Paris

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.

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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:

Office views

Today, from our offices in Paris:

Meanwhile, in Montreal:

Not the same thing.

I love Paris. So much. I feel alive, here. I feel connected to my history and my culture. Because for all I am of Russian and Belorussian descent, France shaped my family’s life.

My paternal grandmother’s family fled the Russian revolution, lived in Nice for years. She was in Paris when WWII broke out. My paternal grandfather made his way from Finland to France, and met my grandmother in Paris soon after the war. My father and his two elder brothers were born in Paris, before the family relocated to Canada. I’ve walked by their former appartements. I’ve been to the church where my father and uncles were baptized.

My mother was born in Montreal, soon after her parents moved to Canada, met and were married. My mother grew up in the province of Quebec, during the rise of the separatist movement, and the often tense, occasionally violent interactions between the anglophone and francophone populations. She witnessed the first independence referendum that failed. I grew up in Montreal, learning French, attempting to embrace the francophone culture. I lived through the 2nd independence referendum. To understand the current day demographics and political landscape is to understand the history of this province and continent. To understand that history is to know of the French colonization of Canada. French history – to this day – impacts my every day life.

To walk about in Paris, in the streets steeped with history, my history… incredible. My identity is only complete when I am in France.

#IwillmoveherebeforeIturn35

#promisetomyself

 

Recap of previous posts involving Paris:

Mastering Parisian manners

There is a commonly held belief that Parisians are rude. So common, in fact, that the Parisian Chamber of Commerce has published a guide for Parisians on how to handle tourists of different nationalities. I am not making this up. It is called Do You Speak Touriste? In my experience, Parisians aren’t rude so much as incredibly blunt, with an endless capacity at pointing out what should have been obvious. Tact? Not their forte. But seeing as I am often at risk of an aneurism when faced with people’s lack of common sense, I rather appreciate Parisians’ approach. Furthermore, it grants me carte blanche: they can be as blunt as they chose, I will reply in kind. I find it rather freeing, frankly, since diplomacy, tact and restraint are not instinctive concepts for moi.

Exhibit A: success

On Friday, I was told by a Parisian employee at the airport to stop “talking down to him, from my high perch of condescending attitude.” I replied, curtly, that if being asked repeatedly the same question due to his inability to provide an on-topic answer was condescending attitude, he must receive a lot of it – rather than pass a comment on my communication style, could he please finally provide me with the requested information?

And then I danced a jig, bc clearly I’ve fully integrated into the Parisian lifestyle.

Exhibit B: less success

Today, I got to the Paris office before lunch, and was happily reunited with my colleagues (internal audit). I really enjoy them – good thing, too, since I find myself spending a whole lot of time with them! We went for a coffee break on our floor, for a quick chit chat and update on our lives. One of them just got married, another one was going on vacation, and me? Well, I had just been to Toulouse. I was mid-explanation/demonstration of the really cool outdoor salsa festival I’d attended, when the head of Group Tax unexpectedly walked in. He stared at me as I twirled, blinked, and sighed. “Normally, I would find anyone dancing salsa in front of internal auditors, of all ppl, slightly odd. But somehow, I do not find it surprising when it’s Vanilla. I did feel a slight earthquake earlier this morning on my floor, but said to myself – impossible, Vanilla is only arriving tomorrow. I should have known. Vanilla, you do realize that it is not standard behaviour to dance salsa at the office when in Paris? We typically adopt a more restrained demeanor. Unless… of course. This IS your more restrained demeanor.”

Defiantly, I told him of my successful moment with the Parisian airport employee. Group Tax congratulated me on my mastery of Paris manners, and then asked me if I had danced salsa throughout that interaction?

Hmph. Who would have thought that a tax guy would have a sense of humour? #ifwearegonnabedealinginstereotypes #brownsocks

I’m a creature of habit

This time last year, I was getting ready for a hybrid work-pleasure trip to France for my 3rd 30th bday. Today, I’m sitting at my desk, watching my inbox fill-up with reminders of my impending trip to France that begins tomorrow.

  • 4 days in Toulouse (pleasure – sight-seeing à la touriste)
  • 4 days in Paris (work)
  • 2.5 days in Nîmes (pleasure – a mini dance festival)

I’m really digging work’s habit of sending me to France around my bday. This is a habit I am embracing wholeheartedly – may it continue for as long as I turn 30.

Like last year, I intend on cramming all of my clothes into 2 carry-on bags, to facilitate flopping about cities. Like every trip ever, my plane is leaving in 24 hours and I haven’t started packing. I haven’t even done laundry. I’ve no idea what to bring, the weather, anything. Will I rush home after work, and get cracking? Nah. Dance class, y’all. No way I am skipping my weekly 4-5 hour dose of kizomba. #priorities Will I have an exhausted meltdown tonight, as I try finish packing at 1 or 2am? You know it. #thepoweroftradition

Still…

I’m hyper. What else is new?

Solo tripcations are my new fave thing

I should have seen this coming.

Teacher is an artiste – not a practical bone in his body. It’s part of his charm. Sometimes.

Teacher forgot to check the visa requirements for entering the United Arab Emirates… and it looks extremely unlikely that he will be granted one for next week’s Kizomba festival in Dubai. Just like that, I went from the gal who knew the guy who knew EVERYONE to the gal who’ll know NO ONE. Oye. Even better? Teacher told me not to worry, I should just come back to Mtl, and take my vacation at a later date, at another festival. Bruh. NO.

Imma reread the cheat sheet of How to Make Friends at a Dance Festival from Madrid: hell nah, I am not missing out on this sick opportunity just because of my anxiety of not knowing anybody, or because any festival without Teacher can’t be as fun as a festival with Teacher. This will be one big adventure. Alone.

Alone.

Unlike my last 2 trips to Paris, where I socialized constantly with current and former colleagues, this trip I’ve spent my evenings alone. I adore my French coworkers – to the point that I consider them as real friends – but I’m maxed out. This work trip has felt like a break – not because the workload was light, it wasn’t! – but because I’ve distanced myself from the constant clamour of friends, family, coworkers and my trainwreck dating life*. I’ve enjoyed my routine of walking around Paris and trying a new restaurant every night. I no longer feel conspicuous eating on my own.

As I head to Dubai, I think I’ll achieve a similar balance. Dynamo’s brother and sis-in-law have to work, so I’ll be on my own during the days but surrounded by their love in the evenings. Perfect. I’ll explore, or not. I’ll nap on the beach, or not. I’ll maybe even catch up on work, or not. Next weekend, the dance festival takes place in the late afternoon and evenings, so I will have my mornings to myself, before dancing the night away. Surrounded by people, but on my own.

It’s silly that such a simple thing like travelling alone can feel like an insurmountable obstacle. In fact yesterday, I almost didn’t go to a very hip/trendy/bohemian area of Paris, bc I felt my aloneness would be too conspicuous; but then I decided that was bullshit and I should view this as practice for Dubai. Obvi, as a woman, I must always consider safety. But as a street-smart woman, I’m very capable of keeping myself out of any real trouble. So this fear I feel of travelling alone? It’s actually a fear of being judged. Once upon a time, that fear would have stopped me.

Not anymore.

#YOLO

#thistripisjustwhatthedoctorordered

#boardingtheplanerightthisinstant

*I’m not gonna lie, I’m loving the break from boys. After recent drama with Beaut, Hickster and a few others, two weeks of no contact with any of them feels like detox. Maybe I should become a nun.

Follow the church spire 

I’m staying at the same hotel in Paris as during my last trip. It’s conveniently located, reasonably (for Paris) priced and clean. Every day, to and from my 30min walk to metro – I walk the first 5 metro stops in order to take in a feel of Paris – I’ve seen a church spire coquettishly peaking out between buildings in the 9th arrondissement.

Tonight I finally opted to turn down the street and check it out.


It is called Église de la Trinité, built in the 19th century as part of Baron Haussman’ attempt to unify the urban look of Paris. It holds no particular significance, other than its beauty.


My view from the window of the café across the street as I enjoy supper (an omelette with salad and fries – how French! – and a tall glass of wine).


Did I ever mention I love it here? I love it here.