Saturday, February 13, 2016

Into the Land Down Under.

Oh, hello there, Blog. Seems we haven’t spoken in quite some time. Sorry about that. It turns out that I don’t usually write about relationships or professional endeavors; because that’s pretty much been my entire life over the fall, I’ve not had much space to write about anything.

But times are changing (for good and for bad). I’m now in Australia for the whole month of February, partially for dance events but primarily for vacationing and recovering from the heartbreak that has been the past several months. My tour of Australia was booked over a year in advance — the first time any event had booked me so far into the future — and would be my first trip to the land Down Under. In preparation for my trip, I managed to have the presence of mind to purchase a Lonely Planet book and order In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson, as a way of introducing me to this peculiar continent. Aside from these two actions, I departed from the US decidedly unprepared and having spent very little time planning, I’ve just been so busy. 

The day after my arrival in Melbourne, I was whisked away to the magical setting for Cider House Blues, at which I taught this past weekend. Before departing, I came across this delightful little road sign, which I wanted to share as a brief aside before diving into the weekend festivities...


Belonging to the parents of one of the organizers, CHB takes place on a farm outside of Melbourne, about an hour’s drive away. The trip out there was quite pleasant, and featured interesting road art along the way. Evidently, there’s been a big push by the Australian government to beautify the country highways with large-scale art projects. My favorite is the de-scaled hotel that’s not a hotel


Aside from the pleasing road art and conversations in the car, we were treated to an decidedly beautiful sunset. Coming from Seattle, where it was recently 40ºF recently, I appreciated this resplendent display of Summer.


The farm is stunningly beautiful. The pictures don’t quite capture the serenity that is this place, but they offer a starting point. This panorama was taken from their porch that doubles as an outdoor dining room.





After a leisurely morning spent sunning myself and sipping tea, I got to work tying up some loose ends for work and eventually around to lesson planning for the weekend. At some point, I took a break to exercise (Insanity all the way!), which elicited bemused commentary from others. I find it interesting how people often feel driven to comment when observing others exercising outside the context of a gym. 

The day passed quickly in the way productive days so often do -- i.e. quickly -- leaving me unprepared mentally and emotionally for the arrival of CHB participants by the evening. As the crowd grew, I found myself increasingly shy and overwhelmed by the prospect of being social with a huge group of people whom I’ve never met. It made me appreciate the long-growing friendships I’ve developed with scenes throughout North America and Europe, that I can find familiar faces almost anywhere, but here I found myself in a completely new spot and only familiar with the organizing team. Making matters worse, my internal monologue took a turn for the worse and began to dwell on depressing events of the past couple months, further stripping me of my usual confidence summoned by being a dance teacher at a dance weekend. I felt utterly incapable of putting on my amiable teacher hat, of bringing the party, of opening my heart chakra and sharing joy and love of dance with everyone. While I couldn’t do it authentically, I forced myself to go out and dance and put on a happy face because it was the right thing to do — not only in a professional sense, but also to drag myself (begrudgingly) out of my blues. Those psychological studies that show that facial expressions can influence your mood can’t all be wrong. I had some pleasant dances and people were categorically kind and friendly, but it still felt like a slog and I was incapable of genuinely connecting. 

Friday was challenging, but Saturday and Sunday saw a marked improvement for me. The classes went splendidly, for one. I love teaching abroad, particularly because the students are so often more keen to learn. I was able to teach one of my classes outside in the sunshine on their outdoor dance floor, which delighted me to be out in the sun (with sunscreen, of course). I find that classes are a great way for me to connect with large groups of people, it’s effective at breaking the ice. Where I couldn’t find the right spirit to interact with them on Friday, by Saturday afternoon I felt relaxed and confident and able to make small talk with people. People saw in me the goofy, slightly awkward person that I actually am, not some scary intimidating teacher who looks down my nose at people, and I think that let them open up more as well. Throughout the rest of the weekend I had the pleasure of connecting with a number of kind-hearted, engaging locals, either in receiving earnest compliments about a class or over sharing a scrumptious meal, all of which were communal. 

I want to give huge props to the kitchen team, for their hard efforts to fit a diverse range of dietary restrictions and still have everyone feel nourished. I ate super well this weekend, always with an excellent balance of greens, grains, and protein. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to photograph any of the spreads — probably because I was in such a ravenous state that I could think of nothing else than to stuff my face with delicious food. 

Shortly after Saturday dinner, we convened for a Blues dancing competition, but with a special twist: it took place on a bouncy castle. It was Australia’s — nay, I daresay the World’s — inaugural Bouncy Castle Blues competition. And oh, what a glorious sight it was to behold. I had the special honor of judging said competition, which I can assure you put a lot of pressure upon me to carefully weigh the balance if Blues aesthetic with bouncy castle awesomeness -- not a feat suitable for an inexperienced judge. Being able to say that I professionally judged a bouncy castle Blues competition is perhaps one of my greatest achievements in my career to date.


I captured one of the preliminary rounds on video. I did a terrible job maintaining the dancers in the frame, because I was scribbling down notes at the same time (I was judging, remember, and that’s a very serious business). 

Saturday night was particularly magical. It began with dancing outside under a crystal-clear starry night sky. Here’s the dance floor (I couldn’t get a good photo during the night):


Being so far away from civilization and with the porch lights dimmed, one could easily see the Milky Way while dancing. Another reminder of us being quite remote was the wonderful background din of crickets, frogs, and who knows what else that provided a gentle hum to the entire night.


The live band that played that night rocked my socks off. The duo, Wilson & White, play a fine pre-war Blues set, I was transported to an era when Delta Blues was alive and well. I danced so hard that night, never missing a single song from the band. I was grateful for the band breaks, because it meant I could take a break as well to water and feed myself. During those breaks, I had the pleasure of chatting with locals and getting to know them better. After their second-to-last set, the entire party was given makeshift lanterns and we made a little procession off to a shack about a hundred yards away, where the band was set up for their final set. I returned the next morning to take pictures, so just imagine it being dark and lit with tea lights. Someone was set up inside the shack handing out cocktails.


Here’s where the band played.


I haven’t danced this hard in a long time, it was a real gift to receive. The musicians had a great time interacting with the dancers, and the dancers were clearly eating up everything they were being offered. The whole night was filled with so much win. Once the live band wrapped up, I took a wonderfully long break from dancing to recover my energy, then headed back out for dancing until 5:30am. Along the way, I enjoyed some hilarious conversations that probably wouldn’t make much sense when not deliriously tired and riding high on dance.

Sunday glided along in the usual fashion of days that follow staying up all night dancing and then teaching the following morning: filled with a lot of tea and stumbling over my words. Students were still keen to learn, though. I taught a two-part series on turning technique, which was astonishingly popular. People here clearly want to dive into the nitty-gritty details of dance mechanics, and I’m very happy to oblige. While they’re all business sometimes when working on their dancing, they also appreciate the importance of community and having a good time. We wrapped up the weekend classes with a heart-warming, community-focused class that involved a lot of student discussions and massage circles. 

The event formally concluded on Sunday evening, with no party that night, primarily because we were reasonably far from the city and people had to work the next day. I was perfectly happy with this arrangement, because it meant I could go to bed at a reasonable hour. After dinner among a smaller core group of people (primarily organizers), we went out to meet and feed the alpacas and pony on the farm.


The alpacas had been freshly shorn a week ago.


Monday was a perfect recuperation day, primarily spent lazing about in the sun. I wandered about the farm, taking photos, sipping tea, and chatting with people. By midday, we departed to briefly visit a winery (so delicious) and then stopped by a nearby beach for a couple hours. After the intensely packed weekend, I was all too happy to let the hours slip by without my eventfulness.

With the increased peacefulness, I did find myself returning to more somber thoughts of life back in the US, of current struggles, losses, and sorrows. The contrast between the beauty and joy of the weekend and the emotions I was presently feeling was stark and uncomfortable. I’ve come to expect these sort of post-event depressions, even if they’re brief, it’s a natural way of my body balancing for all the endorphins I’d been creating through the weekend. Not to discount the reality of my thoughts, but at least I could acknowledge the context of them feeling particularly painful in the moment, because of me recovering from the weekend. Still, I appreciated the wonderful company shared with a few friends whom I trust. Walking along the beach, I tried to open my heart to the world in some hopes the sun’s summery rays would penetrate all the way through and light me from the inside. It helped, just a little.






1 comment:

anahata healing said...

Andrew....this is such a beautiful piece of writing.. you captured the spirit of Cider house blues soo wonderfully. I truly enjoyed your classes.. and loved our dances :) Thank you for explaining your necklace to me...I felt the connection to something deeper for a brief moment in time. Jessica x