Tag Archive | dance

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 

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.

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