Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Night the Salsa Swan Emerged

VIDEO: Our Salsa Performance

There is a chance Charles and I will be able to perform this routine again at Victoria-area events and festivals.

In the meantime, here is a little taste of what happens when two dedicated people from Victoria's Salsa Caliente -- choreographer and teacher Christina Morrison and dancer Charles Murison -- spend 12 weeks turning a CBC reporter (me) into a performing salsa dancer.

We hope you enjoy watching this performance as much as we enjoyed performing it. :)

**VIDEO**
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddZBpq5jM9w


The Performance

It was finally here. The night we'd been working towards for 12 weeks ... the Stars on Stage Community Dance Challenge. How cool. With our costumes, hair, and attitudes sassin', Charles and I joined the other participants in the hallway ... all buzzing over the energy of the night.

I am forever indebted to my dance partner, Charles, for being my rock and source of calm pre-performance that night. I couldn't eat. I got nervous. It was hard as hell to get in and out of that costume for nervous pees. But Charles just kept reminding me: we've got this, you know this routine, we are going to rock it.

At the start of the show, each couple was introduced to the audience. From the minute we put on our costumes, Charles and I decided we were going to be in character. It was a hoot. We strutted and sashayed out onto that floor and I shook my tassels in the faces of our friends/family in the first row, and I even gave a little bum shake to the firefighters (I was trying to steal votes, you see). We got a few hoots and hollers and couldn't stop giggling about it.

And then the show started. We were the 5th out of 8 couples, so we waited behind the doors and tried to channel all of that excited, nervous energy. We salsa danced ... we practiced a bit of our routine ... we laughed with the other participants who were also waiting. And then Cosmo and Roberta hit the stage just before us. If anyone could have seen us: while everyone was watching Roberta and Cosmo's wicked hip hop routine ... we were backstage hip hopping hard ourselves toshake off the nerves ... and building that adrenaline. And who knew ... my brutha from anutha mutha Charles was a funk-machine in addition to being a salsero! :)

And then it was our turn. Wow. Talk about "owning it".

Charles strutted out like a cocky jerk and arrogantly took his place on the floor (it was an act, he's a gentle sweetheart) and then I sashayed with mega booty action behind him, with hand on hip. I looked him up and down, stroked his chest, and then walked away while he checked me out. It gave the "sabor" (flavour) of the salsa routine.

And then we got into position and danced. SO MUCH FUN! It was the most enjoyment I'd had doing that routine since we started. The choreography was fun and spicy and a real crowd-pleaser. Any little missteps didn't affect things as we just kept going. A personal high was acing the salsa cartwheel that I've struggled with for weeks. The routine just seemed to flow ... muscle memory and rhythm memory trumped the fact that this was a different dance floor than we were used to, that we had an audience, and that it was a bigger space than we normally practiced in. It was just ... right.

What a rush! What a high! I didn't want it to end. :)




Heather and Charles Win "Best Chemistry"

The very first time Charles and I met, we had to do a sexy pose for our Stars on Stage photo shoot. It was awkward (we'd only met 10 minutes earlier!), and all we could do was laugh! It was the start of a great friendship. Here is that photo:


And then three months later, after countless hours rehearsing at Casablanca, pushing our boundaries, and laughing as we tried to act out our "sexy flirt" roles in the routine ... we managed to pull off the look perfectly ... even convincing the judges at the competition ... and winning the "Best Chemistry" category! Check out the photo:



Thursday, June 11, 2009

Our "Fan Club"

Thank you SO much for coming to support us: Mom, Connie, Kyla, Raj, Christina, Claude, Mary, Will, Jerry, Paule, Emma, Harry, and Stacey. It meant the world to have you guys there in the front row ... and the very first faces we saw when we hit the ballroom dance floor!

And to our other friends and family members who sent texts, emailed, called, and continued to show so much interest in our progression through this incredible experience, all the way to performance night! And Cindy and Loretta, the flowers were beautiful!

To the Salsa Caliente dancers at Cafe Casablanca: you guys added even more fun to the experience by leading me around on social dance nights (even when I couldn't do more than the basic step), always told me I was getting better, and introduced me to a whole new fun social scene that I didn't even know about three months ago. I can't wait to keep dancing with you!

And, personally, to those of you (you know who you are) who listened to me groan about the aches and pains, never complained about my early nights because of 8am rehearsals, and gave me the encouragement to keep going. And especially being there to celebrate this transformation into joy and creativity. And for telling me that you see it in my eyes. Love you guys! Much more dancing to come!! :)







Getting Ready

I was SO excited for the show. More excited about something than I'd felt in a long time. As I drove to Victoria's Dance Connections for hair and makeup, I had Nine Inch Nails cranked LOUD! It was essential to both invigorate me and release tension. Thank you, Mr. Reznor.

Charles met me inside and showed me the finished costume. And it was HOT! Tassles and rhinestones and shine. Wow. He did an excellent job conveying the directions from Christina about how my hair should be in a "Puerto Rican poof" and how the make-up should highlight my eyes, with muted lips. For a dude, I was truly impressed with his instructions! :)

Christina came, too, to make sure it was all falling into place. And I finally learned what JBF hair meant. ;) Both Charles and I were supposed to have that look for the performance ... ahem ... and so began our role-play for the choreography.

I put on the costume and walked out. Needless to say, the comments from the other participants were a boost to my pre-show confidence. Christina did a beautiful job designing and sewing a costume that showed off my assets and covered the areas that I preferred to hide. It looked stunning. And when you're a woman in your 30s with a little extra "love" in certain places, feeling THAT sexy is a special treat.

Charles got into costume and it was full on "salsa prom". He looked smokin'! Rhinestone collar, tie and belt that matched my costume, and super cropped hair. We looked like such a team. Hot.

Salsa shoes? Check.

Rhinestone eyelashes? Check.

JBF hair? Check.

Sexy costumes? Check.

Sassy flirtatious sexy attitude? Check.

Alright then ... let's do this ...!






Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Day Of

I woke up early Saturday morning ... put my hand on my tummy ... and felt it shaking. Nerves. Anxiety. All worked up about the big show and I still had more than 12 hours to go before we performed. Ugh. I thought I had a handle on the stress!!

Good thing my Mom was visiting from New Brunswick to see us dance because she knows me better than anyone. That I get performance-anxiety (ahem) before doing anything of a very public nature or anything that is a challenge. Been like this for years ... before exams, before a date, before going live on TV, and as a kid doing my little dance routines in front of friends.

I headed over to the Victoria Dance Connections studio to do a technical rehearsal with Charles. We had 1/2 hour in the dance space to get a sense of how much of the ballroom we needed to cover ... key places to shake and shimmy ... and also getting a feeling for the floor. It felt slippery to me. I also wasn't breathing, so I wasn't grounded and didn't have my footing.

Charles had all the confidence in the world that we would kick ass. I didn't. Again, just pure, silly fear ... that I knew I had to conquer in order to "bring it". :) And Charles kept reminding me that we are going to have a blast. I also did a lot of yoga breathing (fire nostril breath).

A lot of emotions were going through me that day ... the sense of "blossoming" somehow ... of no longer being simply cerebral and analytical woman ... but of being in my body, re-connected to my creativity and fiery inner power. That's also a vulnerable place to emerge from, though, when it isn't your natural comfort zone.

But something has changed. And I plan to be dancing well into my 80s!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Other Stars on Stage Participants


WEST AFRICAN: Heather Leary (Mark My Words PR) and Mohammed Duranteau (Wontanara Drum and Dance)



SWING: Cristabel Kerslake (Red Hot Swing) and Michael Shamata (Belfry Theatre)



VIENNESE WALTZ: Tanya Mokhnach (Arthur Murray) and Frank Stanford (CFAX)



TANGO: Tess Kumlin (Arthur Murray) and Murray Chunyk (Victoria Firefighter)



QUICK STEP: Kelly Cruickshank (Figure Skater) and Elizabeth Harries (Arthur Murray)







RUMBA: Lana Denoni (Oak Bay Marine Group) and Adam Hanna (Arthur Murray)













HIP HOP: Cosmo Meens (Chef, Mole) and Roberta Bierman (Boston Dance Collective)












One of the highlights of the night was seeing everyone else dressed up in their costumes.

We all ooh'ed and ahh'ed over each other when we were in the hallway waiting to go upstairs to be introduced.

The costumes totally matched the dance style and everyone looked amazing! I loved the diversity.

It was a pleasure to share the ballroom with them!







VIDEO: Class Salsa Demo

As show day approached, the nerves started to set in.

The reality that people would actually be seeing the choreography we've been (privately) been working so hard on since mid-March.

And so, Christina decided we should perform it in front of people in our Thursday salsa class. The costume wasn't totally finished (some parts of me were pinned in) ... we performed it in completely opposite direction than we'd been rehearsing ... and Charles was in his sweats. And it was exactly what we needed!

And so -- with Christina and the other girls from the international touring team -- we headed to the bathroom to pin me into my costume, glue on the fake eyelashes (with crystals), and get into the attitude of the dance.

The girls gave me the most amazing pep talk. And when you have people who have been doing it for years and know exactly how it feels before performing, you listen to them. And trust them. Thank you SO much, Christina, Nicole, and Erica!

I spent a few minutes in there alone telling myself I rock (it works before doing live TV, too, even if you don't actually believe it at the time!).

And then Christina announced us to the gang and we strutted out. And we rocked it. Damn, it was fun! And our friends were so supportive. It was just the boost we needed to know that we truly are ready for Saturday night's "Stars on Stage".

VIDEO OF CLASS DEMO:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQlMrZbhGx8

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Super Vixen

Forget putting on a cape as a kid and pretending to fly on the lawn ....

Today -- when I put on my hot salsa costume for the first time -- I felt like a super hero. The costume is now known as Super Vixen. ;)

You'll see why on Saturday night. It's fabulous. Our designer/seamstress/jill of all trades Miss Christina Morrison really pulled this one off.

All of a sudden, the weeks of hard training and rehearsals were tranformed into reality when I put on that costume, did a few of our steps, and realized that we are only two days away from the performance.

And then came the nerves.

I mean ... give me a breaking news story where I have to go live at a moment's notice, speaking to the country on CBC-TV. Put me in the path of an angry guilty person who doesn't want to be interviewed by me, but I perservere. Put me at Evolution nightclub with Nine Inch Nails blasting. THOSE situations ... I rock.

But salsa dancing. In a skimpy (but uber cute and flashy) costume. In front of 250+ people. In a ballroom I've never danced in. Doing incredible lifts and flips that I'm still trying to finesse. And NOT get nervous?! Um yeah ... the yoga breathing will be in FULL force that night! :)

I'm SO excited. Look out Cat Woman. Look out Superwoman. Super Vixen ... coming to a ballroom near you ...!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Let's Get Physical

We all saw it happen on this season's "Dancing With the Stars".

The injuries, the muscle strains, the broken bones ... the incredible physicality it takes to dance well. Many kinesiologists have declared dance as one of the very best types of physical fitness a person can do ... because of the muscle tone it builds, the often intense cardio, the flexibility that develops, and those joyful endorphins that release as soon as the music starts. Plus, it's damn fun!

I should tell you that I've never been a very "sporty" person. Sure, I like to go for a nice bike ride, rollerblade down a boardwalk, do pleasant hikes, yoga, etc. But as for intense, heart-pumping, massive sweating activities ...? Um, yeah, not my thing. Until I re-discovered dance.

In a matter of days, I started to notice a change in posture, more muscle strength, invigoration, and flexibility (check out the Shakira-esque moves in our routine). Salsa requires excellent timing, proper framing, and body awareness and confidence that makes you shake your bits. Kinda fun.

In the 12 weeks since I started salsa dancing I have rolled my ankle, stepped on my own feet, stepped on my dance partner's feet, gotten bruised arms from lifts, kicked my partner in the leg, gotten shinned in the head, elbowed my partner in the teeth, gotten so dizzy from spins that I had to sit down, gotten twisted into a pretzel when I was supposed to look graceful, and gotten overall muscle aches when the rehearsals were really intense.

Overall, I'm pretty damn proud of those "war wounds"! :)

As hard as it's been to wake up so early to go to those morning rehearsals, I'll admit I'm going to miss them. That quiet studio that we had all to ourselves ... and the sweaty invigorated self who walked out of there every time with a big smile. Will I stop salsa dancing after the June 6th performance? Not a chance!!

2 Minutes

TELEVISION:

The average daily TV news story runs about 2 minutes long.

This is what it takes to put that very quick vignette on a news program: Every morning -- after reading the newspapers and listening to radio reports -- I speak with my assignment desk out of Vancouver. I will either be assigned a story or pitch something that is happening on the Island.

At that point, I have to quickly get up to speed on that specific topic (which could be anything from provincial budget details to criminal investigations to how whales mate). It includes internet research and "cold calls" to anyone connected to the topic.

These cold calls are instrumental ... while chatting for the research, I am also trying to ascertain if they will make a good interview for my story. If so, then I have to convince them to put their nerves aside, and do a televison interview. All of this takes friendliness, charm, and trust-building with the person ... remember it is all on the phone and I'm working in a very tight time frame.

Then, we have to actually shoot the interviews and cover shots (b-roll). It means coordinating with their schedule, travelling to location, doing the interview (convincing people they ARE doing a great job, encouraging them to relax and trust me), getting cover shots, and then trying to see where it all fits together.

Amidst all of this, my Blackberry is in constant use. About every minute, I receive an email or phone call that must be taken care of. Emails from political parties ... from colleagues who are hoping I can ALSO do an interview for them in Victoria ... or from the newsroom as we fine-tune the story's focus as the day unfolds. The mind is constantly engaged as you try to drill down through the excess words and information to find the core of the story. I only have two minutes to tell it, after all.

After interviews and other visuals are shot, we head back to the building (in my case, the press gallery in the legislature), where I shotlist the interviews (full transcripts), write a script, get it vetted by a producer in Vancouver and then head downstairs to our edit suite. This is all happening as the clock ticks towards that 6pm deadline.

I voice my script. My cameraman/editor Marc edits the story. I send the times of interviews (to super the person's name live into the show). And THEN ... if it's a hot story of the day ... we go outside and do a live hit. The live hit means setting up cameras, lights, checking audio, ... heavy makeup to hide the stress of the day. Through my earpiece I can hear the show's director in Vancouver giving me a time count, and then I hear our hosts Gloria or Ian throwing to me in Victoria and then I go live. Often with people stopping to gawk, yahoos honking their horns, sometimes so tired that I hope I don't forget my lines.

I often feel invigorated yet mentally exhausted after I get the story to air.

And when you see the final item on TV ... all you see ... is 2 minutes.


SALSA PERFORMANCE:

The average choreographed salsa routine is about
2 minutes
long.

Our choreographer, Christina Morrison, spent hours at home working on the moves - for two people - before even meeting up for rehearsals. Finessing a routine that she could teach to both me and Charles and have us performance-ready in 12 weeks. Keeping in mind that I was an absolute beginner ... having never couple-danced in my life.
BIG learning curve.

For the past twelve weeks, I've gotten up around 6:30am and driven to Cafe Casablanca ... on the dance floor by 8am. For an hour and a half before work, we learned, sweated, got frustrated, felt excited, bonded, learned to trust each other, and share conversations through dance.

From Day 1, they had to teach me basic salsa steps before even imagining doing spins, lifts, flips ... not to mention the sassy attitude that salsa dancers must have when performing.

After that, came the task of learning to dance with another person for the first time (aside from dancing on Dad's feet as a little girl, or the Grade 9 cafeteria dances to Def Leppard's "Love Bites"). I had a mental block about letting a man lead (see previous blog posts) ... but eventually learned how the body (with some practice) will know when to turn, how to step, and when to show off ... simply by acknowledging the subtle pressure on the shoulder, the hand hold, the way your body shimmies when the music feels right. That didn't come overnight for me, as my dance partner Charles can attest! :)

And then ... the choreography. Wow, do I love this routine! But like any builder knows, you have to have a good foundation, which is what my salsa posse taught me. From there, I have learned a funky, hot, and ultra cool routine that I'm proud to perform. But it has not come overnight. From learning - and remembering - the choreography to this fast-paced routine ... to trusting my partner's lead ... to cleaning up the parts that just weren't flashy enough ... to actually letting go and allowing the muscle memory and the fun of the dance to take over ... we are ONE WEEK away from performing in that ballroom in front of 250 people.

The more confident we've become, the stronger our moves are, and the more intense the rehearsals. SO intense that I fiercely elbowed Charles in the teeth a few weeks ago (no blood) while trying to maintain proper form in a fast triple spin. He returned the favour by shinning me in the side of the head when I didn't duck quickly enough and giving me just a slight concussion. I've gotten bruised arms from the lifts. I've stepped on my own feet. I've stepped on Charles' feet.

By the time I go to work after these rehearsals, I am a little sore, but truly invigorated with joy in my soul.

But all of this is inconsequential.

Because on June 6th when we strut into that ballroom in full costume, with attitude and flirt, doing a fun fast-paced salsa performance ... all YOU will see ... is 2 minutes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vote For Us!


After more than a month on the road covering the BC election -- which is tomorrow night -- I'm SO ready to get back to Victoria and my beloved salsa rehearsals. Charles and I were rockin' the dance just before I left and when I popped home for a quick practice, I remembered most of our choreography (but was admittedly out of breath after a month of intense travelling and virtually no exercise. Yuck.)

And so, when I head back to Victoria at the end of the week, Charles, Christina and I will be back at it ... HARD. We have three weeks to be performance-ready. Everyone had 12 weeks to practice ... we had 8. But we are not daunted. Oh no. If you've ever seen a TV journalist creating magic at the last hour as a deadline approaches and the pressure is on, they you are about to see it again.

Come and support us on Saturday, June 6th and vote for our sexy, magical, fun and flirty salsa routine. You won't be disappointed! :)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Salsa Breakfast Club Goes on Hiatus

For the last six weeks, three very dedicated people have woken up at 6:30am to hit salsa rehearsal at Cafe Casablanca.

Christina, Charles, and I were up against it ... Charles and I work during the day, Christina works at night ... the early morning was the only time we could fit into our schedules. Plus, I'm leaving for a month to cover the BC provincial election campaign, which means our 12-week dance training for the June 6th Stars on Stage competition was reduced to 8 weeks ... egads!

And so, two to three times a week, we would haul our tired and sorry asses into the club, turn on the heat and lights, put on some tunes, stretch and start dancing. It was hard ... until we took those first few dance steps.

On Thursday morning, I was able to dance the entire choreography to our fast music speed, with the lifts and other tricks. There is still a lot of finessing ("cleaning up") that I need to do, but I'll just have to practice in the mirror at the hotel or on the campaign bus during long road trips. :)

The plan is for me to get back to Victoria once or twice, even for a few hours to practice ... and I'm hoping to fit in some salsa classes and social dancing while based in Vancouver for the month to keep in shape and get my groove on.

The election is May 12th ... the goal is for me to back with the "salsa breakfast club" the very next day, May 13th. Those early mornings are harder for some (I won't say who, but the initials spell Christina ;) but it's all for a greater purpose ... to totally kick ass on June 6th and put on a fantastic salsa performance. I think we're up for it. :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

All Hail to a Salsa Goddess

Some people are born to teach. They just have the “it” quality that makes you respect them as a performer, and also make you feel inspired to learn. Christina Morrison has “it”.

When she walks onto the dance floor at CafĂ© Casablanca to teach salsa, she commands your attention, with a vibrant energy, love of dance, and makes you feel supported (even the most absolute beginner). I have seen people walk into her class unable to do “basic” (think Jennifer Grey practicing by herself on the log in Dirty Dancing) and by the end of the hour, be laughing, know how to do basic steps and spins, and feel excited to learn more. Could be why her classes are packed.

I feel so lucky to have gotten Christina as my choreographer/teacher for the Stars on Stage competition. What she has been able to do with me over the last six weeks is incredible. She makes it fun. She pushes me. And even on those days I feel a little overwhelmed, she knows just what to do and say to make me become grounded again, re-focus, and keep learning. Not everyone can do that.

Part of my confidence with the June performance is that Christina has -- over the last ten years running Salsa Caliente -- taken beginners and turned them into performers. She has a keen eye to see where you need to improve … she tailors routines to your level … and seems to find that certain place in you that just believes in the power of salsa to transform you body, mind and soul.

And the woman works HARD. Teaching a variety of salsa styles (New York style, LA style), other Latin dances (bachata, rumba), and other styles as the interest arises in our community. She teaches and performs in a top performance team, which tours internationally every year, competing amidst the world‘s top salsa dancers. She trains local teams who put on showcases in Victoria, young dancers (which helps teens build their self-esteem), and ongoing classes for the beginner, intermediate and advanced salsa students.

Her performance teams are encouraged to attend weekly social dance nights and pair up with everyone. There is no ego among her dancers, just a desire to help build the Latin dance community. They also give back to the community in myriad ways.

And I have THIS great woman teaching little ‘ol me 2-3 mornings a week from 8-9:30am. Wow. Talk about feel blessed by the Universe.

I would highly recommend checking out Christina's salsa classes: www.calientedance.com
You will have a blast!

From one young woman to another, I salute you, girl. You truly ARE a salsa goddess!!!

*That gorgeous top left photo isn't mine. Photo credit: Jim Hadley of ExperienceShoes.com*

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The "Salsa Belly"

Today, I learned of something called the "salsa belly" and thank goddess for that, because I was getting concerned.

After six weeks of intense salsa dancing, my body has been getting pretty solid. After all, dance is one of the most athletic things you can do ... cardio, muscles, flexibility, etc. is all activated at once.

My neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back and legs have gotten firm ... and even my friend Kyla suggested bouncing a quarter off my butt to test out its strength (sorry, Ky, couldn't resist! ;) I have more energy ... I have more overall strength ... I finally have good core, and it's helped with general aches and pains that come from a stressful job.

But then ... there is this ... (photo to the right):

Where the hell did THAT come from??!?

**In case you were wondering ... this is NOT a picture of me ... I don't have a pregnant man gut ... I don't wear white undershirts ... and I shaved the grey moustache years ago ...*


I just learned a lot of female salsa dancers end up with a bit of a belly. It's rock solid underneath, but there is still some love handle action if not overhang . Jennifer Lopez has it, too.

I was advised to stop eating bread, pasta and rice ... and just constantly graze and eat healthy snacks throughout the day. Dancing is so demanding and burns so many calories that eating the basic 3 meals a day doesn't cut it. Eat healthy but also allow yourself to snack or else you'll hit the nearest vending machine for a good 'ol Snickers bar. Since I started dancing, I'm famished ALL the time. I eat before the am rehearsal and am eating my lunch by 9:30 am.

My massage therapist -- who has treated dancers over the years -- told me many dance moves tend to make you arch your back, stick out your butt, and so the tummy is more obvious.

The gut arrival was kind of freaking me out ... but I'm happy to finally understand it. The way I see it ... J-Lo helped "real" women embrace the concept of big booty years ago when she hit the scene ... I guess "salsa belly" is the next big thing! And there must be a reason it's called a "love" handle, right? :)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

U Can't Touch This

It was 1990 … and I wasn’t exactly “cool”.

I was that 14-year-old awkward cerebral girl who’d read a book in the cafeteria at lunchtime, while everyone else acted out the teenaged dramas of junior high.

But secretly … every day after school … I’d go home, turn on “Video Hits” recorded from the day before, and learn the choreography to the hits of the day. FLASHBACK: Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation”, Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative”, etc.

It was therapy and a means of self-preservation for a working class geek in a wealthy little New Brunswick bedroom community.

And then … an offer. To be in the Miss Riverview Junior High pageant.

Hell on Earth, you ask? Well, yes, in some ways. But also a chance to liberate me and a few of the other brainiac girls who may not have made the social “cut” amidst the popular kids, but somehow found ourselves preparing to walk across a stage in fancy dresses as if we actually had confidence.

And of course, every little beauty queen must possess a talent. While the other girls prepared beautiful classic songs (Dust in the Wind, Somewhere Over the Rainbow), ballet routines, played instruments, and recited poetry … I had to rely on the only talent I had: basement dancing.

I’m still not quite sure where the shy little 14-year-old Heather Robinson found the confidence, but I spent two months practicing in the basement and learning all of the choreography for … wait for it … MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”. Complete with the huge harem pants and that weird spider-like jittery move across the dance floor. Laugh if you will … but it was 1990 and that song/video was hot, man! J

Finally, pageant night.

My mom’s friend had sewn the fancy dress as well as my MC Hammer outfit (blue silk bolero jacket and bright red harem pants). We went through the fancy dress walk, questions from the judges, and eventually the talent portion of the evening.

A local radio host and a former pageant queen looked at each other and in the dorkiest way possible said: “Do you know what time it is?” “Why, it’s Hammer-time!” … cue the curtains opening to me in a funky pose.

After grooving … doing multiple pelvic tilts at the judges … and getting the crowd on its feet … they eventually crowned me Miss Talent. Wow, what a feeling!



That was one of the last times I performed on a stage by myself … showing my true essence and being completely powerful yet vulnerable in expressing my creativity.

Until June 6th … when the circle completes … I can’t wait!!


*Note: This would have been a beautiful little tale if it ended there … but although the ugly duckling turned into the swan in one night … it also led to a year of bullying by girls, prank phone calls telling me “you never should have won Miss Talent”, and being ostracized yet again by the “cool” kids. Yes, it hurt, but deep down I knew that on at least one night as a teenager … the debating geek had walked away with a tiara. So … na-na-na-na-na!


Saturday, April 4, 2009

La Musica

I have it playing in my car.

I have it playing on my stereo at home.

I have it playing in my head … constantly.

And that is probably why today, I got busted casually dancing down an empty hall of the legislature.

I mean, it was five o’clock on a Friday … the place was dead empty … it was finally sunny out … I was excited for the weekend … and that awesome friggin’ song from our Stars on Stage routine was blasting in my head …

And I couldn’t help it … I had to move! I could feel the pull from the Earth like roots under my feet. I could feel Universal crown energy lifting from the sky. I just had to do a little “Suzy Q” move … and the “cigarette” move that for some reason took me about a week to finally get.

And … I started to groove as I was leaving the building.

I have no idea where they came from but all of a sudden I heard loud clapping and cat calls that broke my reverie and made me feel like a tool. It was some commissionaires who were just doing a security check … and found me. :)

I turned beet red, laughed, said something self-deprecating (as per usual) and then went back to hearing la musica in my head … and then when I got into the car … and then when I got home …

******************

It’s a neat feeling to listen to a song in a different language (Spanish) and to actually “know” the song. What I mean is when you listen and know mid-song exactly what dance moves you’re supposed to be doing. When you can visualize the routine … the hits, the breaks, all of the amazing rhythms … damn, I’m loving this!!

A Minor Kink

For five weeks now, Charles, Christina and I have been getting up at the crack of dawn, spending about an hour and a half before work to practice choreography to get Charles and I ready to perform on June 6th.

Christina was told there would be three “sides” … basically three sides of the square where the audience will be seated. THAT is what I have been learning and finally starting to feel confident about.

But now we learn that there will be audience on all four sides (true ballroom style), and the lengths of the staging area will be different from what we have been rehearsing.

SO … it means some changes. It may not sound like a big deal … but it can be. When dancing, you develop muscle memory … your body has done a certain step, a certain way so many times that it’s ingrained in you.

The biggest issue is that while the other dancers will have 12 weeks to rehearse … I will have 8 weeks.

I’m hitting the road on April 13th to cover the provincial election campaign. I’ll be based in Vancouver and travelling on both the Liberal and NDP busses for four very intense weeks, so that means no salsa rehearsals. I’m hoping to take a few classes in Vancouver to keep in shape … and hopefully I can ferry over to practice if I get a random Saturday or Sunday off. But the pressure is on.

I have one more week to practice with “the breakfast club” (the 6:30am risers) … a month away … and then I come back for about 3 weeks until the performance.

Christina and Charles both say we will be able to do it. They have years of experience and an international reputation. And so … I will believe them and trust that we will rock the show on the 6th. But I am planning to have a blast, smile a lot, and hoochie-mama things up if need be … so that you won’t catch if I miss a step or two. ;)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Salsa: Support for Shy Guys


For years, my mother has been telling me to stop going for the outwardly dynamic, charismatic guys ...

She said I need to look at the guys just behind them ... the ones who are kind of shy, perhaps a little bit awkward, but who will demonstrate more kindness and life passion than the ones who have to show it off. (I think she was talking about when she first met my Dad when they were 19). :)

I'm discovering this to be true of those attracted to salsa. It is an incredible outlet for the shy, awkward, and even self-defined dorky guys to learn to be physical with a person, to have to step up and lead a partner, and to not feel weird about being sensual. After all, when they show you the steps and tell you to shake your hips ... well, you shake your hips ... and the best part: nobody laughs at you.

Some of the nicest guys I have met through salsa are self-proclaimed nerds. A lot who work in computer science, engineering ... very cerebral and technical fields they say doesn't allow a lot of room for creativity and sensuality. In comes salsa ... and these guys have a place to shine.

And what a liberating experience for women, too! Because -- at least at Cafe Casablanca -- you can dance and laugh with lots of different people and never feel like someone is going to cop a feel or ogle you. For me, it's like going to a gay bar, except that the guys want to dance with ME! ;)

It's a fascinating socio-anthropological observation: a guy who WON'T strut down the street and put on the ego-centric "dude" charms with the ladies ... can turn into a gentle yet charismatic prince on the dance floor. I've seen it happen with a lot of guys in the classes and at social dancing ... hmmm ... maybe Mom was onto something.

See ... everybody wins at salsa. Come and check it out!

Beginner class followed by social dancing at 8:30pm on Saturdays at Cafe Casablanca.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

He's Just a Love Machine



WANTED:


SWF (33) seeking dance partner for social dancing, weddings, and late night “jammies-with-feet” parties. Must demonstrate natural talent. Funky head bobbing an asset. Hair is optional. Please send video of your skills.


RESPONSE:

SWB (4 months) with a big belly (breast milk, not beer, please) and a big heart. Can demonstrate mean head tilt to disco/funk music. Dancing runs in my genes ... sometimes poop runs in my other jeans. Can bring mommy to wipe my drool and change my diaper. Video attached.


video

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hitting a Wall

They warned me it was going to happen.

That at some point in learning the choreography, I would hit a wall ... that my brain would turn to mush ... that I would forget how to put one foot in front of the other.

They said it could hit me at the 1 minute mark of the routine, the 2 minute mark ... everyone is different. Sure, sure, I replied ... no worries (because I was picking things up pretty well).

And then it happened. During yesterday's rehearsal, I turned into a total spazz.

I couldn't remember any of the cool footwork we spent an hour working on the day before. I had to go over and over and over it again, first without music, and then with music, and then without music again but slower so I could master it. I got dizzy after each spin. I could barely even speak. I felt like I had never danced before. It was ... weird.

Admittedly, I was a bit distracted. I haven't gotten much sleep recently, and we just found out CBC was cutting 800 jobs across the country. And I guess it all just hit me. And it was a hard rehearsal. And waking up at 6:30am to go to the studio isn't enough ... time to step up my game.


I have videotaped Charles and Christina doing the full routine so I can have a full visual of how it should look. I will put the music from our routine on my IPod and in the car. And a great suggestion was to listen to the music while lying in bed at night, visualizing the routine. And then sleeping with those thoughts.


I am also going to buy a big mirror and practice in my jammies and salsa shoes every night. :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Taking the Lead

It was my first hurdle in learning to salsa dance: letting a man lead.

Let’s face it, when you’re a career woman in your 30s who has lived alone for years … you get used to assembling your own furniture, changing your own tire, paying the mortgage (or you call your Dad in New Brunswick for advice). A man does not “lead” you.

But it doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be open to someone offering to HELP put the furniture together, holding the spare tire while you work the crank (that‘s what it‘s called, right?), or even deciding to choose the restaurant for a change … that is the “manning-up” part of modern heterosexual courtship and relationships that I argue is influx.

When you hit the dance floor, all of those modern diatribes become tested, particularly in a dance style like salsa.

I’ll admit I didn’t really know what “letting a man lead” meant until it was put into practice. It’s not about a man bossing a woman around the dance floor … it is up to him to offer the woman his hand … and the woman has the choice whether or not to take it.

Consequently, while HE is the one who decides the next move (be it a spin, a lift, a copa, etc.), for it all to work, he has to be CLEAR in his signals. He has to be communicative. He has to be firm yet gentle. And he has to make sure that whatever happens, she is not dropped.

Kind of a metaphor for love, n’est-ce pas?

I think something happened with my generation of men and while this is not a criticism (well hell, yeah ok … it IS a criticism) … I would argue that many women are still waiting for some of this generation's men to “man up”. Be clear in your signals. Be communicative. And for god's sake, don’t drop her.

And maybe even … dare I say it …? “Lead” once in a while.

******************
"Dancing's just a conversation between two people. Talk to me."

Ahh, what a beautiful quote from the romantic movie "Hope Floats". But if only it were so simple. After all, ever wonder why they call it the "dance" of love when referring to the confusion around modern love and courtship? Sometimes, I truly wish I could just hear the words, "Just dance. Put on your red shoes and dance ..." (Bowie) and not have to worry about the rest ...

Avoidance or Soul Survival?

I can hear it in their voices ... and in the silence that follows .. when I tell my dear friends and colleagues:

"No, I won't be listening to CBC's big town hall announcement tomorrow that is expected to lay off up to a thousand people in one fell swoop.

"Instead, I will be in the salsa studio, rehearsing, smiling, and basically focussing on all that is life-affirming right now."

They are shocked. And some are a little pissed ... that a TV journalist who has always loved the public broadcaster is actually missing out what is potentially one of the most significant announcements in the CBC's history.

What happens tomorrow could change the face and future of the CBC forever.

Hundreds of respected friends and colleagues could be sacked.

It could even be me.

But if I actually looked at the reality of the situation facing us -- and our industry as a whole -- I'd get pretty depressed.

And so, at 8:45am PT when every CBC employee across the country tunes in to hear what will become of us ...

I will not.

I will be heating up a chilly dance studio with Charles and Christina ...

Trying to finesse the fancy new footwork we learned today ...

Learning to "let go" even more so that Charles can flip/twist/twirl me in the air ...

And I will be smiling ... and having the time of my life.

Because regardless of what happens tomorrow ... regardless of the future of my career, my friends' careers, and the public broadcaster I love so much ... I will be okay. I am young, I am healthy, and I am not afraid of hard work.

Avoidance? Perhaps. The healthiest thing I can do for my soul? Absolutely.

But I'll admit that when our names are announced at the big "Stars on Stage" show on June 6th ... I truly hope that I'm still introduced as "Heather Robinson, CBC Televison Reporter".

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Glimpse Inside Rehearsal


Just a little glimpse inside one of our recent 8am salsa rehearsals.

This is just a little teaser ... we don't want to give away all of the surprises.

Needless to say, this dance is a bit of a battle of wills between the man who wants his woman to dance with him ... and the woman who'd rather just flirt with him ... and then with the audience.

Who will win the battle ...? Come to the show on June 6th to find out! ;)