can make. And how thankful I am for modern medicine and the medically trained professionals in my life.

I’m positive I’ll need to see a physical therapist of some sort to learn the proper way to strengthen these (and other) muscles so that I actually have recovery and preventative stretching and strength.

Thank you all for your supportive emails, texts, tweets, comments, posts, prayers, and warm thoughts. I don’t feel so alone.

For you all, I send virtual love cookies.

Love Cookies
Love Cookies

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Edited Note on Monday: A new muscle name for me today: Brachioradialis… the “I’m picking up my coffee cup and that hurts” muscle. I’ll need to heal and strengthen my traps, deltoids, and brachioradialis muscles. Fun.

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Body Reliability Can Be Underappreciated

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It can be easy to take ones mobility for granted… Unless you are already living with something that curtails your access to reliable activity from your body parts. Some of my friends have varying levels of pain, chronic pain, mobility unpredictability, autoimmune deficiencies, and so on. Some has allergies so life-threatening this affects their mobility.

Until recently, I was not a member of this club.

When I started bellydance in June 2010, it wasn’t long before an hour per week wasn’t enough. Then twice a week, next three times, soon back-to-back classes, my first three hour-long classes in a row, plus rehearsals and performances… All at age of 42-45.

By April 2013 my weekly routine included 11 hours class or rehearsal per week, regular workshops or retreats, and on the high end sometimes a six hours in one day course load at a festival or specialty workshop. I had started running in March 2013, and then in June had to rebuild my schedule from scratch as a teacher. By February 2014, my week included 3-4 nights of classes, teaching 6-7 hours and studying in 1 class. And recently I went to a ten-hours in two-days, five course weekend workshop.

"If I were tall enough, I could hang from that frame and stretch my shoulder...." And then my friends grabbed me a chair. Because I *am* that short. (Nevermind the 2 friends who could reach the frame without even trying.) -- (photo by Becky S)
“If I were tall enough, I could hang from that frame and stretch my shoulder….” And then my friends grabbed me a chair. Because I *am* that short. (Nevermind the 2 friends who could reach the frame without even trying.) — (photo by Becky S)

It came crashing to a halt, or more accurately, started sputtering four weeks ago then nearly crashed this morning after a deceptive two day coast.

I had no single incident I can mark as a traumatic event that caused the problem. Probably the fact the I am not getting younger (contrary to any rumors) contributed. Likely my car driver’s seat tweaked some of my posture. I probably should have been weight training or resistance band training my arms and core muscles to maintain my dance schedule. And I likely exasperated things with my sleeping postures.

But all told, something started to tense up in my neck, collarbone region, and right shoulder blade, radiating pain to my right forearm. I sought massage therapy and instruction. I took ibuprofen. I did stretches and pressure point relaxation. I stood in hot showers and soaked in hot tubs. I took it easy and even canceled some classes. I had two nearly pain free days at the end of the week after all the car trouble.

Then at 4 AM this morning, I awoke with excruciating pain in my shoulder. Nothing relieved the pain: standing; lying flat on belly or sides or back; sitting with my feet up, sitting up on the edge of my seat; pacing; stretching. Everything hurt to the point of tears and gasping for breath. There was minor relief with my arm bent over my head, but at 4 AM, I was really too tired to find that comfortable.

By 5:30, quick phone call to my Sisto. I have always joked that she got the “medical words brain” which is pretty cool that her eldest is completing her nursing program in college. She reassured me about how to deal with muscles that have seized up or gone into spasm. By 5:45, it was time for Sweetie to get up for a day of performance gigs. And by 7 AM, I was texting friends who might be able to help.

One friend is a massage therapist and she even put me to rights twice this past month. She also managed to calm me down on the phone and gave me excellent advice.

Then I got ahold of Kim & Kevin. Not only were they available to help, they were planning to be in my neighborhood at 2 PM today. So my morning started with a hot shower, 1000 mg ibuprofen, a banana and coffee, some light pressure point massage from Kim, a dip in the hot tub, and clean clothes and a trip to urgent care. Because by 11 AM, I was now at 7 hours of pain ranging (on a scale of 1 = gee I wish I had coffee to 10 = a bear is actively mauling my face) from constant 7s with spikes to 9 & 10 every 5 minutes.

Kim and I sat in the urgent care waiting room for 80 minutes before I was taken to an exam room. It felt like the same two sets of 5-minute pain waves just kept repeating themselves. I was gasping for breath, occasionally pacing, and regularly in tears. The doctor opted to give me a shot for the pain, which took things down to about a 5 with spikes to 7, enough for an x-ray session.

Nothing obvious showed on the x-rays (I do, in fact, seem to have bones and stuff) so she concluded I am having muscle spasms and prescribed pain killers and muscle relaxers. K&K took me to the pharmacy, I grabbed a quick lunch (hot tea, miso soup, spicy tuna cut roll, and my favorite sushi), then they delivered me home again.

I can breathe normally now since the spikes are never earth shattering. I can actually lie flat again, something I really couldn’t do this morning. I’m probably at about 2 or 3 in pain most of time now, with spikes to 5 or the rare 6. And I plan to pass out with the muscle relaxers soon.

But this entire adventure has put a lot of fear and circumspect into my brain. What if I never fully recover? What if my recovery takes months? Can I build my muscles into reliable tools again? Even figuring out how to write this post, slowly on my phone without moving my shoulder, was a challenge.

It’s not just dance. I do hand sewing. I make hair flowers. I weave. I spin yarn on a drop spindle. I draw. I paint. I work on a computer. I travel. I miss running and training. I miss driving my stick shift and being independent.

Will my body ever be predictable or reliable?

(P.S. Can I just blame this on the IDES OF MARCH…? *grin* Silly sense of humor, I gots it.)

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Fall Joy in Pictures

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This fall wrapped up with a series of photos that definitely capture so much of our joy.

My favorite photo of Jameson, EVAR!
Just check out the joy on his face!

One of the best things about dancing in the park with my SCA friends includes visiting with all the non-dancer friends and family. Jameson usually arrives with his parents at the same time in our warm-up, every week. The moment we start working on our shimmies and hips, I can usually say, “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!” then turn around and see Jameson running for us. He loves to, “PUT ON MY JINGLES!” and  shake as much as possible for about 30 seconds, then run off to do whatever it is that 3-year-old boys do.

Me and Jameson, doing the “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!”

Picture night at my other baronial dance practice yielded this lovely image.

Lookee, the kids love us!

Miranda has decided that I’m her, “fighter practice bellydance teacher,” and now she usually spends about 45 seconds wiggling and jumping around during warm-up, before running off to do whatever it is that 4-year-old girls love doing in the park.

I love that kids find my dance practices a space where they feel welcome. I love that some of my fellow dancers are much older than me. I love that some of my fellow dancers are much younger than me. I love that my fellow dancers come to rehearsal with various personal issues to overcome or tackle or deal with. But they come. Week after week, they find a way to get in the car, brave the cold, brave the sidewalk cement, and they dance. They share with me the joy that is dancing together and laughing together.

New headscarf bling and shinies!

I also love that no matter what level of body modesty each of us is most comfortable with, we can still dance together. We come to this dance to be part of a team, to support one another.

And I am extremely thankful for all the support I continue to find with my fellow dancers. Thank you, dearhearts. You brighten my days.

 

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All The Teachers, All My Thankfulness

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I was curious one Wednesday, so I counted.

From June 4 to mid-September, it had been just more than just fourteen weeks. I originally posted about Making the Transition from full-time bellydance student to part-time instructor. Late in the evening on a Wednesday, I climbed into my car after three days in a row of teaching, exhausted and ridiculously happy. I hadn’t been that bone-tired in months, and I loved every moment of it.

It got me to thinking about what it took to get here.

First Introduction to Belly Dance: First Teachers

There’s a passage in our Puja (our moving meditation) in which we express our thankfulness for “all the teachers” that have brought us to this point in our lives. Sometimes, it makes me think fondly of my piano teacher when I was in second grade; my private flute lessons from fifth grade through eleventh grade; my college percussion instructor; my college choral directors and orchestra directors. Without them, my musical training would not be where it is now. Other times, I’m reminded of the ballet classes when I was four; the jazz classes I was enrolled in during junior high and high school; the musical theatre movement classes in college.

Then my bellydancing instructors figure large in my memory. During my first experience with bellydance in college, I had the amazing good luck to study with Ansuya and then Alexandra King for a several years. The classes were held through the community courses at the college. Then for a while, I would ride the late night bus downtown to dance at Ansuya’s studio. I was in my twenties and had a fantastic time. But as I moved out of the area and had different family obligations, my dancing went on hold.

Then ATS: American Tribal Style, and All the Teachers

Then I met some fantastic women from a bellydance troupe who were performing something called “American Tribal Style” bellydance. Oddly enough, somewhere in my records I have an old xerox’ed copy of a magazine article given to me by Alexandra King. The article was a feature about a dancer named Carolena Nericcio and her troupe FatChanceBellyDance. I tucked the article away in the 90s and hadn’t thought about it further in years. But when I met Twisted Gypsy and Jen McDonald,  my interest was rekindled. A quick check of her teaching calendar told me that she had a class just three miles from my workplace. I was enrolled in my first one-hour class on June 14, 2010. There were only two primary thoughts I clung to, throughout that entire hour: “Oh, good grief my arms hurt, when do we get to put our arms down? can I keep my arms up as long as the teacher does?!” and “Oh my goodness, I have to learn to teach this!”

By the end of 2010, I’d gone from one class per week to two. By December, I had a taste of dancing with other ATS dancers at a holiday party at a restaurant.

The first evening I ever danced with a group in public, Dec 2010
Closing bows, Dec 2010

In 2011, I started studying Level 2 as well as taking classes from both Jen and Cassandra. In May, I was invited to join Jen’s student troupe, Gypsy Sisters*. In May, I also went to my first Tribal Fest, studying from Carolena Nericcio for the very first time. To say I was completely in love with the form by now would be an understatement. By the end of the year, I was dancing three times a week, almost thirty hours per month.

Me and Jen, at a bellydance showcase
Me and Cassandra, before a bellydance fundraiser

And my first Tribal Fest in 2011 included the first opportunity to take classes directly from Carolena Nericcio. Suzanne Elliott was also one of the instructors, another member of FCBD.

Carolena with our 3-person dance group, Yuska, me, and Kathleen.
For this 3-day class at Tribal Fest 2011, the three of us drilled together.
Me and Suzanne at Tribal Fest

My other classes at TF2011 were taught by Therese Wyatt and Tribal Sooz. Love those women!

By 2012, I was studying Level 3 from Jen McDonald. That summer, Nancy Young hosted an “ATS Summer Camp” on the weekends at her studio, giving me the chance to take lessons from Nancy Young, Politti Ashcraft, Laurie LA Tribal, Dana Johnson, Jennifer Thorimbert, and Leslie Thompson, as well as Jen McDonald… That was an AMAZING summer of learning, and I am so thankful to have such a rich community of ATS teachers in southern California.

And by the end of the year, a large group of us went up to the FatChanceBellyDance studios in San Francisco to take a series of classes. We studied with Kae Montgomery (FCBD), Wendy Allen (FCBD), and Carolena Nericcio.

Private lessons from Kae Montgomery, day two at FCBD
The grand group studying with Wendy Allen, day four at FCBD
Last day, right before class 10 of 10 for me

Classes at Tribal Fest 2012 included the amazing teachers: Kathy StahlmanTherese Wyatt, Katrina McCoy, Bianca Stücker, Mimi Fontana, and Colleena Shakti.

My instructors at Tribal Fest 2013 included another stunning line-up: Donna Mejia, Amel Tafsout, Jennifer Nolan, Mimi Fontana, Davina Tribal Collective, Elizabeth Strong & Dan Cantrell, and Jen McDonald.

In April 2013, my General Skills course was taught by Carolena Nericcio and Megha Gavin.

General Skills: Classic certification
General Skills: Modern certification

Just this summer (2013) I was lucky enough to be able to take workshops from Janet Hanseth, a member of the Red Lotus troupe at FCBD. (Edited: Janet Taylor is now a member and teacher at FatChanceBellyDance)

And an earlier class this summer was taught by Melanie Campbell, her first teaching opportunity. What a wonderful way to share our “launch into teaching” season together.

All this to say that the Legacy of Teachers in my life has been very rich. I am extremely thankful for you all.

* I retired from Gypsy Sisters in June this year. I love those women, miss them, and wish them all the best in all their performances. It was an amazing experience I will always treasure. 

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Thoughts from One Student

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One of my students has been going through some fantastic, personal a-ha moments and gave me permission to share some of her writing with all of you.

“Do what you love, and you’ll be great!”

Well, um… Not really.

I’ve discovered that my body naturally loves certain belly dance moves… I love those moves. Even as a beginner of less than three months, I’m willing to just go ahead and say this: I am good at those moves. You may admire me when I do those moves, and I will be pleased, but not surprised.

And there are moves my body doesn’t want to do… And the zils. G*D, the zils. Trying to zil makes me wonder how in the heck I was so good at playing my flute or dancing with my flag at the same time as marching in formation in high school and college marching bands. Honestly, I feel like an uncoordinated doofus when trying to zil.

If I do what I love, I will soon have the world’s best [moves that I love]. And I will NOT be a great dancer. I won’t even be a good dancer. In my drills today, I did each of those moves for about a minute and a half, maybe two minutes. I love those moves, but I’ve pretty much got them down.

And then I did all the moves that my body doesn’t enjoy… I did each move that I “hate” for five minutes. More than twice the time I spent on the stuff that I love and find easy.

Do what you love, if that means dance (where “dance” is any broad category). But when it comes to dance, or whatever your “thing” is, do what you “hate.” I mean, definitely do the easy stuff you love (everyone’s easy stuff will be different from everyone else’s), but don’t spend the bulk of your time there. Do the moves, the drills, the patterns, the motions that you find difficult and unenjoyable about your “thing” (dance: strength, flexibility, fluidity, speed, nimbleness, grace, balance … music: range, tempo, enunciation, vocal clarity…). Whatever your “thing” is, do the aspects of that thing that you find the least enjoyable. Work your fundamentals, but work the hard stuff, the boring stuff, and the least appealing stuff at least twice as much as the stuff you find easy and fun.

Because that’s how you get good all-around. That’s how you become a good dancer, or computer programmer, or clothier, or whatever you’re trying to be. The only thing that separates a good dancer from a sucky one is the number of hours that dancer has spent sucking.

I love that she gets it. There are a few students who are a tiny bit frustrated with me because I won’t drill them on the next moves that they know how to do already. The point is: These women are already naturally good at the moves we haven’t been drilling yet. And I’m asking them to work on the moves they hate right now. Drilling them slowly, thinking about different portions of the technique, trying them again at tempo, back to drilling only parts of the moves, back to putting all the layers together again.

My student writes again in another post.

BTW, “I suck” is, I hope, understood to be a temporary situation. Sucking right now, as a beginner, is only to be expected. What separates a complete derp from a complete dancer is hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours… (repeats “and hours” about a hundred more times) …and hours of sucking, after which one sucks a bit less, for a lot more hours. And then a bit less suckage for a lot more hours. And so on. And then, “suddenly,” you’re a dancer. Or whatever you are. “I suck” doesn’t mean “I give up.” It means, “Watch me suck at this! And keep on sucking, until I don’t! I know I have work to do, and I can actually SEE what separates my attempts from true dancing, and I’m actually working to get rid of the distinctions! Yay!” In other words, I love that I suck. I *LOVE* that I suck. The sweatier and huffier and tireder I get in a practice, or the gym, or whatever, the better and more serene I will eventually look. I am embracing my suckitude and making it into an impetus to practice. So that, you know, I feel less awkward and sucky when people are watching me.

Amen, sister. Amen.

If you cannot laugh together and have fun, why exactly are you doing this?

According to Outliers: The Story of Success, written by Malcolm Gladwell, mastery or greatness comes with enormous amounts of time, or the “10,000-Hour Rule.” My student just posted, “9982.70 hours of suckage left. That’s not bad at all!”

I love this attitude!

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