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. :)


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".


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 ...!