atl practica: a learning experience

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was nervous. Head up a practica? Of swing dancing? Somehow both learn what I want to learn while simultaneously inspiring and leading others to learn what they want to learn?

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. But that’s what I had in my head, and it was stuck there, making me vaguely nervous — and incredibly excited.

***

We held the practica at Jolie’s house, with Brian as a DJ. I’d never been to Jolie’s house, and it was a good thing I’d planned on arriving a little early, as we got momentarily turned around. Their house had a large enough space and beautiful wood floors, so it ended up being the perfect place for our little get-together.

The first item on the table was the Big Apple. I was especially nervous about this, as I’d practically volunteered to teach the BA…except, I don’t really know it myself! As such, I made sure I had a few youtube videos on hand, and I went at it the best I could. The first half, at least, I knew well enough to show it to a small group. We moved slowly and practiced what we’d learned over and over to make sure it was drilled in everyone’s head — we essentially covered everything through Rusty Dusties in about an hour. While this was a little slower than I wanted to move, it was a good pace, as many people in the group had no idea what to do with some of the jazz moves, and we were really able to break it down. I’d never broken down Suzie Qs or Apple Jacks very well for myself before, and it was good for me to break them down and practice them slowly. We even practiced two versions of Apple Jacks, which I’d never done before; it was interesting to try to differentiate between feminine and masculine Apple Jacks.

A little past 9pm, we started working on swingouts and swingout variations — everyone’s favorite thing to practice, right?  We started the new kid on learning how to swing out in the first place (with one extra follow, it was easy to rotate). Then we started working on variations — Jennifer suggested a kick-ball-change variation she’d been told about but had no time to practice or work into her swingout. After that we moved to the scissor-kick variation, which I’d been wanting to learn really badly — and honestly, all it took was trying it. That was a crucial moment for me, I think, because while the kick-ball-change variation was really easy, I had no idea how to do the scissor kick variation. But I took a few minutes, tried it a couple times, and figured it out. And then we all worked on it, both leads and follows.

I walked around trying to help as much as I could without “taking over.” It was hard to tell if everyone was getting a lot out of the practice, but almost everyone walked away saying they’d learned at least a little. And honestly, that’s what I wanted.

***

Now that I’ve talked about what went well…the rest.

I am not very good at keeping track of time. We definitely went over our time mark about half an hour, and I worried about imposing on Jolie, as we were using her house. I’m also worry about teaching variations I don’t know — as much as it worked this time, I honestly worry about teaching the wrong thing. And the same goes for the Big Apple — I am by no means an expert on the BA, and I worry that these guys will go to DSS or a big  class and say something along the lines of “well, shit, that was wrong!”

I had to refer to videos a couple times, which was 1) unprofessional and 2) annoying. The first is moot, because I don’t necessarily have to be professional — after all, I’m not actually a teacher, and that’s not what this is about. The second, though, is definitely relevant — it took up time we could have been using to move forward. I am disappointed with the amount of prep I did versus the amount I should have done.

And last, the challenge of offering advice. I’m not technically a teacher — rather, more of a leader, with a vague approximation of experience (at least relative to the group) and an idea of what should go next. This problem is twofold: the first part is that I am not sure how to approach someone without making them feel singled out or resentful of my advice. I know that everyone’s there to learn, but I still don’t want to step on toes by offering unwanted advice. Second, I want to encourage the mutual ability to critique or offer advice — the ability for ANYONE to say “maybe it will look better if you focus on your hips rather than your feet” and have it be generally accepted; however, getting the average person to volunteer advice is…challenging at best. However, I do think there are some exercises we can do with helping others find something to work on, so I almost look forward to solving that challenge.

The only standing question from the night, I believe is: which hand do you salute with when you gaze afar (assuming you land with your right leg forward)?

***

All in all, I think the first practica was a great success, and I look forward to next week! This is definitely a new approach to learning in Atlanta — something not quite a workshop, not quite a private, and not quite a class. That’s what I’m aiming for right now. It’s going to be interesting to see how this evolves; at the very least, it’s a learning experience!!

new york times

So, this past week I read at least two articles from the NYT in attempt to be more “on top” of news. However, what I’ve found: I really kind of hate the news.

Okay, that’s not true. And as soon as I realized that, I tried to figure out what, exactly, I found unappealing, and it all boiled down to this: the layout.

I think that, in today’s world, we’re a little spoiled. At the very least, a good website presents the most interesting news in a appealing, eye-catching format; moreover, it’s usually short, easy to read, and most importantly: easy to navigate. And in all honesty, the NYT could use some help. I mean, look at it! Small font, lack of photos, and a confusing layout are the first three things that come to mind. And when I try to find interesting articles? There’s no easy way to navigate, and it can be incredibly frustrating!

What the NYT does have going for it is that once you’re in, it’s hard to get out — find one or two interesting articles, and those articles will link you to more articles, and soon you’ve been reading for over an hour. Moreover, the articles are (usually) well-written, intelligent, and informative — three things which are severely lacking in many newspapers and magazines.

So, what do I do? I want to train myself to be more up-to-date with the news, but I find the NYT website unappealing, and I know I’ll fall out of habit in just a few days if I let myself — I mean, I already missed two days out of this challenge!

The solution is simple, and partly (mostly) inspired by this fantastic guy who I’ve been seeing lately (see the aquarium post for more on that). There are two parts: one, a more appealing news website; two, making that website my home page.

Pros: Newser has a very appealing layout with colorful pictures and brief, informative headlines which indicate the main gist of the news. If you find yourself interested in a headline, you can click on it for what is usually a very brief article. And then, if you find yourself in need of more information, each article includes its references. The news is updated throughout the day, so you’re unlikely to miss out on major headlines, and a wide variety of news is included — everything from breaking news to celebrity gossip to science news (which I’ve generally found the most interesting over the past week).

Cons: Newser is not quite a “high-class” newspaper. The articles are brief to the point of a summary, and include very little background information. It’s honestly just a snapshot of what’s going on. However, I feel that this can easily be combated by following references and, when necessary, going to big-name newspapers or Google for more information. Other cons would be that the articles are not quite as well written and not always quite as intelligent as those from newspapers such as the NYT. The final con would be that I’m still not getting any local news — not that I was with the NYT, but still: it’s definitely something I should look more into.

So that’s it. I give myself a 6.5/10 for this challenge — 2 points off for each day I missed, but a half-point back for coming up with a solution.

***

Below are the more interesting articles and the thoughts I had.

“Today’s Lab Rats of Obesity: Furry Couch Potatoes”

Interesting: The studies also found something else that could be important for people — that eating a healthy diet during pregnancy reduced troubles in the offspring. That suggests, he said, that the diet of a pregnant woman matters more than whether she is obese.

“The Unemployed Need Not Apply”

Depressing thought — that the unemployed are automatically at a disadvantage for gaining employment. Where’s the line between “recent and up-to-date experience” and “discrimination.” If a company is receiving 50 applications for one position (just because the job demand is so high and the supply so low), is it wrong for them to screen applicants? Wouldn’t a test be more accurate / less discriminatory (even an online, multiple choice test)?

“Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in Margins”

This almost makes me want to put notes in the margins of books I read — something I was staunchly against in my youth, and only conceded to when taking notes in margins was almost essential to my English classes. A conversation with a friend about a month or two ago also had me thinking — he’s a grad student, and he and fellow grad students regularly take books out and take notes in the margins — over the course of a semester, they trade the books around and eventually have a conversation in the margins which can, at times, even contribute to the conversations in class.

“100 Years Later, Roll of the Dead in a Factory Fire is Complete”

I studied the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in class last semester and compared it to the tragedy that befell the Twin Towers — two events which were vastly different, but which contained one terrible image in common: the desperate need to escape a burning building, pushing those inside to jump to their deaths. It’s good to know the last victims have been identified in the Factory Fire — it brings a kind of peace to this tragedy which I didn’t expect to find on a Monday morning…

And in case you’re wondering, here is the document where I kept track of what articles I read and the thoughts I had on them.

aquarium

I went to the aquarium with Jeremy. The aquarium is awesome. Particularly the whale sharks.

Jeremy: also awesome. He took care of me when I was sick and vaguely incoherent.

I guess it is important to note that I am physically better now.

More importantly, I am emotionally better for all the awesomeness in my life.

valentines and NYT challenge

Happy Valentines! I would like to take a moment to say I had the absolute best Valentine’s ever. Between my super-cute Valentine’s date (you’ll have to ask in person if you want details on that) and the Hot Jam-iversary (Hot Jam’s sixth birthday!!) with Taryn and the Wednesday Quintet (and Karaoke!)…well, it’s been a fantastic two days.

I don’t really have a lot of energy to write much. But for this upcoming week, I plan on reading at least two articles from the New York Times each day. Thanks go to Lang for the inspiration.

Start: 15 Feb 2010
End: 21 Feb 2010

Challenge: remembering.

review: the passage

I know I said I would post this the other day, but I got distracted and then busy. Sorry! Moving on.

Since I was eleven, I have written down the titles and authors of the books I read — I keep a list in a little leather-bound journal, chronicling both the changes in my penmanship over the years and the growth I’ve experienced as a reader. However, despite being relatively well-read, I don’t tend to think critically about books; honestly, I just like to read for pure enjoyment.

Partly inspired by a friend who regularly writes book reviews to further educate herself on what makes a good book, and partly because I want to expand on my book list, I’m going to try to review the books I read this year. I did at least one book review a little while back, but quickly grew lazy and failed to continue; however, it’s now on my list of challenges: review all the books I read this year.

Now, on to the review.

***

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

Book Jacket Summary:

“It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

Yes, this is a book about vampires. But before the Twilight haters bemoan the wealth of immature vampire novels which have sprung up in recent years, you should understand: this book is not happy. But it is very good.

The Passage creates a dystopian universe in which a virus has been developed by an overzealous government and a humanitarian doctor / scientist — the first wishing to create the ultimate soldier, the second hoping to cure disease and increase lifespan by — oh, by about 900 years. This virus creates a being which is not quite human — and though it is not “Dracula,” it certainly resembles something out of vampire mythology. As could be expected in every good end-of-the-world novel, the twelve infected with the virus escape. Within a few short years, the world is overrun. The government collapses, California secedes, and the US is quarantined in hopes to contain the virus (though we do not even know if the quarantine was effective).

Fast forward about a hundred years: The Colony is made of a small group of survivors who have found security behind walls, nets, and flood lights. And the Colony is in trouble: the lights are about to fail, and without the lights, “smokes” (vampires) will quickly overrun the settlement and kill everyone inside. Thus begins the journey of Amy, Peter, Lish, and the small band of hopefuls who leave the Colony in hopes to find something — anything — which might save them. They haven’t been more than a few miles from the Colony since Peter’s father was alive, however, and they are entirely unprepared for what they find.

This book is, without a doubt, one of the best novels I’ve read in the last year. It is smart, witty, well-researched, and well-written. Despite the humongous cast of characters (off the top of my head, well over 20), I was really invested in a large number of the characters. My favorite is Lish, though I’m a huge fan of Peter, Auntie, and Wolgast as well. Even the characters which only appear for a short period are well-developed, with a past which clearly extends beyond the plot line we are following. Even the antagonists are vaguely likable — or, if not likable, at least entirely believable in their personal motivations and goals.

The plot develops well enough — sometimes a little quickly, but always well-thought-out. Considering the time line of the book stretches more than a hundred years, that’s almost impressive as the facile management of the large number of characters. And more importantly to me, I feel like there was a lot of thought put into the novel: though you have to suspend your belief a little in the beginning so that the premise of the virus can get rolling, the rest of the novel seems well-researched and very original.

My biggest complaint is the length of the novel (just shy of 800 pages). Considering the two separate time frames, it easily could have been split into two books if not three. However, there are two more books planned for this world, probably of equal or greater lengths. Thus, I can see why the first book ended where it did, and I can take a fairly logical guess about where the next book where start. I’m not entirely sure how he’ll maintain the excitement and and intrigue in the next two novels — I won’t give it away, but there is a very…repetitive nature to what has to happen next. I’m sure there will be variables which will affect the development of each situation, but it would still be the same basic plan. As such, I’m interested (and a little anxious) to see how the next book develops.

Too bad I have to wait until 2012.

All in all, I would really recommend this book to anyone who is even vaguely interested in end-of-the-world, action-adventure, and character-involved novels. Though, if there’s a lot of books on your coffee table right now, you might be better off waiting about a year to read it to be closer to the release of book two!

Overall rating: 4/5 stars.

good news / bad news

Bad news:

  • I have failed my one-week challenge this week. I only exercised 4 days this week. Thus, I will repeat the challenge this upcoming week.

Good news:

  • I get more money on my tax refund than was taken out of my income for federal taxes. Yeah, I’m confused, too.
  • I’m almost done with consolidating my loans (filing my taxes is one of the last steps). Since this is one of my “additional” challenges, I don’t quite feel like I’ve failed this week. In fact, I feel quite successful in the “responsible with my money” department.
  • A a book review is imminent.

That’s about it. Look forward to the review!