Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dancing Show Ends

Great ending to a great season. Awesome final dances. I even liked the dances they had to re-do. Sadie was a beautiful duck. Then, for the freestyle,  Marks' Mario Bros. routine was superb. She has a very nice way, innocence and grace.
Janel has been a favorite, working super hard and bringing out the best in Val. She was filming most of last week, so they didn't have as much time to put into the routine. And they didn't win the mirror ball trophy. Her career is very important to her. This is why they will continue to be only friends. Plus he lives with his parents and Maks.
And then we see Alfonso, the one Len said should win because he is the best dancer. He did a tap dance as part of the freestyle, cheering up my sister-in-law, otherwise a bit grumpy with her self-appointed task of entertaining her in-laws. She had them at her house in Port Chester for a few days and the finale to the trip was Thanksgiving (next door to me) on Cape Cod!
The judges didn't help decide in the finale, giving the contestants all the same perfect scores for their fusion dances, so America decided, good politics, Disney.
I do have trouble when the show is on for more than two hours. Even when I fast-forward past the ads, too much visual concentration tires out my brain and eyes. I should not have watched the 8:00 show: DWTS The Road to the Finals

Monday, November 24, 2014

Oversway Deconstructed

A step to the side, tilt, shape it back from whence you came.
Put it into a dance:
Turn around.
Take enough time.
Come out in Promenade on the outside foot from your partner.
We did Waltz, though it is usually taught in Tango.
Maybe Joe would have liked Tango better - a bit faster and more exciting, not so floaty.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jack's not Johnny

Not too busy this Thanksgiving - Jane decided to make the meal with her in-laws next door. I will just make the pies and provide any incidentals, so last night was pretty free.
Jack's first anniversary. Last year he opened without a name, just a sign that said "Try our martinis" because of some kerfuffle at town hall.
Maybe this iteration of the old Grasmere Pub will work. Countless restaurants have failed at that location, but the owners of the last one, Nobska House, had vision and did a great renovation before ending up in the hospital.
Jack is focusing on music and last night brought in Daddy-O. By chance, we saw them Friday at J R Brodie's (Brode House) and were impressed with the danceability of the songs. Rock-a Billy? Surf Guitar? Lots of 50s ballads. I had forgotten "Only You", a Mary French favorite, and now it's stuck in my head. For the same sort of song to teach with, I prefer "Someone like You."
Nice Irish coffee and lava cake. Other dancers were there, a couple that occasionally comes to the Conservatory, but doesn't socialize much.
We stayed until 11:00, and then did a short survey. Downtown looked pretty deserted - Liam's,  Anejo. Over at Grumpy's,  Johnny Hoy was scheduled. They probably had a windy ride from the Vineyard. The parking lot was overfull. People were parked next door in the lot for the 7/11.
Not worth it for us after the last overfull Bluefish show with no view of the stage, no room to move, and deafening noise.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How Ballroom Dance Makes Me a Better Doctor

Amy Rothenberg, ND 11/06/14 10:28 PM ET
I was at the Barcelona airport with my husband listening to "Red & White & Blue & Gold" by Aoife Donavan. It's the perfect rhythm and feeling to inspire a nightclub two-step. I grabbed my surprised husband and there on the mezzanine, my iPod in his shirt's breast pocket, he gave me a beautiful dance with all the swaying and turning and dips that can be tucked into that style of dance. Ballroom dance has gotten under my skin and I cannot get enough of it. As a naturopathic doctor, approaching 30 years in the field, I think about how social ballroom dance makes me a better doctor.

First there are all the things consistent exercise, which involves body and brain offer: more energy, a clear mind, excellent sleep. I have a lower resting heart rate, better endurance and more flexibility. My balance is improved as has my overall feeling of wellbeing. There is a way that learning something entirely new spills over and has me energized and excited about other parts of my life.

Between a newly empty nest, a cooperative work schedule and a willing partner, the past two-year's immersion in social ballroom dance has been complete. Like the truly faithful, we have gone four to five nights a week to learn and once or twice a week to a social dance to practice and enjoy. We have danced in cities across American and in Europe as our teaching schedule allows. The social, musical, sensual, cognitive and physical elements, the demands and rewards, suited both my husband and I and added dimensions to our lovely long marriage while also bringing new and wonderful people into our lives.

But there are some things unique to ballroom dance that I relate to being a doctor and some ways in which immersing in this world helps me in the clinic. The ones I'd like to focus on are: 1. Frame 2. Finding, strengthening and keeping access to one's center 3. Timing and rhythm 4. Connection/the dynamic of lead and follow 5. Broadening confidence 6. Mindfulness/mindlessness 7. The idea of a complete experience

1. Frame: While attending a recent medical conference, several long-time colleagues asked if I had grown taller. At 54, I seriously doubt any climb up the height chart, but good frame, standing tall and broad, with shoulders back and head straight forward gives that appearance. I have always had good posture and know the power of walking tall into a room, which of course has less to do with actual height and more to do with how you carry yourself. When you have good frame as a follower on the dance floor, you can follow most any capable leader. And when you have good frame as a leader, you can lead most any follower. It's a mutually encouraging part of dance, where you help your partner immeasurably by constantly working on your own frame. When I am following in the confident arms of a well-framed leader, I know I can relax a bit, it's the near contradiction of ballroom dance: the better and more secure your frame, the more relaxed the dance.

How does this help in the clinic? The concept of frame and posture, so central to ballroom dance is relevant in the office, literally & figuratively. I focus on frame and structure, on having office routines that work, having patterns with patients that streamline my efforts. My posture toward my patient: open, compassionate, dispassionate and non-judgmental, are other essential pieces to my practice of naturopathic medicine and I would think any kind of medicine at all. Ballroom reminds me to periodically assess the framework in the office and recommit to it; I reinforce the good habits and free myself to do the work at hand.

2. Finding, Strengthening and Keeping Access to One's Center: This is the secret to every beautiful dancer and is at once the simplest thing while also intermittently elusive. Once you find that centered place, which starts in your core but permeates your whole system, strengthening it and keeping clear access to it is so essential in ballroom dance, even when not always articulated. Like a lot of things in life, you have to take care of yourself first. As that skill is developed the next step is sensing it in your dance partner, which is when the ability to dance together lifts right off. If you can find that and stay true to it in dance, it improves every style of dance you might choose to learn and each dance you might take with a partner on a given evening. When I practice from this place as a doctor with my confident, calm, centered self leading the way, patients benefit. Further, I would add, my learning and further articulating this piece for myself has me looking for it in my patients, encouraging them to look for it in their lives as one route to more complete healing. When I look for those things that give my patient's life meaning, if I are able to understand their pathology in context of the rest of their life, and see how the ailments impact their ability to find and keep access to a balanced and centered place, and then help them to get better, I am aiming my medical approaches in exactly the right direction.

3. Timing and Rhythm: It's obvious that in dance, timing and rhythm, pacing and a sense of the music helps a whole lot. A fun part of social ballroom dance gathering is to hear a few bars of a song and know implicitly by the rhythm and the tempo if it's a Foxtrot or a Waltz or maybe a dance you could do either Cha Cha or West Coast Swing to. The music gets in your bones and the desire to move is nearly irrepressible. My husband and I have been known to stop the car when a really good song comes on, like Smooth by Santana, and do a little Cha Cha on the side of the road. Or grab a bit of West Coast Swing to Back it Up by Caro Emerald in the middle of dinner! Being exposed to all kinds of music from different eras and vastly varying styles has been its own education and I appreciate how essential it is to inform and inspire many forms of dance. How does this relate to patient care? It has underscored a sense of many things for me related to pacing, including how long a patient visit is and how to keep on schedule. There is a rhythm to case-taking and timing related to performing a physical exam. And like in dance where I might periodically lose the rhythm or lose the count, I can self correct. With a patient I am more keyed into when we have gone off topic, or when I have not used my time well: I constantly work to improve my skill set here.

3. Connection/The Dynamic of Lead and Follow: In terms of connection, in the world of social ballroom dance, there is an understood premise that with each person you dance with, you try to give that person the very best dance of the evening, whether you are leading or following. This requires being open enough to connect with your partner, focusing only on them for the duration of that song. With so many distractions in our lives, what a gift it is to focus on one person only. This has reminded me to be this way in the clinic too, where I train myself to shut out everything else and make it my singular job to connect with my patient, regardless of what else might be going on around me, in the office, in my life.

The need to connect with your dance partner is a given. The particular dynamic of lead and follow is also central. As a long time feminist, I rather balked at the whole concept of men leading and women following as typical roles. I had to let go of trying to control anything at all when learning to dance. My only job was to follow my leader's lead. In time, I found that kind of surrender rather appealing. If I took care of my frame, focused on my own center and understood the basic count of the dance and let the rhythm of the music surround me, that's all I had to do. About a year in to learning ballroom, I decided to also learn how to lead. I am enjoying the challenge of learning the other side, the different part of the brain it engages and how it has impacted my following. It widens my overall understanding of each dance style and perhaps most importantly, allows me to better understand (and appreciate!) what my leaders go through each time they take me in their arms. In a medical setting the idea of lead and follow shows up all the time. As I doctor I am leading my patients in some ways but I also rely on my patients to lead me, especially to guide me to understand what is bothering them. This year as I have undergone treatment for breast and ovarian cancer, I have seen first hand the lead and follow from the patient side, too. An engaged patient who brings their perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and understanding to bear, is at least for me, the very best kind of patient and allows the lead and follow to unfold. The give and take of information, knowledge and resources are prime examples of lead and follow in the naturopathic medical practice.

6. Broadening Confidence: Any time we can do things that bolster confidence it crosses over into other parts of our lives. I have seen this time and again with patients, family members, friends, and myself, when efforts and energy has been spent on developing a skill or competency, especially when it takes time & dedication, other areas perk right up. For me, I feel that influence between ballroom dance and my medical practice and know this is a positive kind of cycle to be in.

7. Mindfulness/Mindlessness: Like any new skill, at first we must be extremely conscious of everything we are doing. With ballroom dance, here are typical things that might go through your mind: Where are my feet? How do I hold my arms? Where should I look? Should I be moving my hips? Oh my God, I must look like an idiot! How does the teacher get his head to move like that? Oh dear, I'm off rhythm. The list goes on. Similarly, I remember first learning how to do a physical exam. It took so long, each little part of it, leaning in to look into a patient's eye, or trying to hear the different sounds of a beating heart. I thought, oh my God, what patient will want me to take an hour doing a screening physical? I was so conscious of each of my movements, trying not to be too clunky, trying to remember how to turn on my otoscope, let alone use it. I so much wanted competence! But the more I practiced, the more I did feel capable. Just like dance, the more you do it, the better you get. And then one day, someone asks you for a waltz and before you realize it, you're swirling around the room, not a care in the world, not thinking, not trying, not focusing on anything in particular, flying really, and you're dancing! Like in anything, getting to that point is worth every minute of study, frustration and practice. Now when I am with a patient and in my unconscious yet quite focused state, it's the same thing. I do not think too much when I am doing a physical or taking a patient history. I am present, I am focused but I have also relegated much of my skills to the unconscious mind. By spending years and hours and lots of dedication I went from being incredibly mindful and focused, to a more mindless time, where I steeped in the art of medicine.

8. A Complete Experience: Many pursuits we have in life have a very long arc to the reward. Many activities are partial or you can only get through some of the project at a time. Some of the most important things like parenting or creating a career or nurturing love take place over decades and longer. There is a way that dancing to one song, from beginning to end and doing a good enough job, is simply put, a pleasantly whole and complete experience. If I have kept frame, been in touch with my own center, connected with my leader or follower and paid attention to the music, I have probably had a lovely dance.

In my practice it is immensely satisfying when working with a patient to feel like we have been thorough, taken into account the whole person and created a plan that raises the person's overall level of health while also addressing their chief complaint. I do not always hit these markers either on the dance floor or at the office, but I like to think of this as a possibility and aim for it every day.

Finally, my own immersion in something new and something fun has me encouraging others, both in my practice and in my life, to do the same. Of course, it does not have to be ballroom, but anything really, that catches your fancy, captures your attention and demands your dedication. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Underwhelmed was my reaction to Derek and Bethany's Contemporary dance. After watching the Martha Graham Company,  it was particularly lame.  He knew it and that was why most of the rehearsal footage was devoted to his sayIng he had no ideas this week.  His partner had to help this week,   he said.   They danced in and around a picture frame, surely a metaphor for the computer screen that made her a star. They got perfect scores.
So I actually voted for hard working Janelle whose dance was Much better and got lower scores.

Martha Graham

The Zeiterion theater is now in my smart phone's vocabulary. I can write from the little hand held device,  my extra brain, and it learns.
The Z brought the Martha Graham company from NYC as half of the dance series,  making sure we knew it is the most expensive type of show to put on. Ali was incredulous.  Can the musical theatre be any less?
Almost a full house,  so they did well.
Beautiful production. Thank you,  Z. I have not seen a Martha Graham modern dance in years,  and it resonates in my body.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Self Improvement?

Reading a library book, Julia Child Rules Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo.
Self improvement, popular in women's magazines, seems to be a path to happiness but the author suggests we should instead, learn to be amused. She goes on to note that, "Men have an easier time amusing themselves than women do. ..I don't know one woman who is as good at messing around as are all the men I know."
Julia Child seems to have been an exception. After college and the death of her mother, she spent years riding horses, playing golf, piano, drinking, and what she called "simmering."
Anyway, Julia Child couldn't, for the first part of her life, do much to change herself. Being a horsy 6 foot 3 kind of dominates one's place in society, and having loads of money doesn't change that. But so what? She barreled along with great enthusiasm until she found her love and her place.
How does this apply to dance? Can I make it more about messing around for the men? As for the women, going along is fun, and Dance & Stretch is self improvement.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Basil & Liane

New owners of Balera, the happening ballroom studio in Newton, where the Yankee Classic winners come from, I hear.
 Russians, they are quite versed in competition, and were asked to teach competition variations.
 In DTCB, who competes? None of us. We are at amateur level really, but we keep plugging away at getting to be better teachers and dancers.
So, in Quickstep, Basil taught easy fun, and then tacked stuff nobody does because it's too hard, at the end of 4 1/2 hours: Double Reverse Spin, Zig Zag and Running Finish. He thought we could do it. But of course I would need a partner who also thought we could do it. ..

Monday, November 10, 2014

CCDC Party "The Oversway" 11/23/14

After much discussion, Ron Gursky and I determined a suitable subject for a workshop:
The Oversway in the Smooth Dances.
I love to watch dancers present a line gracefully - not a dip, but a brief pause of a pose in the continuous movement of Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango.  A break in the constant motion provides contrast, especially in Waltz.
Sunday, November 23, will be a good date - a final class for the year, with dance time at the studio following the workshop. We are happy to have been able to continue Ron's classes for most of the fall, but Thanksgiving cuts out the last weekend in November, and then December will be upon us.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dance Complex

In Central Square, a big old building has been the home of dance since the seventies when it converted from an Oddfellows Hall to the Joy of Movement.
We were there last night for the Ali's Modern show. As the director said, relatives of the dancers are the audience, "How it is in Modern Dance". Beautifully staged and lit, rehearsed and presented, my daughter-in-law does not skimp on hard work. Her dancers, almost all women, are consciously strong, a good metaphor for women in our times, and they joke about it, flexing and kissing their biceps like muscle men. I loved it, as always.

The Dance Complex did a fall series. Naturally I didn't pay much attention to the other shows, thinking Boston was going to be too difficult, but with the GPS, we never got lost.  Central Square has municipal parking for $6. Across the street, the Paris Baguette had good latte, so we didn't even have to go to Starbucks, which is also there. The space runs Flamenco classes with Ramon de los Reyes, classes I attended some ten years ago when I was obsessed with Sevillanas. Maybe next year I can swing another evening in Cambridge for a Nino de los Reyes show.

Afterwards, we waited at the building's entrance for the car, we had all the props, 50 origami birds  hung from tree branches, 5 chairs, a table and a bench. A former janitor from Joy of Movement asked us if we had found the secret panels in the studios yet, and shared his memory of the descent of the space into a Fitness Emporium. He was glad to see Art back.

I would take a Bachata class - for partnered dancing the Dance Complex offered that, Salsa, and Tango. I'm guessing Samba is more like the Brazilian schools that practice for parades.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

still dance on TV

Yes, I am still watching DWTS, even as many friends fall away from the show. Glitz, gimmicks, glitter are all part of a production that puts out a great show. Costuming, zip lines, live music, pros dancing in the breaks - I'd love to be there, but am also content to see what they put up for us in the comfort of my living room, especially as the competition nears its close and the worse dancers are eliminated. I feel like I should vote again just so ABC knows I am still watching.

Famous couples AKA Dynamic Duos
Romeo and Juliet took the highest score - Val and Janel, the little Hawaiian.
Adam and Eve stole the show for me - Mark and Sadie who liked the biblical theme
Ricky and Lucy's Salsa tied for second place - Derek and Bethany internet blogger/beauty
Batman and Robin danced so precisely - Witney and Alonso, who I hear studied dance.
Johnny and June Carter Cash were a distant 5th - Peta (the rock) and Tommy Chong working hard
And Tarzan and Jane were thankfully eliminated bye Michael NASCAR driver.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Too busy

Many years ago, in my twenties, I decided I wouldn't try to do too many things, and mostly, I have kept to that. However, sometimes things come up all at once.
Like Halloween and our son moving into their unfinished remodel in Dartmouth on November 1.
We have been there for the last 4 days, driving an hour and staying at least five, enough time to put on a coat of paint or two, or to unpack and sort kids toys (with their help) along with making lunch for everyone. Meanwhile Joe trimmed out some doors and windows and fixed the toilet, bought and hung doors and installed the thermostat.
Back home to teach on Thursday, go to the Halloween party Friday, run a dance Saturday, and take a dance class tonight. In Joe's case, to watch the Patriots football game at the movie theater/pub.
Whew! Good thing we got an extra hour of sleep this morning!