Category Archives: Thoughts

2013 – A Year in Review (according to Facebook)

Even before my mom passed away, I’ve always felt a little sad around the holidays. In the lulls between the music, the atmosphere, then general jolliness of friends and family coming together, there was always a twinge of what I now know to call nostalgia for another year about to end. Because for better or for worse, the year and everything that had happened between January 1st and December 31st would be a memory that would fade and we’d be loose on the details as we would retell our favorites during future gatherings.

One reason that I will never be on the side of the naysayers of social media is that I love how it preserves these memories. And while we may not be able to remember the exact words or events, it’s there for us to look fondly over when we feel nostalgic.

So here are my top 20 moments of 2013 (according to Facebook):

20. Left Job at Canopy Road Café

One of the best things about Tallahassee is the number of family owned establishments still around and thriving. And I always recommend Canopy Road to any visitors, saying you can’t get better Tallahassee food and atmosphere anywhere else.

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One of the customers sent us an Edible Designs fruit basket.

19. A Picture My Grandfather Took

(And it’s still my desktop to this very day.)

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Love you, Opa.

18. My Third Swing Dance Anniversary

Or better known as a “swing-a-versary”. This year I think I figured out that the exact date of my introduction into something that has become so much more than extracurricular to me. As I said in my Facebook status:

It’s given me one of my best friends, a family away from home, and experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. This has been an amazing journey and I can’t wait to see where it goes for many, many more years.

I am continually thankful for swing dance and its community and cannot wait to see what 2014 will bring.

17. Making the Newcomer Jack & Jill Finals at Lonestar Championships

And placing 3rd! (video below, I come in around 3:20 minute mark)

16/15. The Countdown To And Graduating from Florida State University

Graduation April 2013

Graduation
April 2013

14/13. Visiting Cyprus This Summer

IMG_5688 My beautiful host Fani (right) and me (left).

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I am so lucky to have a friend like Fani. She is such a good soul and just a beautiful person all together. I hope that I get another chance to visit her again. Or return the favor.

12/11. Booking My Flight and Traveling To New York City

nytravel

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Why I Swing Dance

And I mean besides all the reasons that everyone else says: it’s fun, it’s exercise, it’s social. Of course I do it for all those things. I also enjoy the people that seem to be attracted to this dance: outgoing, funny, nerdy people that are on the whole friendly and welcoming to anyone who has even the slightest interest in what a rock step is.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Fritz.

Photo credit to Andrew Fritz Photography.

In my almost twenty three years of life, I can’t remember being this happy with anything else: violin, tennis, speech and debate, even ballet (which for all intents and purposes, should share the same category as swing dance).

Many people, including members of my own family, don’t know that I struggle with depression.

It was hard, and still is, to admit it. I was brought up to believe that one’s feelings could ultimately be controlled through, if nothing else, sheer willpower. But in my sophomore year of high school I found myself circling a cycle of depression I could not break. My self-esteem was at a record low, I felt guilty and fake for pretending that everything was okay when everything was not, and the want/need to cry was a constant weight that I often gave into.

I persisted as long as I could, but eventually I broke down to my best friend Ellie and she encouraged me to seek professional help. And even though I did not follow her advice immediately, I eventually sought out and received much needed help.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to have such close friends for confidants and those who listened patiently and were there for me. All of them were people I had met through swing dancing. And because I was so involved with the swing dance club (at this point I was acting President), I was forced to continue a normal social life even though part of me desperately just wanted to go underground.

Now I realize how necessary those times were. Swing dancing got me out of my room and interacting with people multiple times a week. Swing dancing gave me sufficient distractions where the cloud of depression felt lighter. Swing dancing provided me with strong social circle that gave me support when I needed it the most.

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Photo credit to Jamie Lynn Photography.

Swing dancing was also an activity that made me feel happy. When you deal with depression, it can feel like the weight of the world is slowly crushing your chest. Even more so, when you pretend that nothing is wrong because it feels fake and a lie. But when I dance (because this is still true now) I get this elated feeling of what I can only assume is pure happiness. I feel lighter, I do not feel like I’m lying when I’m smiling at my dance partner or my friends.

Sometimes even just listening to the music lifts some of the weight of depression.

Even now, when I can say I honestly have not experienced that level of depression in over two years, I notice how much happier when I get to go out and dance regularly versus when my schedule forces me to miss dance opportunities.

I want to continue dancing “until my feet don’t move any more”. But I also want to continue to be a contributing member of this community. I love giving to the swing dance community because I feel the return is ten fold. Even if I end up having a regular job and just teaching/DJin/event planning/whatever on the side, I will to the best of my abilities continue to do so.

I know that “swing dancing makes me feel happy” is a very common response. But I honestly feel that without swing dancing and its community I would be a different person. And I don’t think I would like that person nearly as much as I like who I am now.

Hacking the Met

After spending three weeks job and apartment hunting (which has made the three weeks feel like three years), I have gone out to enjoy what New York City has to offer!

66135_10152536777041953_850875758_nI learned about Museum Hack through a friend of a friend (which is how New York really works) and when I saw on Facebook they were offering discounted tours for $9, I jumped on it!

The concept is this: these are small group tours (I think we had about eight people in total) unaffiliated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art designed to show you not the highlights, but the hidden treasures you didn’t know were there. And with a museum like the Met, with more than two million works in its collection, there are definitely pieces you could easily walk past a hundred times without even realizing they’re there.

The tour by itself would be interesting enough to attract the average art enthusiast. However, the creators of Museum Hack, Nick and Mark (both of whom I met on this excursion), want to make the Met accessible to the general public as a whole, which is a task in itself.

William, the Unofficial Mascot of the Met.

At the beginning of the Museum Hack tour, you’re asked to introduce yourself to your tour group with a power move (I chose the classic sprinkler) and something that you’re passionate about. Suddenly, you’re not just present to absorb information as a passive bystander. You’re interacting with the tour and, therefore, the art in a unique way. They don’t want to tell you what the plaque beneath the piece already says, or even what a quick scan of a Wikipedia page will tell you. They want to show you why art is as quirky and funny and messy as every day life.

Example: How William the Hippo (as seen to the right) became the unofficial mascot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (As told by Dean in 60 seconds or less.)

Nick and Mark (and those who work for them) are all clearly passionate about the museum world and what role art has in interpreting history. As Mark said during the tour:

Humans have been humans since the dawn of time.

In some instances, art is all we know about some cultures: what they looked like; how they dressed; what was important to them. They even had senses of humor back in the 1600s! (I know, who knew, right?)

After the tour, I got to sit down with Nick and Mark. What they’re doing is the very reason why I’m up in New York, trying to get my foot in the door. I believe that art helps our understanding of humans throughout history, and its what will humanize our generation centuries on.

They are in the process of creating unique tours for sides of the Met not often thought about:

+ The VIP tours, where you meet after hours and bring your vices.
+ The Sexy Met, to get you and your loved one in the right mood.
+ The Butt Tour, well, I mean. There’s a lot of butts in art.

They’re creating tours for the unique museum goer. Whether that means for someone who already knows all the highlights and wants the stuff that falls between the cracks, or someone who may not necessarily gravitate towards the more typical museum experience.

I highly recommend Museum Hack for anyone, whether you’re a local or just visiting. This is the kind of uncommon experience people look for, something that you can’t get cut and pasted into another city. Even when Museum Hack expands to other museums (and I do believe they will), every tour in every museum will be a unique experience from anywhere else.

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Slight Change of Plans

Before I begin, I would like to apologize to my readers for the excess of unforgivable typos that have plagued some of my previous posts. I have not been able to use my laptop, instead restricted to my tablet which has this annoying habit of trying to be helpful and figure out what I am going to say before I say it. Any way, hopefully this will have slightly less mistakes as I’m back on my trusty keyboard. :)

~

I am back in London now, this time by myself and I’ve been using it as an excuse to be a little bit lazy (sleeping in, leisurely strolls, etc). And, of course, who would I be if I didn’t spend at least one (if not two) days in a bookstore?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This probably won’t be a long post, as I am doing relatively little compared to the past couple of weeks. Basically I’ve been going through my ‘To Do’ List, emailing people and the like, setting up the last legs of my trip.
cyprus

Speaking of, I have had a bit of a change of schedule. I will be going to Cyprus! A little bit out of the way (as evidence by the map to your right), but I couldn’t resist! Last year, during my internship in Italy, I visited my friend Fani who was going to school in Vienna and had an absolutely magical time. She said offhandedly that the next time I was in Europe I should visit her in her native Cyprus, where her family owns a beach house.

As soon as I found out I was going to Europe again, this time with a much more flexible schedule, I looked into flights and tentatively included it in my travel plans. But I found the plane tickets initially expensive and due to the problems with Greece, many people discouraged me. However, I still kept on a lookout for cheap plane tickets and low and behold I have found reasonably priced ones! So, probably against my dad’s better judgement, I’m going for a few days, if only to enjoy the beach and some sunshine (and, of course, another pin in my map). ;)

Monday, I revisited the National Gallery, which I think wins the award of My Favorite Museum in London, if only because I’ve studied so many paintings in their collection. Then I went out dancing at a place that, while they did have traditional swing music, they also played a lot of 1950s-type songs. Which, I mean, I enjoy, but I really wanted some swing outs.

Good looks run in the family.

Good looks run in the family.

Tuesday, I was united with another member of my long lost family. Another one of cousin Jane’s sons, this time her youngest, Murray, and his girlfriend, Dawn. They were wonderful and treated me out to Mexican in this extremely trendy restaurant made out of shipping crates. They were wonderful and I am so glad I got to meet them. I think we’ve made tentative future plans for New York, so who knows? Maybe I’ll see them again soon. :)

Wednesday, I went out dancing again, this time to the Jitterbugs run by Julie Oram, one of the original Lindy Hoppers in London and one of the performers in the 1992 film Swing Kids! I got to interview her for David’s project and she was such a dear. She really cares about preserving the Lindy Hop and the savoy-style. (I’ve been noticing a lot of Dean Collins teaching in the few venues I’ve visited, so I understood where she was coming from.)

Now, it’s Thursday and I’m sitting in Waterstone’s (think the UK version of Barnes & Noble), drinking a mimosa (a much better version of Barnes & Noble) and typing up this blog.

So far this blog has been basically a chronology of my trip, with many sentences going “First I” and “Then I”, etc. Not the most eloquent, but so far has been accomplishing its task.

I guess I want to let everyone know that this trip has not just been frivolous excursions punctuated by small assists to David’s project. Much of my time (especially during commutes between destination) thinking about where I’ve been, where I’m going, who I am, who I want to be. I’ve also been thinking a lot about my mom, and how much I miss her.

In terms of the future, I’ve taken some steps toward that. After I return to Florida and help Dad with some unfinished business, I plan on moving to New York City. My uncles Anthony and Chris are wonderful enough to let me stay with them until I can get on my feet. They have also offered me employment in their chocolate factory, which I gladly accepted (even though I’m pretty sure it started out as a joke). I’m excited for this step towards the future, and it makes me less frightened of the unknown beyond university. I plan on eventually returning to school for my masters (I’m looking into MBA programs) and certain avenues I can take towards my life goals.

I’ve been treating London as “New York Training”. Such an international bustling city without a car, basically going to be me during my time in New York City (now undetermined how long that will be). Especially the dance scene which is very diverse and fractured through many politics and differing view. It makes me miss the Tallahassee scene, which is small enough that it inspires more teamwork than division.

Now I’m just rambling, so I’ll end this post here. I’ve been thinking of creating a post where I discuss the book(s) I’m reading (so far I’ve read about seven or eight, I need to go back and count). Maybe.

Until next time! xoxo

N

Going Through the Motions

Today’s theme song is brought to you by Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Some humor to alleviate an otherwise fairly blah entry.

There are at least two entries that I will never publish. One day I might delete them, but for now I’ll let them hang out in WordPress purgatory.

I said some pretty hurtful and nasty things about some people, including myself. There are a lot of feelings poured into those entries that are for private use only. After two, however, I do feel like I need to make some statement; publicly acknowledge them so they get some peace.

It’s been a rough semester. Hell, it’s been a rough 2013. Not that it’s been all Hell and now Heaven. On the contrary, I have never been so thankful in my life for those in it: friends and family mostly. I’ve been the most honest these past few months than I have for the whole of some of these relationships and it has only served to make these bonds stronger.

Still, I am human and am allowed to be weak, something that is very difficult for me.

For a terrifying twenty-four hours I saw my impending graduation in danger. It ended up being a failure of communication more than anything (stressing, once more, it’s not redundant if it’s really important), but in those twenty-four hours I let myself, for the first time in a very long time, get honestly angry.

And it felt good. An honest release of emotions. Now, with everything more clearly laid out in front of me than it has been in a while, I feel like I can finally sleep through the night without waking up half way through, feeling like I’ve forgotten something important.

Even though my To-Do List remains staggeringly long, it somehow feels smaller, less of a mountain.

I can do this. I will do this. And soon a very important chapter in my life will be brought to a close. I will be sad that it’s over, but still be able to look ahead with hope in my heart and confidence in myself to navigate the unclear waters of my future.

The Truth About Levels (and other thoughts from Lindyfest)

On Levels

The thing that I like most about Lindyfest* is that you get into your (arbitrary) level (auditioning for only Advanced and Masters) and you got to attend ANY of the classes in or below your level. And I have been taking FULL advantage of it. Even though I auditioned and was placed in advance, I have only really taken two of the classes set aside for my level.

* — At least one of the things. There are a lot of things. (As you will see if you keep reading.

And this is not due to the fact I felt I was not comfortable at the advanced level. More so that I was looking for teachers (i.e. – Skye & Frida) or subjects that I was personally interested (i.e. – Intermediate Balboa).

But it also allowed me to personally compare the difference between the levels. And I’ll tell you something:

LEVELS ARE ARBITRARY!

Teachers will take the same thing and teach it to different levels.

THE DIFFERENCE IS: what you as a dancer get out of it.

A beginner/intermediate classes will focus more on vocabulary, on the shape. They’ll break the move down (to a degree).

A more upper level class will expect you to get the move without really a break down, but spend more time talking about the guts of the move. WHY it works.

It’s natural for us to be hung up on how we compare to others. And these [arbitrary] levels give us a scale to measure ourselves against one another. However, just because you might be recognizably better than another person does not mean you cannot have fun on the dance floor.

And yes, dancing with the more experienced dancers is rewarding and fun and challenging. But so can dancing with those who are less experienced or still working on that break through.

One more thing, I think a lot of people think (at least in the beginning) that in the upper level classes there are these secrets to being an amazing dancer that the beginner levels just don’t have.

That. Is. A. Lie!

The more “advanced” moves that you see are the same moves in beginner and intermediate classes (albeit with a variation or a twist thrown in for an added challenge), but for the most part it was a focus on the more technical aspects of connection, tension, stretch. Probably the most “advanced” class I went to, we did the swing out and a free spin. That’s it.

We were practicing our connection (where the leads closed their eyes as follows styled), direction, stretch. And all we did was the fucking swing out and free spin. No secrets that only “advanced” dancers get to know. We literally tell you everything at the beginning. It just takes a while to learn how to move your body different ways and your “level” is just where you are in that learning process.

So if you’re faced with a choice on what classes to take based on these arbitrary levels, read the descriptions from “Beginners” to “Masters” and think what exactly do you want out of this experience. Do you want more vocabulary and general practice with the shape of the dance, you might want to look at Beginner/Intermediate. Do you want to explore stretch and connection? Maybe Intermediate/Advanced.

The best description of any level is on the Swing Out New Hampshire‘s website: “If all that the instructors worked on for 4 days in Level 5 was Swing Outs (not that they will, but who knows), you would be just fine with that.”

You’re not going to catapult your dancing level by skipping to the very top. If anything you’re going to be frustrated with yourself and the class. Be honest with yourself and don’t focus on the level aspect. You’re taking classes to become a better dancer so you can have more fun on the dance floor. And no matter what, you’re going to meet some awesome people.

Also recommended reading: The Truth About Being an Advanced Dancer.

On Teaching

Many a’time I would not look at the level of the class that I was in. Merely who was teaching and what. As a result I went to roughly half advanced-level classes. The rest were   varied but had one thing in common: the teachers.

A common correlation people assume is that if someone is an amazing dancer they must be (AT LEAST) a good teacher. Now at this point, you’re probably saying to yourself “Well, of course THAT’S not true.” I’m glad we agree.

Plus, teaching styles are a personal taste. Some people prefer one teaching style to another, so what I say here you may not agree with. But what I noticed about my favorite classes:

We danced. A lot. Like 70% of the time.

They counted out new steps once or twice but then just sang a melody to dance to.

They made us find the beginning of the phrase in the music to start.

They emphasized the pulse at the beginning and began with a Solo Charleston warm up.

They focused on the social aspect of dancing. Something that I feel that many have forgotten about.

They talked about the followers role in the dance–how we’re dancers and not “just following”. (I can appreciate that.)

Those are just a couple of things that struck me.

I wish I could tie up these thoughts neatly. But really I just wanted to get everything out there. So here it is. Levels are arbitrary. And some thoughts on teachers.

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I love TED talks. If you don’t know what TED talks are, here’s the skinny: TED stands for TechnologyEntertainmentDesign. It’s a non-profit organization that gives a forum to amazing speakers to talk about anything. Well, I say anything. I mean articulately expressed ideas about experiences and philosophies and ideas. A sharing forum. Some I do believe mean to change the world, others are just another point of view that you may or may not agree with. I highly recommend just perusing TED talks.

Amanda Palmer recently did a TED talk entitled “The Art of Asking”. She was talking about how she was allowing her audience to regulate her music; letting them decide how much they would pay for an album or a song. A lot of people have accused her of encouraging piracy and against those that make their living in the music industry (and she addresses this, so I’m not going to really talk about that part).

But the part that struck a chord with me was how she said:

For most of human history… artists have been a part of the community. Connectors. Communicators. Not untouchable stars.

She talks about how “celebrity” is this idea of distance between the public and recognition for one’s art.

No one ever questions why we have art. But many see it as the first expendable thing when it’s time to cut off something. And you do not need art to live, if by living you are doing so in the very basic way: from meal to meal without any plan. Art is considered a form of higher function. To destroy is easy. Destruction comes naturally. Creation as well, but less so. It’s harder and therefore most people do not pursue that path.

Some people see the collection of art as power. And in art history it’s easy to see, the richest classes (i.e. – the most powerful) control art. They are the ones commissioning art, the art that we remember and define civilizations by. Art is all we know about some histories. And because of horrible acts like an iconoclasm, we will never have whole stories.

The internet and the ways that we can access art is changing. Amanda has found a way to make a living through her art, without dictating how her audience can be a part of her art. Amateurs with enough time, passion and resources can become successful without the middle man (labels, publishers, etc.). Not to say that those can’t still help, but really it’s being able to make your own creations known without someone else telling you “what sells”.

It’s a complete buyers market, and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle sometimes. But it’s out there. And there are communities dedicated to giving a boosts to artists. And this is amazing!

It made me think (once again) about my writing and how I’ve let it fall to the wayside. I keep on thinking about picking things back up, but I can’t help but hate everything I write. Maybe I’ll just listen to Amanda’s TED talk every day.