kizomba

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.

Bougie ‘Nilla

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

#soexcited

#badandbougie


Further thoughts on ballet:

That time I danced on stage

So.

I danced in my first show this past Friday, at the Montreal Salsa Convention (MSC).

How did this happen, you wonder? Well. Funny story.

2pm: Teacher asks me if I’d mind showing up at the studio for 6pm to help with the preps for the show. 4 couples from the Dance Squad were supposed to perform at the MSC on Friday night. I was not slated to be one of them – reasonable given my not-so-succesful run of dance practices. No prob, of course I’ll help, I was intending on coming to support my teammates anyways.

3pm: I text Teacher to say, actually, I’ve an appointment from 6-7pm, so I’ll show up a little later than initially anticipated. Much as I love the Dance Squad, I’d rather not bail on my meeting without a valid reason. Rude.

4pm: Multiple missed calls from Teacher. Pick up, Vanilla. Ok ok, but I am at work on a conference call, I’ll call you back as soon as I am free.

4:20pm: Teacher messages the Dance Squad group text, to inform everyone of the various meeting times and locations and to-dos pre-show. He lists the names of the 8 performers – surprise! Vanilla is one of them. Performers have to be at the studio for a last minute practice at 6pm. I bolt from the office, hoping that Friday traffic on a long-weekend won’t be too bad, pass by my place to grab all my dance stuff. It turns out that my body reacts to the stress of a dance show exactly the same as it does for a boxing fight: a massive, uncontrollable attack of the nervous shits, which evacuates everything from my body and then I compulsively step on the scale to check my weight. Right. I forget – I no longer have to make weight, nor do I need my mouth-guard. Time to go! I arrive at the studio only 8 minutes late.

6pm: I meet my dance partner, a guy I’ve never danced with before; a former student of Teacher who now owns his own dance school out in California. He’d flown into Montreal late Thursday night, alone – his dance partner couldn’t make it. He learned the entire choreography in two hours on Friday, but needed a partner. Vanilla, the backup plan. Vanilla, who’d never yet danced the choreography from beginning to end, and had never danced it in her 3.5″ heeled dance shoes. Vanilla, who loves a good challenge.

7pm: Our practice is over. My partner only dropped me once, I only strained his back 7 times and Teacher only yelled a handful of times. I now know the choreography, almost. Success! Time to go register, and change into our costumes.

8:30pm: Arrive at the venue. Scope out the stage – huge. Spend an hour marking the steps with my partner. Manage to do 2 walk-throughs without any significant fuck-ups. Two. That’s a lot.

10pm: Showtime. We are the third team to get on stage. I refuse to watch anything backstage, as the cheers from the 200-300 person audience are defeaning. Nope. Imma just hangout in the back, and hold my partner’s arm and stay calm. Oh look at that! We are walking on stage! Oh hey! The music is starting! Oh wow! This is fun, let me wink at the crowd! Oops, I just did a minor fuckup, oh well, sorry partner. Hey wait! Already done?! I was only getting started, let’s do that again THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN.

11pm-3am: Party with the Dance Squad, none of us able to wipe off the grin from our faces. Teacher looks on, amused and low-key proud of his newest generation of dance aficionados.

Kiz me, babe! Manuel dos Santos in the house! #msc2k17

A post shared by Montreal Salsa Convention (@msc2k17) on

 

Dancefloor drama, part III: the meltdown to end all meltdowns

Apparently, this is turning into a series.

  • Dancefloor drama, part I: I walk off the dancefloor mid-song, whilst dancing with an international artist/instructor in Dubai.
  • Dancefloor drama, part II: where my dance partner has a freakout and makes the rookie mistake of mentioning my weight… like any female, I am slightly over-sensitive about my weight. Remember this?

So. We’ve established, at length, multiple times, that I am the Queen of Meltdowns, yes?

Hahaha, y’all have no idea.

I’m under a lot of pressure at work. Big deadlines of big high-profile projects coming up rightthismomentrightnowactuallyyesterdaywhyisntthisdonealready. I’ve been late on some of my deliverables, and overall, I’m not as advanced in MY big projects for the year as I’d like to be, because I have been so caught up in my deliverables for OTHER ppl’s projects. And yes, I’ve had a few meltdowns at work too. One of which was the reason I found myself in Dubai, under orders from the CFO to take a vacation to avoid an imminent burnout. Since then, I’ve been working very hard at getting shit done and learning to control my emotions. But… apparently, I’ve aways to go until I succeed at regulated emotions.

I left work early yesterday, so as to show up on time for my weekly private with Teacher. 5 minutes after arriving at the studio, I realized I’d forgotten my laptop at work. Which, given that I still had a solid 4-5 hours of work to perform in order to meet a hard deadline for this morning, was a bit of a problem. My plan of working at home at night? Ruined.

Teacher walked in 7 minutes later (yes, he shows up 15 minutes late for privates. He is an artiste, and artistes are not bound by earthly considerations such as schedules. He always makes up for it – he is very generous with his time – but one never knows exactly when that generous time will occur) to find me weeping in a soggy mess, sitting in the middle of the dance floor. Teacher typically can handle ANY situation, no matter how fucked up. Not this situation. Teacher reacted the same way as all men do when faced with a woman crying: panicked, frozen, unsure and uncomfortable.

I continued to cry for the remaining 40 minutes of the private. Even as we were dancing, tears were streaming down my face. How to create a pleasant atmosphere 101.

Once the private was finished, Teacher started class. Students were streaming into the studio. I stood around, undecided: should I skip class and make the 45 minute treck back to the office to pick up my laptop? Should I miss my deadline? OMG I have so much work left. OMG I am the worst employee ever. OMG I am tired and why do I have so much work and I can’t face ANOTHER late night and I worked 45 hours so far this week  and it is only Wednesday and this will never end even if I meet this deadline and…

Cue THE biggest meltdown.

Ground-shattering sobs. In the middle of the lobby. The assistant teacher came to see me, giving me hugs and trying to calm my breathing. He thought somebody had died. When he heard me wail, “I forgot my laaaaaaaaptoooooooooooooooop” he managed to not laugh, almost. Gently patted my back, as I continued to cry so hard I couldn’t get enough air.

Teacher materialized in front of me.

Vanilla, I dunno what is going on, I feel bad that your personal life is clearly shit, but you GOTTA get a grip. This is my school. My reputation! Students can see you. They are not gonna think you are crying because of a work problem, they are gonna think my school actually broke your heart. Please. This is not professional. We can talk later, but GO CRY SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Which enraged me because he wasn’t wrong.

I cried all the way back to the office.

I sniffled as I worked at my desk for 2.5 hours.

I went back to dance practice and danced with my favorite ppl. Assistant Teacher waited until I successfully danced with 3 guys before approaching me – I think he was scared I’d revert to my watering-pot alter ego.

And then I went home and worked till 3am. I met my deadline.

Who says accountants are boring and bland?

That’s Africa – have you heard of it?

Dance class. We rotate partners every 2nd/3rd 8 counts, as we practice the class’s steps, bc kizomba is a social dance, which means being social with everybody, not selectively. It’s great, bc it allows me to meet all kinds of people, and if a dude flubs up his steps spectacularly – or worse, if I do – NEXT!

As I was waiting for Teacher to start the music, I stood in an ADD haze next to my partner GT, short for Google Translate – same guy as in this story: he remains my go-to guy for immediate translations of kizomba songs during practice. As is wont to happen in an ADD moment, I locked in on a random detail: the pendant of GT’s necklace. It was a small gold pendant of Africa. I’ve seen the same style necklace in painted wood, in larger proportions, but never this delicate version.

The wooden pendant I am used to:

A similar version of the delicate pendant worn by GT – except this image is not to scale. GT’s pendant is less than 1 inch long:

As I peered closer, nose almost glued to his chest (totally acceptable behaviour with an almost-stranger in the middle of a dance floor, obvi), trying to make out the words engraved on his pendant, GT sighed patiently, and explained,

Yeah, ummm, so that’s Africa. You might have heard of it?

Boy, what?! Yes. Yes, I have heard of one of 7 continents of the planet, and can spot it on a map. Fun fact, there are countries that can be found in that continent too! Yes, really! I can name most of them, too! I KNOW! How crazy is that?! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, BOY?! I was trying to read the engraving on your necklace. Sheesh!

Oh, well, ummm, you see, ummm, you are blond… and white.

How many times has a white girl stared at his necklace, unaware of the existence of that prominent landmass?

2-3 times. Per year. Yes, Canadians too. Not just Americans.

Hard to be offended when dude has been traumatized by pervasive ignorance. Still, forevermore, when I greet GT, I always ask “Hey! Africa! Have you heard of it?”

P.S. GT admitted to me last week that even with a magnifying glass, he cannot read the engraving on his own pendant. That makes me smirk.

P.P.S. In case y’all are imagining a redneck à la Kid Rock, no. GT is from Angola. That’s in Africa – you might have heard of it?