kizomba

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

2 year danciversary – shout out to one of my favorite dance partners

Facebook memories. They can be useful sometimes.

Today, Facebook reminded me of this pic, taken at my very first social, exactly 2 years ago.

I remember that night. I had no idea what I was doing, dance-wise. I had done 3 weeks of kizomba lessons, maybe 2-3 months of salsa lessons. I was dealing with heart-break, having written this post about Beaut 1 week prior. What better way to try get over that humiliation than to go to a dance event all dolled up and meet new people? Great idea. Until Beaut walked in, with a chick on his arm. Did I feel like weeping? Yup. Did I weep? Nope. I concentrated on my partners, lucked out on 1-2 really good ones and had a real blast. Nevertheless, over the next 2 months, I virtually quit kizomba, unable to get comfortable with the concept of owning my sensuality or my space. I didn’t know, then, that that struggle is the entire point, and a big part of the thrill of dancing.

So today, it turns out, is my two year danciversary. And as you would have it, Facebook caught my attention with another picture, taken yesterday.

Left to right: Sassy, Vanilla and Curly

Funny that Facebook would remind me on my 2 yr danciversary of 2 of the people I met at my very first dance festival, in Madrid, back in December 2016.

That festival. Oye. It was petrifying, and exhilarating, and overwhelming. On my first night, I was very very lonely and intimidated. Not getting asked to dance often, getting attitude from European men used to dancing with high level dancers. I was stiff as could be, watching wistfully as Teacher and his dance partner twirled non stop at either end of the room, people lining up to dance with either one of them. Then a good-looking man came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to dance. I could follow him, his lead was clear and simple. No fancy tricks, just simple steps in varying sequences, and suddenly the room seemed less noisy, I was no longer lonely or tense. Here was a stranger with whom it felt ok. I felt safe. After 2-3 songs, he introduced himself, “You’re Vanilla, aren’t you? I recognized you from Teacher’s videos. He told me you would be here. Glad to meet you. I’m one of Teacher‘s students, but I live out in Vermont.”

And that is how I met Curly.

Since then, I’ve seen Curly approx 3-4 times a year, when he drives up to Montreal to attend a dance event or train with Teacher. I’ve learned that he has an amazing sense of humor, can make me laugh until I cry. Unfortunately, he has a bad habit of muttering his amusing one-liners mid-dance, triggering loud guffaws in me, which is not well viewed during a night of sensual dancing. Oops?

That feeling of safety and stability that I first felt with him has deepened into certainty. Dancing with him is to dance in a truly judgment free zone. Better yet, it is to dance with kindness.

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.

Curly is not blind to my failings as a dancer. They just don’t matter to him. It is easy to be vulnerable with someone who takes the responsibility of gentle handling of that vulnerability very seriously. And if Curly treats his partners’ vulnerability with respect… by default he respects his partners. Real respect.

That kind of acceptance is wondrous and rare. It’s a form of freedom, really.

In the two years since I started dancing, I’ve seen a lot. It’s not all rosy out there. There are guys who misbehave, viewing girls as objects to be groped, willingly or not. There are many people who dance for the wrong reasons, for ego, for fame, for recognition, and that leads to noise, drama and cruelty on the dancefloor. Everyone has an opinion about everyone else. It’s exhausting and distracting. I used to think Strictly Ballroom was satire. It’s not. It’s a documentary.

To have stumbled on a friend, a real one, one with whom I can be silly and serious and sensual and awkward; one who respects my bumpy journey, and does his part to make me feel safe in an unsafe world, even if it is only for the space of a few songs a year… That makes all the growing pains of this dance journey worth it.

Curly is one of my favorite things about kizomba.

For further reading about dance, check out my dance page. Otherwise, here is a recap of the key realizations that dance has brought to my life:

Phase 2 feels like consternation

First: a long ass preamble. About 2 weeks ago, I quit my dance team.


It happened in phases. In January, I quit the performance team due to some concerns about how some choreographies could be perceived by my coworkers and superiors on both sides of the pond via social media.  Teacher makes shows that are unexpectedly humorous. However, to the extent the humor is poorly executed – a risk for any person other than Teacher himself & his partner – the show can easily cross a line from frothy fun to earnest and vulgar. If my blog is the topic of scrutiny, I can only imagine what kind of raised eyebrows might occur because of dancing. I might find such views narrow-minded and archaic, but to deny their existence and impact on my advancement in the company would be naive. So I quit the performance team, which didn’t really bother me because I don’t enjoy performing. Teacher allowed me to keep attending the practices and team meetings as an honorary member, given my dedication and desire to improve as a dancer. But my strained relationship with the team became even more difficult. I didn’t belong. Which, to be fair, was accurate. My status was not the same as theirs, I was apart. And that apartness could be felt by everyone. I was unhappy. Like baby Vanilla in kindergarden, I could tell that something was off, but had no understanding of how to fix it. Coupled with my as-yet unidentified major depression, I was not having a fun time, to the point that I started to associate dance with a state of acute misery.

After my shocking doctor’s appointment last month, I’ve been working hard to identify and eliminate any areas of my life that are causing me stress and unhappiness. I don’t have the energy to fight the fight I need to fight against my brain and fight people or situations. The biggest priority is getting my career back on track: my job and my identity are so tightly intertwined that when I underperform at work, all of me suffers. And while I have the best boss anyone could ask for, supportive and understanding, my performance at work is directly a function of me. So I have been funneling all my energy into trying be productive. Drugs. To do lists. Being patient with myself. Reorganizing my priorities so as to do more solo-driven work instead of team projects because I can’t handle people and the burden of appearing normal right now. And it’s paying off. I’m crossing some things off my interminable to-do list. I experience 15-60 minutes of clarity and concentration every day now. I occasionally know the answer to things. I only forget half the conversations I am involved in. Progress. Exhausting progress. Worthwhile, but so so so tiring. I have nothing, absolutely nothing left for any other battle.

So I’ve just been dropping everything else. And that meant dropping dance. I’ve never been good with groups; at boxing a similar dynamic existed with my team until they accepted that my sweet spot for social activities was once every 2 months. Spending 10-15 hours a week with the same squad is hard. I need space, time-outs, alone time. I always have. I told Teacher I was demoting myself to a student, nothing else. A student that was under no obligation to show up to class, and whose progress was entirely up to their desire to learn – and currently mine was non-existent. I recognize that I have a lot left to learn in dance, and that dance as a form of vulnerability is an excellent way to fight depression. But I am not there yet. I am too busy surviving the worst depression of my life.


I decided to go to kuduro yesterday. I really wasn’t feeling it, having had a draining day at work and a few interactions that left me feeling raw and exposed. But kinda like forcing oneself to go to the gym in the hopes that once onsite, it won’t be so bad, I thought the workout aspect of kuduro might trigger some endorphins and make me feel better.

Instead, the room was too crowded, my former teammates were taking up too much space, the music too loud… I felt myself slide down a tunnel vision of misery. I was despising every second of it. I had one thought pounding through my head, on loop, “I shouldn’t be here, I hate all these people, and they all hate me. I fucking hate dance, I’m quitting everything, I never want to dance again” over and over and over again, as I went through the motions like a robot. As the first hour of class drew to a close, I accidentally bumped into the girl next to me. I was irritated. Then I realized that the girl next to me was Darlene, my friend, a guest at Allie’s wedding, my former coworker, who has been taking lessons at Teacher’s school for the past year. Through my haze of misery, a thought, “Wait a second. I don’t hate Darlene. Darlene doesn’t hate me.” Followed by the realization that if I could be so caught up in my fog of paranoia as to not notice my friend dancing next to me for an entire hour, then my grasp of reality was clearly off, which meant that I was probably wrong: I didn’t actually hate the team, nor they me. It felt like it, but clearly my feelings were out of whack.

So I left. Because the only thing to do when on the verge of a meltdown is to take an immediate time-out from people, go hide in the safety of my home, with my PJs and my teddy bears and my coloring books and my music.

Darlene called to check up on me. Suggested that next time I try focus on the music, build a relationship with music and block everything else out. Good advice, except I’d been so far gone in my tunnel vision of paranoia and misery, I hadn’t heard a single song. Couldn’t name one song title that played during the hour.

Teacher called me after class. “So that was unusual, you leaving like that. What’s going on?”  I explained I wasn’t feeling well. “Nah, girl, what’s up. Let’s be real. Something with the team? Why you mad. Real talk, come on.” So I told him what had happened, and asked him if I could take a rain check on any real talk, since clearly my feelings weren’t my own. They might FEEL real, but they weren’t true and I didn’t want to say anything that I would later come to realize was a product of my false reality. Silence. “Is it the drugs making you like that?” What? No. The drugs are helping me, by making my emotions less overwhelming. No, this is in spite of the drugs. “So this is your conflict then?” My condition, you mean? Yes. This is what it’s like living with depression. “Nah. I think you are just tired. Get some rest, sleep it off.”

I did sleep. I slept like a rock, waking up 10 hours later at 9am, late for work, feeling like a train hit me. Completely spent. But clear-headed. No negative thoughts. Shaken by the realization of how strong the hold of one of these paranoia/anxiety phases can be. I believed my thoughts, they left me no room to believe anything else. My thoughts were my reality, and yesterday my reality was unreliable.

The road to remission is gonna be long and arduous, apparently. Fun times.


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: