Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Monday, January 31, 2011

Zen in the art of two-step


So, I participated in the first dance competition of my life on Saturday. It was Country/Western two-step and waltz, which strikes me as strange even as I type it. I always wanted to learn to dance, but I had it in my head that I would learn swing, someday, and that I and a willing boyfriend would make a dashing and skillful couple who would turn the heads of everyone else on the floor.

That wasn't what happened.

What happened was that I moved to Denver and then I got involved in the gay community, and then a date took me to a dance lesson at the local gay country bar. And then after a couple weeks I was no longer seeing the woman but I was still going to the dance lessons, which happened not only to be free but to offer a free drink to attendees, so really, it made more sense to go than not to go.

And then I was completing a writing exercise in which the idea was to write out all my goals as fast as possible, without stopping to think too much about them, and I saw "To be very good at two-step" coming out of my pen. Seriously?

And then I heard about the competition. This would be the first ever organized by the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association. It would have a division for first-time dancers. I desperately wanted to do this. It sounded like tremendous fun.

It did not sound like tremendous fun to everyone, which was unfortunate because I needed a partner. Somebody with some skill, and with a lot of commitment, because this was important to me. I fished around, bringing up the competition to anyone I knew was a reasonably good dancer, but everyone was either uninterested, too busy, too chicken, or already had a partner. After a few weeks, I finally got a bite. More than a bite, when a woman I knew was good (I'd previously done a lesson with her) was going on about what a great idea the competition was, and how awesome it would be to do it, if only she could find a partner as committed as she.

That was how I ended up staying out till 2 in the morning on a Wednesday night, practicing to "just one more song" until my throat was raw with the oncoming cold that would wipe me out on my visit to D.C. While I was away I researched two-step patterns on the internet; she danced solo to the radio. When I returned to Denver, practice became mandatory. We went out too often and stayed out too late and, at the end, moved all the furniture in her dining and living room in order to practice on the hardwood floors, ducking beneath the chandeliers whose heavy metal tips hung menacingly at forehead-level.

In the end it wasn't the dance but the rules of dress that proved hardest for me (as excerpted in my previous post):
Country/Western Dress Style.
1. Contestants will compete in western style fashions.
2. Footwear will be western style boots.
3. A western–style hat is required to be worn by at least one (1) partner of each couple in the two–step and waltz.
4. Loss of hat during competition shall result in no scoring until the hat is retrieved.
I had no boots and no hat. And no job. The impracticality of spending my savings on boots and a hat (which can start at $50 each, new) needled me a little, but that was nothing compared to the indignation I felt at being required to dress this way in the first place. I have no fondness for country & western culture, but that wasn't really the issue... it was that C&W culture is, well, very hetero, it encompasses a lot of very strict ideas about the roles of men and women, and, let's face it, a certain amount of misogyny and homophobia. Why should we be so keen on imitating that? It struck me as slightly perverse.

However, it may be an indictment of my character that my desire to win was easily more important than any desire to buck the imposition of heteronormative dress and roles. It took me another couple of weeks, but I found some boots at a thrift store that fit me. They were eight dollars. They aren't even leather, but vinyl, though you can't tell until you're within a couple feet of them. I was unable to find a suitable hat at a thrift store but got one at JC Penney. I had one sort-of-country shirt.


The competition went by so fast. All that practice for four minutes of performance: two minutes of two-step and two of waltz. We didn't do badly, though I know we've danced better; the most difficult thing was the slowness of the pieces chosen. It's a hard thing to dance to a slow song. Two-step wants to scoot along the floor, and it's nearly impossible to force yourself to chain all your steps and moves to a slow rhythm. In the end we got 2nd place in our division. I have been telling all my friends that we got 2nd without mentioning that there were only 3 couples in the division. You won't tell, will you?


video
Here we are, slowly two-stepping around the floor.

Afterward we got to watch the rest of the performers; besides the first-time category there were beginners, intermediate, and advanced. Here is a video of the advanced couples:

video

The bar where all this happens is a lovely place, with mirror-mantled cowboy boots in place of a disco ball in the ceiling. For me it has a perpetually unfinished and very friendly feel to it; the former from all the exposed two-by-fours, the latter probably from its being a gay bar. Its very existence rests on a foundation of tolerance. And it is a fine thing to learn how to dance here; most people learn both to lead and to follow, and even when men ask me to dance, they ask if I want to lead. I happen to think real life would work better if it were a little more like this.

Another photo taken by Jess on competition night

There will be another competition in March, and I assume I'll compete again, though I don't know yet. When I dance I think sometimes about aikido, the martial art I studied one summer ages ago. They say in aikido that whatever issues you have in life will, sooner or later, turn up on the mat; that if you have a problem being assertive, or a problem with your temper, or a problem finishing what you start, at some point it will be an obstacle in your training and you'll need to work through it to continue with the practice. This is not going to happen with dance; I suspect I can keep getting out there, and probably improving, indefinitely without having to stare down any demons. Still, I can sense a couple sort of whiningly nipping at my heels.

One is that I LIKE TO DO THINGS THE RIGHT WAY. I always have. Not everyday things like my taxes, um, but difficult things like singing and yoga and dance. It's an irresistible challenge to try to be technically perfect. (I chose aikido because I'd heard it was the most difficult martial art, which is probably as good an illustration of my basic mindset as anything.) Also, I LIKE TO WIN. I work very hard; I love it. Two of my favorite things in life are to learn and to excel.

So it's damn hard for me that the number one thing I hear about my dancing is "You need to loosen up." This always makes me groan inwardly. Tell me there's something wrong with my timing or my technique or my work ethic or anything but that, because I can fix any of those things but I'm pretty clueless about how to loosen up (unless it involves a trip to the bar). I'm laughing as I type this because it's so ridiculous and terrible, but it's basically true.

And that's why I'm debating the next contest. If I'm going to spend another two months practicing and getting all my forms correct and my timing right so that I can go in again and... basically repeat the past, then I might as well not do it. Because it suddenly seems a lot harder to dance just for fun, without worrying whether I'm doing it right, and by default that makes the challenge of no-challenge so compelling as to be irresistible. (I recognize that such a shift in mindset could take me the next 60 years to pull off, but whatever.) Of course, theoretically it's possible to enter a competition and dance just for fun. But can I?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The arrival of the fourth horse

I started this blog as a fiction blog, to get me writing, back in 2005. I want to speed-write again, but I didn't want to confuse my new readers who only know this as a travel blog, so I've split SedLife in two. My fiction, including two new entries, can now be found at The Fourth Horse.

Loyal followers, carry on. While after returning to Denver and talking to various friends and acquaintances I now realize that there are far more people than my mother reading my blog, I cannot encourage you enough to leave a comment now and then... it gives me a cheery feeling and keeps me going!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Extra-medium post


No joke. I got this spork for Christmas. Crazy Swedes. What will they think of next? Extra-medium, by the way, is my word of 2011. I hope to use it as much as possible. What for, I'm not sure, as its meaning is completely unfathomable, which is why it's so amusing in the first place. Perhaps it can simply be used for everything. Much like a spork.

I will not be having geology-related adventures until the summer, I expect, but I will make a post when I do something interesting. Such as the forthcoming contest to which this rule pertains:

4. Loss of hat during competition shall result in no scoring until the hat is retrieved.

LOSS OF HAT DURING COMPETITION SHALL RESULT IN NO SCORING UNTIL THE HAT IS RETRIEVED. What have I gotten myself into? What kind of a rule is that?

As for the adventures I've had since returning to Denver, they've mostly been snowshoeing. I had never been snowshoeing before, but I immediately loved it. There is not much to it, but it was quiet and beautiful, which is really all that matters.

Driving into the mountains

That is me, sitting down, trying to figure out why I have no feeling in my right foot (bindings too tight)

I lead the way.

A wide-angle shot

The scenery at Brainard Lake. It was very cold. The drinking tube on my hydration bladder froze so I couldn't drink my water.

Me and Jess, on ends, and a mutual friend cower in the ice-particle-laden gusts coming off the lake.

On the count of 3, we look up for a split second so a photo can be taken.

The clouds were doing strange things.

We also saw a moose on the drive back home.

I went on another trip the next weekend, from which I have a couple good shots:


There were some people doing telemark skiing on this mountainside, down which the wind was blowing so hard I couldn't lift my head to see where I was going. We turned back before getting to the top.

Well, that has all been a lot of fun, and I am also very excited to have a social life, after four years of school work and work work occupying all my time.

Eight-player Bananagrams at the apartment

In parting, I would like to point you all to the wonderful new blog Did You Kill That Badger (linked to under "One degree of separation" at top right), in which a museum of natural history worker reflects on some of the more interesting questions she has received from children and adults.

That worker is Kate, who--seen here at the Grand Canyon with a hot dog on a chopstick--was the very tall, clever, and British roommate that Katie and I shared during the summer of 2008. Kate is now in London working on an advanced degree in science communication, though if her blog is any indication, she is already ready for her own TV show.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Monument to October


When I learned, sometime in November, that I wouldn't be able to keep traveling, I was pretty much crushed. I'm not going to talk about it... there's nothing I could say that would do any justice to how I felt. But when I look back on what feels like the two lifetimes I already spent, in September and October, I realize that all the good memories are from October. I did many things in September, and it was all interesting, but they were just things I did. I camped by a field of sunflowers in Wyoming, I rounded a hill to find a herd of buffalo in the North Dakota wilderness, but these memories have no emotional component, no fondness attached to them. They simply happened. And yet everything from October is charged with fondness, down to the mundane minutes of doing laundry in the windowless little laundry room of an Idaho hotel.

I didn't completely appreciate how much my love for the land is really a love for my friends. All the places I love best are places I visited with good people. And it's not so much that doing laundry with Katie is enjoyable because we're such good friends, as that--and this is a fine distinction--she has become such a good friend because even doing laundry with her is enjoyable. And as I can't do that subject justice either, I'm going to stop talking about it, and present instead this monument I have to October.

Our first day on the road, I asked Katie to write down the name of every RV we saw. I can't remember why I wanted her to do this. I suppose I thought it would make an interesting anthropological study, or maybe I just wanted to give her something to do. I didn't know at that time whether the task I'd set would become annoying, or whether we might run out of names on the second day. What in fact happened is that it never got boring. We always had something to interest us on the road, and never found an end to the new names.


I have in front of me three notebook pages of RV brand and model names. So much a part of our daily life was writing these down that even after Katie left me, I could not stop looking at every RV I passed on the road, with that little flicker of excitement that it'd be something new. Something hilarious. I present now our list of RV names as a poem, because it might as well be. It is illustrated by a few photos I haven't yet shared. It is simultaneously boring and hysterical. When you read it, I invite you to imagine what these monsters look like. I invite you to imagine what their designers were thinking. I also invite you to imagine what kind of sick people Katie and I must be to be so fascinated by this for a whole month. This poem is about America and it is about us.

I also invite you to take a liking to the name that tickles you most, and leave a comment telling me which it is.

Poem of RV names of America

Superchief
Flagstaff
Intruder
Alpenlite
Allegro
Excel
Phaeton
Hichhiker
Jamboree
Cougar
Lance
Komfort
Ameri-lite
Puma
View
Real-lite
Condor
Escapade
Tiger
Wildcat
Bigfoot
Outback
Okanagan
Sports Master
Montana
Cruiser
Topaz
Allegro Bay
Sundance
Admiral
Arctic Fox


The Narrows, Zion National Park

Open Range
Layton
Raptor
Fun Finder
Salem
Shadow Cruiser
Bounder
BigHorn
Quantum
Dutch Star
Cameo
Razor Adventurer
Flair
Kountry Star
Prevost
Carriage Cameo
River Canyon
Mako
Aerolite
Chateau Sport
Durango
Mallard
Wilderness Yukon
Calay
Trav-L-Mate
Frontier
Alliance
Rockwood Signature
Lite Craft
Kodiak
King of the Road
Sandpiper
Southwind
Escaper
Road Ranger
El Dorado
Outlook
Pursuit
Chalet
Suncruiser

First snow, Katie's hair

Rialta
Lazy Daze
Eagle Cap
Pleasure Way
Chinook
Lexington
Sonoma
Shamrock
Trailblazer
Zinger
Alfa Gold
Rockwood
Inferno
Seneca
Spirit
Alumascape
Palomino
North Star
Challenger
Wolf Pack
Cub
Montara
Skamper
Super Condo
Hurricane
Ranier
Walkabout
Odyssey
Chaparral
Ambassador
Sightseer
Cherokee
Prairie Schooner
Holiday Rambler
Ideal
Potomac
Laredo
Arista
Santara
Caribou
Surveyor
All American
Sunrise
Independence
Passport
Prowler
MB Cruiser
Hi-Lo
Free Spirit
Springer
Tango
J Flight
Outfitter
Journey
Freelander
Safari Condo
Travel Supreme
Fuzion
See Ya'

Lake in the Sawtooths, Idaho

Aspect
Flite
Sunseeker
Alaskan
Cruise Master
Starcraft
Hornet
Taurus
Attitude
Titan
Fiesta
Georgetown
Jazz
Titanium
Sun Dog
Eagle
Brookside
Americana
Ameriscape
Fourwinds Breeze
Crossover
Vortex
Meridian
Brave
Companion
Commander
Sunset Creek
Searcher
Leprechaun
Voyager
Elkridge
Pace Arrow
Snow Villa
Everest
Ultrasport
Lakota
Fun Runner
Royalite
Shockwave
Grey Hawk

Hoodoos, Bryce Canyon

Access
Experience
Esprie
Fireball
Designer
Spree
Grey Wolf
Streamline
Executive
Lexington
Nomad
Snowbird
Carri-Lite
Resort
Casita
Bristol Bay
Escalade
Centurion
Monaco
Diplomat
Overland
North Shore
Northern Lite
Crusader
Open Road
Hideout
Baja
Autumn Ridge
Infinity
Knight
Dynasty
Antique
Desert Fox
Six-Pac
Jet
Ultra Super C
Stellar
Squire
Heritage
Thumper

Me, Great Salt Lake

The end. Of the poem, and of my reminiscences of the trip. There are new adventures to write about as well as a change coming to the blog, but that will all have to wait until later this week.