public perception

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

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.

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?

Dancefloor drama, part II

Practices are going full steam with the Dance Squad. Like any high pressure environment, emotions run high, and meltdowns happen. Meltdowns are kinda my thing, I’m somewhat of an expert in that subject matter. Therefore, I am prone to empathize when witnessing others mid-meltdown. Meltdowns are so very human, usually caused by an uncontrollable rush of emotion – they have the ring of authenticity and a sniff of vulnerability. #myuncomfortablecomfortzone

The choreo is not easy, with tricks, and lifts and all kinds of fun moments that involve me shifting some/most/all of my weight onto my dance partner. Technique, both for the leader and the follower, is critical. Unfortunately, achieving the right technique requires a lot of trial and error, which results in bruises, strained backs, and occasionally the follower being dropped on the floor. To the extent either the leader or the follower doesn’t catch on to a move quickly… le owie. But it is a fairly temporary level of discomfort, one that with humor, patience and concentration, can be worked through and then bingo! Improved dancing!

Sunday’s practice was hard. I struggled with a running kick in the air, supported by my partner, and my partner struggled with a sweep and dip. We mostly managed to not snipe at each other, but were both fairly relieved to not see each other for the 48 hours between Sunday’s practice and Tuesday’s practice. At Tuesday’s practice, Teacher introduced a 3rd trick and some unusual footwork. I could see my partner’s frustration rise, as he struggled with both the mechanics of the trick and the footwork count. I recognized the signs, awfully similar to the bitchfests I’d indulge in during sparring sessions at my boxing gym – the blinding emotion that overrides any communication between brain and body, making the easiest 1-2 step impossible. The only way to get out of that state is to indulge in a brief tantrum, evacuate the pent-up feelings, reset and restart. My partner’s meltdown was imminent. I was ready. I was expecting something along the lines of:

  • “GUYS! SLOW DOWN. I can’t keep up and this is really frustrating, always messing this up. I get that we are on a tight timeline, but FFS, if y’all keep blazing ahead while I am flopping about cluelessly, that doesn’t help us as a team. WAIT FOR ME. 5 minutes to help me out won’t kill y’all. “
  • “I HATE BEING A LEAD, THIS IS COMPLICATED AS FUCK, let me be a follower for once. I’ll even wear makeup and sequins if necessary, I just want someone else to deal with this shit for once. Vanilla’s strong, let HER work on her masculine portrayal.”
  • “How on earth did y’all expect me to get sufficiently in shape, overnight, to handle these lifts? You asked me to be part of the team 2 weeks ago, why are you asking me to perform at an athletic level that I don’t currently have? No? Am I being unreasonable? I AM NEVER UNREASONABLE.”

Instead, my partner said:

I’m sorry, I just can’t do this anymore. I refuse to risk injury to my back, shifting around all that weight.

Bro, did you just blame this on ME and my WEIGHT? Wrong answer.

He was true to his word, and refused to finish the last 15 mins of practice. As I watched the squad finish their rehearsal, stewing in my rage and hurt, I felt angelic for not pointing out that my weight wouldn’t be an issue if he had the slightest strength in his core and posterior chain and the posture of someone his age instead of that of a geriatric myopic librarian.

Vanilla the diplomat. I surprise myself sometimes.

A good night’s sleep did a lot to restore my mood. However, I planned my outfit extra carefully in anticipation of yesterday’s dance class: one that made my waist look wee, legs for days. Mini skirt, black nylons and heels. I hate dancing in heels: all the men in dance class are 5’8-5’10, meaning that I am several inches taller than them in heels. BUT, optical warfare takes precedence over optimal dance experience, and I wanted to make sure that when everyone saw me, the fat cow that puts my partner’s health at risk, they would say to themselves, “Damn! I’d totally put out my back for the chance to dance with that hottie.”

That is exactly what happened. Everyone complimented me on my sexy appearance, including my dance partner.

How to manage artistic meltdowns 101: shut up, look fantastic, and blog about it once it is over.

For a recap of my own memorable international dancing meltdown, click here.

Killing two birds with one blog

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

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

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

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

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

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


The power of simple conversations:

#oktosay

That time I said I’d go on a diet

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher has a way with words.


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

I meant it.

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

Every time I try diet… Every single time.

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