white girl

Kizomba is a dance of the world. Until it’s not.

As the child of immigrants, I’ve often laughed at the culture clashes and distinctive behavioural patterns – My Big Fat Greek Wedding is almost an autobiography, apart from the small detail of the wrong country (Russia), and how I am still unmarried. I live in a world where race, culture, nationality are visible, identifiable, noticeable. I am not color-blind when it comes to skin: I celebrate the entire rainbow. However, North American society is not tolerant towards minorities, prejudice and bias run deep,​ systemic discrimination and white privilege are real, not debatable. Previous musings include:

The more I’ve tried to educate myself to avoid unconscious biases about minorities, the more I’ve learned about the commonly held perceptions about whites, and I’m uncomfortably aware of the weight of my white privilege and just how impossible it is for others to be color-blind when they see my skin color. #lossofinnocence #poorlittlewhitegirl


My eclectic tastes draw me equally to ballet as to African dances like kuduro/semba/kizomba. Unfortunately, not only do I have negative sensuality, but it is a well known fact: white people can’t dance. I mean, if Dave Chapelle says so, it must be true? Still, I can’t help it. The music makes me feel alive.

After one too many comments about how I can’t shake my hips like the other girls in the class, GT pulled me aside at a party and told me I should stop making such disparaging skin-based comments: it made the others uncomfortable. It was a silly stereotype, it wasn’t true, I was part of the team, not all black people can dance, just drop it Vanilla, ok? It’s in bad taste. Because I was too wrapped up in my insecurities, I didn’t listen to him. A few weeks later, following a constructive criticism during practice from Teacher, my response of “yes, well I CAN’T pop my hips any more, I’m white, I’m missing a few joints to have that kind of mobility” produced a tirade from Teacher.

I’m sick of this “white” business. There is no white, there is no black, there is just dance. You are not a white dancer. You are A dancer. Your job is to move to the music. Music doesn’t care what color your skin is. We all hear the same music, we all dance to the same music. Yes, kizomba is from Angola, but every country dances kizomba. One of the biggest kizomba festivals in the world is in Moscow. And in Sweden. And in the Netherlands. Are you going to tell me all those people can’t dance? Kizomba is a dance of the world. Stop with this stupid bullshit and get to work. I told you to pop your hips. Pop them.

Ok then.


Back when Beaut introduced me to Kizomba: “The music is so good! Except for the French Kizomba music, that stuff is crap. And there is so much of it! The French love to believe they invented Kizomba. They think it’s theirs now, they have quite the history of claiming whatever they like from other cultures.”

Walking home from dance class last week, I ran into a guy I used to kickbox with many years ago. Beautiful black guy from Europe, he always was a looker. We chatted a few minutes, catching up on each other’s life. When he found out I’d quit boxing for dancing, he was intrigued. “What kind of dancing?” Kuduro/Semba/Kizomba, with the odd moment of Salsa. “Lol, taking us over, are you? Hey, relax, I was joking. It’s cool, you have good taste at least.”

Kizomba is a dance of the world… a world in which whites have a long, violent history of cultural appropriation.


I love my school. I love how much enjoyment we derive from watching each other grow as dancers. We are all on the same journey together, regardless of our individual levels of competency. When I am with my team, I do start to believe that dancing is dancing, and kizomba/semba/kuduro is a dance of the world.

At the end of yesterday’s kuduro class we had a boys vs girls showdown. The cheering in these videos makes me so happy. (Same choreography as in this post.)

​​

Just like my boxing gym was a perfect example of what could be if tolerance, respect and acceptance were the norm instead of the exception, my dance school gives me hope that occasionally, as a species, we can set aside our differences long enough to listen to the music and enjoy a quick dance. Fun fact: my boxing gym and my dance school are in the same building. So maybe, this has nothing to do with Coach and Teacher’s leadership skills and values, and everything to do with the specific GPS coordinates of the location. The chemical mix of the cement used in the building – undetectable fumes produce abnormally peaceful & loving human behaviour?! Must be it.

Mirrors and space

So basically, I am a star. No, really.


“Oh”, you say, “another video of Vanilla’s Teacher dancing kuduro. So what?”

Ladies and gents, this isn’t merely another video of Teacher and his merry crew of dancers on Instagram. Yes, it is Teacher’s video, reposted on the band that produces/sings the song used in our choreography. Aka, the original artists so liked what they saw, they chose to put it on their own profile.

 

Vanilla dancing kuduro. Broadcast to a few thousand strangers. I sure hope I don’t hurt their record sales… #infamous


You know the people that remain seated at weddings/office Christmas parties, staring at the dance floor but refusing to dance?  The “No, I don’t dance, you should thank me, I look too ridiculous, don’t wanna embarrass myself/ruin the party” people. Most of us can relate, yeah? I definitely can. I was mortified when I started kizomba/salsa: I’m the physical embodiment of the stereotype of a White Girl trying and failing to dance sexy – everybody would laugh at me. Similarly, I refused to take adult ballet for years because I knew that I would be terrible: regardless of how much joy dancing ballet would bring me, it would be selfish – I shouldn’t inflict my terribleness on the Universe, or distort the beauty that is ballet by my incompetent moves. It never occurred to me that I was imposing a life with less joy on myself.

Teacher always films his students, and himself; in part because it is good promotional material on social media, but also so his students can watch themselves and improve. At first, I found that unbearable. I would avoid the camera, accidentally go to the washroom as he was about to start filming. I eventually resigned myself to being on camera, convincing myself that no one watched his silly videos anyhow. It took 2 months before I actually would look at any of them. When I did, I noticed I never looked at the camera: I danced looking at the floor. I was physically present, but unwilling to fully show myself while dancing – I still held back. It has taken me several months to be able to look at the camera, and even now, I struggle. But THE hardest hurdle has been to watch myself in the mirror. The first time I dared look at myself in the mirror was in January, after doing 4 months of ballet and kuduro. I blushed. I was so embarrassed because:

I did not believe I was allowed to occupy that space with my body. I was ashamed of my self-expression. It was not good enough.

I wonder how many other ppl suffer from such a deep shame of themselves? Specifically, as a woman, this makes me sad. I feel the scars of a lifetime of judgment about my appearance, and I wonder how many women feel similarly. Dancing is forcing me to get comfortable with my body occupying, owning space. I’m learning to accept imperfection with compassion: I see my mistakes, and use the mirror as a tool to get better, rather than as a source of shame. I am learning to accept that even though I need to improve, work on my technique, practice until I master the moves, I still must not block my unique self expression. I am learning this:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.― Martha Graham

The goal – to learn to express myself like these women do. Each one is unique. Each one is different and lovely and worth watching. Each woman is fully in the moment – nobody is staring at the floor. That is my goal.


Apparently, regardless of whether I dance kuduro or ballet, my style is that of a bird-woman (Cat-Woman is so passé). Well, I’ll have you know that three professional ballerinas liked my little Bird Ballet video on Instagram…

So basically, I am a star. No, really.

This is a story about sex. And white privilege.

It’s rare that I will explicitly talk about sex on this blog because:

  • My father reads this blog
  • My devout Catholic and Evangelical family reads this blog – I’d rather not draw their attention to my possible damnation
  • My coworkers read this blog

Interactions with these people are easier when we all pretend that none of us have ever experienced penetration or even have the bits and pieces to indulge in such physical activities.

However. True WTF moments are hard to come by, and this is a blog about WTFery, so here goes oversharing.


I was indulging in some nighttime extracurricular activities with a gentleman-friend of mine. It was one of those more “energetic” sessions vs the romantic, passionate, loving sessions, and over the course of our exercise, my gentleman-friend gave me a hickey.

Y’all. I have ADD, yes? Well, ADD doesn’t stop during naked interactions. Regardless of the skillset of the participating dude, I get distracted. And that hickey distracted me.

That was fun, wait a hickey? I have to work tomorrow. How many turtlenecks do I own? Thank goodness it’s wintertime, it would be awkward wearing a turtleneck in summertime. I hope it fades quickly. Must remind Gentleman-Friend to limit his marks to non visible areas going forward. I wonder if instead of a turtleneck I could rock a silk scarf, knotted around my neck like a Parisian star? This is gonna be the most bougie hickey ever.

Maybe I should focus now.

So I focused.

As our exercise session continued, Gentleman-Friend Hickster talked dirty to me. I enjoy that, especially since most of the time, talking dirty results in me collapsing into uncontrollable giggles because it sounds so stupid. I don’t do sexy, remember? Well, Gentleman-Friend Hickster is extremely skilled at dirty talk, and I appreciated it, while never reciprocating. Until this happened:

Oooooh baby, the next time you go to Paris on one of your trips, take me with you. You’re so smart. Take me with you and I’ll fuck you in Paris. You don’t have to introduce me to anybody, I’m a street nigga, I won’t embarrass you, but at night I’ll make sure you (insert x-rated description here).

Y’all.

I was SO shocked. Stunned, in fact. I stopped the ongoing process.

Don’t call yourself a street nigga. I know, I’m being Vanilla, I shouldn’t take anything you are saying in this context literally, but wtf. Street nigga? You think I’d be ashamed to introduce you to ppl?! How the fuck do you see me? How do you see yourself?! So what, you are getting off on the whole ‘she’s white, smart, out of my league’ thing? I get that it’s just an expression, I do. An expression that just made my vagina dry up.

Nothing spells sexy times more than witnessing the legacy of racism and segregation in the bedroom. Me, my body, my personality… not what was turning him on. It was my whiteness, my career and our supposed class difference.

We’ve established that I have, in fact, fooled around with black guys (and Arabs, bc I’m crazy like that – BAN THEM ALL!!!), yes? I never knew this street nigga vs white career girl could be a thing. I didn’t have a clue.

I did say I don’t do dirty talk, yeah?

#howtomakesexawkwardAF

#vanillaenoughforya?

Well. I forgot this still happened. Part II.

Yesterday I had another date with Young Boy (YB). You can read Part I here: it gives a little context about my mindset going into said date. A low-key affair, as we were both burnt from a long week at work. I like low-key dates because they often result in good conversations; useful in the getting-to-know-one-another stage, regardless of where that stage is headed (dating, naked gymnastics, friend zone).

Convo flowed freely, possibly because we have very different lifestyles and tastes. Even interests that we share, we approach from very different perspectives. For example, I exercise primarily because I need to remain mentally and emotionally stable: my appearance is bonus. For the longest time, despite exercising 4-6 times a week, I was rather thick (80+kilos), because of my emotional eating. Sure, that self-destructive habit made me ashamed, but thanks to my former therapist, I still felt some pride in investing the necessary time to take care of my brain and happiness. YB exercises because he feels it is a duty to remain healthy: anyone who lets him/herself go is lazy and signals to the world that they don’t respect themselves and don’t mind being a drain on society by clogging up the healthcare system with avoidable health issues. OYE. On so many levels. Yes, agreed that being overweight is linked to avoidable health issues. No, disagreed that it is a matter of laziness and lack of self-respect: those might be factors, but adulting is fucking hard, and the emotional and mental scars of life often translate into bad eating habits. Also? Life is a balancing act of conflicting priorities. To surmise a person’s whole character from their appearance?! OYE. Yet… I am not surprised. Many people share his point of view – hence my concern with maintaining my newfound #skinnybitch and #bangingbod status.

We started comparing Instagram profiles, and sharing the backstories of some of our favorite pics. I showed him a pic of me and Coach, after a particularly good, sweaty booté workout at the gym – seemed like a good choice, especially after our convo about exercising.

That’s one big black guy. How much does he bench/squat? Cute pic. Wait, you don’t fool around with black guys, do you? You DO?! Oh.” [Accompanied by a slightly nonplussed look.]

Oh, indeed.

Remember how my emotions are overwhelming, I can’t always properly identify what I am feeling, and as a result I have slightly delayed reactions? I had NO PROBLEM identifying my anger, and the only difficulty I had was biting back the impulse to reply,

Yeah, going back has been tough, you’re my trial run, white boy, and honestly, I don’t know that I am ready to make the switch back. You haven’t sold me on the concept.

SO ANGRY. Because the question didn’t revolve around me fooling around with guys. No. Specifically, it was concerned with black guys. My willingness to expose my body to black guys merits judgment. What, boy, bothers you so much about the black part of the guys I have fooled around with? Lets break down some of the most common aspects of their reputation:

  • big dicks: so is this a sizing issue, boy? Worried you can’t measure up? That I have been stretched out and am a loosey goosey?
  • into dirtier, nastier sex: well, for someone who has boasted about having a broad range of naked gymnastics interests, surely my possible exposure to similar concepts (7.5!!) can’t bother you, can it? Or are you worried I’ll call your bluff?
  • aren’t legendary for their monogamy: worried that I might be crawling with diseases? Dunno if you understand how safe sex works, but it isn’t related to the moral code of the person you bang. It is only related to whether or not the dude wears a raincoat. Worried that means that I might not be the greatest at the whole concept of monogamy? Because obvi my character is influenced by sexual osmosis. I cannot maintain my own moral compass if there is a penis around.
  • can actually cook and dance: nothing to be said, really.
  • are BLACK.

Its the last one that bothers me. Because while I am sure the other items probably were part of his reaction, its the BLACK part that really was the sticking point. So shocking that a white girl like me might actually view black males as humans worthy of my attention, time and occasionally body… the same as I do white boys. Or Arab boys (only because I find the possibility of being blown up during sex to be extremely exciting, duh). Or any other male that is alive, taller than me and funny.

Unconscious racism. Soooooooooo sexy.

There won’t be a part III.

Dr. Booté strikes again

My dance school is conveniently located on the 2nd floor of the same building as my boxing gym. I sometimes stop by the gym on my way to/from dance to say hi to all my friends. Last night was such a time. I was almost 2 hours late for a social hosted by my school (thats code for a big salsa/kizomba/dancehall dance party that goes from 9pm-3am. It’s like dancing at a club except with none of the disadvantages: less crowded, better music, not a single underage, underdressed shrill teenage girl in sight, no lineups at the bar, the men actually know how to and want to dance, and aren’t there ogle the women). Despite it being close to 11pm, I figured my boxing crew would still be at the gym, as Friday evenings are when the competitive team spars, and then sits in the gym past closing time and drinks 1-3 bottles of vodka and rum. What? Hydration is an important part of any athlete’s regimen. Obvi.

As I walked down the stairway into the gym, I could hear the bursts of Coach and my former teammates laughter. I ran to them, excited, only to be met with a slightly awkard silence. “Oh hi Vanilla. Ummm, we were just talking about you. Well, we were talking about you and your shrinking ass.” Really, we are still stuck on this? “Of course we are still stuck on this. Vanilla, you had the nicest butt in the gym! Boxers would get distracted and forget to keep their guard up. It was perfection. Now… Now it’s nothing special. It’s meh. DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND HOW UPSETTING THIS IS TO ALL OF US GIRLS AND GUYS ALIKE?!!!!” My teammates were staring at me tipsily earnestly, willing me to understand the gravity of the situation. I glanced over at Coach, his eyes were twinkling not-tipsily at the absurdity of the situation.

Here I was, thinking that they’d all be happy to see me, and maybe compliment me on my weightloss & sexy outfit. Nope. Apparently not. What is a sexy outfit where there is lost ass?

In a mild huff, I left them to their booze and went upstairs to dance my ass-grief away. And dance I did, for although there were less men than women present, I was never at a loss for a partner. Hmph. Some men, apparently, either thought I was a phenomenal dancer (which I soon will be, at this rate #modest) or else they found me quite to their taste. Which makes sense since I looked fab. Did I mention #modest?

After an hour and a half of dancing, a dude approached me and started talking to me. I assumed he was trying to flirt, which was acceptable to me because he was taller than me, had good shoulders and a nice smile #standards.

Can I be totally honest with you? You are REALLY fine, like so fine, but you know what would just make you tops? If you had just a bit more ass. No, I’m serious, don’t take this the wrong way, because seriously you are beautiful, and I was watching you dance, you got the moves, but the only thing stopping you from being perfect is your ass. You need just a little bit more.

You know when you have too many thoughts in your head, that your body is incapable of any reaction? I was completely bemused at the statistical unlikelihood of me having the same conversation twice within 2 hours, once with a stranger. Also, I had an overwhelming urge to collapse into giggles which distracted me from my efforts to memorize Stranger’s exact words – it was hard to ignore the bright flashing “BLOG CONTENT THIS IS BLOG CONTENT” sign hanging over us. And throughout all this, I wondered if it was at all possible that he could know Coach; but then my politically correct brain pointed out that just because Stranger was black and Coach is black, that did not provide me with enough reason to assume they knew each other… racial profiling much? Coach does not know EVERY black person in Montreal. (My politically correct brain forgot about this incident, which supports the theory that Coach does in fact know every black person in Montreal.)

Stranger stopped talking, misinterpreting my slack features (caused by my short circuiting brain) as a sign that I was about to lose my shit. He hesitantly asked me, “Wait… you ARE the girl that knows Coach, right?! Oh God, please tell me you train with Coach.” Stranger’s panic mild worry might be my favorite moment in the whole prank. Because prank indeed it was. Coach knew Stranger was going to the same social as I, and convinced him to do this.

dr-boote-prank

And that is why I love Coach Dr. Booté. Only he can produce simultaneous feelings of rage and admiration for a prank well executed.

P.S. Once Stranger was reassured that I wouldn’t murder him, we danced for a couple of songs. Guy’s got the moves.

When nostalgia is impossible

My father was born in 1950. He and his two older brothers were born in Paris, right after the end of WWII. My grandmother’s family had fled Russia on the eve of the Russian revolution and settled in Nice. They lived in Occupied France. Eventually, she ended up in Paris, where she met my grandfather, who’s family had followed a similar trajectory, except via Finland. Both my grandparents lived through WWII; not specifically caught in the front lines, or in the big hotspots, but close enough for those years to have been extremely unpleasant. Poverty, constant fear, uncertainty, and low-key cruelty and spite were part of their daily existence. 6 years of survival, not 6 years of living.

In 1952, my father’s family emigrated to Canada, with close to nothing other than their luggage, to join my grandmother’s brother, who had established himself in Montreal a few years prior. They stayed long enough to become Canadian citizens, but then my grandfather’s role as an eminent proto-deacon (that’s a super duper deacon for all you non Orthodox peeps out there) brought them to Long Island, NY, to be closer to the seat of the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of America (aka, the head of the North American branch of Russian Orthodoxy). Therefore, my father grew up as an American. He’d moved back to Montreal by the age of 20, to avoid any possibilities of being drafted in the Vietnam War. From that point on, he has made his life as a proud Canadian.

It’s funny sometimes, listening to him. He can sound very patriotically Russian, chest thumping for the Mother Land; he displays deep knowledge about American history and culture, due to having spent his formative years and education in the USA; and of course a deeper conviction that Canada is by far the best place to live in the world due to our liberal policies, peace, and openness to immigrants.


My father and I are both very similar, and extremely different, which means we easily can push each other’s buttons. I honor him, and most days, I respect him, except when talking about politics and current events: as he gets older, he has adopted the bad habit of avoiding the news, because it makes him anxious, and informing himself based on conversations with people at church. In my opinion, he frequently exhibits an absence of critical thought, relying on trashy biased internet articles, the kind that present opinions as statements of fact, with no supporting arguments or evidence. After innumerable arguments about this, he and I have tacitly agreed to never talk about current events. He doesn’t “like” 99% of the articles or videos I share on Fbk, and now that he has himself a fairly prominent role in the church, he refrains from sharing anything on Fbk related to highly emotional topics, to avoid Fbk trolls. I’m ok with this defacto truce.

One of the few posts on Facebook that my father did like was Billy Crystal’s eulogy to Muhammad Ali. If you haven’t watched it, it is worth a view.

It dawned on me that my father had lived in Ali’s time. As Billy Crystal puts it,

It’s great to look at clips and it’s amazing to have them, but to live in his time, watching his fights, experiencing the genius of his talent, was absolutely extraordinary. Every one of his fights was an aura of a Super Bowl. He did things nobody would do. He predicted the round he would knock somebody out in, and then he would do it! He was funny, he was beautiful, the most perfect athlete you ever saw — and those were his own words.

But he was so much more than a fighter as time went on, with Bobby Kennedy gone, Martin Luther King gone, Malcolm X gone, who was there to relate to when Vietnam exploded in our face? There were millions of young men my age eligible for the draft for a war we didn’t believe in, all of us huddled on the conveyor belt that was rapidly feeding the war machine. But it was Ali who stood up for us by standing up for himself.

And after he was stripped of the title, and the right to fight anywhere in the world, he gave speeches at colleges and on television that totally reached me. He seemed as comfortable talking to kings and queens as the lost and unrequited. He never lost his sense of humor even as he lost everything else. He was always himself: willing to give up everything for what he believed in.

My father lived in Ali’s time. My father was one of those people that could relate to Ali, one of those young men that gave up a lot to avoid fighting a war they disagreed with. One of those people that witnessed and followed Ali’s impact on American society.

My father posted these two pictures on Friday, taken on a trip last year to Atlanta, without comment.

It must be bizarre to be my father, right now. My father was 18 when MLK was assassinated. My father lived through those times of extreme change. He saw America shift from terrible to better. And now America has slid undeniably back to terrible. Back to terrible, with no MLK and no Ali to guide people and effect change. Only Trump.

I can’t find the words to describe my feelings about the events of this past week. But I would have even less if, like my father, I had witnessed a period of history where there was a reasonable hope that America truly would be great and had the tools, the motivation, and the ability to overcome the crippling hatred pervasive in the country. Instead, America has repeatedly and consistently chosen hatred, when it had the opportunity and was on the track to choosing peace.

It begs the question: where are all the other Americans, who like my daddy, witnessed MLK and Ali? Are they silent? Too upset to have a voice? Where have they been all these years?

#altonsterling #philandocastile #blacklivesmatter

 

Cause I slay… month-end

It’s month-end.

Time to get motivated. Productive. What better than to listen to Beyoncé’s Formation?!

Because, you know… what part of these lyrics doesn’t jive perfectly with month-end & financial statements?

I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow-bone it
I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it –> We work hard. Stupid hours. Big 4, anyone?
I twirl on them haters, albino alligators –> pets are not unusual amongst accountants.
El Camino with the seat low, sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser –-> typical accountant behaviour, for realz. #bougie
Sometimes I go off (I go off), I go hard (I go hard) –> I definitely have been known to go off the deep end. Like, ALL THE TIME.
Get what’s mine (take what’s mine), I’m a star (I’m a star) –> Only as long as my behaviour is in line with the company Code of Ethics, obvi.
Cause I slay (slay), I slay (hey), I slay (okay), I slay (okay) –> fact.
All day (okay), I slay (okay), I slay (okay), I slay (okay) –> the day is endless.
We gon’ slay (slay), gon’ slay (okay), we slay (okay), I slay (okay) –> you should see me work the printer like a boss.
I slay (okay), okay (okay), I slay (okay), okay, okay, okay, okay –> Excel too. I am masterful that way.
Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay –> ain’t nobody gonna slip a journal entry by me! Get in line.
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay –> sometimes it is necessary to repeat yourself over and over at work .
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay –> like I was saying…
Slay trick, or you get eliminated –> it is a cut-throat world out there. Accountants WILL CUT YOU. Paper cuts are THE WORST.

Here y’all thought she was being an activist and all, but really she was singing this song to her core audience, the hardest working demographic out-there. Accountants. The true warriors.

I’ve noticed that busting out her dance moves at the office seems to generate high-levels of interest, similar to her Superbowl performance. I’m not saying I did the exact same thing as in the video below, but maybe?

So there you go. Me and Beyoncé. SAME PERSON.