vulnerability

The advantage of a digital trail

You know those Facebook memories? Lately, a lot of ppl in my dance community have been sharing memories. Several times in May, I was surprised to not remember the moments being shared –  sure enough: I didn’t know those people at that date. Kinda hard to remember something I never witnessed with a bunch of ppl I hadn’t yet met.

I forget that I’ve been dancing for less than a year. Thank goodness for this blog, which helps me keep track of the stories in my life.

Thanks to Teacher’s propensity to tape everything and share it on social media, I have concrete evidence of my learning curve. Behold, a choreography learned in beginning of January 2017.

Kuduro • AfroHouse | drkizomba.com

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We did not revisit that choreography until this past Tuesday. Behold, the same choreography, set to different music.

 

4.5 months makes a lot of difference.


Boxing taught me a lot of life lessons, at a time in my life where I was defenceless against my shadow. My depressions had me convinced I was worthless. Through boxing, I learned to fight – and there is no point of fighting for a worthless cause; to fight means I am worth fighting for. Key lesson.

Dancing is the next step. To dance is to accept one’s spot in space and to be seen as one is, imperfections and all, rather than as one would like to be perceived. To dance kizomba is to accept connection. It is an intimate, sensual, physical dance: chest and legs touching.  As a follower I must accept the leader’s lead: that requires giving up control, trusting him to guide me with clarity so that I can translate that into movement. It is a form of vulnerability. By accepting to follow, I must accept that I will sometimes get it wrong: I won’t understand, I’ll step on the leader’s toes & stumble, I’ll react too slowly, I’ll fuckup his intentions. I must accept that my imperfections will be seen and trust that the leader will treat them with kindness and patience and work through them so we can create something lovely together. My overriding need for perfectionism is one of the ways my shadow wears me down into depression, bc perfectionism is incompatible with compassion and vulnerability, the two cornerstones of human connection. By dancing, therefore, I am weakening my perfectionist tendencies, and strengthening my capacity for compassion and tolerance for vulnerability. By dancing, I am keeping my shadow at bay.

Accepting that vulnerability and connection hasn’t been easy: I still resist. The most common feedback I get from Teacher and his assistant is, “Try to follow, ‘Nilla, please? You are not the leader“. As I embrace the struggle of letting go of all the noise in my head, and opening myself up to the music and every partner’s unique energy, I am applying these lessons to my daily life. Setting aside one’s agenda to listen to another person, accepting that one’s imperfections will be seen and are just as worthy of compassion as those of others, are principles that apply just as much to verbal communication as to non-verbal communication. By dancing, I am learning kindness.

For months, I used to freeze up into a rigid unmoving blob on the dancefloor if a dance partner attempted such a move – I’d panic, convinced he’d drop me. My rejection of connection & vulnerability, physically manifested as an uncontrollable reaction.

​When I think of how much my life has changed since quitting boxing and taking up dancing, my confidence, my relationship with my body, my ever-expanding social circle, I can’t believe I crammed all that in such a short time period. I can’t wait to see what other lessons await me. There is so much to learn, technically and emotionally; so much happiness and joy to discover.

And I’ll have a digital trail to remind me of all these key lessons.

My Moonstruck

Few movies influenced me as much as Moonstruck growing up.

I must have been 12years old when I first watched it with my parents. My mother had to explain so much. The different kinds of love, the different reasons for marriage, the different ways adults get stuck and stop fully living, the messiness that comes from passion, forgiveness and the struggle to be honest, and the power of art (opera). Set in Little Italy in NYC, I could relate to a lot of the idiosyncrasies that come from being a 2nd generation immigrant. I thought Cher was beautiful, both before and after her makeover in the movie – possibly my first female role model that wasn’t a Disney princess. It is also the first time I truly appreciated comedy. It’s a funny movie.

Some of the key scenes from that movie happen at the Metropolitan Opera. I longed to see the famous Chagall painting that hangs therein, and to feel for myself the power of music in that concert hall. Which I did, in 2011. A broke student, I splurged on $250 tickets to go see Rigotello with one of my girlfriends. In 2014, I returned to the Met, this time alone, to fulfill a bucket list item of seeing Polina Semionova dance the lead in Manon. Both times, I hoped to run into Cher and Nicolas Cage, because obvi they must go to all the performances there, always, right?

This past weekend, I treated myself to a weekend getaway to NYC to visit my cousin & her fiancé. Her sister joined us. They’d been wanting to try out the ABT, and waited till I was available to join them, as I’m the balletomane of the family. I was SO excited to share my passion for ballet with them, specifically at this dream location of my childhood.

I cried as Giselle fell in love with her player-prince, was betrayed, went crazy from the shock of her beloved’s unfaithfulness, and died from the heartache. That was followed by intermission: I sipped a glass of bubbly out on the Met balcony with my cousins under the beautiful NYC night sky. I thought my heart would burst from the beauty of the night.

It occurred to me that I’ve undergone a similar character arc to Cher’s in Moonstruck. I was stuck in a place of depression, trying to live a safe life. I rejected vulnerability for the longest time. I tried to build a life that would avoid hurt and grief. Then the Universe threw Beaut at me, like it threw Nicolas Cage at Cher, and suddenly I was alive.

Ronny: Come upstairs. I don’t care why you come. No, that’s not what I mean. Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is. And I didn’t know this either. But love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people… and die. I mean, the storybooks are bullshit! Now, I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!

Beaut might no longer be in the picture, but he left me with dance. And through dance, my life is changing beyond recognition. The people I’m meeting; the lessons I’m learning; the trips I am taking; performing. Life is messy, thrilling and exhilarating, both on and off the dancefloor. That’s not the same happy ending that Cher’s character experiences in Moonstruck – but I’ll live happily ever after just the same. And what better moment to acknowledge how far I’ve come than at the Met, where Cher learned to feel as deeply as I have?

(Incidentally, that quote from Moonstruck is a very apt description of the story line of Giselle, the ballet we went to see. I love it when the Universe echoes the same message over and over, in different manners. #subtlenotsubtle)


It was a wonderful weekend with my cousins.

We walked through Central Park and the High Line. Little oasis of greens in the bustling city.

We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

This weekend was perfect.

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

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Reblog: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

I stumbled upon the post below: it’s a masterpiece. It describes so very perfectly what happened to me in Dubai. I’d say my experience was a bit further along the line of “falling in love non-platonically” than Quinn’s here, but that doesn’t matter. I was invested. I experienced, for the first time in my life, an immediate and perfect connection with someone, and the days and hours that followed served only to prove my gut instinct right.

It’s been surprisingly hard letting go of that connection, especially in this era of social media. I struggled to understand what I was going through in the weeks following Dubai. Such a sharp blend of happiness and sadness. I realized, finally, that it was grief: grief for a chapter of happiness that had a pre-defined expiry date. Melodramatic? Maybe, maybe not: it is what I felt, and when I read Quinn’s experience below, I am comforted in knowing that others too have experienced similar moments. Now that I’ve worked through all that, I’m free to feel gratitude for those 4 days of perfect connection. Seeing him pop up on my Fbk newsfeed serves as a reminder of what I should continue striving for in my interactions on this side of the pond: a heart singing with joy.

I am on the lookout for a particular word.

I want a word for the feeling I get when I connect with a total stranger for a few minutes or hours, and then never see them again. It’s an ability to suddenly feel profound, intense affection for someone I don’t know. It’s not physical attraction, necessarily. It can happen with men or women. It is a non-discriminatory feeling that happens without warning, without rhyme or reason. I want a word that explains how I can feel instantly and powerfully attached to somebody and then, in a perverse way, almost hope never to see them again.

Is there a word for that?

There are a handful of people I’ve met over the years who I still think about from time to time, because even if I only spent a few hours with them, in those hours I was invested. I wanted to know everything about them. I fell a little bit platonically in love with them and their stranger-ness. I felt something that I don’t have a word for, and I hate that. I felt a nameless, wordless bond.

Read the full post here: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

 

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.

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

My groupie status is confirmed

I’ve always been a fan of the Royal Family. Which Royal Family, you ask? Sigh, THE Royal Family. The family of the Queen of Canada – because yes, she remains our head of state. #commonwealthnotwithstanding. (P.S. Happy 91st bday, your Majesty!)

I possibly maybe day-dream that I am some far-flung distant relative of the Family. My grandmother was the Queen’s doppelgänger. And I have frequently been labelled a princess. Stranger things have happened. It is possible.

But now, with the Heads Together campaign overseen by Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Henry of Wales, I’m legit a groupie. They are doing SO MUCH to normalize the need to talk about mental health. Prince Harry’s interview where he admits he required therapy to cope with the unacknowledged grief of his mother’s death. The Duchess of Cambridge’s admission she struggled adapting to being a mother. The need for these simple conversations.

Look at this video of a convo between Lady Gaga (another one of my faves!) and Prince William:

(Lada Gaga’s open letter on her battle with PTSD can be found here.) Ground-breaking content? No. But relatable? Yes. I felt she was taking the words from my mouth.

Prince William: It’s time that everyone speaks up, and feels normal about mental health – it’s the same as physical health; everybody has mental health, and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of it and just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.

Lady Gaga: Even though it was hard, the best thing that could come out of my mental illness, was to share it with other ppl and let our generations as well as other generations know that if you are feeling not well in your mind, that you are not alone and that ppl that you think would never have a problem do.

For the rest of the videos that are part of the #OkToSay campaign, click here. A mix of celebrities and non, covering a wide variety of mental health topics – how help starts with a simple conversation.

YES.


How did I spend my friday night? At my therapist’s office. First time back in 51 weeks.

Y’all.

It was fantastic. We picked up where we left off. He was SO delighted to hear of all my progress and self-discovery in the past year, and agrees that I’ve done as much as could on my own. Unravelling why I am so easily angered and hurt, and learning to better regulate all of my emotions, both positive and negative, is the next logical step on my path from depression to happiness. We covered an astonishing amount in our hour session – the foundation of trust that had been built in our 20 months of work together still was strong. I’ve some hard work ahead of me, but I left his office feeling so relieved. Relieved because I had had a conversation about how I was stuck: I’d identified the problem, but was powerless to fix it on my own. And now I am no longer on my own. Even the greatest pro boxers need their coach in their corner during bouts. I’ve got him. I’m good now.

He is my 4th therapist in my lifetime. The first was meh, the 2nd was solid, the 3rd was a total waste of my money but I was in such a bad space I thought I was the problem. Not all therapists are made equal, and not all are a good fit. But when you find one that works for you? Game changer. He gave me my life back in 2015, and now he will teach me how to access happiness.

How did I find him? By having a simple conversation with a coworker in 2014, where I confided how anxious networking made me, how much I HATED small talk. She gently remarked that I seemed always anxious, unpleasantly so, and then gave me the name of my therapist, mentioning that she’d consulted him too in the past for something similar. She thought we’d be a good fit: he was competent, zero-bullshit, and funny. When my depression exploded a few weeks later, I called him up.

The power of simple conversations. My admission to my coworker led to an exchange which led me to my therapist, without whom I would not be where I am today, on the cusp of happiness for the first time in my life.

Sharing my recent struggles hasn’t been easy. The conversations that resulted from it however, were lovely. Bit by bit, the dialogue about mental health is becoming less stigmatized.

Tonight, I feel hopeful and grateful.

#OkToSay