Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Certification in Raw Vulnerability

Yesterday I took my first yoga class in seven months for no reason except for the pure pleasure of it. I didn't have to go home and write a journal entry! I couldn't help but think about the class as I was doing it in the same way I had since my head preparing for what I would write: what I liked, didn't like, what I was feeling, how I was doing, what poses the teacher taught, how it was taught, the music, the heat, everything! That's because on Monday I took the 60th class out of 60 required to complete my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training through CorePower! Wowza! Yippeee!!! Squeee! 

I just finished all of the journaling, all of the written assignments, the questions, the answers, all of it. It's all sitting on Theresa's desk waiting to be reviewed and hopefully turning itself into a nice little certification. So on Monday, I start teaching donation based yoga classes in the space I am currently teaching (and living) at in Hillcrest, Flow Fusions. In some ways it feels fast, but it also feels like the right way to transition from learning about how to teach yoga into actually teaching it. I will probably always be learning how to teach, not just yoga, but everything that I teach for as long as I am teaching. I figure if I don't start sometime, I won't start at all, so here it goes!

The teacher training was one of the best decisions I've made as an adult. I have grappled with the idea of doing it for about 5 years. The main thing that stopped me was the price tag. As soon as I decided to do it though, the money showed up. I talked to Lisa about the training before it started to get some insight from her. Just talking about the training, sitting in Starbucks, about a month or so before it started, I cried. For no real reason at all. This should have been a big red flag. Um, hello, Valentina - you're going to be the crier of the group! Haha. And oh was I the crier! I cried so much during those two months, but never was it about sadness. It was always about awakening. It was just so darn emotional. To have so much striped away, to really look at myself. To start to understand myself in a completely new way. All of it was so intense and so beautiful. 

I remember the first time I had an ah-ha moment. I was leaving a group training session, getting in my car to drive. I immediately started to rush. I don't know if I even had somewhere to be. But as soon as I started feeling myself rushing, I stopped myself and said some very key words in my head that I don't think I had really told myself before. I said, "Slow down" and, "Move mindfully." Whoa. What?! And as I said these things to myself, I realized at the same time how different those words were from my normal self-talk. I thought, but I'm so old, I can't change now. I am just me and it's too hard to change at this point. As I had THAT thought, I acknowledged it and it's defeatist nature and how untrue that was. I can be calm, I can be mindful, I can be careful, I can be gentle and I can think before I do (like you breathe before you asana). If I want to! It was like a revelation and a self-reflection all at once. 

Shortly after that, Lisa taught her Philosophy of Yoga lecture. This was the most interesting part of the training for me. She brought us through the 8 limbs of yoga, particularly talking about the Yamas and Niyamas. Through every Yama and Niyama, I thought about how they applied to me. I was self-evaluating myself as we were going through the whole 3 hour lecture, without even realizing I was doing that. I was thinking about my personality, Bags' personality. How they're different, how they work and why we chose each other. I was really analyzing my life. Towards the end of the lecture one of the other students spoke about her best friend and their differences, it made her tear up. Of course as soon as the gates were open, the flood came! I cried through our ending hand-holding ceremony and was super embarrassed so I went into the bathroom and cried some more. I had to get out of there because there was no controlling it! I snuck out and cried the whole way home. No wonder though, because I had just spent three hours taking a long hard look at myself through the lens of the Yoga Sutras. 

When I got home I was running a student crafting session, so a lot of my burlesque students and troupe members were there. I had just had such an emotional experience and it left me completely open. I felt like I could connect with each person there on a level that I don't know if I could or would normally. But I was much better at one on one conversations. Large group chats felt really overwhelming. I had taken this pretty intense look at myself and I wasn't disappointed. I was proud of myself and how I saw my relation to each Yama and Niyama, but I also saw how much work I have to do. I accepted myself for myself wholly, for all of my faults, quirks, weaknesses and strengths. I don't know if I had ever accepted myself for who I am quite like that before. It left me feeling incredibly raw and vulnerable. But in such a beautiful way. That night after the crafting session, I lay in bed and told Bags all about the realizations I had made. I cried and cried some more. It brought us so much closer. I felt truly bonded with him as I spoke to him in full truth about how I saw myself, how I saw our relationship. 

This is not what I expected! I should have known, (Hello, Starbucks crying session?!) but there's no way to know. I just wanted to do lots of yoga. I just wanted to learn about the body, how it works, why it does things and how to lead people through joyful movement experiences. What I got was so much more than that. I felt taken out of my comfort zone. Even as someone who stands in front of people and leads them through dance and hoop classes on the daily, standing in front of a room full of yogis and teaching them the yoga was scary! I found myself doing all kinds of weird nervous things with my body. I struggled with walking around the room while teaching, NOT demoing while teaching and oh man did I struggle with assists/adjusts. 

The Karma Yoga Project is an aspect of the training in which the group does a community service. Our lead trainer had an idea that we teach a yoga class in which the admission was a donation to the Girls' Youth Rehabilitation Center. We held this class in our new space, Flow Fusions! It felt like a milestone because it was the first yoga class in our space and the first time we taught yoga as a group, a real class! Bags took the class and he doesn't even like yoga. He was so incredibly supportive through this whole process. Not only did he allow me to spend exorbitant amounts of money and time on it, he was my guinea pig when I needed someone to practice teaching on. He took this class and was my guest on beginner guest night too. I am impressed with his selflessness, his undying support and his belief in me. Our Karma Yoga project yielded lots of items to donate to the center that helps San Diego girls in unfortunate circumstances. We hopefully made someone's day better just by collecting clothing.

Teaching our beginner guest class was one of the most amazing experiences of the training, if not of my whole life! We were supposed to bring a guest to come take our class that we taught collectively, so we each taught about 10 minutes of a C1, to both friends and strangers. Bags was my good sport and came along for the ride. I was so nervous and I practiced literally all day. But when it came to do the teaching, I felt really proud of myself. I knew I had lots to work on still, but for those 10 minutes I felt like a real yoga teacher! There was something so much more real about it then the Karma Yoga class. Being in the heat, in the actual CorePower room that I had trained and taken so many classes in...made it feel so REAL. The Omies did so good too! I was really proud of them. After both of the classes, I was relieved that that part was over and so proud of everyone, plus grateful for the experience. The relief and release showed itself in my tears (surprise, surprise).

One thing I learned was that I am out of practice at being a student! The discipline to study, practice, journal, memorize, etc felt rusty after being out of school for about 10 years. But I have felt this yearning to learn again and put myself back into the student role lately. I have done it as a yoga student and in Suhaila's belly dance intensive, both yielding shiny certifications. I plan to go to community college for business, Spanish and anatomy next year as well! I think these trainings have prepped me a bit for going back to academic school. I also learned that I am not the "perfect", organized and over-achieving person I used to be! I did not finish all of the required assignments, classes and journal entries on time. This bugged me. I think I have had this idea of myself based on my behavior in school and as a small-business-owning entrepreneur. It has been a good lesson in letting go of expectation, relaxing my own standards for myself and being realistic. Also a good lesson in how tough and important it is to be disciplined!

On the last day of training, I was so sad it was over. I weeped through our class taught to us by our trainers (Yoga and crying DO NOT go well together. Have you tried breathing in and out of your nose with your head below your heart while crying? Not so much...) We had a talent show in which I performed a hoop piece for my Omies and teachers. I dedicated it to them and I truly gave them everything I had to give, from my heart. It was intense! After everything was over, I brought a bunch of hoops into the room and lots of my fellow Omies tried it! It was so much fun to hoop with them! I have been dreaming of hooping at CorePower basically since I started taking classes there 5+ years ago. The Hoop / Yoga Fusion potential is HUGE and I can't wait to explore it more. 

I felt a deep sense of bonding with my fellow Omies and so much pride in how far all of us had come over the two months. We truly had a magical group of humans journeying through the YTT experience together. I learned so much from them. They inspired me, taught me, laughed at my silly crying antics and were a great network of support through the intense process. I am happy to see what they're all up to now and know that it will forever be a pleasure to watch what they're doing next!

So, what am I doing next? I am starting a donation based beginners yoga class at Flow Fusions on Mondays at 5:30pm. Come learn and play with me!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Year of Festivals and Weddings!

It's that time of year when we start to reflect on how it all went. I am really reviewing my year...what I liked, what I didn't and how I want to make life even better next year. This year seemed to be particularly full of festivals and weddings. I went to SIXTEEN festivals this year, mostly of the flow arts and burlesque variety. I performed and/or taught at all of them but one. What a whirlwind! All over the country and one in France. Bags and I also got married TWICE! So yeah...2015 = festivals and weddings!

I also produced the most nights of shows in the most amount of productions I have produced in one year. Seven nights of shows in the span of three events. I made a dream of mine come true which was to produce in a real big theatre with a curtain, theatre lights, a big stage and lots of seats...The Midnight Carnival this past November was definitely an achievement. 

Another highlight was starting a Burlesque troupe! I started The Hoop Unit six years ago and we have dabbled in burlesque from the beginning, plus I have produced student and advanced student burlesque pieces under the name Vaudeville Vixens but this year we made it official and began the Vaudeville Vixen Showgirl troupe. We had lots of fun opportunities and created three new unique acts that we performed in many exciting places. Plus I got so close with these women and found a sisterhood that I cherish dearly. 

Here I go with a brief(ish) overview of my year and way to process it, in all of it's glory :)
Thailand with Bags' Fam

We started the year in Thailand! Rang in the New Year in Chaing Mai with almost all of Bags' extended family. They had a massive family reunion for the holidays and I got to be introduced to his aunts, uncles and cousins who live in Australia, England and Zimbabwe. They made me feel so welcomed and included. I truly felt completely accepted and like I gained a second awesome family! My favorite part was that for the white elephant gift exchange I was given a hand drawn/painted portrait of Bags and I by Bags' cousin Shane which was signed by every family member. Heart melt!
BellyFusions, Paris

After Thailand I headed to Paris to participate in my second Belly Fusions Festival. It was an incredible opportunity to push myself to create a new Belly Hoop Fusion routine AND I got to teach two workshops - one in Belly Hoop and the other in Belly Burlesque. So much fun! I really love the whole team that make that festival happen, they are so organized and warm. I was lucky enough to stay in a wonderful fellow hooper's flat and have a dinner date with Lila Chupra Hoops, an inspiring Parisian Hoop Burlesque sister.  
Face of Temptress!

In February I experienced the Mac gig sizeism debacle that you can read about here. I also was crowned the Face of Temptress Fashion that month! One of my goals of the year was to do as many photo shoots as possible and work on pin-up modeling. If I didn't do a million other things, I would love to pursue a career as a pin-up model. Since I can't do ALL THE THINGS, just doing photo shoots and being apart of the pin-up model family at Temptress has been amazing this past year. I have learned so much! Janet is such an inspiration to me; she is a strong, successful businesswoman who gives other women confidence and makes them feel sexy in her amazing clothing. I couldn't be more grateful for my time working with her this year. We got to do shoots in her store, out and and about in OB, at the Lafayette, as a mermaid on the cliffs and in the OB Christmas parade, plus on a horse ranch to make an epic calendar. Thank you Janet for all that you do!
First Wedding!

Springtime brought abundance, and man was it a busy, satisfying time of year. I was able to be featured in Lola Demure's House of Blues Burlesque & Variety show as well as Ooh La La's Circus Burlesque show at Tango Del Rey. I produced the VaVa VOOM! show with headliners Kristina Nekyia and Erin Shredder. It was the first show I produced that had solos from students who had taken my Solo Act Creation course, which I am running again this January. Both Kristina and Erin taught workshops while in San Diego that weekend. After that, Bags and I GOT MARRIED! The first time :) Bags' mom came from the UK and my mom and brother were there too. It was a spontaneous and beautiful wedding at the courthouse in downtown SD. I wore Temptress Fashion and we brought our Hoopologie hoops (of course).
The Flow Show, SF

We then headed up to SF to perform in the flow show. We debuted our multi-hoop juggling duet, "Circling the Infinite". We had worked on it hard for months and got the opportunity to perform it three times that weekend. We also were able to bring it around to every flow festival we taught at this past year. It was so satisfying to do the same act so often, and really hone it in. Each festival presented it's own challenges with performing the act, which I believe we learned from every time. In SF I was also able to perform with Hubba Hubba Revue and we taught workshops up there as well, hosted by the lovely Cherry Hoops. I was interviewed by Paige of HulaHoopla, you can listen the interview podcast here. We visited Harbin Hot Springs before it burned down. I feel so lucky to have been able to visit that magical place and to have taken Bags there before the destruction hit later this year. It was the most relaxed I had ever in the morning, alternating submerging in hot and cool pools, gazing upon a wild doe, sunbathing in the nude and getting a massage...ahhhhh, absolute bliss!
Fire Ceiling at Flame Festival

Our first flow festival of the season was FlowStorm in Texas. It was held at Quilombo Paixao which is Wesley's family's home on acres and acres of farmland. It was a small, intimate gathering that mixed lots of interesting workshops like permaculture with flow arts. We loved how well taken care of we felt and how family-like the festival was. I still remember taking Tom Thumb's Crowd Funding Campaign workshop there, it stuck with me! I am excited to use some of the techniques I learned to fundraise to open a training space in San Diego this year. Another highlight was getting friend avocado tacos from a food truck and vegan ice cream after the festival was over with Casandra and Marvin. 

Jillian & Nathaniel's Wedding
After FlowStorm was Flame Festival in Georgia. I got to bond with Casandra a lot at this one! She picked me up from the airport and we camped together. I ended up sleeping in her car the whole weekend because it was cold! Flame was one of the coolest flow festivals I went to this year. The infrastructure was very Burning Man-like, made it feel like more than just a flow arts festival. I performed my Belly Hoop Fusion routine in the instructor show and taught a couple workshops. That weekend I met McCalla too! We bonded instantly about hooping and ukulele. She said, if you're ever going to New Orleans, look me up. Which I did! In September. Flame Festival had these amazing flame throwing, flame ceiling-ed domes that were especially epic. Perkalator and Kassandra were there, who's workshops I thoroughly enjoyed. 

The Vaudeville Vixens
In April, our good friends Nathaniel and Jillian got married! I was fortunate enough to be a bridesmaid for their beautiful Temecula wedding and it was the first time I was in a bridal party. Bags and I performed our lovey hoop duet and enjoyed the mansion they rented for the weekend. Such a beautiful wedding! We then went to Colorado for The Spin Summit. It was my fourth one! This is where Bags made the crazy epic MultiHoop Madness video with all of the amazing multi-hoopers!! I was surrounded by badass Hoop Juggling women and it was awesome. I helped produce the showcase and enjoyed yet another year at our second home, oh Colorado, I love you!

Marvin Ong's Manipulation Theater
May brought Kinetic Festival in Ohio and Fire Drums in Northern California. Kinetic was one of the more challenging spaces to perform our act in. We were in a barn with rafters overhead that we had to juggle hoops through. It was interesting to say the least. I will never forget the moment in the renegade when Jonathan Alvarez surprised everyone with his unexpected entrance onstage, right after he was referred to by the MC. Whoa, that was a crazy moment! Fire Drums was at a beautiful northern California location. It had a kitschy barn which was probably my favorite part about it. There were butterflies and a really cold creek. The festival itself was freezing at night time too! I am a wimp. We got to perform the in the showcase with Wes Peden in it! Big deal!! The fire circle was HUGE!

Photoshoot with Hoopologie
That month the Vaudeville Vixens had our first photo shoot with Xavier Bailey of Studio X Photography. Wow! That was a wonderful, fun and sexy experience. He's an amazing photographer. You can see some more of the photos here

In June, we started the summer gigs at the Lafayette Hotel with Circus Mafia. We had a blast hooping and juggling poolside all summer this year! We also shot a video with the Hoop Unit, centered around Ocean Beach. Watch it here. We had a hoop booth at the OB Street Fair and Chili Cook Off, in which we performed as well. We got to be apart of Marvin Ong's Manipulation Theatre show in Brea and performed to live handpan by Stevan Morris. This was a creative decision made by Marvin that I don't think Bags and I would have chosen for ourselves. But it ended up being one of my all time favorite performance experiences ever. You can watch the video and see the pics here and here. Stevan's music is so dreamy and beautiful to move to. I can still remember looking at Bags, on that big beautiful stage while Stevan played behind us and being in pure blissful heaven. It was the beginning of what I hope is a long friendship and working relationship. I am so grateful to Marvin for that! I also began hooping at the Bahia Hotel that month for the rest of the summer every Thursday to a live band, The Mar Dels. That was a fun regular gig! I love their music and I loved being a gogo dancer/hooper right on the Mission Bay beach. 

Sizzzling Circus Sirens - 5 nights!
In July we went to Colorado for the Colorado Burlesque Festival. I met Midnite Martini for the first time and got to perform right before her at the late night Thursday show. I always love performing at Lannie's! We got to stay with Melinda of Hoopologie and her wonderful family. It was a pure treat to spend time playing with Evan, Mark, Matt, Pam, Danielle, Caterina and Jennifer Alberts! I loved the ping pong games at Evan and Mark's. We went on a gorgeous hike through the Rocky National Forest to Mills Lake for a photoshoot with Melinda, Evan and LOTS of Hoopologie hoops. We visited the mansion that inspired the Shining! 

The Hollywood Burlesque Festival
I also turned 30 in July, right before producing "Sizzzling Circus Sirens" at the Lyceum Theatre for the San Diego International Fringe Festival. Wow. That was an experience. 5 nights almost back to back of shows. I had never done anything like that before! It was intense! Tito Bonito was our host and stayed with us for a whole week. I loved being surrounded by my Burlesque Brother from Another Mother (BBFAM) and my silly husband all week. Lots of giggles! We were very well received at the Fringe with lots of packed houses and a different show every night. We had some great reviews too! We busked pretty much every day and did shows the same night, talk about labor of love! 

After the Fringe show we went to Pennsylvania to teach and perform at Return to Roots. We had taught there in 2013 and loved it so much we wanted to go back! It was on a Christmas tree farm, a really big property of gorgeous land. We slept in hammocks in a forest and relaxed. Another challenging performance experience in the showcase, outside in the dark with bright lights shinning into our eyes while we tried to pass hoops with each other, whoa! Somehow we managed it :)

August brought the Hollywood Burlesque Festival, ABurlyQ and another photo shoot, this time with Scott Saw of Vixen Photography. I competed in the non-local LA performer category in the Hollywood Burlesque Festival and the Vaudeville Vixens performed in the showcase night. It was SO HOT backstage. It was during one of the many heat waves this summer and not AC in the backstage area. Phew! We were melting back there. It was the first time I had competed in a burlesque competition in which I was legitimately disappointed that I didn't place. But it was made up for the next weekend when I did win first place in the Variety Arts category at ABurlyQ with my Dance of the Seven Hoops piece. Emeraude LaStarr and Luna Divine of the Vaudeville Vixens joined me at ABurlyQ in the troupe category. We didn't place in that one but I know we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Watch our act here. The community was so warm, welcoming and inclusive. It felt like a big burlesque family love-fest and I truly believe it was due to the two main women who run the festival. An event is always going to take after the energy of it's leader, and these two - Vivian Mirann and Jane Sweeney are truly wonderful, open and sweet women! I was fortunate to teach two hoop workshops in Albuquerque and meet up with my friend Nicole who had a baby since las time I was there. 

Fee Fi Fo BUM in SF at Hubba Hubba
In September the Vaudeville Vixens had a weekend trip to San Francisco and performed in Hubba Hubba Revue's 9th Anniversary show! We did both our Pasties & Parasols number as well as the "Fee Fi Fo BUM" Pirates number. It was a long show! We were the last act in a show that ended up being around 3-4 hours long. I taught a workshop at the Alonzo Lines King Ballet studio again and we went out dancing and drinking in the Mission. I got to eat at my favorite restaurant ever, Gracias Madre and hang out with both Marria of Ninja Hoops and Revolva. It was a fun trip!

I also got to go to New Orleans that month to perform in the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. I was in the House of Blues show, The Queen's Ball. I taught two workshops at Audobon Park near the big beautiful tree with the help of McCalla. I ate vegan begneits at Seed, oh man was that place good! And got to watch the "Bad Girls of Burlesque Show" which I thoroughly enjoyed. Jeez Loueez was by far one of the best MC's I have ever witnessed. I hung out with a lovely bunch of Canadian burlesque performers from the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue. Another highlight  was the performer pool party on Sunday. 
After our Green Card interview

Bags and I joined Fern St Circus for two days of hot summer shows at the Carlsbad ArtSplash then headed up to Santa Cruz for Hoop Camp! The day we left for Hoop Camp we had our long awaited Green Card interview! It was such a stressful thing to lead up to, but it wasn't as bas we thought it was going to be and we passed! Woohoo!! It's a huge victory for us this year, Bags is legal here in the states! Hoop Camp was a blast! We loved teaching, performing and playing with so many epic hoopers. 

After returning home from Hoop Camp, we hosted a fun World Hoop Day celebration at the White Box Theatre with a community showcase, raffle and DJ'ed Hoop Jam. We raised more money for the World Hoop Day than last year and I really enjoyed this change of pace from previous WHD celebrations. There were so many talented hoopers in the show!

10 person corporate juggling gig
Bags and I headed to Marvin Ong's Manipulation retreat in Idlywild while the Vaudeville Vixens went to perform at the Las Vegas Burlesque Festival and represent us there. You can see the video of them performing here. A cool video of MOPs can be seen here. MOPs was epic, as usual. A big beautiful gym for training in all day and night, a gorgeous location and of course the best instructors out there. I loved learning from McKenzey, Gail O'Brien and Melissa Daly. In October we had a very exciting gig through Circus Mafia and Bollotta Entertainment doing a 10 person juggling show for an IAM San Diego event. It was circus themed and quite the production! I was honored to be booked primarily as a juggler :)

Florida Flow Fest
We headed to Florida Flow Fest at the end of October. Casandra is a genius. I loved the model of having a flow festival in a park in the middle of city. The festival is free to attend but you just have to pay to take workshops. So the exposure is truly wonderful. So many people who might not have otherwise known what the flow arts are get to find out about it. I helped produce both nights of showcases and Bags & I performed as well. The shows went really well and I felt appreciated for my addition. We enjoyed teaching, hanging out with Sharna, meeting and staying with Troy and of course spending time with Casandra. 

The Midnight Carnival
November was a big month! We produced the Midnight Carnival, I went to BurlyCon and we had wedding #2 (or number 3 if count the renegade Hoop Camp one). The Midnight Carnival was the biggest, grandest and most exquisite production I have had the pleasure of orchestrating to date. It was a dream of mine to do, and we did it! Midnite Martini headlined and we pretty much sold out the 500 seat theatre. Epic circus acts, flow artists, belly dancers and burlesque performers from all around the country as well as the Hoop Hooligans from New Zealand graced that stage and made me so proud! My students rocked it, troupes killed it and the audience was the best dressed, most loving and most understanding of my seating snafu ever. 

BurlyCon with SD Burly Babes!
Somehow the following weekend I made it to Seattle to have both my body and brain blown away by BurlyCon. I had wanted to go to it for about 5 years but money or scheduling always stopped me. Well this year, even though it was sandwiched between my wedding and a huge production, I went!! And man am I grateful that I did. I learned so much. I think I am still processing all that I learned. I felt like I got to know and bonded even more with some fabulous San Diego performers as well as met and learned from Burlesque stars and legends from around the world. I danced, I stretched, I workshopped, learned, took notes and brainstormed away those 5 days and have over 25 pages of notes to show from it. Whoa! Thank you BurlyCon!

The Second Wedding!

I came home basically to an apartment full of Brits! Bags' best friends Emma, Emily and Sandy all came out to San Diego to be apart of our wedding. Bags' mom and her partner were also in town for a couple weeks. Most of my family were able to make it too! It was a Circus Ukulele Hula Hoop Vegan Potluck wedding, of course! It wouldn't have been possible without the help of everyone who attended, that's for sure. It was a community effort. Everyone pitched in somehow and it ended up being a dream wedding. You can see some fabulous photos of it here. One of my favorite moments from the wedding was singing and playing uke to our own rendition of "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz in the ceremony with all of the 100 guests! While bubbles floated around :) 
We then spent Thanksgiving with both mine and Bags' mom which was a real treat.

Ensenada Gig Adventure
December brought some fun holiday gigs. The most memorable was at a convention center outside of Ensenada. The REMOTE convention center was down 30km of washboard dirt road, with crazy colorful Seussian architecture, sculptures, gardens, cacti and the ocean. We performed a 30 min circus show for the local employees of the organization. The org brings leaders from developing countries together to promote development in those regions of the world. I MC'ed our entire show in Spanish! Whoa! Performed in it as well and then came off each act huffing and puffing while trying my best to speak Spanish into a microphone in front of 450 Mexicans. It was intense but I feel really accomplished and of course my desire to work on Spanish has been re-ignited. The kids were the best! I am grateful to Mango and Dango for the referral, to Miriana for the Spanish help, to Bags for pushing me to learn a new routine, MC the show and for being the best adventure/performance partner a girl could ask for. I am excited to welcome more opportunities into my life that bring adventure, attainable challenges and abundance!
Naughty Christmas Burlesque

We also had a fun gig with Circus Mafia doing a holiday themed burlesque circus show for the WomanCare Global Evofem holiday party. That one gave us an excuse to create a fun Christmas-y burlesque routine to "I'm a Little Christmas Cracker" We got our cute costumes from Temptress Fashion. Bags and I have closed out the year working on filming videos of ALL of the skills we have to offer. It has been an intense process! We are working hard, investing in our future and creating gorgeous video content in hopes that clients will have a real idea of what we have to offer. You can see our newest glow hoop video here and my Multi-Hoop Solo routine promo video here. There are lots more on the way! 

Now that I have reviewed 2015 and picked out some of the highlights, I will go through the process of writing down what I am particularly proud of from this past year. I will also hone in on what it is that I want from the year to come. Practicing gratitude for what I already have and pride in what I have accomplished is the best platform for creating attainable goals for 2016! Can't wait to see what we all create!

Saturday, February 14, 2015


I recently posted one of the most inflammatory posts I've ever made. One of the comments on my post was #effyourbeautystandards, giving the inspiration for this blog post's title. 

What does beauty mean to you? I asked myself this recently and found that what draws me to people, what I find the most beautiful in someone, is confidence. The ability to not only know the power you are given in this life but use it, to me, is absolutely gorgeous and irresistible.  

Usually, I keep my negative ranting on FB to a minimum. However, what I experienced last week was the most extreme case of discrimination and sizeism I have ever faced. My outrage and the painful sting was so much that I felt I had to share publicly. Though at times I wished I hadn't written that post, I believe there is a reason I live my opinions out loud; so others experiencing similar situations will know they're not alone and to draw attention to archaic ways of thinking that still exist, in hopes one day it will change. 

On a Wednesday I got a very exciting call asking me to hoop for 4 days in two cities, (one
city being San Diego at a location very close to where I'm living right now) with a very good pay rate. I was excited to be given this opportunity especially because the gig was specifically looking for hoopers with multiple hoop skills. Multi-hooping, in circus on-body splits, various boxes, juggling and Native American shapes have all been a passion of mine for a couple years now and what I have been focusing on most in my training. This seemed like exactly what I had been spending all those hours training for. A high level, high paid gig asking for the same skills I love. 

There was one catch, I had to do someone else's choreography...three different ones to be exact and I had to learn them all in two days. Because yep, the client waited until the last minute. Surprise surprise. The choreography was a disappointment but really a small concession for 4 days of good work as a hula hooper! So I watched the videos of the choreography, was slightly underwhelmed and checked with the agent that they had various sizes of costumes for the various hula hoopers. The costume was an important part of the look for the performance. Turns out no, only one size and lo and behold my size 8 was too big. WAIT! WHAT?! They made the costumes for the performers before booking the performers? They assumed they would only be hiring someone size 0 - 4? 

It's totally normal to think they would find a model sized, talented multi-hooper NOT booked for a Friday and a Saturday two days beforehand. Yeah. Right.

Before it was determined that I was too large to fit into their body suit, the agent asked me if I knew someone else who could also do one of the cities. They needed another performer for LA. Yes as a matter of fact, I know several people who could do this gig with me from San Diego. Let me refer you someone. 

As soon my dress size was brought up, the agent told me I might not get the gig at all but the person who I referred (who has a smaller dress size than me) would be getting the gig. All four days. It's a dog eat dog world out there in corporate land. 

I have to hand it to the agent. She worked hard to get me the gig. She felt awful that the client was turning me down, someone completely qualified and specifically trained for the skills requested, because of my dress size. 

It was a rough couple of days. I had serious ups and downs and I was extremely emotional about it. I had to send pictures of me hooping, body shots, selfies, head shots, natural-looking pictures. At one point it seemed I had convinced them but then it turned out no, I wasn't getting hired but the woman who I referred was. Also turns out they picked someone else in my place who only had one-hoop skills but is model sized. 

That's when my FB post hit:
Turns out being skinny is more important than being skilled. I just lost out on a incredibly highly paid semi-regular gig b/c of my dress size. I want to cry and punch something at the same time. It doesn't matter that I am the best person for the job (multi hooper) or that I've dedicated my life to training, performing, teaching, living and breathing hoop dance. All that matters is my body type. The shallow nature of this industry and society in general is depressing. I'm bringing booty back!
About 100 people commented within half an hour and I was in tears all over again. People wrote some of the most touching things to me I have ever read. Real life instances in which I had inspired, worked with, taught, danced with, performed with or mentored were coming out of the wood work. Some of my favorites include:

"... you're my IDOL. I've agreed to do a hoop burlesque performance this month and you are my inspiration, you are the Fairy Burlesque Hoop Goddess who whispers to me, 'Cookie, you are sexy with those curves!' " -Jennifer Mountain
 "The way you love, embrace, and use your body has always been such an awe and inspiration to me. And on top of that, you're extremely successful and thriving, rocking a gorgeous body, without a size 0 build. So basically fuck 'em The impact you've had on me and probably countless other girls is way more important than some dumb gig that doesn't see the beauty in you." -Katelyn Carano
"What I love so much about dancing with you is that you know and teach us how to have FUN rocking your body, and that all the women you are making happy don't fit a standard body type but are confident enjoying the body they have, no matter what shape or size! Whoever can't appreciate this doesn't deserve it! Keep up your amazing work performing and teaching and inspiring people around the globe!!! And yes, I'm all about booooootay!!! Bring it on!!" - Tine Be
"Valentina, because of you I moved beyond what I thought my ideal body image for myself was. You inspired me to love my body just the was it is, and flaunt it. I've been a size 12,10,8,6,4,2... Cellulite, stretch marks, saggy skin - all of it! This is the main reason I'm involved in performance art, to pay it forward and show men and women what FEELING good looks like!" - Emeraude LaStarr
Needless to say I was crying reading all of these comments. I decided to let it all go and
went to go take a shower. When I had washed off the icky feeling of being emotionally dragged around by shallow, inconsiderate corporate whores, I looked at my phone and saw that the agent had convinced them to hire me! WHAT?! They changed their minds? After I went public about their sizeism I was being offered the gig. What to do now?

It took me a while to decide what to do. A large part of me wanted to refuse the gig to prove a point. They didn't deserve me anyway. In the end I decided to take the gig because I knew I could rock the body suit and I knew I could rock the hoop moves! I wanted to show them that you do not have to be a size two to be publicly viewed on stage as a performer or even as a model. Now I definitely don't consider myself a model but ironically around the same time this happened, Sports Illustrated published a "plus sized" model Robyn Lawley in their February issue. She does not look plus sized to me. But she definitely looks beautiful.

So I did the gig. I felt both curvy and sexy in the body suit. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. The make-up they did on me, though it was a bit heavy, was fun to play with for a couple days. The most ironic thing about it was that multiple people, both the general public and the employees of the company, complimented me relentlessly on my body. "You have the perfect body!", "I want your body!", "Can I have your body?" These phrases came at me all day. I was gracious, said, "Thank you" and laughed to myself inside. See, you little corporate piece of shit, this is the type of person who should be seen on stage, the REAL, healthy, strong, empowered, talented woman. The one who is more like the everyday woman than the photoshopped models on the cover of magazines. 
The 2015 Face of Temptress

So many hoopers reached out to me who had gone through the same types of experiences. Someone skinnier and less skilled (or even in some occasions more caucasian) got the gigs over them. Even people who had been offered the same exact gig with the same company but in a different city also feel victim to sizeism discrimination. 

It hit me hard that there are still people out there in this world who think like this. I have surrounded myself with people who do not think this way. And maybe closed myself off to current prominent ways of thinking. Homophobia, racism, sexism, sizeism, they all feel like "isms" of the past. This experience showed me that they're still out there. In full force. 

Ironically, the same weekend as this gig I had entered myself into a Pin Up/Talent Pageant for my favorite store in San Diego, Temptress Fashion. This store has tempted me into becoming my most glamorous pin-up self on many occasions and I have dreamt of representing them as the "Face of Temptress" for about 5 years. Since I had always been at Burning Man or traveling the world when they had their pageant, I couldn't consider doing it until this year when the stars aligned. Their pageant was in February AND I had made a conscious decision not to travel internationally for at least a year. So it seemed to be my year! I competed in the pageant and I WON! Yup, right after almost being denied a job I was completely qualified for because of my body; I was celebrated and elevated to a representative position of a Pin Up company, because of my talent. Every single woman who entered the pageant was curvaceous and gorgeous. Every single one, when asked why they wanted to be a pin-up model said it was because the pin-up world encouraged women of all sizes to feel beautiful. 
My winning performance

All of this in the same weekend!

This experience has showed me even more how important Burlesque and Pin-Up culture is to me. Burlesque is full of superstar women who are absolutely rocking life and they're not a size two. Women who inspire me so much because of their talent, business sense, success, creativity and passion...still not a size two. For some women, particularly my students, I have a similar role in their lives. I dedicate my life to dance, performance, art, teaching, traveling, fulfilling my dreams, circus and genuine small business practices...and guess what...I am not a size two! I feel supported, loved and encouraged in the Burlesque, Hoop and Belly Dance communities for who I am. EXACTLY WHO I AM. Thank you to those of you who shared your personal experiences with me, how I have effected you positively through what I do. When you take the time to tell me, it gives me more inspiration to keep doing it!
At the Face of Temptress Pageant

When I first started performing Burlesque, one experience that I will never forget is a couple of women came up to me and said that they loved my performance because I am not a size two. They said they could see how much fun I was having being in my not-society-approved-perfect body, how sexy, confident and beautiful I felt. They said that if I could feel this way about myself on stage just as I am, then they could feel the same way about themselves! Huzzah! That's exactly when I knew what my purpose as a Burlesque performer is! And it has carried onto my purpose as a dance and Burlesque teacher as well. 

I want to say that sizeism can go both ways. There has been a huge anti-skinny movement lately that has left those size two ladies feeling slighted. I DO NOT believe anyone should be considered beautiful because of their dress size. As I said in the beginning of this post, what I find the most beautiful is EMPOWERMENT. Even though the song below walks the anti-skinny girl sizeist line, I still can't stop singing it and feel parts of it are a new anthem for me. Particularly this Postmodern Jukebox version :) Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top!
Click the image!

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 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 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! 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 led 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 :)