New Year’s Eve

I’ve never been much of a Christmas person, but I’ve always had an interest in New Year’s Eve for some reason.

I’m not quite sure why it is — possibly because of the promise of self-reinvention that seems to accompany it, or perhaps because of that old adage I heard years ago that however you spend your New Year’s Eve is indicative of how you spend the rest of your year.

That last part is so delightfully “When Harry Met Sally” and it appeals to the romantic in me. If I could only design the perfect night, with the perfect person to smooch at the stroke of 12! Guaranteed bliss for 2013!

But life doesn’t always work out quite that cleanly. When I look back to last year, I spent New Year’s Eve stressed about my job and commuting to St. Louis to perform with the phenomenal Beggar’s Carnivale. The man I kissed at the stroke of 12 didn’t end up being the Harry to my Sally, and later on we parted ways. I lost many people I hold close due to death and it hardened me for awhile.  I got a new job midway through the year, and I began pursuing new leads and branching out to work with new dancers and learn new styles.

I learned a lot, I endured a lot, and I emerge at the end of this year a little battle-worn and scarred but pleased with the work I’ve done so far. I feel much more focused on what I want, and more driven to create the year I want to live.

I go into this New Year’s Eve negotiating contracts, trying to be a smarter and more driven dancer. This show will be the largest show I’ve performed in and is proving to be a lot of work — in addition to belly dance, I’ll be dancing back-up for Bollywood celebrity, which is a bit daunting. But I’m so ready for the challenge.

I’m going into this year prioritizing my health and my training. I’ve been working hard these past few months, and I want to enter the new year with momentum as opposed to getting the ball rolling beginning January 1.

And I can’t really afford to NOT prioritize these things, since in the first three months of 2013, I already have I have 3 out-of-town dance trips planned, 15 Chicago shows confirmed and 2 being solidified, and a TV appearance on the docket.

It’s gonna be one hell of a year…

Hires, Pliers, and Nose Rings

She screwed her eyes tight, shutting out the light, trying to shut out
the realization…

SNAP.

“There. Take a look.”

She opened her eyes.

Blue eyes she didn’t recognize stared dully back into her own. It was
a cleverly painted face, individuality concealed under a thick
shellack of conservative pale foundation, Feminine and Sexy all
covered up with non-offensive and subtle tones. Nondescript earrings
and a slick, severe bun, meant to be noticed and then promptly
forgotten… Gingerly, she fished the broken half of her nose ring from
her face. The empty hole glared at her.

Her eyes dropped to her suit: pressed, starched, crisp, corporate
and fresh from its plastic garment bag. She didn’t know the child in
this costume, this bland business face…

His arm around her shoulders jolted her out of her reverie. “You look
so grown-up!” he said with a proud laugh, his smiling face appearing
behind hers in the mirror.

She turned to her father, holding the wire cutters in his hand and the
other half of her nose ring.

Déjà vu hit her in the form of another face, another tool, another
state, and another state of mind…

***

A dusting of freckles lay sprinkled across her tanned nose, and her
face was screwed up in a look of intense concentration, willing the
pliers not to slip…

There.

She stepped back to survey the results. She turned her head from side
to side, examining her nose ring that she had just pinched closed, her
uncontrollable curls fanning out in all directions. It was July in
South Carolina, and the heat hung on the air like a shroud… any
attempt to control her hair was simply an exercise in futility.

She sighed and smoothed her vintage apron over her cloth skirt.

Kind of a wild outfit, but what the hell. Fashion is negligible, I’m living amongst a damn circus, she thought wryly.

The thought made her breath catch in her throat for a moment.

I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m so lucky. I’m so
damn lucky…

***

“—Lucky.”

“Huh?”

“Spacing out already, nice. Try not to do that in your interview,” he kidded.

“Sorry,” she said, forcing a grin, “I was a million miles away for a
minute there.”

“I said, ‘You sure are lucky.’ I can’t believe you got an interview
in Chicago in a field you’re not experienced in,” he said, shaking his head. He clapped her on the shoulder. “Welcome to the working world.”

With a teasing grin and another shake of his head, he headed for the
garage, wire cutters and the twisted metal remnants of a gypsy
identity she knew and loved in hand.

“I just wish I knew what I was working toward,” she said to the empty
house and the warring factions of her mind.

Altars

I came from a country where for many people, Easter is a commercial holiday that gives people an excuse to hard-boil some eggs, gorge on chocolate, and rediscover that Peeps (even in small quantities) really are a terrible idea.

In Málaga, things are different.

There are four to six parades daily – I repeat, DAILY – to honor Jesus and the Virgin Mary. There are marching bands and soldiers decked in their full gear. Women march in black dresses and veils to symbolize their mourning, and hundreds of people march dressed as Nazareños, people from Nazareth (wearing tunics that are very jarring to watch as an American, since they are reminiscent of the garb worn by Klu Klux Klan members).

If it rains, the parades are canceled. “If that happens, you will see grown men cry in the streets,” one of my English students warned me when describing how passionately this celebration is practiced in Southern Spain and how devastating it is to lose the ability to carry out the ritual.

But by far the most important custom practiced during Semana Santa is the carrying of altars. Usually around 100 men carry two massive and ornate altars – one for Jesus, one for Mary – on their necks and shoulders, swaying back and forth as they carry the heavy weight down the street. It is such an important part of Semana Santa that when a cholera outbreak crippled the population in 1759 and left too few healthy men to carry the altars, a group of inmates actually escaped from prison to carry the sacred statues — and also willingly turned themselves in after the procession (and interestingly enough, to this day one prisoner is pardoned every Semana Santa as a tribute).

I noticed that many of the Semana Santa rituals — wearing black, carrying a heavy load, dressing in traditional clothing — have one goal in mind — to foster empathy by relying on the power of shared experience. Regardless of what faith you subscribe to (if any), I dare you not to be affected when you see hundreds of people coming together to willingly carry a heavy and ornate altars on their necks and shoulders. I thought about what a powerful symbol it truly was.

Because we all are shouldering our own personal altars, aren’t we? Some are monuments to perpetual worry, piled higher daily with verbal bricks from a mental narrator. Some create shrines for ego, interested only in the people willing to add more to an already gaudy, overdeveloped structure. Some people put a particular lifestyle up on a pedestal; some opt for people. Some create altars to lovers, to jobs, to children, to pets.

I’m not always happy with the monuments I create for myself. I start with a framework of unreasonable expectation and worry and then slowly invest my time, energy, money, and passion into structures that I’m not comfortable carrying.

But I’ll continue to rebuild, remap, rework, and retry…

Happy Easter!

Gypsy Life: ¡Viva España!

Fiona Apple once sang, “But I’m good at being uncomfortable, so I can’t stop changing all the time.”

A few weeks ago, I decided to leave St. Louis, put in my two weeks, move out of my apartment overnight, couch surf through mover’s limbo with all my shit and Little Orange Cat (creativity abound in that name, I know…), drive home to Illinois, and it’s finally starting to hit me that I’m leaving for Spain TOMORROW.

Life has been so insane the past few weeks that I haven’t really had time to just sit down and even think about moving… again. I just moved to St. Louis this past August, and now I’m moving to Spain for three months with a rusty grasp of Spanish, no real thought of how I’m going to make money, and not knowing anyone but my sister.

Still, it’s the right move for me. It really is. Fiona hit the nail on the head, and I am a full-blown change addict. It didn’t help that to me, living in St. Louis was like being being at dinner with someone that you really WANTED to like, but couldn’t help noticing their little dealbreakers the whole damn date (“Jesus, how many times is this guy going to use the word ‘literally’ incorrectly…?”).

I tend to assign colors mentally to towns I’ve spent any real time in — maybe just because I would have loved to have been a painter in some other life. For example, South Carolina was green — everything was new, thriving, and just so alive. I remember my first night outside in Natalie’s backyard, barefoot in the dirt as music cut through the muggy air, fire blazing, people dancing, and I would swear that the air around me was vibrating, ripples of pure energy coursing through me. And it was smacked me in the face — that gratefulness of being exactly where you want to be and knowing that something incredible was just beginning. Something, some seed of a thought, some grain of an idea of what I might really want in my life was planted in me that trip, surrounded by that crazy circus.

Green.

St. Louis was gunmetal grey and brick red. Hard and toughened. People carried that hardness with them in a sense. I remember one time when picking up my friend Sierra downtown when she came into town from Columbia. I watched her run across the sidewalk, in a classic Sierra outfit (a hot pink jacket and pink boots), she sat down in my car and immediately said, “Wow, I wore the wrong thing for St. Louis.”

St. Louis just isn’t pink.

I’m not knocking St. Louis. From what I saw in my brief time there, St. Louis is filled with really good people who work hard and stay grounded. I appreciate that there are people pushing to expand the art scene on several different fronts. I met some people there that have had such a profound impact on me and how I’m moving forward in my life… I Don’t Know if they realize how much they’ve changed me.

But the longer I lived there, I noticed that while St. Louis is a city with lots of potential, but many people I met described landing here by chance and getting stuck in a sense. A lot of people affectionately joked with me that St. Louis was a bit of a black hole for travelers. It’s uncomplicated to live there — good people, cheap expenses, etc. It’s an easy city that is hard to leave.

It was easy for me to live there, but not good for me. I didn’t have to work hard, so I didn’t. I didn’t want to make decisions about my life, so I didn’t. I look back on my time in St. Louis and have regrets.

I feel like I have learned all that I can from living in places and waiting for life to happen to me. When I go to Spain, I’m going to study flamenco. I’m going to figure out how to live there comfortably. I’m going to absorb the culture and every experience I can squeeze out of this. I’m going to surrender to the fact that while I might hate structure and loathe routine, it really could advance me.

I cannot wait to go to Spain and refocus on what I love to do, my passion, my art… dance. I cannot wait to feel alive again, I’ve been hibernating far too long and I’m ready to thrive.

Here goes…