You know it’s been a good weekend when you spend all day Monday dragging your drooping eyelids through work, only to pass out the instant you get home. Yes, I was off at another dance weekend–and it was amazing–but before we get to that, we have 4th of July shenanigans to cover. This might be a bit of a long one.
After I polished off last week’s wander through the weeds of my daily adventures, I headed out to rehearsal. I’d been trying to come up with a way to add a little pre-July 4th fun into my life, but I figured that no one would be overly excited about coming down (or up for the Brooklyn folk) to the LES for a drink at 11pm on a Tuesday, even though the next day was a holiday. So after various musings and machinations, I’d given up and resolved that I’d just have to wait until the weekend, right up until we were leaving the studio and one of the other girls just happened to mention the margarita bar down at street level. The rest was history. I have so missed having a tribe of salsa dancing ladies with whom to work hard and play harder. It’s very hard to explain all the delights and vagaries of salsa to people who are not deeply embedded in it, and it’s even harder to be embedded in it and not have anyone to talk to. So you could say it was a good night.
Come Wednesday morning, I celebrated the holiday by sleeping indulgently in. You may recall that last year I channelled my inner idiot and walked an estimated 50km in 8 hours in the sweltering heat. You may also be delighted to hear that this year I toned that down to a casual hour long stroll around 1pm that delivered me into an air conditioned apartment full of friends and food. We ate, we danced, we lazed about, and around 6:30pm I slipped back out into the summery evening to snag a spot for fireworks.
Having walked past the Manhattan side of the East River last year, I was not enthusiastic about our chances of finding a good spot on this side, so my visiting German friend, Pia, and I headed over to Queens for a night market full of food, and a riverside hopefully a little less full of people. The night market was indeed full of food, so much so that it proved quite difficult to choose. Pia ended up with falafel and a pink lemonade while I tucked into a bowl of delicious (if rather tepid) momos and a cup of watermelon and basil iced tea. When we got down to the river, we found an already extensive crowd filling in the grassy patches with fairly impressive thoroughness. Fortunately we were able to claim a small spot at the top of a little rise which positioned us, if not perfectly, at least adequately to watch the shows to come.
The evening began with an overflight of what I think were NYPD helicopters in tight formation. Shortly after they passed, the fire boats steamed out into the middle of the river and put on a well and truly impressive water show with giant arcs of coloured water streaming from more nozzles than I would have ever imagined belonging to a boat. When darkness finally fell, the barges were in position, the helicopters were ringed around the exclusion zone, and the fireworks began. It was intense. Multistage fireworks that produced three to four different colours and movement patterns, were interspersed with more classic explosions and sprays of fire from the barges below. They had so many variations and combinations, and then they brought out the shimmering after-effects. I have no idea what kind of insane chemistry goes into the rockets, but it was beautiful. As a bonus of being on the Queens side, the fireworks not only lit up the sky above us, but also reflected in rippling currents of light off the skyscrapers behind them–at least until the smoke got too thick.
It was entirely worth the wait, the heat, and even the lady with no respect for personal space who ended up squatting, basically straddling me from behind, and flailing her phone around my head in her dedicated efforts to record only the very most exciting bits of every moment of the show. My goal for next year is to befriend someone with a nice apartment overlooking the river so I can pass on all the inconvenience and get straight to the brilliant colours and light.
Thursday morning, the real world came back at me hard, as I spent my morning waiting for radiology appointments. It’s nothing serious in the slightest, but my doctor had referred me to get an ultrasound and an x-ray (mostly for benchmarking purposes) and so there I was in Mount Sinai at 8:30am waiting. I had forgotten to bring a book so all I had was my quickly thickening stack of work emails, and all the impatience that came along with them. When they finally called me into the back I had the delightful experience of cold jelly being pressed and smeared rather forcefully all over my throat as they conducted the neck ultrasound. I have to say, it’s not a ten minutes I would ever choose to repeat. The x-ray was significantly more mundane, but once all the waiting was factored in, I’d been there nearly an hour and I was chomping at the bit to get down to the office.
After a busy day at work, I headed up to Ripley for a bit of extra salsa practice followed by an indulgent little stop at Daa Dumplings on my way home. It’s a little Russian dumpling shop in the Columbus Circle subway station and it’s delightful. The dumplings are delicious and the condiments are even better. I normally get their red pepper, tomato, something sauce, but this time I got spicy mustard, and holy horseradish it was hot. I credit the subsequent scouring of my sinuses for the fact that I have been at two busy dance weekends in a row and don’t seem to have fallen ill just yet.
And that brings us to Friday and my very early morning trip to LGA. I was up around 4am to get to the airport by 5:30am with the express purpose of having enough time to play posh and indulge in a little airport lounge time. Jessie just recently got access to the Amex airport lounges, and so, since we were taking the same flight to Dallas, we could not miss out on a free breakfast buffet and a mimosa or two. In all the travel I’ve done, I’ve never once been in an airport lounge, and I have been missing out. The food and drinks were delicious and free, there were outlets everywhere, and they even had cameras watching the various security check points so that you could keep track of TSA wait times and correctly plan your wander down to your gate. It was a pretty solid way to spend way-too-early-o’clock at the airport.
Some hours later, we were walking to the airport hotel at DFW for a weekend of dance which may very well become a mandatory annual schlep to Texas. Seriously, if you haven’t been to Wild Wild Westie, you’re missing out and not just on the hotel water flavoured with melon pieces carved into the shape of high heeled shoes.
In order to attempt to begin to do justice to this amazing event, I’m going to break from my usual diary format and tackle the weekend by topic, but first, let me say that the vibe was just so good. We had an East Coast table full of wonderful people (too many of whom I don’t normally have a chance to chat with), a room full of excellent roomies, and a weekend full of fantastic dancers from literally all over the country–god I’ve missed Californians. My performance in comps was neither here nor there, but there were so many good people, and so much learning, and I think, maybe, just maybe, I finally have a sense of what I need to do to level up my dancing and get at least a few steps closer to the true potential of this enigmatic dance.
So let’s start by talking about the classes. I often don’t take enough classes when I go to events, but since I was only doing one competition and the classes were both relatively few and levelled, I figured I ought to go do some learning. I was not to be disappointed. On Friday we started with a really great connection workshop with Meech and rolled through a musicality class with Gary and Susan. On Saturday it was more connection with Ben and Victoria and a turning class with Tara, before we finally hit the critique session with Jen and Michael on Sunday. The teaching calibre was so high and so much of the material was so wonderfully technique focussed. It was the antithesis of the dreaded pattern class and, because it was levelled and early, the classes were relatively small and very focussed which allowed us to really eat up the material and maybe even get a few things to stick.
In addition to the levelled classes, they also ran two midnight solo movement classes on Saturday night, which is how I ended up throwing myself at the floor more than a few times around 1am at a westie weekend. Yes, I took the contemporary class with Victoria and Tara and it was fire. As a small disclaimer, the piece they were teaching was to the song that I am currently learning performance choreo for with the salsa team, so my brain was crying a little bit in confusion, but it was just so good! From the creepy animalistic shapes to the slightly insane but also deeply awesome contorted turns and even down to the floor work, it just felt so damn good. The giant bruises smeared across my knees and elbows the next day felt less good, but it was 100% worth it.
And then as if I hadn’t taken enough classes already, I also decided to take a private with Tren. She’s so darn slick and confident and cool, and I keep thinking the if I could have just a fraction of that coolness, I’d be so much closer to where I want to be. One lesson is never enough, but it certainly was a good first step. I now have some tools to help me take my current set of movement skills out of salsa and into west coast swing without undermining its connection or the aesthetic. So I’ll be spending a lot of time with music and my mirror in the coming weeks. Wish me luck.
Alongside all of the classes, I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take part in the AI Mentorship program. I almost didn’t apply, because I’m shy like that, but boy am I ever glad I did. It was such an excellent program! The planned activities were great–I never say no to more critique sessions–but more importantly, for me, it gave me the opportunity to actually get to know the higher level dancers outside of my local community who I would normally be far too shy to impose myself upon. It also created a sense of community amongst all of the participants, Intermediate and All Star, which I’ve yet to experience at any previous event, including ESS. Tracy and Taletha have created a really special thing in this program.
But above and beyond all the structural magic of the AI program, I really have to hand it to my mentor, Conor McClure. He was so generous with his time and knowledge, and my goodness does he ever have a lot of training and knowledge! I feel like I learned so much, and just cannot put into words how grateful I am and how much this has shifted how I’ve been feeling about my dancing and progression. It was just so damn good. Amusingly, unbeknownst to anyone involved in the pairing process, we also both have backgrounds in linguistics and ties to Ireland which made for only a few slightly nerdy diversions from the dance talk into the phonology of Gaeilge and the idiosyncrasies of Ireland.
When I wasn’t packing my brain full of all of the things, I was watching dancers do all of the amazing things in higher level comps and social dancing the night away–quite literally. The Champs final was insane. People were crawling on the floor and knocking it out of the park with humour and musicality. I can only dream of the day when I have enough training and technique to be able to bring that much personality to the table and still kill it on the technical side. Even the All Stars were great. The North East was repping hard with all of our local All Stars making finals and one of them (yes, the inimitable Kristen Shaw) even taking home first place. I would be lying if I said I didn’t do at least a little laryngeal damage screaming for them, but they deserved it and even more.
After all the amazing daytime (okay, not really day time, but before 2am?) activities, there was also just so much fantastic social dancing. The ambient level of dance was ridiculously high, and since I bombed my comps, there was no need to do any sleeping. In related news, I stayed up until about 5am on Friday night and maybe all the way until 8am on Saturday? I’m not quite sure what happened but I think my salsa congress brain kicked in and I had nothing but energy. Plus there were mugs.
One of the many fun perks of Wild Wild Westie is the Saturday night mug give away. Near the end of the night, once the floor has reduced to 250 people or so, they give out mugs sponsored by another convention. This year’s mugs were sponsored by Swingtacular: The Galactic Open and featured their quirky little alien Silve Yelserp. They were given out at 7:30am. Yup, you heard me right, there were still 250 people in the ballroom at 7:30am. There were probably more, but in efforts to manage the numbers, right before the mug giveaway they hit us with an escalating BPM curve from 105 to Scatman over the course of 5 songs. Now I don’t usually think of myself as someone who likes fast swing, but there’s something about Scatman on a crowded floor at 7:30am that nothing else can even touch. It probably helped that my progression of leaders over those 5 songs had also been pretty great but whatever it was, I was giddily tripling through Scatman like someone with way more energy than I had any right to have, especially since I didn’t even really nap. I grabbed a quick hour from 1:30-2:30am but other than that I was running on pure love of the dance.
Once the mugs were distributed, the ballroom cleared considerably and I mustered my courage to ask Meech for a dance. It still seems so strange to me that I used to dance with him once a week in Shanghai, and I cannot even begin to imagine how much he must have been compensating for my painfully beginner self in those dances, but I will always remember them as a key formative moment in my west coast swing, when I began to realize just how versatile and powerful this dance could be. And even though I’ve now put a lot more hours and dollars into training my westie, dancing with Meech still makes me feel like a minnow in the ocean of this dance’s potential. There’s just so much breadth and depth and variety in his connection, and that’s to say nothing of the musicality and vocabulary that he brings to the table. I’ve got a long way to go, but dancing with Meech makes me want to train so hard, because someday I want to be able to meet that kind of connection, vocabulary, and musicality on a level. #dancergoals
So it was kind of a good weekend, I don’t know if you could tell or anything. But as all dance weekends do, Wild Wild Westie swung into Sunday and only too soon it was time to bid everyone farewell and head off to the airport. I then proceeded to unnerve all of my fellow gate watchers be eschewing a chair to sit stretching on the floor for the entire hour I waited to board. I had hoped that stretched-Brittney would be sleepy Brittney, but it was not to be. So I listened to music, folded origami out of my napkin, and watched the sun dip below the horizon as we soared over Lake Erie.
We came into New York around 11pm which meant that, from Central Jersey all the way to JFK, the view out of my window was an endless rippling blanket of glittering light. It looked like someone had thrown a fist full of rhinestones down from the sky, and while we’re getting poetic, it looked just exactly like the place where I belong, a blend of obsessive grid work, and rambling suburbs all shining with just a little too much life.
And now, it’s 11:30pm and I really should get this wrapped up. By some strange magic I don’t seem to be falling victim to the back-to-back-dance-weekend-death-cold, but that may be a tenuous state of being and so I daren’t press my luck with any more late nights this week.
Exhausted and swungover, but oh so happy,
The Salsa Girl