Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When Dancing Goes to the Blogs - Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo

Well, I could hardly say no, really. For starters it was an intriguing offer - and what finished it off was that it involves one of the non-profit organizations in this community that is very close to my heart. The non-profit in question? The Fort McMurray SPCA, a place where the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I often go to cuddle cats, and where last year we adopted little River Song, the ferret who has stolen our hearts. The SPCA is close to my heart because I love animals, and always have, but also because I recognize the sheer importance - and magnitude - of the work they do in this community. And the offer involving the SPCA? Well, they asked if I would like to go dancing - with some of the professional dance partners from their upcoming "Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo" fundraiser.

Now, we should be clear on one thing. I cannot dance, and some days I am dubious about my ability to climb stairs. I have never been known for my rhythm, grace, or coordination. I warned them about this but they brushed it off breezily (and I could only hope they warned my future dance instructors so the poor things knew what they were getting into). I was quite nervous about the whole thing, actually, mildly terrified because I knew that there would be a video camera there recording it for YouTube infamy, but I could not say no. So that's how I found myself in a practice room at Keyano College - dancing.

The good folks at Events With Vizability, who mount Dancing With the Stars, had arranged for me to work with two dancers. And what two different people they were! Andre Lusan is an older gentleman originally from Brisbane, Australia, who has been dancing for years. Vanessa Beltran Rodriguez is a young woman originally from Venezuela, as tiny as Andre is tall. Their differences fade away when it comes to dance, though, and the passion they share for it. I feel genuinely grateful to have had these two as my instructors, because not only did they teach me some basic dance they made me feel comfortable while doing so, and they showed me that dance should be about having fun.

Andre and I worked on some very basic steps, the jive, eventually moving out into the fan. As he said it's a dance you can do anywhere, and the steps are fairly simple. Despite the simplicity of the steps I managed to mess it up repeatedly, of course, confusing my left foot for my right and wondering why they always seemed to be in the wrong place. Andre's patient manner was put to the test as I bobbled my way through the initial steps, but gradually - ever so gradually - it began to make sense, and I was doing it. I was actually dancing, and not just hopping around. I was placing my feet, and I was thinking about the steps. I realized that eventually, with enough practice, the steps would become so second nature that one could stop thinking about them, stop focusing on the feet and instead focus on the pure joy of movement. Andre and I talked about the place dance has had in his life, including a life spent dancing with his lovely wife, and his three children. They spent years going to dance classes and clubs, a family activity that connected them all to each other, and to the dance community.

Now, one thing I didn't realize is exactly how hard dancing is in terms of a work out. I was pretty breathless after half an hour with Andre, although he hadn't even broken a sweat. I started to get some idea of what it must be like to prepare for Dancing With the Stars, an event that pairs local celebrities with professional dancers like Andre. Andre told me that he and his partner Courtney Dawe (a constable with the local RCMP detachment) practice every night for half an hour. I was a bit staggered by the level of commitment that takes, and the realization that doing that every night would make my body hurt in an entirely new way. Just that half hour with Andre had my calves protesting, and I wasn't done yet. I was moving on to a lesson with Vanessa - and from jive to Latin dance.

Vanessa is, in a word, beautiful. Beautiful in appearance, beautiful to watch dancing, and a beautiful spirit inside that petite frame. I was a bit nervous about trying Latin dance, as I have seen it done. It is amazing to watch, but I was pretty certain my body did not move that way. There is something fluid and sensual about those movements, something alluring about them. Vanessa assured me though that dance is about having fun, and about enjoying movement. And so Vanessa showed me some of the basic dance moves from Venezuela, and we talked about how in even one country the traditional dances can differ from one region to another. It was clear that for Vanessa dance is simply part of life, a way of expressing herself and a significant part her culture and heritage.

Vanessa and I worked on moves that had my body crying out the next day. Our hips moving in a figure eight, lowering our bodies to the beat, our wrists spinning we danced, her with grace and beauty and me with far less of that but still with enthusiasm - and joy. It is impossible to dance with Vanessa and not feel that joy, to not be infected with her enthusiasm and passion, and so I danced with a certain freedom of movement normally reserved for dancing around my kitchen far away from the eyes of others and video cameras.

After dancing with Andre and Vanessa we each chatted with the camera, and I was both intrigued and terrified to hear what they would have to say of my performance. I was pleased that both seem to think I have some hope, and I cannot fully express my gratitude for sharing their knowledge - and their passion - with me. I cannot wait to see them dance at Dancing With the Stars in April, as now I have some idea of the amount of work that it takes to prepare for this event. And I also know that while it is work it is probably a life changing experience for those who do it as dancers and celebrities, because that passion for dance is really just an extension of a passion for life. I may only be discovering a passion for dance but I do have that passion for life, one normally expressed through the written word. Just maybe, though, I will see about expressing it on occasion through dance, too, and I have Andre and Vanessa to thank for that.

Now, about Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo - if you don't have tickets, buy them now. One, it benefits a local organization that does such incredibly important work in this community. I truly believe that societies are judged by the way they treat their vulnerable - the elderly, children, and animals - and so I believe that a strong SPCA reflects well on all of us because it shows that our priorities are in the right place. If we take care of our vulnerable then we know we are doing something right, and every single day of every single year the SPCA cares for hundreds of vulnerable animals. You can support the event by buying tickets and by voting online for your favourite celebrity couple (it costs $20 to vote and the couple with the highest number of votes becomes the Peoples Choice award winner).

You can support the SPCA by donating directly to it - and you can consider adopting an animal in need, providing a forever home for a creature that will reward you with love and loyalty. Our little River Song ferret is perhaps the gentlest of all three of our weasels, prone to giving kisses and much like a dog in her eagerness to greet us when we come in the door. Perhaps we saved her but her love and affection saves us every single day, and the IJB and I cannot imagine a life without her now.

And if you want to dance? Well, Andre and his wife are involved in the Fort McMurray Social Dance Club, which meets monthly at the Royal Canadian Legion in Waterways. I am thinking I may just check this out in the future, because I have discovered something about dance. I discovered that you don't have to be an expert at it to enjoy it, and I discovered that just like writing you need to practice to improve. I have even discovered that someone as graceless and generally movement-clueless as me can dance, just a tiny bit, and it was a joyful discovery because it means it is just one more outlet to express my passion for life. And in my world any way to express that passion is one I will explore, because life is, in fact, amazing. I often say I deal with the world by "writing it out", putting my hands on a keyboard and letting the words flow. Perhaps on occasion I will put the keyboard away and instead I will "dance it out" - and let the emotions flow out through my body, and through dance.

My tremendous thanks to
Vanessa and Andre
dance instructors with patience - and passion.
My thanks to 
Events With Vizability
Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo
for the invitation,
and to the SPCA for doing what they do
every single day.

This video captures some of my time spent dancing.
My favourite moment is when I was dancing with Andre,
had my footwork all messed up, corrected it quickly,
and gave him an "oooo, aren't I clever?" grin.
He wasn't fooled for a second ;)

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