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:
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*

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. ;)