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 My knee had been replaced by a radiating ball of pain, that had nothing to do with movement.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

 

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Play to your strengths 

Remember Ferrari boy? He whose smooth talk convinced me to eat too much pizza at work? When I told the Ferrari story to my #dreamteam, they scoffed at me – Charmer was over 30, for sure. I scoffed at them: I’ve developed a 6th sense at identifying all guys under 26 years old. The gym and the dance world is crammed with good looking almost-children charmers. I ain’t into the whole cradle-robbing thing. Auntie Vanilla, that’s me. Not Cougar Vanilla. Charmer was under 25, I could tell. I bet a week’s supply of chocolate on it.

He is 30. My team was thorough in their interrogation, even sharing with him the reason for their cross-examination – they don’t mess around when there is chocolate on the line.

I skipped the caf for almost 2 weeks. Auntie Vanilla was embarrassed. My team was delighted. They finished the chocolate in 2 days.


When I was 25, after 6 years with my ex, Dynamo and Brown Socks organized a road trip to TO. We were all single, why not behave irresponsibly in a city where nobody knew us? Our first night out, Brown Socks told me not to worry, he’s an excellent wingman, he’d help me find myself a dude. Bruh. Puh-lease. Watch me. Off I went to the best looking group of dudes at the bar, chatting them up, flirting up a storm with the best looking one of them, blond, built like a football linebacker – oh no way, you are a football player? Where? at UofT! Neat, wait how are old are you? 20?! Haha, noooooooooooo way, nice try, look at your muscle tone. You must be 23-24 at least. Footballer chose not to argue with me about his own age, #goodmanners. A few shots later, we were swapping saliva. In the bar, bc #classy. Footballer knew what he was doing (see?! proof he couldn’t actually be 20 years old!). Kissy kiss kiss, I was really enjoying myself when my brain interrupted: Yes, but are you sure he isn’t 20? The half-your-age+7 rule almost applies, you know. He has to be over 19.5 for you not to be crossing the line. Why would he lie about his age? And that is how I found myself putting the torrid make-out session on pause, and asking Footballer for a piece of ID. Bemused, he handed me his driver’s license. Born in 1990. 20 years old.

My legs gave way. I sat down, gave him back his driver’s license and apologized. No more kissy kiss kiss. Yes, I know we were having fun, but that was before I understood he was actually 20 and BORN THE DECADE AFTER ME. 1990 is a HARD LIMIT. Poor Footballer tried SO hard to convince me to resume our spit-tastic interactions. I waved him away.

Dynamo and Brown Socks almost fell off the balcony, laughing so hard. They giggled the entire drive home the next day, too.

Click on the gif to go to the YouTube video of that interview. It is soooooo funny.


7 years on, and my capacity to assess people’s age has clearly not improved. 

Friday, I went down to the caf for lunch. Charmer almost dropped a bowl of soup on his coworker as I walked up to the counter. He was so generous in his preparation of my order that he ran out of space in the normal sized takeout container, and gave me a 2nd container for my salad. As he handed me my food, very seriously, he told me, Vanilla you look good. Really good.

Look at all that food! The size of my head!


Lesson learned: Charmer responds rather well to mini-skirts. That was one of the most cost effective lunches ever. The fact that it was also an ego boost? Priceless.

Also? I’ve no idea how I ever thought he was 19-23 years old. #fail #atleastIdidntaskhimforID #agoodbossalwaysdelegatesthattoherteam

Cat therapy

Allie asked me to house-sit during her two week honeymoon with William. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, it’s been 9 days and so far both cat and plants are still alive. #overachiever

The first few times their cat clambered into my bed and snuggled in the crook of my knees, I was startled. Now, if I don’t wake up to her paws stepping over my shoulder to curl up next to my face for a 10 minute session of morning breath cuddles & purring, I am a little disappointed. Wonders’ll never cease.

Last weekend, I kept it low-key. My funk has mostly stopped sliding out of control – treading water totally beats being pulled willy-nilly by the current of my shadow – but I’m nowhere close to being fully myself. I am still exhausted by life, and after the previous week’s hectic wedding activities, I was craving the hermit life.

I don’t own a TV – I am rarely home long enough to make it worthwhile, and I definitely have the type of personality that is susceptible to binge watching shows on Netflix to the point that social and professional life are compromised. So just like I don’t bring any junk food, candy or bread into my home, no TV. 

Allie has a nice TV. 

What better way to spend my Saturday evening than with wine and some good entertainment? Allie’s cat definitely thought it was a good idea.

Scrolling through Netflix, so much appealed to me, but I kept coming back to the Sherlock (BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch aka Bae aka the only man other than Jon Stewart that I’ll ever love). My mom discovered Sherlock when it first came out in 2011: we watched the first season during my family dinners. We loved that show! We intended on watching Season 2, episode 1 together soon after my 28 bday, but she died before I could get my shit together to go visit her.

Many people encouraged me throughout Seasons 2-4 to keep watching the show. I couldn’t bring myself to. 5 years, I refused to watch that show. My godmother even offered to have sleepovers where she’d cook and coddle me and we could watch it together, just us girls. I couldn’t.

Until this weekend, buoyed by all the love from Allie’s wedding, in her condo, with her cat purring next to me. It still hurt, but I felt safe enough to try work through that painful mix of emotions.

Season 2: done. #toldyaIdbingewatch

Fall is upon us, which I always find hard, I miss her awful, but clearly the gaping wound caused by her sudden death is finally starting to heal. 

Who’d have thought a fur ball would do me so much good?!

“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.

Fairytale weddings require leprechauns

It was Allie‘s wedding this weekend. She looked like a princess, got married in a castle in Vieux-Québec, her knight in shining armor looked dashing in his blue suit and spiffy bow tie, and it went off without a hitch.

Except.

Remember Brown Socks and Tinker Bell? Here they are, still happily married and adorable 2 years on.

Since Dynamo couldn’t make it to the wedding because of Mini-Boom’s late arrival 6 days ago, Brown Socks and Tinker Bell took it upon themselves to keep Dynamo informed of all of the proceedings. Which is why I got periodic texts from Dynamo throughout the day, including edifying ones such as:

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Brown Socks deserves to spend a few hours in a special area of hell. We all know that one should NEVER photograph a woman eating. Especially a woman scarfing down delicious poutine at midnight after a long day of wedding festivities.

My friends, y’all. Can’t take them anywhere in public.


Allie has asked me to house sit her condo during her 2 week honeymoon. (Incidentally, she still doesn’t know where her honeymoon will be. Her hubby William – so named because he is British, he is her Prince Charming, he has a similar hair sitch to Prince William, and theirs is a fairytale marriage with a happily ever after – has not told her, only instructing her to pack clothes for a warm climate & her hiking boots. She will find out their destination upon arriving at the airport… assuming it is a direct flight. I find this so romantic, and indicative of the levels of trust between Allie and her hubby. Allie, to put it mildly, is a bit of a control freak. Yet she completely trusts that William will plan an idyllic honeymoon. Le cuteness-overload!) I’m under strict orders to not kill her 2 plants and cat during their 2 week absence. Never let it be said that I back down from a challenge, no matter how formidable it may be!

Her maid of honor, upon hearing of this arrangement, commented, “You know what Vanilla? It might do you some good to take care of a living creature.”

Allie’s friends, y’all. Can’t take them anywhere in public.


Some weddings are boring. Some weddings are lame. Some weddings train-wrecks where you wonder if the couple will make it to their first wedding anniversary.

And then there was Allie & William’s wedding.

It was a celebration of the beginning of their Happily Ever After. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind, least of all Allie’s and William’s, that theirs will be a marriage that lasts until death does them part. Their bond is almost palpable. They bring out the best in one another. While neither is blind to the other’s faults, they chose to celebrate each other’s constant work at becoming all they can be, and in doing so, they are a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a wondrous thing to observe.

A perfect day. Everything went off without a hitch, every guest from the wee babies to the great-grandparents was on their best behavior. There were many tears throughout the day, but only of joy. My cheeks still hurt from smiling so much.


Not gonna lie, I really enjoyed dressing up. Baby pink is not my go-to color, but the makeup artist and hairdresser were brilliant in giving me that slight edge that made the look me, without ruining the romantic, soft, elegant vibe Allie worked so hard to create. I felt like a million bucks. More importantly? I felt like I belonged in this fairytale.

Once upon a time, I would have felt that the happiness Allie has found was not something I could aspire to. Her unshakeable belief in the worthiness and goodness of all the people she loves would have felt like a burden, something I was unworthy of. Without doubt, I fall short of her vision of me, but rather than feel shame, I want to knuckle-down and work on becoming the good person she believes me to be. And in doing so, it no longer feels quite impossible that one day, I will experience a fairytale of my own.

That Allie. What a force of nature.

Mini-Boom

That moment when your bestie becomes a father.

That’s right. Mrs. Dynamite gave birth yesterday to Mini-Boom. A healthy baby, miniature and perfect. Mommy, Daddy and baby were all happy and exhausted when I left them yesterday.

As I gently touched my Muslim godson (yes, I am Auntie Vanilla, his non-Muslim godmother), I whispered my prayers for him,

Mini-boom, you are gonna grow up to be as smart as your daddy and as funny as your mommy. You will perpetuate their legacy of kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity. You will appreciate the satisfaction of a hard day’s work, and not be afraid to stand by your moral convictions. You will be open-minded. And you will be brave. I don’t want you have an easy life. I want you to have a full life, which means you will be faced with difficult moments and you will navigate them with honor and integrity. You will have dreams, and you will follow them.

I love you. You are my Bingi, my darling. We are family. You don’t know this yet, but you have a huge family, blood related and not, who will take a bullet for you, face down the monsters under your bed and in the real world. You are loved, you will always be loved, and you, in turn, will love wisely and truly.

And then Dynamo showed me the video of Mini-Boom’s birth, the moment Mrs. Dynamite first heard her son’s cries, and I cried. To be accurate, I should describe my crying as sniveling and hiccuped sobbing, an overwhelming rush of emotion I’ve never felt before, wonderment, joy and awe. For once, for once, Dynamo did not make fun of me – he deemed that to be an appropriate reaction to something that far transcends the limits of words and language.

Mabrook!

That time my life was a TLC song lyric

I have been struggling with body acceptance lately, but 2-3 weeks at the gym with Coach Dr. Booté and I feel a lot better about it. Do I wanna lose 10 lbs? Sure, and I probably will. But I can look at myself in the mirror and say to myself “not bad, you’ll do”. #progress

I went dancing this week for fun, not as part of the team or dance squad. I dressed up, because it is easier to let myself be vulnerable when I am not feeling insecure about my looks – putting my best foot forward. #immyfathersdaughter #badpunsareathinginmyfamily

I had a good night of dancing, with many partners, most of them excellent leads, and my capacity to relax into a state of vulnerability to achieve the necessary connection with my partners wasn’t terrible. #practicemakesperfect #dancingasacopingmechanismagainstmyshadow. While waiting for my Uber outside the club, a car drove past me, and guy leaned out of the passenger window and yelled, “GIIIIIIIRL! YOU HAVE ASS FOR DAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYSSSSSSSSS”.

Not gonna lie, I really enjoyed that. Both because as far as cat-calls go, it was well articulated, properly enunciated and grammatically correct, and because I never expected that my life would be a TLC lyric, incarnate:

A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me
Hanging at the passenger side of his best friend’s ride
Trying to holler at me

That’s the second time I’ve been creatively cat-called on that same street corner. My new go-to location for an ego boost.

#itsthesmallthings

#hewouldhaveassfordaystooifhesquatted

#IcanintroducehimtoCoach

#backtobeingpromotionalmaterialforthegym