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Pre-Carnaval craziness

Several years ago, I wrote about the blessing of a busy schedule (La leyenda de SuperMama) and how it positively affected my mental health. Fast forward to the present and many of these ideas hold true. While time management usually presents challenge, it  feels like a blessing during Carnaval season.

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Baby queens practicing for Carnaval 

Some may look at my schedule during Carnaval prep season and think that I’m insane. Sunday, we had our usual 2+ hours practice in addition to the additional choreography practice several of us have been doing.  I also had a meeting with my dance sisters to rehearse a number we are preparing for my daughter’s school.  That meant 4 hours of dance. Monday, M has 90 minutes of dance class every week. She also was rehearsing for the school event.  Tuesday, M has 30 minutes of piano followed by 45 minutes of dance. That week, I stayed at work a little later due to a management meeting. Wednesday, I had an event committee meeting and then a 90 minute class with Bay Area Flash Mob in San Francisco. Thursday, I go to boot camp, M has another hour-long dance class, and then I have a samba workshop.  Friday is the special event where M and I will each perform with two different dance groups. Saturday is Carnaval rehearsal followed by church ministry at evening Mass. Some might ask why I would do this to myself and my child. This is part of the Carnaval lifestyle. We haven’t participated in the weekday practices or any of our samba school’s performances this Carnaval season. It is a very busy time. Somehow, we have to squeeze in costume work and typical errands.  I have never been this far behind in preparing my costume and makeup. As a 5th year OG, I feel like I can handle what little time I have left. It’s an exciting time.

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Tools of the carnavalesco trade 

As exhausted as I am, I am truly grateful to be able to express myself in this way. It’s a celebration of my new job, the end of another school year, and our communities. This is our life. Beautiful memories are made. These experiences feed our souls.  Carnaval soon come!

Beyond bling: the politics of Carnavalesco costuming

For those of you who think feathers, beads, and bright colors when Carnaval costumes are mentioned, you are only getting about 15% of the experience. In my contingent, Oakland’s SambaFunk, our yearly theme has current political undertones and overtones. The theme is visually presented through graphic art, discussed in class to explain the choreographies to guide our movements, and pondered for those of us who want to take a more method acting approach to our characters.  Heady stuff if you were expecting that we simply focus on shaking our tail feathers.  And shake we do but always with a message.  This year, however, the villains in the epic battle between good and evil would be portrayed by the dancers.  Given all the time I have spent analyzing and strategizing about the real villains I have known in my personal life(When you have to go bad )as well as the real-life bad guys aiming for increased power, I was immediately drawn to playing a Janker.
A Janker is a cross between Batman’s Joker and a banker.
Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the inspiration for our characters
Jankers are the international(and domestic) bankers who have exploited communities for their own personal gain. They are currently above the law but the whole point of our presentation this year was that Jankers could be brought to justice.  In my mind, I began to think about Jankers in popular culture.
Damn Jankers
I also thought about an individual I know who I feel has demonstrated the manipulative and self-aggrandizing tendencies of a Janker. My character was created.
With character in process, it was time to focus on costuming.  Costuming is hands-on work. While seamstresses may sew some pieces of the costume, dancers must individualize and “bling” their costume.  As a “freshman” in my samba school, I was clueless about this process. I didn’t help with costume construction and only attended one “blinging” party. When I arrived on Carnaval morning, I realized how generic my costume looked beside others.  As with Carnaval makeup, the Carnaval costume can express character and theme. Four seasons later, I knew to be purposeful in finishing my Carnaval look.
The Janker colors were green, royal purple, and iridescent or clear. I was responsible for decorating my cane, top hat, vest, and pants.  After a tedious process in which M and I sorted several bags of acrylic gems by color, shape, and size, I chose specific gem styles to use in varying patterns.  I chose green circles to represent global domination.
Clear and irisdescent gems would represent wealth as in diamonds. Purple and green gems would literally represent jewels like emeralds and amethysts. The teardrop became my symbol of choice.
Top of my top hat
Back of my top hat reveals the purpose of a Janker
Purple rain of tears
What does that mirror reveal?
Striping on pants
As a result of Janker thievery and trickery, many have shed tears of anger, grief, and hopelessness.  So teardrops are the shape you see all over my costume.  I even placed teardrops near my eyes as part of this year’s makeup.

So while Jankers  as characters and symbols are bad, we sure did look good.

2016 Jankers: Making bad look good
Janker Dance at Oakland Carnival 2016

As I have stated before, Carnaval is a creative process that has allowed me opportunities to grapple with experiences and thoughts that are challenging in a way that is ultimately empowering.  Viva Carnaval!

Carnavalesco mommyhood

I have sometimes questioned why I would become involved in a dance community while raising a small child. These doubts have occasionally been voiced by my spouse and my mother.  I am sure that there are other relatives and acquaintances who have kept those questions to themselves but who nevertheless look askance at photos I might share on social media. I joined Samba Funk when M was four. I changed jobs mid-year at the same time I prepared for my first Carnaval.
2013 Indie Awards candid
Somehow we made it work.
There are times when a dance class or meeting might run late or a party may not be all ages. But overall, M has been included in every part of the creative process that goes into Carnaval. She has attended registration kickoff parties, costume blinging sessions, and outdoor rehearsals.
M has benefited greatly from being included in the Samba Funk community from a young age. She has seen friendships form. She has cultivated relationships with several caring adults. She has been inspired by strong, beautiful dancers. Missed bedtimes seem a small inconvenience in comparison.
For the first time this year, M began to learn Afro-Brazilian choreography and took part in her first Carnaval. My daughter, already blessed with an innate love of life and confidence, has had a life-changing experience.
As I have already shared, Carnaval isn’t simply a parade or a festival. Lifestyle doesn’t even do it justice. Carnaval is a way of life.
To be a carnavalesco, you love life and the world and you express that love through dance, music, and art. I can’t think of a better place to raise my child.

Why Latinos don’t obsess over Prom

What today’s reflection forgot to mention was the ethnic twist on the whole situation. Maybe, just maybe, the reason I’m not tripping over this whole Prom Night thing is because there are other rites of passage that I have celebrated and most definitely plan to enjoy in the future.

M’s Quince:

Someday, M’s boda:

And maybe we’re not in formal attire, but the ultimate pachanga (and it’s coming soon!!!) :
Carnaval!