Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Overcoming Mother Effin' Plateaus

"Going through life is like climbing a mountain." Yeah. Cliche and totally unoriginal, but true. For most of us that make the decision to climb upwards towards something unknown, the journey is riddlled with accomplishments, setbacks, achievements and.....plateaus.

Mother effing plateaus.

Plateaus are almost worst than setbacks. Setbacks are something tangible that we can walk up to, pause, point at and say "Hey, you're a setback, but because I can see you very clearly in front of me, I shall just kick you out of my way." Some setbacks are larger than others and may require more than a simple re-routing, toe kick or leap. When we come across obstacles in our path, like boulders, they demand that we roll up our sleeves, dig in our heels and push. Once we've moved that boulder and can feel the sweat of accomplishment running down our backs, there is a satisfaction that soon follows.

But plateaus are different. They're like heavy set in fog or standing on the edge of an abyss and wondering what the hell is on the other side. They can creep up at any time and are typically accompanied by self doubt, worry and confusion.

And they can crop up at any time. You've just scaled a hill that is steeper than 45 degrees, running, with a small llama and kitchen sink on your back, you've transcended this momentous journey when all of a sudden....plateau. Shit. You drop the llama and wonder why the hell you had a kitchen sink on your back, all the while standing still and thinking "Duh? how did I get here?"

Plateaus are dangerous places. They're more dangerous than cliffs or ravines or large boulders because they come at you after a moment of incredible achievement and success. They're dangerous because they can very easily shift you into the head space of "Well, I've had a good run so far, I guess this is a sign that I should turn back and go down again."

And that is where plateaus are dangerous. You either hang out on one for a while or you turn around and go back in the direction you've just come from, undoing all of your llama carrying hard work.

Plateaus are where the real heel digging begins. They're the spot where your courage and strength are truly tested. It's on this plateau where you really have to examine what you want and where you want to go. You could have made it up the mountain being chased by a bear and when you finally managed to get away from the bear, you are elated. But you don't know how to continue without something chasing you or propelling you forward like baseless emotions such as anger, disdain or pride.

Plateaus are lonely places where our stuff is really tested. It's where the emotion of the journey sets in. It's like the day after a wedding or a huge victory and the question that pops into your mind is "Now what?"

And man can that be a dark place. "But I've done so well up to now! Why am I stuck here? Why do I feel like I am being held from going forward?" I believe the answer to this lies inside of us and that plateaus come from the deep dark places in our hearts that either haven't been healed or haven't been addressed in a real and meaningful way.

I recently hit a plateau where I looked around and said "Ok. I've come far enough. Time to retreat. I don't want to push forward. It's too hard and it takes too much out of me." I didn't want to move. As a person very dear to me put it, I had momentarily lost my "spark". I didn't want to do anything. I continued to work out, not because I wanted to, but because I'd already paid for the classes and figured that I should. I felt helpless and like I was at the mercy of the things around me, with no choice or control. Yep. It was one of those plateaus. Deep dark and ugly.

So I had to make a choice and I knew it. Would I just lay down or turn back and go the direction I just came from? Would I go back to the things in my past that brought me so much misery and pain? Would I dare undo the things that I had worked so hard for because it had become too hard? Did I care? Did I honestly care? And what scared me was that my immediate answer was that I didn't care.

And once I realized that I didn't care, I knew that was the spot on the plateau that I had to dig in my heels. I'd found it. I realized that it didn't matter that I didn't care at that moment. I would care in the future and I would be sorry for turning back in any way, shape or form. So I dug in my heels and pushed up with all my strength and discovered that I wasn't on a plateau anymore, but at the base of a hill that I could look up and see a beautiful destination at the top and all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Paradigm Shift - Healthy & Strong

Body image. Ugh. The double whammy of feminine existance. Our bodies, how we perceive them, what they do for us and how they exist in the world. And image; how we perceive ourselves, how we perceive others perceive us and what we put out into the world.

I, like most women, have struggled with body image issues for most of my life. For varying reasons that are unimportant and with varying consequences that are irrelevant. There have been people that have lifted me up and there have been people who have cut me down: also irrelevant. There have been times in my life where the good opinion of others has been so crucial, I would do anything for their good opinion, even at the detriment of myself.

I say these things without blame, shame or guilt. Just an acknowledgement that this has been the truth for me for a very long time.  I always obsessed about my weight. My weight was the barometer of happiness in my life. If I was unhappy, I was chubby. If I was happy, I was slim. None of my accomplishments mattered. In Junior high, having a 92% percent grade point average didn't matter, in high school, being a musician and in 5 choirs was no big deal, putting myself through university, building a successful dance studio and making lots of friends didn't hold a candle to this one truth: I was fat.

My story is not unique, which is unfortunate. There are legions of beautiful, talented and vibrant women who move mountains and rule the world, but get sideswiped by body image issues and fear of the most dreaded consequence imaginable: being fat. Because of this, they get sucked into toxic relationships that only perpetuate their value system of being worthless. There is no shame in that. It happens. Lots of women get sucked into a world where they give too much in hopes that they will get some of it back.

And here is where the paradigm shift becomes important. It has come time to shift the truth.

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that all of the energy I was spending obsessing about my weight, my disappointment in myself and my own self worth was entirely misplaced. I couldn't believe that I was allowing a number on the scale dictate whether or not I was successful or lovable or had any value. At first there was incredible shame at that. How could I do that to myself? What was wrong with me? And then a softer voice spoke up and reassured me that I was normal, but that there was something I could do about it.

At varying times in my life, my internal strength and my external strength have been in opposition. When I was strong inside, my physical body was weak and when I was strong on the outside, my insides were weak. So I made the decision that I wanted my insides and my outsides to come together and with their powers combined make one badass babe that I am proud to be.

I got rid of my scale. It was hard. It was really really hard. It still is.

Then I decided to do something different, something I never in a million years thought I could do. I started to run. I was always the chubby kid in school that would get the blue participation badge in school that said "hey, thanks for coming out.", so imagine my surprise when I discovered the amazing truth about myself: I am strong enough to run.

At first I was amazed and shocked. Then this deep burning fire ignited inside of me and I knew that running was the answer. The way my feet hit the pavement, daring it to fight back against the strength of my steps, the way my heart pulsed and my muscles burned as I pushed them further. Never in my life did I ever think I could be a runner. So as I pushed on and ran longer and faster, I would reach a point where tears would start to come and I would run harder and push faster because I knew I  had reached the point inside myself where I was getting rid of old beliefs and old patterns and treading new ground.

I'm not expert. I haven't woken up one day and suddenly become enlightened and "cured". I'm not a sword wielding ninja of self esteem. Yet. I am embarking on a journey of moving past and releasing a lifetime of self-perpetuation and limitations. But the one thing I do know is that when my running shoes are on and I am panting with sweat pouring into my bra, I am not running away from anything. I am moving towards my future of being healthy and strong and there is no one in this world that can stop me, cut me down or slow my pace. I am flexing new muscles I'v enever used before. There will be times when they are weary and need a rest and that's ok, because I've made the committment to myself to start the journey.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Step to the back, A Step to the front

I've been involved in Middle Eastern dance for what will be 11 years this fall. I have been a student, teacher performer and I continue to be a student of this glorious art form. However, sometimes when we do something for a long time, we don't recognize the value that it brings to our lives or even it becomes "normal" to us. Don't get me wrong, I feel blessed and very special to do what I do for a living. But sometimes we need a little jolt to inspire us and take us to the next level of being.

This little jolt happened to me exactly a week ago. I was going through a very difficult time personally and had the choice of either sitting at home being sad or going out and doing something I had wanted to do for the last 3 years. There is a bar near my house called On the Rocks. Every Thursday night they host a salsa night. Despite my many years in dance, I had never tried salsa and only really learned the basic foot pattern in a zumba class from one of my instructors.

But I felt this pull. This incredible pull. Due to my life circumstances, I hadn't felt comfortable going to salsa night on my own before. But this night was different. This night I needed to break away and own my own life. I wanted to take it back and do something for me. As a teacher, a lot of what I do is for my students, who are my life blood. But I needed something that was strictly for the nourishment of my own soul.

I managed to wrangle a good friend to come along with me. As we were standing in the line up outside waiting to get in, I could feel my body start to buzz. My hands were tingling. My legs were vibrating. My head was spinning as I was looking around at all of the beautiful men and women that had piled into the club and were dancing.

The door man gave me a bit of a hard time, which my friend later identified as flirting. I think he could see how excited I was and wanted to taunt me a bit. When we finally stepped inside the club, the music took me over. I felt instantly like I was transported to Havana. People of all backgrounds moved around to this glorious soul shaking music that made my blood hum and my heart pulse.

I walked up to the dance floor and before I knew what was happening, a very large Cuban man had asked me to dance and was spinning me around the floor. I begged forgiveness as I didn't know how to salsa and it was my first time, but I just followed along. Followed. A first for me. I don't follow anyone in dance and it was a glorious moment to surrender to a man who could lead me and knew what he was doing.

Once the dance was over, there was a friendly smile and a pat on the shoulder and we went our separate ways. Really? No leching? No asking for my number? Or trying to grab me? It was exhilerating! We parted ways with a mutual respect and found other partners. Before I knew it, I was being asked to dance and was being passed around the dance floor. I could feel a slick river of sweat running down my back and I loved the sensation of it because I knew it meant that I was being baptised in the river of Salsa.

As the night progressed I learned that it was typical etiquette for a man to ask you to dance and that most of the time you said yes, unless you got a super creepy vibe. I was approached by a young man who I thought was Cuban and wearing a baggy scruffy t-shirt and jeans. He was about my height. He asked me to dance. I was a bit unsure, but I thought why not?

When he grabbed my hands and started leading me on the dance floor, I almost fell over in shock. He was so strong and so sure in his movements. His appearance hadn't matched his dance ability. I felt immediately humbled by this acknowledgement and proceded to thoroughly enjoy myself. I told him that I didn't have much experience with Salsa and I apologized for my awkwardness. He smiled and said some very simple and impactful words, "It's just a step to the back and a step to the front."

That sentence that took him only a moment to say rang true throughout my body. It was like he had taken my entire life experience and placed it in a few short and simple words. My head started to swim and it took me a moment to really concentrate on what was happening. Some simple steps, made more complex by your own ability and experience or remaining simple and stylish. Close or far apart. Didn't matter. It was all just a step to the back and step to the front.

After this I took a little break from dancing and grabbed a drink, chatting with my friend. When out of the blue, another friend of mine popped out of no where. A friend who had stopped by my dance studio only days earlier and had chatted business with. There she was! A kindred spirit! Someone who I had always felt an instant emotional connection with.

She introduced me to some people and before long I was watching some very experienced salsa dancers dominate the floor. I was speechlees. I only wanted to watch them. I felt by watching them I was sharing in this incredibly intimate and beautiful moment that only lasted a song, but was intoxicating in its sensuality.

As I was watching, I spotted a small and very beautiful Latin woman dancing with a partner. The way she moved, her hair, her confidence, the surety of her footwork seized me and made it impossible to look away. The sway of her hips and the smile on her face. It was like poetry. Very sexy poetry. And I realized that salsa was about that experience. The coming together of men and women for the pure joy of dancing and getting rid of the frustrations and limitations of their lives. That for that moment while the song played, they were free. Their bodies did the talking their lips could not or would not allow.

I continued to watch some of the dancing. I felt like Baby in Dirty Dancing when she first sees Patrick Swayze grinding in the night club. I felt so innocent and naive and yet so hungry to learn more and experience the dance for myself. In that moment I knew that salsa was going to be my salvation. Salsa was going to allow my heart to bleed in a way that my own lips could not speak and my own tears could not accomplish. No measure of tears could release the tension and anxiety I was feeling or fill my soul the way that hip shaking rhythm and those soul freeing steps could. The mere observation of the beauty and freedom that accompanied this dance was enough to make me want to hook it up to my arm through an IV and be an addict for life.

I was always afraid to try salsa and now I know why. I wasn't ready for it. Somehow my soul knew what it would mean to me. Somehow my soul knew that it would change me and it wasn't going to let me try it until I was ready to welcome it into my life like a secret lover who had been waiting for me in the background my whole life. I had to let it in without fear of being untrue to my partner by dancing with another man. I had to let it in without fear of judgement or failure, from a place of humility as a beginner.  And I had to let it in so that my soul could move to the next level and the next chapter of my life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Comparing women, comparing bodies = losing game

Reading a recent blog on a topic that I find to be quite distasteful has inspired me to write my own thoughts on the subject: The recent facebook phenomena of posting pictures that praise bigger/curvier girls at the sake "skinny women" or that demean women who aren't.

About 3 months ago, a larger lady that I know posted a picture of a beautiful curvy woman on  her wall. However, the caption on the picture said something to the effect of "Men prefer curvy women b/c skinny women are like twigs they can snap." I found this highly offensive. But why? I'm a curvy woman. I grew up being called fat, lard ass, Oprah butt, thunder thighs and the most creative joke that people could come up for me was "What are you going to do, sit on me?" Mostly by skinny girls or boys. So wouldn't you think that of all people I would be cheering and saying "Yeah! To hell with you skinny bitches! Men like me better!"


In fact, I find this kind of thought process to not only be demeaning of ALL women, but to be incredibly divisive amongst women. And to be incredibly reflective of how fucked up our culture is. The REAL question that we need to be asking is "Why do we care whether or not men like skinny or curvey women?" and "Why do we as women monitor our own self worth and value based upon what men want us to be?"

Now, first of all, it is not my intent to male-bash. I know lots of lovely men that exist with this messed up, sexually frustrated, sexually deprived society that we live in. The target of my fury is why we even care in the first place. Do men post pictures of skinny men and fat men to compare and support their own obesity problems? Or make themselves feel better? They sure don't. And why is that? Because we exist in a society where women are raised to accept men as they are but to not accept themselves.

Not only do we not accept ourselves, but then we look to our beautiful sisters in this world and judge them based on their weight and beauty. We pass value judgements on ourselves based on our weight and then we pass those same judgements onto our friends, family and strangers. What is even more astounding is we then ask the question "Why does society force us to think we need to be a certain way?"

WE ARE SOCIETY. Time to stop being a passive participant in the world ladies and gents and to recognize that we shape our own reality, literally. If we do not want women's bodies to be the barometer of our culture (which they are), then we need to stop buying into it. It only exists because we allow it to exist.

Which takes me back to this whole comparing women thing. Many years ago my brother met this beautiful women in Australia, who is from the Netherlands, when he was travelling there. He brought her home to Canada. This woman is someone who I both admire and respect. However, she is also incredibly slim. Naturally. She is who she is, yet, has been targeted by incredibly mean spirited people who insist she has an eating disorder. She accepts all those around her, never passes judgement and is wise beyond reckoning. And yet, she is dimeaned by other women as being too skinny.

My brother has now married this lovely human being and they have a beautiful family of 2 girls and a boy. And she is still slim. Naturally. Witnessing my sister-in-law's struggle with people judging her weight really made me appreciate how hurtful comments about skinny or slim women really are. And it really pisses me off.

Fast forward to owning a belly dance studio. I am honoured and astounded by the incredible trust that my students place in me. Old. Young. Average. Fat. Thin. Medium. Tall. Short. I look at these women and their incredible courage at just showing up and using their bodies as an instrument of movement. The most shocking moment for me as a teacher of such beautiful women was when I realized that no matter what a woman looks like WE ALL HATE OUR BODIES.

And that really chafes my ass. BIG TIME.

And guess what ladies? Guess whose fault it is? OURS. Not the media, although they contribute to it. Not men, although they also contribute ot it. Not our parents, no matter how fucked up they were. Not the kids at school that called us names. At the end of the day, it is our fault that we are in the position we are in as women because we:
-undermine our friends and ourselves based on weight and appearance.
-allow ourselves to be made a spectacle of.
-don't demand better for ourselves and our daughters.
-use sexuality as a way of getting what we want and then resent the outcome of this approach.
-don't build each other up as sisters and allies.
-take pleasure in watching other women fail or suffer because it's better than it happening to us.

Let's face is ladies. We need a change. The way we interact needs a serious overhaul and it can start with something as simple as our language. Let's stop trying to judge each other based on weight. Or feeling better because someone else is miserable or suffering. We are perpetuating our own self esteem problems by engaging in this type of toxic behaviour. And then to make matters worse, we expect men to make up for it with gifts and compliments.

I'm getting really tired of these toxic and ridiculous facebook posts. I challenge you to post pictures of women of all sizes and praise your fellow sisters for their beauty at being who they are! THAT is where we start to effect change. That is how we can begin to create a healthy society that we are proud to raise our daughters in.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Las Vegas Series - Special Moments

Through the almost week I was in Vegas, there were several special moments for me that warrant mentioning.

1. My students Julie and Monica were in attendance.
There was something really special about having Julie and Monica in Vegas with me. We did not take all of the same workshops or spend every waking moment together. But as a teacher, I was so excited for them to have the opportunity to experience such masters of instruction. And to see the incredible performances. And to bear witness to special moments of their own which cannot be captured on DVD. And to drink terribly cheap wine with Julie.

The other aspect of this experience was knowing that they were both seeing the festival with fresh eyes. They had no pre-conceived notions of anything. They didn't know who was who or worry about behaving in a certain way. They were just there to freely learn and absorb the environment they were in and that was so exciting as a teacher to know they were experiencing.

2. Sharing the Festival with Former Troup Mate & friend Adriana
Adriana and I have been through a lot together in dance. We generally think on the same wavelength when it comes to dancing. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding. We choreographed pieces together.  It was incredibly special to be able to share workshops and ideas. All sorts of ideas began to flow as we experienced workshops and talked.

3. Watching Ruby and Delilah goofing off to live music from House of Tarab drum god Erik Brown
This is what makes festivals and travelling to workshops. All of the little things that happen that would never happen if you purchased the DVD. The memorable things. The things that matter. Watching two incredibly accomplished dancers just goofing off and having fun together with music. Even more impactful was looking across the room and seeing Julie watch this and knowing that she doesn't realize that seeing things like this are rare.

I find that workshops in home cities tend to be very stiff. Very rarely have I gone to a workshop in Edmonton or Calgary where the imported talent ate lunch with the workshop participants or engaged them on any sort of personal level. Aziza was a notable exception to this. But usually, they keep their distance, which I think it unfortunate.

The beauty with Vegas is that at one moment you could be taking a workshop with Ahava and the next she could be standing right next to you taking another workshop herself. There was lots of opportunity to interact with talented dancers on a real and personal level.

4. Sade's music in Ariellah's class
I had the distinct privelege with being raised in a home where there was music everywhere and all the time. My mother used to sing but while my friends grew up on country, I grew up listening to Peabo Bryson, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Mariah Carey and more.

My older sister also had (and still has) an incredible ear for music and I found my own tastes heavily influenced by what she listened to at home. One of the most special artists she ever played was Sade. Such a musical and soulful voice. And my sister's favourite.

So imagine my surprise that while in Ariellah's class, which artist randomly pops into her playlist? Why, Sade. And in that moment it was an instant marriage of my childhood love for music and my adulthood exploration and journey into dance where I am blessed to have the opportunity to try and translate music into movement.

5. Responding to bitchiness w/ indifference
With the good also comes the bad, and while I do not want to dwell on it, I would merely like to tip my hat to it and thank it for the life lesson. On the last night at the cocktail wrap up party, Adriana and I were running late. But it's cocktails and everything with cocktails starts an hour later. We arrived and sure enough, people were enjoying themselves conversing (although we missed Elvis. Boo).

I saw Julie and Monica sitting at a table and went over to them. There were two chairs left at the table, but they were on opposite sides of the table (which was round). I asked the ladies to the right of my students if they would mind moving down one chair so that we could sit together. The one lady loudly and rudely proclaimed "NO." I was really taken aback by this very loud and harsh response. I looked and Julie who shrugged in disbelief. The ladies on the other side of the table (who I later found out were Canadians), offered to move over one seat. We were very grateful for their act of courtesy.

Later Julie (who was totally flabbergasted) informed me that the negative Nancies had asked Julie and Monica if they could sit at the table with them and Julie and Monica of course said yes. My only real emotional response to these women was pity. Which felt like real personal growth. Haha. In the past, I probably would have gotten angry and spent the evening glaring at them. Something weird took place inside of me. I felt pity and compassion for these women....because it dawned on me that their lives must be pretty horrible if they could not find it in themselves to move one chair to share an experience with a sister in dance. And here we are, after 4 gruelling days of dancing and workshops, where we are in this together, and basic kindness is elusive and out of reach?

Kindness doesn't cost us anything. In fact, kindness lifts us up and nourishes our own souls. In a round about way, this experience felt like real personal growth and was worth mentioning because of it. I'm not upset with them, I'm happy at my response! lol. Maybe it was the incredible bonding that takes place when you are with a group of women who are working hard and pushing through their own plateaus that builds comradery? Or maybe it's the fact that you are out of your home base, where all ties and expectations are gone. But there is a link that exists and it's pretty amazing to experience.

Whatever else it may be, Vegas is a very special place to visit and if you go no where else, save up your pennies and go to the Vegas Belly Dance Intensive.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vegas Series - Ariellah and Artist Expression

There really couldn't be anyone better to teach Dance artistry than Ariellah. While I am not particularily interested in Goth Fusion, Ariellah's talent and beauty transcends genre and is breathtakingly expressed as she teaches and dances. If you have not had the pleasure to see her perform live, you are missing out. Video cannot possibly capture the exchange of soul that occurs between an audience and dancer.

With the delightful exception of Tania Wee and Ariellah, I've always thought goth belly dance to be super emo and way too intense (similarily to priestess worship belly dance). It reminds me of being a teenager writing twisted poems about night and roses and being misunderstood. However, Ariellah is far from emo. Her costume and music choices are more industrial, but as she translates the music through movement as if making the unacknowledged seem understandable.

What Ariellah possesses is a beautifully intense strength and vulnerability. At one moment the stage is furiously beaten by her feet, the next, her arms fold in to reveal a tender spirit looking for acceptance. When Ariellah dances, she tells a story. A beautiful and melodic story that has a beginning, a conflict, a climax and a conclusion....like a conversation.

So who better to communicate the art of artistry in dance? Too often, myself included, I see dancers too caught up in themselves and the movement to truly express and communicate with the audience. When we have a conversation, do we plaster on a big fake smile and proclaim we are hip-happy to be there while our partner in conversation is mourning the loss of their beloved pet rabbit?

Conversations don't work like that. And neither should performance. In music, there are many terms for change in mood; "dimuendo, crescendo" are just a couple of those moods. The art in artistry is creating a conversation and making a statement or having intention in the thing we are doing. So next time you perform, think about having a conversation with your audience. Allow them to respond to you. I know that's what I intend to do.

Aging Gracefully - Thanks for another year

I know some of you will laugh when you see that I am writing about age, as I am only 28 years old. But I really felt inspired to write about age and aging by watching a segment on Rachel Ray about a book on concquering your life after 40, instead of living in regret.

I love the fact that the culture around women and aging is starting to change. The adage has always been that men turn into studs as they get older and that women, well, turn into men as they age. I love the "positively ageless" ad campaigns, instead of the "anti-aging" campaigns.

My 29th birthday is in 1 week, with my greatest disappointment being that it is not my 30th birthday! I am so excited about the idea of turning 30. And as a 28 year woman, I look at so many of the 40+ year old women I know and think "Wow! 40 looks amazing!!" There's something so strong and confident and special about women as they age. I admire that strength. I look at 50s and 60s and then on and can't help but admire the dignity and class those women seem to possess.
I love that as women we are demanding to be recognized as more than just old and worn out, no matter what our age may be. I love the fact that women are dating younger men. I love that women aren't being forced to dress like matrons past the age of 40. Or wear poodle hair cuts. Or stop talking about sex after 60. Age is such a beautiful gift we are given. With age comes wisdom, knowledge and the understanding that we are here on this earth for more than just ourselves.

So cheers to all you fabulous ladies young and old and remember that for every woman that turns 50, there are five 20-somethings wishing they had that kind of confidence and certainty.