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.

2 objects 2 owners: the big reveal

Read this post first: I described 2 objects, and my emotional connection to them… and made ppl guess which of the 2 objects I did not own. #creativewritingfuntimes

The results are in!

I got the following feedback:

  • If the ring were the “real” object, I’d have better described it. What stone it is, whether there was an inscription on the inside, if the band had worn thin on the inside through wear and tear…
  • That is way too crazy a story to be true: bam, one line to describe the sudden death of a parent? Nah way.
  • Well, everyone knows I have teddybears, and followers of my blog know they do reside in my closet, so that must be true.
  • From someone in my writing class, “well it can’t be the pointe shoes story, there is no way Vanilla is an accountant, come on now. Wait, what?! You ARE an accountant? But… I don’t understand. You have a personality!”
  • From almost all my close friends and family (other than my daddy, obvi), who know of my love for ballet, some of whom remember the years spent in perma-casts and crutches, it was a slam dunk. The pointe shoes were true.

Surprisingly, only 4 ppl got it right. One of my boxing friends, a guy I know professionally, a long-time reader of my blog who I have never met and one girl in my writing class – aka all people who do not know me that well. They all gave a similar explanation for their guess: the pain seemed truer for the ring, because I talked about my feelings less. They recognized the hole that grief makes in a person’s heart and narrative. And for that very reason, I know without knowing any details that they too have experienced loss from which one doesn’t quite recover.

Behold the ring. I have no idea what the stone is (seems too pale to be an aquamarine), couldn’t care less what the cut or the size is. I only checked to see if there was an inscription after I got that comment in class. The ring is beautiful to me, and is a tangible link to my mother. I do not know, or care to find out, anything more about it.

To be fair to the ppl who do read this blog, I do love ballet. It was a tricky one. I have no memory of when I disposed of those shoes. I definitely did not own them by the time I moved out at the age of 19. They did have blood stains, and I did used to bring them with me to school every day the first few months after my first major surgery. But I have no memory of them after the age of 14. Knowing me, in one of my rare fits of domestic godliness, I probably chucked them after celebrating the first year anniversary after my last surgery (around my 17th bday), in a quest to rid myself of all that negative energy and bad memories.

One day, I’ll own another pair. I’m happy I’ve found my outlets for creative expression.

Thanks to everyone who read and gave me their opinion!!

2 objects 2 owners

Assignment 4: Describe 2 objects: what they are, how you got them, what they mean to you (emotional connection). E.g. “The chair” or “The cup”. Trick is that you truly own one of the two objects. Class will have to guess which of the two.


Just a ring

I never saw my mother wear it, because by the time I was born, her hands were perma-swollen from all the pain medication for her health issues. I glimpsed it once or twice as a child, the rare times she would open her box of treasures, and stare at her collection of jewelry. My mother favored bright colors in life and clothing: this ring was different, a pale blue stone. Icy. Aloof.

By the time I was a young adult, my mother’s coquettish side had resurfaced. The few times she would go out, she’d picked her outfits with care, occasionally even wearing lipstick. She’d ask me to help her with her necklaces and for advice on which earrings to wear. I loved those girly moments with my mother. We’d sit on the bed poring over her jewelry box, she wearing her dainty reading glasses to better see her “shiny things” with. I asked her once about the icy ring – it mesmerized me, with its delicately wrought silver band, and quiet beauty. She curtly explained it was her almost-engagement ring. Her father died from a massive heart attack the night my parents announced their engagement. My grandmother blamed my parents for killing my grandfather. She refused to acknowledge their engagement, and as my father hadn’t thought to buy my mother a ring, nobody believed they were affianced for the first several months following my grandfather’s death. My father eventually scraped some money together and bought this ring, but the damage was done. Their engagement, and this ring, was forever associated with pain and grief. My mother chose a gold wedding band – a new ring for a new chapter.

When she died, I asked my father for her jewelry box. I’ve kept everything intact, including the pair of reading glasses stored in the second drawer from the top, except for the icy blue ring, that I wear as a talisman. This ring was and remains a ring of grief. But it is also a ring of love, the love my parents shared, and the love I’ll always have for my mother.

My first pair of point shoes

Tucked away on the top shelf in my closet next to my childhood teddy-bears is a shoe box. As the years go by, I take it down and open it less frequently, but I know it is there. A reminder of a by-gone dream that still hurts me.

My first pair of pointe shoes. Almost in pristine condition – I only managed to squeeze in a handful of classes before I blew out my knee in a career-ending injury. Despite their minimal usage, there are some faded brown stains inside, the mandatory traces of blood that every ballerina must suffer for her passion. The ribbons are frayed slightly, from all the times I tied these shoes during the years of surgeries, rehabilitation and endless physio. I’d slip on these point shoes hoping they would magically heal my swollen, scared and bruised knee with their magical properties of beauty, art and soul. They didn’t.

I considered throwing them away when I finally got my professional title as an accountant: surely it was time to accept that my identity as an artist and a dancer was over? Surely it was time to be mature and pursue a real career? I’m glad I didn’t. For here I am, a decade later, finally giving voice to my feelings. My form of self-expression is not and never will be those point shoes, but I hope my words and laptop will fill that artistic void. That shoe-box keeps me accountable for following my dreams. 

#writingwayoflife #soulofanartist


So? Which of these 2 objects do I own? Which one is real? Leave your answer in the comments – and let me know what makes you think so! Please – this will help me work on the verissimilitude of my creative writing. Your feedback is appreciated!

Kuduro and ballet

Even after blowing out my knee at a young age, and spending decades as a cripple, my love for ballet remained true. As I wrote here,

But what truly rocks my world about ballet is how it is a form of communication that transcends language. Music does that, but when music makes you feel an emotion – how can you express and externalize what you are feeling? Words cannot do it justice, they are too small and limited. I have frequently felt an emotion that was bigger than words, that just filled me up and wished that I could somehow communicate what I was feeling by using all of me. Alas, because I am not a ballerina, I cannot, and so the emotions stay trapped inside of me. However, when I look at ballet, and the dancers who use all of themselves, from the arch of their neck to the tip of their pinky, part of those emotions trapped inside of me find expression, through the communion that happens between dancers and their audience.

Because those emotions stayed trapped in me, I’ve felt, for as long as I could remember, that a part of my soul had been severely maimed. The ballerina in me, paralyzed. I just assumed that was Life teaching me the lesson that one can’t have everything. I might love ballet, but to continuously pine and regret that I wasn’t a ballerina was an immaturity. It was never gonna happen. Move on, child. Become an accountant. I suppose that is why my recent decision to sign up at a prestigious ballet school in Quebec, in a program designed for adults wishing to learn ballet adapted to their physical constraints, feels like a breakthrough. It has taken me almost two decades to accept that my inability to execute the technique of ballet perfectly is not a good reason to muzzle a part of me that refuses to be silenced. No one else was stopping me from dancing all these years. I was my own road block.

Allie is taking ballet with me, and remarked that she thought it must get repetitive to take ballet several times a week, doing the same barre and floor exercises over and over. From that I understand that she does not feel we are dancing yet. It is true, we aren’t doing choreography. Yet, my body vibrates with joy with every plié we do over and over again. I would love to do ballet class for 2 hours a day, every day, like the pros, just working through the basics slowly and thoroughly. If anything, my struggle is keeping the frustration of not achieving competency (never mind perfection!) from drowning out the joy of the movements.

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. – Martha Graham

Ballet class gives me that.


Through my blog, I’ve learned that I have a voice. Moreover, that I have a voice that craves expression. This blog has made me alive.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that I’ve quit boxing to take up so many forms of dancing. I think the ballerina/dancer part of me that was denied expression all these years watched me grow as a writer and waited till the perfect moment to me to the form of dance that allows for the expression I’ve been denying myself all my life.

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

When I dance kuduro, I experience that life force and divine dissatisfaction. For the first time in my life, I feel whole.

(I’m that white blondie. 3rd time dancing kuduro, ever.)

Y’all. This might seem small – but I am finally accepting who I am. Who I’ve always been, but never acknowledged. A writer. A dancer. And a damned good accountant. The fact that all 3 of those identities are still in progress, and have not achieved anything significant is irrelevant. I know who I am now.

#joy