Monday, October 07, 2013

The hobbyist's life

I think it was my good friend Katie who once described me as a "hobbyist".  And I guess it's true that over the years, I have tried my hand at a fairly varied range of extracurricular activities, including amateur singing, creative writing, triathlons, and photography (to name the ones I can remember!).  Now, it seems, I have may have met my match in the hobbyist life, which for me is about being challenged and learning something new, but with an aim of improving and hopefully becoming somewhat decently skilled at the hobby in question.  I introduce you to the story of my adventure with African dance...

On our holiday in France this year, there was a clubhouse/bar at the caravan site where we stayed, and they featured an event each evening - karaoke, live bands, an appearance by a magician, things like that.  They even had a mechanical surfboard (of course I had a go!  If you must know, it was hard and I fell off after about 2 seconds, and I was too embarrassed to try again because I was the only adult who was trying it - it was being monopolized by the kids!).  Blake was fascinated by this nightlife scene and by the middle of the trip would be begging by the late afternoon to go to the bar.  "Lower your voice," I kept whispering to him urgently.  Although as I write that, I wonder if he was calling it "the bar" or something else - I may have to ask Matt to check if my memory is serving me right there.  A couple of nights there was a disco and there were a few songs which seemed very popular, in the way that songs can be very popular in the summers and ski seasons in continental Europe but be completely unknown to the rest of the world.  One of the songs that he really loved was one that I didn't recognize at the time, but which turns out I feel like I should have heard before: Shakira's Waka Waka which was the theme song for the FIFA World Cup in 2010.  You can listen to and watch it here
Anyway, Blake and I got pretty good at some of the basic moves - or what I now know as "basic moves" - and after dancing around the kitchen one morning after we were back from France, I thought to myself that maybe I would have fun doing an African dance class.  I should note here that I seem to really gravitate toward the work of all female performing artists who manage to make it big using only their first name (I'll throw Cher into the mix of the main one you'd guess, Madonna, and of course I do like Shakira).
Well, would you believe, that due to the miracles of the internet, I was able to discover, only a few moments after having this idea that an African dance class might be fun, that there was one starting up within a few weeks at a local museum that's only about a 10-minute drive away.   And that it was on a Sunday - so I would generally be free to attend provided I could get Matt on board to watch the boys while I perfected these energetic and vibrant moves.  I've just realized that I should blame this adventure on the internet. Surely before the web was so popular and pervasive, people would have ideas like this one, make a mental note to research it when they had time - maybe by looking at a community board in their library [love a post where I get to mention the library!], or something that required more effort to research - then promptly file the thought away to be forgotten about in light of more important and pressing matters to attend to, like laundry, or sleep. 
"I have no prior experience of African dance but the music and movement really look and sound exciting, and I love dancing in general," I wrote in my email enquiry.   All of which is, I might add, true.  Their reply included this: "You say you love dancing in general, which is a good start..!"
And I was signed up! 
The first class was 2 weeks ago but I had to miss it (I was on a creative writing workshop - see first line of this post).  So last Sunday I arrived at the class, slightly apprehensive but still excited.  There was a lot of mingling, smiling and general chit chat happening before the class as we waited for the instructor; one woman was stretching and I no doubt wondered to myself whether I should be doing the same.  We began with a warm-up; 10 or so minutes of imitating the instructor, this incredibly strong and agile man with a full head of dreadlocks; he had about 40 or so moves that just emanated innately - and strongly, fluidly, skillfully - from within him.  After 10 minutes I realized this was going to be quite a good workout, but it was somewhat as I'd imagined it - easy enough to follow and I was learning some funky moves.  The hard part occurred when the warm-up stopped.  We got some water, and then got into lines and things got all a lot more...organized.  As in, dance class style, which, I started to recognize, involved coordination among all of us to do the same the same time.  And of course it was at that point that I remembered reading that the final session of the class would be a performance.  Something inside of me kind of squeaked in fear as I suddenly understood that this was super hard, I had actually never really even been in a dance class before, and the one I picked to start with involved getting my cues to move from the beats produced by the live drummers.  Not even any words in a song as a cue from which I could remember to go down to a crouch, and then up into a cat-like style leap, and then land lightly on my left foot before going into a pivot from my right foot.  No, I had to get that cue from a drum beat.  Which the instructor described to us as "Chee dang ba, BA BA BA, chee dang ba."  The sweat on my back which had previously been from exertion quickly changed to a kind of cold one; Oh man, I thought, I am in over my head here.  I had a flashback to lesson 4 of my driving lessons here in the UK, the one where I broke down in tears because I had gone backwards in progress and was certain that I would never understand the interplay between the clutch and the gearshift in a manual car.  Strangely, that ended up being a reassuring thought, because as it turns out, something like 35 lessons later, I did manage to pass that driving test and can now confidently drive a manual.  Hopefully it would be a similar thing here...apart from rather than 35 more lessons, I only had 8. 

So overall, the lesson was a bit of an eye-opener.  To the fact that I had had a mismatch of expectations, and that the reality of it was going to be pretty challenging.  I was aching, sweaty, and slightly defeated.  But, I had to remind myself that all great artists have to start somewhere, and from within I was going to have to call upon my inner African warrior princess to get me through this.  The good news is, she's easy enough to spot: she's the one a beat behind the rest of her warrior tribe.   

Noah also demonstrated his innate rhythmic talents in a song and dance that still doesn't make much sense to me.  He has clearly inherited my coordination and rhythm.

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