vulnerability

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

 

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.

Source: 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

 

Me & Prince Harry: same

Last week I wrote about my constant struggle with my mental health issues (ADD & depression – diagnosed; anxious personality) and my reluctant return to therapy.

Writing it was hard. Those aren’t easy, simple or pleasant emotions to unravel. Posting it to Facebook? Excruciating. I was ashamed, and I feared people’s reactions.

Feared their contempt for being:

  • Vulgar. Airing my dirty laundry in public. Ew.
  • Dramatic. Happiness is a choice, obviously. With my life, wtf is my problem thinking I have the right to be discontent. There are children being gassed in Syria, you know. THEY should be sad.
  • Lesser. Mental health is icky. Only weak people have mental problems.
  • Incompetent. The disappointment to my close friends and family that I still don’t have my shit together like I should, that I still underperform, that my inability to do regular adulting activities with consistency causes problems for others, professionally and personally.
  • Crazy. Any emotion, reaction, opinion that doesn’t coincide with theirs is obviously the result of my unregulated mind, and should therefore be discounted. Vanilla is crazy – don’t listen to her.

My coworkers, both above and below me on the corporate ladder, read my blog – would I lose their respect? “I’m not sure we should consider Vanilla for that promotion, her mental health is too fragile.” Boys I’ve dated, boys I have crushes on, boys who might one day date me, read my blog – would they find me less of a woman? “She’s cool and sexy, but I dunno man. All that mental health shit. No, thank you!”

Knowing that yes, it is quite possible I will suffer consequences for posting this, makes me mad. I refuse to let myself drown in self-imposed shame. I feel compelled to write about this, own it, and post it publicly. The ONLY way to get rid of the shame – so unnecessary, so poisonous, so destructive – surrounding mental health IS by talking about it. And if my approach is too brash, well… hopefully I’ll polish it over time, which can only happen if I take chances and try this open approach.


Record number of likes on Facebook. People reaching out to me privately, to commiserate with the incredible burden that is the shame associated with mental health struggles. To ask me more questions because having read my blog they wonder if they/their child/sibling/parent/best friend might have X health issue, they never considered that as a possibility, they’ll approach the struggles differently, with greater empathy and understanding. To say they too have Y mental health issue. To compare resources they’ve used. To thank me – they feel less alone in their struggles; they always thought I was one of those ppl, “so happy and smiling and friendly, fit, has her shit together”. They realize now that no, I just have (mostly) mastered the art of faking it, at huge personal cost.


A few days after my post, Prince Harry made the news for admitting he’d been in therapy for the long-standing, serious repercussions stemming from his inability to process his grief following his mother’s death. Anxiety, aggression, all had negative impacts on his royal duties, and professional and personal relationships, and culminated in him seeking professional help to work through his issues. (*)

Even at royal engagements, he said, he had found himself battling a “flight or fight” reaction without properly 
understanding why. Once he started opening up to friends, he added, he found those same friends felt able to “unravel their own issues”. (…)

“I know there is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping it quiet is that it’s only ever going to make it worse,” he said.

YES.


I told my CFO-boss. I wanted to warn him that I’d recognized the blips in my performance, and I was taking steps to rectify them before they further deteriorated. Was that the right thing to do? I dunno. It was risky. I’ll find out the next time I am up for a promotion if it paid off.

As for boys… I tell myself, the blog doesn’t really make a difference – they’d find out first-hand about my emotional messiness anyhow, live. Best they find out via the blog and move on, than find out gradually and make those hurtful comments to my face.

I don’t have the energy to pretend anymore. I don’t see the point. Life, adulting, is fucking hard enough without pretence.

None of us should feel ashamed for our struggles.

Sometimes, silence is overrated.

#OkToSay

 

(*) Check out their Royal Highnesses‘ work on mental health, through their charity Heads Together. I think it is brilliant.

 

My Muslim-Catholic-Orthodox Easter

Faith and religion are thorny issues. Deeply personal ones too, except when they become the cause of so much world conflict and hatred.

Funny joke:

Easter wasn’t celebrated in the USA this year because Jesus, with his Middle Eastern background, got stopped at the border.

Ha. Ha.

Sigh.


I was baptized Russian Orthodox Christian. However, due to my mother’s poor health, she was unable to make the weekly treck downtown to the 2 Russian Orthodox Churches in Montreal. She firmly believed that any religious upbringing was better than none, so she brought me to the Catholic parish close to our home. I attended that church from the age of 8 to 22, and integrated myself into that community, singing in various choirs, meeting my high school best friend, experiencing my first adolescent crush, doing volunteer work – some of my happiest memories from my youth are from that parish. My mother also enrolled me in an all-girls school run by Catholic nuns, because she admired the nuns’ mission to educate strong-minded, independent feminist girls. She was not alone: my fellow students were Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Catholic, and avowed atheists. We studied all the major religions on the world: the nuns explained that while they were true to their faith, they weren’t in a position to pass judgment on the other religions. Moreover, if we were to be true citizens of the world, capable of empathy, tolerance and good manners, we needed to understand the broad tenets of each faith, as well as the socio-geo-political implications of each religion.

The consequence of this upbringing is that I identified primarily as Catholic, when young. However, my mother made sure I understood the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, and I’ve continued to attend Orthodox liturgies regularly but infrequently (2-3x a year). It is difficult to dissociate cultural heritage from the religious one. Part of my identity is Russian. The older I get, the more I appreciate my Russian roots and relate to the Orthodox dogma. Yet when I go to the Russian Orthodox churches, I am overwhelmed by my feeling of exclusion from that community. I don’t speak the language, I am SO Western, I don’t belong. The usual struggles of any 2nd generation immigrant.

I feel like a fish out of blessed water. I do not belong anywhere.


I was ex-communicated for having pre-marital sex with my then-boyfriend at the age of 23. It makes me laugh, now, except not really. It remains one of the most upsetting things to have ever happened to me.

I’ve struggled to reconcile the requirements of my faith with my reality as a young adult living in a secular society. Now that I am less young, I struggle even more. As y’all know, reading this blog, I aim to live a life of integrity, vulnerability, joy and self-realization. That’s HARD. I am also aware that while those are good goals, some of the behaviours that allow me to achieve them are not compatible with the requirements of my religion. I have no idea how to reconcile my identity and my faith.

Enter Dynamo. If I as a haphazardly-practicing Christian find navigating a secular world difficult, Muslims have got it a bazillion times worse. Dynamo has successfully built a life for himself that works, that is fully integrated in this secular, frequently intolerant of Muslims, world, yet allows him to practice his faith (e.g. Ramadan, Halal food, no alcohol). I consider him my role model, especially since we inhabit a similar social & professional world; it isn’t easy for him. We have talked of our struggles often over the years, the compromises we are comfortable making, as well as some of the similarities and differences in our religious dogmas. But the differences don’t matter, nor do our failings – we share this struggle, and encourage each other to be our best selves. As Dynamo told me 2 months ago:

Happiness is a choice, and is contingent on the alignment of the values you hold dear and your own behaviour.(…) Have your values changed? Because your quest for happiness has not, so make sure your behaviour is reflective of that. I don’t think it is.

My (Christian) values. Not his Muslim ones, although there is a significant overlap. And unlike that Orthodox priest that ex-communicated me, Dynamo does not judge me. He gently reminds me to reconsider that which matters to me. My Muslim friend wants with all his heart that his Christian friend finds happiness, peace and salvation.


After months away from any church, of any denomination, I spent Easter weekend (this year, Orthodox and Catholic Easter coincided) with my Catholic godmother and her family. We went to church a lot. The responses, the exclamations, the prayers of my youth were instinctive. I found myself weeping a lot – a mixture of grief, repentance, and happiness. I’m no closer to aligning my behaviour with my values, but it’s clear to me that this is a struggle I wish to continue engaging in. I cannot, despite my best efforts, break away from my faith.


How wonderful is it that my Orthodox faith is sustained by the love of my Muslim friend?

#HappyEaster

#IslamophobiaFTW