In Which we Reach 100

This is it guys, the 100th New York Blog. I suspect there’s a counting error somewhere along the line, but I really can’t be bothered to go back and check so, unless otherwise informed, this shall be the official 100th Blog! I’m celebrating by sipping South African gin and listening to a protest directly outside my window. I might carry my gin up to the roof after I’m done writing and see if the protest looks more interesting from up there. For now it’s just muffled loudspeakers and a street full of cops.

About a week ago, the street was filled, not with NYPD, but with the post-tropical remains of Florence. I’d schlepped to Target through the monsoon on my lunch break so when I got home after work, there was no way I was schlepping back out in the rain to do my laundry. I was however, completely out of socks. At that point my options were three rounds of rainy schlepping to wash, dry, and collect my socks from the laundromat; one round of rainy schlepping to buy more socks; or a sudsy adventure in the sink—-no schlepping to speak of. It should not surprise you that I soon found myself elbows deep in hot water and dirty socks. It probably also won’t surprise you that right about the time I had committed myself to sink washing (somewhere between the soak and the final rinse), the rain wrapped up and the entire rest of the evening was bone dry. Murphy’s Law has no sense of human decency.

With clean socks drying on every free surface of my room, and hands that had certainly seen better days, I wandered off into the tunnels to catch a train to salsa. Three hours or so later, I was back home, befriending my pillow and wishing that the morning was just a wee bit further away.

Wednesday morning, was however, an absolute boon. I was slated to attend a talk on the Square at noon so I’d secured permission to work from home in the morning, which meant that I could throw my laundry in between documents and finally turn the giant pile in my room into clean, fresh, wearable clothes. Clean laundry is one of the sillier pleasures in life, but I’ve come to find it one of the finest—-or at least one of the most reliable.

From the lunch-hour talk, it was back to Brooklyn to put a few hours into the office before packing up my things and heading home for a quick rest before the evening’s activities. The evening was to be absolutely packed with westie. I started with an audition for the increasingly popular JT Swing teams. For those of you that aren’t westies, the JT Swing teams are a bit of a phenomenon. Two of the top dancers in all of west coast swing recently retired from choreography competition, but they are certainly not retiring from the community. Instead, they have created two global swing teams–one at the intermediate level and one more advanced. Every six months, a new set of choreographies is released and teams all over the world, work with their local instructors to learn the choreography so that they can perform it whenever and wherever they happen to be in the company of other JT Swing team performers and an opportunity to perform.

Now I’ll own that I’m not usually a huge fan of west coast swing choreography, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my years of dance, it’s that the best way for me to progress in a dance is to have regular rehearsals to keep me honest and keep someone shouting down my neck when things get difficult and litost threatens. So finally, three seasons in, I decided to audition. And now I guess I’m doing it. You see, they’ve let me onto the Varsity team, and I’m now so curious about this season’s choreography, that I can’t help but go ahead with it. Here’s hoping two fairly intense dance teams in two different styles won’t entirely end me.

After the audition, we wandered down to westie cafe via my favourite Turkish cafe. I usually end up eating babaganoush, but given the already late hour, I needed something that could be eaten as I walked, or at least carried with me to dance. So I got a falafel wrap and my goodness was it ever delicious. Perfect, tender, flavourful falafel paired with smooth, indulgent hummus, fresh veg, and a delicious combination of spicy red and cooling yogurt sauces–handheld heaven. It was a very falafel fuelled evening of dance.

Come Thursday, it was time to head to the MediaLab Summit where I heard saw a string of project presentations followed by a fascinating debate on synthetic media. I do so love when I get to go places and learn things. I popped by the office briefly in the afternoon to catch an important all hands meeting with our new Dean, before heading back to the Summit to take in the Demo Expo and see what all our AR/VR competition is up to. Sometime around 5pm, I gathered my stack of brochures and business cards and headed home to pack, change, eat, and haul myself out to a spinning class.

After almost a decade of dance, I find myself well able to spin, but only because of my myriad of brilliant compensation strategies. So I’m going back to the basics again. I’m learning to actually spot and use it on every rotation rather than just one every now and then when I happen to remember. I’m reworking my body so that my turns are not only functional, but actually beautiful. It’s a process. Thank heavens I’m the sort of awful perfectionist that loves nothing more than agonizing over technique for hours on end.

After an hour of exhausting my ankles, I then ran home, changed one more time, and headed over to my favourite local cocktail bar to meet Remy for a drink. Or two. Will it surprise you if I say we stayed out past midnight? Or that we each had two wonderfully unique cocktails from NiteCap’s nearly discontinued Spring-Summer 2018 menu? I so love that charming little basement bar, especially with it’s tin plated ceilings and spectacular mixologists. It was even better with a good friend and lots of gossip to catch up on.

First thing the next day, I loaded up my bags and schlepped off to work. From there it was a hustle up to Penn Station to meet Patrick and Jenny, hop on a train, and head to Secaucus where the addition of Jessie made our trio a foursome, flying down the highway to Philly for, yes, you guess it, swing. The Philly Swing Classic was calling our names and who were we not to answer?

After catching the Friday evening comps, I headed off to spend some time amongst my fellow gin hounds of the Rutgers persuasion before social dancing. It was a very good night for gin drinking. We started with a tesseract made with Bluecoat, followed by a nameless grapefruit concoction with more Bluecoat, and finally a bees knees with Botanist. I also had a wonderful time chatting with a few folks that I’ve certainly seen before, and some even danced with, but never actually hung out with. It’s one of the things that amuses me about dance, we all sort of know each other, but frequently we’ve never actually spoken beyond asking for a dance and thanking them after. It’s a big part of why I party at dance events. It’s a chance to actually talk with people in a room that isn’t so loud as to prevent you even hearing each other. Plus I do love a good cocktail, and with mixologists as good as Edem (who sadly wasn’t at this last event) and Glen (who was) well, there’s plenty to promote a party.

Post-gin we made our way down to the ballroom and danced until sometime after 4am when the sleepies finally won and bed was the only viable option. We woke briefly around 10am to grab the free hotel breakfast buffet, and then flopped right back into bed for another few hours of sleep before competing. I felt good in comps but, I suppose good was not enough as I found myself second alternate. It’s a funny thing the way judging goes. For example, the majority of the followers who got to finals had one judge who said No to them—-one judge who just didn’t think they should be in finals. But of course the two other judges said Yes. In my case, no one said No to seeing me in finals, but two of the judges said Maybe or rather Probably Not (i.e. they scored me as ‘alternate’), which sadly meant that I had only one Yes and didn’t get through. In the land of WCS, Yeses speak louder than Noes, which is as it should be, but alas was not in my favour this weekend.

Despite my own miss, my friends all did marvellously and I was only too delighted to watch them do so. Perhaps because they were on Saturday and so people weren’t quite as tired, the finals were great gas—-especially the all stars. I don’t know who put what in their coffee that morning, but they were all absolutely nuts in the best possible way. So much personality and humour and of course skill all packed into six spotlight dances and one all skate. It was wonderful. I ate dinner from the Wawa across the road. I’d scoffed at the folks who gushed about it before, but it really is an exemplary gas station. They’ve a whole hot food cafe with a fantastic range of menu items, but alas no lime juice, which is how I ended up getting kicked out of a liquor store over a bottle of lime juice.

You see, when I’d headed over to Wawa, I wasn’t expecting to go anywhere else so I just threw my credit card in my phone case and headed out. But then Wawa had no lime juice and I hate to give up, so I figured I’d just stop in at the liquor store next door and see if they had a bottle. I didn’t have my ID but I’m a good number of years past 21 and I wasn’t buying booze, just lime juice. Apparently, that’s not allowed. Because, to quote the manager who appeared instantly when I had to reveal my lack of ID to the cashier, “THIS is a LIQUOR store.” That I was trying to purchase a non-alcoholic item had absolutely no impact on the situation, and I quickly realized that any attempt to rationalize or negotiate was going to end with my bodily removal from the store. Fortunately, the ever resourceful bartender of our little room party, Glen, managed to talk some lime juice out of the hotel bar so we were saved from a sad lime-less fate, after we ran down our original bottle of juice.

Saturday night was a few more tesseracts with Botanist and my South African gin, Cruxland, all crowded around a gin mule made with the last of the Botanist. We’d gained numbers since the previous night, which meant that there were smaller drinks, but more rounds and thus gave us an excuse for more permutations on the tesseract theme. I have no complaints.

When I got back to my room, most of my roomies were napping, but one was awake so we relocated to the hallway to chat for a minute before heading down to dance. I finally turned in around 5am and woke some 5 hours later for breakfast. Philly Swing is a bit unique amongst westie weekends, there are a few workshops on Sunday, but comps are all wrapped up by Saturday night, so we wandered our way through a slow indulgent morning. We stretched, packed, and even did the tiniest bit of acroyoga before hitting the road around 1:30pm to head back to the city.

I probably should have fallen asleep as soon as I got home, but then, my novel was calling and somehow I just couldn’t say no, so instead I stayed up reading Half-Blood Blues until nearly midnight, when my eyes lodged a final complaint and dropped their lids refusing to read even a single word more.

Today was a fairly average day right up until I saw what looked like an NYPD motorcycle gang rolling around the corner of my block. When I turned into my street, I found that it wasn’t just ten motorcycle cops, but also a whole posse of bicycle cops, three vans, and no small number of uniformed officers just hanging around on the street corner. I will admit that I had an initial flash of concern as I wondered what sort of heinous crime could call out half the bloody NYPD, but soon realized that this was not aftermath so much as pre-emption. From 5:30pm through about 7:30pm, my street was full of the smothered cacophony of rally speakers piped through an inadequate sound system and drowned out by the shouting of the crowd. It’s not that the cause wasn’t good, but I’m just not a rally sort of person. Perhaps it’s because I’m anti-social, or maybe because I struggle with loud noises, but boisterous protests just aren’t my scene. And thus, I’ve spent the evening indoors, drinking gin, and typing away while braver, louder folks protest injustice outside. I’ll be into my novel in a minute and I’ve not a single regret.

The Salsa Girl


In Which There are Shuttle Buses

Just because I really needed a reason to get even less sleep, the MTA decided to start repairing the signals on all of the 6th Avenue lines. For those of you that are not familiar with the New York Subway, that means that on nights and weekends, I went from having four trains to two and the two that remained were all of useless because the first only runs on weekdays until 11:30pm and the other runs East-West rather than North-South. I’m well aware that I’m spoiled by my usual train selection, but given how much I pay for rent, I rather feel entitled to the convenience. So I spent a half of my late nights this week sitting at West 4th cantankerously waiting for a shuttle bus, and the rest at Canal St grumpily waiting for J trains. It did not make for a happy or well rested Salsa Girl.

After two nights of delight, dealing with the MTA, Wednesday found me tired, still battling the sickness, and still headed out to dance. You might call me irresponsible, but I prefer to think of myself as a dedicated creature of habit–if only I could add some healthier habits to the mix. At the end of the night, I decided to try an A train, rather than the Broadway lines, which left me waiting for a bus rather than a train. It was not as clever a choice as I had hoped.

Thanks to my unwise selection of shuttle bus over train, Thursday was another exhausted day in the neighbourhood which culminated with me crashing unceremoniously into my bed to watch documentaries and pretend I was sleeping. I hate to let the sleepies win, but every now and then, they just don’t give me any alternatives and so I took my one and only night off from dance to rest my bones and let my body attempt to recover.

Come Friday, I was back at my usual insanity running from chiropractor to library to talk to dance. I think my original chiropractor has perhaps thrown in the towel for good. All the receptionists are the same, but there’s a new chiropractor delivering the snap, crackle, pop, and the old one is no where to be seen. At some point I’ll ask, but for now I’m just letting it lie–the new doc seems just as good if slightly more abrupt.

From the chiropractor’s it was off to the library to pick up some reading material in the form of National Book Award longlists. The internet had informed me that I could find two of them on the shelves, but alas when I reached the library I found only one of the books. Where the other should have been, I found a lonely little gap. I could have put a trace on it, but instead I decided to just take a small, itty, bitty, little wander through the shelves to see if anything else struck my fancy. And then somehow, in almost no time at all, there I was with a full backpack packed with books, schlepping all across town and wondering why I can never seem to exhibit self control when faced with all those tantalizing spines.

My next stop was a talk up at the German consulate. It was on a topic closely related to my work, so I thought it would be a good place to hear some new perspectives and possibly do some networking. Alas, what I found there was not so much geospatial researchers as miscellaneous alumni of Heidelberg University and tragically the one who decided to attach himself to me and talk my ear off was a middle aged doctor who had no interest in the topic and had just come to socialize. One of the hosts had greeted me upon my arrival and asked after my connection to the event, after a short chat, she respectfully moved off and the middle-aged eavesdropper moved in. I’d like to pretend that he decided to talk to me because we had something in common, but we really didn’t and he didn’t walk away. No, instead he planted his arse in the seat beside me and reminded me once again that being young, pleasant, and female almost invariably dooms you to blasé conversation with aging men. Fortunately, the talk itself was indeed relevant, I managed to ask a fairly good question, and I had an excuse to flee immediately after the talk ended, escaping the inevitable awkwardness of overly friendly old man mixed with alcohol at the reception.

After a quick stop at home to drop my books and throw some make up at my face (yes, I have stopped wearing make up during the day in hopes of deterring unwanted male attention. As you may surmise from the above, it has not exactly worked), I headed up to Midtown to dance. I really enjoy the Friday night dances in bars. They are so deliciously laid back and it’s nice to have a cocktail every now and then. This time was especially special because it featured live music by our very own Exenia Rocco. She’s written some songs specifically designed for west coast swing, so, much as I find it a bit odd to dance westie to live music, it was a wonderful night.

Since we were in a bar, we danced later than usual, and then by the time I’d done battle with the delights of the MTA, it was well and truly past my bedtime. I think in my next career move I need to find something that doesn’t require me to be in the office at 8am, because when it all comes down to it, my body just loves to be nocturnal.

I had had this idea that Saturday would feature laundry, but somehow it just didn’t happen. I rolled out of bed, made myself presentable, and headed to class. Ben and Victoria were in town this weekend and there was no way I was missing four hours of lessons with such a masterful pair of dancers. All of the classes were excellent, but the one that really spoke to me the most was actually the very first one. They spent the entire hour covering basic body movement in west coast swing. For all you salsa people, that probably sounds ridiculous, because isn’t body movement a key part of every fundamentals class? But here’s the thing, in west coast swing, it’s really, really not. We learn pitch and footwork and hope that one day, someday, the body movement will just happen. Either that or we take private lessons with people who finally tell us “oh yes, you have to settle into your hips” or “but of course there should be movement through your core”. But at last, in this intensive weekend, we all got a chance to learn body movement as a basic component of our every step. It’s hard and I’ve a long way to go, but it felt so liberating to at least be given a direction to head.

Tired after the classes, I then, oh so cleverly decided to go try on performance salsa shoes at Worldtone. It should have been quick and easy, but it was not to be. First, I faced down the door person who grudgingly opened the door after leaving me out there long enough that I’d actually already called the staff up at Worldtone. As I finally made it inside and headed towards the stairs, I got to go another round with the door person who shouted at me, as I strode past the elevators “Hey, where are you going? The elevator is right here.” Said I: “Oh, it’s only one floor up, I’ll just take the stairs.” Apparently that’s not allowed so I sulkily waited for the slow, old elevator.

When I reached the store itself, I was met by the discovery that they didn’t have the desired model of shoe in stock. Deciding to be honest, I told the staff that I would have to order online to get the required model and just needed to size it, so could they please help me find a similar model to try for size. Their response to that was to provide impressively dismissive service that conveyed their annoyance at my presence without a shadow of a doubt. Since we already weren’t going to be friends, I decided to ask after the staircase situation. Apparently it’s closed. Because it’s closed. Emergency use only. So I cut my losses, noted down my size, and took the elevator back down to the street.

After a short break, resting at home, I changed and headed back uptown for some more dance. It was a sweltering night and the hustle dancers had abducted all the fans so we sat in a circle on the floor for much of the early part of the night, goofing off and chatting. After the performances and demos, we eventually drifted back up to standing and even dancing. We were later joined by a fantastic busker who the westies had adopted while running around town doing the flashmob. It was really cool to have two nights of totally different live music in a row. In this case, the saxophonist played without amplification, roaming about the room, playing accompaniment to the DJ and the dancers in whatever ways he felt inclined. It was pretty magical.

After the dancing wrapped up (way later than we usually stay at that venue), a subset of the crew headed down to Washington Square to see a (wo)man about a dog. Yes, at 2am we were schlepping downtown to meet the adorable little shi-poo that Jes was petsitting. It was such a dear little muffin! Once we’d taken the pup out for a pee break, we then retraced our steps back towards West 4th to grab a late night snack of kati roll. I’ve walked past the place about a million times, but had never stopped. I cannot believe I waited so long. They’ve a fairly wide variety of veggie options and they are delicious! To give some context, a kati roll is a form of Indian street food. It features a soft grilled bread wrapped around any one of a huge variety of fillings. I got the Onda Aloo which meant that my bread had a thin layer of egg cooked right onto it and a lovely mix of curried vegetables mashed inside. I might be back again, maybe soon.

Alas after the indulgent chats and tasty eats, it was time to brave the shuttles. Suffice to say, it was nearly 5am before I got home, so laundry on Sunday was also not looking promising. I slept as long as I could then rolled out of bed and into clothes for another afternoon of education. I’d managed to get myself invited to the invite only session with Ben and Victoria (guanxi never cease to deliver, I swear to god) and I was more than a little bit nervous. As far as I know, I was one of only three intermediate dancers in the group, and I was pretty sure I was the only one who asked/guilted/negotiated my way in, so the imposter syndrome was very real.

We started with critiques and I was the second follower up, so that didn’t help. Tragically the nerves and the imposter syndrome decided to manifest as physical tension laced all through my body, so I’m afraid I didn’t represent myself well at all. Contrary to my usually (false) confidence, I apparently spent the dance looking worried. I was so annoyed with myself for undermining my opportunity to show what I’ve got, and get some valuable, pointed feedback. Sadly, sometimes the nerves win.

I do worry that what I do doesn’t read well, but I guess I can only keep trying and hope that one day all the vast, unfathomable, and overpowering things I feel when I move to music manage to make it out of my head and into my audience by way of my body. The journey is endless and exhausting, but I have to carry on because, without dance, without music, life would be a mistake. (That’s Nietzsche by way of paraphrase and direct quote, if you’re wondering).

Despite my own failure to perform, it was great to hear everyone else’s critiques and to work through the musicality material that they presented us once we’d all had a chance to dance.

Being the sort of strange creature I am, I worked through my frustration with myself by walking home. If you walk long enough and fast enough, eventually your brain gets tired enough to let go of whatever intellectual or emotional torture it has decided to inflict upon itself. I also treated myself to a box of assorted Whole Foods salads, because sometimes it’s just nice to be bougie and not worry about supper.

Today has been a day. My morning began with the worst of MTA omens. I stepped onto the platform to an arrivals board flashing “0 min to F train” and a packed platform, that stayed both flashing and packed respectively for another 15 minutes. When the trains usually run every 3-5 minutes, a 15 minute wait is very bad business, that inevitably results in packed cars and late arrivals to work. Not the best way to start a day, but really nothing on the constant stream of emails that would fill the rest of my morning. Thank goodness for coffee and and au bon pain pastries.

And now I’m here, trying to ignore the growing mountain of laundry in my second last pair of socks, writing about my feelings. I swear, I’m a functioning adult, I just take breaks to be a mess sometimes.

Wholly humbled,
The Salsa Girl

In Which the Weather Turns

So the blog is late again. I could blame a weekend of dance and travel, I could blame the month of dance and travel that preceded it, but instead, this time I choose bad weather and threatening illness. Yes, ever since the salsa congress I’ve been teetering on the edge of illness and this past weekend, as the hurricanes swept towards us and the weather began to change, the impending cold became less impending and more imposing upon my usually excessive tenaciousness. I fought my way through it all to manage a 2.5hour long rehearsal/audition last night but then this morning, as I peeled myself out of bed, I knew I was done for. My body was on strike and, much as I hate to call in sick, there was just no way I was going to make it through a full day of work.

So I called in sick, set a two-hourly alarm to check my emails for anything urgent, and crashed. I finally woke up at around 2pm feeling slightly more human and set to work piecing my body back together with ginger, tea, and a scalding hot shower. I’m now back from an optometrist’s appointment with shiny new trial contacts, sucking down cough drops and trying to rehabilitate myself enough that I can make it to a two hour rehearsal tonight. So now that you know where we’re at today, let’s wander back and see how things looked a week ago.

Last Wednesday was still sticky hot in the city and I was bouncing out of work and off to another class with Karel Flores. Karel’s classes are always delightfully challenging, but this one took it up a notch. I felt like the combo was longer than usual and it vacillated between fast precise footwork and powerful body driven movements that stretched the edges of salsa. I left as sweaty and exhausted as ever and hobbled on down to Westie Cafe. It was another enjoyable adventure in west coast swing followed by a not so enjoyable commute home. Yes, they are doing work on BOTH the F and the D line so I am relegated to a two train solution which really isn’t much of a solution at all. I take a yellow train to the J train which invariably leaves me to wait at least 15 minutes before finally bearing me fitfully home to Delancey. It’s a downright delight. It’s also not helping get me to bed any sooner after my myriad of evening activities.

Thursdays are my only nights off this month so I employed this past Thursday to do some laundry between squalls of rain and attempt to pack for another weekend away. By Friday morning, I had clean laundry and a packed bag and was headed to LGA. After braving a ridiculous security queue that wrapped halfway around the terminal, I was through to the gates where I met Patrick for a quick breakfast sandwich before heading to the plane that would carry us on down to Durham for another weekend of dance at Trilogy Swing.

Once we’d arrived at our hotel in North Carolina, we settled in and Patrick set to work. He had noticed sometime ago that he owned the same shirt as my strictly partner and had decided that we really ought to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity to be obnoxiously matchy. I agreed and my partner didn’t refuse, so we put the plan in motion and in no time at all, Patrick was pinning and sewing his way to a lovely fitted feminine shirt where only an hour before had stood a profoundly boxy men’s t-shirt. I really have the most marvellous, talented friends.

Sewing sorted, we then took a nap and waited for the others to arrive. By the evening we had a room full of roommates and were heading down to dance strictly. Matching a much as is possible without a costume, Omaid and I danced our way to 5th in intermediate strictly and then settled in for a night of shows and social dancing. The highlight of the night was undeniably the Legends Jack ‘n’ Jill. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many years of mastery and experience on the dance floor all at once. From Kristen Shaw’s adorable montages of the Legends’ past highlights through to the final jam, it was an evening of unparalleled fun. We so seldom get to see our legends highlighted on stage, doing what they’ve spent their entire lives training to do and by god are they ever fantastic showmen. That one will go down as one of the top five JnJs of all time in my book.

And then it was time to nap. Thanks to a lurking headache and the sneaking cold, I crashed hard and didn’t find my way back down to the ballroom until after 4am. Because Trilogy tends to attract an older crowd than a lot of the events I’ve attended in the past, by 4am the floor was sparsely populated to say the least. I was however, not in the best shape to dance all night, so it was probably for the best that I was forced by circumstance to take it easy and rest my body in hopes of heading off the summer cold spinning around my head.

The following day I woke up to take a noon drills class before hopping off to the ballroom to dance in my Jack ‘n’ Jill. I managed to sneak into semis, but, in striking contrast with my success at the last event, I didn’t even manage to make alternate for finals. It seems that I may need to work on my consistency a bit. Either that or the more traditional judges just don’t like what I do. Either way, there’s a heck of a lot of work ahead of me if I’m to start reliably making progress.

Like the first night of the event, Saturday also featured another fantastic pro-show. This time, the order of the day was trios. There were lifts, tricks, choreographies, and even a westie rendition of Single Ladies. It was wild. And wonderful. It was so nice to be at an event where there were shows for the sake of shows, shows that were wild and wonderful and all about entertainment. It brought me back to my salsa self where the goal was all about putting on a good show and making the crowd scream, not getting the highest scores from a discerning panel of very particular judges. It also reminded me why I do what I do. I don’t compete because I want to win all the prizes, I compete because I want to get to All Star where finals tend to spotlighted, and competition finally become entertainment again. I’ve a long road ahead of me, but hopefully if patience and persistence serve me well, I’ll get there yet.

Despite knowing that the dancers would be rather scarce if I left it too late, I was tired, disappointed by my competition results, and struggling to extract some invisible irritant from my eye, so I crashed. This time I made it down by 3:30am and managed to snag a few really fantastic dances before wrapping it up and calling it a night.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, I was finally free from whatever awfulness had been lurking around in my left eye. I packed up my things, did a final check of the room and headed down to the ballroom to film and cheer for my friends who’d made finals. Somehow while waiting for the comps I ended up buying my first pair of dance sneakers. I’m still on the hunt for a perfect west coast swing shoe. The jazz boots are nice but not very durable and very quickly provide no traction and no support. I’m tired of the practice sandals, and I stubbornly refuse to wear the swing boots, so I thought a pair of fairly stylish split sole sneakers that bear a striking resemblance to Pumas might just be the answer. The soles are rubber rather than suede so I may have to address that, but for now the spinning circle on the ball of the foot seems to be enough.

And then, all too soon, we were back at the airport, scarfing some dinner, and waiting for a plane. Thanks to erratic weather in New York we spent over an hour sitting on the tarmac waiting for clearance to fly. Thus is the joy of hurricane season finally swinging it’s way across the Atlantic to us. Despite our delay, however, we made it back to the city at a fairly reasonable time and climbed onto buses back to trains to take us home. Alas, however, my insomnia decided to rear its ugly head and I didn’t actually get to sleep until well after midnight. It was not the best.

Come Monday, it was clear that I had either screamed far too much or fallen victim to the lurking cold. I pretended that it was the former, but as my lungs continued to whine and wheeze throughout the work day, it became obvious that it was the latter. I stubbornly dragged myself out to rehearsal, but as you may recall from the start of this blog, that didn’t end so well…

But probably it’s time to wrap this up and head to a train to another night of grinding my feet and knees into the floor for sake of beautiful choreography and artistic growth. Wish me luck!

Braving the wind and the rain,
The Salsa Girl

In Which the Salsa is back in the Salsa Girl

So it’s a Tuesday, it’s murderously hot, and I’m exhausted…kind of like last Tuesday… Yes, we’ve come full circle and though this week’s heat exposure was a bit more voluntary, it was still fairly non-negotiable so now I am hiding inside, trying to blog my way through the kind of headache and malaise that might just be a tiny bitty bit of heat stroke. How did I end up a little bit heat struck two Tuesdays in a row? Well let’s head back to the first adventure.

Last Tuesday I found myself wrapping up in the office at 2:45pm to head out into the sun to recruit undergraduates to our group. Despite the heat warning, the powers that be had decided that we should do a resource fair outside. In the sun. An hour and a half of swarming undergraduates later, I was soaked through with sweat, probably a small bit sunburned, and very ready to pack it in and put myself to bed. But the day was not done yet. I stopped by my apartment for a brief but blessed blast of AC before heading out to rehearsal. After the usual two hours of learning, sweating, and working our buts off, it was time to catch a train home and attempt to sleep. I only wish it had gone so smoothly. For whatever reason, my exhausted body decided that it would not consent to sleep until at least 1am. To say my body is mercurial would be an understatement and a half.

Come Wednesday it was time to catch up on a few errands, get my neck snapped back into place and then grab a few minutes rest before another regularly scheduled night of dancing at westie cafe. If you’re counting, that’s 6 nights in a row, and yes, it might have some bearing on the exhaustion. Speaking of the exhaustion, it was sufficiently great that I found myself leaving westie by 11:30pm and heading home to still fail to crash until almost 1am. I think my nocturnal side is having a resurgence again.

Thursday began with a therapeutic cup of matcha and a not so therapeutic bagel and cream cheese. I slogged through the work day, then bounded off to Ailey to use up the last of my class card on the day of its expiry. With all my weekends away, I haven’t been able to take my usual Sunday classes, so I’ve been dabbling in Limon and Horton, and heaven help me, I’m a long way from having any form of modern or contemporary technique. That said, it’s an enjoyable struggle so I shall stumble along and hope that one day my lateral Ts might be either lateral or T-shaped or possibly, if I’m very lucky, both.

From Ailey, I went home to change from a sweaty studio dancer into something of a salsera. It was the first night of the inimitable New York International Salsa Congress and foolish as it may have been, I was going to be there–work night or no. The ballroom was roasting but the dancing was fun and my old team from Canada was there so there was plenty of good company. I was tempted to stay all the way until the end of the night at 4am, but I figured that might be a little too irresponsible, even for me, so around 2:30am I wandered back out into the city, climbed through the drunk stumbling tourists in Times Square and found my way to a train.

Thankfully, Friday was the day before a holiday weekend so I got to leave the office a little after 2pm with all the best intentions of going straight home to nap. I did go straight home, but I found I was incapable of napping so I resorted to caffeination and sugar and headed to the shows. I’d missed the Thursday shows on account of Ailey, but I was not about to miss any more. Following two sparkling hours of performance, it was time to turn over the ballroom for live music and social dancing, a process which takes at least an hour or more. I often just pop out for some food and caffeine and then hang around the hotel, but because I’m living too many lives all in this one little existence, I had another party to hit before the actual dancing began. And that’s how the westies finally met The Salsa Girl in all her slicked hair and low/high cut glory.

I will admit that Alphabet City in the middle of the night is not the most comfortable place to be dressed as I was, but the walk from train to bar wasn’t long enough to justify missing out on a minute with friends, so I caught the Q to an L to Avenue B. In the back of a homey little bar, a whole passel of westies were comfortably clothed and happily dancing. And then I walked in. I hadn’t brought my swing shoes and wasn’t feeling up to WCS’s long indulgent strides in my fitted salsa garb, so I begged out of dancing and planted myself beside the DJ booth with gin. It’s kind of nice to just hang out sometimes, but of course that would not last. First there was a dancer who was only in town for a day or two, and then there was a friend who met my “no, I don’t feel comfortable dancing westie in my salsa clothes” with a “well then let’s dance salsa” and somehow I ended up dancing about half a dozen songs, the last of which ended with me dancing myself right out of my shoe as I attempted to dance tiny-westie with a 100% salsa-free westie of the too-damn-good-to-be-refused variety.

When it came time to head back to Midtown, I was very glad to have a partner in train taking crime: the one and only Marlon [of a million last names]. I met Marlon way back in 2013 when I first came to NYC with Salsa Caliente. As far as I knew, he was just a salsa dancer/promoter, but then when I was moving here and looking for swing connections, lo and behold, Marlon was a swing dancer and promoter too! And so I had a walking/train buddy for my journey back from the laid back westie environs to the glittering embrace of salsa. We got back in time to catch the end of New Swing Sextet’s show and about two and a half hours of dancing before I slipped back out into the night around 3:30am.

Saturday morning I had intended to sleep in rather indulgently, but my body decided that it would do no such thing and so I was deliriously exhausted as I laid unblinking in bed at 11am. After slowly putting myself back together in some semblance of a responsible adult, I headed up to Union Square, first to say hi to all the westies running around doing the flashmob, and then to meet up with a recent graduate of the same Irish master’s program that I completed some 4 years ago. The individual in question has just moved back to the US and was looking for career advice. In our email exchanges I had done my very best to communicate that I don’t exactly do “good career decisions” and that my current position is due far more to luck (and generous mentors) than strategy, but she still wanted to meet with me so meet we did. And somehow, over Blue Bottle coffee in Union Square Park, I think I might have done some mentoring. Like resume reviewing, advice giving, and sounding-boarding. Me. Irreverent, unstable, “next-best-thing” selecting me. Giving career advice. I may be having flashbacks to all the years of relationship advice I gave before ever coming within spitting distance of any such thing myself. Maybe I should go into counselling. I’ve been a far cry from sane for just long enough that I might be qualified to help others get there instead…

On an unrelated side note: by dint of how long we sat and perhaps how eclectically we were dressed, I’m pretty sure that we were both memorialized in pastel by the slim, aged artist that sat across from us with a divinely bright and well-loved box of oil pastels and a massive sketch pad. I didn’t ask to see it because by the time we wrapped up I was in a hurry to leave, and to be honest I didn’t want to break the spell between the artist en plein air and his naturalistic subject, but I rather wish I had. I’m endlessly fascinated by how other people perceive me and by extension how they spill that perception back out into images and words. Oh well.

Once I got back home–on foot through the hot sun, see, bad decisions, bad decisions everywhere–I plunked myself into bed and rested for a bit before beginning the process of transformation that takes me from slightly undone comfort, to tightly slicked and secured salsa girl. While waiting for the shows, I met a chatty visitor from the UK who was absolutely over the moon to be in a salsa congress in New York. She was a very entertaining seat buddy. It’s so delightful to see people just at the very beginning of their love affair with dance when everything is fresh and new and wonderful.

Post-shows, I nipped out to grab a bit of food before inviting myself in on the Salsa Caliente room hang out while we waited for the band. The wait was entirely worth it. Saturday’s band was a 19 piece big band playing classics of the Palladium era. My god do I ever love trombones. They are just so rich and deep and ever so slightly brash and splatty. Love. And then all too suddenly it was the last song of the night. 4am had snuck up upon us with such sly acceleration, and I didn’t even feel that tired–until I hit the train. There’s something about the bone rattling shudders of the MTA that just rocks me to sleep like a baby–or maybe I’m just always terribly sleep deprived.

Sunday was another crash and stumble out of bed before my alarm even went off. I tried to talk my infuriating brain into returning to sweet oblivion, but it informed me that I needed to buy groceries and do laundry and it really wasn’t interested in going back to sleep until I’d at least given it something to eat. So I got up. I did laundry. I bought food. And I even tidied up a few things before turning my attention to getting ready for the final night of the congress. At most congresses, the final night of shows features all the biggest international stars. At the New York congress, the final night of shows features all of the top New Yorkers. I mean, they’re not wrong, but I gotta say, there’s an awful lot of chutzpah required to simply decide that your own local talent really is the best of the best, visiting dancers or none. To be honest though, the shows lived up to the chutzpah, 100%. From Karel’s new ladies team piece which is straight fire to Ernesto and Denisse’s team of absolute beasts, it was just one wonderful thing after another. Unquestionably, the best night of shows all weekend.

After the shows I headed outside to caffeinate and feed before wandering back in and finding that the ballroom was still being flipped, the lobby was far too full of people, and there was nary a chair to be found. And then I recalled that this wonderful hotel has fancy bathrooms, with lounges. And that’s how I spent about an hour curled up on a fashionable little chair chatting with one of my current teammates and tossing out feedback and fashion advice to any number of other ladies changing and primping in the bathroom. It was a strange sort of sisterhood there in the bathroom lounge between social dancing and shows. No one was bitchy, no one was embarrassed, just all ages and stages providing feedback and advice and asking for the same in turn. 10/10 would chill in the ladies loo lounge again.

When we were fairly confident that the ballroom had reopened, we headed back out into the world to listen to the Tito Nieves band and dance. Somehow I ended up dancing until 4:30am which, though not entirely unreasonable, ended with me finally stumbling through my apartment door around 5am after a not so comfortable interaction with a group of men in my local bodega. Thank goodness the bodega guys know me and I’m very good at playing deaf and dumb while I ignore all the things that are just a little too uncomfortable to deal with. I did walk home a bit faster than I normally would have though, and breathed an active sigh of relief when I confirmed that I was not being followed.

Perhaps it was because of the pre-bed adrenaline of the night before, or maybe it was just the accumulated sleep debt, but on Monday, I finally slept in. In all honesty, I’m not sure it was so much sleep as a coma, but either way, I didn’t blink my way back into the world until 2pm on Monday and by god was it ever indulgent. I decided to keep the indulgence rolling with a slow, stretchy journey out of bed, into the kitchen to make “breakfast” and eventually up onto my rooftop to read. I’d been obeying the big sign that says not to go onto the roof except in cases of emergency, but it had become clear to me that I was about the only one in the building who actually believed that the sign meant anything, so, since it was a hot, sunny day, and I was tired of my bedroom, I decided to take up residence on the roof. It’s no luxury magazine spread, but it’s 6 storeys up in a ruggedly/raggedly pretty part of the city filled with aging and uneven, but somehow elegant and certainly charming old tenements. It’s wouldn’t look all that amiss in West Side Story or, for a more cinematic take, Brooklyn. Though I wasn’t alone on the roof–a neighbour was also up there, potentially caring for pigeons, maybe racing pigeons, I was shy, I didn’t ask, but there were cages and beautiful white and tawny birds–but it was so peaceful, I may as well have been. The noise of the city wasn’t gone, but it was so far below me that it hardly mattered. It was just a light wash of white noise under the hot clarity of the sun, bouncing off the white stucco and onto the brick wall where I sat.

Having enjoyed my thoroughly indulgent afternoon, it was quickly time to climb into salsa mode once more for the final night of the congress weekend–the unofficial afterparty at Taj. I love the unofficial afterparty at Taj. If you want, it can be a hard hitting dance night with other congress goers, but it can also be a chill night of drinking and chatting while New Swing Sextet tears up the stage with their intoxicating mix of brass, percussion, keys, and the tinkling strains of a vibraphone. It was heaven, mixed with bittersweet final dances with visiting friends from as far away as Brazil, and divine dances with a newly discovered local wonder in the form of Luis from Puerto Rico.

I will take a moment to gush about Luis. To look at him you might not think him all that great, he’s a fairly average looking fellow and certainly isn’t as aggressively stylish as the majority of the “good dancers”, but the moment you see him move, it’s nothing but magic, and to follow him? Pure heaven. His personal movement is so smooth and rhythmic and perfectly musical, but he’s not just dancing to make himself look good. In that oh so Puerto Rican way, he dances as if his only real wish is to keep his follower safe and make her smile. In a way, it reminds me of really good west coast swing. He’s so aware of his movement, your movement, and the movement of the floor that you never once feel thrown about or scared that you might hit someone, and on top of all of that, he catches every break, accents every rhythmic change, and oh my goodness I could gush for days. In short, he dances like the best kind of Puerto Rican salsero, and let this be a lesson to any young leader: it’s not knowing all the big flashy moves, or looking like a star, that will make followers weak in the knees, it’s making them feel safe, like they are a true partner in the dance, and like their following is exactly as important as your leading, no matter how much better (or worse) than them you may be.

Being a semi responsible sort of a person, I left Taj before 1am and headed to 14th St. The train gods were on my side and I was met by an F train just pulling to a stop as I reached the platform, but no amount of train luck could make today easy. After 11 straight nights of dancing, Tuesday at the office could not possibly be easy or enjoyable. I slogged through regardless and now, having eaten far more of my newly acquired groceries than I had intended, I really ought to get to rehearsal and dance them all off again.

Loving her (exhausted) life,
The Salsa Girl

In Which The Summer Humms

So we’re a little fortunate that last week’s blog was so late, because that means this week’s blog only has to cover 5 days, and in theory that’s doable, even though I might maybe be typing these opening lines at 11:41pm. In another life I must have been nocturnal, or possibly just on a lot of speed. So let’s do this.

I left you last somewhere in an airport dreading the rigamarole of customs and immigration and aeroplanes and that left me passed out in a seat pretending that red eyes are actually a good idea. They seem like such a clever use of time, but then I spend the entire night in fitful misery and am rewarded by immediately crashing and almost invariably suffering a monstrous multi-day headache brought on by sleep deprivation, crunched neck, and low oxygen. So you can imagine the state I was in when I fumbled into contact with the MTA around 5:30 Thursday morning. I feel like I once rode an express J train, but everytime I come off a red eye, I am met by the localest local train that has ever localed. But I guess I should be grateful that it gave me and my headache such ample opportunity to observe the collision of early morning commuters and late night partiers (or maybe they were just affluent alcoholics—it was hard to tell).

When I finally found my bed, I promptly reacquainted myself with my pillows and took my leave of consciousness until noon. I may not have learned my lesson on red eyes, but I have learned my lesson on going to the office after.

Still stricken with sleepiness and tension headache, I then made my way back out into the world to buy a few groceries, print a few documents, and brave the DMV. I steeled myself with some Turkish eggplant dip (no, it wasn’t babaganoush, but it was definitely delicious) and attempted to calculate a tip in base 60—it didn’t go well and I didn’t figure out why until I was half a block away. So I was in great shape to spend the afternoon in the Department of Monstrous Vacuity.

Even with an appointment, getting a non-driver ID took about 2 hours. I was too tired to have any attitude or even that much irritation about the whole thing, but I was probably the only one in the building who felt that way. Obviously, the loyal employees of the DMV couldn’t let me leave without at least one spike in blood pressure so they decided that if they couldn’t enrage me, they could definitely scare me, by losing my SSN card. I had given my sheaf of documents over to an employee for verification. She carried them over to a computer, did her verification, and handed them back with no SSN card. About the time she started saying that she didn’t think my SSN card had been amongst the documents sandwiched into my passport, she achieved the cardiac rocket and set off to search the floors. Five agonizing minutes later I was back in possession of that horribly important little piece of paper and back on track to queue until my hope died. 10/10 great afternoon, would recommend for all seeking to observe (and experience) seemingly naive and unintentional stress tests at a rate no lower than 1-2 per visit.

Post-DMV I treated myself to a cup of chai, a couple of chocolates, and a couple of chapters of my latest wander into Chinese communist history. And then it was time for Horton. I’ve decided that I really do need to put a heck of a lot more technique into my body so I’m hitting Ailey as hard as I can given how little I’m actually free and in the city. So I did some absolute beginner Horton and if there was a super absolutely idiot beginner class for dummies, I think that’d be where I belong. It wasn’t so much that it was hard as that I had to learn new shapes, coordinate new arms, dance to live drumming, and also remember to breathe. Ridiculous as it sounds, the thing that really got me was bloody prances across the floor. Apparently my body doesn’t know how to prance. It can walk or jog, it cannot prance. It’s going to have to learn. Fortunately, however, the only parts of my body that lodged lasting complaints were my obliques who have abundant opinions about laterals and only too effective ways of expressing them.

Friday began with whiny obliques and a screaming headache. It did not exactly bode well for Day One of a dance weekend but I popped some ibuprofen, bought some chestnuts, and repacked my bags. By the time I reached Katonah and my carpool crew around 3 in the afternoon, my headache had informed me that painkillers were not going to be enough unless they were paired with codeine or caffeine. Lacking the former, I piled on the latter which kept me just far enough this side of agony to let me compete.

In contrast with every other event I’ve ever been to, Summer Hummer serves up Intermediate and Advanced Jack n Jills on Friday night. It feels so dissonant for me, but I’ve got nothing but love for Bill, Yuna, and both their events, so I squared my shoulders, told my headache to shut up for a second, and headed to the floor. That I managed to make finals is probably more a testament to the combined powers of caffeine and ibuprofen than anything else, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Once the evening’s shows wrapped up, it was time to check in with my westie mentor of Wild Wild Westie fame, Conor. ——Brief interlude to say: I am still so grateful for the W3 AI mentorship program, seriously, I’m just so glad to have met all the wonderful people involved and I would have never found the social confidence/finesse/chutzpah/all of the above to establish a mentorship relationship with anyone, let alone such a good one—— But to get back to the point, at Wild Wild Westie, Conor had given me a list of things to work on and I was not going to miss an opportunity for a little check in and re-calibration, so I bundled up my strictly partner to dummy for the lesson and headed off to learn. As is always the case, (partial) success on prior tasks always opens the door to new problems to fix and new things to learn, so I’m all set with another list of things to do that I’m hoping will tide me over until the next time one of us decides to fly across the continent to an event in the other’s local area. Or perhaps if I work really hard it’ll just give me an excuse to finally get irresponsible and head out west to one of the fabled Californian events. You’re welcome to tell me how expensive and exhausting a weekend that would be, but don’t be surprised if I don’t listen to a word.

Though a few drinks and some chill chats with the guys finally fought back my headache, I still did not stay up all that late. Having had no naps, not even a little, not even at all, by 4am I was ready to curl myself up into a sleepy little ball and pretend that jet lag was to blame. And so I did.

I woke up briefly at 9:30am on Saturday to stuff free breakfast in my face–yes, I’ve got a friend with perks, it’s pretty great because, well, it’s free and that definitely outweighs the dairy driven damage that most of the free food definitely did to my digestion. After another small nap, I wandered on down to the ballroom to watch the novice comps before competing in my own strictly. With my head full of things to solve, I probably wasn’t the most attentive or consistent partner, but I didn’t think we’d done that terribly… And then I saw the pictures. I mean, I’m sure that the judges had qualms with our dancing too, but if they were even glancing at faces, Omaid and I were out for sure. As the event photos emerged I was horrified to note that the only decent picture of me on Saturday was taken from behind. The amount of tight lips and flared nostrils suggests that maybe I should breathe more? So that’s on the list too and someday it’ll actually happen, I mean it has to, right?

Right after strictlies, we popped back up to free food land to fill our bellies before heading out the pool party. I could blame the indulgent pace at which we ate, but I’m not sure that getting outside an hour earlier would have made much of a difference to the brisk autumn weather that kept my bikini well under wraps as I drank the traditional free pint and worked on losing my voice by shouting for hula hoopers, limbo dancers, and finally the unmissable Pool Party Show. Last year featured an apple jack off with the devil herself, who eventually ended up in a pool. This year featured last year’s devil as the sultry subject of Peel Me A Grape. Gotta love Jordan and Kyle flopping to the floor to channel their inner polar bear rugs.

Once the pool party wrapped up, we all headed back inside for more competitions and shows. The champs jack n jill was definitely a thing. WCS pros are such a brilliant bunch of lunatics, and Tatiana just refuses to be anything but absolutely insane and totally perfect. I cannot imagine being so fearless, athletic, and in control of my body, but goddamn it looks like fun.

As the comps wrapped up, we rolled out and very shortly thereafter the party began. I first found the crew chilling in a hallway hunting a room. The usual venue had sleeping roommates so, after a bit of frantic texting, we ended up a few floors down at another room for one heck of a party. We started with latin dance ladies getting the bachata on and it only went up from there, right on up through splits, body roll offs, a bit of beat boxing, and lots and lots of tasty drinks. We were not the soberest pandas when we eventually made it down to the ballroom, but we had each other for a few drunk dances before we sobered up enough to dance with more responsible folks. And then, before I knew it, it as 6:30am and breakfast was calling my name. If there hadn’t been breakfast, I probably would have stayed because Boston rocks and I love them, but my tummy had opinions and breakfast just sounded too much like an answer to my rumbling tummy full of bad decisions, so I called it a night, stuffed some food in my face and headed to bed.

Because my brain hates me so very very much, going to bed at 7:45-ish turned into falling asleep just before 9am, but let’s not dwell too much on why or how that happened. instead, let me tell you about what I did two hours later when I woke up!

Yes, with a mere two hours of sleep on board, I rolled on down to the workshop rooms to dummy for a friend’s private lesson. Sleep be damned (I wasn’t going to get anymore anyway, my roommates were all up and moving around), I love dummying for lessons. You get to just sit back and practice pure follow and obsessive perfection of basics while absorbing all sorts of information that you might never have thought to request. You also usually get a bit of dancing in with the instructor in question, and feeling more top notch connection is always an excellent time. So I dummied, and then I played with Peter’s pup for a minute–he’d brought her along to the lesson–before schlepping my butt upstairs to get ready for finals.

Blessedly the little shimmer of a hangover/swungover situation that had brushed me by when I first woke up was banished by coffee and dummying so by the time I got to the line up, I was only worried that I might draw someone who I just could not connect with, or that I might totally bomb it myself. So I went in with the goal of “not last”. In case you’ve missed the previous recaps, I haven’t been doing so well in jack n jills lately so I was mostly just happy to be there. That said, none of my own apprehension stopped me telling my friend, Brian (who needed only a few points to get to advanced), that I was really gunning for the chance to catch his coattails on his way out of the division. Somewhat to my surprise he seemed equally enthused by the possibility so as we waited in line we both set to work on figuring the probabilities. Since the random number generator was a die, we could only possibly draw each other if we followers towards the front of the line. And even if we rotated the right way we had only a 1 in 6 chance of getting each other.

I’m not usually a lucky person, but this was probably my last chance to draw Brian in intermediate, so I crossed my fingers, said my agnostic prayers, and hoped for the best. I had absolutely no expectation that we’d actually draw each other, but then, they threw the die and shouted the number and I counted down the line one… two… three… Brian! I’ve never been so delighted with a jack n jill draw. Brian’s connection is absolutely divine, he’s insanely attentive to his partner, and he’s rising fast.

The music for the final didn’t exactly inspire me, and we didn’t do anything all that dramatic, so when we stepped off the floor and got only a few polite “good job guys” we really had no idea how we’d actually done. For my own part, I was terrified that my “not last” goals might have gotten in the way of Brian’s “top five” goals, but as I chatted to my peers it seemed that we weren’t alone in our uncertainty, so I resigned myself to the oblivion of waiting for the results to post.

A few divisions later, our carpool had finished all critical obligations and, since it was a long drive in a car full of inadequately rested folks, we turned our noses towards home and started the grind through Sunday night traffic, New York-bound. The exhaustion hit me over dinner in a rest stop and my usual Resting Canadian Face (TM) morphed into what was apparently a notable Thousand Yard Stare (R). I’m sure I was absolutely delightful dinner company.

Somewhat further down the road, as Jessie and I ogled the sunset and the guys drifted between naps in the back, my phone buzzed. All it said was “CONGRATS!!!” and by god that seemed like a hell of a lot of excitement for fifth place (the lowest they announce), so I got real brave and asked “Did we place?” A few moments later, I had two photos of my lovely friend, Jes, who’d picked up my award and one of Brian, both grinning ear to ear as they brandished envelopes that said, respectively “Brittney O’Neill/Brian Donna – Intermediate – 1st Place”. So I guess I rode those wonderfully smooth and connected coattails with enough panache to reach both of our goals and then some. That kind of luck doesn’t come around every day, but by god am I glad that it came my way this time.

So you could say it was a good weekend. I was surrounded by the best kind of people from the time I stepped onto the train on Friday afternoon, right until I said goodbye to my commuting buddies at Harlem 125th on Sunday, and as a bonus I even got to pet a lovable little doge! Thus, I shall accept my current swungover state as fairly earned and probably even well deserved. I would however have given my eye teeth for a slightly less busy first day back in the office. You know it’s never going to be a relaxed or laid back day when it begins with your boss waiting for you in your office, already working away, by 7:50am.

And on that note, I should probably wrap this up and actually get some sleep so I have even the slightest hope of surviving tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Swungover, swungunder, swung all the way around, and delighted by every bit of it,
The Salsa Girl

In Which Things Get Smokey

I could make a million excuses for the lateness of this blog, but let’s be real: I just didn’t feel like writing it. Something about going back to Victoria just seems to rip me out of myself and right back to a time when I was a student or a retail worker, just plugging away with far fewer worries than I seem to have accumulated now. It’s almost as if all my international adventures have just been some wild, scintillating dream, and so I freeze. I stagnate quietly in the warm, safe cocoon of cuddling my dog, chatting with my mom, and pretending that I’ve not a care nor obligation in the world. In order to avoid shattering this illusion, I seem subconsciously to resist all forms of interaction with my real adult life: I don’t check my email, I only look at Facebook occasionally, and I sure as hell don’t do anything so productive as write my blog.

Now I’m at YYJ, waiting for a flight to one of my least favourite airports (Seatac) on one of my least favourite airlines (Alaska), all before I conquer customs and immigration and crawl onto the red eye back to the city. So I’m easing back into all my delightful obligations and adult-life-stress, via backlog blogging. I will, however, also be traveling back to drastically better air quality. Yes, despite the coziness of my denial-cocoon, Victoria has not been all roses. The 600-odd wild fires tearing up my beloved home province have blanketed the entire place in ash and smoke. Even Victoria, which is probably the least smokey part of the province has reached air quality ratings of “Unhealthy” or 179 today. Other parts of the province have been exceeding 400 with a few areas even reaching 800. To call it heartbreaking would be an understatement. To say it worries me would be similarly lacking in force. And thus, I crawl out of one denial cocoon into another. I’ll cozy up to all my obligations and quietly put the thoughts of my Canadian home and it’s apocalyptic summer out of my head. And here you thought this would be a happy, cheerful blog about my vacation.

But before I get too carried away with myself, let’s get down to the business of what I’ve been up to as I dodge my worries and dance away from my looming fears for the environment: let’s talk about the people I’ve seen and the things I’ve done, because denial is sweet–or at least it keeps our chins above the emotional tide.

Before heading to the airport on Tuesday, I took a quick trip in to Washington Square to drop off a library book and contemplate my future. The PhD is dangling tantalizingly around my periphery and I’m getting that sinking feeling that I might not be able to resist. I’m not sure I can really justify it in terms of economics or career prospects, but since I can’t seem to escape it, I decided to meet with a current PhD student at NYU and see if she had any insight that might help me either shoo myself away or finally gather the courage to dive in. What she had to say was dangerous to say the least. There is funding, there is freedom, there are linguists. I’d like to think that I could talk myself out of the drastic pay cut that it would entail, but I think I’m more likely to find myself drifting over to the Office of Global Services to find out how hard it would be to change my visa status from scholar to student. I’ll keep you posted on my developing idiocy.

After teasing myself with linguistic nerdiness, I then bounded home to pack and tidy the apartment so that my return would not be met by both exhaustion and a disaster. I’d rate my progress moderate success. And then it was off to Newark. As is my way, I was painfully early and spent entirely too many hours pacing about the airport, watching frustrated Floridians applaud the eventual much delayed announcements of flights ready to board. I guess the hurricane season has started.

Some hours later, I found myself covering that old familiar track across YVR from International through immigration, baggage, customs, check in, security, and finally down into the hallowed halls of the domestic C gates. Blessedly, my gate was directly across from a Tim Horton’s which meant that I got to drink a Tim’s hot chocolate and scarf down a Canadian Maple doughnut while I watched the “Top 10 Oops Moments in Hockey” on the television news. Gotta love this crazy Canuckland and all of it’s hockey mad citizens. I almost feel unpatriotic for only watching hockey at the Olympics or when forced. Just before midnight, I boarded an oh so delightful little Dash 8 and winged my way across the straits, to Victoria where my mother and a very excited (if increasingly geriatric) little dog met me at the arrivals gate. It was good to be home, even through the haze less of a hot summer, than of all the burning forests that accompany the summer’s heat.

Wednesday was a slow day. I was nestled into the alarm and obligation free mode of a vacation at home and nothing would dig me out. Somewhere along the line, Mom and I made it out of the house for a quick trip to the fabric store, Winners, and her preferred grocery store, but beyond that, it was just good food, cuddles with my dog, conversation with my mom, and sleep. Seldom has a Wednesday been better spent.

Thursday morning started with all the very best intentions but soon slid inexorably into the awfulness of my perennial allergies. It took only a few little licks from the happy puppy before I was a mass of hives and unhappiness. So we headed up to the pharmacy to buy Benadryl which turned into a trip to the grocery store seeking poppyseeds. Finding none, we got distracted by Dairy Queen and devoured a few blizzards before turning towards Caddy Bay, still in search of poppyseeds. Apparently normal people just use them as seasoning? My family buys them in bulk for baking purposes. I swear we’re not actually Eastern European, but I admit that there’s little to recommend that claim when you consider our fixations on pierogi and poppyseeds. Regardless, the reason, we eventually did find ourselves about $10 of the delightful little seeds at the Cadboro Bay bulk shop. It’s been a while since I was last down there, but it will be familiar forever, after so many university afternoons (and evenings) spent on that modest little curve of sand. Coney Island may have beaches, but it’s lacking on intimate little coves and I might actually miss the things. Yes, it scandalizes me too.

Having acquired our little bag of seedy heaven, we headed home and I bounded into the kitchen to play. My mom’s kitchen is not huge, but it’s a far cry from my pathetic patch of counter in New York, and it’s equipped with all manner of baking implements so, without further ado, I hauled out a bowl and some Crisco and pulled together a bit (okay a lot) of pastry. As the whole wheat pastry chilled in the fridge, I set out on a thing that I’ve been plotting for some time now: vegetarian tourtière. I was heartbroken when last year’s Friendsmas celebrations were unable to include tourtière on account of dietary restrictions and now, having entered the dietary restriction fray myself, I decided that it was time to find a way to bring Quebecois Christmas to all my friends, vegetarian, lactose-free, and all. (My apologies to the celiacs, I’m not ready to commit to a gluten free pie crust). With vegetable shortening in the crust, it was only the beef in the filling that remained a problem. I suppose I could have used beef substitute, but I am cheap as they come and lentils are too, so the choice was obvious. Subbing 1 cup of lentils, 2 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil for the required 1lb of beef was a remarkably effective solution and, especially once the pie had cooled, the taste and consistency were pretty darn convincing. So Quebecois Friendsmas Eve 2018 is on! Give me a holler in December if you want in on it.

And then as if I hadn’t just taken over the kitchen for the entire afternoon, I settled in for an evening of cake baking. The poppyseeds were put to work as I prepared the traditional family celebration cake: poppyseed cake with walnut custard filling and 7-minute frosting. The filling and frosting would wait for Friday morning, but the cakes were soon filling the entire house with the intoxicating scent of vanilla and poppyseed. It was heavenly.

The following morning was spent filling and frosting the cake before hoping in the car and heading out to the beautiful little town of Sidney by the Sea. We were on the way to the airport to pick up my sister and her husband, but as they were arriving right at the middle of Victoria’s rather congested rush hour, we headed out towards the airport early and spent an hour or so wandering along the seaside. I know that NYC is technically a coastal city, and it will undoubtedly be inundated by any sea level rise that may or may not be in progress, but it’s just not the same as being perched on the edge of the great grand old Pacific with bright blue water as far as you can see. Maybe I’m biased.

Once we’d collected Taya and Carl from the airport, it was a straight shot home, via the very conveniently located Little Thai Place which has amassed far more of my money than I would ever like to admit over the years. It’s wreathed in nostalgia and lemongrass and I am incapable of visiting Victoria without at least one order from Little Thai. This time I tucked into a vegetarian pad thai and all was right with the world. I will not attempt to predict whether or not you will be surprised to find that my sister and I stayed up until nearly 2am chatting and eating cake.

Despite the late night, I did in fact make it out of bed the following morning in fine enough fettle to concoct my favourite decadent breakfast: eggs benedict. I feel like I shouldn’t say this out loud, but hollandaise is wicked easy to make if you have even the smallest modicum of patience, and yet it draws the greatest applause a breakfast can. So I toasted english muffins and poached eggs and whipped hollandaise and in no time at all was plating a very satisfying brunch and passing it across the kitchen for consumption. Fed and caffeinated, we then headed out into the slightly-less-smokey-than-previously outdoors. We walked the well trodden path from my mom’s house to Victoria’s painfully quaint downtown where we dropped by MEC (which was a zoo, it’s always a zoo, I do not go there unless forced), visited the new (and very controversial) Johnson Street Bridge, and stopped by Murchies for vintagey-posh pastries and tea. I had an “Orchard Road” which is an apricot black tea latte spiked with vanilla syrup, and a raspberry almond tart. The tart was mediocre at best, but the latte was divine! Apricot is most excellent and vanilla is hardly to be sneezed at, so it should surprise no one that it was heaven on a pewter tray. I may need to buy myself some apricot scented black tea.

From Murchies we made the pilgrimage to Russell Books where my family browsed and I made the circuit, catching up with all my former coworkers (and boss) who remain there. There’s been a significant amount of turnover since I was last an employee, but a few standbys remain and the bookstore seems only to be getting better by the year. I’m looking forward to stopping in on my next visit to see how they have continued to progress. Once I had caught up with the RB crew, we wandered down Fort St. seeking antiques. Most of the shops were closed but we found a few to wander through before it was time for the others to head home to pick up their dinner, while I headed back down towards the harbour for dinner with an old friend from my Chinese Studies days.

I met Chris and Shane at the hopelessly trendy vegetarian restaurant, Rebar. Chris is an old friend from second year Chinese, and anthropological linguistics, and suffering the slings and arrows of overseas living in China, while his partner Shane first met me through the volunteer literacy tutoring program that he was coordinating when I was in first year. UVic is a bit of a small world. Over entirely adequate vegetarian and pescatarian dishes, we caught up on a year of life and all its vagaries before wandering off to Chapters to check out the moving sale. I am very proud of myself for having managed to visit two bookstores in one day and having left both with nary a book, but plenty of good conversation. I do so enjoy nattering away with Chris. We’ve so many fond memories of China/Chinese studies day, and he never fails to make me laugh with indignation and shenanigans. It was an excellent evening all round.

And if you think that I stopped there, you have grievously under-estimated my insanity. No, I did not end my evening at 9pm, instead I headed home, changed, put on make up and headed out to salsa. It was a bit of a quiet night but there were enough leaders to keep entertained and it is always good to catch up with the Salsa Caliente ladies. You never forget your first performance team, especially not when it’s headed up by your original dance-mom. We left the venue around 12:30am, but it wouldn’t be a lift home with Jess, if it didn’t end with a fairly lengthy chat sitting in the car in front of my house gossiping about all the things that have or haven’t happened since we last spoke. I think I finally got to bed around 2am?

Family Sunday brunch is a non-negotiable for me when I’m home, so I rolled myself out of bed the next morning and set to work on Emperor’s Omelette. It’s more a pancake than an omelette, but it’s flavoured by the richness of egg yolks and raised by the lightness of the beaten whites, so I suppose it’s eggy enough. Either way it’s a decadent way to start the day, especially when that day will be spent mostly lounging around talking, knitting, reading, and otherwise avoiding the cloying clouds of smoke sweeping through the atmosphere. Come late afternoon, we finally got a move on to drive Taya and Carl back out to the airport. Once we’d bid them farewell, we drove back through the smoke and I decided to brave the outdoors for a bit of dancing in the park. I’d been afraid that I wouldn’t get any wcs in before Summer Hummer, but the magic of Facebook informed me that I could sneak in a bit if only I would make my way down to the bandshell in Beacon Hill Park. There I found all three of the local wcs teachers and a very competent DJ.

Two hours and a good number of dances later, I was schlepping my way back up through the darkness of Victoria’s hilly streets on one heck of a nostalgia trip. I used to walk back from all sorts of dance adventures when I lived in Victoria, strolling along the quiet streets with only racoons and deer for company. It was an incomparable way to come down from a dance night and it remains as much, especially when featuring three deer, boldly munching from a tree mere feet from the sidewalk without a care in the world. I know they are pests and they are dangerous for cars, pets, and people, but they are so graceful and beautiful, and goddamnit they are a great deal nicer than the rats and pigeons that populate New York.

Come Monday, the smoke was even thicker so, after a short walk with the dog to pick up thread, we relegated ourselves to indoors adventures. We did a bit of shopping and a bit of reading, and eventually tripped on up to the cinema to catch Crazy, Rich Asians. It’s chick flick, 100%, but it’s also a thoroughly enjoyable romp and, because I’m apparently now just a giant ball of continual emotion, it also brought me to tears. I will blame the tears on carefully timed plot points, but I cannot deny that as I watched the views of New York peel back to reveal breath-taking shots of Singapore, my heart ached a moment for the bold, young thing who went off to China eight years ago with no idea what she was getting into and no notion that she should do anything but take it all in. I rather miss my China days sometimes.

After another allergy pill induced sleep coma, I spent Tuesday morning concocting a zucchini galette with some of the pie crust remaining after my tourtière adventures. I’ve been hankering to make a galette, all pretty rustic edges and tasty, homey fillings, so I was not about to miss my chance. I would however learn the hard way that baked eggs should be added to the baking process somewhere around the middle unless you plan to bake them well past well-done and firmly into cementitious territory.

Leaving my mom with the remains of the galette, I adventured into town to catch up with Roger over burgers at the Pink Bicycle. In all my years of living in Victoria, I never once ate at the Pink Bicycle. I rather wish I had, because after mountains of phenomenal veggie burgers in New York, the Bike’s offerings were a bit disappointing. I think I may be ruining myself for ever living outside of about half a dozen major cosmopolitan centres, but at this point, it’s probably too late to go back. Burgers notwithstanding, it was wonderful to catch up with my old partner in drinking, draining, camping, hiking, midnight adventuring, dinner partying, and Cranium conquering. We’ve had so many good times together over the years, and gotten into more than our fair share of trouble, but I think we’ve both turned out alright in the end.

When it came time for Roger to head back to work, I wandered a few block to spend an hour or two practicing with my original WCS teacher, Jay. We’ve both learned a hell of a lot since then and I dare say it was a productive practice even after my shoes ran afoul of some spilled wax and wound up squeaking loudly and oppressively through every step or turn. And then, because I was channeling my inner New Yorker and working that tightly packed schedule, I popped up to a coffee shop for a bit of politics and ranting with an old ballroom dance club contact. An hour later, I was bolting for home with a tummy full of coffee and doughnut and a brain blessedly empty of rants (for a moment at least).

Jess picked my up shortly after I reached home and, in the company of another friend’s exuberant young golden retriever, we headed up to Butchart Gardens to catch an open air concert. Now I must admit an absurdity here: despite having spent two long hot summers sending hoards of cruise ship passengers to the “beautiful”, “unparalleled”, “truly special”, expanse of Butchart Gardens, I myself had never been. I was pleased to note that it really does deserve all the superlatives I’d assigned it, and the rose garden really is “worth a visit”.

We did our best to exhaust the dog with a long walk around the garden before the show started, but no amount of walking could stop our canine friend, Oscar, from spending our entire concert excitedly eliciting attention from everyone who walked past between bouts of attempted Halti removal. He’s a very sweet dog, but he’s powerfully built, and only one and a half years old, which means shenanigans are inevitable. Fortunately he’s also absolutely beautiful and terribly loving so his shenanigans are entirely forgivable.

And that about brings us up to today. I spent the morning with my mom, chatting while she sewed her way through two tank tops and a reasonable portion of the fabric I’d left behind when I left the first time. She was determined to send at least a few of my remnants back to New York with me, and I wasn’t about to argue with two new shirts cut from the outline of my current favourite. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to my beloved little dog, and ride on up to the airport where I bid my mom farewell and started my long journey back to the city. I’m currently killing time in Seatac which a suspicious lack of seat assignment and praying that I haven’t somehow been bumped even though the gate agent assures me that I do in fact have a reservation, if not a seat assignment. At least I can be confident (from the sheer number of frustrated people crowding around the podium hoping for seat assignments) that I am not alone in this plight. Cross your fingers for me!

Looking forward to breathing that fresh, clean, city air,
The Salsa Girl

In Which We Go Dancing in DC (Again)

You’re probably sitting there thinking: didn’t she dance in DC last blog? Did she move? What’s she doing? The answers are, respectively: Yes. No. And lots and lots of dancing. We’ve just wrapped up Weekend Two of a long line of insanity that will carry on until the end of September. Yes, you heard that right. I will be at dance events (or traveling) every weekend from the beginning of August right the way through until September 23rd. You’re well within your rights to call me crazy, but while you’re contemplating exactly how to phrase your disbelief/amusement/horror, let me roll back the clock to where I left you last.

After a steamy hot Monday, Tuesday rolled in with very similar inclinations. After 8 hours in the icebox of my office, I popped into Lower Manhattan for a quick trip to Criminal Court. It’s a massive imposing building and once you get inside, the scars of neglect and asbestos abatement are ubiquitous across every inch of the slowly crumbling form. It savoured strongly of a battered old school building in the dog days of summer, long, fluorescent-lit hallways supplemented by sun and peopled by only a few drooping professionals drifting from floor to floor. I’m sure the courts themselves are much more lively if not any less dilapidated, but up on the 10th floor where I was seated waiting to submit my application for NYC ID, the place was very nearly deserted. Fortunately the wait was modest and I was soon strolling back across the top of Chinatown home to the Lower East Side. After a short stop to eat and change, it was then on up to Midtown for another salsa rehearsal. The teams were preparing for an upcoming show that conflicted with my WCS madness, so I spent much of the evening running the pieces that I’ve learned (outside of the performance formations) and attempting to stretch out my poor right muscles in hopes of an eventual split. I remain frustratingly far from my goal.

Wednesday was to be a busy day. I left the office just after four and headed up to my chiropractor for an adjustment. The usual doctor was away on a family emergency and so I was seen by his partner, a junior chiropractor. He seemed very knowledgeable if somewhat lacking on gentleness and bedside manner, but he got my right shoulder to pop so I’ll endure the moderate manhandling. Freshly adjusted, I grabbed some groceries and headed home to do a bit of laundry. I’m going through one of those frustrating phases wherein I only like the smallest possible subset of my wardrobe, so laundry is an increasingly frequent activity as I struggle to keep my few flattering and comfortable items of clothing clean and dry. It’s a problem entirely of my own making.

With clean clothes ready to go, I then headed into Ripley Grier for another Karel class. It was so hot, the floor got sticky and the mirror steamed up. If you’re wondering, yes, that does mean it was a great class. Buzzed up on salsa endorphins, I then headed down the street to Westie Cafe to strip off my dripping wet tank top and leggings and slip into something a bit more westie-able. It was still sweltering even without a studio full of panting, sweating, salsa ladies, but like the salsa, it was enjoyable regardless.

Thursday saw me wrapping up a busy day at work, setting my out of office responder and heading off to my final session of improv. Despite all the awkwardness of being a decade older than everyone else in the room, those five weeks of improv dragged me well and truly out of my comfort zone and into the start of a new way of being. I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but the seeds have been sown and I’m hoping that with the right balance of light and water I may yet manage to beat down the overbearing perfectionist in my soul. It remains a work in progress.

After improv, I headed home to pack for the weekend. Sometime later, with a very full backpack, I trucked to GCT. From there, it was on to Harlem-125 where Patrick joined me and we both rode all the way up to Jessie’s in White Plains. We had a cup of tea, a bit of a chat, and a pet of the cat and all too soon I was conked out on the giant beanbag that I have come to call my second home.

Friday morning we woke up, grabbed some bagel sandwiches from the deli below, and got on the road to DC for Swing Fling. We collected Kevin at Secaucus and from there it was just a long slow ridedown through the Summer Friday traffic on the 95. The drive to DC is an impossibly unpredictable journey. If you ask Google, it will quote you 3.5-4 hours, when you actually drive it, you’re looking at anything from 4.5-7 hours depending upon the traffic and your luck. It’s a delightful little gamble that invariably leads to a whole herd of tired and slightly frazzled New York dancers at every DC event. This time we were subject to the full seven hour slog, but fortunately we’d left early enough that no one’s strictly was in jeopardy and we even had time to settle into our room and get ready before the first of our crew headed down to dance.

I did the intermediate strictly with a friend from Jersey. It was his first event competing in intermediate but we dance well together and so we were optimistic we would get to finals. Little did we know that we would get a yes from every judge in prelims and an overall 3rd place in the finals. It was a pleasant (and very validating) surprise indeed! Jack n Jill was rather less successful, but I did manage to make second alternate for finals which is significantly better than I’d managed for the past two events. I have so much work to do, but I think perhaps 2nd alternate was a little validation that the path I’m on at the moment is not a wrong one.

Beyond the weekend’s competitions, it was a wonderful three days of social dancing, spending time with friends, and just a little bit of partying. Glen and Edem brought green chartreuse, and my god is that stuff strong. They were making the most delicious, easy to drink cocktails, but with that splash of chartreuse, even a drink and a half was more than enough to take me from dead sober right on over to tipsy (or maybe even a bit beyond). It was a surprisingly smooth kind of potency.

By Sunday afternoon, I was sleepy, but happy. I’d caught up with a few friends from previous events and made friends with a few folks who were only acquaintances before. I’m sure I could say so much more, but I’m still swung over and all my brain can fumble through is: Swing Fling was great, and I’m happy. I’m so grateful that I get to live this dancing lifestyle and that I get to live it the company of such excellent people. Also, special shout out to Omaid for kicking ass in strictly with me, and to my awesome JnJ partners (all of whom made finals)–I was lucky to have drawn ye.

And that about brings us up to today. After the long drive home last night, I managed to stay up entirely to late faffing about on the internet and so, instead of spending my time off today cleaning the apartment, I have spent the day lounging about sleeping, dozing, and snacking. I did manage to clean the bathroom and do laundry, but the rest of my cleaning ambitions shall have to wait until I get back. Yes, tomorrow afternoon, I’m heading off again, this time I’ll be catching a flight out to Western Canada to catch up with family before I swing back out East for another weekend of WCS in Boston. Nobody ever said this dance life was relaxing, but for now at least it’s worth every frantic last minute packing session and every unproductive swung over Monday. For the thrill of competition, the beauty of connection, and wonderful warmth of my westie family, I could survive even less sleep, but please don’t ask me to test that theory.

Sleepy and swung over,
The Salsa Girl