Samba: From Berkeley to Brazil

I love Sunday mornings.  Often I wake to the smell of coffee and know that the New York Times awaits me on the dining room table, but these enticements don’t get me out of bed. I rise to dance the samba. For no matter what the weather is in Berkeley, California for one hour, I am transported to a warm Brazilian sandy beach, a Carnaval parade line moving in unison, or a spontaneous Latin street party.  

At 11:00 in the morning I take my place in Elisita’s Afro-Brazilian dance class at the downtown Berkeley YMCA.  I rush to get my spot in the dance studio — behind and slightly left of her so I can watch Elisita’s every move. It’s in the second row so that, thankfully, someone blocks my view of the mirror. I am not fond of mirrors in general, and even less so when I wear spandex and no makeup.

I take off my gym shoes. My bare feet, liberated, feel the hardwood floor give as I step from side-to-side. I stretch while waiting for the music to start. I dance to escape my daily concerns and leave my worries behind. I dance rather than remain at home writing. If I arrive at class stressed or frantic, I won’t feel that way when I leave. 

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Medellin, Colombia: Dance Capitol of My Heart

story and photos by Paul Ross

“I would do anything for love, but I won’t
             dance, don’t ask me.”

                                -Meatloaf & Fred Astaire

I’m an American baby boomer who doesn’t dance. It was an awkward social activity for a lot of guys in my generation and the excuse for not doing so was that I was always playing in bands –for other people’s dancing. The story is plausible because it’s partly true.  But, somehow, there I was, salsa’ing mi cola off at midnight in Medellin, Colombia.

Salsa dancers, Medellin, Colombia.

         HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

Flashback ––

         Arriving in the capital city, Bogota, in search of stories with my wife and travel partner Judie, Chef Sofia Samper whisked us like compliant egg whites off to a large local market. There she shopped for select delicacies to be incorporated into a custom lunch at her cooking school/restaurant. Music thumped in the background throughout the marketplace.

         During the subsequent lesson in Colombian cuisine at trendy Casa 95, Chef Sofia danced around her kitchen to an infectious Latin beat. And I began tapping my toe.

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Dancing With Martha Graham

by Nancy King

 

Martha Graham 1948 via Wikipedia Commons LicenseThe Martha Graham School of Dance was in an old mansion on East 63rd street between 2nd and 3rd avenues in New York City. Walking into the building was like entering the temple of a high priestess whose devotees all looked alike—the men, gorgeous, tall, well built, strutting around in tights so revealing I blushed each time I tried not to look. The women, tall, thin, yet muscular, their long dark hair pulled into buns or twists, not a hair daring to disturb the sleek coiffures. 

Although the bus ride to the school was long, the distance I traveled meant leaving a world I sort of knew how to manage for one filled with unexpected challenges, where I could be unceremoniously discarded, not fit for living, dumped onto a pile of rejects. When I found the courage to speak, it felt like a shout but was probably barely a whisper. “I’m here to register for the Beginning Graham Technique Class,” I said to the young woman, whose jet black hair was pulled into a painfully tight chignon, her cheekbones jutting out from her sculptured face, her dark eyes rimmed with black, the red of her lipstick looking like a bloody wound. She was too busy flexing her arches to pay attention to me, but I wasn’t about to let anyone keep me from the class. “I’m here to register for Beginning Graham.”

“Name, please.” I told her. She deigned to look it up on a clipboard on her desk. “Right. Advanced class—meets at 5:30. Be here no later than 5:15, dressed, warmed up, ready to begin promptly. Martha doesn’t tolerate latecomers. 

“Martha? Me? Advanced class? There’s been a mistake!

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Masters of the Universe

by Judith Fein

When I travel, one of my guilty pleasures is attending master classes. Sometimes I’ll catch an artist who can change young painters’ lives with the flick of a brush. Other times a famous violinist will teach a technically proficient young musician how to bow with more passion, and the latter’s playing transforms before my eyes. This past weekend, there was a master class in my hometown and I dropped everything to attend.

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross


If there is a dancer with larger shoulders, bigger blue eyes and a closer tie to Bob Fosse, I don’t know who she is. Ann Reinking was in Santa Fe, teaching a master class to excited teens and helping to stir up interest in the New Mexico School for the Performing Arts, which will open in Fall 2010. At one moment, I thought I felt a strange breeze blowing through the Dance Barn where the class took place. It was probably the spirit of Fosse himself, conjured by his illustrious star and ex-partner.

Reinking’s best-known performances include Goodbye Charly, Dancin’, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Sweet Charity and, of course, All That Jazz, which was a fictionalized account of her relationship with the brilliant, chain-smoking, overworked, burned-out, womanizing Fosse. If you haven’t seen the latter, stop reading and go rent the DVD or place your order with Netflix.

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