This weekend in New England, fall is letting us know it’s here. But it’s doing so gently and nicely. We’re enjoying blue skies and autumn sun and delightful daytime temps (low-mid 70s/22–24C), with sweater and jacket temps at night.
Friday evening I went to a bookclub backyard birthday party for my friend Lisa. There was good food, fire pit conversation, rousing singing when the cake came out, and then…
It wasn’t planned. Someone said, “hey– let’s do some dancing!” So we did. Hostess Michele was our DJ, playing mostly hits from the 70s through 90s. Being socially bossy, I made everyone set up to do a Soul Train dance line. If you’re unfamiliar with this, here’s what it looks like:
Of course, these people are the acme of cool (in my view). We were not. But we did attract the attention of the neighbors, who were trying not to gawk at us (according to Michele).
It was the most fun I’ve had in a while. The joy of dancing combined with the joy of celebrating and moving and singing and shouting (sorry, Michele’s neighbors) in a group of people I care about– what’s not to love? I highly recommend this.
But wait, there’s more…
This weekend also marked the Porchfest festival in my town. Do a lot of towns do this? People sign up to play music on their front porches (or yards), and everyone walks or bikes or drives to different locations (there’s even a map) to listen, hang out with neighbors, dance and maybe sing along.
On Saturday, while doing dishes, I heard the sounds of a jazz standard, coming from my back porch. Investigating, it was neighbors from the next street, playing “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. Leaving my chores behind, I headed to my porch to listen. They were really good– swinging the tempo, playing great solos, and improvising lyrics in fun ways.
Before I knew it, I was dancing again. For the second day in a row! This time it was solo, on my back porch, mellower than the night before. But oh so satisfying.
I gotta pull out my tap shoes and take a class again soon. In the meantime, enjoy this dancing by Syncopated Ladies:
Hey readers– when was the last time you danced? Have you done any backyard dance partying this summer? Tell us about it.
I’ve done Nia lots of times since and I’m still a pretty goofy dancer but I have a grand time thanks to the atmosphere that Elaine creates.
Since I trust Elaine to ease me into new things to be gloriously awful at, last week, I checked out her drop-in class for a program called Ageless Grace.
I had no idea how hard it is to draw a circle with your left pinkie while drawing a triangle with your right big toe.
And how relaxing it is to pretend to be pulling taffy, in all directions, in time to some music.
And I wasn’t alone in this fun. My Mom, my sister Denise, and 27 other people joined Elaine and grinned, laughed, and sang our way through a series of exercises designed to encourage neuroplasticity and fitness.
And while I can’t exactly judge if it did those things for us, I can definitely tell you that it encouraged fun.
The target demographic for the class is seniors but it’s useful for anyone who is interested in challenging their brain. (My almost-48-year-old-ADHD-brain loved it.)*
All of the exercises are designed to be done in a chair so the participants can focus on the movements instead of worrying about falls.
Denise and I stood for the whole thing because we both have body quirks that are exacerbated by sitting. It was tricky but trying to keep our balance while doing dexterity/mind-body exercises meant we got to laugh at ourselves a little more than everyone else. (Pretty sure our Mom got in an extra snicker or two at our expense, too.)
So, the long and the short of it, is that I am just as gloriously awful at the Ageless Grace exercises as I am at Nia dancing. And I had just as much fun making mistakes**the whole time.
This is the final instalment of my little series on the specifically postpartum-oriented workouts I did while getting back into exercise after giving birth (part 1, part 2). I saved the best for last 😉
Kanga is a workout you do with baby. It’s a mix of floor exercises designed to build back core and pelvic floor strength, choreographies and some high intensity and functional training. Normally, of course these are in-person classes. But it’s Covid, so we got to do it on Zoom (*eyeroll*. I’m SO SICK of doing things on Zoom). While the Zoom bit was annoying, the class was a lot of fun!
For the floor exercises, baby lies next to you or you will sometimes pick them up and do exercises lifting them up etc. For the choreographies and other parts of the session, the little people go in their carriers. My son usually falls asleep while Mama sweats, and since he weighs more than 6.5 kg (14.3 lbs) now, Mama sweats a lot. Here’s a video of what goes down in a Kanga class:
I imagine that whether your experience with Kanga is good or not depends heavily on two factors: one, whether you like this type of workout, and two, your instructor. For me, the choreography part was a bit outside of my comfort zone. After a traumatic experience in an aerobics class many years ago, I’ve been spending my fitness life avoiding anything that requires too much coordination. In this respect, I lucked out with our instructor, who made the choreography only a part of the class. With the instructor, however, come other pitfalls such as potential weight loss talk, which is sadly a very strong motivator for many women in postnatal fitness. In that sense, we were less lucky with our instructor, because there was some of that (getting our bikini bodies back and such). She was nice, but the focus on shedding the pregnancy weight was a part of the class that I didn’t enjoy – although many people probably won’t mind.
Overall though, it’s the one aspect of postnatal fitness I stuck with and I’m currently still Kanga-ing once a week until the end of the month when the course ends. If you have a little one and can find an online class (or even, god forbid, you’re in a part of the world where in-person classes are permissible, an in-person one), I recommend giving it a shot.
“Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself Hey there, baby, I could use just a little help.”
“Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen
After months of being house-bound due to the COVID19 pandemic, folks may be searching for new ways to break up the monotony of their indoor exercise routines. Dark dancing has been there all along, just waiting to be discovered.
Chorophobia is the fear of dancing, which stems from feeling judged as other watch us move our bodies, and it is apparently more common than people think. In the video documentary, Fear of Dancing (2020), director Michael Allcock talks about how chorophobia is something we grow into as we get older.
The documentary features a Toronto-based group whose members “meet once a week to dance together in a darkly lit room.” During the pandemic, some of these dark dancers moved from in-person twilit sessions to dancing together in the dark…in their own homes.
On Monday nights, the Dark Dancing TO DJ sends a Zoom meeting or a Youtube stream link to the group. Requests may be taken in advance; a playlist is made. Then everybody logs on around the same time and just dances to the curated music–together yet apart–for a little over an hour.
I’ve been twice now. One week they used Zoom, and I turned on my camera but draped fabric over the camera for privacy. The next week, with the Youtube stream, there was no “room” to log into. Both times I did turn dance in the mostly dark…for authenticity.
For exercise, I find it fun. I can’t fail to score points like I do with Just Dance, and I won’t forget the choreography like I do in a live or recorded dance class. I get to wear comfortable clothes and have the whole floor to myself (except maybe other than my cat, Theo). And I hear music that I would never find on my own.
Both me and another dark dancer agreed that we prefer dark dancing in Zoom to the Youtube stream. You can’t see anyone either way, but there’s something about being with other people dark dancing, even if it’s only in a virtual room.
In addition to Dark Dancing TO, there are other social media groups and streaming sites that provide music and live DJs from around the world for listening and dancing. If you have chorophobia, or are just looking something different, this may be it!
I love to dance, and this year I have been exploring various dance forms as a way to keep myself entertained during COVID restrictions. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to join weekly Zumba classes, try Afro-Cuban dances, and learn basic steps during weekly powwow workouts. Last week I spotted an Introduction to Burlesque dance class on Facebook, so I signed up. I was rather shy about it though. After all, I’m pushing 60 and I grew up believing that anything resembling burlesque was either inappropriate or degrading to women. I only told a couple of friends, after the fact.
My attitude has been shifting, though. I have gone to a couple of burlesque shows with the above-mentioned friends, and discovered a place filled with proud women (and a few men) of various sizes, ages, abilities and ethnicities performing for supportive families and friends. I was fascinated by the range of acts. Some were highly comic, while others, such as those using a suspended hoop, involve incredible balance and core strength.
More recently, I read this great article about the history of burlesque by Dita von Teese, one of the art’s superstars. In her introduction to the class, our teacher spoke about this history, and the fact that burlesque can be both sexy and outrageous, mocking conventions and exaggerating for effect. She had been a dancer on the burlesque scene in Toronto for six years before moving to Ottawa, where she now teaches at a local dance studio.
With that, we began practicing: struts, toe drags, poses, turns, dips/bends, covering and uncovering our face, breasts, pelvis and butt (by turning away or using sharp or smooth movements to show them off). The instructor also taught us about the two main styles to use for character development: dancing like no-one is watching, or knowing that someone is watching and playing to it. I had a lot of fun strutting around my living room, feeling remarkably confident in my sweatpants and comfy slippers. I didn’t need a corset, high heels or feather boa – just my chin up high and some swagger and imagination. Figuring out how to do poses gracefully was harder, but some things, such as chest thrusts and rolls were easy as I had learned to do them in bellydance classes.
In some ways, the best part was the end of the class, when we all took the time to see each other in the little Zoom gallery. There were young women, slender women, big women and women older than me. Some couldn’t wait to show off new skills for their husbands. Some just enjoyed the feeling of empowerment that came with being uninhibited for 45 minutes. Burlesque didn’t provide the level of cardio workout that I like from a dance class, so I won’t sign up for the full course, but it was definitely a lot of fun, and I would happily look for YouTube videos to practice on my own occasionally.
Diane Harper works for the federal government in Ottawa. She loves to break the stereotype of the stodgy bureaucrat by trying new things and pushing limits as often as possible.
Yesterday–Saturday, November 7– was a big day for the US. In case you missed it: Joe Biden was declared the winner of the US presidential election. It was a very big deal. People were outside in the streets and parks, dancing, clanging on pots, waving signs, and singing. Yes, there was singing, too. And more dancing.
I was out and about yesterday, too. My book club had proposed an outing to a local bakery, in service of 1) maintaining our social support network through safe outside social gatherings; 2) taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather; and 3) gathering intel on the best croissants in the area (a new and ongoing project). Five of us met at a local Japanese/French bakery to pick up a cross-section of baked goods.
We walked to a nearby park and sat on the bleachers to consume doughnuts, croisssants (the almond one was excellent), scones and rolls, and to try to digest the results of the election. However, conversation soon meandered to topics more local. We’re all trying to figure out how to combine safety during the pandemic with maintaining the social support and human contact that’s essential for our well-being.
Several of us live alone, so we are pods of one. But one person does not a pod make. We’re going to have some Zoom meetings to figure out who can share pods and what that would involve (in terms of testing, self-quarantine, etc.) Despite yesterday’s ease of meeting and strolling and eating croissants in a socially distanced and very pleasant manner, winter is coming. We’ve got to make some clear plans. I’ll be blogging about our progress as we make our decisions.
But for now, we’re all enjoying the brief stint of warm weather and the relief that comes from an extended election finally being over. And we’re doing that by dancing outside while we can.
Yesterday I danced for more than an hour with 387 other people to high energy club music … via Zoom. It’s the virtual version of a dance party I went to in New York City called The Get Down, back in the olden days (a few weeks ago … before all this). What I loved about the party IRL was that it started at 7 p.m. every second Thursday. My partner and I could dance to exhaustion for 90 minutes to a driving beat, with a disco ball and people decked out in glitter (or not), go out for dinner and still be home at a reasonable hour on a weeknight.
Obviously, dancing with a couple hundred other people in a sweat-slicked environment is no longer feasible. So, Tasha Blank, the spiritually-curious DJ extraordinaire who founded The Get Down, took the party online last week. My partner and I were uncertain, but we signed up for the inaugural session and enjoyed it enough to sign up again this week.
There’s no doubt, it’s a trickier business creating a virtual dance party environment. The shared energy infusion is harder to access. You can get an idea from the computer screen above of what the “environment” looks like. Yesterday there were 16 similar pages to scroll through, to take a peek at everyone else.
Tasha opens and closes with a grounding meditation, which helps to align us across space and time. Then there’s the great music. And, for me, seeing everyone in their own environment—pets, kids, parents, bedrooms, kitchens, funky lighting, outdoors, dressed up, dressed down, possibly undressed (those who don’t turn their cameras on??) fuels an energetic intimacy that propels my dancing. As does my sequined headband.
Mina dancing in her living room in the afternoon sunlight
I’ve had to make the mental adjustment to daylight dancing. A friend asked if we shut off the lights to dance. Well, no. The lights aren’t on yet. Because we’re “sheltered” out in Truckee, California at the moment. The afternoon sun is streaming in the windows. We don’t have blinds. Today the UPS guy showed up while we were dancing. Fortunately, he doesn’t even knock now, because he doesn’t want to see us in person. I left the package outside until we’d finished dancing, on the unfounded theory that COVID19 doesn’t like below freezing weather.
I love dancing pretty much anytime. The release. The freedom. The joy.
We’re not talking about joy much these days. At the same time, if we can find joy in the midst, what a gift. I’m enormously grateful for the chance to dance with my partner, slough off some anxiety and reconnect with the music in my body.
Dance with me! And let me know, if or how you’re finding slivers of joy.
I’m seriously hoping my post motivates athletic wear companies to start making formal wear.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, why can’t we dance the night away at weddings & other formal gatherings without drowning in our sweat? Whether you prefer a snappy suit or a darling dress no one feels great in their getup after even a short stint of enthusiastic dancing.
This year, for the first time in a long time, I had 3 formal occasions in the span of a month and I needed something to wear.
I shopped in dress stores in Canada and the USA to no avail. I wear plus size clothes. I’ve worn pants or skirts or dresses before. My default look is quirky femme who dresses for comfort. Nothing that fit inspired me despite my willingness to put down serious cash on a gown.
I shared my trials and tribulations on social media for comedic effect but also for advice.
There are these formal, uh, onesies? Jumpers? They look cute but to use the toilet you either need to drop the whole thing on the floor or buy one with access snaps.
I couldn’t imagine being in a toilet fumbling with my neither regions so that was not an option for me.
As the first event drew nearer I started to panic. I was certain I wouldn’t be able to find anything that fit, was comfortable, and that I liked.
I happened into Ricki’s, a shop I’d never tried on my sister’s advice to consider a combination of separates instead of a dress.
First winning moment, everything in the store went up to plus sizes. I could actually try on every style in the store. Amazing!
Second there was a sale. Yippee!
Third, there was stuff I liked that was comfortable! Wahoooooooooo!
I ended up buying a super fun glitter stretch knit dress with a cowl back.
I wore that dress to my work formal. No shape wear, just a regular bra and undies. The stretchy fabric meant I was super comfy sitting, eating and dancing. The only downside was it didn’t breathe very well so after a few songs I’d be soaked from dancing. Granted I’m an enthusiastic dancer. I also sweat quite a bit. Honestly though if Under Armor or some other athletic wear company would make high performance formal wear I know a large group of suit and dress wearing humans who would by them!!!
We have money!!
I also scored a really shimmery sequined top and then a mirror calf length cardigan.
I wore pleather leggings with a lace top and the mirrored cardigan to my friends’ wedding. Again, comfy, classy and appropriately attention seeking. Let’s be honest, after the trials and tribulations of finding fun, functional formal wear it’s good to get noticed!
Coming up next is my partner’s work formal. I have at least 3 options that look great, feel good and I can dance in. I’ll get super sweaty but that’s ok.
Have you found formal wear that breathes when you dance? Please tell me about it!
Last weekend, while we weren’t riding short distances or getting coffee, my friend Norah and I saw the Martha Graham Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow, a dance center in western Massachusetts. The Martha Graham Dance company is the oldest modern dance company in the US, founded in 1926. You can read more about the company here on their website or visit here for an online exhibit of images, text and video about Graham herself (who died in 1991).
I love modern dance. I admit I don’t always get the themes or narrative threads of some of the works, but I’m always struck by the beauty and power of the bodies in motion and stillness. And in the case of the Martha Graham dances, it’s the women– often in groups– that move in ways that are athletic and rigorous, but also evoke teamwork and community. Take a look.
In all these images, we see women in groups, either captured in motion or stillness, all doing the same shapes. These shapes are simple and geometric. But they are are very demanding on the body. In one part of Graham’s famous Appalachian Spring, a group of four dancers stood with their backs to the stage, their arms rounded over their heads, with hands overlapping. They stood there for what seemed like forever, not moving. Committing to being in your body, with others, for a shared purpose, in ways that work that body– that is impressive and inspiring to me. That’s what these women do.
Learning the Martha Graham technique is a special subgenre of modern dance. You can see a video of how deceptively simple the movements are, and how strong and powerful a foundation they create for making art through movement.
I really liked this video, as it shows how everything comes back to regular practice. It’s true in writing, it’s true in sports, and it’s true in art.
Below are two black and white images of dancers in technique class. The second one includes Martha Graham herself teaching class. The third one is a class preparing students for knee work.
The last photo is my favorite. You can see all the dancers in their individual bodies– different shapes and lengths of limbs, all united by their shared commitment to a group creation. And they do this every day.
There’s a lot behind and about the work of Martha Graham. My friend Debra Cash, a dance critic and historian, gave a talk before the performance we saw, and offered us some of those interpretations and themes that enrich our experience of watching modern dance. However, she agrees that much of their power comes from their embodied selves, working together over years, and bringing that to us on stage.
Women working together in groups, over time. Laboring. Moving. Waiting. Helping. Entering and leaving. Over and over and over and over again. In life. In physical activity. In art. In pain. In beauty.
Functional fitness (aka functional movement) is a thing now. That’s exercises that train our muscles for regular life activities, like squatting to pick up something we’ve dropped, or reaching for something on a high shelf (or even climbing onto the kitchen counter to reach something, as I did a few days ago). But, do our regular life activities support our workouts? Can movement with a function substitute for a workout?
I asked myself this question a couple of weeks ago, when a cord of wood was dumped in our driveway at 8 a.m. Just looking at it was pretty daunting. Even though I knew from previous years the stacking wouldn’t take more than an hour (for two of us), all those logs in a giant, jumbled mound sitting in a bed of dust and bits of scattered bark said, “Cancel anything else you planned for the day. I’m the boss of you today.”
Sorry to break it to you, bossy logs, my day was actually a lot fuller. It went like this. Meditation for 30 minutes. Trip to the farmer’s market to stock up on spectacular veggies and fruit. Breakfast with my partner at the local coffee shop on our way home. (Tried a new wildberry paleo muffin with honey and finishing salt. Not bad. Plus the hard boiled eggs I’d brought with me to supplement the baked goods.) Stacked all the wood in the garage. Filled one plastic tub and the ash can with bark and wood remnants to use as kindling. Swept the garage floor, finishing touches with the shop vac. Swept and hosed the driveway. Cleaned the house. Removed, washed and wrestled every slip cover back on to couches, benches, chairs and stools. Caught up on email. Had a work call. Went for a tempo run in the mountains. Collapsed on the couch and watched German television (Dark-– a great mind game of a show).
Technically, I did “only” a 50-minute workout. Even though I pushed on my run, it was a lighter day in the arc of my current training. Except … I also stacked wood for another hour, which is physically demanding. And I cleaned, a lighter physical demand than the other two, but very taxing (plus, dishpan hands—can anyone recommend a truly effective hand cream?).
How should I count my workout for the day? 50 minutes. Some percentage of wood stacking and cleaning, plus 50 minutes? Why does it matter?
Three reasons: First, because if I don’t account for all that activity, then I wonder why I’m so tired during my workout the next day. Second, because actual movement makes you stronger. Why not give myself some credit, instead of partaking of the female tendency to downplay accomplishments?! And third, instead of doing a series of functional movement exercises, I engaged in the actual movement that the exercises prepare us for. And by the way, no functional fitness exercise is going to fully prepare me for the incredibly awkward and disparate shapes and sizes of logs, with all their sharp, pokey bits, plus the arm and chest abrasions, not to mention the wood dust in the eyes.
How incredibly satisfying to finish the task.
I gave myself another 50 mins of workout credit for the day. Added it to the tally in the back of my mind. Felt good about my strength. Decided I’d done some next level functional fitness.
Biking around New York City is another place this actual movement vs workout question comes up. Some days I might bike from place to place for an hour or more. Though I’m not pushing, as I would in a workout, the activity is not nothing. I’ve developed a personal algorithm for Citibike. I count 30% of the time toward my total workout time on that day. A bonus. My movement serves a function.
Functional movement is an excellent concept. Or as this article in Women’s Health puts it, “your butt isn’t there just to look pretty.” Our health is a resource, not simply an end goal in itself. We want to be healthy so we can participate in and contribute to the world (and get the chores done). Also, to have fun, as Catherine pointed out in her piece about functional movement and parkour.
So, how can we think about actual movement’s contributions to our workouts?
Like this: Our daily activity strengthens and prepares us to be better athletes.
Here’s one life activity that prepares us for everything (and that a lot of us here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue like to do): Dancing. I love it. Not for a workout, not choreographed, just turning up the volume, drowning in music and dancing my not-just-pretty butt off. A woman described to me recently being bored on a treadmill, loving the music she was listening to and wanting to get off the exercise machine and dance. She asked, “What should I do?” She was worried that dancing wouldn’t count as a workout. I said, “Dance.” Dance is uncategorizable. A daily activity. A workout. A practice of freeing the mind and body. Others here have written buoyant posts about dance. Catherine’s a dancing queen, Christine is dancing for 100 Days and Sam’s looking for more no-regrets opportunities to dance like a sexy Muppet.
Dance is the ultimate functional movement, preparing us for joy. And if you’re dancing for no functional or workout reason, my personal algorithm says—give yourself time and a half bonus credit (150%) in your workout log!