Sunday, May 28, 2017

Show Me a Shift in Myself

I have been home from the Show Me Burlesque Festival only a few days, though the festivities ended almost a week ago. It has taken me this long, and probably will continue to take me a while longer to process and allow all of what I experienced to soak in.

It. Was. Amazing.

The shows were out-of-this-world. I was left awe-struck many, many times. But what has really stayed with me is it's heart. The Show Me Burlesque Festival has heart. It has wild, open, unabashed true love. I think this is a direct reflection of the producer of the festival, Lola Van Ella. She is a gifted leader and a wonderful role model in the Burlesque community. After last weekend, I decided I want to be Lola Van Ella when I grow up! I have noticed that events, festivals, retreats, what have you, always take on the energy and approach in which their producer emanates. And Lola Van Ella emanates love. She's also super silly, smart, funny and sexy :)


She does it all: sings, emcees, dances, strips, produces, teaches...probably a lot more things that I'm not even mentioning here. She has so many talents. But one of her most important virtues is building other people up. She creates community and brings people together to make sexy stripper art. By raising up our art form (showcasing it on a platform worthy of it's importance) and also bigging everyone up to higher heights around her, she achieves so much. And she does it all with a smile on her face and an open heart beaming full of love and gratitude. When Lola tells you you're going to be amazing on stage, it sure does feel good!

Another noteworthy aspect of Show Me was it's diversity. Diversity in body type, gender, sexual orientation, culture, race, everything! Even diversity in approach to Burlesque. I have been to many festivals that have favored the classic aesthetic. Nothing wrong with a good old bump 'n grind, mind you! Many festivals have left me going home from the shows wishing I were thinner and that my costumes were sparklier. Show Me DEFINITELY inspired my costume-crazed mind. But maybe not just to be sparklier. Maybe to be more elaborate, creative, cleaver, beautiful, interesting...
Dirty Martini

I watched voluptuous babes such as Sassy Von Staddler and the one and only DIRTY MARTINI absolutely KILL IT on stage. Sassy went on right before me. She OWNED that stage. She is so flexible and so powerful. That night was the first time I'd seen Dirty Martini's swan act and I am a forever fan. It was hilarious, sexy, smart and weird. It was everything I ever wanted out of a Burlesque act. Yep, the definition of Burlesque. Right there. If anyone asks me what Burlesque is again, all I will do is point them to a video of that act. 

These two, along with many others that took the stage over the weekend made me realize in a completely new way that it really doesn't matter what your body looks like. As long as you completely bring it to the stage, THAT is all that matters. You bring You. Bring yourself to your fullest and do it with more conviction than anything, and you will have the audience eating out of the palm of your hand. 

Performing Burlesque showed me early on that one of my major roles in life is to get on
My Belly Burlesque Act
stage with my society-labeled-not-perfect body and rock it in a way that gives the audience permission to love their bodies as well. We are all bombarded with magazines, photoshop and unrealistic expectations to be "perfect." I have been fighting the good fight; encouraging all shapes and sizes of women to take my classes, feel free, feel themselves, dance and get on stage in complete disregard to how society tells us we should feel about our bodies. BUT even with YEARS of preaching this, teaching this to my students, encouraging them, etc, I have still struggled with my own body image. As a performer, I am expected to be thin. But I'm not. I am curvy. I don't have a flat stomach. And I am quite active, I workout often (on top of the very physically demanding job of teaching and performing circus and dance that I have chosen). I eat healthy, sleep well (most of the time) and take excellent care of myself. I shouldn't feel bad about my not flat stomach. But sometimes I do. 


I am happy to say that Show Me has shown me a shift within myself. An acceptance of my body in a different way than ever before. I have gone in and out. Up and down. Through a long road that winds and dips and curves (dangerous curves ahead!) To a place now that feels like: it doesn't matter what my body looks like, as long as I own it. As long as I rock it! As long as I take my talents (and talents I have honed!) on stage with me, with complete confidence and unabashed commitment...that is all that matters. It clicked. This time it feels like a different click. 

Whew!

Needless to say it's been a really intense week. I have felt a lot of emotions and thought about so much. I have been exposed to 3 days of beautiful, eclectic stripper art and allowed myself to feel it all. I was a little bit more sensitive than usual, it being my moon time, so I spent a lot of time crying. I wasn't sad though. I was so, so happy. I was just feeling all of the feels, and I am a big crier, so all of my thoughts and epiphanies were coming out of my eyes. Like little stripper rhinestones, each one an important milestone in an art stripper's career process. 

Back to the diversity! I have not seen a festival with this much diversity before! Rivaling on, if not surpassing NY's festival with it's level of representation of EVERYTHING. I want to make sure that the shows, classes and events I am bringing to the San Diego community are fully representational and open to everyone. Everyone. I want to put it out there that the events and classes I create are a safe place for every type of person to be there, express themselves and find themselves through art. 

I am so impressed with Show Me for it's diversity, representation of all types of people, it's inspiringly high level, it's community that supports and surrounds it (the crew, band, musicians, support staff, volunteers) and how good the performers are treated and taken care of.

A brief recap of some of my highlights:
Thursday - The Speakeasy Soiree
Midnite Martini
Oh that venue! I think I swooned the whole time. The Thaxton Speakeasy is a beautiful art deco building with an unusual performance setting. Almost like a runway, the performers were incredibly close to the audience which made for an intimate show. I loved being that close to them! They all really did wonderfully with the space and I found myself smiling so much my face hurt! I was so inspired. Lola Van Ella emceed, starting the show off singing with her live jazz band, swoon! Some of my favorite performers were Laika Fox (giant steak suit, political statements, surprise cartwheel into drop splits!), Chola Magnolia (fringe, latin dance moves, the best stage presence and hilarious musicality), Lucky Buck (face balancing boylesque), Lola Lesoleil (beautifully performed with a story and a surprise that I wont reveal here), Kitana Louise (she didn't have a mic stand so used a stage hand and worked him hard while she striped, it was hilarious and sexy), GiGi Holiday's GPS of Burlesque and of course Midnite Martini KILLED IT - ending the show with a beautiful strip, chair / stocking removal acrobatics and so much soul. I was entranced, inspired and couldn't believe it was the first night. I only mentioned a fraction of the performers, but literally ALL of them were amazing. The afterparty was a Burlesque Bingo show emceed by Mimi Le Uke at a venue called the Crack Fox (why is there a venue called that?!) and had even more amazingness - it ended with Isaiah Esquire of Portland and he was absolutely unforgettable. I didn't even know humans were made like that!

Friday - The Red Light Revue
Show night for me! I went through a myriad of thoughts and emotions that night. I was so nervous! I had made this show into such an important one in my mind. Maybe put too much pressure on myself. I had reviewed my choreo and asked Di'Lovely to work with me to make it better, I added more bling / dangly bits to my costume, I practiced more than I usually do (though probably as much as I should be) and then I blanked out on stage for 4 counts of 8. Just fully blacked out, couldn't remember my choreo and couldn't get back to it for 4 freaking counts of 8. Not that the audience knew but I was devastated after I got off stage. Then I couldn't stop thinking about it. Before I went on I couldn't watch the show because it was making me so nervous and I was starting to have an existential crisis about Burlesque. Perfect timing. Right before I'm about to go on, I start to have a love / hate relationship with one of my biggest passions. In the end I just freestyled a bit and NO ONE knows the difference besides me. My cousins from Columbia came out to watch me and an old family friend from ages ago too! It was so good to have them there. 
The Red Light Revue Cast


After the show upstairs was the Van Ella Bordella...a stripper pole in the middle of the room and the Van Ella Band playing 90's hits. It was the best, weirdest, sexiest combo ever. That was the most "stripper" I've ever seen at a Burlesque Festival. There's this huge dichotomy between being a stripper at a strip club and being a burlesque performer...it's really not that different (except strippers make more money!) and there shouldn't be a divide. This was an example of fusion of the two worlds in a way that I have never seen at a festival before, or ever before actually. There was audience interaction, there were dollar bills flying in the air. And there was some of the sexiest stripping I've ever seen! All to live 90's music. Wont forget that one for a while, whoa! That night I suffered some gnarly insomnia and struggled with replaying my act in my head, over and over. 

There were two hoopers in the Friday show which was amazing to see! Johnny Nuriel ended his act with an LED hoop and the audience went wild for it! His, Mr. Gorgeous and Dirty Martini's acts really stick out in my mind. I didn't get to see lots of the show though, do to me performing in it and being a nervous wreck! Eva Mystique was my backstage buddy who was super sweet and I got to see her kill it on stage, so sexy!
Spectaculaire Cast
Saturday - Spectaculaire!
Hands down the best burlesque show I've ever seen. And I'd like to think I've seen some damn good burlesque in my day. The duo talk-show style emceeing from Jeez Loueez and Lola Van Ella was classically hilarious. The acts were incredible! Favorites include: Axis D'Evil (hoop burlesquer with a slick way to hide her hoop in her costume), Shellbelle Shamrock's Michael Jackson act was spot on, Icky Muffin is my new favorite aerial Lyra burlesque artist, Ray Gunn was a creepy, sexy, sexy bird, Midnite's aerial burlesque act gets me every time, I got to see Vivacious Miss Audacious perform for the first time (a fellow old school hoop burlesquer), athletic pole dancing by Patti Zikmund, Willy LaQueue got us all with his pop and lock style of dance stripping, contortion by Dahlia Fatale, and the ending with Duo Izhonny was epic. They brought out all of the stops - fire, headstand twerking, costuming like no other, fan veil work, beautiful makeup, beautiful moments - unforgettable. 


Susan!
After the show we all headed over to Lola's studio on Cherokee and had some good stripper bonding time. There was a Hot Mess Talent show that was hilarious and a moment in which Lola thanked everyone for the weekend of awesome. Of course she had me crying with her sincere expression of gratitude. Around 4am I figured it was a good time as any to go home even though the afterparty was still going strong and probably went well into the morning :) I had a lovely, comfy place to stay, thanks to Michelle Schaeffer and had a lovely meal with my long time family friend Susan Weigand. I went to Columbia to visit my family on Sunday while the festival attendees went to brunch and the City Museum. It was so good to see my Mid West fam that I see all too seldom. Though most of the time I was in Columbia I was sleeping! I had so much sleep to catch up on! 
Fam Bam
I had a lot of realizations at the Show Me Burlesque Festival but one of the biggest things I have taken from it is how much I want to continue to push myself to be an excellent leader, a builder up of the people around me, an enricher of my communities and a elevator of the stripping / performing arts to see it rise to it's highest heights! Thanks to Lola Van Ella for raising the bar and making it a sparkly bar that I want to look up to.

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 February...in 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 felt...yoga 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 :)


ABurlyQ!
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

#effyourbeautystandards

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!