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The Quixotic Appeal of Hamilton

26 Dec

I may never be in the room where it happens…and that’s ok.

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Like hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of other Americans, I am dying to see the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” I’ve dutifully watched the PBS documentary on it’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Eagerly listened to the singles from the mixtape as they dropped. Applauded the cast for their appeal to Mike Pence during a curtain call at a NYC show.

I’ve got Hamilton fever. And it feels pretty good.

It’s something to commiserate with certain friends over—a game to talk about what we’d have to be able to give up just to score a scalped $500 ticket to a weekday matinee.

“If I just ate nothing but beans for a whole month, didn’t run the heat or AC, used just one solar-powered flashlight and donated plasma 6 times, I think I could totally swing it. I’d be so regular too!”

It’s a way to connect with higher rolling friends.

“I heard American Express Platinum Card Members can get face value tickets to two shows in 2017, but you can only buy those tickets if you’ve spent like $50,000 in a month with American Express. So can you hook me up?”

It’s opening up the potential to travel to places besides New York, Chicago, or San Franciso, and experience shows besides Hamilton.

“Season ticket holders to the performing arts center in Charlotte are GUARANTEED dibs on tickets to Hamilton. So if I just buy tickets to three shows I don’t really want to see in a city I don’t really want to visit, I can get Hamilton tickets!”

It’s encouragement to be charitable.

“If I donate $5,000 to Planned Parenthood, I could potentially win tickets to THREE Hamilton shows. And I get a signed CD!”

It’s helping me break my addiction to Facebook—instead of trolling my newsfeed and seeing what a bunch of people I don’t care about are doing, I troll Ticketmaster.

“Surely a Wednesday 2 pm show in the middle of August would have a ticket available for under $400….Nope. Hmmm…. Let me just try a few more searches. Just a few more hours.”

It’s making me consider using hoarded Skymiles to take multiple trips to New York City. And actually learn how to make statistical calculations.

“If I go for three days once every three months and enter the Hamilton lottery for every show while I’m there, then what are my odds of finally hitting the jackpot and getting those $10 front row seats?”

Since I’ve never seen Hamilton I can’t say this for sure, but the quest to try to see Hamilton seems like almost as much fun as actually seeing it. It feels like trying to get the Golden Ticket, but for an elaborate re-imagining of our nation’s history with rap battles and choreography instead of a chocolate factory.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Hamilton, but I’m getting to the point where I’m so wrapped up in the quest, the desire to see Hamilton, that I wonder if there’s any way it could actually live up to the hype.

I’m sure I’ll see it eventually….I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m willing to wait for it and I’m sure that I’ll leave satisfied.

Becoming a Warrior with Andrew Burnell

23 Jun

Professional acrobat teaches salsera tumbling and parkour. Results TBD.

 

Andrew Burnell and his dynasty co-creator, Amanda Drawdy.

Andrew Burnell and his dynasty co-creator, Amanda Drawdy.

I always wanted to take gymnastics. My sister took gymnastics lessons when we were younger and the only Olympic events I ever watched on T.V. were gymnastics. My mom told me I would break my leg tumbling and never be able to dance again, so I never got to try handsprings and all that cool stuff.

In April, my partner La Quinn and I were asked to perform with Daft Concept at an event. Daft Concept, directed by Amanda Drawdy (a former international ballerina with more than twenty years of performing experience), is a hot and high-powered dance performance company. La Quinn and I were excited about the opportunity. I met Amanda’s boyfriend—and other half of my favorite power couple—Andrew Burnell, someone I had known of for a while, but had yet to meet in person.

“I’m so sad I missed your tumbling workshop at Dancefx a month or two ago,” I told Andrew after he introduced himself. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to tumble.”

“I can teach you,” Andrew said. Which is how I ended up spending an afternoon with him and three of his advanced tumblers at Only Imagine in Goose Creek.

These eleven-year-old girls kicked my ass. Without thinking twice, they would run into a series of aerials, handsprings, and God knows what else.

I stuck with cartwheels.

After my introductory session, I was hooked. I signed up to train one-on-one with Andrew twice a week, and little did I know that tumbling training would equal all kinds of adventures like…well, let me just illustrate a few of my favorites.

When you and I go to a playground, we see a playground. Metal bars. Swings. Slides. Fun stuff.

When Andrew Burnell goes to a playground, it suddenly becomes the set of American Ninja Warrior.

Instead of sitting in a swing to enjoy a swing set, YOU become the swing and have to swing from bar to bar.

A picnic table stops being a shady spot to enjoy a glass of lemonade after some hardcore playing. It becomes a surface on which to do handstands and off of which to cartwheel.

The railing surrounding the playground is not meant to keep children from wandering into the street. It is a surface over which to vault yourself. Multiple times. I am not so successful at that part and have bruises all over my legs and arms to prove just how many times I haven’t exactly made it over the railing.

Andrew, who I believe to be a reincarnation of Mr. T or Samuel L. Jackson, peppers training sessions with fun axioms like “The danger is real, but fear is a choice,” and “Treat a child like a child, and he will remain such. Treat a child like a warrior, and one day, he will become a warrior.”

I can’t get away with much when I train with Andrew. I get this a lot:

“Georgia. That was terrible. Ten push-ups and do it again.”

It sounds crazy that I pay this man to yell at me and force me to do terrifying and painful things, like jumping off of high surfaces and doing backbends with 25 pound weights on my shins, but it feels good.

Like I’m really accomplishing something. We’ve been training together for more than two months now, and I can see a huge difference. I’m stronger. I’m more fearless. I feel tougher. Even though we’re only at the very beginning basics of tumbling (cartwheels, forward and back rolls, handstands, walkovers), I can tell I’m building a strong foundation and one day will be able to, like Andrew, effortlessly flip off of a picnic table.

Until that day though, I’ll stick with forward rolls on the ground.

Me, post an Andrew Burnell workout.

Me, post an Andrew Burnell workout.

Andrew Burnell started tumbling when he was 6 years old and since then, has trained with gymnasts, cheerleaders, acrobats and street performers. He is a former high-level tumbler who has been performing professionally as an acrobat for three years. He is the director of acrobatics at Only Imagine dance studio, lead acrobat and stunt coordinator of the supercrew Daft Concept, and the tumbling instructor for Summerville Dance Academy. Burnell is also a personal trainer and owns a company called Rebound that provides health related services from nutrition to personal training. He is also trained in Parkour and free running and is in the process of writing three novels.

He is always available for privates and personal training sessions, and can be found on Instagram @SoFarSoFly or on Facebook.

I auditioned for a reality T.V. show because #YOLO

26 Jan

It’s 8 am. A few beleaguered New York City government employees scrape snow off the gray sidewalks and there’s a light, freezing rain. Hundreds of people line up outside of a building on 34th Street, snaking down an entire city block.

One of the security guards marshaling the crowd says he’s been there since 5:30, when the first hopefuls began to arrive.

It’s not a new iPhone or Halo release, not a chance to meet the president or be on “Good Morning America.” It’s the first round of auditions for a reality television dance program on a major T.V. network.

And I was there. Because YOLO?

Eerily enough, the experience reminded me of “The Hunger Games.” Hundreds of tributes from District 8 (which, according to The Hunger Games wiki, is New York), gathered for the reaping. The tributes had to be between the ages of 18 and 30, and the auditions would pit “stage dancers” against “street dancers,” where a certain number of each type of dancer would advance to the next round.

Like “The Hunger Games,” the selection process seemed arbitrary and random, less a test of skill and more the random selection of a fraction of dancers from the 500-plus assembled.

I believe the first part of the audition was seeing who was willing to stand outside for two hours in the freezing, wet misery of a New York City winter morning. I passed.

I formed an alliance with two other tributes—a magenta-haired student named Kelli and a hardened, three-time survivor of the Games, Matt.

Matt, a professional dancer from outside of Boston, had auditioned for the show three times before and had made it to the elimination rounds in Vegas during one of the earlier seasons.

“I’m a ballet dancer, but I actually get paid more often to do hip-hop,” Matt informed me and Kelli. “But I’m not going to do hip-hop here! We’re in New York!”

He had a point.

Kelli and I bombarded Matt with questions, and he explained the process. First, you went in and got signed in. Then you were taken into an auditorium with everyone else, and ten people at a time would go on stage to improv. Anyone who made it through the improv round today would come back tomorrow and do their solo in front of the judges.

Matt was a champ, answering everything we threw at him.

“Did you tell your job what you were doing when you went to Vegas?” I asked him.

“I was working for three studios at the time, and I told two of them and they were cool with it, and the third wasn’t, so I quit that job,” Matt said. He said that he had to sign all kinds of waivers for the T.V. show, swearing secrecy and that he wouldn’t post about the elimination rounds on social media.

“Did you get paid while you were in Vegas? Do the contestants on the show get paid?” I asked.

“Nope. But almost all of the top 20 get contracts no matter what. Sometimes they’re with Broadway or something and they’re actually better gigs than the winner gets,” Matt explained.

How the contestants could afford to work for free for that long was beyond me, but I guess people will do anything to get on T.V. And since I was at an audition for the show, I can’t really talk.

By the time we inched our way to the front of the line, were I.D.-ed, given wristbands, had our bags searched, and were patted down, I had lost all feeling in my feet. The security guards checking our bags said that no glass bottles were allowed inside—I wanted to ask what incident had happened in the past that led to the creation of that rule, but decided I probably didn’t want to know.

We were in the arena—a giant, ornate auditorium on the seventh floor of the building. There were about 500 people in the auditorium talking excitedly to each other, stretching, warming up, adjusting their hair, speculating about how many people from today would make it through.

Inside the Arena.

Inside the Arena.

At about 10:30 am, an imposing British man took the stage, welcoming everyone and giving his spiel:

“We are not looking for America’s best dancer. We are looking for America’s favorite dancer. Wow us with your personality and your technique. We are only going to let 70 people through today. We must be tough about who we let through.”

Two former contestants on the show, who were met with thunderous applause and cheering, joined him. The former contestants said what they were looking for in a dancer—someone with a lot of heart, someone they connected with—and the first 10 dancers were called to the stage. I wondered if the former contestants would be the mentors for the tributes that were reaped today, sharing their prior knowledge of the Games.

Ten dancers from their respective disciplines—street hip-hop, jazz, contemporary, ballet, ballroom, etc.—were called to the stage at a time, the British man played a song, and the dancers danced one at a time, with the British man calling “Next,” every 30 seconds or so.

In some cohorts, everybody was cut, dismissed with a “Thank you for coming today.” In others, one or two were asked to stick around for another improv round. A few lucky people were given a ticket asking them to come back the next day to dance in front of the celebrity judges.

Matt went before us, and we watched him breathlessly, cheering when it was his turn to dance. All smiles and great lines, I thought Matt was surely a shoe-in, but he was cut too.

It was hard to not sing “Another One Bites the Dust,” after each group.

The number of tributes—uh, dancers—slowly diminished every hour. Kelli and I were finally placed in a group of ten and told to prepare. We had about five minutes to stretch and get ready to go on stage before we were there, each taking our place on a numbered piece of masking tape. I felt like Katniss in her glass tube, about to be shot up into the arena. The only similarity between her and me though was that we both wore Spandex.

The floor was uneven, light wooden parquet, and I had already seen a handful of people slip and fall. I had no idea what song they were going to play, since it had changed for each group that took the stage.

“We Found Love in A Hopeless Place,” by Rihanna started and the girl and guy in front of me each danced for their thirty seconds. I danced for mine, trying to put as much personality in as I could. I felt like I couldn’t remember how to dance. I was having a hard time bridging the gap between the music entering my brain and my body coming up with steps to do to it and I was not warmed up enough, lacking adequate time or space to prepare.

Kelli went two people after me, and I cheered for her, even though I was onstage. After everyone danced, we were asked to line up.

“Number five, have you auditioned for us before?” the British man asked Kelli.

“No,” she replied.

He handed her a ticket. “Congratulations. The rest of you may go.”

I hugged and congratulated a shell-shocked, near tearful Kelli.

“You’re going to rock! Don’t forget all of your stuff!” I said, making sure she didn’t forget her backpack in her euphoria. I grabbed my bag, boots, and coat, and followed the rest of the group out of the auditorium.

One of the guys who had been in my group sat down on the carpet outside of the auditorium, wiping tears from his eyes. “I’m so over this. I’ve done this four times,” he told me.

I hugged him. “You did great. It doesn’t mean that you can’t dance.”

One of the other guys in the group, a tall black guy who had been cheering for his friends as they went up on stage before him, calling one of the girls his “niece,” shrugged. “I danced the best I could and had fun. That’s all that matters.”

I had to agree with him. It was a total blast, all Hunger Games similarities aside. The odds of being chosen to even advance to the next round were slim, but now I can say I auditioned for the show. And I had a ton of fun doing it. It’s rare to spend a day surrounded with such an eclectic assembly of dancers, and even rarer to see the amount of positivity and support among the different dancers that I saw on Saturday.

It seemed that, for the most part, everyone at the audition had the same mindset—we are all here because we love to dance, and being catty and cutting other people down isn’t going to give you any better chance of advancing to the next round. It wasn’t the tribute versus tribute bloodbath of The Hunger Games at all.

It was a day of free entertainment, networking with other people in my field, and getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at part of what goes into a reality t.v. show. I would do it again in a heartbeat and can safely check the experience off my bucket list.

The audition tour will continue in Districts 3, 6, 8, and 9—I mean, other large metropolises in the United States— and I’ll definitely be watching when the show airs this season, at least enough to catch Kelli’s audition with the judges.

May the odds ever be in her favor.

#GeorgiasAppendixParty14

2 Aug

Spoiler alert: This is really self-indulgent. And long.

Photo by Travis Lee O'Dell. Scarf styled by Yaenette Dixon. Hospital Gown provided by MUSC. One size fits all.

Photo by Travis Lee O’Dell. Scarf styled by Yaenette Dixon. Hospital Gown provided by MUSC. One size fits all.

I have always been paranoid about getting osteoporosis and appendicitis. I think that watching “Madeline” when I was young made me hyperaware of the fact that this thing in your body can act up and really mess you up. The first week or two of July, I had weird sharp, shooting pain in my stomach that would come and go. Pulse check: Hadn’t eaten Taco Bell or Domino’s lately, so I was good. I was convinced I had appendicitis, but didn’t have any of the accompanying symptoms like nausea or fever (I WebMD-ed “appendicitis” of course).

About two weeks after that initial pain, it came back. With a vengeance. I thought I had food poisoning because I drank a glass of milk and then laid out at the beach all day. Thinking it was something I could just shake off, I went to two hours of dance classes. After the second class, I could barely stand up straight. Hunched over the steering wheel of my car, I rushed home and lay down. I called my dad. No answer. Mom. No answer. Sister. No answer. I couldn’t get comfortable. Legs up the wall? Nope. Fetal position? Nope.

I was nauseous and hot, but couldn’t throw up. I texted my friend Patrick “I don’t know what I ate, but my stomach is killing me and I’m dying a thousand small deaths.”

You know when you’re just sitting there on the bathroom floor, leaning your head against the toilet seat because, even though that’s disgusting because your ass was just there, the cool porcelain is the only thing that makes you feel somewhat better? That was me. I also had to minimize the distance between me and a puke-catching device, because once I started, I kept going. I texted my dad “Please call me ASAP, I have serious stomach pain.”

When he called, he suggested I take Zofran or some other prescription anti-nausea medicine. Dad, I love you, but why on earth would I have those just sitting around my house? He said if the pain got too bad, to just go to the hospital.

I texted Patrick again. “Is there any way you can take me to the emergency room?” He was there within three minutes. I grabbed a hot pink Charlotte Russe shopping bag from my bedroom floor, slipped on some flip-flops, and headed out.

The E.R. is about five blocks from my house, and I puked three times on the way there. He took the bag and threw it away for me on the way in. I checked in to the E.R., and we settled into uncomfortable, hard plastic chairs, and waited. The news was on, covering the most recent Malaysian airlines fiasco. For two hours. Finally, I was called back and we were shown to a room. I curled up in a ball at the end of the hospital bed. A nurse or someone came and suggested I scoot up, because I was about to fall off the end. I didn’t really care, but obliged. A warm blanket was thrown over me. And then we waited.

“Should I throw up just to get someone’s attention?” I asked Patrick.

He looked up from his phone—“Yeah, I guess so.”

I tried to make it to the trashcan, I promise.

But didn’t. I leaned over the side of the bed and puked out a bunch of water. I was pretty surprised that I had anything left at that point.

A patient walking down the hall peered into the room and gave me a surprised and confused look and continued on his way.

Like magic, three nurses rushed in, started cleaning up the mess, hooked me up to an IV, gave me fluids, anti-nausea medicine, and pain medicine.

It worked! I lost track of the people who came in and out of the room, poking my stomach, asking me questions. I was handed what looked like a green plastic windsock and told to use that if I felt nauseous again. Patrick and I grabbed a selfie with a nurse for posterity. She was cool, even though she turned my arm into a blood-spurting fire hydrant when she pricked me for the IV.

Cool nurse. Even though she made Ol' Faithful Jr. with my veins.

Cool nurse. Even though she made Ol’ Faithful Jr. with my veins.

A resident came in. He was a total bro. I could just envision him doing keg-stands at crazy Greek-lettered medical honor society parties in his day. He looked up at the T.V. “What are y’all watching?”

We didn’t really know. There was no sound coming from the mounted screen, but apparently some soft-core porn was on at 3 am on FX.

Bro doctor poked my stomach in several different places. They all hurt, but when he got to the right side I couldn’t help it.

“OUCH.”

He stopped. Did some doctorly things.

“I think I have appendicitis,” I told him.

He nodded and said sarcastically “Ok, WebMD,” and made to leave.

“Wait, before you go. Can we take a selfie?”

He obliged.

"We like to have fun in here." -Bro Doctor

“We like to have fun in here.” -Bro Doctor

More people came and went, more medicine was administered, I threw up some more. At some point, a sassy, middle-aged doctor came in and poked my stomach some more. Another nurse came in and handed me a Styrofoam cup of contrast and said to drink it. I was going for a CT scan. The contrast was disgusting and I had to drink three more over the course of an hour. It tasted like what I imagine the inside of those gel ice packs tastes like. After the CT scan, Dr. Sassy came back.

“You have appendicitis.”

“I knew it!” I announced triumphantly, “I was right!”

I was told I had to get surgery, more people came and went, blah blah blah. I drifted in and out of sleep, two of my friends, Yaenette and Julie, showed up around 8 in the morning to relieve Patrick. The three of them kept me company, chased down nurses to get more pain medicine or an estimate on when I’d go in for surgery.

That Friday was awful. I wasn’t allowed to drink anything all day and I was parched. I was still in a lot of pain—it went through the pain medicine. I think J.K. Rowling modeled the Cruciatus Curse after appendicitis. I was wheeled to another room, and Julie sat with me and held my hand while I cried, nervous about surgery, thirsty, tired, and still in pain. Around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, Sean,an overly friendly and mostly incompetent tech, finally wheeled me to surgery. But he just left me in the surgical ward without telling anyone who I was, where my chart was, or any pertinent info. A concerned group of ladies swarmed around me, because at that point, I was sobbing uncontrollably.

In soothing voices, they asked what was wrong, gave me pain medicine, made small talk, and begin anesthetizing me. I drifted off and woke up three hours later, appendix free.

Julie was there when I came to, and I was taken up to a much nicer room, where Yaenette and another friend from Salsa, Lyndsy, were waiting. I was able to drink water. It was the most satisfying glass of water in my life. Friends poured in and out of the hospital room all night, much to the chagrin of John, my incompetent and addlepated night nurse. I was still in a lot of pain and could barely move. To go to the bathroom, the IV had to be unplugged from the wall and what I dubbed my stylish legwarmers (things on my leg to keep circulation going), had to be unplugged from the bed. Someone had to take my hands and winch me out of the bed and help me drag the IV into the bathroom. It was quite a production.

Julie and Yaenette being awesome. I just got out of surgery. Hence the stank face.

Julie and Yaenette being awesome. I just got out of surgery. Hence the stank face.

Following the surgery, I was overwhelmed by how many people sent me well wishes via text message or Facebook, and how many people came to visit me in the hospital and at home after I was discharged.

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I couldn’t believe that Patrick stayed two nights in the hospital with me. That Julie sat with me all day on Friday, from early in the morning until after the surgery, holding my hand and hugging me while I cried. That Yaenette was there first thing in the morning both Friday and Saturday, and brought breakfast the morning after the surgery and stayed until she had to go to work. That another dear friend Travis stayed Friday night in the hospital, and then stayed with me Saturday night at home, helping me on Sunday to eat, shower, and not have to be alone. That other friends, Selene, Enrique, Corrigan, Mario, Dan, Dimitri, and Prakash, came to visit me in the hospital, bearing gifts, hugs, and well-wishes. When I got home from the hospital, my roommate had set up my room with flowers, a husband pillow, light-blocking curtains, movies, books, and food in the refrigerator. My friend Rebekah came Sunday night to spend the night, and her dad cooked us dinner while we watched “Star Trek” and online shopped. I couldn’t believe the people who came to my house after to visit and bring food, drinks, or just a few hours of company: Becky, Rachel, Dusty, Robbi, and Erica. My mom came the Monday of that week and stayed until Saturday, dropping everything in Alabama to help me. She was amazing—administering meds, feeding me, doing laundry, and just hanging out. I cried when she left on Saturday. All of my clients were amazing, letting me take the week off and not worry about work. One of my yoga clients, Gretchen, sent me a sweet note in the mail, and other clients sent me kind emails and Facebook messages.

Flowers from Mom.

Flowers from Mom.

I couldn’t make it out dancing after the surgery, and my friend Priscilla took a video of a song that Gino and the boys dedicated to me while Yaenette Facetimed me in.

I always say that I have the best friends and family in the world, and #GeorgiasAppendixParty14 proved it. I can’t ever say “Thank You” enough to everyone who took such good care of me. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude by the amount of unconditional love that my friends and family gave me. I’m still recovering—it’s a longer and slower process than I had imagined and it’s humbling. I’m learning to say “no” to certain things and to pace myself.

Hospital AM selfie with Patrick. When the attending wakes you up at 6 am, you have no choice but to grin and bear it.

Hospital AM selfie with Patrick. When the attending wakes you up at 6 am, you have no choice but to grin and bear it.

And if you stuck with this very long post until the end, thank you.

Salsa in Cuba: Just let it come to you

14 Jul

The reason that I decided to study abroad in Cuba in the spring of 2012 was because a friend casually said “You know Georgia, you could go salsa dancing every single day if you went to Cuba.” I’ve been to Cuba five times and a big question when I get back is always “Did you dance salsa a lot?”

My answer is always “Yes, but dancing just kind of happens in Cuba. You don’t really actively seek it out.” The best way to illustrate this point is a comparison of two nights out in Havana during the last trip I took.

The first one was a Wednesday night. I was meeting up with a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in more than a year. The only plan we had was for him to pick me up when he arrived in Havana from Matanzas. Around 10 pm, Ariel and two of his friends showed up outside the house I was staying in, yelling from the street up to the third floor where I was staying, a lo Cubano.

            I ran downstairs, happily embraced Ariel, met his friends, and gave Ariel the gifts I had brought him. He asked what I wanted to do and he suggested we go see Interactivo, a music project I’d heard a lot about. They were playing at a venue, Bertolt Brecht, that I like in the Vedado neighborhood. We bought a few beers and sipped them as we walked from Centro to Vedado (which, FYI, is about an hour walk). We arrived at the spot, paid our $2 CUC cover, and went in.

As soon as we walked in the door, I ran into my friend Andres (“El Fino”) and some of his friends from his dance workshop at the Teatro Nacional that I had unsuccessfully attempted to join earlier that week. Our group was ready to gozar. The band was rocking—there were probably at least eight or ten musicians on stage playing a groovy fusion of traditional Cuban music, rap, hip-hop, rock, and funk. Though there were a good number of tourists there, it was mostly a local crowd, and the whole place was pulsating with people dancing casino (which is pretty much Salsa). One of Fino’s friends, a dancer in a local troupe, grabbed me and seemed surprised that I could keep up. At one point, the music turned to an African rumba-style song—extremely percussive and intense, and I’m right in front of the band, sandwiched between El Fino and his professional dancer friend, following along to the almost-primal rumba movements. Dancing in a club in Havana in between two good-looking mulato men—had I died and gone to heaven?

The next evening, I went to 1830, a restaurant/club overlooking Havana Harbor that has Casino (read: Salsa) nights twice a week. I had been to 1830 before and enjoyed it, even though it’s definitely more of a spot for older Canadian women to come and learn to dance with young, black professional dance instructors. (Yeah, it’s a little weird). There are a lot of really good dancers at 1830, but a good deal of them will try to hustle you into taking lessons with them if you’re a tourist. I met El Fino and his dancer friend from Chile at 1830. I had to beg El Fino to let me pay his cover in exchange for him accompanying me—he didn’t want to go because, though a $3 CUC cover is hardly anything for tourists, it’s a little steep for a lot of Cubans (especially following the $2 CUC cover Fino had paid the night before at Brecht). We had a good time dancing, doing a silly line dance, and watching a performance at midnight, but it certainly felt more forced than the night before.

For the most part, the only Cubans at 1830 were professional dancers trying to get clients or accompanying their foreign students. There wasn’t the same sense of abandon and organic energy that I felt the night before. It was fun, but it was too orchestrated. You went to 1830 specifically to dance casino, versus going to see the band at Brecht, where you went to see an amazing group of musicians and it inevitably erupted into a dance party. But that wasn’t really the REASON for going.

I think my big takeaway from this was what I’ve always known about spending time in Cuba—you have to just go with the flow. You can’t expect too much to happen exactly as planned or on a specific itinerary. Let the experiences come to you, whether it’s dancing Casino, seeing a great band, or enjoying a long walk from Centro to Vedado with a best friend.

People who have traveled to Cuba and danced, what do you think? Is my assessment accurate, or is this just one side of the story? People who have traveled in other countries, do you agree with just letting experiences come to you

Mambo Dinamico dancers have GREAT hair

4 Apr

One of my favorite Southeastern Latin dance groups is Mambo Dinamico, under the direction of Norberto “Betto” Herrera, based in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

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Where a lot of Latin dance performance groups are technically brilliant, they tend to do the same type of routines with the same type of music and more or less identical costumes. Mambo Dinamico combines fantastic dancers with creative and interesting choreography for something that is, well, dynamic.

When I told him how much I loved his choreography, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh well, you know, we get bored.”

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I met Betto in 2010 at the Hotlanta Salsa Congress, my first Salsa congress EVER, and have subsequently run into him at other Southeastern congresses over the years. When I attended the Charlotte Salsa Invitational in February, I took a body movement workshop with him and his partner Adriana Dwyer, where they clearly and concisely broke down a series of body isolations. I found out that both of them were “actual” teachers outside of being dance teachers and was curious about how being a dance teacher and schoolteacher paralleled.

Betto has thirteen years of teaching dance under his belt, and is in his second year as a schoolteacher.

In the studio and in the classroom, it’s all about engagement.

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“Stick to the curriculum and keep [it] fun and entertaining. Give more attention to those who need it, and challenges to those that are more advanced,” says Betto.

He doesn’t crack dirty jokes with his first graders the way he does with his dance students, but otherwise, his teaching style is the same across both avenues.

“I try to explain things like they are first graders during my dance lessons. It helps people understand and feel the movement better, one piece at a time,” he says.

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Adriana, a lifelong dancer, is in her third year of teaching elementary Spanish and soon to be in her fifth year of teaching dance.

For her, the similarities between teaching dance and teaching school are how the lessons are structured.

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“Lessons [are structured] in a way that doesn’t make your student jump from one level of knowledge to another. For example, you couldn’t teach a back handspring without first teaching them how to do a “bridge,” she points out.

Whether she’s teaching a cha-cha or a conjugation, it’s all about teaching something that is relevant and targeted to the student’s age group in an effort to reach everyone.

Adriana and Betto both bring dance into their classrooms at every chance, whether it’s making them actually get up and move or exposing them to different styles of dance and cultures. Where were these two when I was in elementary school?!

ImageAll photos of Adrian and Betto courtesy of Betto Herrera.

 

 

Salsa Family Vacation!

4 Apr

Every few months, I have the good fortune to attend a Salsa congress (nope, I’m not an elected representative). Last weekend, a caravan from Charleston (Salseros of Charleston and friends) embarked to enjoy the Greenville Salsa Congresito in Greenville, S.C.

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Salsa family at the hotel! Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

In an effort to save money, I went for the Saturday social only, but I had the same amount of fun that I had going whole hog at Orlando Salsa Congress, Hotlanta Salsa Congress, and the Charlotte Salsa Invitational.

 

Me and BFFL Rebekah. Salsa brought us together!

Me and BFFL Rebekah. Salsa brought us together!

“But Georgia,” you ask, “How is that possible? Usually you dance a minimum of fifteen hours throughout the course of a congress weekend, and yet you only danced three or four during this congress.”

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Lolo and Mario, two close members of my Salsa family. Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

Well friends, my answer to that is that this go round, instead of boogying full-time, I spent most of the weekend just hanging out and catching up with my Salsa friends.

The funny thing about Salsa is that even though you’re interacting with people non-stop during a social or when you’re out dancing, you’re not always talking. You aren’t catching up even though you’re socializing.

Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

Salsa brings together a mix of people who often would otherwise have no reason to speak to each other. Our group included a preschool teacher, Navy officers, a research assistant, and a pilot. It was therapeutic to have an opportunity to just hang out and talk with these friends, some whom I’ve known for years, others for just a few short months, but all who I count to be dear friends.

The morning after…Best part about this Congress hotel? Free breakfast, free drinks. Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

The morning after…Best part about this Congress hotel? Free breakfast, free drinks. Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

It was a Salsa Family Vacation! The only thing we didn’t do was get a good Christmas card picture…