Monday, 24 September 2012

First post the past

As I mark leaving the UK behind for the next 11 weeks , I first want to celebrate the best of British, so to summarise, I'm using the example of Tom Daly. A super young man who, for anyone that doesn't know, passed his A levels this summer as well as winning a bronze medal for diving at the London 2012 Olympics! Again, if you don't know his story, you may not know his father passed away to cancer last year and so didn't live to see his son accomplish these great achievements. Toms dedication, good humour, sheer tenacity are an example to everyone. And quite frankly, I'm going on the record to say he clearly is an example of pure greatness - inside and out.

0635 hours I departed the UK with a stopover in Brussels and what do you know, we had a female captain piloting the plane. I don't think I've experienced that before, so right on sister! I arrived in Chicago after a 99% very smooth transatlantic flight, and approached border patrol with my passport, ESTA, and a smile. My i94  was unfortunately incomplete as I couldn't remember my hosts address, despite having stayed with her 2 years previously! This did not please The border patrol representative, so for the first time in my life I was asked to "step this way please...."

Of course I just knew that everything would turn out fine, I could prove with whom I was staying very easily, I had their details on my iPad.  I could show proof of my financial outlay to participate in the various weekenders on my itinerary and most importantly, I had a flight home booked! The experience did remind me that the dancing community sits apart in a way that most walks of life mingle and accept each other within seconds.. You dance?cool, let me know if you ever need a play to stay. #MyKindOfPeople. 

Still, after probably half an hour in the waiting area, various thoughts had of course begun to cross my mind. Such as, IF they refuse me entry, that's a £1436 flight down the drain... Another $1000 or so of entry fees spent. And the real killer: people are going to think I was so unprepared or stupid to risk such a trip without making a note of my first destination! 

Lo and behold, I chatted with a lovely, if slightly perplexed border agent about my plans as he desperately scrolled down the drop down menu, scratching his head and exhaling, looking for an appropriate status to select and confirm my legitimacy. Soon though, he dispatched me on my way with a wave and a faint have a nice trip may have passed across the air. I wished him a "nice day" too.

And so, legally allowed to enter, I began a series of firsts that will define my United States adventure. Having  come from 10 or so months living out of my boot I had finely honed my packing skills and so was prepped to endure lots of walking with my own bags should the need arise.   

 Central Chicago was a super as I remembered. Fabulously imposing architecture, at once somewhat familiar and yet strikingly large compared to my native Mancunia. The sheer scale of the  buildings relative to the narrowness of the streets here is in stark contrast to anything we have back in my hometown!

My first day passed in somewhat of a fuzzy and happy state. My first full day entailed walks through what can only be described as, "this is where we'll film where they torch the getaway car"! Make no bones about it, I mean no insult to the city of Chicago. I had a very positive welcome everywhere & completely understand that the hustle needed to survive on the mean streets are way beyond the comprehension of most people. So I leave that subject there.

My first night of dancing followed at Untitled: a fabulous venue. If you are ever in Chicago I urge you to check it out. The fact that my dancing companion & I accidentally crashed a networking party with free booze, snacks and great banter, that was also dance floor adjacent? #coincidental. 

Other firsts followed: My first all American birthday blues jam. 
My first all American roadtrip: we took Highway 55 out of the city & joined the 80west.... Route info here:  
My first truckstop!

The firsts continue and I will be back soon, reporting on my first ever dance weekend in the US! Dear Off Grid Blues, in the words of Jimi Hendrix: here I come baby, comin' to getcha!

Monday, 10 September 2012

North Sea Spoiled!

Forgive me, dear reader, for the delay since last we conversed, the parting I admit though, has been such sweet sorrow.

This blog dates from a way back but was thwarted just before posting by lack of proper pc access. I'm posting it after a challenging month with phone only access because I like writing and sharing  & I hope you enjoy it. ... Take yourselves back to PreOlympiad times when this was written....

I've been filling my time with dancing (newsflash), this time in Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam & The Hague. Made an appearance at a fabulous new venture recently launched in my home city, the Whim Wham cafe). Gin Saloon & fine dinery, the Bullet (their take on gimlet, but with Bulldog gin), touched the spot & I was informed the mojitos were up to scratch too. Live music accompanied a fine friday night's banter & 'twas fortunate we'd already eaten as the joint was fully booked. So let's give a "Hurrah!" for one of Manchester's finest vintage traditions, the Whim Wham Club remains splendidly full of dancing frolicks.

As I put fingers to keyboard, Mr Murray was playing in an historic Wimbledon men's final. He is the first Brit to make it (remember, he's a Brit, not just a Scot, now, you know) since 1937.

Whilst Roger & Andy (went) at it, I filled you in on happenings since last I blogged. I took to the skies to spend a few days visiting one of my old stomping grounds: Paris. That's Paris, France (as the Americans have been heard to say). After all these years the city felt strangely familiar: Twitter entry: #Paris is how I remembered! Faint whiff of gitanes never far away, #efficienttransport, & #goodnosh. 
My host was, as they always are (love to you all!) fabulous. I had 2 touristy days & 2 working days - if you call, lounging on a balcony in 25 degrees whilst typing, munching & supping, work. The last night in Paris was spent at La Defense at a rather fabulous outdoor Swing & Rock & Roll party. Danced with the lovely locals & grabbed the lovely Phillipe to finish out the shim sham. Jean-Luc I think it was, from a local swing dancing organisation was a superb DJ and host. Must pick up flyers to stay in contact next time! #StillARookieAtNetworking! Great Balboa too & we all quite literally roasted as we danced away what my host reckoned was the hottest night of the year.

North Sea Swing summer party - not my crutches this time - sorry Hans!
Next day: a 7 hour roadtrip from Paris to Amsterdam. My longest in years - when I'm the driver, I always split journeys over 4 hours with a stop on the way, but my lovely Parisian host & chauffeur did great & we arrived in time for plenty of dancefloor frolicks at the Amsterdam Lindy Exchange Friday night. Really great band, & though tight on space, the room was high on atmosphere & camaraderie.

Days in Gouda, night in Amsterdam, Rotterdam & The Hague - can think of worse ways to spend a week. In my own summer house no less! Or backhaus as the locals call it. At any rate, the exchange passed well, plenty of dancing, & fun music. The saturday late night was my favourite part, my dancing had actually 'arrived' by then, (it feels like it's in baggage claim at first sometimes when I get to a new place, particularly if I've not social danced in a while (FYI anything more than 2 days is a while!) Iwas completely spoiled and reminded of the power of great food, lovingly prepared. NB: I've since had many more reminders in the UK, thanks to you, you know who you are!

FB post: Mmmmemories of Holland! Still fresh! Been teaching a lovely couple for their first dance this afternoon, always think of you two when dancing, surrounded by love & eating well :D — with Katja Winzeler and Hans Vd Horst. 

The Sunday before the summer party, we dined at a fantastic family-owned restaurant, regular subscribers to this blog will note my fondness for grills or in this case mini stoves on tables. Finest thick slivers (misnoma?) of steak, special sauce (was it? yes it was!) and mega fondue. Terrific food, wine, great people. What's not to like?

The fact that Rog now has had the title for almost 48 hours shows you how you can't rush perfection. In other words, I write these things, then sleep on them, then spend about an hour, sometimes more, attaching all the links to support it. It's not fast work but serves as reminder in my time to come of what the hell *that year* was all about...

Chin chin!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Ship-shape & Bristol fashion!

The question I have been most consistently asked during my year on the road is "where are you off to next then?" The second most often is "Don't you miss having a home/base/place of your own?" To which I always answer in much the same vein: "No. Not at all". (They usually tilt their head, or mutter a 'hmmmm' at this point)... "I can see that by the end of the year I'll likely be happy to think about a place that's 'just mine', but for now (I'm halfway through the year), I wouldn't swap the freedom for anything." The answer is routinely met with everything from nods of understanding to bewilderment. I reckon I understand why. Conditioning. It's not standard for a woman to wander 'untethered' for any sustained length of time. Certainly not one 'over 25'! ;) ... And ofcourse, it's personal choice that may avert people. To be fair, a life on the road isn’t for everyone. Hell, who knew it was even for me til I actually did it?!

And that’s exactly my point, I knew no better than you whether it would work out for me or not. All the questions practical types asked me have turned out to be completely relevant & part of me wishes I'd taken heed of some points more, but the reality was I had to 'just do it' to see how (if!) it could be done. If it works for Microsoft...!
The difference between me and the next person could have been I felt had nothing to lose by trying. It definitely was a product of desiring to break out of the status quo. Perhaps that’s all it takes. I’ve posted previously about when one’s back is against the wall, so I won’t repeat myself, that’s not what this tea break of yours is for, that’s what archiving is for! Cue wise saying:

My 10 days in Bristol were interspersed with teaching Lindy for SwingDanceBristol, Balboa & Blues privates & checking out the SS Great Britain. Here I am dancing in the dining room - love tall ships - this day was ace!

Perhaps understandably given my current lifestyle, I consistently ponder the wonders of risk. It’s so easy to quickly become attached to the things we are used to. The perceived danger from 'the unknown' for most people far outweighs the rational analysis of what actually could be. Recently, I had a very engaging conversation with a dancer friend who presented me with an article regarding risk here. Ask yourself this - why are 'reality tv' programmes such as Dragons Den so successful? Admit it, we can’t help but watch most people crash & burn under the panel's scrutiny. We are ready to accept the canny few may make a deal, that's the television element after all, the small chance, against all odds etc... I'd wager that living vicariously suits most of us - for example, where would the James Bond franchise be if we were all superb at espionage!? Not so many people would be queueing up to watch action flicks & romcoms if the kind of content within happened to us all everyday I'm sure.

My mum & partner tell me they like checking in on where I'm 'swanning off to' next & not wishing to disappoint them, nor you, dear reader, I travelled the following day to the fair city of Cambridge. It would have been Frankie Manning's birthday last Saturday, so in his honour, swing dancers across the globe jazz danced their hearts out a little more than usual! I'm delighted the following film has reached it's initial goal to be made and fully legally licensed & urge you to check this out. A few more donations are needed to ensure closed captioning & graphics for the hearing impaired. The story of American Social dance... can't wait!
But first I'm going to go actually contribute to the cause myself...!

The story of social dancing continues of course & we’ve been very busy with prep for the bluesFusion weekend these last few weeks! We are inviting dancers to share with us why they love dancing – Blues or Fusion dancing specifically, because we want to celebrate this & engage people to make sure we give them what they want for this seminal weekend! From next monday, we will be posting a clip online & in the facebook group each week, showing why the top international guys love Blues & Fusion so much - we hope you join in & tell us why you love it here too!

Epilogue: Cambridge meant re-uniting with dancers friends not seen in years. A quite epic weekend was had, I thank my recent hosts with the mosts as always for sharing their lives with me for the brief moments we spend together. They are a key part of this amazing journey I'm making.
Oh, and where am I off to next? Manchester, Stoke, Coventry & Birmingham in the next 6 days. Amsterdam Lindy Exchange is on the horizon too. #ThisIsTheLife

Monday, 30 April 2012

Win win

#epicwin about sums it up. The last month I mean. & not just for MCFC! I've done so many of my favourite things - I'll list them later all later, to be sure. But I begin with a shout out to a fantastic dancer I had the great privilege to work with on friday, one Miss Cat Foley. I link to her blog here as she has just been booked to stage manage for the Herrang dance camp. Swing dancers of the world will instantly know this is a BIG deal. Non Swingsters, take a look at the link if you want the background, but it's basically the biggest Swing camp in the world, occurring in Sweden yearly since 1982 & everyone who is anyone has been or is going.

Well, except for yours truly that is, you'd think that my 'year of dance' would have to include said festival, wouldn't you? But due to other travels, events & work, I simply couldn't fit it in this year. I am often a bit hesitant to do things when I hear 'you must go, everyone else is going'. I'm so not in with the in crowd, & never have been. That's not necessarily always a good thing perhaps, but I am what I am. Cat will fly the flag for @vintagedancers for me I have no fear.

So, on to this month's learnings & the list of my favourite things 'bagged & tagged' this month. That means done, mum! ;)

I laughed, I cried (with laughter & with sadness), I danced to loads of great music. I caught up with old friends & made new ones, I witnessed generosity & kindness from many quarters... I slept!
I ate well, I sampled fine wines & national drinks (60% Slovakian plum liquor to be exact - #notforwimps),  I contorted my body in new ways (see below please), I had a spa day, I went to the pictures #avengersassemble.

I made it halfway up my first climbing wall, tried my first off ground assault course (you're tethered on a rope storeys up, & you swing, jump & balance yourself across tightropes, moving logs, rope walls etc. All in the name off fun. Apparently. I literally did cackle my way around most of it, have one actual panic, & get stuck in properly for the rest of it (honestly! ;) )

The night before we had partied til 8am (not a typo) and this video is of an impromptu social dance 'performance' with a lovely guy from Kilkenny. I'll post the video in the comments box below when I get a copy. I'd met him that day as he'd attended the day of workshops I was delivering for JiveInferno. What a crowd! They really embraced the bluesFusion we did.

I loved having the time to stay a few extra days & attend one of their weekly nights. An afterparty til 5.30am with dancing in the front room brought the last night of the weekend to a perfect close. A BIG shout out to my 2 awesome chauffeurs for the weekend - you know who you are!

Learnings? Well, they say you get out out what you put in - I think I'd rephrase & say you get what you think you deserve. Harsh perhaps, but true. This is all at the subconscious level ofcourse. I'm sure when it happens most of us don't consciously believe we deserve to be messed around, ignored or used. Yet we can let that happen if we're not consciously demanding better. I'm speaking both professionally & personally here. As per. You'll know what I mean if I explain it thus...

You know when you go into someone's house & if it's really spic and span you're on your best behaviour to keep it so? Then there are those times when you go somewhere & it's frankly a tip. Some people 'do a Monica' and try and clean up the tip, but most people will be tidier in the tidy house than they will be in the tip - we naturally preserve the status quo, unless our values (or OCD) are stronger!

So, I urge anyone that hasn't already - figure out how you want to be treated & set the standard! And as I often say - always, always seek to upgrade, every time you can darling! Oh and ALWAYS be brave and ask that gorgeous guy or gal to dance!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Everything in moderation...

It's my Dad's birthday today. It's also my sister and brother-in-laws wedding anniversary.  So I'm taking time to celebrate all 3 of them today.

Here I sit backstage at an international dance event to rival most: Bristol Swing Festival. Instructors have flown in from Canada and around Europe and the UK to impart their wisdom with the 180+ participants. I attended the event as a punter last year and am excited for the people about to launch into this year's event!

So whilst the excitement builds during the first taster class and people begin to mingle I have positioned myself neatly in the staging area (aka the back office) so I can take some time to celebrate the wonder that is My Dad.

As you'll likely have read, this tour has presented me with many wonderful ups and a couple of spectacular downs. Throughout it all, my family have been a constant source of support: financial, emotional, practical, whimsical...

As part of my tour I set myself several goals, most of which have been shared here before. What I may not have shared with you is that for significant dates and birthdays throughout the year, I am creating gifts, rather than buying them. For someone who cannot draw or make things with her hands (to an aesthetically pleasing or functional level in any case), this means the gift of song, the gift of poetry, the gift of film & now, the gift of prose.

So I'm going to wish my father a very happy birthday by sharing with you lots that I love and appreciate about him, & by celebrating the times we have shared as well as the ones he has helped to finance. So this one's for you Dad: :)

... One of my earliest memories is of my dad's bright yellow Corsair (I think this is the right one!). It was followed my a metallic aquamarine Honda Civic 5 door hatchback methinks. I know he had a Vauxhall Viva, but the memory is hazy... If memory serves on one trip in particular we broke down, and in the days before mobiles we had to hot foot it to the closest phone box - the AA callbox we used to #phoneafriend is still situated approximately 1 mile from the BP garage near Knutsford on the A556 & I smile every time I pass it to this day. I had been visiting him for the summer and had literally brought half my bedroom with me, we had a 1 mile trek with Casio keyboard with plastic cover, which I remember blew about in the wind a lot, suitcase(s), brown faux leather 12"record case, which I think possibly broke during the walk....

What I'm impressing on you is not my elephantine memory (which has been remarked upon many times afore), but rather his commitment to just 'get on' with the task at hand. He does this better than anyone I know.

Fast forward a good few years & we find ourselves in Hong Kong to celebrate the union of my sister and her long time love & now father to my gorgeous nephews. We stayed in a Philip Stark designed hotel don't cha know! The wedding took the day and my dad and I, with beer, banter and monkey nuts took the night. A wonderfully vibrant city, offering amongst many things a stunning skyline, welcoming atmosphere & rather fabulous afternoon teas. A hangover from colonial times which we can debate another time, suffice to say several emporiums were sampled & provided an elegant sufficiency. Sufficiency of the afternoon tea or the beer you ask? Why, both of course!

Time in mainland China was spent with a host family (my brother in law grew up with a their son and they had not long migrated back to their native land). We marvelled that each table in the restaurant had it's own grill in the middle. You selected your choices from a fantastic array of meat, fish & vegetables at the very large buffet style counter, and then grilled your food at table to your own personal liking. This is a win-win (my favourite thing!) for us as I like chicken and red meat 'just safe', my dad and sister enjoy them 'well done' enough to be what can best be termed 'nuked'! I approve of this approach in a restaurant and wish there were (more?) eateries like this in the UK...

But I digress, again... Birthdays are funny things - we celebrate the passing of time since our mums 'got on with it'. My Dad's mum was surely the most warm-hearted of women. For me she literally defined the word 'lovely' & despite over 15 years passing since she departed this earth I know we all think of her & celebrate her beautiful spirit often.

So this post is about taking the time to say thanks to our blood, in laws & loved ones. Those that make time when they have none. Those that smile, make a brew & listen to my tales from the road when their day has been long and their activities often strenuous.

In short: I say thanks to My Dad. I wish my sister & brother in law every happiness always & salute their daily investment to be amazing parents.

A toast, dear reader: To My Dad (& of course yours should you wish to join in). May he remain a source of quiet strength & inspiration, may he 'live long & prosper', may he enjoy a steady 'few scoops' this evening (& beyond) &... may he have enjoyed these words!

Saturday, 24 March 2012


You might be shocked & saddened to hear that I experienced a rather large loss just 48 hours ago. At a dance night someone helped themselves to my leather jacket (with smartphone & car keys in), and my bag containing my best dance shoes, purse, perfume, event flyers, shades, torch... all the essentials for a girl on the road!

After the initial shock had worn off, I, as is customary for me, thought about how I could turn this into a positive? It didn't take me long. In my last post I think I mentioned something about me wanting to reduce the time and energy I spend on facebook - quickly accomplished! I am STILL without a phone and have another 72 hours to endure yet - the longest since I purchased my first one over 10 years ago!

I consider it a gift that I have been left with more of my own thoughts during inbetween times yesterday and today - eg upon waking, at the bus stop (my spare car keys were on their way to me), in a queue, any spare second used to be spent checking for messages, updates, new likes on my page! & whilst I doubt I'll abandon facebook any time soon, the amount of time I have regained is noticeable, so I thank you thief, for that. New hard soled brogues with a block heel (on my list of things to acquire - now accomplished!). Thank you thief. 

In addition, the outpour of support and help from all quarters has been so uplifting, again, I choose to thank the thief! 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating thievery as an admirable profession - even though I DO love Hustle! I am pointing out that we can't control what happens to us but we can control how we react to it, & every so often something happens to show us something exciting about ourselves that we just keep overlooking. I always knew I was generally pretty great in a crisis, but during this one I was assisted very closely by a very new friend during my 'critical' 24 hours afterwards. Numbers for lost/stolen cards & phones were found for me, supper was prepared for me (at 2am). Firefly was deployed to suitably distract me til I finally gave in to sleep around 4am... Emergency cash was also lent to me - by someone I had met only an hour or so before! AND surrounding roads and gardens were scouted for me, in the hope of finding a jettisoned pair of #sweatysize4s.

Next morning, a replacement designer leather jacket was offered to me & I woke to dozens of well wishes on facebook - #oohtheirony! 

This post was due to be about how much I enjoy dancing Switch (Lead &/or Follow), hence the Victor/Victoria pun. I still wish to celebrate that but may save some of it til next time. Before all this drama I had just been back up to Newcastle for a Love Balboa weekend with Zack Richard & Maryse LeBeau. Fab dancers, cool types - they invited me over there to stay with them. Looks like I'll have to fit in Canadia too when I pop across the pond. Shame... Here's a (very short!) video of me dancing with Zack from Montreal, courtesy of Jazzy Lemon, #photographeextraordinaire!

Soon after dancing here I swooped through Yorkshire for another couple of quick Balboa fixes with BalboaNorth (Leeds) & Bella Balboa (Sheffield). Then, Cotswold Balboa Festival for a full one! What is there to say about this except well-executed event? Great crowd, inspirational teachers, oh and as is customary, an awesome afterparty. This came complete with pub dancing - told you I'm at home on this trip - other people wanna get up to it as often as me! Throw in a requested (correction, demanded!) acapella performance from me & superb cardistry from Gontran Galinier - one very talented and hard working guy, & there you have it! The teachers were all from Studio Hop in Toulouse so the people and families there really did have something to moan about this week. I consider myself very lucky to have just had possessions taken. I'd say blessed if I believed. Let's say I'm grateful, thankful... full!

So what was the new fact I needed to learn about myself...? I figured out (properly this time!) that whilst I'll always be strong, resilient, self-reliant, obsessively efficient, a leader, an entrepreneur, businesswoman, performer, entertainer, resourceful - in short, worthy of praise for what I have done / can DO...
I am in fact, loved and cared for - by virtual strangers as well as family and friends - because of WHO I AM.
I daresay the same can be said of you - if you just look again. So, before we all rush to prove ourselves & chase 'new likes', let's BE at peace with who we know we are and the rest will surely follow.

Oh and Gontran and I did a Switch dance - he is 6'5" and it was videoed so you'll see it as soon as I get a copy...Til then, adieu! 

Friday, 9 March 2012

Relocation, relocation, relocation

As promised, the Granite City Livin' the Blues was an epic weekend in more ways than one. Having the privilege to work with Ruby Red and Justin Riley again so soon - this time appearing on the same teaching bill (result)... exactly 4 hour sleeps each night and waking wide awake a few minutes before the alarm, refreshed & recharged? Yes please - that never used to happen!`

Spending lots of time rediscovering solo movement & having the opportunity to dance to a wide range of music throughout the weekend truly helped me reconnect with my mind, body & spirit in a way I've not done for some considerable time. What made it even more special was that I could feel many of the dozens of other dancers around me making the same journey. Taking part in my first Solo Riffin' & Cuttin' competition was liberating & awesome, particularly for a show off like me ;) ... Given that I only discovered this artform 2 weeks ago, coming 2nd in the competition for it was a strong enough debut for my liking.

Not forgetting I sang with The River Devils - one of the strongest Bluesin' outfits in Scotland - for the opening night & I had epic fun doing so! Confessing now that I enjoyed watching the dancing whilst I sang Titanium that it's now officially part of the repertoire, #sothere

A quick video of a bit of social dancing on my last night in Edinburgh. The microphone pick up on the video camera is very sensitive - it seems to hone in on horns (& my vocals) and distorts them ... blurgh...

To round up, as it's time I did: when all around you are losing their heads and blaming it on you? It's time to make a change. I suggest movement - specifically, connect with your body, and then the ground. (In a dancer's case this is the floor, of course!) Always seek to ground yourself before you seek to connect with others. To all my anchors that are there for me whilst I enact 'relocation, relocation relocation': I thank you. Every time I say good bye it is in the knowledge that the parting is only temporary and we will be united again, whether it be through our love of music, dance or some other connection. Whilst the dancing can only be done together, the rest may be felt as we close our eyes an breathe in. So do that if you haven't already. Go on, close your eyes, breathe deeply and think of the best ever connection you ever made. If it was with yourself embrace that with pride. If it was with another, breathe them in too... Who knows, they may be doing just the same thing at this moment...