Sunday, September 28, 2014

You can't always get what you want

I can't stop singing the Rolling Stones song. It's something I guess I needed to re-learn. 

I am a firm believer in choosing your own destiny. Making intentional decisions to create a clear path leading you to what you want. Ever since I took on this attitude with conviction it is has, for the most part, worked. Set intentions. Be clear about what they are. Write them down so they are present physically in the universe and to create accountability....viola! Watch your dreams come true. Sometimes, the universe has other plans for you. Sometimes you can't get what you want. It's in these moments - the challenging, frustrating, unexpected moments when your true character shines through. How flexible are you? How creative? How can you see the positive side? 
"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance"  - Alan Watts 
Ancient Castle Moat Hooping in Sicily
This quote has been repeated in my head for a couple days now. I was unexpectedly refused entrance into the UK for allegedly "seeking employment". Ironically, Swhoop and the World Burlesque Games, the only two commitments I had for the 6 weeks I was planning to be there were just for fun. I had saved up money working at the San Diego Zoo this summer and was planning to spend that time in Bristol investing in myself. Between volunteering for 3 months in Nicaragua, a knee injury that lasted way too long and working at the Zoo 7 days a week for a 67 day run; I have not been able to invest in myself much this year. Coming home from the UK this week has definitely been one of those harsh you-can't-always-get-what-you-want moments. In the wake of the incident I have to say I've learned my lesson (the hard way) and have found as many positives in the situation as possible. Now I really can focus on myself. I've signed up for a month of unlimited yoga at Corepower, started the Blogilates workouts daily, will be embarking on the Whole30 day food challenge (vegan paleo - no gluten, sugar, alcohol), will actually get to go back to Lyra class at AR and *gasp* take belly dance class from Sabrina Fox again! All of these things are things I've wanted to do this year but for whatever reason couldn't. Well now I can. Thanks UK Border Control!
Vegan Sicilian Food!

Before attempting to go to the UK, Bags and I had the honor of participating in the Ursino Buskers Festival, located in Catania, Sicily. It exceeded my expectations in every way. Sometimes messages come in asking you to go to remote parts of the world and perform your art. This one seemed like it could go either way. When the offer came in, it sounded exciting and perfect because we were already planning to be in Europe the week before and had no commitments at that time. A rarity. We'd never done a street show before though! Our style of performance lends itself to street and it's something we've both wanted to do for awhile but hadn't done it yet. Now we have! It was a great way to ease ourselves into actual street performing since we didn't have to draw a crowd, the festival itself did that for us. 

We had about a week in Catania. We taught two workshops....in their ancient castle! One of our workshops was in the dried (now covered in grass) moat of the castle. Yeah we taught hoop dance in a moat :) Our workshops were well attended and the hoopers were absolutely awesome! Such sweet people who welcomed us with open arms and took amazing care of us. We got to stay in the house of another artist performing at the festival only 2 minutes down the road. Walked through the various markets. Bought delicious fresh veggies. Paraded down the main street with the artists of the festival while a live samba band jammed all the way. We found vegan versions of the local food like "arancini" which is a fried rice ball usually with cheese and/or meat. We found vegan ones! We had granita which is a rich, sweet flavored ice dessert for breakfast, more then once. Pistachio and almond were my favorites! We connected with lovely people whom I'm sure I would be friends with if I lived there. We found our tribe!
Parading down the streets of Catania

Our performances were unforgettable. We did two 15 minute shows and one 5 minute act. The first night we did great but had a couple minor drops. We also didn't know how to talk to the crowd before or after our show since my Italian from living in Rome 8 years ago is gone and the people of Catania don't speak much English. It was kind of awkward putting a hat down without a word. The next night though we absolutely killed it! In our whole 15 minutes, we had no drops! Bags did his 5 club routine flawlessly and our hoops act was seamless. It was one of the happiest I've been from a performance. Complete bliss. With the help of Giulia, I prepared a little something to say in Italian after our show. Giulia was our tour guide, interpreter, fellow hooper and has become our new Italian friend :) We love you Giulia! So I spoke in Italian through a microphone (!!!) to thousands of Italians!!! They loved it! Needless to say our hat was much more full the second night. 

I can't even begin to imagine how much work went into creating the Buskers Festival. There were over 5 spots all within walking distance that had different performance art - circus, theater, live music, fire dancing. There were vendors, activities for children and workshops. The Gammazita bar organized it, which is run by a collective of Sicilians. They have made their area in Catania safer and more culturally rich. They run regular cultural events like film screenings, language courses and circus classes. They informally adopt local kids with hard family lives. These people are amazing. I am so grateful to have met them and experience Catania in this way. Thank you Giorgia, Giulia, Flo, Mic and all the others who put it together! See ALL of the pictures from our Catania trip HERE.


Performing in the Aerial Revolution Showcase - Sept 2011
Attaining the Unattainable: Perfection
- and -
You Just Never Know

This blog was actually meant to talk about my experience working at the Zoo this summer! There is just so much (good and bad) that has happened since then that I had to get it all out. SO rewind three years ago to when I was teaching regularly at Aerial Revolution. I performed in their showcase in September of 2011. It was a fun show. Nothing extremely memorable about it but fun nonetheless. I always enjoyed performing and teaching with the AR crew. They rock! Turns out Rachael and Pete Wray were in the audience that day and really enjoyed my piece. I remember them coming up to me after the show to tell me that it was their favorite act! Fast forward to March of this year, I get a message from Rachael asking if I know any hoopers who could perform at the Zoo this summer. My first thought was...me?! So I asked them if I could do it and they were also looking for another performer for that stage - Bags was the perfect fit! How lucky were we?! We got to do a regular gig in San Diego together. I mean, sheesh!! Exciting stuff! This proves that every show you do, no matter what it's for, how much you're getting paid, IF you're getting paid, matters. Every. Single. One. You never know what it could lead to!
Click here to watch my hoop solo from the Zoo

We changed our summer plans and were sad to not have attended EJC, the Heart & Hoop Dance retreat in the Netherlands and the German Hoop Convention. (Bags got to go!) BUT we had an opportunity of a lifetime! For awhile now I have dreamed of an extended contract gig. Something to bring in a little financial stability and help hone my craft. This was exactly the opportunity I was waiting for. When it all came together it was like the clouds opened up, the sun shined through and the choir started harmonizing in my head. Heavenly! 

I did 4 shows a day for 65 out of the 67 day run. That, plus the parade every other day made for approximately 293 shows. Wowza! That's a lot of shows! It was quite an experience. There were both some serious highs and lows. Looking back at the happy faces Oooo-ing and Awwww-ing at our show and hooping with the kids afterward was amazing. Getting to perform with Bags everyday kept me laughing, smiling and on my toes. I loved getting to know Kasey our hand balancer - she's a talented, smart, opinionated badass. Working with the whole cast and crew actually was unforgettable. Each person was so talented and brought something different to the table. 
Click here to watch Bags' juggling solo from the Zoo

Most of the hard parts for me were what happened psychologically and mentally. You'd think my first gripe would be about physical hardship. Yes exhaustion that was a factor but really what I think I got out of it was how to work through the experience mentally. With that many shows, there was bound to be a certain amount of error. There's just no way around it. We put specific tricks into our routines to help make them stronger. Doing something that many times will make you better at it right? Well it wasn't always that straight forward. There is no science to it, turns out. Even if you do something 300 times, you can still struggle with it on the 301st. I expected consistency, had an extremely high expectation for myself and strove to attain perfection. That lead to disappointment sometimes and then probably mentally hindered me for the next show (or even during the show). It was a cyclical thing. Somehow I broke down enough to break through the cycle and come out on the other end! 


Click here to see our duet
I found myself actually daydreaming while performing! When you do something that many times, you start to think about what you're going to cook for dinner, what show you're going to watch when you get home, etc. I had to snap myself out of that and remind myself to Be Here Now. Completely in the moment. Also I found fun ways to concentrate, or actually take my mind off of the hard tricks (because sometimes when you concentrate too much it messes you up - sometimes you just have to let your body do it). Whenever we got to a certain section that required extreme concentration, I would think about happy positive words that weren't loaded with anything performance related. So thinking the word "perfect" or "seamless" didn't work because it was too much pressure. Instead I would think "cupcake" "sprinkles" "rainbow sherbet" :) It worked!

Those ups and downs, those break-downs and break-throughs; that process IS perfection. The experience in itself and what I learned from it is just...perfect. 

All in all, regardless of how hard it was at times, how tired, sore, hot, sweaty and cranky I got, I am still immensely grateful for the experience. Remember that dropless show I talked about earlier in Sicily Bags and I had? I truly believe that was possible because of all the practice we got in this summer. With a couple weeks space from the gig, doing our show again felt more solid and comfortable then it ever has and that is largely due to our work at the Zoo. I feel SO much more confident juggling and multi-hooping, two things I want to be solid at. So thank you. Thank you Pete & Rachael Wray most of all for trusting us to do our best this summer and taking us on board as part of the team. Big thanks to the entire cast of awesomeness, it was a pleasure to meet you and get to know you. I hope we all get to do it again sometime :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recent Discoveries for the Modern Active Gypsy Goddess

Or the blog post affectionally known (in my mind) as "Things I Like"

Over the last year (mostly just over the last couple months) I have discovered a few things that have made my life oh so much more enjoyable. Lots of these things relate either to that fact that a) I have spent more time in the last 2 years traveling than not, b) I perform/teach a lot - I have a very active lifestyle including lots of time training, practicing, performing and teaching dance and circus or c) I am a woman. I wanted to share these discoveries with you in hopes that they will make your life just that little bit more amazing. Enjoy!

1. The Oil Cleansing Method
The best way to wash your face! This definitely seems counterintuitive at first but it really works! My friend Jessica told me about it and I have been using this method ever since. Read the instructions in the link above. Basically you mix any kind of oil (I have used mostly almond oil) with Castor oil. Rub it on your face and run a washcloth under hot water. Place the washcloth on your face to steam it until it isn't warm anymore. Rub off the oil and repeat about 3 times total. I do it in the shower and I don't even have to everyday. I used to use Neutrogena face wash everyday which made my skin dry out and didn't even really help with acne. Now my skin doesn't feel dry and I have way, way less acne. You can also use the oil to take off your make-up and it lasts a long time. I've only had to replenish my supply once in the last year.

2. Travel Sized Foam Roller
I have wanted a foam roller for years but for me it's been one of those things I thought about getting and then somehow it floated away in the To Do List of the Sky. Well after doing 4 shows a day at the SD Zoo this summer (7 days a week for 67 straight days in a row) my body has been asking for a little extra love. I buckled down and got a travel sized foam roller and have literally used it everyday since I bought it. Massaging out your IT band, hips, gluts and back feels sooo good! And it's only 12" so it can fit in carry-ons for those long travel stretches! I googled and found the best deal through amazon.


3. Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
This is the perfect thing for my performing/hooping/dancing/yoga-ing friends out there. Being able to jam out without worrying about headphone cords getting in the way or your iPhone falling out of your sports bra is quite revolutionary! I absolutely love these headphones (I have Kinivo ones) and they were also affordable from amazon.


4. The Moon Cup
This thing is so cool! I wish I had known about it sooner. Aileen told me about it when we were in Nicaragua w/ PWB. It holds your menstrual blood as opposed to absorbing it. It's better for your body because you are not putting bleached/chemically treated paper products inside you. It's better for the environment because it eliminates waste. It's great for traveling (only carry around one thing as opposed to a box of several tampons). It's comfortable and lasts up to 10 years so it's economically sound as well. It's pretty much the best thing ever. Warning: there is a learning curve involved but once you figure it out, I don't think you could live without it! 


5. Frank
I heard about Frank from Traci Hauptman's blog. She is the owner of Dollhouse Fitness (a wildly successful pole dancing studio in Encinitas). She sends out entertaining and informative blog posts, and that is how I discovered Frank. It's an amazing coffee body scrub that smells delicious and makes your skin feel divine. It helps with blemishes, imperfections in the skin and stretch marks. It's a self-pampering indulgence that I have enjoyed and recommend if you spend a lot of time on stage semi-clad. Or just want to give your skin some self-love!


I realize all of these things require money and I'm not suggesting I went out and bought them at once. It was gradual over about a year or so. They just happen to be things that have improved my day to day. Thought you might benefit from my discoveries! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Gift

We wake up in our hammocks. Half a dozen palm trees ripe with coconuts sway in the wind overhead. Between the trees I can see patches of blue sky and hear the birds chirping away. Sometimes, the sound of the birds and a few neighborhood dogs are the only things that wake us up. On a few occasions however, a full marching band will start to play on the other side of our wall at about 7am. They also set off fireworks quite close to our sleeping heads and the buses that go to Managua (Nicaragua's capital) wail on their horns as they speed down our street. These are the sounds of our mornings. Bags and I have gotten into the habit of telling each other our dreams as soon as we wake up. Everyday I feel more and more gratitude to be experiencing this project with him.

Hula Hula Casa!
We have been in San Marcos for almost 4 weeks. We only have a few more days with the kids at Los Quinchos until their final show and then we're off to Granada for a week. After that Bags and I will be traveling by land to Mexico to teach workshops. That's right, 5 buses over about 4 days from Nicaragua to Guadalajara! 1,621 miles! Should be quite the adventure.

I can't believe how fast we are approaching the end of the project. Los Quinchos is an amazing organization in which Zelinda, an Italian woman started about 20 years ago. She came to Nicaragua as a tourist and was greatly effected by the state of children on the streets. Over time, the few kids she took in to feed has grown to 60+! There is a filter house in Managua in which some of the original street kids that Zelinda took in, now work at. They go to the street to find kids and tell them about Los Quinchos. If the kids stay at the filter house every day for a certain period of time, they get taken into the organization. They have to quit sniffing glue and any other drugs. Once they've stayed there and are cleaned up completely, they get taken to where we are now in San Marcos. Here there is a farm “la finca” that the boys live on and the girls home is called “la yahouskas” (princesses). When the boys grow to a certain age, they are moved to Casa Largo which is a lake house in Granada. All of them are put into the local schools and taught career-based skills like hammock or bread making. To think that Zelinda is a mother of sorts to so many children blows my mind. She is absolutely amazing. She dresses in beautiful, brightly colored embroidered Nicaragua garb and always has a smile for us PWB volunteers. The change she has instigated here in Nicaragua, where children living on the street is a real issue, cannot be put into words. She is a massive inspiration!

Teaching a kid from the Filter House
The kids here at Los Quinchos have impressed PWB with their enthusiasm, focus and skills in circus! I can't imagine them going through some of the experiences that they might have faced: addiction, abandonment, prostitution, starvation, abuse, rape...the list goes on. Each one of these kids is special, beautiful, bright and full of life. They no doubt have blossomed in the care of this organization; they are clean, clothed, fed, active, healthy, happy – like every child should be. No one deserves to go through what some of them have. It makes me feel a range of emotions to think about how or why the world is this way – anger, hopelessness, confusion?

Then there's this concept of fate that I have been contemplating lately. It first hit me while walking through the barrios of Leon. Whole families live in shacks with dirt floors made from scraps of metal and plastic coverings (for the roof or windows). Who decides who ends up in which life? How is it fair? To think you are just born and there you are, in whatever situation it is you ended up in. Most of the time you can't really change it drastically until adulthood and even then it's not an easy task. I understand that most people don't necessarily want to change their situation, because they're happy just the way it is. But I still can't comprehend it.

The realization of my life's truth, full of pure privilege and opportunity has me dumbfounded. Not only have I been born into a loving and caring family in Southern California, I am blessed to be in the alternative circus-dancing-expressing-art making-performing-festival going-hooping-Burning Man community. I can make my life look however I want it to. I don't have to have a 9-5, I don't have to have a husband, family, house or desk job to be fulfilled. I have learned about the other side of life – the one of traveling, performing, teaching, hooping, dancing, making art, dreaming and fulfilling my biggest aspirations. How can I share this with these kids who's mindset fits into the box that having kids well before the age of 20 is normal?

Cartwheeling Quinchos Girls
When the little Nicaraguan girls find out that I am 28 and I don't have kids, they are shocked! “Why don't you have kids?” they ask, “Don't you want them?” And I do. I do want to have a family and a house and a husband one day, but why rush it? The traveling-gypsy-nomad lifestyle can only feel glamorous for so long, and once the glimmer has faded, I would love nothing more then to share my life with a family. But there is more to my life then just that. I have other purposes, and one of them, apparently was to come here to Nicaragua to teach, inspire, play and share with these wonderful bright souls.

Now I am sitting on the second story porch of our house watching thirteen year old Belen fire hoop while a small group of her peers and the PWB team are making music for her while she spins. They are executing the body percussion that Justin taught them for their show in a couple days. Belen is one of the older girls in Los Quinchos who has displayed a high aptitude for circus skills. Since PWB visited Los Quinchos last year, the kids have created their own circus show that they perform in various places all around Nicaragua! We got to see it one day when they performed in a “lost village” of sorts. It was 10 kilometers down an unpaved dirt road, flanked by a beautiful jungle-forest and the occasional farm animal grazing. The PWB team piled into the back of a truck that kicked up mountains of dust as it drove down the bumpy track. When we arrived at the school, it was completely deserted. We all had a good laugh about that, so Nicaragua! (Where almost nothing happens on time). Eventually a whole event showed up: snacks, chairs, a sound system, an audience; all of it! Los Quinchos performed their circus show involving lots of colorful circusy costumes, stilt walking, clowning, juggling, unicycling and acrobatics. Jake and Emily from our team also joined in the show with hooping and slack-rope walking. Belen performs an acrobatic duet in the show with Miguel, both who have now learned how to spin fire this week! They have learned fire poi, hooping, staff and club juggling. All of the tools have been made here in Nicaragua by PWB! Except for the hoops – the tubing for which was graciously donated by Hoopologie and the wicks from Bendy Wicks. I have also been making dozens of hoops to be left here for the kids with the tubing and shiny tape donated by Hoopologie.

Watching Daniyuska fire hoop to one of her favorite techno pop songs was incredibly powerful. She was getting down! DANCING as that fire hoop spun around her waist, having FUN, grinning from ear to ear, exuding empowerment, confidence, sexiness – all the things I feel when I hoop. It really struck home that we have imparted an invaluable gift with them. Their potential is endless and we have lifted them up to higher heights of infinite possibility!

Daniyuska getting ready to fire hoop
During this project in San Marcos I have had the pleasure of being a Curriculum Co-Coordinator with Aileen Lawlor from the Bay Area. We have been deciding the classes that will be taught each day, where and by whom. It is a really important part of the project, which was a little intimidating at first (and still continues to be – we'll see how our final show turns out!) But I am proud of our work. Neither one of us have ever done this kind of thing before, but luckily we have some excellent team members who have! The amount of experience I feel like I've gained from this project is beyond explanation.

After we first showed up here to do our show for the kids (about a month ago), there was a free-play session with all of our circus toys and bumpin' music. It was immediately obvious that these kids have skill! I remember seeing 10-year Rafa getting down with hoops, Elliot juggling 4 balls, Daniyuska asking me to teach her hoop tricks and nailing every new one within seconds. I was blown away. Now after working with them for a month their skills have soared through the roof! I have witnessed solid foot hooping, multi-hooping, juggling (with clubs, balls and passing), diabolo tricks, wand flow, badass dancing, contact staff suaveness and stellar acrobatic achievements. Some of them literally have talent seeping out of every pore. I believe we have facilitated the realization of some of this natural talent; provided a boost in confidence, a connection between them and a healthy active hobby to be passionate about.

Most of the stripy team
On the Friday before our project finished, we did a joint show with the PWB team and the kids. We were performing for a brigade of other volunteers from the states. It was like a dry run for the BIG show on Sunday to conclude our project. If that was a dry run, I can't even imagine how amazing the final show will be! I helped facilitate the large group dance battle between the boys and the girls, the younger boys' routine, an amazing acrobatic duet between two of the older girls (Maria & Diana), a veil belly dance piece with 6 girls which concluded in group veil origami AND a hoop piece with Belen, Daniyuska, Maria and me! I am so proud of them! Their hard work has really paid off and I can see how pleased they are with themselves. Another act that stands out from Friday was a group acrobatic number including about half a dozen of the older boys. They created a lot of their own moves and pulled off some seriously challenging group acro-balance shapes. I was taken aback by their strength, confidence, trust in each other and fearlessness.

We did the big group show last night! There were about 20 acts showcasing all of the skills learned over the last month. Many of the kids really came into their own power on that stage. It was quite emotional. Lots of us (both the Quinchos and PWB team members) were in tears as we said “Adios” over and over again. I tried to explain to seach kid how wonderful they did in the show. It was difficult in my broken Spanish to get the point across but I hope they know just how proud of them I am!

Whoooooaaoooooaaaa
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with PWB in Nicaragua this year. It hasn't been perfect 100% of the time but nothing is. The ups, the downs – all of it is part of the process. Going into this I knew that it would be hard at times. But I have always been up for a challenge. I love to learn. I want to take those life lesson moments and grow from them. Doing this project gave me plenty to work with! On levels of self-improvement, language and circus skills, team building, teaching and performing skills, cultural differences; I can say I have put in hard work, gained insight, experience, satisfaction and pride. I highly recommend this type of experience to anyone who is considering it.

Thank you Bags, Emily, Jake, Aileen and Justin. Thank you PWB.  

I am still fundraising the cost it has taken for me to do this important work. It will make my transition back home much easier if I can raise the rest of the funds. HERE is my fundraising campaign. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sombra

Jumping from "sombra a sombra" as we walk down the street in the scorching heat. Shade is such a commodity here, a necessity for survival as a “chele” (slang for foreigner or light skinned person - slightly nicer then saying “gringo” - I think?) Eating frozen chocolate covered bananas, drinking Mexican Coke and “jugo natural” out of plastic bags. The locals turn the plastic bag (bolsita) up-side-down, bite off one corner and suck out the juice. It takes a couple tries before mastering the technique and not spilling sticky, sugary liquid all over yourself.

Las Penitas Beach...it's a tough life!
We have now been in Nicaragua for one month. On New Years Day at 6am, five of us got on a plane to Central America from London. It has been an amazing experience – one that I am already grateful I have decided to embark on, and we're only 1/3 of the way through it!

The amount I have learned in the last month should be illegal. Not only have I learned all kinds of new circus skills, I have also continued to grow my Spanish speaking ability and team living/working skills. I've never worked, lived, traveled, taught, cooked, eaten and performed with the same small group of people in a foreign country before this. Whoa! The whole thing is intense and beautiful for both its successes and challenges.

The first ten days we were at Las Penitas beach which is about a 30 min bus journey outside of León, the city we are living in now. We stayed in a house on the beach with hammocks and a beautiful yoga deck, right on the sand. The beach was pretty much deserted the whole time we were there. It's definitely an undiscovered paradise. Or maybe just not tourist season? The water was warm, the sun bright, the beach empty and the waves quite intense. One of my favorite memories from swimming in that sea was our last day there before we left for Granada. The whole team was in the water for one last family swim. Jake had the idea that we do our group dance routine from our show. We did it, stage placement changes and everything, while the crazy waves crashed on us, giggling all the while.

 7 person - 2.5high!
Those ten days were packed full of some of the most learning I've ever done. We had an amazing tropical fruit breakfast together every morning. After that we would take turns leading sessions for each other. We played lots of amazing games. We played improv games, name games and just plain ol' fun games! We taught each other our own specialty in Spanish to get us ready to do so with the kids. Highlights include learning staff from Aileen Lawlor, diablo from Jake Holland and acro balance from Tilly Twist – all in Spanish! Our initial group acro sessions left me high as a kite. I learned to base a 2.5 person high pyramid with all 7 of us, and am now doing it in the show we perform multiple times a week. I also had to teach hoop to the team that week in my version of "Spanglish" which was a good way to break my fear of doing so, and get me ready with important words for our projects.

We also came up with our show in those 10 days. I am extremely impressed with what we came up with. It is a 10 act show with 7 performers, some of which had never performed together before. It's about 40 minutes long and includes a group ball juggling/clowning act, a group dance routine, a staff trio, a 4 person poi routine, a diablo trio, a Magical Realism act (in which I belly dance, there is an Isis wing dance, contact ball juggling and floating wand), body percussion, rope walking, a club juggling trio, a hoop trio (Bags, Tilly & I – hoop juggling and multi hoop tricks!) and finally a group acrobatics routine to finish the show.

The dance routine was a concept that I came up with at bootcamp. We were brainstorming
Performing our dance routine
about the show and trying to see if we wanted a narrative or theme for it. It came time for Aileen, Penny and I to create the dance routine before we had decided on a story. I was confused to as to how we could choreograph a dance without an obvious concept to work from. I was talking to Bags about it and he said something along the lines of, “Can't it just be for the purpose of fun?” That got me thinking. What about a dance routine in which the theme is in itself dance. An homage to popular culture dance crazes! So I proposed the idea to the team and everyone seemed quite keen. It ended up with Jai Ho (Bollywood thanks to Penny), Madonna's Vogue, a cheesy/clowning ballet to the Sugar Plum Fairy (I made tutus for the boys to wear and us ladies lift them up for a leap :) then it goes into 80s hip hop choreographed by Aileen to MC Hammer's 2legit 2Quit, after is the beloved Gangnam Style which was a big hit EVERYWHERE in the world apparently, Thriller by Michael Jackson, the Macarena and finally the Harlem Shake – the Harlem Shake is an opportunity for us to freak out crazily with no real choreography - organized flailing. In between each song is a robot-battery-dying moment where we all loose energy and regain it before the next part.

El Berrilete
There were definitely moments in rehearsing these pieces in which the team as a whole was skeptical – were we going to look good doing this? Were people going to get it? Laugh? Love it? Hate it? Ahhhh! Not many of the team consider themselves dancers, but primarily circus performers. There were several times in which I wasn't feeling good about this contribution. But the test came in our first show at Sonflora (a Swiss funded project for kids who have domestic violence in their homes) in the Las Penitas area. They absolutely LOVED our dance routine! They laughed and cheered :) Since then we have performed it in every show and have received masses of positive reactions. One of the other participants at the El Berrinche Ambiental Festival in Granada saw a message in it – that everyone can and should dance their own unique way. Which I love. Yes, that is SO the message! Not only have the audiences loved the dance routine, we have also started teaching it to the kids. They have expressed the most enthusiasm about it out of anything I have taught them so far. Screaming “Otra Vez!” (Again!) after every time we run it. It was the most fun (and the most sweaty) I've had teaching here in León at El Barrilete.

HERE are our pictures from Bootcamp and Granada.

Dancing w/ the kids at El Berrilete
El Barrilete is an after school program for kids who's parents can't give them help with homework – usually because of their work. Lots of them are extremely poor, living in conditions of abuse and/or drug addiction. They go to El Barrilete to get help with homework and eat lunch. We go there everyday for 2 hours to play games with them, teach them hoop, poi, staff, dance, acro balance, body percussion, juggling and diablo. We have now been there for about a week and a half. We have 2 more weeks with them and are planning to put together a show with them at the end – to perform all of the skills they have learned with us. I have created some serious bonds with these sweet kids! I love them! They are extremely eager to see us everyday when we show up at the school. Hearing them say “Valentina! Valentina! Mirame!” (Look at me!) every time they get a new trick down just melts my heart.
Watch this video!

HERE are the pictures from our month in Leon. And to the left is the video Aileen made of our time there!

Before coming to León, we spent a week in Granada at the El Berrinche Ambiental Festival. It was held at the beautiful Casa de las Botellitas (House of the Little Bottles) – and it's just that. A house painted in multiple bright colors, lots of beautiful graffiti, glass bottles in the walls and a wonderful training space. This organization, The Escuela de la Comedia y el Mimo, teaches local children from the barrios performance skills and they are serious little circus badasses! We got to see them perform their show which included fearless group acrobatics, juggling, poi, clowning and even a story!

Hooping w/ the kids in Granada
This circus and performing arts festival was conceptualized around the ideas of recycling and Earth preservation involving performance artists from around the world – mostly from Central America. We took and taught workshops with the artists and local children. We slept in hammocks and performed twice. We paraded down the streets of Granada, to the Casa de Tres Mundos, the main square and spot of various shows that we watched and performed in. When we performed there, Jake set up a high line on the building and walked it with no safety! It was the highest line he's walked sin safety and quite a scary/inspiring thing to witness. We also performed inside the Mimo y Comedia Cafe that the Escuela works with often. It's a beautiful space with a large outdoor courtyard that serves as the stage. I had the opportunity to perform a belly dance solo at the Cafe. I don't think there is very much belly dancing here, though they do lots of latin dancing which has much cross over with the isolations in belly dancing. It got a huge response, especially from the kids. Two little girls followed me around for about 30 minutes after I got off stage, they just kept staring at me and asking me questions, quite endearing. I was astonished by the thriving circus scene represented at the festival. It makes me wonder what other corners of the world are pulsing with the life of circus! You can see the video from our week in Granada here.

Performing w/ Bags & Tilly Twist
After Granada we came here to León to start our project with El Barrilete. We settled into our house here, it has been nice to have roots down in one place. Everyday we get into a “camioneta” (truck) to take us to the area Guadelupe where El Barrilete is. It is literally a truck with a cover over it, 2 benches and lots of people. Sometimes the drivers are crazy as they rush and lurch down the streets. It's always an adventure - packed full of locals - I often find myself hanging on for dear life with our circus equiptment!

A highlight from León are the museums Bags and I visited. One, a Contemporary Art Museum called Foundatión Ortiz Gurdián showcasing Central American artists. I really enjoyed the interactive pieces. We made a spyrograph drawing from an installation of perfectly balanced objects. We also went to a museum of Nicaraguan Legends and Myths. We had a one-on-one tour in Spanish and a translator who told us all about these myths we have encountered here but didn't understand yet. It was fascinating and I am intrigued to learn more about them. Lots of stories come from Spanish colonization and interaction with the native people. Some highlight issues in the culture – a woman who turns into a pig to follow her cheating husband around and catch him in the act, a dwarf that steals children from the rivers if their parents leave them there alone, a Day of the Dead carriage of skeletal horses and people representing how the Spanish settlers would cart around dead bodies of the indigenous people.

Bags & I Juggling 
We have had some memorable shows since we've been here in León as well. We performed at a bus terminal in a half built concrete box with columns in the center, sharp pointy pieces of metal jutting out of the top, trees overhanging and a corner that had definitely been used as a bathroom once or twice. When we showed up I was skeptical to say the least. Picturing myself doing group acrobatics, standing on Bags' shoulders in a twohigh, juggling and dancing in that space seemed impossible. It was the most challenging space I have ever performed in. But we figured it out. Adapted our show, bent back the pieces of sharp metal and absolutely rocked it. There was one kid in the audience who had clearly been sniffing glue. This is a common problem in Nicaragua. The glue makes them high and takes away their hunger, making it easier to survive starvation. It was quite sad to see. Lots of organizations that we're working with here, like Las Chavaladas, take in children with glue addictions and help them get back to a healthy, happy life. We work with these organizations to teach kids like this circus skills - giving them confidence, fun playtime, a hobby to be passionate about, a way to connect with others, maybe a calling in life.

Another memorable show was a street show set up by Las Chavaladas. It was literally in the  middle of the street, blocked off by trucks parked in the road. A massive sound system was set up and hundreds of people in the audience. We collaborated with a group of Salsa Stilt Walkers, called the Zanqueros who we met at the festival in Granada. Since we met them, we have been participating in skill exchanges. They teach us salsa and we have taught them circus skills and belly dancing. It is an amazing link to have made since they want to set up a permanent social circus program here in León. They are such a nice group of people. It really helps our Spanish and makes me feel like I'm a true resident of this country, being friends with the locals! For this show, the Zanqueros did their salsa stilting act at the end of our regular show and then we all rocked out a fire set. It was amazing how our tiredness before the show was turned around by an exhilarating performance into excitement and energy.

Group Acro Pyramid!
One last show of note was held in the large central square in the middle of León last weekend. It was a collaboration between us, the Zanqueros and El Nido de Las Artes (a group of circus performers from another town here in Nicaragua, Estelí). All three of us did a two hour show which included juggling, dancing, clowning/comedy, diablo, poi, hoop, contact juggling, clubs, rope walking, group acrobatics, salsa stilt walking and of course a fire jam at the end....all of the things!!! An amazing conglomeration of our combined talents and oh what an experience! 

I am so grateful that I have decided to do this project and I can't wait to see what else is in store for me during the next 2 months. I want to thank everyone who has donated to help me do such important work. I also want to let everyone know that I am still fundraising the rest of the money needed to do this project. You can read about my fundraising campaign here. Thank you!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: Grateful for a Wonderful Year!


On New Year's Day 2014, I will embark on another exciting adventure! One that is completely unlike anything I have ever done before. I will be throwing myself into the unknown - living in Nicaragua with a team of 6 other circus and dance performers, doing charity work for 3 months. What a life! I am both excited and nervous at the same time. There is no way I can know what it is I am about to experience, see, feel and learn. There will be inevitable growth from challenges such as living in a country that speaks a different language; living, working, performing, breathing, traveling with the same 6 people for 3 months and exposing myself to Nicaraguan people's lives. Since I will be volunteering for such an extended period of time, I am fundraising to get my accommodations, flight and other expenses covered, you can read about the campaign here


Before going on this project with Performers Without Borders, I want to give thanks for such a wonderful year. It really has been nothing short of spectacular. From the gapping cavernous landscape of the Grand Canyon, to the bustle and culture of New York City, the big stage in Las Vegas and then all the way to the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben; I have been fortunate enough to see these places with the love of my life and my other love, my hula hoop!

My year started out with a bang in February when I produced "The Burlesque Circus" a sold out, 2 night show at the Sunset Temple in North Park with my first international headliner Juliette Dragon & Rikkha of Paris. The highlights from Friday night's show can be seen in the video above. Right after the show I visited Bags in Nicaragua where he was doing the same project we're about to start in a few days. You can see an amazing video Bags made about the project here. In May, I had the opportunity to teach and perform at The Spin Summit in Colorado, there was snow on the ground when I arrived! It was another amazing flow retreat that helped the entire flow community soar to higher heights. They already have the dates for 2014, so check them out! Shortly after that is when I found out that my troupe, The Hoop Unit was accepted into the Best Group category of the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas! It was a serious milestone and an amazing experience. Watch our performance here. That was what prompted me to start my first official crowd funding campaign. I have learned so much from it! I am currently applying for the solo debut category for BHoF in 2014 and you can see the submission for it here

After the Burlesque Hall of Fame in June, I packed everything I own into a small storage unit
BHoF in Vegas!
and set off for a three month road trip across the United States with Bags! We taught in 17 cities, 3 festivals, drove through 29 states, 4 time zones and covered 9,500 miles. We performed in 7 shows and taught 45 workshops to about 400 hoopers! It was the longest running and most vast (in preparation, execution and geographically) project I have ever accomplished and I am extremely proud of myself! So much preparation went into it. Communicating with all of our lovely hosts. Figuring out venues, times, prices, dates, which workshops we were going to teach, setting up payment through my website. Making promotional material, promoting the workshops. Travel logistics, getting my car ready for the journey. I mean, Jeez! It was like nothing I had ever done and there were various points in which I felt I wasn't capable of making the decisions that needed to be made. But I made them, I did my best, and it all turned out alright. I can't explain how grateful I am to the hosts in each city. They really made this project possible. And the amazing hoopers who came out to learn from us! Bags made a really lovely video that you can watch here about our tour and you can see all of the pics here


Nothing really went wrong! My car never broke down and we didn't get pulled over once. I am still amazed about that! We hit almost every corner of the states...starting in the Southwest (San Diego) - driving all the way through the south to the Southeast corner (Miami!), up the East Coast all the way to Maine (Northeast corner) and then down through the Midwest to Burning Man and back to Southern California. What an experience! It was such an epic adventure that I can't really articulate the whole thing into words. I tried writing a blog post just about the Tour and have failed, it's a bit daunting to put something like that into a post of readable length! What I would like to do though is to mention one or two highlights from each city we stopped at. 


Grand Canyon Hooping
Los Angeles: Introducing my mom to Bags (and Gail & Emma!), playing in the park that I grew up next to with those 3 lovely UK hoopers.

The Grand Canyon: Walking and driving along the rim of the canyon, stoping at various view points and scrambling out to the farthest point we could get to, realizing Bags and I were scarily on the same page.

Sedona: Hiking up to two peaks in the distance with no trail to follow, and making it to the top! Chocolate Tree Restaurant - delicious vegan food.

Tucson: The beautiful Cirque Roots space, feeling so at home with Britney, Zoe and Stephanie that I wanted to stay there with my new friends, the cactus forest outside the city that looked eerily otherworldly.

Albuquerque: Eating home cooked southwestern chili made by Nicole Evans, jamming in the park, performing with Gilded Cage Burlesque.

Austin: Kim Patty, we love you! I loved teaching Burlesque at the Inner Diva Studio! Swimming at the big swimming hole in town, meeting up with my Irish friend Catriona :)


Miami Hooping!
New Orleans: Driving through a slightly sketchy neighborhood to get to our gig at Siberia with Big Deal Burlesque (they had amazing vegan burgers there), walking around the French Quarter, performing at the House of Blues with Bustout Burlesque (standing ovation!), seeing live washboard playing jazz musicians and saxophonists who got on top of the bar!

Sarasota: Sleeping in a rest area in between Nola and Sarasota because the drive was so long! Going to the drum circle at the beach after our workshop with Bonnie Brown. Thank you Abby Albaum for hosting us as well :)

Lake Worth: Casandra Tanenbaum felt like I had known her forever when I had just met her for the first time :) Driving in a torrential downpour to get there. Swimming in Casandra's pool with Jodi and Jasmin, helping Bags teach his workshop on the beach!

Miami: Having a complete giggle fit in the ocean, Bags in Banana Man pants, making dinner in a parking lot at a park and finishing the cooking right when a tropical rainstorm hits, eating dinner in the car :) Taking epic pictures on the beach for 4th of July and spinning at the park in Lake Worth with Casandra and her flow friends.

Jacksonville: Karma Kream - amazing vegan ice cream!


NY Sunset Skyline
Atlanta: Getting to know sweet Rebecca Deshon better and meeting her husband for the first time, hooping with them both in their basement and going out for delicious vegan food.

Carrboro: Staying in Beth's barn and getting closer with her, feeling such a strong connection and bond with that wonderful woman, drinking beer with Baxter, taking his weekly class, having birthday drinks with Jaguar Mary, eating at Vimilas, spending time with Julia at the FlowJo, hooping in Beth's skirts at the Haw River Ballroom.

Charlottesville: Going to a house party with Anne & Derek, there was a live bluegrass band playing in the living room, getting in their jacuzzi under the stars, walking in their forest backyard, driving to an orchard for a viewpoint of the city.

Washington, DC: Seeing the Lincoln monument and flipping off the White House. 


Bags teaching at R2R
New York: Staying at the Floasis with Tara & Rob, the invention of the 360˚ kiss (Times Square), meeting Evan Davis and his Synth hoops, drinks with Stefan, the Bex and Ali, going to the top of the Standard Hotel, the Met, Coney Island, Pure Food & Wine for my birthday, vegan Dunwell doughnuts and ice cream for birthday breakfast, staying with the lovely Claire de Lux.

Boston: Teaching the best Performance Skills workshop of the whole tour, drinks with Lolli at the lovely after party, finding the vegan food/yoga studio run by a happy family.

Brockton: Spending time with my dad, seeing Theraeu's pond in the rain, hiking and seeing owls and a snake.

Rockland: Walking into Maria's house and laughing hysterically from the combined sense of humor between her, her lovely husband and her wonderful daughter, hoop jam after the first day of workshops, drinks later with Maria, her daughter and Beth, finding the delicious food at the Food Co-Op.


Hooping at Boulder Falls - Photo by Hoopologie
Return to Roots: Epic play sessions, Bags taught Z Spins to practically the whole festival, Justin Aubuchon blew my mind with his beautiful DJ sets, ecstatic dance jam for breakfast on Sunday morning, performing my hoop burlesque act in the show, taking Stefan's performance workshop, teaching hoop burlesque, hanging with Lolli and the Bex in the cargo net, playing with Evan and Matt!

Chicago: Bags explodes with new ideas after flowing with Evan and Matt at R2R, stayed with Emily Perkulator, amazing downtown architecture, the Art Institute, Native Foods vegan dinner, the beach.


Bags in Moab
Madison: Beautiful bike ride through the town with Danielle, the massive and beautiful Madison Circus Space!

St Louis: The City museum (seeing the Circus Harmony show), going to the top of the arch, staying with the lovely Michelle Schaeffer, thank you for hosting us!

Columbia: Spending time with the fam! Hooping with them, jumping on the trampoline,  walking around their farm and finding caves and a vine to swing on, delicious vegan food at Main Squeeze.

Boulder: The Boulder Circus center, spending time with Danielle and Kanyon, hanging out with Cindy Marvel and going to the Boulder Juggling Jam, preparing for Burning Man, performing at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret in Denver, photo shoots with Melinda of Hoopologie, going to the Identi-tape warehouse.

Moab: Riding bikes through the town, getting stuck in a rain/lighting/thunder storm and having to go under a rock overhang to wait it out with my love, the most beautiful place I have ever been!


Burning Man
Burning Man: Vulcan flow jams, hanging out with our Fire Spinning Squirrel Evan :) The hexayurt palace! Riding bikes and looking at art with my love, running into Allison on Tuesday night, hanging out with Jillian, spinning fire with the UK FireWorks collective in the Great Circle, getting the loudest cheer of my life while in a two high fire hooping, the Spin Cycle Hoop Jam.

Lake Tahoe Flow Arts Festival: Bunking with Emma, Revolva, Marria and Zach, the hot tub, playing games with Zach & Marria, juggling in a two high with the Ninjas, performing in the fire gala show, visiting Christy in her amazing shop Jai Yen.

Well that's it! That was the tour! I think one of the major things I got from it was realizing how epically beautiful some parts of the US are. I think I had this idea in my head that the only place in the US to live is either California or NY. But there were many times when I looked around and thought,"I could live here. I get why people live here." It was good for me. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

After the tour I got to live with my wonderful friends Matt & Lily. Their house is full of signed photos of
The Time Traveling Circus
Burlesque legends. I got to wake up to look at them every morning :) I got a job working with Life Play Productions teaching kids hoop dance after school every day. It was an incredible learning experience and I truly fell in love with my kids! I also started practicing Spanish everyday to prepare for the Nicaragua trip. I love exercising my brain in this new way. I have wanted to learn Spanish for such a long time and it's ridiculous that I don't know it so it's been the perfect opportunity to teach myself. In September, I was fortunate enough to perform at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. I gained massive amounts of inspiration from seeing the amazing shows and meeting all of the lovely performers. In October, I produced another sold out show, "The Time Traveling Circus" and hosted a day of workshops (I called it "Find Your FlowDiego") with Caterina Suttin, Revolva, Aileen Lawlor and Tiana Zoumer. It was a dream come true to produce a show with women in it who have really inspired me quite a lot. I also performed a Vampire French Maid Burlesque piece with about 25 women, it was the largest group Burlesque piece I have ever performed in!


Stars of the Orient in Reims, France
In early November I flew to Bristol for Swhoop! Bags & I started working on our first indoor non-fire gala piece for the Saturday night show and put it together in just a few days. We worked our booties off and I really enjoyed performing with him. We also both taught there and took some amazing workshops. After Swhoop I went to Paris and taught a Hoop Burlesque workshop hosted by the amazing Juliette Dragon. Then I went to Reims to teach and perform in Houria's Stars of the Orient Belly Dance Festival. I got to stay with her family in her home and I felt really welcomed into their life. I feel like I gained a new French mother! She really reminded me of my mom - a leader of a big belly dance troupe, teacher, mentor, dancer, performer, organizer and promoter of a large scale event - sound familiar? ;) I also gained a new German best friend, Antje and loved meeting Stella from Greece and two fabulous Ukranian belly dancers, Katerina Golub and Darya Spitsyna.
La Tour Eiffel Amour

Then Bags met me in Paris and we spent a week celebrating our one year anniversary and exploring the city. We stayed with the fabulous Lila Chupa Hoops who also hosted us to teach a Partner Hooping Workshop in Paris. After Paris went straight to Brighton to spend time with Jo & Andy and for Bags to teach at the Brighton Flow Fest. We had my favorite UK day ever that consisted of walking around the countryside and along the seaside, mulled cider and chips in a pub, cooking vegan pizza and watching the Dr Who 50th anniversary special live. After Brighton we went down to Portsmouth to play with Sally Cox and her new baby Violet. We taught a huge Partner Hooping Workshop there. After that we were all over the UK - Reading (Samantha Peel), Sheffield (Charlie Ledger), Manchester (Cathy Mizula), Birmingham (Julia Hurley) and London (Anna Hulagan). Staying with Samantha Peel in her home with her beautiful family was one of my highlights. I loved teaching the Partner Hooping Workshop at their Steiner School in the community room. There was something about the chemistry between Bags and I as teachers and the vibe of the carefree students, it was one of my favorite workshops I've ever taught! Samantha's lovely family life in the countryside made me think that having one of my own wont be such a bad idea one day :) We also performed and taught for the kids at the Steiner school, one of my favorite parts of the trip! Thank you to all of our hosts in the UK & France! We loved coming to visit you!
The Millenium Eye in London

Since then Bags and I have been working on videos, putting new routines together, preparing for Nicaragua, practicing Spanish and spending time with family/friends for the holidays. We have also officially joined forces at Twisted Orbit! You can see the video Bags made for me at Troopers Hill in Bristol below. This video shows some of the new moves I have acquired this year. 2013 really has been a year of leveling up my skills within the hoop! I have started juggling - performed it for the first time passing 6 hoops with Bags at the Swhoop show. I bought my first pair of clubs. I started performing with 4 hoops - nailed the box and 2 hoops on each arm and I'm still solidifying my 4 hoop split. I've also started performing acrobatic hoop moves with Bags. I believe that the Nicaragua project will continue push me in these new areas of performance. 

Some more lovely people I got to work with this year also include Sassy Stiletto and Lizzie L'amour of Bourbon Dames Burlesque, Lola Demure of Demure Productions and Mynx D'Meanor of the Fishnet Follies Burlesque Revue

I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has made my 2013 so amazing. I hope we can continue to play, dance, perform and grow together in 2014 and beyond! I can't wait to see what the new year has in store for us. THANK YOU!