Archives

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.

Advertisements

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.

17159180_10155391918167784_693112721003485382_o

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.

17158994_10155392147342784_903683521642334308_o

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.

 

17157723_10155392351822784_8148246444505600988_o

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.  

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.

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

A different kind of hangover

Prince once listed dancing as one of his four yearnings: Dance Music Sex Romance. In talking to a friend, he pointed out that dancing is the next best thing to…well, another form of intimacy. In any case, dance is invigorating, uplifting, and empowering with no side effects or negative consequences(sore muscles are a sign that you’ve exercised.)

I’ve loved to dance for as long as I can remember. Whether it was carrying on to Supremes hits or doing the bump to Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell”(still guaranteed to get me on the dance floor), I was dancing as a child. As a preteen, I took jazz and tap for four years, leaving formal classes behind when our dance teacher asked us to lose weight if we wanted to continue. At the time, I felt losing her 125 pounds was worth walking away. During high school, I was at every dance except the with-date-only Winter Ball. Once I turned 18, there was no keeping me out of the clubs. Studio 47, Club Mirage, The Trocadero, 650 Howard, The Palladium, The Edge, The Sound Factory, DV8, King Street Garage, Club Universe, The Endup, 550 Barneveld, Minna Street Gallery, 1015 Folsom. Each place conjures up memories of moments, moves, and music. I have been a slave to the rhythms of house, disco, 80s, new wave, old school, dancehall, and reggaeton. I know several DJs by name and I love the pulsation of the bass. Never mind the progressive hearing loss and lost hours of sleep. Dancing is still one of my passions.

Dancing is a safe passion. On the dance floor, I feel free to be as sexy and bold as I have always hoped to be elsewhere. True, the majority of my intense dancing has been in gay clubs, where I’ve battled with other dancers, catwalked with drag queens, and flirted with muscled strippers. But, once in a while, I let loose, lose myself to the groove.

I got my dance on last night. Dancehall and old school. There’s nothing like indulging in some nostalgia(they played Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, Bell Biv Devoe)–and some much-needed renewal.