Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cultural Explosion for Cinco de Mayo

                The drizzly weather put a damper on some Cinco de Mayo activities, but the best offering of my weekend was inside.  ClubViva and My Latin Rhythms brought in Juan Calderon and Christina Piedra of Cultural Explosion for a weekend of workshops and performances.  The word “incredible” comes to mind.
                Saturday afternoon was filled with back to back workshops led by these two talented instructors.   The workshops touched on musicality, styling, leads/follows, Salsa On 1, Salsa On 2, and Bachata, with a bit of Meringue thrown in.  For me, the workshop seemed to be tailor fit to my current level of dancing.  Juan focused more on leads/follows than footwork, and had a lot of great comments and insights about how lead/follow relationships work. 
Christina did a full workshop on what they were calling improv, and I think of as shines.  Instead of teaching set patterns, she broke it down into pattern components and explained her thoughts on how arms are used in styling.  That one workshop alone made the entire afternoon worth it, and made me sad that I wasn’t able to do her second styling workshop on Sunday.
One thing that I noticed was that they didn’t spend a lot of time focusing on footwork during the partner work segments.  In some ways I found this challenging because it was a completely different approach than what I normally take.  However, I think that it was a fantastic way to go for the workshop.  With so many different levels of experience, I think that this resulted in a better experience for some of the newer guys- they spent more time focused on how to lead the techniques rather than where their feet should be.   I would guess that this approach is a result of Juan's philosophy of being able to dance with everyone, no matter what flavor of Salsa they prefer.
After the workshops, we got back together for an evening of dancing at Club Viva.  The dance floor was packed to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I don’t think I left the floor for the first hour of dancing- which is an absolutely awesome feeling.  When I finally left the floor, I had to find a corner to hide in so I wouldn’t be pulled back out again. 
Juan dancing with a local dancer.
And then Juan asked me to dance.  He had said during the workshops earlier that his goal with each girl he danced with was to give her the best dance of her night.  In my case, he succeeded; I seriously considered taking off my dance shoes and going home after that.  Sometimes you hear the analogy that the man creates the frame with the lady as a picture-- his job is to show her to her best advantage.  If that is the case- I may not be a Monet as a dancer, but last night I sure felt like it.
To end the night, we were treated to performances by Juan and Christina- one improvised Salsa and one choreographed Bachata.  Both were incredible shows of talent and grace.  I have to say that I preferred the Salsa over the Bachata – but since I started dancing, I have discovered that I am partial to lead-follow dances.

The weekend with Juan and Christina was incredible, and I hope that they make it back to St. Louis again soon for another round of workshops, performances, and most of all – dancing.

My Latin Rhythms -

Monday, April 29, 2013

Swap Meet!

                A few weeks ago, as I headed back to St. Louis from Oklahoma along I-44, I considered my options for rest stops along the way.  There is an antique mall in Lebanon attached to the Russell Stover outlet that is always great; who can resist the chocolate bloopers?  Apparently I could as I skipped it this trip.
                Then there is another antique mall just outside of Rolla, where I found a beautiful set of amber glass salt and pepper shakers last summer.  Some of my best finds have come from that particular location.  Somehow, the lure of Sunday evening Salsa pulled me on past this particular gem.
                Then, I found it.  At mile 179, there was a sign for a “Swap Meet”.  It was the middle of the day, so I wasn’t expecting to find any good deals, but it was definitely time to stretch my legs.  So, I pulled into the Old Towne Antiques swap meet.  This particular swap meet was of the variety where the vendors roll up the doors of their storage units, and maybe take the time to set up a table or two. 
                The first booth that I walked through was an interesting assortment of rusted tools (nope, I don’t need a rusty new ball-peen hammer), crocheted tea towels, and an offer of .22 ammunition.  I’m not really sure what about me said that I might be in the market for .22 ammo, but if that didn’t make me realize that I was in good ol’ boy territory, the rifle being offered in the next booth was clear confirmation.
                Continuing right along, I passed by the made in China set of Samurai swords, a large trash bag full of plastic hair rollers, and a nursery school’s worth of stuff animals.  I thought I had found something awesome when I came across two lamp bases.  They were perfectly hideous, but I could picture them in my guest bedroom after a bit of cleaning, a coat of krylon, and new shades.  I asked the dealer how much he wanted for them, and without skipping a beat, he said a hundred.  I laughed and asked if he was serious; he was- he’d just bought them for himself.  I guess that there are three people in this world that like that particular flavor of hideous – whoever originally bought them, the dealer, and me.
                Nursing my disappointment on the lamp bases, I went to the next book where the vendor had not yet realized that we passed from LPs through CDs, and now we have this media-less format called mp3s…  His booth was filled with boxes upon boxes of LPs (and a collection of dolls).  While I didn’t spend hours sorting through the various records, I got a kick out of one that was lying on top.  I’m sure all of my dance friends would love to boogie to Discopedia Vol. 4.  While I didn’t check the contents, according to the cover, it contained a Disco Dance Step Lesson choreographed by Arthur Murray Disco Dance Schools.  Perhaps I could have used it for a series of lessons at South Side?  Probably not…
                Having passed up the ammo, the hair rollers, and a blast from the Y.M.C.A. discotheque past, I hopped in to my car, empty handed, and continued on down the highway.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

An Introvert's Extroverted Adventure

There is this problem with Facebook.

When you have a birthday, everyone knows. 

People you didn't know you knew know that you are having a birthday.

No, this is not going to be a treatise about the breakdown of privacy due to our share-everything culture, and, yes, I am perfectly aware that with the click of my mouse, I can change the fact that Facebook shares my birthday with the world. 

Instead, this is a blog about the hilarity that ensues when a closet introvert suddenly ends up at the celebratory mercy of her more extroverted friends.

Yes, I would be the closet introvert (are there any walls nearby where I can flower?).  My friends – who might remain anonymous, but probably not – are definitely the extroverts of the party.

My story begins early last week when Facebook rats me out to the world.  One of my girlfriends seizes on this opportunity to drag me into the middle of the Salsa spotlight and convinces me that Friday would be a great day for me to go dancing at Club Viva and do the birthday party dance thing.  And really, how could I refuse?  With all of the craziness of the last month, I hadn’t seen her in weeks.  It would only be for one night right? 

Friday rolls around, and I find myself in a new dress and my fancy dance shoes (as opposed to my preferred socks) at Club Viva.  Some odd combination of it being a light crowd at Viva and it being my birthday meant that I met a lot of new people and got to dance with some new people – both guys and gals.  (I don’t care who I am dancing with, or which role as long as we are all having fun.)

The bartender whipped up a variation on my favorite drink for me.  What can I say, I like my water straight up.  I discovered over the course of the evening that if I had wanted to, I could have gotten seriously smashed on other people’s dime.  The last time I went to a bar for my birthday was when I turned 21, and I had forgotten all of the very few rituals that I was vaguely aware of surrounding drinking on your birthday.  The hostess asked if I wanted to do shots for my birthday.   Some other gal who I’m not sure I’d ever met before asked if I wanted to do drinks.  Both seemed somewhat disappointed when I declined.

As the evening wound down, the “Birthday Dance” commenced.  This is a rather wild bit of party magic – reminiscent of belt tests at my old BJJ school.  As the celebrant, I am at the center of a circle of potential dance partners.  My Salsa instructor started as my partner.  The music started up, and I danced with him until another partner stepped forward to claim me.  Around and around it went, some partners stepped into the circle when they wanted to dance, others were handpicked by the current dancer.  At one point, Club Viva’s owner, stepped in to be my partner when the current dance partner wouldn’t give me up to the next person.  Around and around we went, until I had no idea where my feet were supposed to be, and then the music ceased.

In all, it was an awesome way to celebrate my birthday -- even if my friends wouldn’t let me find a convenient wall.

One of the culprits of the story:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Saint Louis Zoo

Saturday I finally found myself at the St. Louis Zoo.  I was there with three other gals for a photography class with STL Photo Art.  Our instructor, Brian, was a great guy, with a good sense of humor and boundless patience for teaching a subject that he clearly loves.  I came away from the class with a new appreciation for my camera and all of the fun things I can do with it.

After the class, I only had about an hour to wander around which was not nearly enough time to see anything at all, but I did find the herpetarium (which I skipped) and the primate house, which was very busy with visitors and students.  Somehow, I missed the big cats, but now that I know that I can find free parking if I get there early, I will be back to find the lions and cheetahs. 

Taking pictures with my recent class in mind, it was curious how so much of what we talked about was simply a reframing of what I have been doing for years.  I just didn’t think about my choices for shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc in those terms.  It was also funny in that as I tried to switch gears I kept falling back to my old habits. 

For your viewing pleasure, here are my favorites from my short walk through the St. Louis Zoo.

Saint Louis Zoo:

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mucking In The Woods

Today is Groundhog Day.  I don’t know whether the groundhog saw his shadow or not; why would I trust a groundhog in Pennslyvania to know what will happen in St. Louis anyway?  Just looking around locally, I’m calling for an early spring.
                Today’s wanderings were reminiscent of my first few months in St. Louis, where I could turn right on a random street and not know where I might end up.  I started out at a frame store in Chesterfield, and turned right.  Even when I came to streets I that I knew would take me home, I kept going on the road I was on.  In the end, I came to Castlewood State Park.  The park is a beautiful area, with lots of picnic benches, woods, a few fields, and access to the river. 
                I abandoned my car in the parking lot, grabbed my camera and headed down to the river where there were some people launching canoes.  Four lunatics were headed out in canoes in February.  I should mention that it was in the mid 40’s and they were smart enough to be wearing life jackets.  So they weren’t completely bonkers, but I’m happy to leave that particular bit of fun to them.
                For myself, I promptly discovered that mud in Missouri is nearly as slick as ice in Alaska, but provides a much softer landing.  However, being covered in mud at the beginning of my tramping in the woods just meant that I was more willing to tramp in the woods. 
                The trail was busy with people jogging, walking their dogs, biking, and otherwise enjoying a beautiful clear day in winter.  Given how many people were out today, I can only imagine that the park is overrun with people in the summer time.
                For your viewing pleasure, here are a few of my favorite pictures from my adventure.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Anxiety About the White Stuff

Having spent ten years in a place where I actually saw snow in July, Halloween costumes were typically covered by winter coats, and my eyebrows would frost from my own breath, I have to say that I do not miss a single degree of cold, a single crystal of frost or a single flake of snow.
                But, I find that winter in St. Louis does have its adjustments.
                Our first “snow storm” came right before New Year’s.
It was awesome.  About 10 in the morning, the snow started coming down fast in great big flakes.  A constant swirl of white danced outside my office window, and the longer it came down, the more stressed I got.
Why?  Because I don’t have studded tires on my car.
Instead of enjoying the beauty of snow falling, I was worried about my drive home.  Nobody in St. Louis has studs – and it was snowing.  Lots of beautiful fat flakes were falling to the pavement and I was convinced that any minute they would start accumulating and make my drive home a nightmare.
I thanked my lucky stars that I had had the foresight to get a room for the night after the New Year’s Party since I didn’t want to be driving home on a snow-covered road with a bunch of drunks turning their cars into toboggans. 
Anxiously, I checked the pavement out of the windows every hour or so.  I watched as the grass (which was still green) was slowly blanketed in cottony whiteness.  As the day progressed, a bit of snow encroached on the shady area of sidewalks.  Any minute, any minute, I just knew it would start to accumulate on the roads.
No, this is St. Louis.  In November, the roses were still in bloom.  Early in December, I was still wearing flip-flops.  And when it snows, even the first good snow of the year, it doesn’t mean that you have to break out the boots, wonder how long the line at the tire place will be, or leave the office 45 minutes early so that hopefully you’ll beat all of the people who decided to leave 30 minutes early. 
Yes, I know that St. Louis does actually have snow accumulate on the streets. On occasion.  And then it melts, quickly, into memory.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dancing in the New Year

Having survived the Mayan Apocalypse, celebrated the holidays with my family and friends, and packed away all trace of Christmas with the energetic, if somewhat unhelpful, assistance of my cat, the only thing left to do in 2012 was to greet 2013.  For the first time since I was in college, I celebrated with friends, both old and new; Auld Lang Syne took on new meaning.
                I spent the New Year’s Eve at the Midwest Dance Federation’s annual bash; I was one of the first people on the dance floor when the music started about 6pm, and one of the last to leave it when the hotel finally kicked us off the dance floor around 3am. 
                When I arrived, I was disappointed to discover that my table was as far from the dance floor as it gets.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise however since I spent a large portion of the evening avoiding my table mates.  The table’s location gave me a perfect excuse to never be sitting there, except to eat.  (Note for next year: try to get a table together so you don’t get stuck with the luck of the draw.)  While most of my table mates were nice people, I definitely got some of the odd balls of the dancing community. 
There was the lady who alternately wanted to talk politics and give me her testimony as a Christian.  I got her life’s story, twice, maybe three times; I lost count.  Let’s simply say that my Meema’s advice about saying “hmm, isn’t that nice” when you really just need to bite your tongue came in very handy. 
                Then there was the drunk guy.  He was cute and interesting while he was working on the first glass of wine, but became progressively less so with each subsequent glass.  I felt sorry for his date; he said she was just a friend, but just because it’s a friend, you still should observe some social proprieties- like dance with her, not follow some other woman around the room like a lost puppy.  According to one of my friends, I did a pretty good job of avoiding him, but I guess I didn’t do as good a job of keeping my avoidance from being obvious to the rest of the world.
                But on a happy note, I met some awesome new dance partners.  Some of them were from out of town- Detroit, Chicago, and Jefferson City.  Others were local, but we just don’t cross paths frequently at the dances.  We danced East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, some slow dances, and a few line dances.  One of the guys, who I was dancing with at 3am, teaches West Coast Swing at the Rebels.  I was really glad that I had gone to the Rebels a few nights ago because every dance that I had with him at the Rebels gave me practice for the dance partners that I encountered last night who assumed that I knew West Coast.  A week ago, I could have stumbled through it, but last night, it almost felt like I was competent. 
At the stroke of midnight, I raised a glass of champagne and toasted the evening with my friends, old and new, and a warm fuzzy contentment made my evening complete.


Midwest Swing Dance Federation:
St. Louis Rebels:
Southside Imperial Dance Club (my home club):