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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.

communion-bread-sacrament
Communion bread via tvo.com
foccacia-pizza
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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#NaBloPoMo, Day 3: Dance

Tonight, I’m grateful for dance.

For the way it brings people together, in circles, squares, pairs, clumps, and huge crowds.

For the catharsis of a solo soul-dance party with nobody watching.

For the way it makes great music greater.

For the rush of a great performance – for both dancers and spectators.

For the beauty and grace, and for the sweat and burning.

For the instant mood-lifter, especially when there are kids involved.

For the satisfaction of a primal, global human instinct to express rhythm and melody with one’s whole self.

And tonight I’m especially grateful for my own community of dancers, the gorgeous, fascinating, warm, hilarious ladies in our dance troupe. Even when we’re tired, for three hours every Tuesday night we come together and muster our energy for each other’s sake. There’s compassion and empathy when you need them, and there’s always lots of laughter, and we are always better off afterward.

invoketress bellydance drum solo
Invoketress Drum Solo performed at Mosaic 2014. Photo by Dennis Novosad.

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100 Happy Days – Day 28: THE SHOW

Invoketress Dance - Mosaic 10th Anniversary Bellydance Fusion Show

 

What a night.

It was the kind of dance performance experience you hope for:

  • Everything went smoothly – no obvious costume mishaps, lighting and music cues were all on, people did their jobs well.
  • We had an almost-full theatre.
  • Our guest performers were all amazing.
  • We got great feedback from our audience (even some of the tough customers who happen to be related to troupe members).
  • Any of those random choreographic mistakes made (usually ones you’ve never made ever before) during performances were not noticeable to said audience members.
  • Our troupe has never been more cohesive and full of sisterhood. It is an amazing team to be part of.

We’re all still taking it in. Grateful and glowing.

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100 Happy Days – Day 27: Gettin’ Stuff Organized

The day before the show!!!

I have been in this many dance pieces (5) – or even more – in other shows, but never with quite so much in the way of complex costumes. It feels great to have everything ready to go.

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The sassy exuberant one with the tambourines.
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The Bollywood-style dance face-off with long head veils (dupattas).
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The post-apocalyptic tribal drum dance.
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The cheeky duet about falling in love (and I say “cheeky” partly because we dance to “Cheek to Cheek” by the Good Lovelies).
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The enigmatic, meditative finale in honour of the Never Not Broken Goddess.

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Remembering What We’re Built To Do

sunshine through the trees
Image from http://www.ForestWander.com

When I was 18, a boy at Camp wrote a poem for me. Although I didn’t requite his crush, I still consider his poem one of the most romantic things I’ve ever received, because of its candour. The second line was “She’s just like sunshine through the trees,” and to this day I still feel kinda thrilled about that. Sunshine through the trees is one of my favourite things in the whole world.

A while back, I heard on CBC about a study showing that spending time in green space improves our mental health. Apparently, being in the presence of leafy trees actually makes us happier.

I think most of us can vouch for this. At the end of a long, white winter, I’m sure I am not alone in feeling an almost physical thirst for those luscious green leaves. It’s nice to get this confirmation: we are built to feel that way.

Family Camp at NeeKauNis last month was full of reminders of the things we are built to do and enjoy.

Here we are, in the age of modern medicine, where Westerners rarely worry about diseases that used to kill us in great numbers – smallpox and tuberculosis, for example – and we’ve handily encouraged a phalanx of new maladies all by ourselves.

We eat packaged food so far removed from its sources that we don’t even recognize the ingredients; then we wonder why we have troubles with our various organs and our energy levels.

We’ve surrounded ourselves with harmful chemicals in our food, clothes, grass, household products, and everything plastic; then we are devastated when opportunistic cancers have a field day.

We spend hours a day sitting, hunched over some screen or other, often sacrificing sleep for addictive overstimulation; then we realize – too late, sometimes – that our heart or lungs or joints or brains don’t work properly anymore.

We live in our container-homes, put in our earbuds so no live people can distract us, and avoid eye contact with the humans who serve us coffee or check out our groceries; then we shake our heads at the rise of prescription anti-depressant use.

I’m not speaking in self-righteousness. I do most of these things too. I’m not condemning modern medicine either, or technology in general. I really appreciate the benefits of ultra-portable computers, affordable antibiotics, high-speed transportation, laparoscopic surgery, and the wondrous capacity of the internet. I like Cheetos and Toaster Strudel, I watch TV on Netflix, I love Facebook, and as I’ve mentioned, I am very grateful for the existence of prescription anti-depressants.

But when I’m in a restaurant and see a family of four at the next table, not speaking, each absorbed in a separate hand-held device, my husband and I look at each other and quietly vow: That will never be us.

And at Family Camp, I remember that when those contemporary facets of life drop away for a few days, it does good to every layer of our selves.

It helps that there are children of all ages there. They’re all over the things that humans are meant to do. Just watching and listening to them is therapy.

built for 3

Children run and jump and climb and slide. They laugh their heads off, and cry hard when they need to. They sing and dance with joy. They build and knock down. They splash and spin. They scrunch their fingers and toes in the sand. They get dirty with real dirt. They want stories, hugs, their own little space, and their own accomplishments.

I want those things, too.

When I think about what really, actually makes me feel good, it’s mostly simple things. The things I’m built to do. The same things humans have been doing for centuries – or longer.

Dancing until I am out of breath.

Cooking for someone I love.

Making art.

Getting lost in a great book.

built for 2

Sitting in dappled shade. (Sunshine through the trees.)

Hugging.

Plunging into cool water on a hot day.

built for 4

Sipping a hot drink on a cold day.

Listening to music I love – or better yet, making some.

Hearing breezes, birds, crickets, rivers, waves.

Writing.

Looking closely at something beautiful.

built for 6

Reading to my kids.

Going to bed when I’m really tired.

built for 5

Walking in fresh air.

Laughing.

Eating something truly delicious.

built for 1

Sharing thoughts and feelings with a friend.

Doing a job well.

Having an adventure.

I know, they read like clichés, worthy of a curlicued garden tile. But there are reasons the inspirational-message market is so successful. Mostly, it’s because

1) It really IS good for us to dance as if nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, etc., because we’re built to.

And

2) We busy humans are remarkably good at forgetting the value of those seemingly easy things.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the thousand little jobs you have to do on a daily basis. I could easily spend all of every day doing small, necessary, basically mindless tasks. Which is not satisfying at all.

For me, I know, I need to think of those good-for-my-soul things as medicine. Taking my medicine is my responsibility, something I must do for my health. And in order to take it, I have to notice it. I have to be truly mindful and present.

That way, any time I can grab a bit of dappled shade or kid snuggles or good conversation, they will heal what ails me.

What precious things are you built to do?

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6 Headlines You Won’t See at the Supermarket Checkout

In case you’re wondering, the title of this post is a bit ironic. If you hang around the Interwebs, you may have noticed that it’s real trendy or whatever to write articles and posts that start with a number. Somehow it makes the content more attractive and edible if you enumerate stuff.

Far be it from me to deprive you guys of those delicious, crunchy numbers. I want to honour your readership. So… Bon appétit!

TEACHER PREPARES FOR TRANSFORMATIVE EVENT

A week ago Thursday, I found out that I get to be staff at a week-long camp program in June that blends Leadership and Arts for Grade 7 and 8 students… and I get to be a teacher facilitator for Dance. 🙂 🙂 🙂 All descriptions of the program indicate that it’s the most profound, life-changing teaching/learning experience possible. I cannot describe how STOKED I am. (Merci beaucoup to Mr. A, who is responsible for me getting the position at all.)

On the same topic, I need to get on with whipping my own buns into shape. I still dance on a regular basis, but my fitness and flexibility levels are not where I’d like them to be for sharing dance space with 13- and 14-year-olds. Young teenage dancers tend to be seriously strong and bendy. (I was one, once upon a time, so I know.) Excellent motivation.

Mentally, I will also be whipping myself (into shape, or perhaps into a mess), by attempting to finish report cards and yearbook production before I go. I shall become the Duchess of Organization. It’s gonna happen. Grrr.

And lastly on this topic, I am girding myself psychologically to be away from my own munchkins for a whole week. One night + two days is still the longest I’ve been apart from E, and one day is the longest since AB was born. (Sean is gracious about this opportunity for me, which will also be a considerable challenge for him, parenting-wise; we are already arranging help for while I’m gone.) Luckily, there will be exciting things distracting me from the lack of baby kisses and endearing quotables… but still. There will be some withdrawal.

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WOMAN OVERDOSES ON CONTEMPORARY DANCE, SUFFERS NO ILL EFFECTS

Last weekend, I went to TWO dance shows in as many days. (Which is totally crazy, considering my normal rate of spectacles per decade, if you don’t count the ones I’m in.) On Friday night, Sean took me to see RUBBERBANDance Group as an early birthday present. It wowed us such that, over dessert after the show, the two of us had a real conversation about dance … which has never happened. Despite me being a dance performer, I honestly don’t think we’ve ever discussed the art form at any length before.

So yeah, minds were blown. Talk about strong and bendy. And seamlessly interactive in a way that looks effortless but has to be incredibly hard. Watch the promo, you’ll see what I mean.

Then, on Saturday evening, I was lucky enough to go with a group of dancer friends to see a live music/dance presentation called “Dichterliebe: The Poet’s Love,” by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. Again, it was fascinating and beautiful, though totally different from the other show. You can actually watch the whole thing in this video – except that in the show we saw, this same baritone – Alexander Dobson – had full facial hair and luscious shoulder-length locks. (The dancing starts about halfway through.) If you like poetry, it is worth checking out the words – they are rather extraordinary.

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TODDLER TURNS 18 MONTHS AND ENTERS ADOLESCENCE

On Sunday, Baby AB was officially 18 months old. She’s still very short, with diapers and a round baby-belly, but in many ways we feel like we have a teenage cliché in the house. (Two, actually, but that’s another post.) As our daycare provider put it the other day, “How can she be so small and so cute – and so willful at the same time?”

Teenager or Toddler? You be the judge.

  • She talks almost nonstop;
  • She often deliberately shows her belly button;
  • She experiments with kissing;
  • She loves accessories and bling;
  • She wants to choose her own clothes;
  • Unacceptable clothes are offensive to her;
  • She likes to hold hands;
  • She flies into rages with very little provocation;
  • Reasons for her anger are not always clear;
  • She alternates between needing help and being insulted by help;
  • Her moods possess a quality of epic drama;
  • You cannot convince her she’s wrong, ever;
  • She frequently bugs her brother on purpose;
  • She is learning and growing at a scarily fast pace;
  • It is amazing watching her discover her potential.
You think she'd take no for an answer? Of course not.
You think she’d take no for an answer? Of course not.

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BLOGGER INADVERTENTLY WINS RAD BEVERAGE CONTEST

Also on Sunday, I had the pleasure of brunching with the lovely ladies behind bear & lion, Heather in Heels, Friends in my Closet, Eightyink, Rustric Retrievals, and Heart, Heather. We ate at State & Main, a restaurant chain which is still new to Ontario, and we were treated very well indeed.

When I arrived (typically late), most of the group was already there and had ordered Caesars, because apparently they’re brunchy. I did not order a Caesar (because CLAM BROTH), and there was no Mimosa on the menu, so I went with something that sounded good: a Mexican Bulldog. Little did I know it would be approximately the size of my daughter’s head, and look like this:

The Mexican Bulldog. If you're alarmed, please note that's a Coronita, not a Corona. Ahem.
The Mexican Bulldog. If you’re alarmed, please note – that’s a Coronita, not a full-sized Corona. Ahem.

The ladies agreed that my beverage took the proverbial cake. And it was quite tasty and refreshing. And it was almost noon by then, so. Yeah.

Conversation was really fun, as usual, and the food was great. I had veggie eggs benedict, and it was delicious, but next time I’m having the Baileys banana-bread French toast.

Signs you might be surrounded by bloggers, #278: everyone immediately instagrams her meal.
Signs you might be surrounded by bloggers, #278: everyone immediately instagrams her meal. Except Dilovely, who is afraid of Instagram.

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COUPLE TRIUMPHS BY WATCHING 40 SITCOM EPISODES IN NINE DAYS

Naw. That’s just too outlandish.

Sean and I wanted to triumph: I’d found out that How I Met Your Mother would ending forever on March 31st, and we had nine days to go. I figured out how many episodes we had left to watch (about 1.5 seasons) and I felt the fizz of determination. We got one evening in – I think we logged a solid six episodes… and then failed thereafter. Sean was working evenings and, well, it’s one of those shows we must watch together. The weekends were hectic and blah blah blah. We still haven’t even started the final season.

Fortunately, Skye was watching, and like a true friend, she sent me real-time non-spoiler updates, such as “I can’t believe that happened!!!” and “Now some tears…” so I could feel like I was participating. 😛

Oh, how I'll miss you all. On the bright side, it may be years before we finish season 9!
Oh, how I’ll miss you all. On the bright side, it may be years before we finish season 9.

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Toddler Tracks: Baby AB and the Power of Toddling

Dear Baby AB,

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written of your exploits here, even though – or perhaps because – you’re continually astonishing. There is so much to catch up on!

At the end of this month, you will be a year-and-a-half old. Eighteen months. That’s big.

The first thing I guess I have to concede is: you’re not really a baby anymore. We call you Baby or Bébé a lot, because you’re still the baby of the family (I called E “Bébé” until you came along), but you are now officially a toddler. You toddle like the dickens.

You took your first independent steps on November 12th – toward your Papa – but you didn’t make a habit of it. You practiced by tromping around with your stabilizing doll stroller until you were ready to muckle onto walking, over the Christmas holidays.

stroller
That stroller was your best friend when you were ALMOST walking.

As you careened around in your wobbly, intrepid way, Uncle D observed that whoever coined the term “toddler” was right on the money – it’s almost onomatopoeic, visually speaking.

In these physical ways, you are the opposite of your brother at the same age. You are adventurous; caution is not a priority for you. You started pushing against boundaries practically the moment you were born, and you push more strongly every day. Incidentally, I would not call you “mellow” like your brother was either – you know what you want and don’t want, and you will do what (you think) it takes to have your way, no matter how loud or rough you have to be.

Here are some things you’re into, now that you’re a toddler.

  • You love high fives. If someone nearby is getting one, YOU MUST HAVE ONE too.
  • You like patty cake. Hearing you say “patty cake” is awesome (though it sounds more like “pie-cake”).
  • You feel entitled to get right into cupboards and make yourself at home.
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Ugh, trash cupboard.
cupboard
Yeah, we should probably child-proof some things. #parentsoftheyear

  • You are a dancer in your soul. The aforementioned stroller has a button that plays a few bars of music, and you love to push the button and dance. We (and now you) call it “dance break!”
  • Just in the last few weeks, you have learned to “tiptoe.” You mince about in your little slippers and it’s ridiculously cute.
  • You aren’t nervous about being out of our sight. Recently we spent an afternoon celebrating a friend’s 8th birthday at a church gym, and you wandered around freely, trying on other kids’ boots, gregarious and curious and not at all worried. Luckily, there were some small maternal types around who were happy to keep an eye on you.
  • You are pretty swashbuckling on the bouncy horse. Sometimes I think you even post-trot.
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Yikes.

  • You are snuggly and very affectionate. I mean, you have your limits – if you aren’t in the mood for snuggles, you make no bones about it – but when you decide it’s time for kisses, everyone present gets kisses. Same with hugs. You hug your brother and then turn to each person in turn and say “Hug too.” It’s incredibly charming. No one has ever declined yet.
  • In fact, you love to love your peeps, in general. You learn names in a flash, and nobody can resist hearing you say their name. The other kids at day care vie for your attention.
  • Speaking of affection, we recently bought something you are more passionate about than any other toy: a doll like your brother’s. You like cars and dinosaurs and books, but you latched onto that baby as soon as you were mobile; whenever you saw her, you would grab her and lick her face and say “baby” a lot. Of course E gets suddenly possessive about any toy you show an interest in (even if it’s been on its face in the corner for a week). One night there was a heartbreaking scene in which both of you cried bitterly about that doll, right at bedtime. When I tried to interest you in your Cabbage Patch Kid (usually a favourite), you cried harder. You didn’t want the “doll”, you wanted the baby. The next day I brought you your own new baby, feeling like a pushover… but I think it was the right decision. You caught sight of it the second I walked in the door, and you knew it was for you. You said, “Baby, baby, open baby!” until I got it out of the package for you and you hugged it fiercely. You needed it at bedtime, and the first thing you said when you awoke in the morning was “Baby.” You LOVE that baby.
  • Right now, admittedly, the baby fever is not quite as all-consuming as it was. Now it’s spring fever. The thing you are most obsessed with is “go outside, walk around!” We’ve been outside to walk around a few times lately, but it’s hard with the current weather. Giant frigid puddles are problematic, especially because you love them and seem not to notice the cold. Even worse is the sheer ice they turn into (the day after the puddles, you wanted to find them again but they were frozen solid and you kept wiping out). When we bring you inside, you thrash and cry tragically, “No no no, walk around!!!” I think we’ll be outside a lot this summer. I can hardly wait to walk around with you sans snow gear.

You know, I think we have so much to talk about, we’re gonna need several chapters to cover all your news. And… probably a video montage at some point.

Please tune in again for the next installment, coming soon to a blog near you!

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