performing

Dancefloor drama IV: Pain, adrenaline and a show

It’s a funny thing, memory. I know my history as a cripple – I see the scars on my knees every day, my limited range of motion in my left knee, the fear of escalators (from my days of being on crutches, and having difficulty clambering onto the escalators going down, with people standing around me sighing impatiently or brushing past me, jostling my precarious one-legged balance, petrified of falling face first and risking serious cuts and disfigurement). I’ve worked very hard in the past 8 years to break through that identity of a cripple, slowly gaining mobility and strength and growing into an almost-athlete. My legacy follows me: I have some serious muscle imbalances, and squats are the bane of my existence from decades of maladaptive physical behaviours. I still have a slight limp. My arthritis has leveled off, I know how to anticipate the flare ups, and manage them. I’ve learned how far I can push my body without irritating my knee. Overall, the past few years have been great.

On Tuesday, in dance class we learned some weird twisty pivot. It hurt. I thought it was because I was tired – I had just finished a badass deadlift workout with Coach aka Dr. Booté. But then we did an hour of kuduro, pounding the studio floor with gusto and emphasis. My knee ached. I longed for bed. I opened my eyes on Wednesday morning and immediately knew something was very wrong. My knee had been replaced by a radiating ball of pain, that had nothing to do with movement. Lying down: pain. Walking: pain. Sitting: pain. Crossed legs: pain. Weight bearing or not, immobile or not, bent or straight, my knee ached from the deepest part outwards. I had to look down to believe that I was walking normally: I could feel my foot land on the pavement, and my hip movement, but nothing in between. No idea what my body was doing, because I had swapped my knee for a fireball of pain that obliterated normal nerve signals from my skin, muscles and joint.

I’d forgotten how devastating chronic, intense pain is. By Thursday morning I’d put on 10lbs of water retention despite barely eating anything on Wednesday because I’d been too nauseous from the pain to eat anything. My swollen bloated body was actively trying to fight the inflammation, and failing. I still have not scabbed over a slight cut I gave myself Wednesday morning, while shaving my legs in the shower: it’s angry, red and nasty, bc my body’s immune system is entirely dedicated to my knee. My knee is hot to the touch, and I wake up most nights drenched in sweat, as my body tries to fight through the fever of infection.

At work, people asked me if I was ok – something about my voice seemed off, not my usual explosively moody tone. I couldn’t concentrate on much, because 90% of my brain was distracted with the sickening feeling of my knee rotting. Not a hyperbole. That is exactly what this is. I’d forgotten that the most serious side-effect of my childhood injuries was chronic synovitis of the knee. Long term occurrence of synovitis can result in degeneration of the joint. As my adolescent synovitis attacks typically lasted between 3-24 months, my doctor explained that coupled with my osteoarthritis, I was doomed to have a rotten knee by 30. Wednesday, suffering from my first synovitis flare-up in almost a decade, I doubted my body’s ability to last till 35 without requiring an artificial knee.  So if y’all were wondering why I’ve been rather silent on this blog, voilà. Pain is exhausting, leaving me with no energy to form coherent thoughts. Nor does it allow me to live anything  particularly exciting because all I want to do is go home and sit in a pained stupor.

Enter Hurricane Teacher. Last minute, he got us a gig on Saturday. There is a shortage of girls on the team that know the most recent choreography. Of course I would perform. What did I mean my knee hurt? Everyone had something broken about them, don’t be a wuss Vanilla, this is showbiz. Pop some pills, suck it up, rest afterwards. Don’t let the team down. Who will your partner perform with if you bail? I hoped the adrenaline of performing would carry me through the weekend.

It did.

 

That dress tho. A last minute find, bought 4 hours before showtime. Forever 21. $30, discounted to $12CAD. That is less than $10USD!!!! I couldn’t particularly move in it, despite hanging out in an Asian sit & kneeling in it for about 20-30 minutes before the show to stretch it out. My partner complained it made it very difficult for him to concentrate on his steps – his view was too distracting. I told him he should thank me: with that dress, he and I could flub everything, and not a single male in the audience would notice.

 

We did good. It was a great night.

Everything went smoothly, except for the last part of the choreography where I tripped over my own foot and impaled my big toe with my high heel. Stilettos are dangerous, y’all!

It has taken 24 hours for the adrenaline to wear off. I was hopeful that my knee miraculously healed itself through performing. Nope. #definitelyworthittho #backtomyhermitcave

 

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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

 

I might be Beyoncé after all 

Remember that time when I ended up singing in a cover band, at work, in front of 400+ employees and the exec team from our global headquarters? That was fun/terrifying. 

At the time, I was grateful for my amazing bandmates’ support and patience as they coached me for my first performance in a) over a dozen years that b) wasn’t in context of a church choir where the audience has no choice but to love it or else they’ll go to Hell for being two-faced judgmental assholes. I viewed the experience as an adventure in overcoming my crippling insecurities that usually hold me hostage, and doing something far outside my comfort zone. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when viewing the video of my performance, to note my many imperfections. A for effort, not for performance.

When I sang the 2nd time, a month later, the chosen song (Give Me One Reason, by Tracy Chapman) was better suited to my vocal skills. I discovered that I enjoyed performing: I could sing with intent, shadow the song with my emotion, and share a feeling with the audience and the band. My 3rd performance was even more freeing.

My whole life, I’ve felt like a pressure cooker, with unarticulated emotions bubbling inside me, threatening to blow off the lid of socially acceptable behaviour. This blog has certainly helped find me a voice, but there is so much more I wish I could convey that I can’t distill into words. Finally, I’d found a medium that allowed for successful non-verbal self-expression. I was addicted.

Unfortunately, my career with my work band is coming to an end, as I’ve accepted a fantastic accounting job at another company. While in many respects this new job is perhaps my dream job, I did consider turning it down, just to be able to continue singing with my dear coworkers. What’s a career when you have music?! 

Last Friday, I was out with some girlfriends, bemoaning the end of my opportunities to perform with a band. My friend pointed to the band playing funky pop covers at the bar, “Vanilla, it would really make my night if you convinced them to let you sing a song with them.”

So I did.  


It was thrilling. 

Y’all. I’m undergoing a midlife crisis: 

I want to find me a band and keep performing. Not for purposes of becoming the next pop star, but because I crave that moment of communion between myself and the other musicians and the audience. 

I want to sing in bars. Me and every teenager ever. Same goals.

I have no idea how I am going to make this happen, but it’s on the “Must Do” list of 2016.

#careergoals 

#creativeaccounting 

#immatureformyage

I am not Beyoncé

Breaking news, y’all – I am not Beyoncé. But like Kanye, I refuse to give up. 

As part of a cultural program to foster collaboration between the unionized shop-floor workers and management, my company has encouraged the creation of a rock band made up of a mishmash of employees & managers to play cover songs of rock’s greatest hits during the 3 scheduled lunch breaks on Fridays in the company cafeteria. These concerts take place every 4-6 weeks. When this was first announced, the overall reaction in the company was one of skepticism. However, everyone was pleasantly surprised at the band’s first concert: they were good! 

After the band’s second concert, the band’s leader recruited new members, for guest appearances. My adorable coworkers volunteered me as a singer, despite my voluble protests. Due to my unfortunate habit of singing (loudly) to myself after 5pm, once I believe the finance department to be empty, my coworkers deemed my singing skills to be sufficient to rock on. Publicly.

Of course, all my protests were swept aside and I found myself on the band’s roster for their third concert, in early August. I committed to one song only: Mr. Jones by the Counting Crows. 

I had nightmares leading up to the band’s first practice. When it was my turn to sing, my nerves were such that I couldn’t hold up the printed lyrics because my arms were shaking so violently. After a 1 hour practice, I looked like I’d taken a dunk in a swimming pool because I’d sweated so much. Sexy! 

My new bandmates were delighted at my (conflicted) willingness to join their quest for musical fun. They encouraged me and enthusiastically promised me I sounded great and boy, the guys on the shop floor were gonna love me and this song!!! With their support, I showed up to the 2nd band practice, and by the 3rd I was enjoying myself.

Then I found out that our concert had been moved from the usual lunch time caf jam to coincide with the big celebration of our company’s half-year results. Production would stop for 2 hours, carnival-like activities were planned and the band would cap off the party with a 8-song set list. Not only that, but the entire senior exec team of our global division would be on site, visiting, and what better way to show them our team spirit than by inviting them to our big party?!

I can think of several better ways, actually. Like all of the ways that don’t include me singing in front of a crowd of 400+ people. 

Anyhow, the band didn’t let me quit (“so what if some big shots will be present? You got this!!!”). I put on my brightest red lipstick, my rockstar jewelry and my sexiest shoes. I was ready. There was a minor hiccup when those shoes were deemed a safety hazard on the shop floor. When I protested, I got reminded that, strictly speaking, I should only wear safety shoes on the shop floor, so why not just accept the compromise and change out of my stilts into more reasonable shoes? 

Y’all. Everyone knows that art is not reasonable.

We came, we sang, we partied. When it came time for my song, I decided to distract the audience with my dance moves and charm, because Mr. Jones totally moonlights as a dance song. Apparently I got an ovation and raucous cheers, but I was so nervous, I didn’t notice. I was too busy self-fiving myself for not passing out from terror. In the days and weeks that followed, many people stopped me to congratulate me. I became cautiously hopeful that I hadn’t bombed, until a coworker showed me a video of my performance taken on his phone. 

Conclusion: I am a gifted entertainer. Not a gifted singer. #ICanRelateToBritneySpears

Somehow, I’ve been roped into performing at the band’s next concert, this Friday. Tracy Chapman’s Give Me One Reason. No dance moves this time, just all of my pent-up angst from my dating life. 

Who says accountants are boring?


For those of you who are unfamiliar with blogger/writer Hyperbole and a Half, I highly recommend you check out her work. Her unique drawings have permeated popular culture – you will recognize them, and be delighted to read the original story. The drawing above is an example of her awesomeness. The above picture was taken from Hyperbole and a Half’s post “Expectations vs Reality” – possibly the unauthorized, but entirely accurate biography of my life. I swear, she and I are twinsies.

Furthermore, she has written two posts about her struggle with depression that perfectly describe the sequence of attacks that a depressed mind inflicts on the person afflicted with depression, and the subsequent disjointed behaviour exhibited by the individual. Except, of course, she manages to describe this phenomenon quite amusingly, while not trivializing the subject. I have sent these posts to almost all my friends who did not understand how I, with my priviledged life and successful career, could suffer from depression. Both posts were also trending after Robin Williams’ death last year. Without further ado, I give you:

Adventures in Depression

Depression, part II