FroMan

Who knew M&Ms could wrap?

While in Toulouse, FroMan invited me to join him and his friends for supper. I had a great time. Somehow, while discussing Ramadan, multiculturalism and the pros/cons of accommodating vs assimilating vs integrating minorities into society, CAD vs Southern French weather, Trump, kizomba, sleep patterns, work, hair styling, annoying neighbors, I found myself on a rant about how Eminem is the greatest rapper of all time. Yes, Kendrick Lamar is an artiste, but Eminem! Eminem is just in a different class. True, he does not speak to the struggle and plight of a specific demographic; rather, he owns the individuality of his emotions, which can broaden his audience because emotions are universal and do not depend on specific circumstances. His lyrics are a form of vulnerability, and while he can be ugly, shocking, so angry and violent, his honesty is refreshing and is what allows his auditors to relate so strongly to him. His musicality is not lesser than Kendrick’s and… and somewhere after the 5th minute of my monologue, I noticed a blank look around the table.

Tentatively, I asked… y’all DO know Eminem, right? Oui, bien sûr. M&Ms. No. Eminem, bro, the rapper. You guys know who he is, in France, right?! Oui, we call him M&Ms here. M&Ms… as in the candy? Oui.

FroMan continued, “He’s the dude that sang, I’m Slim Shady yes I’m the real Shady all you other Slim Shadies are just imitating…” No. NON. Arrête. STOP IT. THAT is what you associate with Eminem? Not Rap God, where he raps 1560 words within 6:04 minutes, averaging 4.28 words per second? Not “mom’s spaghetti”, the lyric that spawned some of the most ludicrous memes ever, and is the reason why he won an Oscar? Not Love the Way You Lie, a song so powerful that even though radios overplayed it more than Despacito, it never got ruined and was a catalyst in lessening the taboo around domestic abuse, bringing that important topic out into the open?  Not any of his early underground freestyle rapping? Not that he is the only person in the world that can rhyme “orange” with “porridge”? Like seriously, watch this:

Y’all. Eminem is a wordsmith. A modern day poet. A genius.

FroMan listened to my outraged exclamations in silence for several seconds. Possibly a full minute.

Tu réalises qu’il rap en anglais, oui? On ne comprend pas ce qu’il dit.

You do realize he raps in English, yes? We don’t understand what he’s saying.

So, I asked, how do you distinguish good music from bad? You guys are French! The epitome of good taste! If you don’t understand the lyrics, what do you do? Just listen to the beat, the groove and the melody? WAIT, YOU GUYS DON’T THINK JUSTIN BIEBER IS GOOD MUSIC, DO YOU?! “En fait, il n’est vraiment pas si pire, le petit Bieber. Son album est très propre./ Actually, he really isn’t that bad, that little Bieberito. His album is quite on point.”

OMG.

OH MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM GEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

I cannot live in a world where Eminem is less appreciated than Bieber.

It occurred to me to suggest FroMan use Google Translate, much like I did to understand how ridiculously over-the-top kizomba lyrics can be (for a prime example,  check out this music video of one of my favourite songs, Vai by Calema. Stirring music, heartbreak, but whyyyyyyyy must he flop about like a goldfish in a puddle of mud? That won’t make her come back to you, bro, and significantly decreases your odds of landing yourself a rebound chick.) But Google’s habit of mildly inaccurate translations (“Pinch me now, yes/ Good afternoon, no/ You are very crazy/ Kiss me in the mouth“) can’t do justice to Eminem’s wordplay. The site Genius is the way to go… but even so, Eminem’s greatness is rather dependent on one’s fluency in English.

How sad. How very sad. FroMan’s life, and that of most of the world’s population, is incomplete.

#noiamnotbeingadramaqueenATM

#Eminemisbae

#andthisiswhytravelisimportant #myhorizonsjustgotexpandedAF

 

Reblog: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

I stumbled upon the post below: it’s a masterpiece. It describes so very perfectly what happened to me in Dubai. I’d say my experience was a bit further along the line of “falling in love non-platonically” than Quinn’s here, but that doesn’t matter. I was invested. I experienced, for the first time in my life, an immediate and perfect connection with someone, and the days and hours that followed served only to prove my gut instinct right.

It’s been surprisingly hard letting go of that connection, especially in this era of social media. I struggled to understand what I was going through in the weeks following Dubai. Such a sharp blend of happiness and sadness. I realized, finally, that it was grief: grief for a chapter of happiness that had a pre-defined expiry date. Melodramatic? Maybe, maybe not: it is what I felt, and when I read Quinn’s experience below, I am comforted in knowing that others too have experienced similar moments. Now that I’ve worked through all that, I’m free to feel gratitude for those 4 days of perfect connection. Seeing him pop up on my Fbk newsfeed serves as a reminder of what I should continue striving for in my interactions on this side of the pond: a heart singing with joy.

I am on the lookout for a particular word.

I want a word for the feeling I get when I connect with a total stranger for a few minutes or hours, and then never see them again. It’s an ability to suddenly feel profound, intense affection for someone I don’t know. It’s not physical attraction, necessarily. It can happen with men or women. It is a non-discriminatory feeling that happens without warning, without rhyme or reason. I want a word that explains how I can feel instantly and powerfully attached to somebody and then, in a perverse way, almost hope never to see them again.

Is there a word for that?

There are a handful of people I’ve met over the years who I still think about from time to time, because even if I only spent a few hours with them, in those hours I was invested. I wanted to know everything about them. I fell a little bit platonically in love with them and their stranger-ness. I felt something that I don’t have a word for, and I hate that. I felt a nameless, wordless bond.

Read the full post here: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

 

A tale of 4 days

I wrote this immediately after my trip, when the joy coursing in my veins was strong. It has taken several days to fade, as fade it must. I’m learning that the down-side to travelling is that we cannot (must not!) hold onto the people and transient moments that bring us joy. To prevent total memory loss, I’ve put those initial feelings into words. Like a photograph, I want to reread this and remember a slice of my life when my happiness was palpable and contagious.


FroMan.

He caught my eye at the first party of the festival, with his unusual mix of self-assurance, dancing technique and understated style – he dances to create a shared experience between him and his partner, rather than to perform. In the dance world, talent, technique & self-assurance are always accompanied by a healthy measure of ego & pride. It’s a world of big personalities. Not so with FroMan. My instinct told me I’d find peace & pleasure in his company, and not my usual anxiety amongst strangers. Just like that, mere hours after the start of the festival, I’d pegged FroMan as a safe friend. A safe, lowkey sexy-AF friend.

Any down-time between workshops and parties, I’d reach out to him. The answer was always that I should join him & whoever he was with. Hanging out with him in a group was an interesting experience. With most ppl, like Energizer and Sunshiney for example, spending time with them leads to surprises that change my understanding of their character. With FroMan, it was the opposite. Just like peeling away the layers of an onion does not change one’s assessment of the onion, every discovery or new info served to deepen and confirm my opinion of him: a safe, self-assured, reserved humble man with the most beautiful manners – always looking to enhance and promote the success of any gathering for all participants, consistent with his dancing style. Those beautiful manners gave my paranoid brain ammunition: maybe he was just being his kind, polite self, and letting me tag along bc I didn’t know anyone at the festival? Afterall, he’d not overtly flirted with me, or made any sort of move. His eyes just crinkled into a smile every time he saw me, and when something unexpected happened, I could be sure of him catching my eye to share a silent, complicit look.

At the afterparty of day 4 of the festival, Energizer was outrageously flirting with me. He’d been flirting with me from the moment I’d had my dancefloor meltdown on day 2, all festival long basically. By Day 4, he’d tacitly accepted his spot in my friendzone, which made me relax, and engage in the harmless, fun, over-the-top flirting with him. Energizer noticed FroMan studiously not staring at us, and broke off mid crude/hilarious compliment to go shake FroMan’s hand and tell him, “Bro, don’t worry. I like you. You are my friend. Good luck.” To my puzzled look, he explained, “FroMan wants you, and I am his friend, so I can’t have you, and I don’t want him to think I’ll try have you. Besides… I’m pretty sure you want him as much as he wants you.” (Who knew there was such a thing as an honorable playboy?!) That moment of confirmation that no, I wasn’t crazy, there was something between us, FroMan’s impeccable manners be damned, made me so happy it hurt.

The next day, a bunch of us from the festival went to the Burj Khalifa. It was a glorious day amongst friends. That tower is incredible – hypnotic in its grace and stature. We watched the famous fountain shows as the sun set. Those shows are so beautiful they strip your mind of any thoughts – rushes of pure emotion and amazement. During our second viewing, I stood next to FroMan, rapt in my bubble of glorious joy. He slung his arm around me as he watched in silence. I was so happy it hurt.

That night, at the last dance party, it came time for our goodbyes. Small talk, best wishes, smiles, intentions of staying in touch, and keeping tabs of any dance festivals we’d attend on each other’s continents. He slung his arm around me and held me close in silence. I left. It hurt.

Maybe I’m all wrong, and it was a one-sided crush: a good, deep friendship. Who cares? Wtv it was, it felt like 2 pieces of a puzzle fitting snugly together. We shared a unique, beautiful thing. It makes me sad that this story was only meant to last 4 days – but what a lovely, self-contained story! He lives on the other side of the world. Maybe he is a male version of BlondEyes – someone I run into every few years, with whom I share a few hours/days of wonderful connection before we go our separate ways. The delight I feel at having met him outweighs the regret of not having him around anymore.

I never knew. I never knew it could be so easy and simple, so wondrous, to like someone and be liked in return. What a gift he has given me.


Recap of this trip so far:

 

Dancefloor drama

Day 2 (Thursday) of the kizomba festival.

I danced with FroMan for 4-5 consecutive songs. He gave me a lot of (kind) constructive criticism. Every second step warranted feedback. Then every step. Then my basic posture. I was basically receiving a private lesson from a talented patient instructor, this was great! It did not feel great. It felt like I was a shit dancer wasting his time at a party. These negative thoughts distracted me from actually following his lead, such that I flubbed up the most basic moves. At the end of dance FroMan checked if I was ok. I thanked him, apologized for my anxious brain, told him I was grateful. Social disaster avoided.

Next, Energizer asked me to dance. I gratefully accepted – Energizer is an endless bundle of happy energy, always smiling and laughing. The first 30 seconds went well. Then, he made a comment about an issue that FroMan had worked so hard to correct. More dancing. Another comment. Dancing, comments, dancing, comments, dancing, comments. I was horrified: all these months, I’ve been a shitty follower, making the lives of my partners miserable, why has nobody ever said anything, how embarrassing, this is awful, I just want to take a nap. Interspersed with his comments were short intervals of actual dancing, where Energizer would laugh. The first time, I ignored him. The second time, I was hurt – what are you doing laughing at me, bro?! The third time, I lost my temper and walked off the dance floor.

I flounced to a nearby chair, fighting back tears of misery. Energizer appeared in front of me.

WTH Vanilla. In ALL my years as a professional dancer, NO ONE has EVER walked away from me mid-song. I was having fun! WHY would you do that? Because I LAUGHED? Vanilla, I laugh when I am having FUN. NOBODY has ever stranded me on the dance floor before because I laugh. I wasn’t laughing at you, why would you think that?

Teachable moment: when overwhelmed, do NOT ditch an internationally acclaimed artist on the dance floor. Don’t do it. It won’t go down well.

I apologized profusely, ashamed at my lapse in manners. Energizer calmed down, seeing that I was very remorseful. He gave me a drink. FroMan walked by and laughed – explaining how he’d unintentionally contributed to my high-strung state. Energizer was still jokingly berating me when a non-artist asked me to dance. Eager to escape this self-imposed drama, I accepted. Mid-way through the song, my partner told me, “I really enjoy dancing with you. Would you mind if I gave you some feedback?” 

OKAY UNIVERSE. I GET IT. I need feedback. Can you quit beating me over the head with a sledgehammer?!?!

Day 3 (Friday) of the kizomba festival

Energizer spent the day teasing me. I apologized 200 times. Energizer’s dance partner, Sunshiney, laughed till she cried when she heard the story, imagining how pissed he must have been. She high-fived me, something Energizer ignored with dignity.

At the party that night, every time Energizer changed partners, he’d manoeuvre her so as to dance by me, no matter where I was in the room. As he’d twirl her past me, he would smirk, “Notice Vanilla how SHE isn’t walking away from me, leaving me stranded on the dance floor? SOME girls enjoy dancing with me, you see.”

Every. Single. Girl.

Day 4 (Saturday) of the kizomba festival

Different venue, with weaker air conditioning. I was taking a break to cool off, when one of the instructors asked me to dance. I warned him that I was mildly overheated. He didn’t care. Off we went.

Some dancers make me nervous. I get intimidated, the hamster reel in my head goes haywire, it happens. This guy was one of them. When I’m stressed, I get sweaty – biology 101. Half-way through our 2nd song, a drop of sweat fell from my hair straight down onto his arm on my back. He pulled back to look at me,

You weren’t joking when you said you were hot. You will make ME hot. You will make me SWEATY. Girl, you can’t be doing that, I’ve a plane to catch.

And he walked off the dance floor.

It took me a few minutes to track down Energizer, to share this story. He gleefully laughed AT me, told me we were finally even, and danced with me.

#howtomakefriends101

#myinternationalreputation


Recap of this trip so far:

Where I test out this whole ‘solocation vs social anxiety’ concept

Day 1 (Wednesday) of the kizomba festival. I was prepared. There weren’t that many people – more of a warmup for the weekend parties (weekends in Dubai are Friday/Saturday; Thursday = our TGIF). Perfect: less reason to feel nervous. Workshops went alright. But then the open freestyle dance party started. I danced with 2-3 guys that I had trouble following, and my confidence wavered. After a dance where I couldn’t execute a basic cha-cha – my partner walked me through the move like I was a beginner – I questioned my presence at the event. More people arrived. They danced well. I missed Teacher, and his familiar brand of crazy. Nobody here was crazy. They were good, I was bad, I didn’t belong, I shouldn’t have come. Cue a full-blown anxiety attack. I disappeared to my hotel room, and cried/did breathing exercises for 30 mins. I considered calling it a night and going to bed. Then I imagined Teacher finding out – he would not be impressed if I quit. So back to the party I went.

Y’all.

I had so much fun. Unbeknownst to me, several of the artists crashed the party – suddenly I wasn’t struggling to follow as much. I found a few non-artist guys with whom I clicked. I was dancing. And then… the DJ put on afrohouse and one of the artists lead the crowd in one big group dance. I was in my element. As is wont to happen, mid-way through the song the artist wanted someone else to lead the crowd. He looked around, and pulled/pushed whiter-than-white Vanilla to the front. I lead the room for 10-15 seconds, before giving my spot to another instructor! I improvised Afrohouse! ME! And I did good: when I busted out one of my favorite moves (“pengua”) the artist ran up to me, gave me a high five and followed my steps. That was one of the coolest/scariest things I’ve ever done.

The party ended at 3am. An instructor, upon learning that I was staying at the hotel alone, voluntold me to host the afterparty. Just like that, I found myself with 15 strangers in my room, dancing, drinking and chatting until 8am. For someone who was scared of being alone at this festival, I sure seemed to be doing a good job meeting people.#socialanxietywin

After catching a few hours sleep, I messaged FroMan, an instructor; during the afterparty, my gut had decided this is someone I’ll be friends with, and luckily for me, he seemed quite ok with that decision. Easy-peasy: Day 2 afternoon spent with Froman and 2 other instructors, Energizer and Sunshiney, laughing/chilling/relaxing in the hotel pool, the sauna & steam room. (Incidentally, saunas are my favorite weight loss tool when travelling: I swear, I sweated out 75% of all my bloat caused by excessive eating on this trip. I felt SO much more comfortable in my body after that!) When it was time for us to go back to our hotel rooms to prep for the evening workshops and dance party, we opted for the lazy option of staying in our bathing suits, with the beach towels wrapped around us for modesty. #whatcouldpossiblygowrongintheshortdistancefrompooltoroom

My room key did not work.

Nothing is pleasanter than going down to a crowded hotel lobby, in one’s bikini and a beach towel, sweaty hair plastered to one’s head, face neon pink from the sauna. In Dubai.  As I stood waiting in line for the front desk, the festival’s organizer noticed me, and dragged me to meet a bunch of 8-10 artists, recently arrived, “Hi guys! Meet Vanilla! She is Teacher’s student, and as you know, he isn’t coming, so she doesn’t know anyone here.” And like a butterfly, she fluttered away, leaving me to face them alone. There they were. Exhausted, jet-lagged, annoyed at having to wait for their hotel rooms. Also, beautiful, stylish, and y’know, clothed. There I was, a wet, red tomato wrapped in a towel. Did I make things better, with smooth small talk and witty banter? No. 100% of the noises coming out of my mouth were incoherent babble. #FML The hotel re-magnetized my key. I went back to my room. My key still didn’t work. Back down to the lobby I went (ignoring the amused glances of those artists). This time the hotel sent an employee with me to assist me. Turns out… I wasn’t turning the handle the entire way, which is why my door wouldn’t open. The hotel staff was very understanding. It took me an hour to stop blushing from mortification.

#socialanxietyrollercoaster

#andthatwasonlythebeginning


Recap of this trip so far: