Ballet is da realest

Dancefloor drama V: an irrelevant question of weight

Recently, I’ve started to learn how to lead as a dancer. I’ve a long ways to go, I only know about 6 moves, but what a thrill. Following is one thing: it is about embracing vulnerability and connection. But leading? Leading is different. Is it accepting to be seen – poor technique, undeveloped musicality, errors in judgment and timing. It is accepting the precious gift of vulnerability offered to me by my dance partners. It is the opportunity to treat them with kindness and patience whilst laying bare my own imperfections. Leading is self-expression and creativity and team work. Every dance is different and wonderful. I. LOVE. IT.

You can see it in my concentration & smiles.

In Paris, I took a semba workshop with one of Teacher’s besties.  Cultural difference #1: Semba is not as popular in France as it is in other kizomba dancing countries like Canada, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy or the UK. There were way more girls (followers) than guys (leaders), so I switched my role from follower to leader to help even out the pairings. Cultural difference #2: female leaders are an anomaly in France.  I definitely got a few stares, curious questions from my female dance partners, and that night, more than one dude commented, “Oh so you are back to being a female, now?” #verytraditionalgenderroles I didn’t have the energy to debate with any of them, or to point out that originally in Angola,semba is not a gender specific dance. It is most commonly danced between men and woman, but it can be danced between children, men and men, women and women, youth and senior citizen, whomever. It is a partner dance. Partners. 2 individuals. I ain’t about to stand around waiting for the better part of an hour for a dude to ask me to dance, when I can lead and dance with anybody I want!

(Aside, I survived leading in an intermediate class taught by Fabricio. This guy. Yeah! #majorvictory).

As is customary in class, the leaders practiced the step combo being taught by cycling through the followers. This allows for socialization and better learning opportunities: it is easier to identify common mistakes and strengths when the number of people one is practicing on is high.

Fabricio was teaching us a complicated move: swipe the girl’s leg, and make her do a very slow spin on one bent leg, which can only successfully happen if the leader properly supports her and keeps her center of gravity immobile. To the extent the leader messes that up, the follower will have no choice but to shift her weight onto the leader to avoid face-planting. Tricky. I flubbed up the move with my first few partners, much to our mutual enjoyment and giggles. By girl 4 I was getting the handle of it. By girl 6, I almost had swag. Girl 7 went smoothly, but she was very tense, which made it a little harder for me to execute, but no big deal – I would be tense too, trusting a stranger to not trip me, drop me AND spin me! Fabricio stopped the class to give some clarification. Girl 7 used that unexpected break to whisper to me:

Do you mind, I hope this isn’t an awkward question, but could you tell me, for real, honestly…

When you dance with me, am I heavier than other girls? Do you find me hard and heavy to dance with? You can tell me, I want to know. Do you enjoy dancing with me like with other girls?

She looked so embarrassed. Ashamed.

A rush of reactions, all jumbled:

  • Poor darling.
  • I wanna punch wtv loser(s) made her think she is fat and heavy. Girl had the same curvy shape as me, just a wee bit shorter. She weighed 145lbs tops, 5ft6-5ft7.
  • Why is she asking me this now, when Fabricio is talking? How on earth can I properly answer this, without disrespecting him by talking in class?!
  • How long has she been waiting to find someone she feels comfortable enough to ask this question to? It must be because I am a girl, so she feels less scared to ask me this. I hope I don’t fuck this moment up

I whispered back my honest answer that, no, she is FINE. She is a good follower, maybe a bit tense, but the heaviness of the follower, ESPECIALLY for this tricky spin, is a function of the leader’s ability to keep her center of gravity stable, not a function of her weight. And besides, I’ve danced with women that weigh well over 200lbs, and they can feel lighter, easier to lead, more responsive than some cute little twig bombshell hottie. Fabricio turned to look our way, so I kept quiet so as to not further disrupt the class. I could have said more, but she left class before I could find her and wrap up our convo.

I am by no means a small girl (5ft9, 160-165lbs/74-75kgs on a slim week). I’ve battled my body insecurities for years (here and here). I am taller than all my dance partners, even the ones that are not wee:

My bigger proportions (weight and height) has been problematic in the team – I am limited in who I can partner with for fear of injuring the guys’ backs on some of the lifts. It shouldn’t upset me, but it definitely makes me self conscious. At the same time, I can’t exactly fault them for occasionally struggling with catching a moving airborn target of 165lbs. Obvi, in those cases, they prefer dancing with a twig bombshell hottie. #backinjuriesaretheworst

I wish I could have convinced her that my enjoyment is not based on the girl’s weight but on her ability to embrace the connection. That its a question of vulnerability. Something that I struggle with too as a follower, and that is ok.

I wish I could have told her that any dude that tried to blame her for being difficult to dance with – specifically on her weight – was a jackass, a loser with an ego too fragile to own up to his failings as a leader, so he had to go crush her self-esteem instead. It is ALWAYS the leader’s fault. It is the LEADER that must communicate, guide, adapt to the follower. I wish she could take a class with Teacher, because Teacher goes ape-shit when he hears of some of the bullshit “his girls” are told by dudes on the dancefloor. Teacher’s famous piece of advice:

Leaders, if you bust out a move with a girl on the dancefloor and she doesn’t get it, ok, maybe you messed it up, you weren’t clear, your timing was a little off. Take a time out, calm yourself, get that adrenaline under control, do a few a basic steps. If you bust out that move a 2nd time, and she doesn’t get it again, ok maybe she is a beginner or a bad follower. So do a little 1-2 step, get her to relax and smile. That’s your job.

But leaders, if you then bust out that SAME move a third time in the same song… you’re just an asshole.

Dancing is about making sure your partner is having a good time, not about you going on an ego trip and putting your need to succeed a move ahead of your partner’s skills and enjoyment.

Nothing to do about weight in there.

I wish I’d told her she was beautiful.

I wish I could have told her to own her ginga.

I hope she believed me.

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Beauty and Ginga in Paris

Last weekend, my dance school hosted Eliza Sala, an Angolan dance instructor. She blew our collective minds. She taught a bootcamp on Ginga. Ginga is a term that usually refers to the movement of the hips of dancers of kizomba. Eliza explained to us that Ginga is so much more: it’s a lifestyle, a celebration of one’s body. It is an attitude, unique to every dancer. It is self-expression and joy, coordinated fluidity and grace. To quote Urban Dictionary,

Ginga means absolute bliss or happiness. It means “not to take life too seriously and to confront hardship with the right combination of toes, heels and hips”.

Eliza Sala IS ginga. Without doubt.

My dance style is very stiff. As I explain here, I do not relish being in the spotlight. I do not like being seen. Aka, I do not enjoy my ginga. I do not believe in it. I do not celebrate it. I hide it.

Eliza gave me an excellent piece of advice:

Dancing starts with posture: posture dictates technique. You cannot transfer your weight properly if your posture is not aligned. If you do not transfer your weight, your hips will naturally be blocked, and you will have stopped the flow of your body and ginga.

I notice your posture is slightly hunched. Hands folded, shoulders forward. It looks tentative, uncertain. Like you are hiding. Make sure your posture is a reflection of who you are. When I look at you, I see a girl who is happy, confident, out-going and friendly. Your posture should show that. Even if you don’t feel like that on the dance floor, stand up straight and tall, with your shoulders back. You will feel more confident. And soon you will be more confident because your posture will improve your technique.

Seriously tho. She follows her own advice. Only 2 ppl in that pic are fully owning their space without a hint of self-consciousness: Eliza and Teacher.


Paris is special.

Paris celebrates beauty at every turn. The urban planning, the architecture, the food, the music, the language, the accent. The women who breathe style. The men with fashion on point. The wine. Everything is ALWAYS done with a consideration and care for presentation. “Putting one’s best foot forward” isn’t an expression, it’s a value system, built on centuries of art and philosophy and joie de vivre.

Everything is done with care. In the smallest detail, there is beauty. A iron-wrought door. A park bench angled just right to see the river. The space between the trees in the French gardens so that the sun can shine through the leaves.

The city spends millions and millions and MILLIONS of Euros a year to illuminate its buildings at night, because the views are breath-taking. And the tax-payers happily support that! Because tax-payers are proud of the heritage and beauty of their city. Paris IS beauty, and beauty requires a cost to maintain, so everyone chips in.

(For you environmentalists out there, Paris also has a ridiculously high ratio of electric cars, free electric docking stations, subsidized bikes, bike paths, a very sophisticated public transportation system that makes driving unnecessary… Paris invests in its beauty… responsibly. Because beauty cannot survive in a silo. Beauty requires a thriving healthy community.)

In every facet of life, Parisians promote beauty. I’ve never seen accounting reports and presentations that are as slick as those of my French coworkers. I am a pretty damn good communicator, but my reports look like a 4th grader’s compared to theirs. They will spend the same amount of time doing their analysis as they will working on the format and presentation of their findings, because that’s just how they do. To them, its self evident: one’s presentation of self is what people will remember. It is your brand. Take care of your brand, because no one else will and because it’s the only one you have. Make your brand look good.

Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, because everyone who lives here appreciates beauty and works to promote it.


A funny thing has happened while I am in Paris.

I am waking up earlier (6:30am instead of 7:30am), to enjoy my shower and take the time to get ready, putting on makeup and perfume before I leave my hotel room (as opposed to my usual habit of slapping on mascara after 2 coffees AFTER getting to the office), doing my hair in creative new ways. I walk for 30 minutes every morning to breathe in the sounds and smells of Paris. I am willing to trade 30 minutes of sleep for 30 minutes of quiet beauty to start my day off right. My mind feels quieter. The result of this work week is a very intimidating 2018 ahead, but instead of panicking or my shadow’s usual soundtrack of worry and inadequacy, I feel calm and committed. I feel like writing, for the first time in months. My voice is coming back. I am walking with confidence. I am walking taller. I have better posture.

In a city where beauty is celebrated at every turn, for it’s own sake, I feel I belong. I am who I am, and who I am has a spot here. For someone who has trouble seeing my own beauty… that’s a huge realization.

Beauty really can save the world. It is saving me.

Beauty + joy + self-confidence + attitude + celebration… words that describe Paris. They also apply to Ginga.

Eliza Sala + Paris = recognizing that I too have beauty to offer to the world. I want to discover my unique Ginga now.

#ownyourginga

#IreallyreallyreallyREALLYneedtomovehere

#reallytho


Recap of previous posts involving Paris:

A beautiful pivot

I barely made it to the holidays. Exhausted. Completely useless. Brain dead. The depression had leveled off, keeping me trapped in this constant state of anxiety and misery. Couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t cry, couldn’t do anything.

The only thing I could do? Go dancing. I’ve explained it best here:

Dancing is the next step. To dance is to accept one’s spot in space and to be seen as one is, imperfections and all, rather than as one would like to be perceived. To dance kizomba is to accept connection. It is an intimate, sensual, physical dance: chest and legs touching.  As a follower I must accept the leader’s lead: that requires giving up control, trusting him to guide me with clarity so that I can translate that into movement. It is a form of vulnerability. By accepting to follow, I must accept that I will sometimes get it wrong: I won’t understand, I’ll step on the leader’s toes & stumble, I’ll react too slowly, I’ll fuckup his intentions. I must accept that my imperfections will be seen and trust that the leader will treat them with kindness and patience and work through them so we can create something lovely together. My overriding need for perfectionism is one of the ways my shadow wears me down into depression, bc perfectionism is incompatible with compassion and vulnerability, the two cornerstones of human connection. By dancing, therefore, I am weakening my perfectionist tendencies, and strengthening my capacity for compassion and tolerance for vulnerability. By dancing, I am keeping my shadow at bay.

3 different dudes (Teacher, Vermont, Dubai), 3 different connections, 3 different smiles.

On New Years Eve, I came down with the flu. There is very little that I can say about the flu that is positive, but it does have one slight perk: when your entire body is so sick that you are exhausted from laying in bed, even your brain takes a breather from its usual vicious soundtrack. It did notice that very few people seemed care that I was bailing on the parties, and even fewer texted me at midnight – proof that I am unlovable! – but then it yawned and agreed with me that the best thing to do right at that moment was to take a nap.

For 2 days, my depression was on hold because I was too busy not dying from the flu.

On day 3, I noticed this on Instagram:

I realized that I’d stopped seeking out beauty. Unlike feelings, which are muted – depression is like living in a colorless world, or being colorblind – the capacity to see beauty does not disappear during a depressive episode. Beauty is always just that: beautiful. What does change during depression is the willingness or the capacity to notice beauty without significant effort. A depressed person can walk past an architectural wonder without blinking. But if someone stops them, and says, “look!” (depression and anxiety make stopping risky, bc having stopped, its very difficult to find the wherewithal to start going once again), a depressed person will not be blind to the beauty in front of them.

It occurred to me that seeking out beauty might prove to be a valuable coping mechanism against my depression. Beauty and humanity are close cousins. Humanity is the antithesis of depression. Having made this resolve, I’ve tried very hard this week to notice the smallest of beautiful things, from how pretty my street looks covered in snow, to how lovely Teacher and his partner look when they dance together.

It also occurred to me that while I am comfortable noticing beauty in others, I am extremely uncomfortable with anyone seeing me as a source of beauty. I delight in encouraging others to take their spot on the dance-floor, watching them express themselves fully. But turn the spot-light on me? I hate it. I will dance a few beats and pull someone onto the floor to take my place. Why do I hate it so much? Moments in the spotlight are nothing more than moments when I will be evaluated and found inadequate. While I value those moments of connection with my dance partners when socially dancing, I do not believe that alone, during a dance off or a performance, my dancing has any merit whatsoever, and it is only reasonable that others pick up on that, and find my dancing lacking. I do not believe in my dancing. I do not believe in what my dancing has to offer. I inherently do not believe in my own brand of beauty.

I’ve come a long way from the days when I couldn’t bear to watch myself in the mirror or see myself on video. I am now comfortable occupying my space. A significant victory! But I am still a ways from appreciating, and valuing my own vitality, my own expression:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.― Martha Graham

2018: the year I accept my own beauty. I’ve a hunch that doing so will prove to be one of the biggest new tools in my tool box against my sick brain.

Angolan ballet

Let us play a guessing game. Who said these 3 quotes?

Quote 1: How does a dancer become more musical?

A person’s body first has to learn to sing in silence. Then you can talk about what you are doing with a musical phrase.

Quote 2: What life lessons has dance taught you?

Good work comes with team effort, not in isolation. Searching for truth in movement, finding intention behind movement is essential like it is in life. The pride of worldly success will not bring any lasting peace and can easily destroy a person’s soul. Anything exceptional requires great struggle. That the necessity in dance to apply strict boundaries in order to attain freedom can be a starting point for finding a similar truth in everyday life.

Quote 3: What do dancers have to learn on their own that no one can teach them?

Sacrifice. The desire to explore. You can inspire that, but you cannot teach it.

So. Was it Teacher who said those quotes? Could be, as each of his Fbk posts echo those statements. He has a few other maxims that he has drilled into the team’s collective consciousness:

  • “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
  • “I don’t listen to the music, I learn the music.”
  • “Dance with punctuation.”
  • “There is no I in team.”

He grudgingly acknowledges that most of us work full-time, some team members even have two jobs, and cannot practice endlessly. I think it drives him bonkers, because he sees our potential and wants to work us to our max, but real world considerations limit him. The notion that we are not aiming to be professional dancers is a tenuous one in his mind. He approximately accepts it, but doesn’t fully understand it. His soul needs dance the way our bodies need oxygen. Without dance, Teacher would not be.

So. Was it he that said those quotes? Nope.

Gelsey Kirkland, arguably the greatest American ballerina of all time, whose career dominated international headlines in the 70s and 80s. She joined the New York City Ballet at age 15, at the personal invitation of Balanchine (aka the man who revolutionized ballet worldwide and gave it the aesthetic we recognize today), was promoted to principal ballerina by 19, had a dozen roles created in her honor, jumped ship at 24 to go to the rival American Ballet Theater, where she partnered for close to a decade with the great Baryshnikov. Unfortunately, terrible taste in men (she had multiple affairs with ballet dancers – men & artists? OYE!!!!) and paralyzing perfectionism triggered a self-destructive combination of cocaine, anorexia, bulimia and tantrums, which led to her quitting/getting fired from the ABT around 1980… only to make her comeback 3 years later at the Royal Opera Ballet in London. THAT’s how spectacular she was: despite a well mediatized drug addiction, one of the top ballet companies in the world wanted her back on the stage. She nailed her comeback, too.

Ballet. Kizomba. Worlds apart. Literally: Africa vs Western world. Diametric different styles. Teacher: male. Gelsey Kirkland: female. And yet. They are the same.  They are artists who must submit themselves to an all-consuming passion. They are dance. They lives are messy, Shakespearean tragedies. Their behavior can be alienating (Gelsey Kirkland published two infamous autobiographies, which outline in detail just how off-putting she could be), but they are ruled by the truth of dance. And because of that, because of their relentless pursuit of truth in movement, people respond to them. In a world that is confusing, often dishonest, invariably unfair, stumbling upon a person whose life is ruled by the need to capture truth – any truth – is a breath of fresh air.

As my shadow seeks to blot out the sunshine in my life, I feel a deep sympathy with these complicated artists. I cling to dance because of those moments of truth they reveal. And because each revelation is physical, experienced through my body, those moments are stored deep in the very biological makeup of my cells and give me ammunition to fight my poisonous brain.

The dance goes on forever. So shall I. So shall we. – Gelsey Kirkland

Bread with chips

Previously, in the series of Google Translated Kizomba lyrics:

 

Hold me
Scrub me
Give me only a kiss on the cheek.

Hold memo
Press memo
Very strong, it gives only good sweetness.
You have hair
But this is all yours
Your beauty covers my eyes.
I’m in love with uhh
You’re a show
Because you do not have one
Your sweet smell is so sweet.
And finding you I want a baby.
I’m your ass.
Let’s make it happen like
Bread with tea
Grab me now
Long brunette plus eh
It’s cool
baby come to look at me
Come, come and love me.
Come come
Let’s make it happen like
Bread with Chips

There is a lot to unpack in this song. The dude practices good hygiene, and engages in chaste sexual behaviour. He likes a girl with hair – no wig – who smells good. Very specific. But he can’t actually see her, because her beauty is in the way. She seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis: she is show, but does not have show. He, meanwhile, is undergoing some biological confusion, both wanting a baby, whilst finding himself bound inside her posterior chain. Rather than consulting a doctor or a physiotherapist – foam rolling does wonders for soft tissue problem areas like the butt- he seeks remedy via natural treatments: bread with tea, with a side dish of chips as a snack. I suppose being in love is a good excuse for food.

Kizomba lyrics, yo. They never disappoint. Yet kizomba undeniably remains a sensual dance.

Bread with Chips!

Dancefloor drama IV: Pain, adrenaline and a show

It’s a funny thing, memory. I know my history as a cripple – I see the scars on my knees every day, my limited range of motion in my left knee, the fear of escalators (from my days of being on crutches, and having difficulty clambering onto the escalators going down, with people standing around me sighing impatiently or brushing past me, jostling my precarious one-legged balance, petrified of falling face first and risking serious cuts and disfigurement). I’ve worked very hard in the past 8 years to break through that identity of a cripple, slowly gaining mobility and strength and growing into an almost-athlete. My legacy follows me: I have some serious muscle imbalances, and squats are the bane of my existence from decades of maladaptive physical behaviours. I still have a slight limp. My arthritis has leveled off, I know how to anticipate the flare ups, and manage them. I’ve learned how far I can push my body without irritating my knee. Overall, the past few years have been great.

On Tuesday, in dance class we learned some weird twisty pivot. It hurt. I thought it was because I was tired – I had just finished a badass deadlift workout with Coach aka Dr. Booté. But then we did an hour of kuduro, pounding the studio floor with gusto and emphasis. My knee ached. I longed for bed. I opened my eyes on Wednesday morning and immediately knew something was very wrong. My knee had been replaced by a radiating ball of pain, that had nothing to do with movement. Lying down: pain. Walking: pain. Sitting: pain. Crossed legs: pain. Weight bearing or not, immobile or not, bent or straight, my knee ached from the deepest part outwards. I had to look down to believe that I was walking normally: I could feel my foot land on the pavement, and my hip movement, but nothing in between. No idea what my body was doing, because I had swapped my knee for a fireball of pain that obliterated normal nerve signals from my skin, muscles and joint.

I’d forgotten how devastating chronic, intense pain is. By Thursday morning I’d put on 10lbs of water retention despite barely eating anything on Wednesday because I’d been too nauseous from the pain to eat anything. My swollen bloated body was actively trying to fight the inflammation, and failing. I still have not scabbed over a slight cut I gave myself Wednesday morning, while shaving my legs in the shower: it’s angry, red and nasty, bc my body’s immune system is entirely dedicated to my knee. My knee is hot to the touch, and I wake up most nights drenched in sweat, as my body tries to fight through the fever of infection.

At work, people asked me if I was ok – something about my voice seemed off, not my usual explosively moody tone. I couldn’t concentrate on much, because 90% of my brain was distracted with the sickening feeling of my knee rotting. Not a hyperbole. That is exactly what this is. I’d forgotten that the most serious side-effect of my childhood injuries was chronic synovitis of the knee. Long term occurrence of synovitis can result in degeneration of the joint. As my adolescent synovitis attacks typically lasted between 3-24 months, my doctor explained that coupled with my osteoarthritis, I was doomed to have a rotten knee by 30. Wednesday, suffering from my first synovitis flare-up in almost a decade, I doubted my body’s ability to last till 35 without requiring an artificial knee.  So if y’all were wondering why I’ve been rather silent on this blog, voilà. Pain is exhausting, leaving me with no energy to form coherent thoughts. Nor does it allow me to live anything  particularly exciting because all I want to do is go home and sit in a pained stupor.

Enter Hurricane Teacher. Last minute, he got us a gig on Saturday. There is a shortage of girls on the team that know the most recent choreography. Of course I would perform. What did I mean my knee hurt? Everyone had something broken about them, don’t be a wuss Vanilla, this is showbiz. Pop some pills, suck it up, rest afterwards. Don’t let the team down. Who will your partner perform with if you bail? I hoped the adrenaline of performing would carry me through the weekend.

It did.

 

That dress tho. A last minute find, bought 4 hours before showtime. Forever 21. $30, discounted to $12CAD. That is less than $10USD!!!! I couldn’t particularly move in it, despite hanging out in an Asian sit & kneeling in it for about 20-30 minutes before the show to stretch it out. My partner complained it made it very difficult for him to concentrate on his steps – his view was too distracting. I told him he should thank me: with that dress, he and I could flub everything, and not a single male in the audience would notice.

 

We did good. It was a great night.

Everything went smoothly, except for the last part of the choreography where I tripped over my own foot and impaled my big toe with my high heel. Stilettos are dangerous, y’all!

It has taken 24 hours for the adrenaline to wear off. I was hopeful that my knee miraculously healed itself through performing. Nope. #definitelyworthittho #backtomyhermitcave

 

“Kizomba will change your life”

So says Teacher. Teacher is prone to grandiose and/or hyperbolic statements, and teaching kizomba is his life’s work, so this is a reasonable comment coming from him. But I’m an accountant, y’all. His world and my world have little in common.


I’ve never made friends easily. Social situations still trigger the same bewilderment, dismay and hurt as an adult as they did when I was a child. I mostly blame ADD: it is very difficult to assimilate all the inputs into my brain and organize coherent, timely responses. Cue apparent inattentiveness and impulsiveness, which is not helpful in social settings. I’ve developed 2 public personas: 1) aloof, reserved, polite but very standoffish professional who keeps convos brief and to the point 2) the social butterfly, stopping to say hello, but flitting off to welcome the next person before a full sentence has been uttered. Both personas have been extremely useful in masking my ADD and periodic breach of manners. But they are not helpful in making friends.

My close friends (Dynamo, Allie, Coach, DD, Blond’Fro) have been made through the persistent efforts of these individuals, at university, work and gym/boxing. Through frequent and repetitive interactions, they saw past my 2 personas and got used to my quirky self, while I grew to trust that they will treat me with kindness even when I mess up. I make friends despite myself, very very gradually, over years.


I started dancing kizomba about 9 months ago. What I thought was a rejection of the sexy (I walked out of my first kizomba class after 15 mins, so uncomfortable was I by the proximity of my dance partner, a guy I’d happily danced with for 2 months in salsa class) was in fact a rejection of the necessary state of vulnerability for two dance partners to connect and dance. It’s been an arduous journey to embrace the connection between me and each dance partner, and it’s something I still struggle with regularly, especially in the midst of this funk, much to my partners’ frustration.

Earlier this month, the presence of the Vermont franchise of Teacher’s dance school was requested in Montreal, rather unexpectedly. Chatting with one of the members, I learned the VT crew was having difficulty finding reasonably situated or priced accommodation on such short notice. On impulse, I offered them floor space in my apartment: if they brought their gear, they could camp chez moi for free. It would involve some planning, as I was not going to be home – it was Allie’s bachelorette – but as long as they came to find me and picked up my spare keys, I was totally cool with them setting themselves up in my absence.

Y’all. Hosting 4-5 ppl, whom I have met a handful of times over the past 9 months, chez moi, in my space, would have been outside the realm of possible realities a year ago. And yet, when I think back to all that’s happened in the year that I’ve been dancing under Teacher’s tutelage:

  • December 2016: Teacher convinced me (after 3 months of dancing) to attend a huge festival in Madrid, where I knew nobody other than him and his dance partner, and I crashed in their hotel room with 2 other ppl I’d never met before – incidentally, that’s the weekend I first met one of the VTers: all the other VTers I met in 2017.
  • March 2017: Dubai. Attending a festival alone. Forging deep friendships with several strangers over that 4 day period. Fast forward to June, my annual birthday workation in France, and why not stop by Toulouse, and meet up with Froman? 4 days in Dubai has translated into a legit, real friendship. The list of ppl I met in Dubai that I hope to cross paths with once again, and still keep in touch with, is long. Some are regular readers of this blog. Kinda blows my mind.
  • May 2017: I went camping (first time in my adult life!) with Blonde, a guy from our dance squad, and 2 other strangers. I slept in a tent (words I never expected to write during my lifetime) with Blonde who I’d known for less than 4 months at that point and a dude I’d known for less than 12 hours. And I enjoyed myself while camping with these ppl.
  • August 2017: Opening up my apartment to my VT colleagues. It was an absolutely lovely weekend. I had so much fun showing them around my neighborhood, eating coffee and breakfast sandwichs in the park next to my place, and getting to know them. We danced too much, laughed a lot, and when it came time to say our goodbyes, one of the VTers told me “that was nice. I liked you before, but I like you even more now.”

All of this would have been impossible 12 months ago. 2 years ago? Laughable.


Clearly my life has changed since taking up kizomba. And it all boils down to vulnerability.

So this is what I learned. We numb vulnerability — when we’re waiting for the call. It was funny, I sent something out on Twitter and on Facebook that says, “How would you define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?” And within an hour and a half, I had 150 responses. Because I wanted to know what’s out there. Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.

And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — We are the most in-debt … obese … addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.

You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle. (…)

But there’s another way, and I’ll leave you with this. This is what I have found: To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough” … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability

To dance is to (attempt to) embrace vulnerability. And just like you can’t selectively numb emotion, I don’t think I can selectively embrace vulnerability.

I’ve become more vulnerable, and as a result, my capacity to connect to people off the dance-floor has completely changed for the better.

“Kizomba will change your life.”

Fact.