My newest theme song

“Once I get you up there, where the air is rarified
We’ll just glide, starry-eyed
Once I get you up there, I’ll be holding you so near
You may hear angels cheer ‘cause we’re together,” Come Fly with Me”
La vida da vueltas. Life moves in cycles.  At least once in a week in our house, these cycles can be broken down into choreography, “all the way around…all the way around”. My daughter is now a competitive dancer and more than ever, she is dancing with all of her being. She dances with her limbs and, when her confidence is strong and the music fills her, with her eyes and her smile.  She is beginning to understand why dancing is such a wonderful expression of self and joy.
It has been a season of milestones. As we prepared for M to take part in her first competition, I underwent a new series of medical examinations. At first I suspected a flare-up in my IGM. So we began a round of antibiotics. After an ultrasound revealed changes in my gall bladder, I have been assigned a new surgeon (the wonderful surgeon who oversaw my recovery last years has retired) and I will soon be discussing next steps. I am feeling better physically but emotionally I have my moments of panic and wistfulness. Last year’s journey was challenging. I don’t want to miss out on M’s season of competitions and shows. I don’t want to miss out on another Carnaval. It doesn’t take much for me to become tearful.  

As one of my favorite writers Hettie Jones writes, “See we tender women live on.” I was grateful to focus my energy on M’s dance journey. It was a whirlwind weekend in Dance World. Her costumes were adorable. Her makeup looked great.  My mom and I were schooled in the art of putting up thick, heavy hair into a French twist. I cried happy tears as M danced her first routine before the judges. The song they danced to felt like an anthem. 
When we got home, I continued to sing or whistle “Come Fly with Me, “both at home and at work.  Why had it resonated with me? The lyrics are a romantic invitation to travel.  The song is a reminder of the importance of taking opportunities to enjoy love and life. I realized that it is my time to fly with my daughter and my loved ones. No matter what doctors may tell me, my heart needs to rise and soar. Every day, I am invited to fly.  Every day, I will take flight. 

My youngest dance teacher

When she steps out on the stage, she smiles widely and shows off her dimples. She looks out into the crowd with such joy and love that I often wonder if she can’t see her father or her grandparents through the stage lights or bright sunshine. She is dancing in the moment.

These past four months haven’t been easy for M. She has struggled with behavior issues at school. She has pushed back at home. Focusing and listening have been challenges.  As much as we have wanted to shield her, M has had to deal with the new normal in our household.  Most nights, she prays for Mommy to feel better. Though she nicknamed the Wound-Vac, she looks forward to its departure so she can give me a real bear hug.  It is both inspiring and heart-rending to watch her deal with these changes. She is one tough little girl.  I learn from her daily.  
I am grateful she shares my love for dance. She can forget her worries when she dances.  She deserves those moments.  

Why Latinos don’t obsess over Prom

What today’s reflection forgot to mention was the ethnic twist on the whole situation. Maybe, just maybe, the reason I’m not tripping over this whole Prom Night thing is because there are other rites of passage that I have celebrated and most definitely plan to enjoy in the future.

M’s Quince:

Someday, M’s boda:

And maybe we’re not in formal attire, but the ultimate pachanga (and it’s coming soon!!!) :

Loco just like you

A Valentine to KOFY’s Dance Party

When I was fifteen, the best guy friend, Warrior, and I (or sometimes the best girl friends and I) had a Saturday night ritual. We’d begin our phone conversation  around 7:30ish and then make sure the TV was set to Channel 20. I could often be found in my parents’ bedroom because though the screen was only about 36 inches, I could sit or lie on the bed and talk on the preferred cream-colored rotary phone, its  long cord coiled around my arm like a snake.  At 8pm, Dance Party began. It was a local TV show featuring dancers of all ages and walks of life, dressed in their best 50s attire and swing dancing with palpable joy.  We would laugh at some of the outfits or dance moves, engage in running commentary, and state our wish to be on the show someday.  At least I did. 

I have always loved to dance. From four years of dance before high school to the five-plus years as a San Francisco club kid, dancing has been one of my passions. So when my brother texted me details for the inaugural taping of the returning KOFY TV’s Dance Party last December, I was thrilled. I literally gave a little shriek and started to review a mental checklist of local thrift stores.  Feeling guilty about leaving a then-two-year-old M for a full day, I changed my mind at the last minute and instead made plans to go in January.  Nine episodes later, I can proudly say I have made my wish to be on Dance Party a reality.

Recently, a young blogger from Uptown Almanac, a site with the tagline “Where 20-Somethings Go to Retire” (somehow my mind remembered that as “Where Hipsters Go to Die”), wrote a snarky blog publicizing the most recent taping. her piece, she calls the show’s dancers “morbidly obese, incredibly unattractive, or on MDMA of some type.”  As you can imagine, the Dance Party faithful on Facebook had several reactions ranging from outrage and indignation to disinterest.  As for me, blogger that I am, I reacted with both curiosity and annoyance. Curious because her thoughts were those of an outsider. Annoyed because I immediately began to evaluate myself on the three criteria she established. BMI unhealthy? Check.  Not cute?   Okay, I’ve been told my indigenous features render me non-photogenic, but that’s because the mainstream can’t handle my kind of beauty.  High on drugs?  Nope, not even when I was running around the Endup or 177 Townsend in the late 90s, have I ever partaken, at least not of any non-organic substance. 

Is being on KOFY TV’s Dance Party part of being in a “hilarious train wreck”?  My answer is HELL YES. I have no “delusions of grandeur.” I have never been interviewed or been a contestant in any of the games for prizes. I haven’t been to every taping like some of the regulars. I’m not on the show for the spotlight, though I love when my high school students refer to my appearances, and especially when M proudly cheers, “There’s my mommy!” The outfits, the dance moves, and especially, the behind-the-scenes behavior often make me feel like I’m on a mash up of a Fellini film and a reality show, all surreal weirdness and occasional drama. But that’s what makes it an only-in-San-Francisco experience. And most importantly, it’s dancing!

*Come join the fun! Details for the February taping: 

Flashback: the snap

See what had happened was I never really warmed up that day. Lifted weights that morning and walked a few blocks to get there. But no calf stretches or squats or I-ran- 9-miles-in-Vegas-last-week movement. Just changed into ballet slippers and started twirling around. Never mind I was still feeling stiff and sore. This is the Nutcracker and I’m in it, damnit!
A dad and his daughter approached me. He extended his hand because he wanted me to lead another line of dancers around the auditorium. I took a step and then rose up on my toes for another two.
Snap! I heard and felt a distinct “pop” in my left calf. My foot gave out so I dragged myself and the other dancers as my leg burned and my head spun. Could it be bone? But I could still move, even if it hurt like a mother.
I danced the entire show, favoring the good foot.

Never said I listen to my pain at all times.

Fun hangover

If there’s a bad influence within a 5 mile radius and he’s Latino, chances are I’ll get mixed up in some madness. Halloween 2007 was no exception. It was Thank God It’s Friday meets Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. Okay so there was no nudity or cheetah riding but there were a lot of hilarious moments, courtesy of my bro’s bros and yours truly. Stay tuned for the play by play…

All I’m missing is a feather headdress

So I didn’t run this past weekend but I did get in my cardio workout. Sunday morning, I danced samba. It wouldn’t surprise me if I burned an equivalent amount of calories. I know my core and leg muscles got a workout.

I love to dance. I have been dancing for most of my life: four years of tap and jazz, a quarter of West African(which I’ve forgotten for some reason), three quarters of belly dancing, as well as three decades of dancing to almost anything with a beat. My most recent endeavor is samba.

Samba is the national dance of Brazil. Like most Afro-Latin dance rhythms, samba bases itself on African drumming and dance styles with some Portuguese influence. The centerpoint of the samba beat is the surdo(bass drum). Follow the surdo beat even as samba’s characteristics bells and whistles layer over the bass.

Samba is also an umbrella term for the variety of styles such as bossa nova(think “Girl from Ipanema”) to the high energy batucada(think Carnaval). What makes samba different from the Spanish-language beats/dance styles is the emphasis on footwork. There are no partners in samba but there is a reason most people join an escola do samba(samba school) to master the dance. The basic samba step is step-touch-touch but that’s where the simplicity ends. And the cardio workout begins.

Blow that whistle!

Azucar y sabor: a closer look at salsa

I’m soaking in salsa. Not in tomatoes, onions or chili peppers. No, for the last two days, since the office is in shutdown mode, I have been listening to Yahoo Launchcast. I started with my usual dose of reggaeton but then I decided to listen to the Salsa Cien Por Ciento station. What fun!

As intimidated as I seem when at Luka’s or a family gathering(or my recent night at Nashville’s Ibiza), I have always loved salsa. There’s something about that piano, those horns, that cowbell, the timbales, the bongos and congas, and all the voices of the coro as they play and dance in unison. Salsa has been a part of my musical life for as long as I can remember. I grew up on Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, El Gran Combo, Oscar D’Leon, Tito Puente, and La Sonora Matancera. I learned the basic salsa step of right foot forward and back and right foot backward and back, the duro palante and pun patras that Daddy Yankee calls out, along with all other dance moves. Of course, I didn’t learn to dance with a partner because Peruvians dance freestyle, which now that I think about it, must be because all Peruvian dances, including the equally movido Afro-Peruvian dances, are danced alone and incorporate plenty of improvisation. Salsa brings back great memories of dancing in garages and family rooms, of singing along with classics like “Caballo Viejo”and “Brujeria,”of beating time on a sofa or a table.

Recently, I read Mi Vida, the autobiography of the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. I always admired the brassy singer from her young days with La Sonora Matancera singing the chacha(I love “Yerbero Moderno”) to her 1980s Mazola commercials. There was something about her crazy wigs, wild outfits, and wild makeup, and her signature shout, “Azucar!” Her life story is the American Dream Latino style and taught me a lot of history as well as more about salsa(which is a term made up by the media and music moguls to market Latin dance music and one which the veteran performers never fully embraced.) I have even more respect for her now, knowing that she performed up until a few days before she lost her battle to brain cancer. Her songs are especially inspirational to me now, knowing what she endured and yet transformed through her art

Listening to the salsa station has reminded of the artists I enjoyed in the late 80s and 90s when I got back in touch with my Latino musical roots: Luis Enrique, Jerry Rivera, Eddie Santiago, La India, Marc Anthony. I can tell the difference between these pop salseros and the more jazzy vets like Eddie Palmieri. The station plays a good mix of old and new school salsa with a few merengue songs and even my old favorite, “Yerbero Moderno.” Alone in my office, I danced both the chacha and salsa. Azucar!


It was a feeling unlike any other. All 4’11” of me just strutting, parading, serving it, working it. Because if there was anything I learned all those years on the dance floor in gay clubs, it was to let these mothers have it. All of a sudden, it didn’t matter if I was short or Peruvian or carrying an extra pound(or five.) When I was walking across that floor, sometimes in the company of drag queens or club queens, sometimes alone, sometimes holding my Cookie Monster doll, once with an open umbrella, occasionally with a Corona bottle in hand, whether I was wearing a vintage Adidas jacket and sneaks or a cute little dress, I was invincible, magnificent, glorious. Just play one of these classic tracks(like my recent iPod addition, Patrice Rushen’s “Haven’t You Heard”) and I’m back. Ms. Cookie, Cookie, Mouse, Lil India, Hayward, me.

So fierce!