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Confessions of an unlikely dance mom

When my daughter became a competitive dancer, I struggled with the reality that I’m not your typical dance mom. There are stereotypes that all dance moms are crafty queen bee types obsessed with winning, popularity, and bent on having their child make it to Hollywood or Broadway.  I decided M would dance because she has been dancing since she was an infant. She took her first steps to a video of Michael Jackson moonwalking. She loves all kinds of music and all types of dance. I always want to encourage that. We dance because I love to dance. We dance because she loves to dance.  I support her participation. I’m not a stereotypical dance mom. I ‘m not particularly crafty though being a carnavalesco has helped with being more creative. I’m no queen bee. I was a social misfit as a young person. Those experiences have been important for me as an educator, writer and parent; they have informed the choices that I make today.

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Because dance conventions call for the right look

I struggle at the competitions and the weekend long conventions. It’s wonderful to have M take different workshops and compete with other studios. It’s hard to stomach some of the costumes like the little girl dancing in a polka dot bikini to “California Girls,” Black Swan makeup on 6 year olds, or the five year olds twerking in booty shorts.. Then there’s the choice in music.  I have been done with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” since the 80s. I love Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” but should a child do a solo to a song about heroin addiction?

Then there’s the other dance moms and dancers.  Some of the behaviors from kids or parents is inappropriate.  At our first convention, a group of moms, in matching tees and lip color, were loud during class and used profanity towards their children. One evening this year, an older girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, walked past our dancers as they posed for some quick snapshots before their competition. She said, “ugh, didn’t I see those costumes last year?” She got the sideeye from me. Gracias a Dios I don’t show my pettiness to kids.  Her behavior can be attributed to being a teenager but I also feel that the competitive dance environment can foster some of those attitudes.

I also struggle with the lack of diversity. Children’s competitive dance is not diverse; it’s meant for those who can afford it. Sometimes this lack of diversity leads to questionable choices from teachers.  During a convention this year, there was a dance number that ended up winning high scores. It was a musical theater piece set to a gospel house song. Three of the dancers wore Afro wigs while the rest portrayed gospel choir members. While the judges and many audience members clearly enjoyed the number, I felt it was cultural appropriation.  While it was a technically impressive piece, I feel that part of teaching dance is teaching students to respect artists, music, and dance styles. The afro wigs were indicative of the lack of cultural sensitivity that I have found at these types of competitions.

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My reaction to some of this foolishness; actually it’s my daughter reacting to our shenanigans at the annual parent pizza party

So why do we stay?  My daughter has been at our studio since she was three.  Our commitment to a sense of family and community isn’t lip service.  My daughter loves her dance sisters. I love our group of moms; we are friends who are always ready to mend a costume, fix a hairstyle, or take one of the girls to the studio or home at a moment’s notice.  Ademas, my discomfort with the traditional dance world doesn’t affect my willingness to support my daughter. I will continue to help her experience these opportunities to grow as a dancer. I won’t hesitate to run home in the middle of a competition to get pair of fishnets or to wake up early on a weekend to struggle through yet another hair bun. En nuestra casa, dance is life.  

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Holy Saturday celebration

M and I have not yet progressed to celebrating the Easter Vigil Mass. When I served in a different parish, I was always a lector during this holiest of masses. It is a beautiful mass with multiple readings, the lighting of the Paschal candle, and the initiation of new Catholics. I do miss participating. But my daughter is overwhelmed by the reading the Lord’s Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  I know there will be a time when we can celebrate the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday with the rest of our parish. For now we will continue our tradition of joining my parents for Easter Mass at my old parish. My daughter was baptized there so it is homecoming for both of us. So how did I spend my Holy Saturday? My answer may not surprise you.

I’m feeling a lot better post fender bender. I followed through on my commitment to flash mob a 40th birthday party. While my plans were not directly related to Easter, dancing is a great way to mark the change in seasons. My seasonal social media fasts often separate me from the members of my dance community for some time. I’m not completely out of the loop due to posting blogs and checking messages from those whose main form of communication is via social media but there is definitely a period of distance. It was a great night to reconnect.

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I do not see dance and faith as mutually exclusive. There’s a reason we used to call our Sunday afternoons in the clubs church. Dance, like song, reconnects us to our bodies, hearts, and souls. Dance is a great way to give praise and thanks for all our blessings.

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I was a middle-aged zombie!

22791948_10156245630972784_979345719934812671_oSeveral years ago, I decided to participate in “Thrill the World.” This event used to be held in Oakland; it’s an annual event in which people around the world attempt to break the Guinness World Record for people simultaneously dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was an opportunity to celebrate MJ, the song, and Halloween. Though it initially appealed to me as a dancer through learning iconic choreography, my debut as a zombie meant more.

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One aspect I find intriguing in portraying zombies as characters is the rage. I struggle to express anger and rage.  Rage in and of itself is not positive. In my line of work, expressing rage is unacceptable and unproductive. Though my personality tends to be mild, I have had traumatic life experiences that have inspired rage. I have channeled that emotion into playing zombies. You might argue zombies don’t feel anything, they are simply hungry. In trying to understand what drives these characters, I think of situations that would or could make me react with brute force.  I’m not an overly aggressive zombie. I rarely take swipes at my audiences. I roar, growl, and gnash my teeth. Rage is at a low simmer, even when I’m a zombie. Still it has been fun.

To create my zombie characters, I have taken personas I have previously played, almost all from Dance Party, and killed them. Inca Girl was a chola I played on TV twice. 12184153_10153853658602784_2699615049298786497_o

I have gone back to the 80s as an undead  prom queen, b-girl, and preppie.

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I have been a runner.

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Any look can work; after all, it’s the makeup that makes the zombie.  Being around dancers with extensive makeup experience, I have gotten better in creating my zombie looks. I know have to step up the gore but I have improved.

Becoming a zombie has become an annual tradition along with celebrating Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos.   I’m all for traditions that involve self-expression and creativity.

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Thriller Night 2017 at Boy Division, Cat Club 

Dance break

This year, I decided to celebrate by doing what I love, rather than having a party or gathering.  I spent my birthday with my family in Los Angeles enjoying good, though not pricey or fancy meals.  The rest of the week was dedicated to dance.

I got back into town Saturday afternoon.  Sunday, I had Bruno Mars flash mob performance day and a master workshop with the Hamilton choreographer(Taking my shot.) Monday was my weekly Beyonce Run the World choreo class. Tuesday, after 3 long weeks, was a return to my samba no pe workshop. The objective for that night’s lesson was endurance so we danced samba no pe nonstop for an 8 minute song, 7 minute song, and a 5 minute song, etc. (My calves and feet felt that for days!) Wednesday I had the privilege of seeing The Revolution on their reunion tour honoring Prince. They gave a show that was 100% wonderful. I was in the general admission standing room section, one row back from the stage, where we danced and sang along all night.

By that Friday, I needed a break. I had a ticket to Morning Mashups with Daybreaker but slept in instead. The thought of getting up before 7am on a Friday to commute to San Francisco to dance for a few hours was not appealing. My #summerofdance was not the best time to start training for a half-marathon.  My joints are indeed 45.  It’s important to listen to my body and get adequate sleep.  This is a work in progress.  With my job change, honoring my health will be crucial.

My #summerofdance not only brought me great joy but it helped me rediscover downtime.  I don’t need to go, go, go to remain stable and happy.  45 is a good year.  I am committed to keeping it so.

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

Failing into first place

Yesterday I went to a dance competition with M. We were up at 5am. We struggled as usual to get her thick beautiful hair up into a bun. She had four dances (tap, hip hop, and jazz) and four costume changes. I could tell she was stressed because it would be the first time competing with her hip hop team. She’s been with her competitive team for three years so she’s much more confident about those routines and that group. Because of the competition schedule, there wasn’t any time for her to be backstage with her hip hop team doing run-throughs. She took to the stage for a tap number that had previously won a platinum award.

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Before 

As I watched her tap number, I thought she looked distracted.  She wasn’t focused or smiling.  I was disappointed because she usually has great stage presence and confidence. I was irritated because I felt I had allowed her to take on too much and now she was overwhelmed. “Her head is not in the game” I told a fellow dance mom. I sounded like a crazy dance mom which I’m not. When M came off the stage, I could see the tears in her eyes. I immediately became worried. Maybe her teacher had seen something go awry and had admonished her. It’s unlike her teacher to do so; however my daughter is getting older so expectations could and should be higher. M told me she had made a mistake and she had cost her team “tons of points.” As I have previously mentioned, M has started to exhibit symptoms of anxiety. I knew in that moment she needed to breathe. I held her hands and looked into her eyes. We breathed in through our noses and out through our mouths several times so she could calm down. I reassured her she looked great on stage. She said she had forgotten some of the choreography. I told I hadn’t noticed her footwork. The teacher came over and said she had seen the mistake and that my daughter had looked over at her in panic. The teacher had nodded at her. My daughter quickly got back in formation and carried on. We headed backstage to get into her hip hop costume with minutes to spare before performance. Competition went on. She recovered her composure and performed with yet one other team.

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Keep smiling 

Then it was time for awards. I was pleased when they received a platinum award for tap. I knew she had done well. After giving each routine an individual score, the competition handed out trophies for the best performances.  When “American Beauties”, their tap number, was announced as the first place overall for their age group, I literally screamed.  It was like I was watching New Edition or New Kids on the Block because I sounded like a hysterical fanatic. I was thrilled.

 

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M is 2nd from left. Photo by A. Castillon. 

Seeing M and her dance sisters receive that trophy was a wonderful moment. Though she underestimated herself, I’m grateful she received the reassurance of her talent and recognition for their hard work.  I’m especially proud of the fact that she strives for excellence.  She sets high standards for herself and that reaps rewards.

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.