Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Lots of thoughts and feelings happening over here on my little 700-square foot planet! So strap in for what may not be such a cohesive update from The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. 😉

Next week is my pandemic anniversary (pandemiversary?). My company ordered everyone to work from home on March 13, 2020 and I’ve been answering emails and reviewing reports from my kitchen table ever since (sometimes I move to the living room for a change of scenery). In between reports, the dogs and I go for walks while our groceries are delivered and I wait for my turn to be vaccinated. Pandemic life goes on.

It seems like the worst is behind us. Case numbers, at least in my area, have been steadily dropping. My county is very close to being able to move out of the most restrictive tier of pandemic mandates. Time will tell if the virus variants will cause us more trouble down the road, even with vaccinations. I certainly hope not.

You pop that gum one more time…

Dance-wise, I filmed my second virtual showcase routine last weekend. This time, it’s a group number to Cell Block Tango. I’m playing Pop. This number has been a long time coming; we started rehearsals for it back in October and were supposed to film in December. The entire showcase had to be pushed thanks to the holiday-induced pandemic shutdowns. Finally, we were able to restart in February. The virtual showcase premieres tonight!

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Inner Strength + Outer Support: An Interview with Briana Suakjian

I’m super excited to introduce today’s guest to you all because she has had a huge direct impact on my dance journey. Please welcome to the blog, Briana Suakjian! She is the wife and pro dance partner of Kris Suakjian (a.k.a. Teacher!), and together they own and manage the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Laguna Hills, California. They took over their new studio literally weeks before the pandemic shut everything down. Despite possibly setting a record for worst timing ever (or perhaps the best, more on that later), Briana and Kris have successfully built a warm and welcoming dance home for their students. And yes, I may be just a bit biased.

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Learning to Trust My Power

Can you relate to this?

You’re working on a piece of choreography with your teacher. They tell you you’re doing fine but you’re holding back, you need to let go of your doubts and just go for it. Finally, you do! Your teacher is thrilled, and you’re happy and surprised. And then you freak out internally because this expression of power and confidence in yourself caught you off guard. Like a rubber band being stretched long and then snapping back to its original size, you have this urge to retreat back to a safer, smaller space where you feel less vulnerable.

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Back in the Studio

Happy Monday, dancers! I like to call today 50% off Chocolate Day. I used to go to the drug store every February 15 to stock up on discounted heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Now I don’t go to any stores! And my diet is considerably healthier these days, so we’ll leave the February 15th tradition with my younger self.

I got to spend part of my Valentine’s Day at the dance studio. It’s the first time I’ve been there for at least a month. I took an 11-day cross country trip and quarantined before and after. If you’re curious, you can read what it’s like to fly during a pandemic. It’s crazy how much more time and effort a trip requires these days, if you’re doing everything you can to stay safe.

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Is My Dance Journey Over?

As we reach the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., I know many dancers have one question on their mind: Is my dance journey over?

Some have been extremely lucky and privileged to be able to continue dancing and even compete through this pandemic. They experienced a couple months’ break in their dance schedule, which used to seem like a lot but in our current reality, hardly anything. I’ve been lucky to be able to take one in-person private lesson almost every week since July. I even got to perform in a virtual showcase.

Others have not danced in a year or longer. No lessons, no showcases, no competitions. Through an extremely stressful period of our lives, they have lost their primary source of mental and emotional relief. And after a year, they can’t help but wonder – is this it? Am I done dancing?

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You Keep Falling Because You Don’t Believe You Can Fly

Way back in 2015, when The Girl with the Tree Tattoo blog was still in the Newcomer division, I wrote an article for another dance website about partnering. I listed trust as one of three key factors for a successful dance partnership. Trust is a funny thing. It is like a house of cards, built up slowly over time, but one wrong move can make the entire structure collapse. It’s very fragile, and at the same time, holds very strong influence over us. We are willing to give so much of ourselves to those we trust without question.

In ballroom dancing, you have to trust your partner. You have to trust in their ability to dance and lead or follow (depending on your role). On a more emotional level, you have to trust them to respect you as you allow them into your personal space. The physical contact required for ballroom dancing (another key factor) can make you feel extremely vulnerable. It takes trust to ease that feeling and make you feel comfortable enough to dance well.

Ballroom dancing also requires trust in yourself.

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If You Make It, Ballroom Will Bling It

A year into the pandemic and like me, you probably have a nice collection of face masks. Are you the disposal mask type, Etsy shop supporter, or homemade type? I personally have spent most of my face masks dollars with one particular Etsy shop whose masks fit my face Mary Poppins-style (practically perfect).

Toward the end of 2020, I received an email about a new brand who has taken face masks and turned them into an art form. Seriously, wait until you see them!

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It Feels Wrong to Dance

It feels wrong to dance right now.
When there are people out there
Who think it’s ok or funny or cool
To storm our nation’s Capital,
To break windows and doors
While people on the other side wonder
If this would be the day they died.

It feels wrong to dance
On the graves of literally thousands of people
Who die daily from a virus that could have been,
Should have been,
Controlled months ago.

It feels wrong to dance
When respect for ourselves,
Our neighbors,
Our country
Has been reduced to a sad, tattered rag
Flapping in the wind.

It feels wrong to dance
On the surface of a planet that has done everything it can
To support and nurture us,
And that we have only deceived and decimated.

Who are we to dance?
When so many can’t walk
Or run
Or sleep
Without being targeted.

Who are we to dance?
When so many can’t leave their homes,
And so many others don’t have homes to leave.

Who are we to feel that joy that comes
When movement meets music
And creates magic?

It feels so wrong to dance right now,
To float across the floor to a beautiful melody
When there is so much chaos, darkness and ugliness in the world.

Maybe that’s the point.

Maybe dance is the antidote to this poison,
A light in the darkness.

When you dance, you can’t scream hateful rhetoric.
You can’t throw rocks or blame.
You can’t break windows or bones.
Your anger is channeled
And transformed into calm.

When we’re calm, we can hear each other.
When we’re calm, we can help each other.

So even though it feels wrong to dance,
Perhaps we must.

Perhaps we must dance
Because we need its magic.
That magic that happens when chaotic emotion is transformed
Into powerful rhythm.

Perhaps we must dance
To reintroduce order and flow
And beauty and peace
Back into the world.

Perhaps we must dance to save ourselves
And to save each other.

So dance, my dear dancers.
But do it with purpose.
Dance here, now, so your light can shine.
Dance to listen.
Dance to understand.
Dance to empower and inspire good in this world.
Dance with trust, reason, and compassion.
Dance for others
And dance for yourself.

Remember:

We are the music makers,
    And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
    And sitting by desolate streams; —
World-losers and world-forsakers,
    On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
    Of the world for ever, it seems.

Ode by Arthur O’Shaughnessy

It’s Ok to Stumble. Just Keep Dancing.

Before I jump into today’s topic, I want to say Happy New Year, dancers! I hope your New Year’s celebrations were fun and safe.

My first lesson after the first pandemic lockdown started with a solo dance. I hadn’t danced in a studio for 3.5 months and the first thing Teacher and I did was dance Open Waltz apart. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see how much of the routine I remembered.

For the last couple years, Teacher has made me dance a solo dance or even an entire solo round at the beginning of almost every lesson, especially when we were getting close to a competition. I hated it. I got so embarrassed when I would lose my balance or forget my steps. It fed into my self-doubt and anxiety around my abilities as a dancer. But over time, it was also incredibly effective at improving my dancing.

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