ballet

Kizomba is a dance of the world. Until it’s not.

As the child of immigrants, I’ve often laughed at the culture clashes and distinctive behavioural patterns – My Big Fat Greek Wedding is almost an autobiography, apart from the small detail of the wrong country (Russia), and how I am still unmarried. I live in a world where race, culture, nationality are visible, identifiable, noticeable. I am not color-blind when it comes to skin: I celebrate the entire rainbow. However, North American society is not tolerant towards minorities, prejudice and bias run deep,​ systemic discrimination and white privilege are real, not debatable. Previous musings include:

The more I’ve tried to educate myself to avoid unconscious biases about minorities, the more I’ve learned about the commonly held perceptions about whites, and I’m uncomfortably aware of the weight of my white privilege and just how impossible it is for others to be color-blind when they see my skin color. #lossofinnocence #poorlittlewhitegirl


My eclectic tastes draw me equally to ballet as to African dances like kuduro/semba/kizomba. Unfortunately, not only do I have negative sensuality, but it is a well known fact: white people can’t dance. I mean, if Dave Chapelle says so, it must be true? Still, I can’t help it. The music makes me feel alive.

After one too many comments about how I can’t shake my hips like the other girls in the class, GT pulled me aside at a party and told me I should stop making such disparaging skin-based comments: it made the others uncomfortable. It was a silly stereotype, it wasn’t true, I was part of the team, not all black people can dance, just drop it Vanilla, ok? It’s in bad taste. Because I was too wrapped up in my insecurities, I didn’t listen to him. A few weeks later, following a constructive criticism during practice from Teacher, my response of “yes, well I CAN’T pop my hips any more, I’m white, I’m missing a few joints to have that kind of mobility” produced a tirade from Teacher.

I’m sick of this “white” business. There is no white, there is no black, there is just dance. You are not a white dancer. You are A dancer. Your job is to move to the music. Music doesn’t care what color your skin is. We all hear the same music, we all dance to the same music. Yes, kizomba is from Angola, but every country dances kizomba. One of the biggest kizomba festivals in the world is in Moscow. And in Sweden. And in the Netherlands. Are you going to tell me all those people can’t dance? Kizomba is a dance of the world. Stop with this stupid bullshit and get to work. I told you to pop your hips. Pop them.

Ok then.


Back when Beaut introduced me to Kizomba: “The music is so good! Except for the French Kizomba music, that stuff is crap. And there is so much of it! The French love to believe they invented Kizomba. They think it’s theirs now, they have quite the history of claiming whatever they like from other cultures.”

Walking home from dance class last week, I ran into a guy I used to kickbox with many years ago. Beautiful black guy from Europe, he always was a looker. We chatted a few minutes, catching up on each other’s life. When he found out I’d quit boxing for dancing, he was intrigued. “What kind of dancing?” Kuduro/Semba/Kizomba, with the odd moment of Salsa. “Lol, taking us over, are you? Hey, relax, I was joking. It’s cool, you have good taste at least.”

Kizomba is a dance of the world… a world in which whites have a long, violent history of cultural appropriation.


I love my school. I love how much enjoyment we derive from watching each other grow as dancers. We are all on the same journey together, regardless of our individual levels of competency. When I am with my team, I do start to believe that dancing is dancing, and kizomba/semba/kuduro is a dance of the world.

At the end of yesterday’s kuduro class we had a boys vs girls showdown. The cheering in these videos makes me so happy. (Same choreography as in this post.)

​​

Just like my boxing gym was a perfect example of what could be if tolerance, respect and acceptance were the norm instead of the exception, my dance school gives me hope that occasionally, as a species, we can set aside our differences long enough to listen to the music and enjoy a quick dance. Fun fact: my boxing gym and my dance school are in the same building. So maybe, this has nothing to do with Coach and Teacher’s leadership skills and values, and everything to do with the specific GPS coordinates of the location. The chemical mix of the cement used in the building – undetectable fumes produce abnormally peaceful & loving human behaviour?! Must be it.

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My Moonstruck

Few movies influenced me as much as Moonstruck growing up.

I must have been 12years old when I first watched it with my parents. My mother had to explain so much. The different kinds of love, the different reasons for marriage, the different ways adults get stuck and stop fully living, the messiness that comes from passion, forgiveness and the struggle to be honest, and the power of art (opera). Set in Little Italy in NYC, I could relate to a lot of the idiosyncrasies that come from being a 2nd generation immigrant. I thought Cher was beautiful, both before and after her makeover in the movie – possibly my first female role model that wasn’t a Disney princess. It is also the first time I truly appreciated comedy. It’s a funny movie.

Some of the key scenes from that movie happen at the Metropolitan Opera. I longed to see the famous Chagall painting that hangs therein, and to feel for myself the power of music in that concert hall. Which I did, in 2011. A broke student, I splurged on $250 tickets to go see Rigotello with one of my girlfriends. In 2014, I returned to the Met, this time alone, to fulfill a bucket list item of seeing Polina Semionova dance the lead in Manon. Both times, I hoped to run into Cher and Nicolas Cage, because obvi they must go to all the performances there, always, right?

This past weekend, I treated myself to a weekend getaway to NYC to visit my cousin & her fiancé. Her sister joined us. They’d been wanting to try out the ABT, and waited till I was available to join them, as I’m the balletomane of the family. I was SO excited to share my passion for ballet with them, specifically at this dream location of my childhood.

I cried as Giselle fell in love with her player-prince, was betrayed, went crazy from the shock of her beloved’s unfaithfulness, and died from the heartache. That was followed by intermission: I sipped a glass of bubbly out on the Met balcony with my cousins under the beautiful NYC night sky. I thought my heart would burst from the beauty of the night.

It occurred to me that I’ve undergone a similar character arc to Cher’s in Moonstruck. I was stuck in a place of depression, trying to live a safe life. I rejected vulnerability for the longest time. I tried to build a life that would avoid hurt and grief. Then the Universe threw Beaut at me, like it threw Nicolas Cage at Cher, and suddenly I was alive.

Ronny: Come upstairs. I don’t care why you come. No, that’s not what I mean. Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is. And I didn’t know this either. But love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people… and die. I mean, the storybooks are bullshit! Now, I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!

Beaut might no longer be in the picture, but he left me with dance. And through dance, my life is changing beyond recognition. The people I’m meeting; the lessons I’m learning; the trips I am taking; performing. Life is messy, thrilling and exhilarating, both on and off the dancefloor. That’s not the same happy ending that Cher’s character experiences in Moonstruck – but I’ll live happily ever after just the same. And what better moment to acknowledge how far I’ve come than at the Met, where Cher learned to feel as deeply as I have?

(Incidentally, that quote from Moonstruck is a very apt description of the story line of Giselle, the ballet we went to see. I love it when the Universe echoes the same message over and over, in different manners. #subtlenotsubtle)


It was a wonderful weekend with my cousins.

We walked through Central Park and the High Line. Little oasis of greens in the bustling city.

We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

This weekend was perfect.

Bougie ‘Nilla

Kizomba, Afrohouse, Semba, Kuduro, Urban Kiz… That’s all that is on my Fbk, my blog’s fbk, my IG. Y’all are forgiven for believing that I am obsessed. I am obsessed.

But.

My true love remains ballet. Always and forever. There is no greater art or discipline, nothing – and I do mean nothing – that can give me more feels.

I’m headed to NYC for a little bougie weekend getaway with 2 of my cousins. We are going to the ABT to see Giselle. I’m such a balletomane, I insisted on picking the exact date and seats, bc I have my favorite ballerinas, and am very picky about which ballerina is suited for what role.

The last time I was in NYC was in 2014: my 30th birthday present to myself was to go see Polina Semionova in Manon, as a solocation. It was my first solo trip, not for work. It was a few weeks before the start of this blog, a few weeks before my depression, a few days after the biggest trainwreck of my dating life (at that point). I wept as I watched Manon go from an innocent girl, to a woman unable to control her sexual impulses, torn between the desire for a nice life and true love, and her eventual death as the price for her sins.

Now, I prepare myself to watch Giselle. I will weep as I watch a young girl with terrible taste in men fall in love with a playboy. He makes her fall for him, only for her to realize she was just a distraction – he is engaged to a beautiful noblewoman. She snaps – unable to process such dehumanizing treatment – goes psycho (the name for that part of the ballet is the “Mad scene”. Giselle goes bonkers; any woman can relate) and then dies from heartbreak. Playboy filled with regret, visits her tomb, only to be haunted by the Ghosts of Jilted Women Past who seek revenge by casting a spell on him to make him dance until he dies from exhaustion. Ghost Giselle intervenes from the afterworld, because although betrayed by him, her love is pure, and she forgives him.

WHO SAYS BALLET IS NOT RELATABLE?! If both of those plot-lines are not accurate descriptions of dating as a single girl in your 30s, I dunno what is.

#soexcited

#badandbougie


Further thoughts on ballet:

Mirrors and space

So basically, I am a star. No, really.


“Oh”, you say, “another video of Vanilla’s Teacher dancing kuduro. So what?”

Ladies and gents, this isn’t merely another video of Teacher and his merry crew of dancers on Instagram. Yes, it is Teacher’s video, reposted on the band that produces/sings the song used in our choreography. Aka, the original artists so liked what they saw, they chose to put it on their own profile.

 

Vanilla dancing kuduro. Broadcast to a few thousand strangers. I sure hope I don’t hurt their record sales… #infamous


You know the people that remain seated at weddings/office Christmas parties, staring at the dance floor but refusing to dance?  The “No, I don’t dance, you should thank me, I look too ridiculous, don’t wanna embarrass myself/ruin the party” people. Most of us can relate, yeah? I definitely can. I was mortified when I started kizomba/salsa: I’m the physical embodiment of the stereotype of a White Girl trying and failing to dance sexy – everybody would laugh at me. Similarly, I refused to take adult ballet for years because I knew that I would be terrible: regardless of how much joy dancing ballet would bring me, it would be selfish – I shouldn’t inflict my terribleness on the Universe, or distort the beauty that is ballet by my incompetent moves. It never occurred to me that I was imposing a life with less joy on myself.

Teacher always films his students, and himself; in part because it is good promotional material on social media, but also so his students can watch themselves and improve. At first, I found that unbearable. I would avoid the camera, accidentally go to the washroom as he was about to start filming. I eventually resigned myself to being on camera, convincing myself that no one watched his silly videos anyhow. It took 2 months before I actually would look at any of them. When I did, I noticed I never looked at the camera: I danced looking at the floor. I was physically present, but unwilling to fully show myself while dancing – I still held back. It has taken me several months to be able to look at the camera, and even now, I struggle. But THE hardest hurdle has been to watch myself in the mirror. The first time I dared look at myself in the mirror was in January, after doing 4 months of ballet and kuduro. I blushed. I was so embarrassed because:

I did not believe I was allowed to occupy that space with my body. I was ashamed of my self-expression. It was not good enough.

I wonder how many other ppl suffer from such a deep shame of themselves? Specifically, as a woman, this makes me sad. I feel the scars of a lifetime of judgment about my appearance, and I wonder how many women feel similarly. Dancing is forcing me to get comfortable with my body occupying, owning space. I’m learning to accept imperfection with compassion: I see my mistakes, and use the mirror as a tool to get better, rather than as a source of shame. I am learning to accept that even though I need to improve, work on my technique, practice until I master the moves, I still must not block my unique self expression. I am learning this:

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

The goal – to learn to express myself like these women do. Each one is unique. Each one is different and lovely and worth watching. Each woman is fully in the moment – nobody is staring at the floor. That is my goal.


Apparently, regardless of whether I dance kuduro or ballet, my style is that of a bird-woman (Cat-Woman is so passé). Well, I’ll have you know that three professional ballerinas liked my little Bird Ballet video on Instagram…

So basically, I am a star. No, really.

Where I discover I have the same friend I had before

Small update: Beaut and I have been cautiously exploring what it means to be real friends.

Don’t roll your eyes at me – even my cousins have tentatively signed off on this. Real, reciprocal, platonic friendship. So far in 2017, our interactions have been limited, because he remains as fucked up as ever, and I have a ways to get back to that space of trust that I need for all my close friendships. Still, I can’t shake this hippy feeling from Day 1 that he is a guy who belongs in my life in some capacity. The mistake, if ever there was one, was trying to force it romantically, when I believe we were always destined to be firm friends. That initial dating bullshit caused a lot of distracting shit, and it will take us (me) a bit of time to wipe the slate clean from all those dissonances.


One of the limited interactions we’ve had is over Beaut’s daughter’s interest in ballet. There was never a girl more clearly destined for ballet. She walks around on her tiptoes all the time, is a little princess in appearance and character, prefers if EVERYTHING is pink and shiny always, and is athletically gifted. Oh, and her smile is the sweetest thing on the planet – I’m pretty sure it can cure cancer. Feb 5 was the Open House at my prestigious ballet school. I suggested Beaut bring his little girl, to see if this kinda thing appealed to her. While I attended my adult class, she had her hair done at the bar à chignons, stage makeup applied, tried on a miniature tutu, posed with some of les grandes (advanced students) and determined that the red tutu, of all the tutus on display, was the best. During the last 10 minutes of class, she insisted on being allowed into my classroom to watch, and promised she’d sit tight, quietly. Which she did, except for the part after every exercise where she would “whisper” using what I can only hope is her outdoor voice Allooooooooooo Vanilla! and wave her teensy hands at me.

That girl. My heart. Sigh. She makes putting up with her Papa-the-Grinch totally worthwhile.

Sunday, I took Beaut and his daughter to see her first real ballet – a live re-broadcast of the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake. (I’d threatened him with murder if he let anyone else initiate his daughter to ballet. It would be a privilege and my joy to give her the gift of a love of ballet, a love that has shaped my entire life, and I hope will do the same for her.) She did a great job – she is pre-K, it’s a 3 hour ballet, and the story is pretty messed up (bird-women, dude getting a black bird-woman confused with a white bird-woman, magic spells, death).

As his daughter would take my hand, I felt painful, pure darts of love for this child – not mine, never will be, and I’ll only see her occasionally as she grows up, assuming Beaut and I navigate this complicated friendship. Without a doubt, I love her. Watching her snuggle with her father, watching him concentrate on this art-form that does not naturally appeal to him, because he wants to understand this world that his daughter might become a part of, made me ache. Their love reminds me so much of that which I shared with my mama.

In the car ride afterwards, I mentioned the 2 guys, same feedback comment to Beaut. I wanted to know what his experience had been, getting to know me. He was affronted, Well, it stands to reason that your experiences with them wouldn’t be the same as what we shared, it was different you and me! You can be as reserved as you damn well like when getting to know someone. Who do they think they are?! Irony: we spent the rest of the car ride in silence: once upon a time, I could ask him anything, he would tell me anything, and I could reveal anything I wanted to him. Now… I have no conversation, just like for those other 2 dudes, bc that protective bubble of trust that I need to be myself has been broken. Temporarily maybe, maybe not.


Last night, at kizomba, I was a mess: better than two days ago, when I resorted to reading my mother’s old letters, but still really off-balance. Emotionally raw. Beaut at first assumed I was pissed (like always!) at him. It took me a while to convince him that nope, I swear, not this time. His defensiveness subsided and was replaced by worry. I managed to fool everyone else in class but not Beaut. He nagged me into letting him give me a ride home. I didn’t want it, I couldn’t bear trying to keep my shit together any longer, especially since I knew he wouldn’t buy it. I just wanted to cry alone.

He pushed and prodded me into speaking up. A complicated jumbled swamp of tears and emotions poured out, most of it involving my current non-bloggable trainwreck with Hickster. It was mortifying admitting to my terrible taste in men and lapses in judgment. Beaut definitely had a few tactless moments (“FFS Vanilla, Hickster?! What were you thinking? Couldn’t you see what kind of guy he is? DIDN’T YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM ME????”) But he listened. He helped me unravel my tangled mess of thoughts and insecurities and hurt. By the end of the discussion, I had clarity.


In a moment when I was not ok, Beaut had been there, despite my best efforts to shut him out. I had been vulnerable to Beaut. I had trusted him to be a safe space.

Progress.

#friendshipFTW

Never seen before footage of me dancing ballet

Graceful AF

In ballet today, we had to stand on one foot, eyes closed and trace out the alphabet in the air with our other leg. Then switch.

I never got past the letter A, arms flailing about, busting out some sort of weird windmill move to try keep my balance, ruining the concentrated silence of the classroom with not-so-quiet swearing, “motherfucking tabernacle de calisse! MERDE ALORS!”

My career can be summarized in the video below:

And let us not forget the most recent video of me dancing kuduro, with my very own move called the Drowning Chicken.

Kuduro ¥ AfroHouse | DRKIZOMBA.COM

A post shared by 🅳🆁 🅺🅸🆉🅾🅼🅱🅰 (@drkizomba) on

 

#africanchickendancehall

Conclusion: imma stick to my day job.

P.S. anyone in the Montreal area interested in joining Kuduro… gotta go with Teacher aka Dr. Kizomba over at Kizomba Canada. He is crazy, actually bonkers, but a lot of fun. One day I asked him if he had ever considered being a little more practical. He blinked at me, pulled out his phone, and asked Siri “what does ‘practical’ mean?“. Siri told him it means a bunch of stuff. He sent me Siri’s screenshot, because apparently that proves he read the definition, but I’ve yet to notice any change in his mind-boggling, hilarious ways. A true artiste.

I chose beauty

People more articulate than me have expressed their shock and sadness at the results of Tuesday’s elections. I wasn’t shocked, I saw it coming a mile away – Brexit turned my dread into conviction. Go me, I get to say “I told you so” to no one.

Grief. My overwhelming feeling is grief. Grief that the glass ceiling remains unshattered. Grief for the end of all hope that Obama’s presidency gave me; Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Putin, Turkey… worldwide, the trend is towards explicit bigotry and isolationism. The liberal in me despairs. Grief for the wave of hate crimes that have started, and will turn into tsunamis before long. We might be a (not so) ways off from the socio-econo-political circumstances that contributed to WWII, but it definitely feels as though Trump was the latest in a long string of steps backwards. Grief for the inevitable hard times and suffering ahead. The stage has been set, and as an idiotic species that can never learn its lesson, we continue our inexorable march towards our next self-imposed horror.

My father, and many others like him, has said this is a test of his faith. That makes me laugh – I do not see anything about these times to make me doubt in His existence (more than I already do – but that is the topic of another post). Surely God, looking down at us, shakes His head in despair, “My children WHYYYYYYYY? I understand you are part animal and so do not have the same concept of eternity as I, but I promise you, WWII was really not that long ago. Europe barely freed itself of totalitarian regimes in the late 90s and early 2000s, and yet is sliding right back into them. I would have expected y’all to have a BIT longer memories than that!! I am too used to you repeating the same mistakes over and over again, just like fashion, to be surprised at your lack of wisdom, but really, this is exhausting to watch from up here in Heaven. I need a vacation. Next time, try wait at least 100 years before your next f*ck up!” (yes, my God says y’all and thou and uses swear words. My God is hip and ratchet when he is irritated.)

I joined in the collective hand-wringing on social media, and almost got myself into a few arguments with friends and family who do not share my point of view. Yup, I participated in all the noise. I shared some articles that had no value, and some that did. I looked at all of the memes of Obama and Biden. I read everything I could get my hands on. I laughed, was sarcastic, morally superior and smug. I listened to Dave Chappelle on SNL tell us white folks that we are freaking out because we might be at risk of witnessing and/or being subject to some injustices, whereas it is pretty much status quo for everyone else. Our hysteria is rather quaint.

Then I read this editorial.

Eugène Ionesco was French-Romanian. He wrote “Rhinoceros” in 1958 as a response to totalitarian movements in Europe, but he was influenced specifically by his experience of fascism in Romania in the 1930s. Ionesco wanted to know why so many people give in to these poisonous ideologies. How could so many get it so wrong? The play, an absurd farce, was one way he grappled with this problem.

(…)

Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else.

I grieve, therefore, because of a loss of innocence: I can no longer hide from the evil around me. It has manifested itself, and the time will come where I, as we all, will be judged on how I respond to it. I grieve for the inevitable cowardice I will display, despite my best intentions.


It was a beautiful fall day today. I took a long walk, after my ballet class. Ballet’s history, its music and its dancers are steeped in suffering and horrors. Rudolph Nureyev, George Balanchine, Baryshnikov…to name but a few. The music for Cinderella as well as Romeo and Juliet was composed by Prokofiev who, along with Shostakovitch, suffered greatly because of the Soviet regime. The former chose to sell out and write commercially acceptable works and struggled terribly with his conscience whereas the latter was frequently imprisoned, exiled or blacklisted for refusing to submit to the Soviet’s propaganda requirements. Romeo and Juliet was written by Shakespeare, who did not exactly live in a democratic society, yet whose words still transport us today, 4 centuries later.

It occurred to me that every beautiful piece of music I can think of, and most works of art, is anchored in a place of suffering. Chopin, the king of slit-your-wrists music. Sibelius’ 5th symphony, a work of hope if there ever was one, was written in 1916. Elgar’s cello concerto, a tribute to WWI. Gorecki’s third symphony, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, has an entire movement dedicated to an inscription found in a Gestapo cell. All these written close 100-200 years ago. All testament to the fact that even in times of great suffering, we are capable as a species of producing and recognizing great beauty. These moments do not wipe out the evil of those times, but they shine brightly against it. They remind that even as we are capable of pushing the boundary of unspeakable actions, we are capable of making the gods themselves weep with joy.


My defense against becoming a rhinoceros is to seek out examples of beauty.