Well, I have a lot of imagination

An ex once told me that I had so much imagination that I didn’t even need TV for entertainment.

He was probably right.

Tonight in class, we wrapped up with this jam from Marc Anthony’s new CD. (no video available yet, so this is audio only)

After taking my turn to have my technique critiqued by my instructor, I grabbed my virtual microphone and started singing along. She turned off the music right as I draped myself across the piano in the back of the room. My dance partner said, “um, you interrupted her flow.” My instructor replied, “I interrupted her what?”

“You interrupted my video shoot!”

So then she tells the class, “this is what I like about Heidi. She imagines herself breaking it down. [Instructor shakes her hips from side to side] Boom! Pow! You have to see yourself dancing before you can do it!” Sometimes I get points for goofing off.

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Ola Lisboa!

File this one under ‘what in the world am I doing?’

I arrived in Lisboa this morning to a beautiful sunrise and clear blue skies. I am here to attend the Afro Fever dance conference. As some of the dances that I enjoy were born and or grew up in former Portuguese colonies (Angola, Cabo Verde, etc), they are wildly popular here in Lisboa. I wanted to experience mature dancers and world-class teachers (some of whom I’ve met in Seattle), so I planned a trip to visit Portugal.

I have a really bad habit of sleeping very little before I travel, and this trip was no exception. I slept about three hours before heading to the airport and then off-and-on during the journey. I was totally pooped when I arrived.

Fortunately, the Zuza Bed & Breakfast folks totally took care of me and let me rest in one room while preparing the room that I rented. I have great luck with guesthouses. Carlos helped me to plan an itinerary for this evening and provided a power plug adaptor so that I didn’t have to buy one. They also provide a local mobile phone, so that I can call for help if I have a question or am in trouble (Carlos assured me, “my brother is a police officer, and if you call me, I will be right behind you in a few minutes.”)

I accidentally slept until 6pm (oh boy, jet lag) and then cleaned myself up to go out in to the world. I tried to memorize the map as I hate pulling it out in public – I don’t want to be the world’s easiest mark. The Zuza B&B is up on a hill overlooking Lisboa. It is a beautiful landscape that I can see from the window in my room. I walked down to Roccio Square. A few blocks east, I was able to catch the tram 28. This tram takes a scenic route of Lisboa and is good for looking at architecture as well as people watching. I also found a great lookout point – I didn’t have time to hop off the tram today, but it had a view of some old world buildings lit up by the full moon with a backdrop of the sea. Awesome! I’m going to try to hit this one up tomorrow.

After about 30 minutes riding the tram, I arrived at my destination, Casa do India. This is a cute little restaurant with a good mix of tourists and local. The seating is family style. I sat next to a cute couple (man was Mexican and woman was Spanish) who were having as much trouble with the menu as I was. That was comforting. I knew the basic words but had no idea abut the cooking styles and sauces. I ended up ordering arroz com mariscos and drank a couple of glasses of vinotinto. It was divine! I loved the atmosphere because people were enjoying each other and no one was on a phone.

After dinner, I was off to find some fado music. Carlos had recommended a small tavern near the B&B. He told me, “don’t get there later than 21:00.” I arrived at 21:40 and the place was completely full. Oops! I’ll have to try again on Wednesday.

I made my way back to the B&B along the narrow, cobblestone streets, admiring the tiles that adorn the building facades. This is a charming and romantic place. I’m so glad that I came!

How to hail a taxi pirate

This week I went to the Caribbean in search of some vitamin D. I landed in Punta Cana, Republica Dominicana, where Elaine had scored a time share at the Ocean Beach & Sands Resort for a low, low price.

Kirsten, one of my long-time hermanas, lives in Santo Domingo and was able to sneak away for some R&R with us at the playa.

Ocean Blue is an all-inclusive resort that sits right on the beach at Playa Bavaro. It was a ridiculously beautiful beach with blue, blue water. We sat mostly undisturbed (except for the day we set up camp near the sound system), soaking up the morning rays. The resort has two pools, but I felt that it would be sacrilegious to take a dip in chlorine when God’s pool was just a few feet away.

The resort staff provided us with endless hours of entertainment. I can’t count how many times that they asked me, “how many Dominican boyfriends have you had?” I can imagine that resort work is lucrative in regards to both financial stability as well as physical pleasure. Even if they aren’t getting any, the resort workers can entertain themselves by checking out the topless Europeans.

A couple of the resort workers turned us on to the Shop & Drink, which was a great place to hang out on my last night on the island. After a week of living in a bubble, we skirted off to a liquor store in Bavaro that doubles as a local meet-up and dance joint. We purchased a bottle of Barcelo rum and found seats near the dance floor. We got a taste of salsa, bachata and nine-minute merengue. As I expected, Dominican salsa is a little different than the mambo that I dance at home. Although we were there as ‘guests’ of a Dominican, we stood out like sore thumbs because of our resort wristbands and curly hair (anybody ever heard of a Dominican blowout?). Regardless, it was a very special night for me as 6 December is my one-year anniversary of re-discovering the magic of dance.

We stopped drinking and dancing just short of finishing our bottle of Barcelo. We asked one of the liquor store cashiers to call us a cab and bid our new friends adieu. We were surprised when the waiter escorted us to a black SUV and were even more surprised when we saw our taxista and friend, who were both barely on our side of legal. I was chatting with them, but the conversation was fast and not nearly enough tourist-style Spanish. I’m not going to lie – they were fucking funny. I asked if they were really taxistas, and they explained, “we are casual taxis, some might call us pirates.” Jajaja. We talked some baseball, barely got past the security shack at the resort and exchanged numbers just in case we needed any further assistance on our trip.

I love adventure, especially when it involves friendship, sun and the slight amount of tension created by cross-cultural exchange. I wouldn’t trade in this life for anything!

My bay area getaway

Last weekend, I flew down to Oaktown to attend the 1st Annual Kizomba Zouk Festival. Every time I think of Oaktown, I think of this song…

Awww, an ode to my youth. As a dancer, I especially appreciate the body waves in that video.

The weekend was packed with workshops. I felt like it was a little bit of an appetizer sampler – I got a taste of some new concepts and patterns. The highlights for me were:

  • Eddie Vents and Laury – Eddie says that the music is our master and I totally subscribe to that philosophy. It is difficult to dance when the lead is a slave to patterns rather than an expression of rhythm.
  • Bryon Stroud – damn, do I love Dominican bachata?!? Why, yes, I do! Bryon was a fun instructor who challenged me with footwork but made me walk away with the feeling that I have something new to play with. I just might try to schedule a weeklong bootcamp with this guy in 2013.
  • Sophie de Silva – Rio-style zouk was fun and super sexy. I think Sophie was a little frustrated that there were few zouk dancers attending the festival, but she was a good sport. She also taught Carnaval samba, which was challenging because it is truly an endurance sport. I have to get my lungs and calves in shape this fall so that I can rock this dance!

It was great fun to dance with new leads. I am really working on letting myself follow and I see glimpses of brilliance when the lead and I harmonize our movement. My challenge for kizomba, semba, tarraxinha, zouk and samba is to tune in to the music as much as I can. I am always, always, always listening to salsa and bachata. Oddly enough, dancing opened me up to new styles of salsa that seem to be slightly more rich dance material than Marc Anthony (I still love you, bro!). Listening to music helps me to connect to the instruments and identify breaks. I’ll probably annoy my co-workers, but I am going to be pumping up the jams to acquaint my ears and body with the beats.

My weekend wasn’t all about dance. I actually took time to soak up some vitamin D and walk around Jack London Square. It was a gorgeous weekend and fresh air is just what my body needs.

The side story of the weekend was the Venezuelan election. San Francisco boasts one of a handful of Venezuelan consulates in the US that hosted voting stations for the presidential election. Many of the Venezuelans in the US are presumed to be anti-Chavez, making this an important election as the president serves unlimited 6-year terms. As someone who has visited Venezuela and has experienced just a smidgen of its decline (I was only a tourist, not a resident), I was hopeful for change. I am hopeful for change that will better the safety and security of this nation as well as provide for economic opportunity.

On Saturday night, I stumbled across a strange sight as I walked from the dance studio to the hotel. I was walking with friends and we decided to stop at a deli to grab a sandwich for dinner. As we crossed the street, I spotted a car with a red Che flag on the windshield. Weird. We approached the door of the deli and saw a small room full of people (about 15) wearing red shirts, some with berets. I swear to god that it was a círculo bolivariano meeting on the eve of the election. It was so weird. No one else in my party was up on Venezuelan politics, so they didn’t really understand my shock. We walked away hungry because the deli was closed to the public.

I decided that I would take a ride in to San Francisco on Sunday night to be with the Venezuelan people and celebrate change. I experienced a slight snafu as I got on the wrong train (asked for directions rather than looking at the map) and rode all the way out to Richmond. This might signal defeat for some travelers, but I embraced the fact that I got to see some more colorful characters (as well as a drug deal) on the train from Richmond to San Francisco. The delay did provide time for me to check my phone and see that Chavez won the election by a 10% margin. What the hell?!? I hopped off of the train in the Mission district and strolled in to Pica Pica Maíz Kitchen to find approximately nine sad Venezuelan faces. I felt a twinge of guilt as I enjoyed my arepa filled with pabellón and parchita sangria. I bought a cachapa to go to eat for breakfast on the flight home.

Despite the election results, it was a wonderful weekend for me. I am learning so much about myself through dance and enjoying everything that my body can do. It is pretty amazing!

It’s Wednesday ~ uh, what happened over the weekend?

I jammed all of my music excitement in to one night over the weekend. On Friday, Heavy G and I headed down to Puyallup Fair to see Pitbull. The parking gods were with us and we scored street parking near the fair. We arrived at the stadium at 7:30, right when the music started bumping – this show did not start on Latino time. Pitbull was super smiley and a G.R.E.A.T. dancer. I would love to spend one night of salsa with him. Whew! He had a band (no horns), but most of the tunes seemed to be voice and music over tracks. It was all very flashy, with videos rolling in the background featuring all of his famous collaborators. The odd thing is that most of the songs were only about 1 1/2 minutes as he would do his rap thing and then let the track play through the chorus. I think only ‘I know you want me’, ‘Let it rain over me’ and ‘Tonight’ were played in their entirety. I sort of loved it when he sang ‘Culo’. I also appreciated that the south end crowd stood through the entire show (I hate sitting). The folks standing next to me were cracking me up as they were keeping watch of the time (“he can only play 15 more minutes”) and then had a discussion about how Pitbull says ‘loco’ a lot, which they thought meant crazy. Clearly, they scored complimentary tickets from somewhere.

Oh my, watching that video makes my heart race because I love me some Marc Anthony. Rawr!

After the show, Geri and I grabbed a scone (so delicious) and then headed back to Seattle. I dropped her off and drove down to Belltown to catch up with Brenda, Cata, Ester, Eloise and Alex at the Picoso show. It has been a minute since I’ve seen them play and it was great to sing along to some familiar tunes. Unfortunately, I chose to wore some practical shoes (flats – ick!) that were killing my pinky toe by 12:30ish or so and I decided to go home – boo! I should have just worn some sandals or something, but I thought it might be cold at the fair. 

Overall, it was a great night, but I wished that I could have danced a little bit more. Next time… 

Hip hop hilarity

I took my first (and possibly my last) hip hop class tonight. I would like to think that I could pick this up after a couple of weeks of classes, but I am just not sure.

The instructor is the spitting image of the wolfboy from Twilight. He is a great dancer and kept the class engaged for an hour. I was just looking for something different – I have been trying to find classes that focus on body movements, but we spent an hour learning a 24-count hip hop choreography. I enjoy learning how my body connects to the music, but I felt like I was (awkwardly) just going through the motions. I was not feeling my inner Nicki Minaj (perhaps because it doesn’t exist). There were at least four dancers in the class that looked great performing the routine.

You never know what you will like until you try it. I will file this away as ‘great for someone that enjoys that style of music.’ I might have enjoyed it a teensy bit more if we were gigging to 90’s hip hop.

Next up – Rio-style samba!!

Sunday night chill out

There are some days that I just prefer quiet and solitude. Is my choice fueled at all by hangover? Perhaps. Although I had some rum last night, I think my body is more exhausted from lack of sleep and from pushing my mid-section to the limit.

I met up with Elena and Eloise at Club Sur for the Kaysha show. Kaysha is from the Congo and I was turned on to him by the kizomba crowd. His hits seem to be slow and romantic, both in English and French. This particular show was fun because there was a large contingent of Africans in attendance as well as Seattle kizomber@s. The highlight of the evening for me was when DJ Guelas (Atlanta) pumped it up and started playing house music. I’m not up to speed on African tunes, but I do believe that he played some kizomba, semba, zouk and Top 40. He also threw in Danza Kuduro, which was a crowd-pleaser. We danced A LOT and apparently the different style of dancing did me good because my core muscles were feeling it when I woke up. 

Kaysha went on at about 1am and was so-so. We couldn’t totally tell if he was singing over the tracks or just lip-syncing. The crowd didn’t really care.

I had a great night and I think that I might have convinced Elena and Eloise to try out kizomba in September. Some folks are intimidated by the dance or feel that the embrace is too intimate, but these girls are game.

Sometimes I think I am strange

I have the uncanny ability to fall in love with concepts, activities and places. Lately, I’ve been drawn in to bachata, but it has to split time with salsa and kizomba. I want to learn how to dance bachata Dominican-style, but I don’t know how or where to squeeze it in to my schedule. For now, I just get all goose bump-y when I hear Romeo Santos or Juan Luis Guerra. I am giddy!

I’m sort of sweet on trombone players

On Wednesday, I went to see Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at the zoo. After missing their show in February 2011 due to illness (two-month virus – yuck!), I was lucky enough to catch them at Bumbershoot last year. I love their sound!

For some reason horns turn me on. Over the years, I’ve started listening to more and more jazz, mostly infused with latin beats or funk. Trombone Shorty has mastered the trombone and trumpet. He has a great voice, too, but I do favor the instrumental pieces because he engages in such great dialogue when he blows.

Here’s a taste…

La vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida, ay Dios

I created the moniker Mswandergirl because I wander a lot and love to explore new places.

Last week, I took some time off from work so that I could go to the Hollywood Bowl for a Latin Music festival. Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic and my curly-headed Venezuelan brother, organized America & Americans in order to recognize and celebrate American music that was born in Latin America.

Geri, Javi and I made the trek down to LA. We rented a cute little VRBO cottage in Hollywood that was within walking distance (although uphill, so I was sweating somethin’ fierce) of the Hollywood Bowl.

On Tuesday night, we saw Dudamel, the LA Philharmonic and Juan Luis Guerra. It was definitely bucket list material for me. At some point a couple of years ago, I downloaded almost all of Juan Luis Guerra’s CDs on to my computer. He sings beautiful bachatas and lively merengues that are simply feel good tunes. Geri couldn’t get over her adoration for Dudamel that evening – she kept screaming, “I love you,” hoping that he would catch a glimpse of her in box 1688. She is moved by classical music and also taunted by his charisma.

Tuesday night was great, but it could only be topped by the main event (for me) on Wednesday. Eddie Palmieri and his orchestra opened the show. I had seen them a couple of years ago at Jazz Alley and it was one of those ‘more fun than usual’ nights for me. Karen and I sat in the front row making goo-goo eyes at the band during the first set. I love the sound of Latin jazz and did not want to leave when the set was over. We decided to stay for a second round. The band manager apparently recognized our enthusiasm and comped us for both shows. I love it when that happens! At the Hollywood Bowl, I wasn’t quite close enough for eye contact, but I loved to see them again just the same. They had a kick-ass Puerto Rican vocalist that was really fun to watch.

After the break, I realized one of my lifelong (at least since I was 22ish) dreams. I finally got to see Ruben Blades live. I am in love with this man. He is the epitome of a renaissance man – poet, singer, actor, Harvard law graduate, presidential candidate in Panama, etc. – and the most mature man that I would be willing to marry. Jajaja. When I was in Panama in May, I tried to find my way to his home, but all I that could gather were rumors rather than directions. He was elegant and his voice was rich. He let us know that he likes to banter, but time was short so he wanted to play a full set with no talking. He left me wanting for more.

The weather was beautiful, the music was grand and the time spent together was priceless. I can’t wait to see who is in the lineup next year!