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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 5: Dance

I’ve saved Dance for last in my 5-Day Artist Challenge, because my relationship with dance is both of utmost importance to me, and hardest to describe. (So hard, in fact, that apparently I had to wait for ages, forget that I still had never finished the post, and pick it up with renewed fervour.) You may have forgotten, in all this time,  about the Café Bakery of the Artist Challenge, but it’s official. Writing is sourdough, Drama is French toast, Visual Art is sandwiches, and Music is cookies. Therefore: in thinking hard about what the Bread of Dance would be, I’ve decided that it’s flatbread.

Seems counter-intuitive, maybe, but this is how anciently foundational I know dance to be. Flatbread has existed for thousands of years. It is essential to cultures all over the world. It is as sacred as communion wafer, and as celebratory as focaccia pizza. Flatbread is important whether you have everything, or almost nothing. It can be crisp or soft or stretchy, or basically whatever you need it to be. It’s tortilla, it’s naan, it’s lavash, it’s chapati, it’s matzo, it’s pita, it’s roti, and so on. And any of those types can be consumed in simplicity, or filled with all kinds of delicious details.

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Communion bread via tvo.com
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Focaccia pizza via gratednutmeg.com

And another thing: flatbread is very often round, like the dances in so many cultures. A circular creation that underpins and supports many aspects of culture. I make this point because for me, dance is not just a joy, but a necessity. It is not just a practice, but a basis for community.

It always makes me sad to know there are those who believe they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I’m lucky to have been encouraged in dance ever since early childhood. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have that instinct squelched. The urge to manifest a rhythm or melody, to let yourself be literally moved by the music, especially for young kids, is a powerful one.

The Groove movement, made known to me by my amazing Dance co-facilitator at OELC iArts, insists that we can ALL dance. That if we think we can’t, all we need are few building blocks to help us find our own style. That, and a safe space to move. Dancing is for everyone. It counts whether you’re dancing with thousands at a rock concert, or by yourself in your bedroom. We all need that whole-body thrill of letting the music become part of us.

My dance journey has been through many phases:

  • Dancing as a preschooler, wearing whatever dancey costume I could get my hands on, in our living room with my sisters – mostly to dances by Brahms or Dvorák;
  • Taking my first ballet classes, realizing I would not wear an actual tutu or pointe shoes for many years, but still adoring how sublime I felt doing it;
  • Taking up figure skating as well and loving the transfer of dance onto ice;
  • Going through puberty and suddenly being less-good at both these forms of dance (where being petite – not to mention short-waisted – is a huge natural advantage);
  • Attending Wilfrid Laurier University and taking ALL the dance classes offered (i.e. ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing, jive, and Latin);
  • Attending the University of Toronto and joining the Only Human Dance Collective, which gave me more experience in everything, plus Irish and African and – finally – bellydance.

The meet-cute between bellydance and me occurred while I was working on my Masters in Toronto. The hip-hop class I wanted to sign up for was full. I thought, Hm, I’ve never tried this! I was hooked the first time I saw my teacher do a maya. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do that.

Once I began learning, I fell straightaway in love. It was all so fascinatingly beautiful. And finally my body had found a home. Finally it could be itself – long waist, large ribcage, prominent butt, funny-shaped feet and everything. Finally I was teaching it to do things that felt natural.

Since then, I have discovered that bellydance, in Ontario at least, is not just a hobby but a community – one full of diversity, creativity, and caring.

This past November, the dance troupe I belong to presented its biennial professional show called Mosaic. In this show, bellydance techniques are fused with all kinds of other dance techniques to create wonderful, unique choreography. There are a dozen of us who form the main troupe, and we worked really hard to bring the visions of our choreographers to life.

There is no way to adequately describe the rush you feel when combining the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of movement, the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and the bond of a loving community working their tails off together. I am incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Here is a piece we did in November. It took the most work of any of our pieces, because it required the most intricate synergy. It is chock-full of empowerment symbolism. No performance is perfect, but we are proud of this one.

Here is another piece that we did at the previous Mosaic two years ago. This is a favourite piece of the troupe in general because it’s so much fun. I adore it because it makes me feel like a kid: whooping and hollering, being unabashedly noisy with an instrument, animating a big swishy skirt, and especially dancing the big circle at the end where we skip and gallop – just pure candid joy.

Now my daughter is taking creative dance classes, and she loves them. Her excitement when she emerges from the studio is a sign that she is getting the joy I wish for her. And both my kids, when we put on music at home and just boogie down, have fun and smile more afterwards. It’s a shot of happiness to the body and soul.

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All The Light We Cannot See – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: All The Light We Cannot See – A Novel

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Author: Anthony Doerr

Other works:  The Shell Collector,  About GraceMemory WallFour Seasons in Rome

Recommended by: This was a book club pick, but it was also one that my book-savvy husband had heard great things about. Also, the fact that it won a Pulitzer recommends it rather well.

Genre: Historical fiction, World War II drama

Main characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl; Werner Pfennig, a German boy.

Opinions: Our book club was divided. One member came to the meeting calling it “brutal” because she’d just finished it and spent a good chunk of the end of it crying. Some thought it was hard to get into, but good after a while. Some thought the language was too flowery, and some don’t really get into historical fiction much.

I think I was the only person there who love love loved it. The writing didn’t feel flowery to me, just gorgeous. The author skilfully made every character real and human – even the heinous ones. The two main characters are particularly beautiful, and the way their lives gradually converge had me totally hooked.  I read considerably past my bedtime on many occasions.

A quotation I liked: My very favourite moments, the ones I had to go back and re-read, would be too long, and are spoilers anyway. But there were so many lines full of wisdom or insight that I found exquisite. For example,

“There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.”

What sticks with me: Fascinating portrayal of a blind person’s perspective – the sounds, smells, and strategies. But even more, the depth of feeling, rendered with zero melodrama. Lots and lots of writers have placed their stories during WWII, so you’ve gotta be good to make sure your story hasn’t been already told in some form, and that it’s worth telling. This one made me feel the same way Atonement did: very sad, but uplifted by so many forms of love. Moved by humanity’s capacity for beauty, even during the ugliest times in our history.

Recommended to: War buffs, gemstone buffs, Jules Verne buffs, marine biology buffs, and those who don’t mind a heartrending story in the service of love.

To sum up: I will definitely be re-reading All The Light We Cannot See when I have the chance.

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The Couple Next Door – Two-Minute Book Review

Our book club read The Couple Next Door only a few months ago, so I clearly remember how I felt about it.

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Author: Shari Lapena

Other works: Things Go Flying, Happiness Economics

Recommended by: Book Club, and several people I heard discussing it on the radio.

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Main characters: Anne and Marco Conti, and their kidnapped baby daughter Cora. And some iffy neighbours and in-laws. And a world-weary detective.

Opinions: The book club was divided – some found it quite engaging and exciting, and some found it annoying. I have to admit, I am one of the latter. I wanted to like it; after all, the author is a Canadian English teacher, yay! Good on her for writing a very successful book. Listening to other reviews, people are like, “It’s full of twists! I couldn’t put it down! Page-turner from start to finish!” I, on the other hand, was like, “It’s full of gimmicks! I couldn’t relate to any of the characters! Cringeable writing from start to finish!” I didn’t hate it – it wasn’t boring – I finished it with no problem. I did want to know what happened. But honestly, if you’re planning, as an author, to wrench readers’ heartstrings by featuring a missing infant, you need to back that up with grounded plot lines and realistic parents we can care about. (In my opinion.) In this case, it felt like plot-twist experimentation, as in, “Let’s see if they’ll swallow THIS one!” Especially at the end.

A quotation I liked: Sorry… nothing that moved me. The writing was part of my problem with the book in general – I couldn’t make myself stop noticing the awkwardness of a third-person narrative in the present tense.

What sticks with me: That awful idea of coming in to see your baby – and her being gone.

Recommended to: Readers who love a surprising, suspenseful plot and don’t mind so much about underdeveloped characters.

To sum up: I’m not a fan of The Couple Next Door, but you might be!

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Bullies: How You Treat People = WHO YOU ARE

For your reading pleasure today, we have a rant for and about BULLIES. Specifically, adult bullies who need to know better.

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Image via thinkinclusive.us

I’m incensed after reading an article about disgusting trollery cropping up among Ontario doctors, targeting other doctors with whom they disagree on their internal politics. Click on over if you’d like to bear witness to some truly heinous behaviour, some even with screen-capture as proof.

Why should I care about infighting among doctors? Is it even my business?

Yes, it is, and I should. And so should you. Because: we are a better species than this.

Not too long ago, I wrote about How Not To Be A Douchebag, prompted by some similarly obnoxious incidents perpetrated by a different swath of people. I feel pretty certain that the post was read only by non-douchebags, since this blog’s readership is traditionally a small number of lovely, civilized people.

Now, here I am again. It seems I need to look at a greater problem: not just your run-of-the-mill jerks, but highly educated expert jerks on the public payroll.

I’m upset about the doctor thing for several reasons:

  1. Doctors go through many, many years of school, and work with (and for) a wide variety of humans, with the goal of doing no harm. In this province, they even do specific training for empathy. How can you go through all that and still feel entitled to stab your colleagues in the back?
  2. The nature of a doctor’s job is extremely intimate and sensitive. If online bullying is acceptable practice to you, what other shockingly inappropriate actions are you justifying to yourself?
  3. I’m a teacher, one of those professions people LOVE to bully. I’ve learned first-hand that no matter how divisive an issue is, it is possible to have a respectful conversation. (3.b And that no matter how crucial or legitimate an issue is, there will be people who feel qualified to forego critical thought and spew crap all over it.)
  4. As with any profession, most doctors are doing their best to do a good job and be good people. When something like this blows up, it dishonours all of them. A big shame-paintbrush like this gets an awful lot of people messy.
  5. Although this current news piece will no doubt shortly fade from the public consciousness, it is not an isolated problem. The article states that abuse and bullying have been going on in the medical community for decades.

I guess that should be no surprise. Every field has its assholes. It’s just that there’s this thing called “Professionalism.” Medicine is one of the most highly-regarded professional fields in the world. Therefore, to be part of it, you are expected to be professional. (That part ain’t brain surgery, people.)

The biggest reason I’m mad at the doctor-bullies today is that, despite the brains and hard work required for them to be where they are, they have somehow skipped the lesson you’re supposed to learn in kindergarten, or even younger: BE KIND. In translation, this also means DON’T BE A JERK.

As both a teacher and a parent, I spend a lot of my life trying to help people under the age of twelve understand what it is to be a good person. There are millions of other teachers and parents out there doing the same thing.

And it is constant work, an endless slog. Kids are often mean to each other, both by accident and on purpose. It’s normal, a developmental process – but that’s not to say it’s okay. We don’t just let it slide. When we teach kids about treating other people as they’d like to be treated, we are explicitly instructing them in skills like empathy, politeness, advocacy, and rational conversation.

We discuss manners, even down to tone of voice. We talk about mediation and listening. We make it clear that it’s not acceptable to deliberately hurt other people, whether in person or online. It’s okay to disagree, it’s okay to express anger, but it’s not okay to be mean about it.

I often ask kids who are being mean to someone, “Are you a mean person?” They almost never believe themselves to be mean people. They must be reminded that if you do mean things, that makes you a mean person. You are what you do.

These are young children. Of course we have to help them learn these things. Part of developing as a human is to learn how to be what we intend. We all need help and reminders.

But really, is there any excuse at all for being a medical doctor who still calls people awful names? When can we expect adults to grow up, if not by this point in life? When might we expect one to dislodge one’s cranium from one’s anus?

Once more, with feeling: if you act hateful to people, that’s you. Being a hateful person.

Is that the person you meant to be?

To be honest, I’m not just talking about the field of medicine. My ire is directed at all the bullies, trolls, harassers, and intimidators who fall into the category of “adults.” It is TIME TO SHAPE UP. Can’t you see that the rest of us are working here?? That we are toiling every single day to be and teach examples of treating others with compassion and respect, and that you are unraveling our carefully-crafted lessons? In other words, in case you need some more familiar terminology, you are f*cking it up.

If you think children don’t notice your bad behaviour, you couldn’t be more wrong. They are all over the internet, seeing all kinds of things you didn’t intend them to see. They hear the words you say aloud and they see the way you treat people. Unless you live by yourself in a remote cave (without internet access), you are setting examples every day.

I’m not saying you have to be perfect. We all lose our temper sometimes. Most of us occasionally say things we regret, in the heat of the moment. But when it comes to online harassment, you have no “heat of the moment” defense. You deliberately typed every ugly word you used.

I don’t care how upset you are: as an ostensible grown-up, you need to express your anger in a mature and productive way.

I also don’t care how excellent you are at your job, or how prestigious your career is; it does not make you a superior human.

I have always been mystified by those who think it’s okay to treat others cruelly. And I don’t know why, but many people seem to think the internet is the place to give voice to their most repulsive selves. I have heard of and witnessed far too many examples of this recently. Full-grown people behaving more obnoxiously – and immaturely – than the worst schoolyard bullies. Feeling no need for reflection or self-examination, and no need to consider their actual audience.

That’s the thing even the most educated trolls seem – conveniently, and incredibly – to forget: the audience is real. Would you really call your co-worker a c*nt – to her face, in a roomful of your colleagues? Would you stand up in the staff lounge and announce that so-and-so should eat sh*t? Because that’s what a closed forum is.

And if you’re on a public comment forum, you’re essentially onstage. Picture yourself and your target sharing the spotlight in a grand auditorium filled with unseen crowds – they’re there, they’re listening, and you’ve taken the mike. What would you really say?

It worries me that so many bullies have been validated by the recently-elected American Prince of the Douche-Trolls. If you look at him and think admiringly, He has no filter and he’s proud of it! He stands for free tweets speech! That’s what the new era looks like!, please know that this is bullshit. He is not “telling it like it is.” He proudly embodies a lack of self-regulation, combined with a pitiable need for attention and the cowardice to choose the internet as his preferred medium.

You know the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will leave emotional scars that will affect my relationships and mental health for the rest of my life.”

Words are profoundly important. Especially online, we have the time and experience to make something of our words, to use their power to move our society forward. We have a responsibility to consider the words we use, and to make them reflect who we are.

You’re really going to pick those shabby, disgraceful words to express disagreement? You think they will make your point?

Actually, the most salient point you make, with words like those, is about you.

If you call yourself an adult and have not yet figured out how to disagree without being abusive, then you are an embarrassment to your peers. You should be ashamed of yourself. It’s time to join the civilized world and fix this.

Please and thank you.

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Crossing the Border into the Kids’ Bedroom

Recently, my kids got all excited about creating signage. E was the instigator in this, so these – the six most important things to keep in mind at the border – are his handiwork. They can be found on the shared bedroom door.

This one’s pretty obvious. There’s no smoking in our house, which is easy because none of us is a smoker.
Also pretty obvious – we are Canadians, after all. No firearms likely to be lurking in our sock drawers. Truth be told, we do our best to quash any games that involve guns as well, even completely imaginary ones. Even the sound effects. Too unfunny to be playful on any level, as far as I’m concerned.
They get to have their water bottles. Occasionally dry cereal. Otherwise, it’s a pretty strict policy. (Thanks for noticing, little dude!)
The items shown are Minecraft armour. Sometimes E gets to play with the iPad in his bedroom, but it’s far from being a given – especially during the school week. I think this sign is mostly wishful thinking/hopes for the power of suggestion.
We have learned that it’s very important to take off our soaking wet snow gear AT THE DOOR. Sometimes we even remember the crucial step of hanging it up.
So that’s no bears of the grizzly, polar, or black(/brown) varieties. Beanie, fuzzy, plush and/or cuddly can obtain passports to be admitted.

So watch yourselves, folks. There are no border checkpoints, but I’m sure Big Brother is watching.

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Let’s have Sisterhood take over the world – boys, girls, and all.

Let’s talk about Sisterhood. It’s a much bigger concept than simply having female siblings. I believe that Sisterhood, big S, encompassing millions of diverse humans, is what today has been about.

I’m aware that there was a big, braggadocious, depressing, basically unthinkable event going on yesterday. It was my day off. I studiously avoided all exposure to it. Instead, I’ve been ruminating on more worthy things.

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Image via The Master Shift

In November, I weighed in about the political situation and how it must be combatted with courtesy and civilized conversation  and critical thinking and especially LOVE. I felt the need yesterday to focus on that. Love is what we use to fend off and neutralize hate. Love is what we’re here for. But what does that look like on a grievously upsetting day?

Sisterhood popped up as a theme as early as breakfast. One of my wonderful, gifted American cousins – who happens to be an only child – had written a beautiful Facebook post that included these wise words:

Sisterhood shines brilliantly when we lift each other up, giving tough love when our sisters aren’t reaching their full potential… and celebrating each other’s successes from a place of abundance and admiration instead of envy. 

Sisterhood is about collectively raising and empowering the young girls in our lives. 

Sisterhood is sharing in the flawed, exhausting, pressure-filled, body-centric, mysterious, perfectly imperfect experience of being a woman. Sometimes we are violated, silenced, overlooked, or underestimated. Too often, we are our own worst enemies. 

Sisterhood is turning into our mothers, taking care of our mothers, and becoming mothers. 

Sisterhood is coming together in the hundreds of thousands, all over the world, to be heard.

This prompted me to re-read one of my favourite Momastery posts, in which the carpentry term “sistering” is explained. It’s kinda perfect. It’s all about getting close, locking in, being there and supporting where support is most needed.

It occurred to me that Sisterhood, in its greatest sense, is not just for women. It can embrace the people of all genders who sister each other.

Yes, I know that brotherhood is a thing, and a good thing in many ways. I firmly believe boys need more bonding experiences. Brotherhood connotes standing united together, leaving no one behind, knowing who’s got your back, and no doubt much more. It also connotes frat parties, army platoons, and street gangs.

Sisterhood, on the other hand, has gentleness. It is strong and fierce, and gentle. It can get angry and still be kind. It is brimful of compassion. Sisterhood is open; it confides; it listens; it feels deeply. It is not afraid to be vulnerable, nor to give tough love, nor to speak its heart.

It has been my privilege in life to know many men who understand and participate in this kind of Sisterhood – including several who are related to me. One of them had his 30th birthday yesterday, which made all of us who know and love him feel comforted on that date.

{Thank you for being amazing, Sistermen – the world needs you more than ever.}

And today is another birthday, that of a faraway sister-of-my-heart whom I rarely see, but with whom I can always fall into step when we meet.

I have many Sisters, Canadian and American, who have been marching today in various places, including Washington. It has made me really happy to check in with them and see Sisterhood governing. Wise words spoken – incisive wit – reverent listening – peaceful gathering – pink pussy hats – acknowledgement of privilege – generosity – joyful solidarity. Humans supporting humans in our imperfectly human way.

sisterhood womens march on washington
Image via cbc.ca, Julia Pagel

Last night, I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Guelph Lecture On Being Canadian, presented by Jeannette Armstrong, Okanagan knowledge-keeper, professor, researcher, writer, protector. She spoke of the importance of listening to and understanding the exact opposite of your own perspective, in order to achieve balance. She spoke of coming together to heal the world. The unity in the room was palpable. Sisterhood.

It seems to me that in these past two days, that balance of opposites is exactly what the world has seen.

To all Sisters: we know there are tough times ahead. We know that to provide the balance for what is coming, we will have to use extra measures of patience, warmth, empathy, and understanding – for each other just as much as for those on the other side of the scales. We need to think hard, check ourselves, and use the most love that we can muster.

We are meant for this challenge. We’ve got this.

 

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life

animal vegetable miracle barbara kingsolver
READ ME

Author: Barbara Kingsolver, with Stephen L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Other works: (by Barbara) The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, Small Wonder, The Lacuna, The Bean Trees, etc.

Recommended by: Book Club! I also find that Kingsolver’s work recommends more of itself to be read.

Genre: Non-fiction/Cooking/Poetry (because honestly, everything she writes is full of poetic gorgeousness)

Main Characters: Her family – she, her husband, and two daughters – and the FOOD.

Opinions: I adored this book, as I expected to. I had read a bunch of her fiction, as well as non-fiction essays; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has the added practical advice, recipes, and lots of horticulture that make it useful and educational, as well as just beautiful. I don’t remember all the opinions from the Book Club meeting, but it gets 4/5 on Goodreads.

A quotation I liked: “Human manners are wildly inconsistent; plenty of people have said so. But this one takes the cake: the manner in which we’re allowed to steal from future generations, while commanding them not to do that to us, and rolling our eyes at anyone who is tediously PC enough to point that out. The conspicious consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spirtual error, or even bad manners.”

What sticks with me: This book is not preachy, but it says a lot about sustainability and the realities of our food culture, especially in North America. It makes me think all the more often about where my food has come from, and whether I want to support the way it’s grown or exported. I also really really want to have dinner with the author.

Recommended to: Farmers, Gardeners, Foodies, Environmentalists, Poets, and people who don’t cook but want to start.

To sum up: Inspiring. Sometimes depressing, but mostly uplifting. Barbara’s writing is always full of compassion for humanity, and this book makes you feel like a friend in her warm kitchen.

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