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A Different Kind of Doctor

26 Aug

I’ve never been to a doctor’s appointment where there was no waiting room (or wait for that matter), no scale, no needles, and the doctor was wearing Nike shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes, until I had my first chiropractic appointment with Dr. Spencer Callahan of Bayview Optimal Performance.

For me, chiropractic had always existed somewhere in the realm of alternative therapies—some kind of cousin of acupuncture, massage, and (in my mind) Pilates. I thought it was some age old practice… “chiro” sounds like a Greek word and I’m sure the Greeks had to get some adjustments before the Olypmics and whatnot.

But, Dr. Callahan informed me that Chiropractic actually originated in Davenport, Iowa, toward the end of the 19th century.

I was close.

Dr. Spencer Callahan of Bayview Optimal Performance

Dr. Spencer Callahan of Bayview Optimal Performance

I made an appointment with Dr. Callahan because the right side of my lower back had been in so much pain. My dad, an avid (translation: insane) triathlete sees Dr. Callahan regularly and swears that his regular adjustments are the reason his times have improved and he is virtually pain-free. I was in Fairhope for the weekend and got a Friday morning appointment.

When I arrived to the one-room office on the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Bayview, I was expecting…Well. I’m not really sure what I was expecting. I think I was hoping for a massage table, incense, soothing music, and all the accouterments of a masseuse (because aren’t chiropractors just really good massage therapists?), but the space was just a room with industrial carpet and lighting, a standing desk, built-in bookshelves, a few chairs against the wall, some of Dr. Callahan’s gorgeous prints of Fairhope hanging up, and the chiropractic table in the middle of the room. I sat cross-legged on the table.

“So, what’s going on with your back?” Dr. Callahan asked me.

“Ummm. It really hurts. Right here.” I pointed to the lower right side of my back.

“Ok.” He pulled out a yellow legal pad and proceeded to ask me a series of questions that (I thought) had nothing to do with my back.

“How much water do you drink every day?”

“I’m not sure. A lot?”

“How’s your diet”

“Terrible. I love Oreos.”

“Have you ever dropped something heavy on your foot.”

“Probably?”

“Have you been in a motor vehicle accident?”

“Yeah. Once…like six years ago. I was fine.”

“Tell me about that.”

Ok…I told him the details of a car accident I was in—I was driving to Atlanta or Athens to perform in a dance group and our car got ran off the interstate and the car was totaled. I wasn’t injured, just tired and shaken.

“Were you sore afterward?”

“Oh yes. And tired.”

“Mmm hmm. So, I know it seems like it has nothing to do with your back right now, but what do you know about fascia?”

“Connective tissues?”

“Exactly. It’s like a spider web that connects all of your muscles. And like a spider web, if you disturb one thread, it shakes the entire web. If you cut a few threads, it can completely damage the whole web.”

I considered this. So apparently, a car accident five or six years ago might or might not have messed up my fascia so that today my back was hurting. It made sense. Sort of.

“I can treat your symptoms, but that won’t really do much. We are going to get to the root of whatever is causing dysfunction in your body.”

Dr. Callahan punctuated this statement by asking me to sit in a chair across from him.

“Ok, the first thing we are going to check is your breathing. A lot of problems are caused by people just not breathing well.”

I rolled my eyes in my head a little bit. I’m a dancer, an athlete, a (sometimes) yogi…surely I know how to breathe properly, right?

Turns out, my breathing was part of the problem.

Dr. Callahan continued with his diagnostics. I had to walk around the office, balance on one foot, try to hold my ground as he pushed my right shoulder forward and pulled my left hip back, and a series of other tests that made me feel like I was doing the Presidential Fitness Exam in elementary school again. It was like having to do the flexed arm hang…as an eight-year old, you think you’re pretty invincible until your P.E. teacher makes you hang from a pull-up bar and you can only do it for 2 and a half seconds.

Some Bayview Optimal Swag!

Some Bayview Optimal Swag!

I laid facedown on the table and Dr. Callahan pressed different spots on my back.

“OW,” I couldn’t help but yell several times.

“I’m really not pressing that hard,” he told me.

You had me fooled Spencer.

To distract myself, I asked him some questions. He grew up in Fairhope, graduated from Fairhope High School and went to Iona College in New York for a poli-sci bachelor’s. Instead of heading toward Capitol Hill, he played soccer on a traveling team and after a torn ACL, found chiropractic to be the only thing that truly helped him recover. He attended four years of chiropractic school at Life University in Atlanta, and moved back to Fairhope to start his practice.

Finally, he ascertained that some of my problem was breathing, some of it was tightness in my psoas muscle (the deep muscle that basically runs from the bottom of the rib cage to the pelvis—a powerful and singular muscle, the only one that connects the leg to the spine), and something in my feet.

“Do you wear high heels a lot?” he asked, while moving my foot around.

“Yes. For dancing.”

“So you do physical activity in the worst shoes possible?” He asked.

“Something like that.”

“Congratulations. You just had your first adjustment.”

I didn’t feel anything.

“Are you ticklish?”

“Maybe?”

The next adjustment involved me laying on my side in the fetal position and Dr. Callahan pressing his fingers into my ribcage.

“I’m adjusting your diaphragm. Breathe.”

It’s hard to breathe when someone is playing Beethoven’s Fifth on your ribcage, but I did my best.

I laid facedown on the table and Dr. Callahan raised part of the table directly under my hips. “I’m going to let it drop and adjust your sacrum back into place. It’s crooked.”

Who knew?

He later informed me that he did an adjustment on my neck. I didn’t even realize that it happened—he gently turned my head to one side and the other and that was that.

We went through a few more adjustments and it was time to run through the diagnostics again.

I breathed better! I could balance better on one leg! When Dr. Callahan tried to push my right shoulder forward and pull the left hip back, instead of almost falling over, I held my ground! My back felt a lot better and I swear I grew an inch. Now I felt like we had moved from the flexed-arm hang in that Presidential Fitness test to the Sit-and-Reach, which I always DOMINATED because I could touch my toes in elementary school. Not that a chiropractic exam is a test or a competition, but I was excited by my progress.

He also gave me a little nugget of wisdom I’d never heard—apparently the chronic muscle knots in my back are a result of processed food (I can’t help it! Oreos are so good!). He said the chemicals irritate the liver and gall bladder because they are hard to process, and since those organs share similar neurological pathways with joints and muscles, the irritation in the organs can cause muscular tension. Another case for kale!

“Come in Monday morning before you leave if you can, I’ll make sure everything is good and do a few more adjustments before you head out.”

Sitting in my car outside, I sent a text to a friend.

“Getting chiropractic adjustments is my new favorite thing.”

Anytime I’m in Fairhope, I will definitely be stopping by Bayview Optimal Performance to get adjusted. I’m jealous of the people who live in Fairhope (like my dad) who can take advantage of the benefits of regular adjustments from Dr. Callahan and guess I can add chiropractor to my rolodex of alternative practitioners (next to my acupuncturist, my hypnotherapist, my holistic health coach, and my massage therapist). We only get one body, so might as well take good care of it, right?

Dr. Callahan is also an amazing photographer...I have one of his prints in my living room!

Dr. Callahan is also an amazing photographer…I have one of his prints in my living room!

When numbness isn’t an option

10 Nov

This might not be the most coherent post I’ve written, but it’s going to be one of the most heartfelt.

My Oma passed away a week ago today and it hurts so much. It feels like there is a physical void somewhere in my chest where something important used to be. Her passing wasn’t unexpected and my whole family is thankful that she is finally free from the debilitating pain she’s been experiencing for several months, but it hasn’t made the whole process any easier.

And throughout all of this, the crutch that I’ve leaned on to tamp down unpleasant emotions and dull my pain was noticeably gone: Food.

For longer than I’d care to admit, I used food as a way to deal with upsetting situations. Depression, homesickness in a foreign country, a painful breakup, fear for my future—anything that I didn’t want to or didn’t feel that I could fully experience, I numbed with a (not so) healthy dose of carbs and sugar.

I’ve axed processed food, particularly white flour and refined sugar, from my diet in the last month, and didn’t realize how difficult that change was until last week. I was thrown amidst all of the breads, cakes, and cookies that well-wishers brought, and through some miracle of God didn’t succumb to eating any of it.

But I realized how viscerally I wanted to. My brain was screaming at me to eat the bagel, eat the piece of pie, so that I would stop feeling so sad. “Surely,” I said to myself, “If you just eat that little piece of cake, you’ll be happier. You won’t be so sad. You won’t feel so heavy. It won’t hurt so much.”

I knew that like a drug addict taking a hit, it would only be a temporary fix, a fleeting high. Sure, I’d feel better for about 15 minutes. But would that change the fact that Oma wasn’t there anymore? Would my grief really go anywhere, or only be kept at bay for a few moments before coming back, stronger, angrier, and demanding a bigger hit to subdue it?

Besides, it seemed like the most authentic way to pay my last respects to Oma would be to feel everything. It would cheapen her memory if I didn’t let myself feel the full force of what I needed to feel by numbing my emotions.

And I found that I also felt the truly uplifting and fulfilling moments with greater strength. The beauty of the church, packed with only a fraction of the people who wanted to be there. Amazement at my Oma’s sitters, women who only knew her for a few years, but loved her like their own mothers. A sense of pride from my parents’ friends who hadn’t seen my parents in decades, but drove from Atlanta and other cities, just to let us know how much Oma’s generosity and hospitality had meant to them growing up. Calm at Oma’s place after the service, knowing that a house full of people visiting and enjoying good food would have made her happier than any material gain.

This is not an easy process and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one. But I truly believe that since numbing my emotions with food ceased to be an option, I was gifted with feeling pain and joy in equal, forceful measure.

So I challenge you to identify what your “crutches” are, and see if you can experience “all the feels” without numbing yourself. Surround yourself with people, experiences, and rituals that don’t suppress your pain, but lift you out of it.

An Attitude Adjustment

21 Oct

I’ve always been unable to understand vegans who eschew wonderful things, like goat cheese and creamy, slow-churned ice cream. Shook my head at Gwyneth Paltrow’s cook books—quince paste and Manuka honey are just a few of the specialty ingredients; I believe berries from a virgin blueberry tree picked under the light of a three-quarter moon are ingredients too, but I digress. Rolled my eyes at anyone who doesn’t have any issues with gluten, but buys a gluten-free brownie just because the “gluten-free” part sounds healthier.

I thought these types of people were crazy, cutting themselves off from so many of the joys of life (like barbecue) and living a lifestyle that was inaccessible, expensive, and obsessive.

But I’m halfway through my first week on an elimination diet, and I’m revising my opinions.

I had a wakeup call last week when I went to the doctor—I’ve gained about ten pounds in the last year, have been lethargic, and physically and mentally just don’t feel like myself. I realized that my erratic and bizarre eating habits (mostly mountains of breakfast cereal and entire boxes of Teddy Grahams) weren’t doing me any favors. Anytime recently that I’ve tried to go on a “health kick,” I gave up before I began, sabotaging myself with a pint of chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream or a lame excuse—I don’t have time, I really just can’t afford to eat well right now, etc.

Clean-eating

I called myself on my BS and decided it was time to sink some serious time, effort, and money into me. I signed on with a holistic health coach and hopped into her 6-week “Renewal Formula,” which includes an elimination diet to identify any food sensitivities. It axes a bunch of stuff, including dairy products, soy, most tree nuts, flour of any kind, chocolate, alcohol, and even certain fruits and vegetables.

The shopping list had ingredients like adzuki and mung beans and, what I believed to be one of the dumbest sexy buzzword health foods, chia seeds (REMEMBER CHIA PETS? CHIA SEEDS MAKE CHIA PET HAIR. NOT FOOD).

“Jeez. What the hell is this crap?” I mentally harrumphed, “I’m going to spend a fortune.”

But then I thought MAYBE the reason I’ve gained weight and feel terrible is because I have been so judgmental and closed off to embracing certain healthier foods and lifestyles. Maybe if I weren’t so wrapped up in the snarky running commentary that I have going on in my head—part Chelsea Lately, part Liz Lemon, pontificating on the idiocy of cartons of coconut water—then I would have the time and energy to actually prepare and eat wholesome, nurturing food.

I made this. It was pretty good. I don't even like squash!

I made this. It was pretty good. I don’t even like squash!

So I went to the grocery store. And guess what? My grocery bill was not any higher than it usually is. And with the money I’m saving from not eating out or racking up bar tabs, I can afford to buy some of the more “specialty” ingredients. I learned an important lesson—healthy and wholesome food does not have to be gross, boring, or expensive. You don’t have to spend three hours a day assembling the ingredients from a laundry and list, and then another three hours actually cooking.

This coconut broccoli soup took me about 15 minutes to whip up. And I was being pokey.

This coconut broccoli soup took me about 15 minutes to whip up. And I was being pokey.

I made about 20 servings of kitcheree , a richly spiced Indian mung bean stew, for roughly $15 or $20 total. My breakfasts, smoothies or brown rice porridge, are delicious and only come out to maybe $2 each. Roasted vegetables on greens, coconut broccoli soup, baked sweet potatoes…nothing has made me feel the need to sell plasma to recoup the cash.

Remember Strega Nona and her magical pasta pot? That's how I feel with my kitcheree.

Remember Strega Nona and her magical pasta pot? That’s how I feel with my kitcheree.

I realized too that the real reason that I was so judgmental and full of excuses about eating well was because deep down, I was really scared. Scared that I wouldn’t have the willpower to stick to a plan. Scared that I would be hungry and miserable, gnawing on a carrot stick when I really wanted a slice of pizza. Scared that my friends wouldn’t understand, would think that I was elitist or inaccessible if I ate a certain way.

Granted, I have a long way to go before the end of this program, and may be singing a different tune after two weeks without chocolate. But when it’s done, I hope to strike a balance between unbridled hedonism and bland asceticism. Because Lord knows I am not going to live a life without barbecue.

What are your thoughts? Have you wanted to make a lifestyle change, whether it’s a new workout regimen or sleeping more, but let your attitude and judgments about the change prevent you from actually doing it? I think this addresses a larger issue of being scared of failing, so sabotaging yourself before you even begin. But that’s another post.

 

#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.

10552435_540519535278_3757946238119355610_n

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.

What makes a professional dancer?

10 Jul

I get asked on a fairly regular basis if I am a professional dancer, and I’m never sure how to respond. A few months ago, I posted something on Facebook asking for people’s opinion about what makes a professional dancer. The input was interesting and has been percolating as a blog post for while.

What level of training is required to be considered a professional?

A good friend of mine who is a professional musician argued that your professional status (in any field) is determined by the level of education obtained. You wouldn’t go to a doctor who doesn’t have a degree but just has been “practicing a lot.” In the dance world, however, it’s not as cut-and-dried. You don’t necessarily need a degree or certification in dance to be a professional dancer.

Your training speaks for itself when you’re dancing— however I do think that professional dancer should have a solid resume of several years of taking classes at studios or schools and some amount of performing experience. But there’s no magic or across-the-board formula—it’s not “Ten years of ballet here, four years of jazz here, five years of hip-hop here, three years of performing here” and POOF, you qualify as a pro. Again, training speaks for itself and you can always spot a well-trained dancer in any style of dance.

Should dance be your primary source of income if you are calling yourself a professional dancer?

No matter what your field is, it seems like the way of the world is such now that very few people have one primary source of income, and the dance world is no different. It’s not uncommon for people to work multiple jobs to make ends meet or have a few side hustles. The dance world is hard to be fully financially supported in. Many companies don’t have a large enough budget to pay their performers full-time salaries. I know plenty of dancers and dance teachers who spend every day driving from one studio to another teaching classes to piece together an income.

One of my best friends lives in San Francisco and said she’s had to adapt her definition of a professional dancer given the cost of living in the Bay Area. She said she knows incredible dancers who perform with first-class choreographers and companies, but still have to supplement their income with other jobs.

As someone who auditioned for professional ballet companies and was met only with the prospect of unpaid apprenticeships that might one day turn into a contract, I can’t imagine trying to be in a company full-time and trying to work enough to pay my bills. Would you consider unpaid apprentices in a professional company ‘professional dancers’?

A rose by any other name

At the end of the day, does it really matter what label you put on yourself? I think about one of my friends Betto at Mambo Dinamico—he’s a great teacher, choreographer, and performer—definitely a consummate professional, but he has a day job as well. His primary source of income is not dancing but he’s still a pro.

I struggle to define myself as a dancer—I have more than sixteen years of ballet training and performing, as well as experience training and performing in contemporary, modern, ballroom, and of course Salsa. I’ve taught dance for five years in various incarnations and spend a LOT of time every week dancing. I’ve been paid to dance and paid to teach and yet I don’t consider myself a professional because it’s not a full-time thing. I think if I had decided to not go to college and dance straight out of high school, I could have been a professional ballerina, but that wasn’t the life that I wanted. I often think that if I lived in a bigger city with more access to instructors, studios, and performance teams, I could “go pro” with Salsa, but the life that I want (at least for now) is in Charleston, and I had to make a choice.

I know several people who are the same way—could have gone to the top as dancers, but decided that school, having a family, or living in a certain area was more important to their ultimate life goal. Being a professional dancer is not an easy life by any means—I’m proud and excited for friends and colleagues I know who are “making it,” but I also know how much work, dedication, and sacrifice it took to get there.

No matter how you define yourself, make sure to always act professional (Thanks Megrez Mosher, professional aerialist, for that tip!). Whether you’re freelancing or just taking classes, act right. Show up early or on time, dress appropriately, and respect whoever is running the show.

I’d love to hear your thoughts—leave a comment and let’s continue this conversation!

Blame it on the Boogie

10 Jul

OrlandoSalsaCongressforblog

 

Salsa congress is probably the most fun thing ever. That is, if you like four days of Latin dance workshops, pool parties, performances, and open dancing to live bands and DJs with thousands of other people from every corner of the country. I’m not a total stranger to the salsa congress scene—I’ve attended a few in Atlanta and Greenville, South Carolina, but the 2013 Orlando Salsa Congress took my congress experience to a whole new level.

Salsa congress bears no resemblance to a governing body—it’s not like all the dancers are convening to pass bills about the allowable number of double turns within one song or the parliamentary procedure of asking a girl to dance. There are no Senate hearings regarding improper footwork or new regulations on dance shoe heel height.

No, there’s no filibustering or bipartisanship at a salsa congress. Everyone can agree: We love to dance.

The Latin root congressus means “to come together,” and that’s exactly what a salsa congress is—a coming together of salsa lovers (read: addicts), from barely beginner to lifelong professionals.

Me, jamming with this guy. He had a mean cha-cha

Me, jamming with this guy. He had a mean cha-cha

The experience can be a little bit overwhelming. Which workshops should I attend? Should I go ask somebody to dance? Will everyone think I’m lame for leaving the dance floor at only 5 a.m.?

As a dear friend, teacher, and fellow salsera always says, “It’s a marathon. You have to pace yourself.”

Though it’s tempting to attend all seven hours of workshops, and in the case of Orlando, the afternoon pool party, plus the three or four hours of showcases and subsequent five, six, or seven hours of social dancing, five-hour energy shots and muscle milk will only get you so far.

By my estimate, with pacing myself, I danced 20 hours over the three days that I was there. How could I have done any less surrounded by so many people who have a passion and excitement for the same thing as me—dance.

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Salsa music is infectious. It’s based mainly off of Cuban popular dance rhythms, but, like it’s name implies, it’s a “sauce” comprised of rhythms from all over the Americas and these days, the world.**

When salsa music plays, it’s hard to sit down, especially in a congress setting where you can dance with some of the most talented and dedicated salseros in the country. It’s like an improv jam session with musicians, except you are the musician, and you have to play off of whatever your partner throws you.

Dancing is like having a conversation with someone. Some people are easier to talk to, and the rhythm of the conversation flows a little easier. Some you have to work  harder to keep the “conversation” afloat, but at the end of the dance, you’ve made a connection with someone and shared a moment.

I was talking to someone once and we were discussing those moments that make you feel most alive. I couldn’t identify a specific moment—every time I get the chance to step out onto a dance floor, I get this electric energy, that kind of adrenaline rush that people jump out of planes or travel to the Grand Canyon for.

I strongly believe that everyone can dance and everyone should dance and the few thousand ladies and gentleman at the 2013 Orlando Salsa Congress certainly proved that a handful of people agree with me.

Oh, and I already bought my ticket to September’s Hotlanta International Salsa and Bachata Congress…

 

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE VERY TALENTED MICHAEL CHEN, AN AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHER AND NEW SALSERO FRIEND

**Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at the history and politics of salsa music, it’s complicated and not really the point of this post.

Not your average master cleanse

29 Jun

Some hippy dippy stuff

January 12, 2012

When you should be doing something important but find yourself daydreaming, your thoughts probably float around to some alternate lifestyles. “What would it be like to be a billionaire?” “What would it be like to date a celebrity?” “What would it be like to eat only fruits, vegetables and rice for an entire week.”
Ok, you might not day-dream about a life free of processed food, sugar, meat or alcohol but in case that idle curiosity has ever tickled your fancy (or if it hasn’t) I can tell you exactly what it’s like spend an entire week eating like an struggling Asian farmer who lost his bean plants and livestock in an ill-fated game of mah-jongg.
Let me back up and explain why I even embarked on this experiment. My dad, a family practitioner, recently completed a fellowship in integrative medicine and is really interested in exploring the effects of non-traditional medical methodology on his patients.
Some of it, I completely buy into. Yes, multiple studies have shown that fish oil supplements make you basically indestructible.
Some of it, I need to be sold on. Not sure if my dad waving his hands over my sister’s head and “analyzing her energy” is going to help with much of anything.
So one evening my dad casually mentioned that one of his patients wanted to do a de-tox program and  asked if I’d be interested in being the test pilot for it. I was a little hesitant at first. I thought detox meant only drinking lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup for two weeks and turning into a raving, albeit very cleaned out, maniac.
He showed me the literature out of a book called Digestive Wellness by Dr. Elizabeth Lipski (who also wrote a  stomach-clenching book entitled Leaky Gut Syndrome that I was tempted to consult). It seemed pretty reasonable and straightforward: Eat all you want of fruits, vegetables and rice and use olive oil and safflower oil as condiments for seven to ten days.
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Ok Dad I’ll do it. I’m just not giving up coffee,” and he said, “Ok that’s fine. You know there are studies that say that coffee drinkers have lower rates of prostate cancer and diabetes,” and that was it.
The next morning, over a breakfast of grapefruit and bananas, I sat down and wrote out a list of things I would need to buy at the grocery and went on my merry way, armed with carrot sticks and apples (because Dr. Lipski also said to eat ever two to three hours to keep your blood sugar steady). I dropped a healthy $60 at the store and came back toting sacks of mushrooms, green beans, pears, brussell sprouts, broccoli and a box of detox tea (also recommended by Dr. Lipski to aid in the elimination of toxins).
At the end of the first day, I went to bed congratulating myself that I felt fine, maybe a little hungry, but overall pretty good. Dr. Lipski said that in the first three or four days you might experience nausea, headaches, fatigue and chills as your body went through withdrawals from everything you had eliminated. After a day, none of that had hit me and I thought I was safe. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The next afternoon, I thought I had been hit simultaneously by the flu and a truck. My head felt like I always thought Wile E. Coyote might after an ACME anvil fell on his noggin. I was burning up. No wait I was freezing. Nope. Hot again. I thought I was going to toss my cookies. Except I hadn’t eaten any cookies that I could toss.
At about seven p.m. I called quits on the day and went to bed.
The next day was better, but only slightly. I could be vertical without having vertigo but it was easier to just turn out all the lights and spend the day on the couch, avoiding the harsh glare of my laptop, phone or the t.v and not trying to follow the words on the pages of my book as they danced around.
Around mid-afternoon I rallied and made an important decision. Popcorn, air-popped in olive oil, I decided, “counted” on this detox. Dr. Lipski said corn was kosher and that dried fruits and vegetables were a go, so I made myself a huge bowl of popcorn and inhaled it.
Slowly, my energy came back as my headache went away and I felt fresh and revitalized. Listening to music didn’t bruise my eardrums anymore! I could walk without feeling like I was going to puke!
I won’t lie to you and tell you that after I got over that hump everything has been sunshine and butterflies but I stopped feeling sick and started feeling the incredible amounts of energy that Dr. Lipski promised me.
I’m halfway through day six right now and have been fantasizing about drinking a tall glass of milk and having chicken fajitas (not together though) for the last 36 hours. Though I don’t feel completely sated after every meal, I’m not dying of hunger either and I never feel guilty for eating “too much.”
This experience has given me a chance to exercise a little bit of my culinary creativity, though admittedly not as much as I would like. My mom and I made an incredible Portugese caldo verde (green soup made with kale and potatoes) last night and I’ve made some pretty mean salads and stir fries.
I do feel lighter and brighter, cleaner and more energetic but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unless you know you have time to come down with a self-inflicted flu, prepare and cook a lot of meals and snacks, and only be able to go out with your friends for sushi and coffee (no fro-yo or pizza outings guys. Sorry).
After this is over, my goal is to have one meal daily that’s “on the plan” and to incorporate more fruits and veggies into “non-plan” meals, which is something that I think would be detoxing in its own right for anyone.
Now, next time you zone out while someone is telling a boring story about how their cat got stuck in a tree and you find yourself thinking “Gee, what would it be like to only it fruits and vegetables and rice for a week?” you have an answer. Unless you zoned out while reading this.