Tag Archives: Dance

Finding Balance

by Kate

I cannot do everything at once. Lets start with laundry. I have not been caught up on laundry since Francisco was born. It has prevented me from using cloth diapers which triggered a whole heap of guilt in my country girl in the city soul. I am happy to report that I started using cloth diapers again yesterday and (so far) it is going splendidly. My theory is that now I will be forced to do laundry more often.  Also it is almost spring and in the spring I hang all the laundry on the line. I am much, much better at getting the laundry done when half the job involves stretching my limbs under an open sky.

But more to the point, there is this rise and fall, depths of desperation and peak of elation pattern to my life of late. Let me paint a couple brief pictures for you.

I am pushing a jogging stroller (with Olympia in it wearing a velvet party dress and a blanket tucked over her coat and hat and boots and with my bags containing sheet music and library books etc. precariously stacked above her) up a steep city street one handed, using the other hand to boost up and nurse the baby in the sling under my winter coat. I am sweating because it is quite the climb and because I overstayed a tiny bit at Teresa’s house to do one last thing for her after making her breakfast this morning and as a result I am running late (again) to punch into the Memory Care Unit at Canterbury Place and spend half an hour playing the harp. I am trying to get F to nurse as much as he can so he will be relaxed and happy and I won’t have to awkwardly play the harp for the dementia patients WHILE wearing him in the sling and nursing him and using a pashmina to (hopefully) cover my breast while doing so. There is another block uphill to go and I feel like it is too much.

Then.

I am in the sunny room overlooking an enclosed garden, in the Memory Care Unit. I am wearing jeans and boots and long dangling earrings and playing the harp, to the delight of some of the lined familiar faces in the room. There are others I suspect enjoy the harp as well, though their heads are bowed. Francisco is being held in the arms of the beautiful stylish black aide who has 3 year old twins herself, and he is cooing at all the old people and just won a smile from a man who hasn’t smiled all week. Olympia is in the middle of the room, twirling like Shirley Temple. She has been sitting still with apple juice and graham crackers that she knows to expect, looking at my books of music, and now she is dancing. I am proud of her.  There is so much peace and joy in the room, and in this moment, for me.

Or…

Maybe it is the hills. The hills and the stuff, the big bursting bags of badly packed stuff that I carry around with me, the stuff that is not goldfish or wipes or diapers, those I either don’t carry or don’t have enough of. The thought of the drive up the hill to the Dance Studio after loading a toddler and a baby and my overflowing bag of fringed dresses and huge carimbo skirts and hair flowers and a sequined hat and ballroom shoes and the spiked silver five inch heels, and carrying them all up the steep steps after crossing the icy parking lot with a shrill winter wind whipping across the street feels like too, too much. I feel fat and tired and am castigating myself for trying too hard and not staying home and doing my laundry.

Then.

There are flamenco dancers pounding patterns on the other side of the long studio, samba drums on the stereo on our side. Francisco is asleep in the midst of heaps of costuming after a long conversation consisting of much cooing with a beautiful Brazilian woman. I am sweeping a skirt through the air and spinning through a swirl of rose and gold. Olympia is underfoot at my right side in the midst of the dancers, grinning and leaping joyfully but so far I haven’t knocked her over. I strap on the five inch heels I will wear for a Fat Tuesday samba performance at a nursing home, the one at the top of the hill, the one where my harp is, shaking my head at the ridiculous nature of my life.

I am trying to find balance. True to my nature, for me this means samba dancing in platform heels for elderly people, accompanied by a toddler and a fat five month baby. It’s not wonder this involves so much lurching wildly from despair to elation.

And now, I really must do a load of laundry.

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Fine Feathers at Carnegie Hall

by Kate

I spent yesterday in a red feather headdress and sparkling gold high heels, dancing samba with an orchestra and a full chorus onstage at Carnegie Hall.

Granted, we’re talking the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, not the larger and vastly more prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Of course, if you have ever seen the movie Flashdance you may recognize this as the home of the fictional Pittsburgh Ballet School the heroine is longing to attend… and be even more impressed that I had a chance to perform within this marble temple of the arts.

Although the Carnegie Music Hall itself is tiny inside, it is also a spectacularly opulent space.

I loved this staircase.

And these murals.

The opportunity to dance at the music hall came about due to the  Brazilian dancer and choreographer, Luciana Brussi, who is not only an amazing samba group director, but also a model for how to look amazing while in the middle of the sixth month of pregnancy.

Luciana was approached by the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, who happened to be performing an entire concert of Latin and South American music, culminating with a samba piece entitled Brazil.

We spent the afternoon watching the Symphony rehearse, and waiting for our turn to take the stage. It was delightful. Sitting in a deep red theatre seat wearing dancing shoes, with a bag of sequined and feathered costuming next to me, is definitely one of my favorite places in the world to be.

On the other hand, I have to admit that being backstage with an entire Youth Symphony is something you MIGHT want to avoid at all costs. The experience brings a new meaning to the term pandemonium.

In our dressing room, the Pittsburgh Samba Group was experiencing pandemonium of a different sort- involving lots of feathers, glitter, and sequins.

Perhaps most dramatically, the zipper on my dress finally broke under the strain of my five month pregnant frame, and I had to be sewn into my dress.

Luckily, Luciana had a needle and stitched me up in no time, so I was ready for our Carnegie Hall debut.

The Youth Symphony was great. I can’t recommend their concerts highly enough. If you live in Pittsburgh, make time to attend one these concerts- especially if you’ve got kids. The concerts are free, there are tons of kids running around, and the atmosphere is simultaneously sophisticated and relaxed enough for toddlers. Also, you never know- you may happen to see an entire samba troupe, with red feather headdresses, front stage and center. I sure hope so.

For more pictures of my Carnegie Hall adventure, click here.

A Pregnant Pose

by Kate

What better way to prove that I do indeed look pregnant than to pose in front of a colorful Pittsburgh mural featuring the largest pregnant woman I could find? Here I am, at 20 weeks, not quite as large as the giant blossoming lady… but getting there.

See? Totally showing. And being pummeled from within on a regular basis. And still (trying to) dance.

Mirror, Mirror

by Kate

Once upon a time, I lived in a cabin high up a rugged and rutted gravel road on a green Appalachian mountainside. The cabin was one room with a wall of windows where I could watch the clouds roll in and away again. I was in my mid twenties, had a job I loved, and had just begun taking my first serious dance classes. Late one night, hopelessly lost in the back streets of downtown Asheville, I pulled into a parking lot to figure out how to find my way home, and saw the glint of several huge mirrors that had been ripped out of a hotel renovation project and left out for the trash collectors. Any new dancer knows that a good mirror is crucial to private study, so I enlisted a friend to load them up and haul them to my home. The first one shattered, and the top of the second developed a jagged edge, but we managed to wrestle two of them into the vehicle, over the mountains, and into my life.

After a year in my solitary mountain studio I became a city girl, living in the heart of downtown Asheville. My mirrors came with me.

When my sister Mary visited the big city, the mirrors witnessed our sister spats and ridiculous bouts of Goodwill inspired dress up.

My mirrors reflected the transformation in my life after I met the tall half Mexican guitarist who would quickly become my fiance, and served as the backdrop for the pictures and stories that got us through a year of long distance engagement.

And when I married and moved across the country to the smoky grey industrial city of Pittsburgh, the mirrors came with me, adding light and beauty to the dark apartment where we spent our first year of married life.

There is a mysterious and magical quality to those silvery mirrors, doubling and deepening the light in any room and transforming any space into something more. But oh, those jagged edges and the sheets of heavy glass balanced precariously against my wall. My toddler loves to dance in front of those mirrors, for hours… and that is why it is time for those mirrors to exit my life. I’m listing them on craigslist, today, in the free section, in hopes that some young artist with a big truck to transport them and a studio with no children wants to spirit them away. Meanwhile, I’m headed out to the thrift stores, in search of a safer sheet of glass to reflect my current life, which is still full of dancing and dress up- and now includes small dancing dressed up children as well.

The Life And Exploits of A Freshman Girl

By: Clare

Freshman year of high school is a whirlwind of activity. I’m halfway through the school year already, and I almost can’t believe it. Everything seems to have gone so fast. It makes me wonder…..was it a whole semester ago when those two of my friends hated each other. Did my one friend really date him for a whole week? And most importantly….how have I put up with that one kid in my class this whole school year!? Ah, high school, your constant entertainment is ever so time filling.

My family is convinced that I am quite popular in my class. This is true, and I can almost tell you readers that with some pride. But the truth is , Cashton High School has about 150 students over all, tops, and my class about 38 kids in it. Wa-hoo. Colleen was really horrified when she found I was at the top of the social ladder in school. She had found popularity completely pointless, and had gone her own way, being completely cool and unique. I myself easily settled into the role of “the girl everyone likes”. This wasn’t a hard spot to fill, because I found that everyone liked me most when I acted…like myself. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a mindless zombie who dresses, talks, and acts like every other girl in my grade. I still have my own distinct style, totally different than the monotonousness Aeropostale tee shirts and Silver jeans most other girls wear on a daily basis. I don’t have to throw a swear word in or two to express my anger, and I act however Clare Slattery normally acts.

But, now, Cashton High School holds a winter dance every January called Snoball. What a cool name! You can already tell it is a super hip party, right? Right? A-hem. Well, Snoball requires a Snoball court, which is made up of students who are voted onto it by their fellow students. The time had come to vote and I found, to my extreme surprise, that votes were really flowing in for the freshman class that had MY name on it. Me? Oh. Oh, well, wow. Except that freshman girls are silly, and they are the only little naive creatures who will actually take this vote seriously. In other words, all of the other high school students voted for the most special ed kid in their class. All of the freshman boys actually voted for the girl in my class who….well….it takes you a while to realize that she is, in fact, a girl and NOT a boy. So many boys voted for her that a tie-breaker actually had to be held between her and I, which I did end up winning. And, so, I was catapulted onto the most special ed high school court ever, making it look as if I had been another pity vote too. Greeeat.

The thing was, though, only girls were voted onto court, meaning I had to choose a boy from my class to go with me to this dance. “Oh, gosh”, I thought as I approached the boy I was about to ask, “I’m never gonna live this down with my family”. And I was right. I was oh so very right. My brothers will never let me forget this boy.

Excuse my demonic look in this picture. And that I am staring intensely at something far away from the camera pointed at me.

I have to say, with all of my sister’s scattered across the country I was feeling very hopeless about how I was going to get ready for the dance by myself. Finding the dress was easy, I simply had to walk into Mary’s room and pluck out the dress I wanted. But what was I going to do with my hair?!

Thankfully, a very kind friend saved the day by deciding I could get ready at her house, where my hair and makeup were overseen by her and her little sister.

I had actually been invited to eat out with my friend and one other girl at a local restaurant before the dance. And yes, my “date” did come along too.

The dance itself was not too highly attended, and I surprised myself by actually having a great time. And that was that. My very first high school dance.

Shhhh..I don’t think my brothers know I had to slow dance with The Boy. Don’t worry, he and I kept as far away as our arms would let us. Oh, freshmen.

The Winter Cotillion

by Colleen

I am not the dancer of the family.  While Kate can bellydance like no other, and Clare can catch on to dance moves crazy fast, I got put in the front row of show choir because I smile.  After weeks of practice I would finally realize that at this point in the song you go-wait! let me think, let me think-oh yes, left, and next you go right.  Suffice to say, I had everything down by the performance, but it really was my stage presence and ever beaming face that got the judges to like me.

And so when the Winter Cotillion rolled around this past Saturday, I was not to hopeful about my chances of dancing.  The Cotillion is an annual tradition here, complete with six classical dances and dance cards for the ladies.  I knew only the waltz (barely) and the swing as I walked into the room on my smallest heels (which still got me to about 6 feet in height).  Somehow I knew that I wasn’t going to find a plethora of willing partners.  But, I felt better standing next to my friend, Katie.

And of course, we had to get a picture in with our friend, Meghan, fellow cross country runner and tall girl.

I eventually did ditch my heels, and hit the dance floor.  Somehow I found at least three guy friends (none of whom actually knew how to dance either) taller than me, and of course the ever-faithful Killian to go out there with me.  The people who did know how to dance were magnificent, and the ones who didn’t were just as fun.

It was a night filled with laughter and  music.  I may not have had a full dance card by the end of the night, but I did come away with a new appreciation for the waltz and tango and a new sympathy for the girls of Jane Austen’s time.  It was truly a night to remember.

Dancing in the City

by Kate

I’ve got a story for you. This story is the reason I haven’t been around this blog too much lately. It’s a great story, with glitz and glamor and historic preservation, along with a healthy dose of hope. At least I think so.

A few weeks ago I was walking through the Bloomfield neighborhood just up the hill from my house on a beautiful day, hanging flyers for a Gala Bellydance Show. As I’ve mentioned before, I love hanging posters because it gives me a chance to stop in every shop and make discoveries about the world around me. As I hung my poster on the bulletin board at Starbucks, another flyer caught my eye. I pulled it down and headed back out into the street. I’m glad I did.

The flyer was for a brand new studio space set to open at the end of October. A studio space with 5000 square feet of floating dance floor, offering classes in ballroom, ballet, samba, salsa, modern, jazz, west coast swing, hip hop, and tap dance. This mystery studio had everything but bellydance. I was completely intrigued. I made my way home, keeping an eye out for a building in Bloomfield that had 5000 square feet for a dance floor. That evening, I called the number on the website for the Pittsburgh Dance Center and spent an hour on the phone with Holly.

Holly Dayton-Kirby is the dynamic force behind the Pittsburgh Dance Center. A professional ballroom dance teacher and instructor, Holly grew up in the Bloomfield neighborhood. She was raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, let alone pay for dance classes. A couple crucial scholarships allowed her to become a professional dancer, performing with Dance Alloy in Pittsburgh and later as a part of the cast of Riverdance. Holly loves the neighborhood where she grew up. She also understands what it is like to be a kid who wants to dance and doesn’t have the money to afford it. She lives outside the city now, in the fancy suburban South Hills. But when she decided to open her own dance studio, she put it right in the midst of Bloomfield. She said she wanted to give back the neighborhood- and that she would never turn a kid who turned up with toe shoes in hand, lacking the five dollars she is charging for every kids dance class.

That’s right, I said five dollars. About the cost of one of those fancy grande lattes you can purchase in the Starbucks downstairs. The 5000 square feet of studio space at the Pittsburgh Dance Center are located directly above the Starbucks in Bloomfield. The building that houses the Starbucks and the dance studio used to be a movie palace called the Plaza Theater. Here is the Plaza Theater in 1937.

And here is the Plaza today.

The glamor has faded a bit, but the detail on that building is still beautiful if you look closely.

It is even more beautiful on the inside. The theater was converted into two floors. Starbucks is downstairs, next to a restaurant. The second floor is where Holly put the dance studio. She took a blank space with a cement block floor and the ornate ceiling of the original movie palace and created a gorgeous warm and welcoming dance studio. It took a whole lot of work.

I was privileged to get a glimpse of the tail end of that process.

Holly, her husband, and their three kids were at the studio day and night in the week leading up to the grand opening. 5000 square feet is a lot of flooring to lay down.

The studio opened on Halloween weekend.

I was thrilled to perform on that dance floor for the opening, along with a great number of amazing dancers who will be teaching at the Pittsburgh Dance Center.

I am teaching a class at the studio in a couple of hours- I’ll be there every Saturday at 3 for a bellydance class, if you are in the area and want to stop by. There is also a show tonight at the studio with local bellyrock band Ishtar- only five bucks, a bellydance lesson, special performances, and an open dance floor. Come on by if you are in the area!

I am thrilled to be a part of this project. I love teaching at the PDC and I am excited to take classes with the other teachers at the studio. There is a complete schedule of classes available here. I think it is a great story of urban renewal, historic preservation, and hope. If you’re around, I hope you can be a part of it.

Want to keep reading about my urban neighborhood adventures?

Caffe Mona

A City Walk