5 Things in 5 Pictures

Autumn has definitely arrived

Despite the torrential rain (a hangover of Hurricane Lorenzo), this is still my favourite time of year. Well, apart from the clock change. Coats, scarves, boots, red and orange leaves, bonfires, firework displays, squashes and soups!

I joined a new gym! 

On Wednesday lunchtime I went to the council gym near work. Coming from the familiarity of the neat University gym, I had to have a look around the machines before getting started. They seem a bit more fiddly to load weight to, and some of them were broken. The air con wasn’t working properly. The steam room was CLOSED. But it is a busy gym of heavy usage, so not entirely surprising. I’ll be back on Tuesday, and I might even try the swimming pool. If it doesn’t work out, I may quit and return to the Uni gym in its temporary location.

On Wednesday night I had my second Ukulele class

I realised after the first class that I needed to cut my nails so I could press the strings properly! We had a substitute teacher as our tutor was unable to make it this week. The stand-in was very good and even got us onto strumming. We went over chords C, F, A minor, G7 and we even added C7. Lots of information, but I can see how learning a musical instrument (musicality, rhythm, strumming patterns, reading music, timing etc) feeds into tap dancing. Love it.

Watching Ballet on stage is like being in a dream

At the weekend, my SO and I went to Sheffield to visit his sister. On the Saturday evening, she took us to see Northern Ballet, currently celebrating 50 years, perform Cinderella at The Lyceum. The dancing was high quality, and because the story is so familiar (I loved my Ladybird books LOL), it was intriguing to see how they would stage the story. For example, in this production, the Fairy Godmother is a magician, first introduced at a Moscow winter market among other interesting circus performers.  I particularly enjoyed the crystal lake ice skating scene and the Prince’s winter ball. Enchanting, wintery and wonderful!

 

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I couldn’t quit tap if I tried

Last week I thought I’d made my mind up to take a break from rhythm tap classes once this 6 week block is up next week, and come back to it after Christmas, once my Ukulele classes have finished. I thought maybe I’d go swimming on a Thursday lunchtime instead – something that doesn’t require too much brainpower! But then I went to my class and LOVED EVERY MINUTE. I feel like I’m back ‘in the zone’, as Britney would say and I’m learning loads of new intermediate level things and have lots of fun things to work on…

Workshop Week

I felt a bit disappointed in myself on Tuesday. For the second year in a row, I enrolled on a 3-day tap dance intensive (2 hours per day) and once again I ended up bailing out after 1 day.

This time I intended to attend days 1-2 and then rest on day 3, but this wasn’t to be. My problem left knee started giving me grief afterwards, and then my right achilles tendon and plantar fascia (arch of foot) followed suit, so I ended up hobbling around at home for the remainder of the course…

…Apart from yesterday when I hobbled into West London to run an important errand and then attend a 3 hour ukulele workshop in Southwark the afternoon! I’ll tell you all about it, but first the tap intensive.

The intermediate tap dance workshop was a lot of fun! The teacher, I’d forgotten, is a little scatty in his teaching style, but I picked up so much in those 2 hours. My usual teacher is fab, but I also enjoy learning with a different teacher every now and then as they will have their own style, choreography and way of teaching. Quite often, you have to absorb a lot very quickly.

We covered shuffles, slurps, the Shim Sham, rhythm turns, riffs, paddles, and a particular favourite for me was when we travelled backwards across the studio doing fast side shuffles:

R-L-R-R, L-R-L-L, R-L-R-L-R-L-R-R, L-R-L-R-L-R-L-L

I’ve never done this travelling backwards before, but I like it! Luckily we got to film the routine we’d put together so far, so I can have a go at this again in my garage once my knee and foot have had adequate rest.

I really enjoyed having the time to go over things in detail when you don’t have to squeeze everything into 45 minutes. I think my next task will be to make an appointment with a podiatrist because I’m pretty sure my knee and foot issue is to do with pronation when I walk and dance, and also having lower arches.

Now onto the ukulele…

I was thinking for a while that I’d like to be able to play a musical instrument at church as we’re short on musicians, and because I like singing, I was thinking about a non-wind instrument. So, rather than the guitar, I decided to go for the Ukulele! It’s apparently one of the easiest instruments to learn, it’s compact and portable, and it’s cute!

It’s compact…portable, and it’s cute!

To see if it was definitely for me, I enrolled the day before on the Wednesday afternoon 3-hour workshop near my work, and then I’d know whether I wanted to enrol on the regular class in the autumn. Well it was so much fun! Taught by an enthusiastic jazz singing, uke playing cabaret artist (who incidentally has a swing group that includes a tap dancer), the 9-strong all-female group introduced ourselves to each other, learnt how to tune our instruments and then learnt to play 4 chords (C, Am, F, G7), plus a couple of strum patterns. For each song that we did, we sang along and it was lovely!

It’s true what they say, learning an instrument really feeds into your understanding of tap dance rhythm, musicality and multitasking.

I think I’m hooked!

Staying Motivated

 

After having been really on it and motivated in going to the gym every Tuesday during my lunch hour, I ended up not going for 2 weeks. I am almost 3 weeks into the new rhythm tap term, so I am doing something, but I do want to keep the gym in my weekly routine for fitness, toning and important dancer’s knee maintenance. But, having given in to ‘I can’t be bothered’, it took everything I had to make myself get back to it yesterday.

At midday I went, worked out and felt great afterwards!

How to motivate yourself to hit the gym:

  • Create a manageable routine – my routine is gym every Tuesday at 12pm, tap class every Thursday at 1.30pm, with a rest day in between.
  • Don’t make your sessions so long that you can’t face going again – Because I’m squeezed by my lunch hour, I go for about half an hour to 40 minutes, which includes important stretch time.
  • Don’t set ridiculous goals that you can’t achieve – a six-pack is overrated, unless you’re into competitive bodybuilding… One of my goals was to lose a couple of kilos – done!
  • Include a variety of machines in your repertoire – I started with just a few basic machines and then I’ve been trying to add a new thing every few weeks.
  • Measure your progress – this may be weight (yours or the weights you are able to lift), body measurements, or even blood pressure readings if you’re trying to reduce your BP
  • Reward yourself on your achievements – a massage, a new piece of gym clothing
  • Find a gym buddy and go together – this might be a friend, colleague or family member
  • If you gym in the evening, go straight there from work. DO NOT go home first. You won’t leave!
  • Prep an amazing post-workout meal that you can look forward to afterwards. I make all my lunches for the week – a salad that usually consists of chicken breast, rocket, olives, feta, sweetcorn, pasta with pine nuts and spinach.
  • Create a bangin’ playlist that you look forward to listening to as you work out (as well as modern stuff, mine has a lot of 80s power tracks, which are high-tempo, cheesy and super-motivating – think Maniac by Michael Sembello)

I actually look forward to my shower at work afterwards because it’s like a bit of pampering during my working day with the shower kit I created:

  • Tropical Shower gel
  • Wash mit
  • Coarse body scrub
  • Foot file
  • Razor
  • Shea Body Butter
  • Tea tree foot gel with arnica
  • Mini bath mat
  • Towel
  • Deodorant

Yes, I scrub, shower, shave and moisturise like a mini spa treatment. A shower doesn’t have to just be practical!

What motivates you to get up and go to the gym? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

Strength

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This week I made it back to the gym – yay! I did the crosstrainer to warm up, and then the low bike for about 5 minutes. I followed these up with some lower body strength work (30kg seated leg curl, 40kg seat leg press), and then some stretching of the calves, hamstrings, quads, achilles and feet. Because almost all of the lifts at work are out of order at the moment, I took my shower stuff over to the gym with me, rather than trying to climb 9 floors’ worth of stairs back at work! However, I won’t be repeating this. In the shower cubicle itself there was NOWHERE to put ANYTHING. No shelf or hooks or anything, so although I could throw my towel over the door, I had to put everything else on the wet floor. Not impressed!

Since Wednesday evening I’ve been feeling really rough with hayfever or a cold – not sure which at the moment, but I suspect it is hayfever (pollen & pollution) as I have maintained my sense of smell… I wasn’t sure if I was going to even make it to my tap class today, but I decided to dose up and soldier on! (Not something I usually advocate if rest is in order, but I really don’t want to miss any classes this time when we only have 4 in the block and today we would be filming the routine for practice purposes).

Rhythm Tap Class

We were a larger group than usual because a few people from Wednesday evening’s class joined us, plus another few who were trying out before enrolling. We worked on our around-the-world roll again and our swing-beat paddle exercise where we did:

  • 4 x 4 beat paddle (heel dig – pickup – toe – heel drop)
  • 4 x paddle minus the first heel dig
  • 4 x paddle minus the first heel dig and last heel drop – requires balance!
  • Repeat

It’s another great exercise to try and get your head around. And then you have to try and not use your head.

Quite quickly we moved straight onto our Bollywood routine as there are only 2 weeks left after today (rhythm tap to Bollywood music, rather than dancing Bollywood style). I really like this routine…but then I say that about all of them! It’s quicker than we are used to, but that’s good as it challenges us to go for it.

Thankfully the shower situation worked out when I returned to the office as I managed to get a lift very quickly. In the afternoon I had a chair based massage which was organised by the HR department, and despite everyone saying that the massage was too firm, I really enjoyed it and found it greatly beneficial to my post-tap muscles! Sadly it was only for the upper body, but I’ll take that 🙂

Weathered

Morning…

It’s no secret that Brits talk about the weather A LOT. It seems crazy, but when you go through all four seasons in one day, it’s kind of no wonder.

I don’t really take much notice of the weather and I make sure I get out of the office every lunchtime, in all weathers, for my own sanity and for a recharge. It’s really not good to be cooped up indoors all day. But I’ve noticed this thing with some of my colleagues. If there’s a bit of drizzle, they won’t go out. If it’s a bit windy, they won’t go out. If there’s a slight chill in the air… You get the picture. Then there’s the weather commentary throughout the day.

Sometimes I feel like screaming at them “you can’t put your life on hold because of a bit of rain!” I mean seriously, just put a coat on and grab an umbrella. It won’t kill you. You think they’d be used to it by now 🙂

Afternoon…

This week I met a friend for lunch on the day I have designated ‘Gym Tuesday’, so instead, this week I had ‘Gym Wednesday’. Although I really felt like I couldn’t be bothered, and even ate my lunch with the intention of skipping the gym for another day or not bothering at all. I think it was all psychological because:

a) I didn’t go on my usual day (i.e. Gym Tuesday)

b) I was looking forward to finishing work on Thursday for an extra long week off and was therefore demotivated to work out

But, I gave it half an hour and then MADE MYSELF GO. And I’m glad I did because I added the lat-pull machine to my weights routine. I also spent a good amount of time stretching, and I felt so much better and more energised for the rest of the afternoon.

I even told two random people at work about the gym when I got back to the office and they both said they’re going to start going or return to the gym after speaking to me!

I reiterate that it’s all thanks to my 80+ year old friend ‘S’ who is hitting the gym and pool 5 times a week – she’s amazing! And I’ve never heard her moan about the weather 😉

Power Pack

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This week is the first of three weeks with NO TAP CLASSES! OH MY! Today I hit the gym again, for the third week in a row. I did the cross trainer on the interval programme to warm up and get the heart pumping, followed by the low bike over a varied terrain. Then I did the adductor, abductor and hamstring weight machines, the pec-deck and then some serious stretching before heading back to work. I felt much better this week and actually enjoyed it!

Today’s playlist (including a couple of motivational 80s power tracks*):

  • Heaven – Emeli Sande
  • Buffalo Stance – Neneh Cherry
  • We Built this City – Starship*
  • I’m Always Here – Jim Jamison*
  • Lose my Breath – Destiny’s Child
  • La Vida Loca – Ricky Martin
  • California Soul – Marlena Shaw

Last Thursday Rhythm Tap II performed our Naughty Little Flea routine at the college’s Latin dance cabaret evening. The video and some photos were shared on our Whatsapp group and they did so well, despite a brief hitch with the music. I so wanted to be there! Unfortunately, I couldn’t take part because the rehearsals were during work time, straight after our daytime class, which meant taking something like a 3 hour lunch break; although looking back, I probably should have just done it and made the time up because most of the time I ended up being the only person in the office!

Next time, I’m doing the show no matter what!

Gym Day

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Today I managed my second Tuesday at the gym! Although I have to say I didn’t feel pumped and energised like last week, despite making sure I was hydrated and had eaten a few energy-rich snacks mid-morning. I’m probably a bit low on iron at the moment and could also do with a few early nights where I sleep straight through. Oh, and a bowl of KALE.

I started on the cross trainer, but started to feel a bit weird, so I got myself off that immediately and went to the low bike for 5 low-intensity minutes to make sure I at least did something. Then I moved onto the abductor and adductor machines, then the quad and hamstring machines, and the chest press.

Finally I went to the yellow mats to do some gentle stretching of the quads, hamstrings, calves, feet and ankles etc.

As soon as I got back to work I wolfed down my lunch and felt a lot better!

Playlist

  • Shut up and Drive – Rihanna
  • Where Love Lives – Alison Limerick
  • Groove is in the Heart – Deee-Lite
  • I feel for you – Chaka Khan
  • Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill
  • Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack

On another note, after work yesterday I went for a 45 minute full body holistic massage at a place I discovered a while ago near work. It was fabulous, but I could have done with it today instead! (Unfortunately the therapist only works there on Mondays and Saturdays). I am aiming to have a massage once a quarter to every other month if possible for body maintenance. I’m also thinking about visiting a podiatrist for a medical pedicure for important tap dancer’s foot maintenance (TDFM), so I’m doing a bit research, and obviously this all costs money!

Pumping Iron

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Today I finally made myself go to the gym at lunchtime – YAY!

I’ve been wanting to do some strength work for several months now, due to my left knee being a bit achy and creaky during this past year of doing rhythm tap classes. I suspect it is to do with weak muscles around the knee, so I had given Pilates classes a go, but found the time constraints too much to fit it into a lunchtime. Oh, and the teacher was scary and always late!

Solution: buy a PAYG gym pass and do a 25 minute workout and stretch session at the university gym across the road.

I am choosing Tuesdays as gym day so that I have a rest day in between that and Thursday’s tap class. Hopefully I can turn this into a weekly habit and not give up when I don’t feel like it.

The gym was nice and quiet today, so no waiting for free machines – bonus! I started with a 10 minute aerobic warm-up on the cross trainer using a varied terrain, followed by a selection of weight machines, including the leg-press. I finished up with a ten minute seated and standing stretch session on the mat.

I am also massaging both knees every evening with my homemade sports massage oil, which contains peppermint, cypress and lemongrass essential oils.

Let’s see if I notice any difference this Thursday…

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*My inspiration is a lady in her 80s (you wouldn’t believe it though!) who comes into my office once a week to help with some admin and she gyms and swims 5 times a week!*

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a great Christmas.

Mine was good fun and I really enjoyed the festivities and the break. My SO and I hosted twice, including on Christmas day itself, and all went swimmingly and everyone enjoyed themselves. I have to personally thank Mary Berry for her amazing Christmas cookbook which helped me know what I could prepare in advance, and our local butcher who did an amazing job of preparing the stuffed turkey crown wrapped in bacon plus a gammon!

I actually went to work for a half day on New Year’s Eve and my SO met me afterwards so we could go for Vietnamese food, followed by a trip to the theatre to see Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution at London’s County Hall, which was brilliant! I love Agatha Christie, and the whole courtroom setting for the play was extremely effective. It was thoroughly engaging from start to finish.

Today was my first day back at work this year, and it was definitely a struggle to prise myself out of bed at 6am and get back into commuting into London after sitting around in tracksuit bottoms for 2 weeks! Nearly everyone I spoke to is harbouring some infection or other, so I’m only breathing through my nose and continuing to dose up on vitamin c!

I also had the first Pilates class of my 11 week course which I booked for the purpose of cross-training for tap dance. I was a bit apprehensive on my way there, but it was a very good and informative class, led by TB who is an experienced dance teacher, specialising in jazz dance and ballet.

There were about 10 of us in the [fully booked] class (not sure where the others were!) and we spent our time working on correct, measured breathing, which we were then able to use to aid our exercises that followed. We were pulled and prodded (with our permission) to correct any misalignment as we did the exercises, and TB actually said I had a very good spine roll when I was rolling up through the vertebrae, which she would expect because I’m young – I’m not as young as she thinks! Previous dance classes made this a familiar exercise. But of course other exercises were more challenging, like judging whether your arms are in line with your shoulders when out in front or out to the sides. Trying to move one arm up and one arm down at the same speed at the same time while lying on your back…

I have 10 sessions left, and my only reservation is that it went on longer than I expected (partly my misreading the course details and partly the teacher starting late) , so my lunchtime was a lot longer than I hoped. This combined with a longer lunch on Thursday when I have tap, and I’m not sure if I should have gone for an after work conditioning course instead. My bad!

Anyway, I hope you have a positive start to the year. I am going to work on crafting some more blog posts to share with you!

Tips for Surviving The Winter Months

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Having an outdoor chai n’ cupcake

When I was a teenager, I used to get Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and would find I would get home from school in the dark Autumn and Winter months, lie down on the sofa and have ZERO energy to even get up to answer the phone, let alone tackle homework. I would dread the clock change every year.

Because of this, I made sure pretty much from then on to exercise or dance regularly during these darker months to keep my energy levels up and to just generally feel better and not let it get the better of me.

What is SAD? Also known as ‘Winter Depression’, the symptoms, according to the NHS include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

To help others out there who find this time of year sapping, I’ve put together some survival tips:

  • If you work indoors, get outside into the daylight at lunchtimes or breaks as often as you can
  • Invest in a sunrise wake-up alarm clock to simulate a natural wake-up with warm, gradual light
  • Invest in a SAD lamp or light box
  • Take part in regular group exercise (e.g. tap dance, Zumba, spinning, running group). Group exercise will add a fun social element to your workout. Go, even when you don’t want to.
  • Try to eat plenty of fruit and dark green vegetables to boost your immune system. I’m also taking Vitamin C & Zinc supplements to ward off colds at the moment (especially with commuting on public transport!) I tried taking Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) last winter, but I didn’t really notice any effects. That might be different for you.
  • Stay hydrated – there’s so much heating on at the moment which can make you feel drowsy and dry
  • While it may be tempting to cosy up in candlelight when you get home in the evenings, if you want to get anything done, put the lights on full until nearer bedtime. Don’t let early sunset steal your day! (I have to say I am very sensitive to lighting and have many lamps and candles about the house).
  • Go for walks in the evenings – yes, even though it’s dark (don’t let the dark win!)
  • Have a regular bedtime
  • Put some things in the diary to look forward to – theatre trip, spa day, coffee with friends, family meet-ups, Christmas markets, carol concert, museum trip. On Saturday my SO, his sister and I went to see The Play That Goes Wrong in the West End, and I honestly haven’t laughed that hard in ages.

Let me know if you find these tips useful.

Do you have anything to add? What keeps you buoyed during the darker months?