Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Salsa with a Looming Danger of Lethargy

Something I forgot to talk about in my last post, but which has definitely been a fixture of the past week has been my discovery of social dancing at Oxford. I found, with some help from Heidi (Thorsen), two organizations at Oxford for social dancing - the Oxford University Dancesport Club and the Oxford University Salsa Society.

The first classes I went to were on Thursday down at St. Columba's Church, just a bit further west from Corpus Christi. There, a lady named Bea teaches Salsa and Rueda a couple days a week as part of Oxford University Dancesport. Heidi, Rebecca, and I showed up for an Intermediate Salsa class. Coming to the class, I was glad that Richard Powers stresses adaptability in all of his classes because this class was quite different from any salsa I had done before. The biggest difference is that they do Cuban style salsa, so the basic step and the feel of the dance are different. The biggest difference in the basic is that the men go back first and then forward, mirroring the women instead of traveling with the women. This means that the basic step has an interesting but challenging component of separating from your partner and then stepping into her. For the most part, I adjusted surprisingly quickly, but I also slipped into my old "LA style" habits pretty often. I would always catch myself and fix it, but it threw me off a lot. By the end of the salsa class, we had learned a couple of cool moves with some fancy spins in Cuban salsa and was pretty proud of myself.

Following the salsa class was a rueda class. Rueda, aparently, is basically Cuban salsa but where all the couples dance in a circle, one leader calls variations for everyone to do (like in square dancing), and couples often change partners. The main challenge of the dance, then, was not deciding which variations to lead but was simply knowing the names of all sorts of variations. Of course, I didn't know the names, so I sat it out and watched. Lucky Heidi and Rebecca are girls, so they just managed to fake the variations by following the men's leads. Rueda looked like a lot of fun, so I might try out the next class, when they will start the class over for the new term.

One of the take-aways from the classes, though, was that Richard Powers was more right than I ever knew. Every class I've taken with him, I thought he was belaboring the point that every dance teacher teaches differently a little too much. He always says that some dance teachers preach that their style is right and all the others are wrong. Well, this teacher, Bea, was just like the ultra-doctrinal, archetypal teacher he always described. She said that the handholds had to be just one way - any other way was the sign of a bad dancer. Steps had to be just one way; leads had to be just one way; fingers had to be just one way. Needless to say, I didn't like her too much. Still, the class was quite fun.

I didn't dislike her enough not to go to her beginner's class on Friday. I thought maybe I would fit in better there because I hadn't danced Cuban style before, but it ended up being a little too slow for me. As before, it was fun, and the other people in the class were nice. However, the class will be restarting from the very beginning this week, which will be a little too basic for me. If I take Bea's classes, I'll take intermediate salsa and maybe this rueda class.

My next social dance experience was at the Oxford University Dancesport social dance event of the week. Heidi and I trekked all the way out past the Radcliffe Science Library, the Physics building, and through a residential neighborhood to get to Lady Margaret Hall. When we got there, the only other couple there seemed to be practicing a ballroom dance routine that neither of us knew. There was an old guy with an iPod and some speakers. And that was pretty much it. Heidi and I danced to what he put on as best we could. We did some cross-step waltz, some cha-cha, and some swing. Some more couples showed up, but it would be hard to describe them as "social" seeing as they made no effort to interact with us or each other. After an hour of listening to music meant for ballroom dances and watching the other couples ballroom dance, we gave up trying to do our social dances and left. I don't know why it was billed as a "social dance" event.

And my most recent experience was more salsa, this time with the Oxford University Salsa Society. Yesterday, Heidi, Maricarmen, and I went to the Improvers class offered at Wesley Memorial Hall. This class taught the "LA style" that we were all more used to, but it was still pretty different from Richard Powers's classes at Stanford. The beginning half of the class focussed all on shine steps, kind of like solo, show-off-y steps where men and women aren't dancing with each other at all. They involved a lot of flair and focus on style that men in particular don't usually focus on. The teachers, a guy and a girl, were both good. They were much younger and more entertaining than the other lady. Unfortunately, I felt like the level of the class was at my level but that the other girls were often struggling. I am sure my unfamiliarity with the class had something to do with that, but I think the level of the students was just lower than at the other class. That may become a deciding factor in picking a class.

Right now, it looks like I might be doing a lot more salsa this quarter. There is also an Argentine tango class, but it conflicts with Bea's salsa class (the first one). Also, salsa is kind of more appealing because it is just more useful than tango. I don't have to choose between the salsa classes yet, so I may just keep going to both. It's just an issue of time and money, but both classes are relatively cheap. There are also salsa nights at various venues each week. Who would have thought - Oxford, England is pretty happening place for salsa dancing. And England never even owned any of Latin America.

I will write about May Day tomorrow, because I already wrote way too much about dancing today.

On the topic of lethargy, I just want to note that it has been setting in, and this worries me. What I call lethargy, some people may also call sloth, laziness, or exhaustion. Evidence of this is that this is only the second post in six days. SIX DAYS! I am mad at myself about this.

The main reason this worries me isn't that it's such a problem that I missed some posts. What worries me is that I have seen this kind of neglect from myself before. It is a specter that has haunted me throughout my time at Stanford. It tends to set in as I start getting bogged down in work, and it only worsens my workload. I feel tired and lazy, so I don't focus on doing my work like I should. Then my work doesn't get done, and I feel more stressed and exhausted and the cycle goes on. One of the worst parts about the lethargy setting in is that, if I am not vigilant I can end up spending some hours on the internet mindlessly  clicking on links. For some reason, this is what I end up doing when my mind is tired. Unfortunately, the rest I get from doing this doesn't equal the added pressure I have from having less time to do the things I need to do. Also, I just get more stressed out when I realize how much time I just wasted.

So, what's the real problem? And how do I fix it? I don't know.

One hypothesis is that the lethargy comes from physics problem sets. I trace the lethargy ghost back to around Wednesday of last week, when I started really working hard on my physics problem set. Doing problem sets is pretty stressful and tiring.

To compare studying physics with history, my two subjects for the term, I would compare them to gameshows. Reading for history is like that game where you stand in the plastic box and a bunch of money is released in front of a fan. You read more than you can hope to absorb and you try just to remember the main points and few things you found more interesting. The words go in your eyes, through your brain, and then most come right out again. It's like how the object of the game is to snatch as much money as you can in that plastic box - get the biggest bills and whatever else you can hold on to. Overall, it's a pretty fun game, and people come out of the box pretty happy.

Physics, on the other hand, is like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? You can start off by answering the easy questions first, but that doesn't get you more than a fraction of the way there. After that, it's really slow going. It would be great if you could jump to the $1,000,000 question and just answer that one, but you need to figure out every little step along the way before you can touch it. Some of those other questions are uninteresting and difficult, but it doesn't matter. While you answer the intermediate questions, you usually bang your head against a wall and then call a friend. And in the end, a lot of the time you don't truly understand the big question, but you move on anyway. People come out the other end of the game a little more sober than in the money box game, I think.

Point being - physics problem sets are stressful. Even if I can finish them in less time than history reading, history reading just doesn't wear me out the same way. It's not as demanding. That said, I haven't talked about writing papers. That's also not as fun as reading, but they usually come hand-in-hand.

What I haven't figured out, but should figure out, is how to make problem sets less stressful, or, at least, find out a reliable way to deal with the stress/lethargy that tends to follow problem set days.

The weird thing is that, once I start doing physics I don't have a problem going at it for hours on end. I do okay once I get into the physics groove. It's just sitting down to do it, and then regaining the energy it's drained from me after I stand back up that is the problem.

Of course, it might not be physics; it might be something entirely different. I worry that it's the byproduct of being in one place for too long. I get settled in and complacent. When I'm on the move, sometimes I maintain more energy for longer. I really enjoy traveling and haven't done any outside of Oxford yet. Then again, traveling can be very stressful and tiring, either if it doesn't go well or if I'm at it for too long.

Anyway, I don't know. Maybe writing about the lethargy will make it go away. Maybe I thought that I hadn't been writing because of the lethargy when, in fact, the lethargy hit me because I haven't been writing. We'll see soon enough.

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