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Taking my shot

19800753_10155851120687784_1554847163686573762_oThe Sunday after my 45th birthday was a day filled with dance.  My day began with Bay Area Flash Mob.  We performed our Bruno Mars medley at several locations in San Francisco. Due to Carnaval preparations and end of school year busyness, I only attended a few classes in preparation. But I was on a mission to be part of a special performance for a wedding anniversary and the flash mobs.  I practiced on my own and did extra rehearsals with my group. After four performances, it was time for a workshop opportunity through Pop Star Booty Camp.  I had my shot to learn choreography from Hamilton’s resident choreographer Derek Mitchell.

What I loved about this session was how our teacher explained the intent of the movements. It was Method dancing. Our teacher, Derek Mitchell, took the time to explain who the characters are, what the ensemble is feeling and experiencing as they hear the words of Alexander Hamilton, what is like to be moved by this group of revolutionaries and how each movement speaks to those emotions.  Derek also took the time to discuss the current political climate, how this particular song and this musical as a whole are relevant. I was moved to tears twice that afternoon. I felt the true overlap of where I am emotionally and mentally and where we are politically. Those thoughts and themes came together beautifully.

Derek explained the concept of ensemble in a way that struck a chord. He said that an ensemble is part of the scenery; individuals are not supposed to stand out. Too often, I have experienced competitiveness and showboating in dance communities.  There’s nothing wrong with being pushed to be at your best or wanting to shine. But I have a problem with environments that promote cliquishness, feed drama and create rivalries, conflict, and dissension. I want to be part of an ensemble, of a community where I am part of a greater whole, dancing for the greater good. Getting out there, shaking your thang, and having a good time is fun. But it is empowering to be part of a diverse group of people sending a powerful message about fighting for freedom and the right to be ourselves.

There was a section of the “My Shot” workshop that called for improvisation. Derek stated that so many of us show up, physically present, but we hide in the back row. It rang true for me. If you look at photos, I’m always in the middle or the back. I shy away from being in the front. I need to be more comfortable pushing myself. I was nervous about improvising a solo. He encouraged us by reminding us it was our moment and asked how we, as individuals, were going to contribute to make our country great.  In that improv, I was a school principal, a samba dancer, a writer, a mother, and a proud mujer. I felt powerful, beautiful, and worthwhile. It was exhilarating.

This day of dance illustrates what it is I have been seeking.   I am seeking opportunities that are positive, cooperative, and collaborative. I am grateful to my samba workshops through the Samba Queens Academy, to BAFM, and to the Hamilton workshops for the new opportunities. I am in a different place as a dancer and it feels wonderful.  I’m committed to continuing my growth in ways that promote my evolution and joy. #summerofdance

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A pajama party with purpose

“My sister my sister, tell me what the trouble is

I’ll try to listen good and give the best advice that I can give…”

Monie Love

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Photo by Natasha Vinakor

In a time of grief, I am blessed to enjoy moral support and a sense of community. From my newest dance community to the beautiful women of my samba community, I am surrounded by positive energy. That strengthens me in the face of ignorance and negativity. Though our weekends are busy, I’m grateful I made the time to attend a women’s salon with my dance sisters.

The salon, “Let’s Talk It Out,” allowed for structured conversation about many topics.

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Photo by Natasha Vinakor

While #election2016 weighs heavily on our minds, it did not come up in the conversation, other than one mention at the beginning of the event.  Yes, our lives go on, despite all the emotions dredged up by the state of the nation. But we get to do so on our terms, not because of a shared op-ed article or meme on Facebook(Holding the door open). I digress, though, from the gratitude I feel for last night’s gathering.   While I kept relatively silent during the active discussion last night, I heard each and every voice.  I stood with my sisters in their worries, questions, and fears. Of course, there were light-hearted moments. We shared food, drink, and laughter. It was an experience I hope we continue.

One question I had prior to the event was whether or not to include M.  She’s an impressionable eight-year-old; would a women’s salon that would likely address controversial issues be appropriate?  I decided she would join us. She was so excited to choose a onesie to wear (recommended dress code for the evening.) Already an active member of our dance community, M felt right at home. She played with our hostess’ toddler daughter. She cuddled with a few of my dance sisters.  She sat on my lap and kissed my cheek every so often.  Given all the girl drama she already experiences as an elementary school student, I thought it was important for her to witness genuine, respectful camaraderie between women. These are women she admires and loves.  These are women who love her mother.  It was a win-win.

Nearly five years ago, I committed to mastering a dance style but also to opening my heart to new people and new relationships. As I’ve shared before, my dance community has enriched my life deeply(More than a parade).  As I make an effort to reach out and be included, I will continue to benefit from the blessing of sisterhood.

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Onesie crew

A reader’s reflections

By Emily Dickinson
“We are all connected. You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.” Mitch Albom
“To survive you must tell stories.” Umberto Eco
Tengo mucho que hacer and yet I always make time, somehow, when my alma mater comes calling. Every year, I read scholarship essays.  I may have to carve out time between mommy duties after busy workdays. It is time well spent.
My task is to read 25 scholarship applications in a week’s time. The applicants are asked to detail their extracurricular activities and respond to three short essay prompts. They are asked to discuss their lives, their leadership, and their goals. As a former English teacher and Upward Bound teacher, I have spent hours helping high school students tell their story to colleges in a way that is authentic and compelling.  It is no easy task. The scholarships for which I serve as a reader are earmarked for first-generation college students.  More often than not, these young people balance family caretaking and part-time jobs with their busy schedules of honors and AP classes, club meetings, practices, and volunteer work.  Their stories are worth hearing.
During my recent reading gig, I read stories that have made an impact on me.  While some applications were less than engaging, there were some who stood out. My heart ached for the student with a lifelong health challenge.  I felt teary-eyed for the young farmer whose reflections on love of land and animals were wise and poignant.  I pondered the limitless courage of the child who raised both parents while they battled addiction.  While I may never know whether or not these young people won the awards or admission, I did my small part to help.

I cannot lose sight of the opportunities I was given. I was one of those students.  Someone saw my potential and helped me.  I will not stop offering those opportunities to others.  In return, I am blessed with the gifts of inspiration and motivation.  I am reminded of my purpose. 
Image by Tom Grey

The separation between church and state

“This world is your sanctuary and if that world comes in contact…
Yes! It blows up.”  From Seinfeld
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that church and state needed to stay separate so that the government could stay out of church business.  Before y’all think I’m about to break it down politically, I will, but not how you might expect. In my life, church is also a metaphor, specifically for the dance communities to which I have belonged.  For over a decade, I was a club kid and my church was soulful San Francisco house music.  Church is when the music is perfection and you feel the Holy Ghost.  It can involve gospel-style vocals and the dancers engaging in call and response but basically it’s what we hope to achieve anytime we’re on the dance floor.  When our favorite DJs were spinning, we were in church many days/nights of the week.


For the last three years, I have been taken part in #sambachurch.  When the bateria gets going and we are all feeling the music, we are elevated to a new level of movement and joy.  This can happen in the dance studio, at a community event,  or during a parade.  As with my original musical church, it is the experience of heightened positive energy.

State is how bills get paid. State is structure. It keeps the day and my way of life moving forward most of the time.  It includes my job, my obligations as a citizen, consumer, etc.  So church is needed. Church is sacred and holy.  Why would I muddy up my solace, my inspiration, my freedom, my alegria by involving my clients?  Y aunque no estes de acuerdo, I will henceforth(don’t you love that word) refer to my students as my clients. My clients, while I may like, respect and even care for them, are people I’m ENTRUSTED and PAID to serve.  I’m using all caps because these are two important facts I literally can’t afford to forget.  The state has given me the duty and responsibility of overseeing these young people in their parents’ place during my work hours.  I am liable for any harm that may come their way.  The state pays me a decent wage to do this work. If I jeopardize my job, I will not be able to provide for myself and my family. Because it’s such an important job, I would and should not be able to continue working in this field if I were to jeopardize the physical, mental, and/or emotional health safety of my clients.
I will be the devil’s advocate.  What to make of my longtime friendships with two former clients?  These women are both in their 30s(!) now. They are grown women with careers and lives entirely of their own. When we first socialized as friends, they were adults in college, and we certainly did not meet up at the club.  Church and state do not mix. 
Recently, these two worlds almost collided, through no fault of my own. Hell no, I thought. I have worked too hard to become a person of good judgment and good health. I’m not about to jeopardize what has taken years to build. I value my privacy. 
I made mistakes as a young educator of putting too much of my private self into my public work.  Thankfully, my mentors slapped me upside the head and reminded me that my professional identity was worthy of protection.  As a matter of fact, I willingly shut down my original blog.  In time, I developed the ability to express myself in various settings.  More importantly, I realized, after lots of reflection and experience, that my primary task at work was to teach, not to parent and befriend. These days, my task has changed but my resolve to keep church and state separate has not waned. I owe it to everyone involved to keep those worlds apart.  

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

Prayer for hope

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardoned, and some punished…” William Shakespeare, Act 5 of Romeo and Juliet
“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.” Allen Ginsberg
The morning after a tragedy is quiet on many levels.  There is the usual quiet of mornings.  Also there is the lull of reflection.  Of course, there is the silence associated with various emotions: the numbness that accompanies grief, the tense muteness preceding or following rage, the stillness of shock. So often we are at a loss after a tragedy, however close we may have been to those involved.  I didn’t know Trayvon Martin and yet I, along with millions of others this morning, feel the weight of his loss and the failure of the court system in freeing the man responsible for his death. 
When I first wrote about this case over a year ago (Media misrepresentation in Trayvon Martin case), I pondered how my distance from the events led to my misunderstanding and confusion about the events as news. I also pointed out how the many layers of my life experiences impacted my thoughts.  At that time, I knew Trayvon Martin would impact us as a nation.  This morning, I realize Trayvon Martin has impacted me as a person. 

As a mother, as a woman of color, as an educator of at-risk youth, and as a proud American, the verdict delivered  in the trial of George Zimmerman exacerbates the fear, worry, and heartache I have about race relations in my country.  I live in a country where children can be attacked simply because how they look. 
Talented Sebastien De La Cruz, aka El Charro de Oro, came under fire for paying homage to his Mexican culture as he performed his National Anthem. 

Brand-name cereal Cheerios shut down online comments on their YouTube video feed after their charming commercial featuring a biracial family inspired racist reactions. 

I live in a country in which a TV show featuring several Latinas as sexy maids reaps high ratings and positive buzz despite the stereotypes perpetuated. 


So while we battle these issues in the media and the social networking worlds, I trust that our legal system will not be affected by racist images and misconceptions.  I am crushed when I am disappointed. 

Somehow, I carry and hold up hope.   As an artist, I choose to embrace all people as we come together creatively to build community. 


 As a mother and girlfriend, I choose to stay in my community because it offers an opportunity for my daughter to grow up in a different America, one where all people can live together. 
I choose hope. 

This morning, I offer a prayer for hope, the hope that Trayvon Martin’s death was not in vain, that as a nation we recover from this tragedy in the spirit of reconciliation, and that the families most affected by this loss find peace.