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On Friday I reach the end of 40 Days to Personal Revolution, the yoga program that has been a big part of my life for the past 6 weeks (read all about it here). As I come out of this incredible experience, I reflect on how I will move forward from here.

The “revolution” part of the 40 days was not what I thought it would be. Basically, I’d had this vague idea that I would lose a lot of weight and get totally buff, all while becoming a more chilled out person in the process– pretty much in that order. As for the weight, I haven’t lost any. Not one pound. Not one-half of a pound. As for the buffness, I am happy to report that this expectation has come to fruition. I have some pretty nice tone and defininition around my shoulders, upper arms, and back that I have never had before. And if I poke my finger through the thick layer of fat on my derriere, there’s a nice solid gluteus maximus in there.

As for the chill factor, that two has happened, but in much more specific ways than I could have ever predicted. Having a new relaxation and centering tool (meditation) is a great new tool in my arsenal for getting through difficult moments or fending off anxiety. On a more global level, my priorities have shifted a little. I no longer feel like I have to do it all. If  I miss out on something ‘extra’ in favor of spending time chatting with a friend, visiting family, or just relaxing with a book or enjoying the weather outside, so be it. I see the benefit of not being so overscheduled and I appreciate that taking time to enjoy these little, yet most important things in life, enrich my life much more than that extra class or workshop or seminar or networking event ever could.

As I come out of the program, I will come back to dance. But things will be different. I will continue to do yoga more frequently (probably 3-4 days a week rather than the 6 I have been doing), while gradually re-integrating dance into my life. I will probably pick up a little on the blogging, but I will not feel pressure to write any more often than comes naturally to me. This blog is not a means to an end. It is simply an outlet for me to process and share the thoughts and joys that dance brings to me. Rather than “moving on” with my life, I am simply moving forward, taking with me the additional gifts I have been given.

I have taken a brief sabbatical from dance. Earlier this spring, I decided that it was time to get my life into greater balance. At the beginning of the year, I committed to taking better care of myself and to slowing down a little. So the timing was perfect when my yoga studio opened registration for 40 Days to Personal Revolution, a program created by Baron Baptiste (of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, the style that I practice).

I consulted Mr. P and some close friends to see if I was crazy to consider doing yoga for 40 days straight. Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea as long as I was willing to making it a priority in my life. I would have to step back from a lot of my usual pastimes and commitments for the duration of the program. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it, so I registered away. I told my family and friends I was going to do it, and increased the frequency of my yoga practices to gear up for it.

Then, on what was supposed to be day 1, I got a call from the studio: only five people had registered for the program, not enough to go through with it, and they were rescheduling it to early summer. Did I want to go ahead and wait, or just get my money back? I was crestfallen. I had been so excited about doing this, and was incredibly committed to seeing it through; there was no telling where my life would be in two months. After sleeping on an idea from Mr. P I called the studio and asked them if I could still have the discounted rate on the unlimited yoga classes and do the program on my own (which they agreed to). Yay me!

The way the program works (I am following Baptiste’s book to structure the program as I do it solo) is you do yoga six days a week with one day off. You meditate every day, journal,  and bring more balance into your diet. I had never meditated before, and luckily you start off gradually, with just five minutes the first week, and working up to thirty in five minute increments by the sixth and final week. The diet portion is not too prescriptive, with just a page or two each week reminding you to incorporate more fruits, veggies and whole ingredients into your diet. Nothing too “out there,” save the three-day fruit fast in week four (more on that later).

So here I am on day 24– how am I faring? Read the rest of this entry »

The NYT’s ArtsBeat Blog asked artists to comment on how the recession is affecting them. It is a fascinating read.

Common themes:

  • Artists are poor to begin with so they didn’t have much to lose.
  • Recessions are good for lesser known artists because the focus on high-priced works produced for rich patrons has decreased. People buy what they can afford and artists produce less for the sake of pandering.
  • For-profit creative industries (i.e., graphic designers, vs independent artists) are being hurt the most.
  • Those that have a day job are counting their blessings.
  • The NYT Arts Beat Blog is a great place for self promotion (just look at all the website links and full names people signed their comments with).
credit: J-Rad, flickr

credit: J-Rad, flickr

Now I want to know from you: How is the recession affecting dance? The economic impact on companies is evident, but how is the down turn affecting the creative process?

My dear regular readers, you may be asking, “Speaking of the recession, what’s up with your blog? does the lack of posts in the last bunch of weeks mean you’re being affected by the downturn as well?” First of all, we are a volunteer operation here so nope, no impact. If I were unemployed, you can bet I’d be posting a lot more! There are two factors at play:

  • I am grateful for my secure job and perhaps because of that– and an increased workload– have been spending more time and effort on it.
  • I am participating in a 40 day yoga program (today is day 24), so I’ve been dancing very little. I’m halfway done with a post about the experience, so stay tuned!

I don’t often dance at home, beyond a little freestyle grooving simply because of my space constraints. Mr P and I live in an 800 square foot one’bedroom apartment. If you do anything involving a fast-moving extended appendage, you are bound to get hurt.

I found this out the hard way when I dislocated my big toe last year, and because of that I have been very reticent to dance at home. Which is a shame, because today I was moved to dance at home again and really enjoyed it. I treated my space constraints as part of the challenge, so although I was improvising, one of my rules was that I had to stay within a rather narrow box.

After getting warmed up, I decided to videotape myself improvising as I have not done so in a while and was curious to see what I looked like. There are certain areas of my technique where I am feeling much more secure. I have a much better handle on my center, so things like back attitude turns are getting easier for me. This also increased my sense of security in terms of controlling my movements and not hitting furniture.

After reviewing the tape and being both appalled and impressed by certain moments, I took out pen and paper and wrote down the things that I liked and the areas where I should improve. I’m happy to report that the number things I like far outweighed the things I didn’t. The areas for improvement tended to be more general, such as mastering better control over the line of my arms and hands and getting a little more graceful against gravity. The things I liked tended to be certain sequences of moves and qualities of movement. Overall that tells me that my technique is finally starting to get to a place where I can admire the overall outcome rather than saying, “well at least I had good balance on that releve.”

This exercise also inspired me to think about trying my hand at choreography again. It’s amazing the beautiful things my body can do when I’m not thinking about it. When I just let myself go and interpret the music, allowing my body to follow in new and interesting ways, lovely things come out.

Nichelle at Dance Advantage asks the question: What has dance taught you about life? Go here to add your voice to the discussion.

As the news media have widely reported, Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia Obama all attended last night’s sold-out performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

While the time-out from stimulus package dealings got a little flack, the President’s dancer in chief (and chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel seemed to have things under control. But here’s why I’m giddy with excitement– the President and his family have announced their commitment to being an active part of the DC community and in showcasing the best our culture has to offer. Now they are making good on that promise. Am I getting ahead of myself dreaming that the ‘Obama effect’ will extend to increased patronization of the arts?

The ‘Obama effect’ I refer to is that the President’s cache` is so great that many people want to be a part of what he is a part of. I can just imagine more shows selling out around town in the hopes the President (or other luminaries such as mother in law Marian Robinson or Second Lady Dr.  Jill Biden, who attended Ailey a few evening earlier) will be there too. And in the process maybe some folks will get an appreciation for experiencing the arts.

There’s no word yet on how this sudden elevation of the arts in Washington might translate to policy. The idea of a Secretary of Arts has been thrown around (see related discussion, including my thoughts on the matter at Dancing Perfectly Free). Increased funding for arts in education, museums, and artists is always something being pushed for. Personally, I’d love to see a WPA-type creation of jobs for artists in the economic stimulus.

Policies aside, let’s celebrate the fine example the White House is setting as a patron of the arts. The Obamas also demonstrate that exposing your kids to the arts at a young age is appropriate and beneficial.

ABT dancer Nicola Curry’s new studio was featured in The New York Times Real Estate section (via Apartment Therapy).

One feature that I think is universally appealing to dancers is hardwood floors. Even though the studio is small, Curry seems to have left some empty floor space, just enough to do some stretching or practice in place.

One thing that’s frustrated me about being a renter in Northern Virginia is the severe shortage of housing with wood floors. If I have to live in another apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting I’ll go crazy.

I am not usually big on new year’s resolutions, but 2008 was kind of a long tough year so I’m welcoming the chance to turn over a new leaf. Instead of calling it my list of resolutions, I’m going to call it my 2009 Action Plan. Making vague promises to myself (i.e., gotta lose that weight and make it to the gym more) only sets me up for failure.

2008 was hard on many fronts. For one, it was a difficult year for the world. We had so many natural and human disasters. Senseless wars dragged on and death tolls continued to mount. Certain toxic elements in my workplace made it hard for me to be there many days. Then there was the presidential campaign, which lasted two years. I threw myself into a lot of projects and commitments in 2008. Three dance performance commitments– two of them incredibly time intensive, a whole lot of travel (mostly for work), and a full-time volunteer commitment on top of my more-than-full-time job for three months this fall. All of these thigns were worthwhile and important, but sometimes I sacrificed myself along the way. When you’re that busy and invested in something, you tend not to focus on your own needs very much.

This year is already off to an auspicious start. The toxic element is out of the way at work and I feel a thousand times better. Our political climate is changing– we have a new President that for the first time in a decade I feel I can claim as ‘my’ president. I invested a lot of my own time and emotional energy in getting him elected and feel personally invested in his success. It is so nice to feel hope for my country’s future. And thank god the campaign is over; we also have a nice newly proportioned Congress to show for it.

2009 will be a year in which I nurture myself; and that in turn will make me a better friend and spouse.

In 2009, I will limit my performance commitments to two. That’s one less than 2008, and it will give me some more space to pay attention to my own development. I will also have more flexibility with my time.

In 2009, I will live a more spontaneously. When I am moved to buy a ticket or take a trip, I will, budget permitting. I have a lot of extra vacation to use this year, so time is not an issue. I will take a trip to NYC before the end of the Spring.

I will make the time to spend more time with my husband and my friends. We will welcome more people into our home (mission accomplished– we had our first dinner party in at least a year or two on New Years Eve). To do this, I’ll have to learn to say no to some commitments that I might otherwise have taken on.

Each time I am moved to say something negative, complaining, or nagging, I will count to three before I open my mouth.

Oh, and one final boring one (because it’s something I’ve actually been able to stick to): I will floss every day.

So that’s my list. No mention of diet and exercise, because if I really stay true to the above, the rest will follow.

What about your 2009 Action Plan?

Today’s All Things Considered on NPR had a wonderful story by Jacki Lyden on Parkinson’s and dance. Each week, the Mark Morris dance company holds a class for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

One thing that I learned from the story is that Parkinson’s affects one’s ability to initiate voluntary movement; while involuntary movement is largely unaffected. For example, you would be able to catch a ball because it is a reflexive action, but you might not be able to initiate the movement of your arm to throw it back.

Mark Morris thinks that dance tricks the mind and body into moving, as the repetitive movements in dance can eventually become involuntary, as are one’s mindless reactions to the beat of a familiar song, or copying the movement of an instructor or classmate. Although there is not any definitive scientific research yet to link dance to improvement in Parkinson’s symptoms, the anecdotal results of the class are so strong that Mark Morris was invited to speak at a neuroscientists’ convention.

You can listen to this excellent story (which has a lovely background audio of the class), read a summary, and see photos from the class here.

While my salsaholic days are long over (going out dancing at least 2-3 times a week), and I am lucky if I make it out once a month, salsa is still an important part of my life.

Salsa is an old, familiar friend to me. Going out on a week night, I just have to grab my shoes, make sure I look halfway presentable, and go to the club. Salsa doesn’t even really require a warm up. The walk from the car to the door will do it.

Salsa is one of the few things in my life where I’m able to be truly present in the moment. I don’t have to think about anything other than being right there in the moment with my partner. Just like riding a bike, no matter how long my absence has been, the steps come automatically to me, as do the minute weight shifts and flourishes. It’s fun and I can bring whatever style or attitude to the table that I brought with me that night.

Salsa will always put a smile on my face. Sometimes it makes me feel fun, flirty, sensual, and sassy. Sometimes it makes me feel light and graceful. Sometimes it just feels as nice as hanging out with an old friend. It’s thanks to her I really fell in love with dancing in the first place. By now, I know I will always have salsa; and salsa will always have me.

…is grabbing a table in the perfect September sun on the Woodrow Wilson Plaza to listen to live salsa by Verny Varela and his orchestra. Even better than dessert…a post prandial dance. Trust me, it makes your day sooo much better (and is much better for you). Your TPS reports won’t look so bad after that.

Live! on Woodrow Wilson Plaza: noon-1:30 pm, Monday-Friday, June-September. Totally free and another reason to love DC.

…is taking an impromptu Sunday road trip to the beach with my friends from said dance class. Dance has given me so much more than itself.

I’m going through a time when there are priorities in my life that compete with dance; that at this time are more important than dance. I’m still dancing, but I’m not aggressively pursuing improvement or perfection. I know I will go back to dancing more when this period is over. My body’s a little mad at me. There are more aches and stiffness. I’m a little pudgier. Maybe a little lazier, physically. Less inspired to write about dance.

There is so much at stake in this election. If I’m not doing what I can to get rid of cynicism, mean-spritedness, and wasteful spending (I’m talking about an unnecessary, expensive foreign occupation, the public expense of having so many of our citizens uninsured, and tax loopholes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations), I will regret that I did not do what I could. There will always be a time to dance in the in between times and when this election is over.

I am back from vacation and am starting to get back in the swing of things– this blog included. I really appreciate the comments you all left and I apologize for not responding to them earlier. I finally had a chance to read through them and respond tonight. I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten up two new posts (make this three) and I have more on the way, including a wrapup of the “my first musical” series.

As for my blogroll, I’m not even going to try to catch up on the last two months but would really appreciate it if anyone wants to call my attention to any interesting things they’ve seen or to brag on something you’ve written yourself.

New dance adventures await me this fall, and not even I know what they are yet, but I look forward to sharing them with you!

I never would have dreamed when I started this blog that I could be an inspirational to anyone. After all, I am but an amateur dancer with no particular great ability, just a love for doing it. Over the course of keeping this blog, I’ve gotten some very nice comments from readers, but this one, from Romy in Lebanon, takes the cake:

“Dear Maria, i just fell upon your blog tonight by accident, i wasn’t even researching dance topics on the internet. Though funny enough, the topic has been in the back of mind for a couple of days now. See, i am in my mid twenties, i have already majored in computer animation, and now i find myself aching to pick up dancing seriously. A childhood dream. I visited paris to see if i can start there, and everyone around me, including universities told me the same thing you were saying, that i late. That completely discouraged me, and now seeing your blog and reading your story was a breath of fresh air. Could i really still start dancing? i am really an amateur. Is it a beautiful world after all, even when you pick it up seriously? I am bookmarking your blog, and will start reading your posts one by one. Hope you will be the Sign for me as i feel it might be. Keep it up Maria.”

I believe that inspiration is not in the greatness of your acts but in giving some voice or hope to someone that sees a part of themselves in you. It has always been my goal to find meaning in everything I do. Just writing for myself gives me enough meaning, but to know that I’ve affected others makes my heart feel very full. Thanks so much to Romy and my other readers that have given me this gift!!

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