dancing

Know Thyself

I recently attended a 4 day workshop on managing. We covered a lot of topics, but as the days went by, we all realized that managing has much less to do with managing others, and a whole lot more with knowing oneself, and then figuring how to interact with others with simplicity and authenticity.

On my way to the training, I read the HBR article “How Will You Measure Your Life?” By Clayton M. Christensen, wherein he argues that ever known business model can be applied to build a successful personal life as well as professionally. Written in 2010, at the height of the last recession, it’s based on a speech Professor Christensen gave to his graduating Harvard class, where most of the students faced poor chances of employment.

Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.

Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

Professor Christensen urges us all to ask of ourselves three questions.

How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

Through finding one’s own unique life purpose. Similar to a company that needs to know what unique value it brings to its shareholders, we all need to know what we are called to do here on earth.

I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at Harvard. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces. (…)

The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.

Clayton M. Christensen

How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

Through the wise allocation of resources (time and focus) between work and family and the active creation of a family culture based on respect, kindness and honesty.

How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

By knowing thyself: defining what one stands for and drawing a line that cannot be crossed.

I asked all the students (at Harvard College) to describe the most humble person they knew. One characteristic of these humble people stood out: They had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about who they were. We also decided that humility was defined not by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others. Good behavior flows naturally from that kind of behavior. For example, you would never steal from someone, because you respect that person too much. You’d never lie to someone, either. (…)

If you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself – and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.

Clayton. M. Christensen

On my flight home, I read another famous HBR article, “Managing Oneself” by Peter F. Drucker. In it, Professor Drucker argues that it is the individual’s responsibility to manage themselves before attempting to manage others. To do so requires understanding the following 7 items:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. What are my values?
  4. Where do I belong?
  5. What should I contribute?
  6. Take responsibility for relationships
  7. Plan for the second half of life.

And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all. (…)

The conclusion bears repeating: Do not try to change yourself- you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform. And try not to take on work you cannot perform or will only perform poorly. (…)

The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is therefore an absolute necessity. It is a duty.

Peter F. Drucker, Managing Oneself


I’ve thought long and hard about the answers to those questions. They come at a good time, as I am slowly putting myself back together following the complete breakdown of my identity in 2018. In fact, they are a continuation of my 2019 resolutions to invest in myself through meaningful experiences in my career, with my close friends and family, and education and travel.

I am not sure who I am, yet, but for the first time in a long time, I’m inclined to want to find out. What this fall taught me is that I can’t change who I am: my brain is the mess that it is. But what I can do is learn to manage it better, and optimize that which I know to be true about myself: my intelligence, my work ethic, my deep passion for what is right. Borderline might prevent me from ever entering into a stable, long term romantic relationship, but I know I have a lot of love, caring and wisdom to give to this world.

Basically, I’ve discovered that who I am has meaning. And I am one step closer to finding my purpose.


I attended Teacher‘s annual dance festival this weekend. One of his invited artists was Eliza Sala, Queen of Ginga.

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”.

I was so excited to see her again, as she was key in getting me to consider my own beauty, a year ago. This time, her message to her female students was about the importance of knowing oneself.

Ladies, you must know what you like and don’t, and understand who you are. Remember, you bring your own unique style to every dance you share with a guy. He has to know that he has danced with you; your job is to follow the steps, not to disappear entirely and lose your personality. Your personality is what makes dancing with you different from dancing with any other woman. You must show who you are, and a good leader will respect you and adapt his style to suit yours. That is your power. Don’t give up your power to anyone.


Eliza’s quiet self-acceptance brought me to tears. Here is a woman who knows who she is. Her knowledge cannot be taken from her; she is, and she invites everyone to enjoy life with her. She doesn’t give herself, only to be depleted – she shares her joy while remaining whole.

A year ago, I found her beauty and power riveting, but I couldn’t imagine feeling as grounded and solid myself. This weekend, watching Eliza, I felt recognition: I too have a similar strength, that I need to cultivate and nurture. Even as my brain tries to poison me, even as I live through periods where I am not sure of my grip on reality, I am still here.

My strength is my BPD. I own this very complicated painful side to myself now.

The conclusion bears repeating: Do not try to change yourself- you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform.

You must show who you are (…). That is your power. Don’t give up your power to anyone.

Dancing and life. Not so very different.

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Vacation over therapy any day

I feel whole.

It’s a disorienting feeling, and I worry that it is somewhat temporary, like most lessons in life, one that I will be forced to learn over and over again. But after 19 months of the voices telling me I am worthless/not enough turning into howling hurricanes, causing my grip on reality to slip with increasing frequency, publicly, scarily, filling my gaping wounds with shame, I’m grateful for every minute of this reprieve.

I spent the first half of this vacation struggling to disconnect from work. Work is such a big part of my identity. Who am I, if not a brilliant accountant, capable of delivering more than can be reasonably expected from one person? Luckily for me, I was travelling with DD, and she don’t mess with her vacation time. I was on a strict time table for checking my emails: 20 minutes a day, preferably before she woke up so that she wouldn’t witness me failing at vacationing. By the 4th day of our vacation I was accustomed not thinking about work, and began rediscovering myself. It turns out, I am lot of things other than a brilliant accountant.

I am Vanilla, who loves discovering all she can about the history of her surroundings. Vanilla, who loves to read, but who has an attention span of a squirrel. Vanilla, who loves good food and wine. Vanilla, who enjoys taking the best pictures she can with her iPhone. Vanilla, who feels comforted by walking through the streets of European cities, accompanied by the memories of all those that have walked them before her.

DD and I talked a lot during this trip, of our careers, our struggles, the various ways our personal growth has been stunted, and how we try deal. We talked of our failures. DD is an old soul, wiser than her years. She has come to find strength in the lessons learned from her failures, no matter how painful they were to her at the time and sometimes still sting. It made me reconsider some of my biggest failures of the past 2 years, both personal and professional, festering wounds of shame. I can see now that through these 24 months, I was trying my best, and while my best was not enough to prevent costly mistakes and achieve successful, happy outcomes, I feel pride for having tried so hard. My failures are examples of courage, not of worthlessness.

Budapest is a beautiful city which bears the scars of a tumultuous past. Buildings darkened by bombs, memorials big and small to the horrors committed during WWII. The very ugly parts of Budapest’s past are not celebrated nor are they hidden. They are treated with care and integrated into the very fabric of Budapest’s character; as a result, Budapest’s beauty is enhanced because of its flaws. I felt less broken there. What used to seem impossible to reconcile in myself became tolerable. I have done ugly things, and have a side to me that I am not proud of. But rather than fight those parts of myself, what if I just accepted them, and worked to integrate them to the parts of me that I am proud of, while taking every possible precaution to not repeat the mistakes of my past?

‘Shoes on the Danube’ is a memorial dedicated to the 2,000 Jews that were shot into the river in the months of December 1944-January 1945 (easier than having to deal with the corpses) by their fellow Hungarians, members of the Arrow Cross Police.

Bucharest might be Romania’s largest city, but it remains a city in a third world country. Dirty, focused more on survival than aesthetics. And yet, if you look hard enough, past the graffiti, poverty and utilitarian buildings from the communist era, there is much beauty to be found. There is an edge to its beauty, as if the city is not ready to own it yet. Much of Bucharest’s beauty is unconscious. But at night, the city comes alive. The energy changes, people have a spark in their eyes, sharp wit, a naughty tenacity. Bucharest is finding its feet, and enjoying itself in the process. Relatable.

Pretty building, a former palace now a bank, that is filthy with dirt.

I attended a dance festival organized by Froman in Bucharest. I was anxious. My relationship with dance has been a fractious one at best, especially as my condition worsened in 2018. Add to that 350 strangers and no familiar faces other than Froman and a handful of his friends, all of whom were busy running the show with no time for chitchat? Overwhelming. I was worried about what I’d discover about myself. Would I have another rejection of vulnerability? Maybe I don’t actually enjoy dancing for dancing’s sake and do it to feel self-important, for recognition and validation. Was my friendship with Froman even real? I hadn’t seen him in 19 months, a shared love of kizomba does not a friendship make.

I shouldn’t have worried. I showed up at the pre-party to the festival, in a bar filled with people whose language I do not speak, and after a few minutes was asked to dance. And again. And again after that. Dancing doesn’t require spoken word; all it requires is two people willing to share themselves as authentically as possible for a few minutes. An hour so later, one of Froman’s friends showed up, and his delight in seeing me was touching. We spoke as if no time has elapsed, when in fact, all 2 conversations we’d shared occurred in June 2017. Froman appeared a short while later, and his happiness was real and needed no words.

The festival itself was great. Many of the instructors spoke of the importance of kindness in dance, and that translated into one of the most respectful dance floors I’ve ever been on. No groping or uncomfortable stances, no attitudes or snobberies. Everyone danced because the music moved them to. I had almost as much fun watch the other dancers as I did dancing myself. It was a place of goodness.

I danced with an instructor, one with a star/celebrity status. I normally avoid dancing with instructors because I get really nervous that they will find me lacking, or my mistakes will make them look bad, as there is always 20-30 people watching them dance. But this instructor had spoken of kindness, so I trusted him. I made mistakes, but rather than freezing up, I laughed with joy, because I was having fun, despite my imperfections which he could see far more clearly than I could. The next day in class, that same teacher pulled me aside to give me one sentence of feedback. In 12 words, he not only identified my biggest weakness, but gave me the solution to work on it. Whereas I would normally have felt mortified that my weakness had gone on unfixed for so long, interfering with all my partners, this time I felt gratitude. This stranger had understood the root cause correctly, witnessed my strong desire to build connections and gave me the key to unlock my next level of dancing. I felt seen. I put his words into practice for the rest of the weekend, and noticed a sharp improvement in my ability to follow.

On the last day of the festival, I was approached by a girl who I’d noticed throughout the weekend (she resembled a toned down Paloma Faith) but with whom I’d not interacted. With English broken by a very strong Romanian accent, she asked me who I was. I explained I was just an attendee like everyone else, nobody special. “You are spiritual, yes?”, nodding at me for confirmation. Startled, I admitted I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose I am. I feel things strongly, seeking connections where I can find them, to people, places, objects, music. She nodded. “You are spiritual, I can tell. I watched you this festival. You have a beautiful energy, very peaceful. I was happy you were here. Have a safe trip back home.”

It’s taken me 2 days to understand why that girl’s words touched me so deeply. It’s because for 19 months, I’ve been told over and over, in some form or another, that I was not enough. And here, through me being myself, not hiding behind any persona or character, just showing up to dance and learn in a spirit of humility and vulnerability, I had made a tiny difference in a strange girl’s life. I was enough.

In Bucharest I made connections aplenty, was grateful for them, but did not try turn them into anything but what they were: wonderful moments. Those connections that are meant to grow into something deeper will, in manners I cannot and should not try predict. They were enough. 11 days of connections: with DD, with Froman and his crew, with that Kizomba instructor and many other dancers, and mostly, with myself.

What a vacation.

BPD series: understanding the role of dance in my life

I went dancing on Saturday. For the first time in 5 weeks. Before that? I’d only gone dancing a handful of times this summer as work was ramping up.

The last time I went to Teacher‘s dance school was in July. I miss it so much it hurts. But what with work, I just can’t handle the late nights (class ends at 9:30pm on Wednesdays, and then there is a social till midnight). I am either in bed by 11pm, or else I am working till 1am. I started dancing only on weekends, when I could sleep in. But then, as work really stretched me to the limits, physically and emotionally, I started skipping those too: on Friday nights, I wanted to be completely alone with my PJs, wine and my teddies. On Saturdays, I’d find something, anything else to do rather than expose myself to the vulnerability required to dance. I was too tired to be brave.

But I see videos of Teacher dancing. Occasionally he and ppl on his team check in on me. I see them with their big smiles, full up of joy, and it makes my heart ache. I miss it so.

And so, I went dancing on Saturday.

I was nervous. I was nervous that I would be rusty, have forgotten how to move my body, be stiff and an unpleasant experience for my partners. I wouldn’t be enough.

Dance has been both a blessing and a curse. There is incredible growth and courage required to learn to accept and enjoy one’s body in space. I think it is something we all struggle with. I am grateful for all these difficult lessons and with each one learned, for the additional freedom to be myself. But since dance requires everyone to face their insecurities, it fosters insecurities. As far as I can tell, this is not unique to kizomba. Ballet – Black Swan. Ballroom dancing – Strictly Ballroom. I am not sure if dance draws the unstable drama queens with raging insecurities, or if it wears people down into such caricatures, or both. In my case, it has brought my underlying insecurities to the forefront, such that I can no longer deny their existence. Life was simpler before, but I suppose coming to terms with these insecurities is a good thing.

I am not enough. Familiar refrain.

Just like that, I understand now why dance has been such a love/hate relationship. It has triggered many of the same emotional responses as Hickster, the ICB Instagram snafu, and my disagreement with my boss. Often, so often, dance makes me realize my failures, and the I am not enough echo in my head grows so deafening, I can’t hear the music and have no awareness of my partner. There have been countless nights that I’ve gone home in tears (remember this dancefloor meltdown in Dubai?), miserable from the micro rejections from my partners.

Additionally, I now realize that much of my strained relationship (exhibit A and exhibit B and exhibit C) with Teacher’s dance squad, my former teammates, was caused by my BPD, and my long history of unstable interpersonal relationships. Yet another case of splitting.

Ricocheting like a pinball from one extreme to the other often characterizes other aspects of the borderline’s life. (…) To some, these oscillations may seem like pure whimsy, or the height of fickleness, or even a way to rationalize a “fear of failure.” But other issues may animate this behavior. The fear of failure is certainly real, of course, but with failure might come rejection, which is even more frightening. For Patty, the lure of succeeding on her hockey team is also the lure of belonging, of being accepted by her teammates, coaches, and classmates; if she fails, she may be exiled by those from whom she most wants acceptance.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

How I wanted to belong. To have a squad that had my back, that would tell me I was enough. I wanted so very badly to have a 2nd family that accepted me as I was. Dance is like boxing – you can’t fake or hide your weaknesses, they are on display for all to see. I assumed that my flaws would be met with kindness and sympathy.

Naive.

My dance squad’s purpose was not to pander to Vanilla’s crippling insecurities and fear of abandonment. My dance squad’s purpose was to produce an army of good dancers. To produce good dancers means to point out weaknesses and failures and say, “fix this”. I understand that now. It makes sense. It isn’t mean. It just is a bald statement of fact – a weakness. But I processed it as a relentless flood of Bad Vanilla, Vanilla is not good enough, Vanilla can’t keep up, Vanilla is in the way, FFS why is Vanilla still talking, enough about Vanilla, oh there goes Vanilla crying AGAIN, why can’t she just suck it up like the rest of us. And from there… my survival instincts kicked in, and I fought back uncharmingly. The less charming I became, the more abrupt the list of “fix this” became, till I quit. I who yearned for acceptance and belonging inflicted exile and ostracization upon myself.

It makes me sad that I associate such unpleasant memories about a dance I love so much. I have no doubt that the team’s memories of my time with them are not flattering either. As I am slowly realizing, when I split, I turn into a paranoid, obstinate, miserable, angry individual that exhausts everyone around me.

It makes me really sad that I came so close to destroying something I love so much.

But…

That’s the thing about dance. There are moments, the length of a song or two, where everything falls into place. The music, my connection to my partner, and suddenly, I am free – fully myself, fully in the moment, fully alive. The voices in my head are silenced.

It feels like peace.

Those moments of peace, few as they may be, are worth it.

I missed dancing. So much.

#thisiswhyIdance

Phase 5 feels like accountability

On Monday I had a series of doctors appointments.

I got bitched out by a nurse at one point, “Oh, so you know about the importance of exercise when it comes to mental health? Yet you are only exercising 1x a week? I see. And you know about the link of sugar and carbs on someone with your condition? Yet you tell me at least 20%-50% of your diet is processed carbs? Okay. Well. You should know that many therapists in the private sector refuse to take on mental health patients until the basics have been handled. You are very lucky that your GP has put you into the public healthcare stream. (*)”

Thanks for that, lady. Really, you are gonna give my sick brain ammunition to help it convince me that this is all my own fault? That if I just tried harder, I wouldn’t be in this mess, I wouldn’t be so unhappy? Only thoughts that spin through my head everysecondofeveryday, you, as a health care professional, you are gonna give credence to that corrosive narrative? Merci beaucoup. I needed that. On top of me having to handle my sick brain, you are now gonna suggest this is, at least partially, my own fault? Fan-fucking-tastic. It wasn’t hard enough already. News flash: If I am only working out 1x a week, it is because I can’t get my shit together to workout more often, despite knowing how much good it does me.

In the moment, I was too stunned to respond. I was angry, very very angry, but didn’t want to make a scene. Finished my appointments. Made it to the office 3 hours later than expected, cried from stress the entire commute at the office, cried when my boss asked me if I was ok, cried when my GAB gave me a cookie she’d set aside for me to make sure our coworkers didn’t eat everything before I got in. Worked for 3-4 hours, went home, and cried some more.

Yes, I know about diet and nutrition. They are the staples of my toolbox. As I wrote back in June 2016, all still true except for the Concerta which I’ve updated:

  • Concerta. For my ADD, but it is also an upper, and since going back on it since Feb, I’ve noticed a sight moderation in the potency of my mood swings.
  • Exercise. My therapist told me to never go more than 2 days without exercising – to view it as seriously as medication, that without it I would eventually need to medicate my brain’s inability to keep my emotions in check. Funny that when I need exercise the most, I feel like doing it the least. I get paralyzed by all that I have to do at work, and working out feels like a vanity. I blink, and 3 hours have gone by with nothing to show for it other than crippling anxiety about my unproductivity, and I stay late at the office to try make up for it, and skip my workout.
  • Diet. A well regulated diet, without too much sugar, helps keep my mood swings at bay. Like any female, anywhere, when I am emotional, I live off of bread, chocolate, and alcohol. Not because that is healthy, but because my soul demands it in exchange for not burning the world to the ground.
  • Friends. When I get into my funk, the last thing I want to do is to inflict my moodiness on any of my friends – besides, they are all so busy with their lives, they don’t have time for this.
  • Writing. I have writer’s block.
  • Sleep. Anxiety takes care of that, real good. I flip-flop between insomnia and overwhelming fatigue, and needing 12 hours a night.

Tuesday morning, late for work, but I packed my gym bag. Made it to the gym. Coach was very surprised to see me, because my weekly visit to the gym has typically been on Saturdays, if at all. I told him, outraged, the nurse’s comments. “Now that’s a lady who gets shit done. Yes! She did! I mean, you are here, aren’t you?! When was the last time you were here on a Tuesday. What’s that? November 2017? I thought so. She got shit done, alright. She played you just right.”

Coach, y’all. I love him, but damn, does he ever piss me off sometimes.

I renewed my membership on Tuesday. I made it to the gym on Thursday. 200% improvement. Coach smiled. He remains, as ever, Coach, the puppeteer.

So yeah. Apparently Imma be working out a helluva more often now. Time to try beat this shadow to the ground.

(*) “lucky” is a very relative term. The public healthcare system in Quebec is free (don’t get me started on our taxation model). And like in all things, what you pay is what you get. A waiting list of 6 months to see a psychiatrist because I am not deemed an emergency, since I am still employed and don’t have any physical self-harm tendencies.


Recap of this recent battle with depression:

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.

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, Curly, 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.