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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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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 4: Music

In my bakery-café of the 5-Day (plus an intervening month) Artist Challenge, how to metaphorize music? How can I possibly convey, bread-wise, what music means to me? The truth is, I can’t. But I’m going to use some more it’s-my-blog leeway and say: it’s COOKIES.

Some cookies need lots of practice and training to make. Some cookies you can just whip up on instinct. Some are stunningly intricate, some are satisfyingly simple. Some you’ll make over and over again, and they never fail to comfort. Some cookies are so sublime, you have to drop what you’re doing and close your eyes to enjoy them properly.

Mozart cookie: lovely and mathematically precise.

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Classic Viennese cookies via andrewingredients.co.uk.

Debussy cookie: sophisticated, with deceptive lightness.

Colorful macaroons
French macarons via bonepi.com.

Miles Davis cookie: smooth, sweet-salty, and ultra-cool.

Double-Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Salted-Swirl-Ice-Cream-Sandwiches-glitterinc.com_
Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich cookie via glitterinc.com.

Gordon Lightfoot cookie: deliciously chewy and sturdy, with lots of traditional ingredients.

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Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin cookie via recipeshubs.com.

Rage Against the Machine cookie: hard-core, with principles.

badass cookie music
Vegan Power cookie via chicvegan.com.

Justin Bieber cookie.

golden oreos
Golden Oreos via thecolorless.net.

Now that you’d rather be eating cookies, let’s get back to Music. At this juncture, I’ll admit that cookies still don’t fully express what I want them to, because I could FAR more easily live without cookies than live without music.

In utero, I was already learning to depend on melody and harmony; as my mom sang with her Renaissance choir, I frolicked along.

During my childhood, we listened to music in our house all the time – from Sandra Beech and Raffi to Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins to Brahms and Prokofiev to Bruce Cockburn and John Fahey to the Beatles and Jethro Tull. We often attended the symphony and the opera as a family in those days, too. We would take turns staring at the performers from the second balcony, using binoculars.

Music was always full of images and emotion for me, even when I was quite little. We often listened to music to fall asleep, and certain pieces moved me so much, I felt bereft when they ended. I can remember a long pre-teen afternoon spent nerding out with my little sister, writing interpretive poems based on Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring; it was so beautiful it had to be poemed.

As for my musical training, it’s been a bit spotty. I sang a lot, from toddlerhood on (we have audio footage of my Raffi covers). I cheated through about three years of piano lessons from my mom; I could play well enough by ear that I didn’t need to read the music – until it got too hard, and by then I was rather behind in my music-reading abilities. After that, I mostly contented myself with making up pieces to play, so that I could forego the reading of music. (Well, not completely – I did also learn the soprano recorder.)

In high school music class, I learned to read music for flute and piccolo, and eventually alto saxophone. I love love loved being in the Concert and Jazz bands, playing in big, thrilling ensembles. Making awesome music with a large group of humanity… it’s a rush I wish everyone could experience.

In my teen years, I began making mix tapes (back when they were actually tapes) that would later by replaced by playlists, collecting songs I loved and cherishing them like shiny shells. I also fell in love with a whole bunch of musicals. The significance music takes on when you’re a teenager in the midst of your identity quest (plus lots of hormones)… it’s just EPIC.

First live rock concert, just for reference, was the Grapes of Wrath at the Hamilton Tivoli in 1992, with my best childhood friend Natalie. We were 14.

Since high school, I’ve fit music-making into my life here and there – choir and concert band at the University of Toronto, a women’s choir for a few years here at home, and in recent years, my ukulele, and Massed Choir for one week a year at OELC. When I have a compelling enough reason, I open up GarageBand or a score-writer and make a record of music that’s been in my head, waiting to get out.

I still use music constantly. It’s therapy, energy boost, relaxer, comfort, distraction, focus aid, pick-me-up… you name it. Music helps me celebrate when there’s joy, and process and heal when there’s pain. I do not know how I’d live without it.

Furthermore, I think we all need it, on a fundamental level. Like, as a species. Why else would we have vocalized and pounded out rhythms together, since forever, in all the corners of the world we occupy? In this way, music is almost more like water than bread, transcending political boundaries, flowing through us, connecting us, keeping our souls quenched. You know??

Yep. That’s what music does. Makes me wax friggin’ lyrical.

What music keeps you alive?

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 3: Visual Art

It’s Visual Art for Day 3 of the Artist Challenge!

I’m going to bend the art-as-bread metaphor a bit, and say that visual art… is a sandwich. Because it has to be. You take your deliciously blank bread/canvas/hunk of rock, add your ideas and effort, colour and texture, and make it something totally new that’s your own. It might be savoury or sweet, hot or cold, crunchy or sloppy, humble or huge, traditional or bizarre. It might be multimedia. The result might cause observers to say, “Ooh! Yum!” or perhaps “WTF is that??”

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Artistic Vegetarian Sandwich via amuse-your-bouche.com.

I love visual art. (You might be thinking: Um, Dilovely, you also said you loved the first two strands of art. Are you ever gonna spice things up and NOT love one? The answer is no. Nope, I love them all. I’m allowed to be wholeheartedly predictable if I want.) Especially since university, when I got a wee bit obsessed with Impressionists – as many French majors do – I have loved to contemplate art. I visited all the museums I could while in Europe – and Barcelona blew my mind. I love letting a painting or sculpture sink into my eyes and take over my brain.

I also love, when possible, watching people make art. Since we’re talking about art AND sandwiches, I’m going to confess that a person with knee-jerk shyness (such as me) might, instead of choosing to have lunch with any famous person in history, want to go back in time and just watch Monet or Seurat paint.

I am in awe of visual artists, including the many I know personally and/or am related to. I’m amazed by the ability to shed reality, see things in new ways, envision things that never were, grab your tools and just… make new beauty. This is how I know I am not a true visual artist: I’m not enough of a risk-taker. Or a reality-shedder.

Here’s my art sandwich:

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Conventional PB&J via livestrong.com.

It might be decently executed, it’s appealing enough, but it’s entirely unoriginal.

When I was a kid, I drew lots of pictures. Usually ladies in pretty dresses. Other kids often said I was a “good draw-er.” (I was also the queen of colouring contests.) I figured this was normal. My mom was such a good draw-er that she could just whip up a drawing for me to colour, upon request. (Mostly ballerinas.) My dad could create graphic-art fonts by hand as if he’d trained his whole life. I just assumed all grown-ups could do art.

I enjoyed art class in Grade 9, and was proud of some of what I came up with, especially my big still-life project. However, I was beginning to understand that I didn’t have the innovative soul of a true visual artist, and I took instrumental music instead, thereafter.

Around the time I graduated from university, I took up drawing again for a bit, having remembered what I’m good at, namely: copying. I can draw from a photograph pretty accurately.

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Here’s Marilyn, with only a slightly wonky nose.
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Here’s Anne Frank, with whom I was also obsessed for several years.
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Here’s a woman from a Midol ad. I related to her posture at the time I drew her.

This was my most in-depth drawing, rendered from a photo I found in the book The Family of Man (from the MOMA). I was happy I’d managed to retain that which moved me about the original – the tenderness, the light. But the real beauty, the real art, was in the photo itself.

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For a brief moment as I prepared to leave for France, I imagined reinventing myself on a foreign continent as An Artist. But it didn’t last, because I knew I didn’t have the true artist’s soul. I wasn’t risky or imaginative or experimental. I liked to be safe. Even as a kid, I didn’t take paint and just go “Sploosh!” to see what happened. I didn’t try new things much, or let art take shape on its own. I wanted things to be just so. That’s why I so loved my coloured pencils: the colour went only exactly where I put it. Even now, paint scares me in its uncontrollableness.

Most of the drawing I do nowadays is on the blackboard (or whiteboard) at school. The kids love it when I draw things to illustrate a point, especially when they turn out terrible. They still sometimes tell me I’m a good draw-er, which makes me smile. And I enjoy watching my own children do art, with their natural creativity.

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These are a few of E’s homemade Pokémon. He makes up their names and powers.
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And here is a mixed-media piece AB made with, paper, wood, glitter, stickers, re-directed mail, plastic packaging, and utmost confidence.

For those readers with the visual art gift: could I come watch you make art sometime?

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P.S. If you noticed that Day 3 didn’t occur on the third day, here’s an oh-so-artistic meme I created to represent my feelings just prior to midnight last night:

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 2: Drama

Today on 5-Day Artist Challenge, I bring you DRAMA.

If art is bread for the soul, I’m gonna say that drama is… French toast. You take some words/bread that someone else made a while ago, and make it your own. You give it new life with your own egg/milk mixture of interpretation. It might, in the end, look completely different from how it looked before you renewed it, but in essence, it is the same.

Dramatic French toast.
Dramatic French Toast via generationyfoodie.com.

(Yes. Not all forms of drama fit this French-toast paradigm. I know I’m stretching it. It’s late.)

I love drama in many ways. Not in my life, particularly, but to witness, as a discipline. I have a lot of respect for good acting, both cinematic and theatrical. And I am thrilled by high-quality improvisation.

I’m not particularly talented at it, myself. (My sister Emily and my mom are both really good actors, so I know what that looks like.) Of course, I was in many a Christmas play as a child in Quaker Meeting. I once starred as the Robin in a play I believe was called “Robin Saves Christmas.” All I recall was that I played the piano at the end of the presentation (to represent church bells) and then accidentally put my wings on upside-down to deliver my last line.

At age thirteen or fourteen, I also played half of Della in The Gift of the Magi – that is, Della before her hair is cut short.

5 day artist challenge drama gift of the magi
I’m on the left, all verklempt because I have no money for my beloved’s Christmas present.

The kids in our family all participated in the Kiwanis Festival, and I did many poetry recitations and Shakespearean scenes. I can remember being told on more than one occasion that my voice was too soft, I needed to project more.

Also as a young teen, I came to understand the power of a dramatic performance to move an audience to tears and/or goosebumps when the drama club at Intermediate Camp put on a self-created series of sketches about gender stereotypes. I fervently wished I’d been part of it – I’d always been in the drama club before, when all we did was play games, but this… It was drama to make an impression, make a difference.

I was briefly part of the drama club in high school, but I was not in any of the musicals. I was kinda sad about that, but I was also already an overcommitted teenager (by choice).

In my second year of university, I went on a 5-week immersion bursary trip to Québec, and became part of the improv team. It was super-fun and scary. I have a distinctly proud memory of being part of a sketch that cracked up the crowd. (I was crouched down, holding my nose for a nasal vocal quality, for my role as the tape-player in beginner French class.)

In my third year of university, I played “Charlotte” in Du poil aux pattes comme les CWACs for a Québecois lit course. I think I was pretty bad. I know I could never manage to convince even myself that my crying was real when I got the news that my boyfriend had been Killed in Action. But I did drop to my knees with such commitment that one of them bled, so that must count for something.

Nowadays, my dramatic skills are mostly used for dancing (MOTL), teaching the AIM program in Core French, and reading stories to my kids. As a narrator, I’m no Morgan Freeman, but I can say that the more I like the story, the better my acting. And as a teacher – you can bet I’ve learned to project.

My kids, on the other hand, are great at bringing lots of drama into our everyday lives. I never have to worry that life will be too humdrum.

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 1: Writing

Okay, 5-Day Artist Challenge, here we go! In true OELC iArts fashion, I shall dedicate each of the five days to a different strand of art, and I decree that writing shall be first. Because obviously.

5-day artist challenge journal writing fountain pen

If art is bread for the soul, writing is… let’s say sourdough. You get a starter of an idea, you let it ferment a bit. You feed it some nice floury research, wait some more, and eventually you’re ready to knead and craft something interesting out of it. Or occasionally you might get a starter that’s all ready and you just have to go for it. Sometimes it will flop, sometimes it will have a respectable grain. Not everyone will like the result, but some people will think it’s delicious.

sourdough bread 5-day artist challenge
Image via bbc.co.uk

{My sister is the actual sourdough disciple. Through her, I have become acquainted with some different versions of her starter, Don Juan. Beth, do I sound convincing at all?}

Ahem. Yes. WRITING.

Writing is something I’ve done on a regular basis since my first diary was given to me on my seventh birthday. I really got going with the journaling in my pre-teen years, and was prolific throughout my teens and even university (as time permitted). I wrote compulsively about events I wanted to cherish, and even more compulsively about heartbreaking or awful or turbulent things I needed to process. Some hopes and philosophies, lots about friendships, and even more about boys.

During my grade-school years, I dreamed of being a professional writer one day (like my authorly heroines – Anne Shirley, Anne Frank, That Scatterbrain Booky). I was also homeschooled by my mom, who is herself a writer of poetry, stories, and historical novels. Her encouragement/bias is evidenced by the many stories and poems and not-at-all-historical novels I wrote during that time. (Her novels tended to treat actual elements of the British monarchy, and mine were about contemporary pre-teen girls with first-world problems. Amy the Dreamer; Remember Me? I’m Your Daughter; and My Friend Christie. They were twelve chapters each, written by hand on lined paper in duo-tangs. Full of my youthful feels, if not actual ingenuity. The Magic Chestnut was never finished.)

I remember submitting the painstakingly typed (and dot-matrix printed) Amy the Dreamer to Nelson Canada (it was kind of a homeschooling project, with a business letter and everything) and receiving a very nice rejection letter for it. I’m pretty sure I once had a poem published in Cricket magazine, and I won a few awards at my high school’s Literary Festival. My real accomplishment, though, was “Rainy Day Cindy,” my first (and only) fully author-illustrated short story – which you can view in its entirety on this very blog!

Then, in university, I wrote a buttload of essays, culminating in my 75-page mémoire (similar to a thesis) for my Masters in French lit. And that was enough of that.

My journaling, and actually my writing in all forms, dramatically tapered off when Sean and I settled down together. Naturally, peaceful love life = less fodder; real job = less time. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I realized how much I’d missed having that outlet.

I don’t really write fiction anymore. As a kid, I had no end of ideas, and felt absolutely entitled to write the heck out of them. Nowadays, I feel unqualified to make up stories, intimidated by the incredibly gorgeous and heartrending novels I’ve read. There’s a part of me that still wants to write a novel, or lots of novels. The trouble is, I don’t want to do so without a character who could steal your heart, preferably within a story that could blow your mind. I’m not confident that my imagination is up to the task.

But I do love blogging. I’ve heard folks paraphrase Dorothy Parker on more than one occasion: “I hate writing, I love having written.” For me, this is not the case. I relish the writing process, love finding and puzzling together the words to say what I mean. I even sort of liked writing essays, for the brain challenge. Writing soothes the itchy parts of my mind.

Thank goodness for you, lovely Di-hards. Just by reading, you validate my act of writing things. You motivate me just by your presence. You make it okay for me to keep this frivolous habit of committing my thoughts to words. I’m profoundly grateful to you.

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