Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why Walk When You Can Pole Dance?

I have always loved to dance and prefer it overall to walking. I mean, why walk somewhere when you can dance there? I don't even care that I often resemble a drunk stroke victim when I am bustin' a move and I generally shake it whenever the opportunity presents itself. When I am cleaning, I usually crank up the music super loud and dance around with my dust rag and vacuum. Its just plain fun and makes what ever I am doing - my hair, driving (seat dancing - mostly arm action), folding laundry or waiting in line at Target much more enjoyable. When I was five, my mom enrolled my sister and I in tap and ballet classes. Unfortunately, we only got to do it for one session but I remember really enjoying my first taste of the amateur dance world. 

Then, when I was in second grade, our class had a little talent show and everyone was welcome to preform their own special talent. I think we were given roughly two weeks to work on our act before the show. Unaware of any sort of "real talent" I possessed like juggling, singing or magic tricks, I opted to do a dance to my favorite song at the time, "La Bamba.' 

Even at eight years old, my procrastination was very well developed. Each day passed and the talent show drew closer and closer. I knew this but I guess wasn't too concerned about it because I didn't practice once. In fact, I didn't even plan out a routine. I think I just figured I would get up there and wing it. And wing it I did. On the day of the talent show, I arrived at school with my cassette tape in hand. We were given about twenty minutes of rehearsal time to get ready for the show. During this twenty minutes I bounced around, flinging my arms in random directions and even threw in a few twirls for some dramatic flare. I had no idea what the hell I was doing and I was 100% aware of it.

I watched all of my classmates get up to play the piano, present artwork and demonstrate super sweet karate skills. I became more and more anxious as I realized my little improv dance was not going to measure up to my peers. I don't know why I didn't just fake a stomach ache or just say I didn't want to do it anymore, but when it was my turn, I got up there anyway.

I struck a random pose and waited for the music to start. "Lalalalala Bamba, lalalalala bamba!" I jumped into my spastic limb-flailing a few beats behind. I remember kicking my leg up in the air and spinning around a few times before my little brain went blank. I froze, standing there looking out at my classmates looking back at me. I felt the hot tingle of shame creep up through my body, showing up on my bright red face. I followed my next impulse, which was to run out of the classroom and down the hall to the bathroom.

I locked the stall door behind me, plopped down on the toilet and buried my face in my hands. My teacher came in to check on me, "Are you OK, Stefany?" She asked me. "Yes," I replied, a horrible liar even at that age, "I just really had to go to the bathroom." I stayed in there for a few minutes before being able to psych myself up enough to go back into my classroom. When I finally did, no one said a word to me about it - thank God!! I remember just wanting the whole thing to just fade away. It pretty much did until 1994 when the band Blind Melon decided to put out a video that essentially portrayed my second grade talent show trauma. The only difference between the little girl in the video and myself was a bumble bee costume. The very beginning of this video below nearly gave me a post traumatic response the first time I saw it:

I did gymnastics in high school but that was mostly acrobatics with a bit of dancing sprinkled in, so I was pretty much able to avoid reliving my childhood trauma in any dance-related way. Then I graduated high school and decided that since I was in my first year of college, I was ready to get on the horse and actually learn how to do this dancing thing for real. The fall of 1998, I enrolled myself in jazz dance class my first semester at the University of Minnesota Duluth. I was excited but a bit intimidated because I was pretty much the worst dancer in the class. I could do the skills: leaps, jumps and I was really flexible from my gymnastic experience. However, the actual dancing and moving to the beat while remembering what the hell to do with all my body parts was a huge challenge for me. In any case, I showed up: enthusiastic and ready to learn

My excitement swiftly turned to discouragement when I began to feel like my teacher wasn't very fond of me. I had no idea why because I showed up and tried my hardest - I even went to the studio during non-class times to practice. My suspicions were confirmed when I received at D+ on my midterm. Yes, a D+. I had to preform a group routine for our midterm and I put a good amount of practice in, feeling really ready for it. As luck would have it, I came down with pneumonia the week of midterms. I literally couldn't walk more than twenty feet without stopping to hack up one of my lungs. I was exhausted and feverish but showed up to my dance midterm anyway. I was visibly not well, sweaty and pale, but I sucked up every last bit of gumption I had within me and danced my ass off. It wasn't perfect by any means but I actually made it through the three minute routine before collapsing on the floor in a gasping heap. My efforts earned me every last bit of that lovely D+ and when I approached my teacher about it, she basically shrugged blandly and said something to the effect of "Better luck next time." I am sorry but that woman was such a bitch. I didn't miss a day of class, put in extra studio time and almost died during the midterm. She graciously gave me a solid C- for my final grade.

That was my last formal venture into the dance world until recently. Yes, this is where it gets good. Several weeks back, I was browsing Netflix for interesting documentaries when I stumbled upon one called "A Wink and a Smile: The Art of Burlesque." It piqued my interest, so I watched it. The movie follows ten women from all walks of life, who take a workshop and learn the art of burlesque. I was totally captivated and inspired by these everyday women doing this fun, playful, sexy dance style. It was amazing to see how empowered they felt, how much they grew from the experience and to also learn what burlesque dancing is really all about.

As I was reflecting on the documentary, I remembered that I actually know someone who does burlesque classes. I immediately contacted her and asked all kinds of questions about it. The timing was perfect because the coming weekend was her showcase - essentially the recital at the end of her class session. She invited me to check it out, so I did. BOOM! I was blown out of the freaking water!! I sat there for like two hours with my mouth hanging open. The studio where she takes burlesque classes also offers belly dance, pole dance, ariel silks, acobalance, chair dance and go-go fly. I got to see all the different classes preform their routines and it was incredible. This video is from the BurlesqueMN website shows what the heck each of those classes actually are:

I was so impressed with how these women (and even a guy!!) of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds were out there doing their thing! I found all of the different dance styles and performances super fascinating but I was actually the most draw in by the pole dance. Now, when the average person reads the words "pole dance," images of skanky, strung out, naked chicks humping a pole on a stage at some seedy "gentleman's club" likely come to mind. This was NOT at all what I witnessed that night at the showcase. What I saw was regular gals (wearing shorts and a tank top) having a great time and learning a really impressive, artistic and acrobatic form of dance. I was in awe as they glided beautifully around the pole. They looked like graceful fairies without wings. If you still don't believe that pole dance can be anything but a trashy mess, I challenge you to try this on your eyeballs:

Once the showcase was over, they let audience members play around on the silks, ropes and poles. It was like someone had opened the gates to the big girl playground and I was free: I didn't hesitate a second before trying out all the different apparatuses. They were all really fun to try but again, I found myself favoring the pole. I had someone show me how to climb and then shimmied myself right up that pole! This is me that night, my first time ever up close and personal with a pole:

I left the showcase with a renewed sense excitement and inspiration. There was no question about it, I knew I had to try this for myself. The thought of being able to use some of my gymnastics know-how while learning something totally new seemed like a perfect fit for me. I wanted to fly like a graceful fairy too and the only way to do that was to sign up for a class. So, I did. Now, I am currently starting my third week of Beginning Pole class at BurlesqueMN and I couldn't be more bruised, sore as all hell and bubbling with glee.

My shin after week one from learning to climb
My instructor, Misty is fantastic and I am learning so much from her. She is encouraging, fun, has a great sense of humor and her instruction already has me on my way to gliding like a fairy. I am learning spins, tricks and EVEN how to actually dance! The other women in my class are as cool as they are varied in their personalities, physicality, and life experience. There is everyone from suburban moms to tattooed twenty-somethings but we all have the common goal of having a blast while learning something new. Let me tell you, these are some really, really awesome chicks!!

So there it is: I am learning how to pole dance and I couldn't be having more fun - and talk about a workout!! Whew! My body is already changing and becoming stronger than ever. I have met and am getting to know some incredibly awesome people. Aaaaaaand yes, I will be taking part in the showcase at the end of this session as well. I will be doing two group routines with my class. I am not going to lie, I've had a few traumatic second grade flashbacks when I think about doing the showcase performance. I even had a dream that I showed up to the showcase wearing a bumble bee costume. However, I have decided that November 9th will be all about fun. If I slip off the pole mid spin and land on my face - well, I am going to have a damn good time doing it. And this time, I am going to give myself the A+ for effort I that deserve!

Here are a few of my favorite routines from the pros:

Pole dance is not just for chicks anymore! The man is absolutely amazing!!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Things I Rock At

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog detailing things I am particularly bad at. Being a gal who values balance, I thought it would be appropriate and right to talk about a few random thing that I believe I am exceptionally good at. I am not one to toot my own horn but I am a total boss at the following things and will happily give myself due credit for kicking ass in these areas!

1. Finding humor in any situation. I have become a freaking genius at this. Life is chalk full of shitty situations. Situations that suck so much but have absolutely no control over. I am no stranger to these. Each time I have found myself facing a situation like this, I have found myself not just sad, mad or scared but I also somehow manage to find what is funny about it. I was the first one to make a joke about being a widow after Simon passed away. It especially took my friend Kelly by complete surprise and this ALWAYS makes me giddy with glee (it is really hard to catch her off guard and has become and ongoing life mission to do so). I honestly believe that humor has helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life. It has also been incredibly healing. Like the kiss on top of a band aid - it just makes the owies feel a little better.

2. Kids and animals. I thing I am pretty good with both of these. For what ever reason, both kids and animals tend to gravitate toward me when I am in a room. Its weird but it happens with a spooky consistency. Back in 2003, I was interviewing for a job taking care of infants in a day care. Part of the interview was hands on interaction with the kids. I sat down on the floor and within a few minutes, I had three or four babies crawling all over me - a complete stranger. Oddly, I can also touch and pick up animals that others can't. One day when I was watching my friend's twin girls, he came home and I was holding one of their cats. He couldn't believe I was holding her and I had no idea she never let people do that.

3. Parallel Parking. With nearly 97% accuracy, I can back my car into a parallel parking spot with exceptional ease. When I was learning how to drive, we lived on a street where there was no choice but to parallel park. So, by necessity, I became a quick pro. Fortunately, I have hung on to this skill and have glided effortlessly into some of the tightest spots. I have even impressed myself with this ability at times. :)

4. Finding good things about people. Tons of people in the world suck for tons of reasons. I deal with them every time I am at work, get on the road or even go to the grocery store. It is so easy to get caught up in all the ways people are rude, stupid or annoying. I am guilty of it all the time. However, I also have this cool ability to find something likable about most people. When I was young, my mom handed down a kernel of wisdom that her grandmother had given her: "There is goodness in everybody. You just have to look harder in some people to find it." I guess that has stuck with me through the years and I hear those words in my head to this day. In most cases, I have been able to find at least one good or likable quality in people.

5. Hugging and Cuddling. I take deep pride in my abilities when it comes to the hug and cuddle. In fact, I like to think of myself as a Jedi Master of hugging and cuddling. I make a great spoon in either the big or little position, ask anyone. I attribute my skill in this area to my passion for it and plan only to grow in my abilities. No one likes a weak, limp hug and if you do then I feel really bad for you. I personally hate them. If I am hugging someone and they are being all lame and limp, it makes me squeeze that much harder. Let me just extend an open invitation: if you are ever in need of a satisfying hug, I'm your gal. I have an endless supply, so come and get one or twenty!

6. I am a good listener. I love to listen to peoples stories. I love learning about people, who they are and what makes them unique. I have found that the best way to get to know a person is to really pay attention to what they are saying. So much information can be gleaned simply by paying attention to a person when they are speaking. For some reason, I have heard the following phrase a lot when talking with people, "I have never told anyone this before but..." I have been hearing this phrase over and over again from the time I was in my teens. It has been anyone from a person I am meeting for the first time to someone I know well. I am not exactly sure why, but people feel comfortable telling me personal things about themselves. It is very flattering and I like to think that I am also a damn good secret keeper, so that trust is safe and well placed with me :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Things I Suck At

I wasn't born with any extraordinary talents. I am not a chemistry wiz or gifted banjo player. I can't run super fast or really even walk and remain upright without extreme concentration. But I am really OK with that. I am decent enough at plenty of things and am realistically aware of my strengths. However, there are things that I am so bad at, its down right laughable. Seriously.

1. Wrapping presents. I have tried and tried many times to learn how to wrap presents without it looking like the handy work of a drunk toddler. Even when I have taken the time to press sharp creases in all the folds and perfectly place the tape, it inevitably winds up looking like this:

2. Doing math in my head. I don't know what it is, but when I attempt even simple subtraction with out the assistance of a pen and paper, the results are almost always off. I also SUCK at remembering numbers - especially numbers with more than 2 digits. I have arrived at the conclusion that my brain is a black hole for numbers: Once they go in, they ain't never coming back.

3. Leaving voice messages. In general, I have don't have a problem talking. I also don't have a problem talking on the phone. However, ask me to leave a voice message for someone and suddenly I panic and forget how to form a sentence. It is bad enough that I can't put together a string of coherent words, but I also suddenly aquire the compulsion to KEEP TALKING! I ramble on and on while repeating non-words, "Yaaaaaah, ummmmmm, RIGHTIE -O! Uhhhhhhh, buh-byies now." I am pretty sure I have even grunted on occasion. When I was in my second year of college, I was leaving a message on a restaurant answering machine where I had applied for a serving job. I was trying so hard to sound friendly and upbeat that somehow I ended up saying "Love you, bye!" at the end of the message. Oddly, I never heard back from them. It has been so bad that at times, as soon as I finish leaving a message, I can't even remember what I said.

4. Lying. I am a horrific liar. When ever I attempt to fib, suddenly I am like a four year old with a face full of chocolate, trying to blame all the missing the cookies on the dog. I am about as convincing as a sand sales person in the Sahara Desert. When ever I have tried my hand at fibbery, I feel like Joey on Friends: the stories involve random things such as poltergeists, overdue library books and raccoons. I hate lying, so I have never bothered to get good at it. Seems like way too much work to me.

5. Running. Running for me is like bath time for a cat: an utter nightmare. The simple act of successfully placing one foot in front of the other presents a considerable challenge for me. Needless to say, coordinating my leg movements at extreme speeds is just pleading for disaster. I was not built to handle the emotional anguish of running either. The few times my running attempts were not cut short by sustaining physical injury, I ended up with the strongest urge kick a puppy. I always feel sore, sweaty, annoyed and scared. Why would anyone voluntarily run? I don't think I will ever understand it. It would take being hunted by a pack of psychotic, homicidal clowns to get me to even toy with the idea of running. Truth be told, I would likely just try to find a good place to hide instead.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ain't Nothin' You Could Ever Do...

Two week ago, Saturday was kind of a strange day for me. First, because I went to a funeral and that always makes for a weird day. Secondly, the last funeral I attended was Simon's (my first husband) a little over two years ago, so that added to the weirdness. Finally, the funeral was for the man who both preformed our wedding and Simon's funeral: weirdness x3. It took me this whole past week to process what I was feeling about it all but I think that I have come through the other side of the experience at peace in my heart - missing Rev and Simon but believing that somehow they have managed to find each other and are enjoying a big, fat cigar together over there...where ever that might be.

I felt a lot of things when we walked into the sanctuary of the church for his funeral services, but the one thing that struck me most profoundly was the sight of Rev's robe near the pulpit. It was the robe he wore during the wedding, Simon's funeral and it was hung limply on a wire rack. It struck me how massive that robe looked hanging on that small wire frame. It appeared so empty and hollow compared to when it was filled with the expansiveness that was Rev in his physical form. It looked almost hunched forward as if mourning the vibrancy of the man who used to wear it.

Rev in his robe, September 2, 2010

William Watson III or simply, "Rev" to those who knew him, was someone you never forgot - even if you only met him once. He stood roughly seven feet tall, was built like a linebacker and had the single most deep, velvety smooth voice I've ever heard; he honestly gave Berry White a run for his money. I love hugs - good, solid hugs - not lame, limp, wimpy ones. Rev was one of my favorite people to hug because he was so huge and the man hugged like he meant it! He would put those massive arms around me and wrap me up in all his warmth and "Rev-ness." It was splendid. He was a regular at the cigar shop, The Perfect Ash (click link for a beautiful memorial written by one of the Perfect Ash regulars), where Simon worked and hung out. I found myself there with him quite a bit and as a result, I got to know some of the guys who also frequented there. Rev was one of those guys I had the fortune to spend time with.  We chatted about my work as a psych nurse, we joked about all kinds of stuff and discussed faith a lot. Rev was many things in his life: a father, friend, Secret Service Agent for the Regan Administration, founder and lead Pastor of Revelations Christian Center International...the list literally goes on and on. He was involved in so many noble ventures and was loved by everyone who knew him.

As I mentioned, the journey though my spirituality has not always been an easy one for me. I have always asked lots and lots and lots of questions and found myself in the face of many doubts. I remember talking to Rev about my feelings. He was so patient and loving about my nonstop questioning and doubts. I remember being so frustrated one day when we were talking and I said, "Shit, Rev! What if God just thinks I am a royal screw up?!" Yes, I did say the word "shit" to a man of the cloth. His response kinda surprised me. Smiling - almost snickering with his head shaking, giant shoulders bobbing up and down, he said to me in his low Berry White voice, "Baby Girl! Ain't nothin' you could ever do to make God stop loving you!" It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. Even as I fumble around in my spirituality to this very moment, I think of those words and feel unbelievable comfort.

After Simon died, Rev called me several times a week for several weeks. He left messages, most of which I never returned. I kinda disappeared off the face of the earth for a while after Simon died. Many people called me and reached out to me during that time and I so appreciated it and it meant so much. However, I just didn't have the energy to call people. But Rev kept calling. I would save the messages and listen to them. His voice was so warm and reassuring. His messages were always so loving and made me feel at peace, "Hey Sweetheart, its Rev. Just want to let you know I am thinking of you and praying for you. I am here if you need anything at all. God Bless." "Baby Doll, Rev here. No need to call back, just calling to say I am loving you today and you are on my mind." I found myself smiling at the sweetness of his words, even as I listened to them for the four hundredth time. Those who heard Rev speak at Simon's funeral can confirm one thing: it was one of the most heartfelt, funny, stunningly accurate eulogies imaginable. Personally, I just can't imagine a better send off for Simon than the one Rev lead. It was beautiful from start to finish.

I don't feel like I ever got to properly thank Rev for the incredible things he did for me. I regret that so much but for some reason when I start to feel badly, I can't help but picture him snickering with those bouncing shoulders saying, "Baby Girl! Ain't nothing you could ever do to make me stop loving you!" I love you too Rev.

Above is a link to a video of Rev as the key note speaker at a Martin Luther King rally. I love it because you get to hear his voice and see how inspirational he is! Totally worth watching and is 15 minutes of your life that you won't regret spending :)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Protractor of Fatness and Equation For Self Love

I will never forget the first time I saw the episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes to the doctor for a physical check up. One of the tests the doctor preformed was similar to a body fat analysis. However, instead of measuring actual body fat, the doctor poked Homer in the belly and used a stopwatch to time how long it took for his fat to stop jiggling. It was a clever joke and no doubt, hilarious to the general public. But through the eyes of a high school girl who couldn't have hated her body more if she tried; that episode gave me the greatest idea ever.

I jumped off the couch, ran to my room and shut the door. I stood in front of the full length mirror on the back of my door, promptly lifted up my shirt, poked my belly and began counting. The jiggling couldn't have lasted more than a second or so, but in light of what had happened to me at my last gymnastics competition, the jiggling might as well have lasted an hour and a half. 

I was pulling at my leotard, the way I always did before it was my turn to preform. I always wondered why we couldn't at least wear a pair of shorts over the leotards. Hell, wasn't it enough that an "above average" girl like myself had the balls to even consider getting involved in a skinny girl sport?? But I didn't let it stop me - I pursued the sport I loved and now, I stood as team co-captain, waiting for my turn to vault. As I saluted the judge and took my place on the run way, I hear what I think is a low mooing sound coming from the bleachers. I shook it off and chalked it up to being some odd trickery of gymnasium acoustics. My feet hit the spring board and mid-air, I hear it loud and clear: "MOOOOOOOOOO!" 

Humiliated, I rush over to my team mates who surrounded me as I quickly put my warm up suit back on. I look up and see my coach, Sarah (totally kick ass person, by the way) is already over at the bleachers, pissed as hell with smoke coming out of her ears, searching for who ever was responsible. She was not able to pin point who it was but the damage had already been done. I had somehow managed to shrink into a shadow under those bright gym lights. What little courage and self confidence I had was completely shattered and there was no way I could finish the rest of the competition. I just wanted to go home.

The struggle for self acceptance and self love has been something that has been ongoing in my life. I know for a fact that I am not alone. I think most people wrestle with these issues to some degree - whether it be body issues, substance abuse, choosing bad relationships... I could go on and on. I think they all boil down to fear of being inadequate - simply not good enough. And honestly, I am realizing more and more that the notion that we have to fit a certain standard (physically, socially, etc.) to be considered worthy of "good enough" status is complete bullshit. 

Early September of 2009, my friend Ashlee and I were out on the town and decided to enjoy some libations on the tiki patio at Psycho Suzi's in NE Minneapolis. Due to the complete awesomeness of the place, there was not a single open table to be found. As we made a second lap around the patio, a friendly group of people noticed us pathetically wandering around and offered us two open chairs a their table. We sat down and shared drinks and part of our evening with them. We exchanged Facebook contact info and even though  we have not seen each other since that night nearly four years ago, I have remained friends with all of them on Facebook. I have had the chance to slowly get to know more about them each over time through their posts and status updates. It is really pretty cool!

Recently, Abbey, one of the people I met that night at Psych Suzi's, started a community Facebook page called "The Protractor of Fatness." Intrigued by the name of it, I further investigated the page and found the most simple, yet profound story of something that happened to Abbey while shoveling her car out of the snow. Abbey writes: "During my 20 minute car-extraction extravaganza in the snow on a winter morning in Minneapolis, a school-bus drove past me. Though muffled by the hood of my big winter coat, I still clearly heard the *shhhUNK* of a bus window being lowered, followed by the  words "FAT BITCH!" hurled at me with the same force as this sad, broken half of a protractor. The little jerk missed me by a good 4 feet (seriously work on your aim, dipstick!), as I continued to remove 6+ inches of snow from my car's roof." 

What I love about this story is that it takes something so personally painful and turns it into a message about self love and acceptance. This kind of shit gives me inspiration-goose bumps. I am proud of her for being so open and brave - it is hard thing to do! Especially in a world that likes to sweep painful experiences under the rug - bury them deep and pretend they didn't happen. However, it is these experiences that ultimately unite us. They should be shared because it is a hell of a lot easier to deal with shitty stuff that happens to us when we realize that we are not the only ones. And when we are brave enough to share these stories, it calls out the ass holes who throw protractors and mooo at gymnasts. It makes them look like the poop stains that they really are. And by the way, just in case you were wondering, the protractor of fatness reads 72 degrees and 3.25 inches.
THE actual Protractor of Fatness
Photo from Facebook Page: Protractor of Fatness