happiness

Toulouse: too hot to handle

​​The first leg of my 2nd annual bday workation trip to France is drawing to an end. Toulouse has been great.

I had intended for this to be the sight-seeing leg of my trip, unlike Nîmes next weekend, where my stated purpose in going is to dance as many hours as possible within a 60-hour period. Yet despite myself, I’ve done quite a bit of dancing. I attended a 2 hour kizomba class, followed by a 6 hour dance social on Friday, the day I landed. And then yesterday, this happened:

Because why not have an outdoor salsa/bachata street festival in downtown Toulouse? Despite the heat (36C), the place was packed. I filmed that video at 7:30pm. Look at the vivid colors and sunshine! Incredible. The people were friendly, I danced as much as I could handle (poor little Canadian doesn’t understand how to survive in >25C weather). I thought I didn’t like salsa. Wrong, I love salsa. I thought I hated bachata. Wrong, bachata is fuuuuuun. I didn’t know a single person there, but I danced the day away, until I almost collapsed from exhaustion/dehydration/sun-stroke. Typical side-effects of sight-seeing, obvi.

I’m a fan of this approach: typically when I go on a sight-seeing only trip, I remain an outsider, peeking in. But by going dancing, I met a ton of Toulousains. Dance, talk, dance, listen to their musical southern French accents, dance, flirt. I got to meet ppl, which really gave an extra vibe to this beautiful city. I feel like I experienced Toulouse, instead of just seeing Toulouse. For someone who travels mostly alone, this was a nice discovery. Imma apply it to all my future trips.

 


Here are some pics of Toulouse. No filter, on any of them. The colors are so bright, the sky is so blue. What a lovely, sunshiney, beautiful city. And so hot! I had to go shopping twice for summer clothes – 1 pair of shorts (the only pair I own) was not enough!

 

3.5 inches makes all the difference

My hair is not very long. Most days, I leave it loose, wavy or straight, because it stays out of my eyes so I’ve no urgent need to style it.

At dance practice on Sunday, we practiced a move where the lady lies on the ground, the leader steps over her head, and by placing the back of his foot under her neck, kicks her upright in one swift motion. Its a tricky move. Kick, repeat, kick, repeat, kick, repeat. My partner is a new member of the squad, and he was having trouble kicking me with sufficient gusto for me to stand up. After one to many sharp remarks from Assistant Teacher, my partner gave me a very energetic kick upright… while standing on a lock of my hair.

I stopped dancing. Swore loudly, to avoid crying. Left the dance floor to hunt for bobby pins. As I rummaged through my purse, Assistant Teacher asked me what was I doing, quitting mid-song?! “We are practicing for a show, the show must go on!” Without turning around, I suggested Assistant Teacher look on the dance floor, he should see the reason why I was taking a wee break. Silence. “Oh. Ouch.”

Not the lock of hair in question, but a fairly accurate comparison of the amount of hair I lost with that dance move.

Lesson: 3.5 inches of hair is long enough to be problematic. I am NEVER leaving it untied again. #baldnessisnotmydesiredlook

Next, we practiced the kuduro routine for the show. I’d never danced kuduro in heels. Game-changer. All of my weight on my tippy toes, instead of on my heels. I wiped out twice in practice. Not exactly confidence-boosting, finding oneself flat on one’s ass, 2 hours before a show.

I survived. Below, my 2nd time on stage, first time performing all components of the choreography. You can spot where I’m wobbly, trying not to lose my balance in my 3.5 inch heels.

 

Hairloss and fear of falling on stage notwithstanding… that was SO MUCH FUN. #sufferingforonesart

3.5 inches is DEFINITELY enough to be a memorable experience.

The advantage of a digital trail

You know those Facebook memories? Lately, a lot of ppl in my dance community have been sharing memories. Several times in May, I was surprised to not remember the moments being shared –  sure enough: I didn’t know those people at that date. Kinda hard to remember something I never witnessed with a bunch of ppl I hadn’t yet met.

I forget that I’ve been dancing for less than a year. Thank goodness for this blog, which helps me keep track of the stories in my life.

Thanks to Teacher’s propensity to tape everything and share it on social media, I have concrete evidence of my learning curve. Behold, a choreography learned in beginning of January 2017.

Kuduro • AfroHouse | drkizomba.com

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

 

We did not revisit that choreography until this past Tuesday. Behold, the same choreography, set to different music.

 

4.5 months makes a lot of difference.


Boxing taught me a lot of life lessons, at a time in my life where I was defenceless against my shadow. My depressions had me convinced I was worthless. Through boxing, I learned to fight – and there is no point of fighting for a worthless cause; to fight means I am worth fighting for. Key lesson.

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.

Accepting that vulnerability and connection hasn’t been easy: I still resist. The most common feedback I get from Teacher and his assistant is, “Try to follow, ‘Nilla, please? You are not the leader“. As I embrace the struggle of letting go of all the noise in my head, and opening myself up to the music and every partner’s unique energy, I am applying these lessons to my daily life. Setting aside one’s agenda to listen to another person, accepting that one’s imperfections will be seen and are just as worthy of compassion as those of others, are principles that apply just as much to verbal communication as to non-verbal communication. By dancing, I am learning kindness.

For months, I used to freeze up into a rigid unmoving blob on the dancefloor if a dance partner attempted such a move – I’d panic, convinced he’d drop me. My rejection of connection & vulnerability, physically manifested as an uncontrollable reaction.

​When I think of how much my life has changed since quitting boxing and taking up dancing, my confidence, my relationship with my body, my ever-expanding social circle, I can’t believe I crammed all that in such a short time period. I can’t wait to see what other lessons await me. There is so much to learn, technically and emotionally; so much happiness and joy to discover.

And I’ll have a digital trail to remind me of all these key lessons.

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

 

Killing two birds with one blog

Last week I got a message from an acquaintance. We’ve met a handful of times over the past 3 years, no more, because our social networks overlap extensively, but other than being Fbk friends with all the resulting “likes” and superficial familiarity with each other’s virtual life, we are not close.

Vanilla, I need a therapist and it sounds like you have a good one. Would you share his info with me please? It would give me a place to start, and I really need to start. I am not ok.

I forget, sometimes: I forget that people read my blog. Ironically, I do not talk about mental health struggles, or therapy, in my non-virtual life, other than with 2-3 extremely close friends, and even then, in limited dosages, so as to not burden/bore them. Everyone has shit they need to work through, I don’t presume that my problems are more significant or worthy of attention than my friends’. My blog is my space where I share my lessons, stories and struggles, and all my friends are free to read as much or as little of it as they please because that is how the interweb works. And while I periodically get messages/comments that my blog resonates with my readers, this was different. Asking for help is excruciating. Thank you. Thank you for trusting me with your vulnerability.

Friday: 2nd appointment with my therapist. I hadn’t finished taking off my jacket, he thanked me for the referral, nothing makes him happier than positive word-of-mouth from his patients. We got to work, a good productive session as always. As I was leaving, he thanked me again: I explained that really, it is because of my blog – my acquaintance is a long-time reader, almost from Day 1. His gratitude changed to wonderment: But that means that it is public. You’re willing to acknowledge my work on a public platform. That doesn’t happen in our line of work.

Yes, I am. Obvi. Sir, you’ve changed my life, you don’t think I would refer you to any and everybody?

It is jarring and lovely when I get reminded that these words, floating about in the infinite blogosphere, matter.


The power of simple conversations:

#oktosay

That time I said I’d go on a diet

After his Gindungo festival, Teacher put together a dance squad of his most advanced Mtl students, and is training us to perform at local and regional events/festivals. It’s the next step in our growth as dancers. I’m part of the squad. Weeee!

At the first practice, Teacher looked us over, and suggested that we hit the gym, because:

Y’know, guys, dancers, we are supposed to be sexy. So let’s look sexy. All that “what’s sexy is what is on the inside?” No. Not for dancing, ok? Have a nice personality on the inside, but lets be sexy on the outside too, ok? The audience, they won’t know that you have sexy insides. And some of you guys, umm, maybe you could put on some muscle? You don’t want the audience to wonder if the girl would break you if she fell on you. And as for you ladies, you know what works really well? Starvation. I am serious! When I notice that I am getting a little too chubby, I just don’t eat. You get used to hunger, it really isn’t that bad. Try it. Starve yourselves a little bit. I do it all the time.

And Vanilla, yes, this includes you. I know you fitter than all the guys here, but you also a big girl, and I’m pretty sure all the bros here would really appreciate if you weighed 10-15lbs less on the lifts?

Ahem. Bro, find me a partner that isn’t wee then. Not my fault the average height of the males on the dance squad is 5’7”… 2 inches shorter than me!

Teacher has a way with words.


At practice on Tuesday, we learned a cool trick of kicking our legs high into the air, while our partner lifted us. Really, most of the momentum and effort is by the girl, but nevertheless, the guy has to be solid and support our weight for a fraction of a second. I felt bad for my partner, who reassured me that it really wasn’t that bad. I comforted him that usually I am lighter than this: I’ve put on 10lbs since Dubai because heavy workload at the job= stress-eating. I promised him I would shed the weight by our next show.

I meant it.

I can’t explain, therefore, why I have eaten TWO lunches EVERY day since Tuesday’s practice… #starvationalmost

Every time I try diet… Every single time.

Tonight, I’m going for deep-friend mac’n’cheese and drinks with DD. #mykindofstarvation

That time I smiled

On Thursday I went for drinks with some coworkers. It was the first time I’d socialized with anyone from work since the 2015 Xmas party. Apparently, it’s just a “fluke” that these things get organized when I am out of town for work – of course I shouldn’t take it personally. Hmph. The result of these flukes is that I’ve socialized with my Parisian coworkers 400% more often than with my Mtl coworkers. 

I arrived at the bar 30 mins after my crew. They were deep into their first round of drinks. I searched for a waitress. Waited, and waited. After too many minutes without alcohol, I went to the bar to order my beers from the bartender. As I turned to rejoin my coworkers, the bar manager chatted me up. He apologized for my long wait, and offered me a drink on the house. I smiled.

My beers arrived a few minutes later. Chatty chat chat with ze coworkers. And then, like Moses parting the sea, my (male) coworkers made space for the pretty, busty, blond waitress: she presented me with a tumbler of Jameson, and smiled saucily at my confused coworkers.

Vanilla, how? That’s not free, is it? It is? What did you do?

I smiled.

40 minutes later, that same waitress presented me with a 2nd tumbler. 

40 minutes later, she presented me with a 3rd tumbler. My male coworkers were incensed.

Vanilla, stop kidding around. How did this happen? What do you mean, you smiled?!?

I mean I smiled. The last time I smiled, I got treated to the most ridiculously generous/excessive multi-course meal in Dubai. What can I say? Happiness is contagious.

On Saturday, I attended a dance event by myself, totally different crowd from my usual one, didn’t know anyone, NBD; can we acknowledge how far I’ve come since my Dubai meltdowns?! As I walked into the ball room, I smiled. I was immediately accosted by a charming out of town professional dancer who danced several successive songs with me, praising my musicality. I then danced with the event organizer (from France!) and every guest instructor present. I found myself smiling while dancing, and once or twice, I even laughed from the sheer joy of the dance. (Oh, how Energizer would be proud/amazed!)


When came time for the inevitable Afrohouse animation, three of the instructors took turns leading the crowd. Then the organizer pushed me to the front, and I danced while everyone followed, before he ended the animation in style. I was the only non-instructor to lead the pack. I smiled.


On both Thursday and Saturday, I was stuck in one of those oh-so-female IhatemybodyIlooksogrossEwwwwImfaaaaaaaat moods. To the point I modified my outfits (loose clothing), convinced people would notice my protruding food baby of a belly and judge me. I considered bailing on both events because what’s the point of socializing if everyone will find me repulsive?

Clearly, I am no closer to achieving body acceptance. But at a minimum, I am refusing to let my poisonous brain modify my behaviour or distract me from my quest for happiness.

That’s worth smiling about.