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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!

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Carnaval soon come!

I’m going into my 5th San Francisco Carnaval. Being a carnavalesco has been transformative; it has made me more attuned to fitness, culture, and community.  Our Carnaval always falls on Memorial Day weekend due to the weather. When it began, San Francisco Carnaval was held around Mardi Gras time as it is in most parts of the African diaspora. In the tropics, the weather is beautiful. It’s a time to enjoy festivities and fatty food in preparation for a season of silence.  That timing doesn’t work in the Bay Area; the fog has even resulted in gray and cool Carnaval weekends. So in the Bay Area, Carnaval preparation takes place during Lent.

In every other aspect of my life during Lent, I am paring down to simplicity. For Carnaval, I am ramping up in terms of color and intensity.  I am creating characters. I’m working on costume, makeup, props, set design.  I am preparing for a street theater performance.

There are people who do Carnaval as a bucket list milestone and those of us who choose to make this a way of life. I have nothing against the bucket list folks. Everyone should perform onstage or take part in a creative activity at some point in life because of what it does for your self-confidence, discipline, and fitness. That could be just me since I gravitate towards the arts. For those of who become lifelong carnavalescos, Carnaval is an essential part of the yearly cycle.

A lot of people think performance means solo artist. When you’re in a Carnaval contingent, even if you’re a sambista or passista, you are not the star of the show.  As cute as you might think you are, Carnaval is about your community and comparsa. You are moving together as a unit.  Showboating diminishes the team effort. I may have to get Uncle Brooke on y’all this year (In The New Edition Story, choreographer Brooke Payne breaks down the importance of unity when you’re part of a group. He also gives Bobby a hard look).

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You tell ’em, Uncle Brooke

I share this critique because my Carnaval experiences have helped me better understand the value of community, both in dance and in spirit.

During Carnaval, I tap into several aspects of myself that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. What SambaFunk has offered my family in terms of friendship and dance is priceless.

Carnaval has become our way of life.

The 365 day a year challenge

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Tank says it all: Better sore than sorry

As I move forward with my 4 challenges in 40 days, there is a goal I didn’t set for the 40 days. An ongoing goal is my fitness challenge.

I have struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for my entire life. As experienced by many people, food has been an emotional outlet. This continues to be an area with which I struggle but over the years, I’ve gotten control of it. I eat healthy and cook regularly despite my busy schedule. It’s easy to cook two or three meals on the weekend. Often I haven’t had time to go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Sometimes I forget to get that one ingredient that’s going to make a meal hearty or tasty. In the past few years, my weight has yo-yoed.  Since joining my new gym, I have maintained my weight loss and made gains in muscle tone and strength.  I didn’t always have those specific fitness goals. I always wanted to lose weight and be fit. This is the first time I care about being stronger and being toned, not simply because of Carnaval or other performances but because it’s good for my body.

I have struggled with health issues. Last year was the first year in three that I didn’t have major surgery. The summer before that, I was diagnosed with gallstones and had my gall bladder removed. Before that I had a rare inflammatory condition that affected my breast tissue and required  invasive surgery. I medicate for IGM daily. It was frightening. I continue to be very scared. I’ve lost a lot of family members to cancer and heart disease. Health fears are constantly in the back of my mind. My daughter is the reason I wouldn’t want anything to compromise my health. Being a mom inspired me to become more healthy in my 40s than I was when I was younger.

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Walking lunges with Bulgarian bag.  Photo by M.

In December, I joined a new gym. My samba sisters, specifically those who’ve attended this gym, inspired me. I had often flirted with the idea of taking on a fitness challenge there but I was intimidated. I am not a weight lifter. During my first two years in college, you could find me at the gym lifting weights. When I first started teaching during my 20s, I did weight training with a personal trainer. So it had been decades. It’s not been something I’ve been drawn to do. I like to run. I like to dance. I like cardio. My new workouts have required me to change my way of thinking and to push myself hard. It’s not easy. I struggle. I am smaller and slower and weaker than a lot of people. I gauge myself against myself so that if I can do something I was never able to do before then that is meeting my goal. This week at samba, we did abs and pushups and other muscle work. In the past, I would cringe and groan, “I can’t do this.” It came much more easily. My teacher passed me and said, “Well you train all the time.” One of my samba sisters who inspired me in my fitness journey told me I looked great. She is committed to fitness so her compliment meant so much to me.  It felt good to receive reassurance and validation from those I respect and love.

Fitness is not a 40 day challenge. It is a fun mental and emotional outlet which will extend my life. While I like that my clothes fit more loosely, I love that I am modeling health and wellness for my daughter.  She comes to the gym with me at least once a week and watches me sweat it out. Getting a thumbs-up from her is great motivation. Fitness will continue to be an everyday challenge and a lifelong goal.

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More than a parade

Last year, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I rose before sunrise and began to get dressed for Carnaval.  I had asked to be able to sit on the float in full costume, my Wound-Vac covered in our theme colors.  I began the long process of applying my makeup.  As I applied the beautiful shades of color to my face, I began to feel sad. I had wanted so badly to be off the Wound-Vac.  True, I had never finished learning all the choreography. But the best part of performing in Carnaval is feeling a part of a body, a body of alegria and axe, a body which exudes grace, strength, and pure joy.  With the little machine literally attached to my body, I knew I exuded pain and weakness. I burst into tears and called my mom. “No puedo hacerlo. (I can’t do it.)”  She understood and plan B, which was to sit in the grandstand with M and my mom, went into effect. I took off my beautiful gown and donned my samba school tee.   I stopped crying, grabbed my camera, and headed to the parade.
The morning of SF Carnaval 2014

I cheered loudly for SambaFunk; they were magnificent.  I also cried. I consider it one of the more painful moments during my recovery from surgery. That was nearly a year ago.

I came to SambaFunk through a lovely woman I met on Dance Party. A brilliant dancer, she had asked me to check out her samba community sometime. I expressed mild interest; I had taken two samba classes prior to my difficult pregnancy and had always wished I continued.  A few months passed before I finally took initiative and asked when I could join her in class. On a cold January evening, I walked into the second floor studio of the Malonga and within two hours, I had found a second home. King Theo’s wisdom, love, and positive energy inspired me to take on this new creative and physical challenge.
After my first SambaFunk class in January 2013. Photo by Elise Evans
At exactly this time, I was preparing for a job interview. I would be competing for a vice principal position in a different district. I am convinced the energy I received through my dance class helped boost my confidence. I got the job. I was learning how to be a carnavalesco at the same time I was learning to succeed in a new work environment.  SambaFunk has been more than a dance class. The energia it provides has been a blessing.
Taking part in Carnaval has tapped into so many aspects of my personality.  I rediscovered the superhero in me as a Funky Gogo Love Bomber. I also learned half-marathons are nothing compared to parading nearly two miles in 6-inch platform boots.
GoGo Bombers doing their thing, SF Carnaval 2013. Photo by Yvel Sagaille.
As I struggled with illness, I reexamined the grace and power that is inherent in being a woman, beautifully heralded in my incarnation as a regal Star Mother.  While I didn’t get to parade in Carnaval last year, I was able to take part in the San Diego Brazilian Day parade.
SambaFunk, Brazilian Day San Diego 2014. Photo by Soul Brasil.
My mother and M traveled with me and stood proudly on the sidelines cheering for us.  With each Carnaval, I learn more about costuming and parading.  I also realize it is more than a parade.

Obrigado SambaFunk for welcoming my little family into your embrace.

Rambo and M, Pan-African Film Fest 2014
w M on the red carpet at the Pan-African Film Fest 2014
Thank you for the prayers and love you gave me when I feared the worst about my health and for your loyalty and support during my recovery. Thank you for helping me become the best version of myself.
Preparing for SF Carnaval 2015, M’s first Carnaval