4

Another Year, Another Decade…

It’s official…I am thirty years old.

I spent most of my day at the ballroom dance competition. I met my partner last night, and even though we didn’t place, we managed to make it to the semi-finals in all 4 Silver Latin dances, and 3 Bronze Latin dances. I didn’t get any birthday cake, but I got a fish sandwich for dinner, a birthday serenade by my ballroom team, and a box from my parents containing a jar of peanut butter, a can of peas, two bags of Bissli, and two boxes of Bergers cookies, only available in Baltimore.

I think I will spend the last half hour of my birthday relaxing in my bed, and maybe watching some of my favorite Happy Birthday videos.

When there is love in the air, there is love everywhere.

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6

The Luck of the Irish DanceSport Gala Weekend

So now I’ll tell you what that hotel room thing was all about.

I didn’t want to jinx it, but my dance partner and I decided to compete at the Irish DanceSport Gala at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana! And no, it’s actually not an Irish dance competition, it’s called that because the school is the Fighting Irish.

We (me, my partner, and two other team members) drove down to South Bend from Madison on Friday afternoon. It was probably between five and six hours of driving, but we managed to make it to the welcome dance before heading off to our hotel which was surprisingly a ways away. I bunked with a random assortment of team members in a rather comfortable hotel room.

The day of the competition was beautiful and sunny, and we were up bright and early around 7:30 or so, and relaxed before heading over to the venue for our first event. I tried not to be too intimidated by the other dancers and just have fun. There were some really, really good dancers there. There were a lot of bedazzled costumes on the ladies, and a few men even had their hair bedazzled. I mean, I wear a little makeup, but bedazzled hair is a little too much, even for me. We competed in 8 Bronze dances and 8 Newcomer dances, opting to forgo Viennese at the last minute because we were tired. Our first callback was, surprisingly, in Bronze Tango, followed by one in Newcomer Tango and Newcomer Foxtrot. Breaking Bronze is pretty decent, especially for a rather inexperienced pair like us. We didn’t fare well in Bronze Latin, but got called back for quarter-finals in Newcomer Rumba (despite getting extremely off-time in the final 10 seconds or so), and then semi-finals! According to the judging page, we didn’t get any points in that last rumba, but we managed to score at least one point for all the rest of our first-round dances except for Bronze Waltz (our first dance of the day) and Bronze Foxtrot. Even though we did not place, my secret goal was at least one callback, so after that Bronze Tango callback, I was a little calmer, but still feeling competitive. Overall, we gave it our best shot, and I don’t regret anything I did on the dance floor. Okay, maybe a few botched quickstep moves and a couple moments where I almost lost it in jive, but other than that, I’m happy with my performance.

The long and short of it, we didn’t do too bad, especially this being my third-ever competition and my partner’s first.

And the reason I didn’t post this all yesterday was because even though it was only four and a half hours to drive back, I drove the first two hours or so and then slept as my partner drove us the rest of the way. I’m surprised that I didn’t wake up this morning slumped over in the parking lot of her building, but I managed to get up and lead a talkback this afternoon. I have plenty of work and stuff ahead of me this week, but at least this weekend happened and now I’ve just gotta worry about this week.

5

Song and Dance Saturdays

It’s been a busy week for me; not just in academics, but in exciting (and exhausting) moments.

Last week, I fronted a salsa band.

On Wednesday, my dance teacher Alissa told me that her salsa bandleader needed a male lead singer for the Chabad Chanukah party.

On Thursday, I had a phone chat with Hanna, the bandleader, and sang for her.

On Friday afternoon, I went to Hanna’s house for a jam session to learn ten-ish songs, most of which I knew the lyrics, but with different tunes.

And on Saturday night, at about 7 PM, I got dressed up and showed up at the Sky Bar at Ovation, met the band…and at 8 PM, started singing Hebrew salsa songs (and “I Have A Little Dreidel,” with a bonus Madison-themed verse written by me!) for over 100 guests, at a party that also featured an open bar, sushi bar, salad bar (a theme, I guess), and tons of latkes and doughnuts.

And tonight…

After about four rehearsals, not counting several hours this afternoon, Ciara and I set a record by being the first-ever beginner dancers to perform at Badger Ballroom showcase! We did a self-choreographed cha-cha routine to “Fight For Me Tonight” by Anuhea (my choice of song, yay) and I thought we did pretty darn respectable, and we got a lot of nice comments from people. Mostly that our dance was cute…but I’ll take it.

And now, to finish all the work, that is all due…on Tuesday.

Yikes.

7

Mid-April Life Update Post

I am so, so, incredibly tired right now from a busy few days, so I thought I’d just take a moment and do some free writing about how my day, and things in general, have been for me. Sorry if you enjoy my more didactic or literary or multimedia or humor-related posts, but I just need to be real for a moment. K?

So, how has it been for me lately?

Well, fantastic!

Weather-wise, that is.

I don’t have too much to complain about, though, I guess, except for the things I have to complain about. I’m so super nervous about re-mounting the show the week after next; it’s going to mean a lot of early mornings and opportunities to screw something up and make everyone hate me, so that’s no fun. My other classes are going okay, but a lot of questions about the future and the unknown occupy my time so much so that I forget about the here and now, the work that needs to get done and the reading I have to do, which seems to just pile up. In terms of dance, I leveled up in Latin, which was great, but I need to find a permanent partner for the fall if I want to continue competing, and maybe even look for some more outside lessons. Definitely need to exercise more, eat better, yada yada.

In other news, part of my MIA status this week is because I was picked (well, more like volunteered) to be a background dancer in a music video. I can’t say much more than the fact that it happened, that I danced waltz, and that we filmed today from 9 AM to 2 PM. Then, I went to present my paper at the department conference, which went fairly well, and then returned to the video shoot to help them out packing up, because I just didn’t want to go home and sit alone.

The summer and the fall semester are on their way, faster than I think. I still have no concrete plans for the summer, other than Montreal for ATHE and a possible trip home. Fall semester will be my first as a TA (I found out my assignment already, which is great), and of course, the beginning of the end of coursework, paving the way for prelims, pre-dissertation…

I think I’m going to need to invest in a good sturdy life jacket, or maybe just some good sturdy tequila.

1

Nine Thousand Miles

This weekend was a whirlwind, almost lost to history and memory, but I’ll see how much I can resurrect out of it.

Friday: After our final school show, it was officially time for spring break and for hitting the road to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the Iowa DanceSport Classic, my first away competition. I could not find a partner, so I decided to go TBA, and dance at Bronze level rather than newcomer for the first time. I needed some extra time to veg out, so I ended up leaving Madison at 4 PM with exactly 8600 miles on the car. It was a relatively uneventful trip, and my first time ever seeing eastern Iowa in the daylight. I made it to Iowa City at sunset and almost got into an accident; there’s a road there with two lines going the same direction, yet there’s a divider in between them. So, I thought I could turn left from the right lane. The car in front of me did that about 5 minutes before, and got hit; fortunately, the person in the left lane slowed down so the same didn’t happen to me. I still decided to be the good Samaritan and see if the people who did get into the accident were okay. After a quick sandwich and cappuccino, I met up with Sophia, Dillon, Nicole, and Tim (the first three are from team, Tim is Sophia’s friend) in downtown Iowa City. Sophia, who graduated from Iowa, led us around the campus, and we went to a fun dance club and saw the old state capitol building before heading over to Cedar Rapids to check into the hotel. There were 8 of us in the room; me, Sophia, Dillon, Nicole, Sergio, Ciara, Raunak, and Jameson, and it was like a giant slumber party, complete with attempting to throw popcorn in Jameson’s mouth and making a giant mess, but we did actually get some sleep. Of course, I ended up in between Jameson and Raunak in the king-size bed, so it is debatable as to how much sleep I actually got.

Saturday: Wake-up, get dressed, and make-up by 8:30 for registration only to find out that the events most of us are competing in aren’t happening until 2:30 PM.

Great.

At least we were ready early.

The first activity of the day was lunch with Sophia, Dillon, Nicole, and Sergio, and meeting my partner for the day, Heather from the Iowa team. Our practice went pretty well, and she and her pre-champ friends taught me how to do a reverse turn in samba, which I always wanted to know how to do. Then, at 2:45 (they were running a bit late) it was showtime. I wasn’t too happy with the cha-cha and rumba we did, but I thought our samba and jive were pretty good for only having known each other for 2 hours. I was much happier with our standard, we did a lovely waltz despite starting off time, and our quickstep was not bad. Overall, not the greatest for my first away competition, but next time will be better.

Oh, and I saw the announcer in the bathroom afterwards while taking off my makeup, and he said that he saw me and was wondering if I had my eye makeup tattooed on, to which I chuckled “I wish.” At least my eye-makeup game was totally on fleek.

After getting gas and finding some geocaches, dinner was at Jersey’s Pub in downtown Cedar Rapids with Raunak, Jameson, and Ciara. We watched the nail-biting game between Wisconsin and Arizona, and thankfully Wisconsin was around 8 points ahead most of the time, so elite eight, here come the Badgers.

I left Cedar Rapids at about 9 PM, and got home a few minutes before midnight with exactly 8995 miles on my car, and next morning’s trip to the grocery store got me to 9000.

Now, time to get as much work done as I possibly can before heading home on Thursday.

4

Dancing with the Enemy

So, yesterday, after the show, I went to watch the second of four films offered by this year’s Madison Israel Film Festival, Dancing at Jaffa, a documentary directed by Hilla Medalia and starring Pierre Fontaine and Yvonne Marceau. For someone who is a huge fan of documentary films, of ballroom dance, of human interest stories, and of Israel, I have to say that I was let down.

Dancing at Jaffa documents the true story of an intercultural experiment aimed at uniting two groups of children in a very unusual way: through a ballroom dance class. French ballroom dance champion Pierre Fontaine returns to Jaffa, Israel – a suburb of Tel Aviv and the city of his birth – to see how he can best contribute to the people of a divided city in a divided nation. The idea of a ballroom dance class is brilliant, and especially the way he did it, by making Jewish boys dance with Palestinian girls, and Palestinian boys with Jewish girls. Of course, the program does not run smoothly; the scenes where the children meet for the first time are wonderfully awkward, and their reactions are candid and honest. Slowly, though, the resistance to look at, to touch, and to dance with the partner of the opposite sex and religion melts away, and by the end, they all (well, most of them) dance in a competition in front of a crowd of parents, family, and friends from both communities. Other than Pierre, two of the trajectories are those of Noor, a chubby Palestinian girl who can be either incredibly shy and withdrawn, avoiding everyone or hostile and belligerent, attacking and scaring everyone; and that of Lois and Alaa. We do not learn about Noor’s partner, but we do learn that Alaa comes from a very poor Palestinian home at which Lois is shocked, and that Lois’s thing is that she was fathered by a sperm donor, which prompts an adorable scene where she tries to explain to her partner what a sperm bank is, and then is followed by an awkwardly graphic scene where Lois’s mother gives Alaa the intimate details of her procedure and of the reproductive process. She’s a wily one, that lady. Noor’s arc basically ends with her in control of her emotions and actually proving to be a very talented dancer, and Lois and Alaa take us out with a scene where they row Alaa’s father’s boat and it’s all very Hand in Hand and gooey as the credits roll.

The concept of the film is great; cute kids and a fun project. If the synopsis weren’t enough, the trailers made me want to jump right up and buy a copy of the movie for myself. However, as I mentioned before, it was not a cakewalk to sit through.

Okay, disclaimer: granted, I missed the first 20 minutes because I was still at the theatre finishing up with the costumes, but for an almost 2-hour-long movie, missing 20 minutes shouldn’t be that big of a deal, and I was able to get right into it when I walked in. The main criticisms I had were the treatment of ballroom dance, the character development, and the camera work/filming style.

Okay, first, the ballroom dance. Obviously, I was not expecting to watch children do ballroom for two hours straight, because that would be boring, but they could have shown more of that and fewer tracking shots of school buses and checkpoints. The only dances that I counted were merengue (which is not something I know much about), rumba (a different style than what I’m used to, though, and tango. There was a tiny bit of foxtrot and waltz in the scenes where Pierre and his American partner, Yvonne Marceau, were demonstrating for the class, but they didn’t show them teaching it. It’s obvious that the children were not professional dancers or even actors, but I felt like I was either watching them dance the same steps over and over in different settings or just watching them talk about their lives. There was a lot left on the cutting room floor.

This leads into character development. I found it odd that almost nothing was mentioned about Noor’s partner; that would have been a great counterpoint to Lois/Alaa. It is clear that we were supposed to root for Noor, but she seemed like a whiner up until the very last moments. Unlike Lois/Alaa, the Noor scenes always seemed to be about someone other than Noor, and Noor’s relationship with that person (Noor’s mother, Noor’s teachers, Noor’s classmate, Pierre). Also, some of the adult characters were frustrating. Pierre seemed a little full of himself at times; Lois’s mother, while funny, clearly attempted to commandeer a documentary that was not about her; and there was something that one of the teachers said to a class that I thought was incredibly harsh and unwarranted. Also, there were like five different schools, and so many children that we barely knew anyone else’s name by the end.

Finally, the camera work. Pick a style and stick with it. You want to do it as if it’s a real movie, with no fourth-wall breaking? Do it that way. You want heavy confessional action? Do it with all the characters, or at least not just Pierre. And for goodness sakes, decide if you want your voice in it – there was one scene in the Palestinian neighborhood where they were talking to Alaa and some of the other boys, and it was clear that the prompts/questions were coming from the person holding the camera.

I would give it a 2 out of 5 star rating, and that’s only because I just love ballroom dance.

And hello to another six continent day, the first after a few! So, just who danced in today? North America (Canada and USA), South America (Paraguay and Colombia), Europe (UK, Hungary, France, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), Asia (India, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Burkina Faso), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).

6

What I Learned This Weekend

Yesterday, I spent all day either ballroom dancing or with APO.

So, what to do today?

Apparently, because either a) I have no life, b) I have too much of a life, c) I’m a glutton for punishment, or d) I want to avoid doing schoolwork, I got in bed at 1:30, got up at 11, showered, threw some food in my mouth, went to Memorial Union for dance practice from 1 PM-4 PM, came home, went back out again to APO meeting from 8 PM-9 PM.

Basically, the same day I had yesterday.

And I wouldn’t change it for anything. Well, I would add a few more meals that are not cereal, protein bars, chocolate, or pretzels.

But I’m a learner, and I reflect on nearly everything I do, so here are a few things I learned this weekend that could apply to your daily life.

1. Hold your partner closer and take smaller steps; your turns will be sharper and your connection will be greater.

Make sure you appreciate your friends, and hugs are always good gifts. It’s the little gestures that make things count in life, and could earn you points down the road.

2. Look at your partner.

Just take a look around you; you will see how lucky you are.

3. When things don’t go as planned, make a workshop into an intimate discussion.

Hey, maybe you’ll make an impact, and even get to play a game or two. Your self-confidence will build.

4. Listening is the best way to get people to open up.

You would be amazed at how much you learn about people (yourself included) when you make a practice of listening rather than just existing.

5. Don’t wander too far from the floor when you get called back for cha cha.

Yeah, not a huge life lesson here, just pay attention and don’t be stupid.

6. A selfie can build bridges.

In the amount of time it takes to take a selfie, you can make a new friend.

7. When you do your best, others might actually learn from you.

This happened a number of times. At the competition, one of the other (higher-level) dancers came up to me afterwards and said he learned something from me from watching my jive, that I leaned in towards my partner slightly for the American spin so that it looked like I was offering her my hand. At my theatre workshop at regionals, one of the three attendees told me he actually got some ideas to bring back to his chapter, and during Roll Call at that evening’s banquet, he led his chapter in what turned out to be a really funny improv piece. As he walked back to his table, I said good job, and he said “hey, I owe it all to you,” and then we basted invisible turkeys and laughed while everyone around us was puzzled. Private joke! You should have come to my workshop.

8. Dancing in front of an audience won’t kill you, but doing spot turns just might.

If someone ever tells you that they can travel across a room doing 10 nonstop spot turns, that person is probably a liar.