high society meetup: inspired for more!

You know those dance workshops where you could have stayed in bed and learned about as much as you did by going to class? Or, at the very least, the sleep would have been a better use of your time?

The High Society Meetup was NOT that kind of workshop. In fact, it was hands-down the best workshop I have ever attended. I learned something from every single class, even considering the skewed lead-follow ratio and wide range of skill levels which frequently challenge other workshops and classes. I am more inspired to work on my dancing than I have ever felt after a workshop before! (And usually, I experience the opposite effect, haha!)

First off, the instruction was fantastic. I mean, I’ve always heard that Peter and Naomi are incredible, but I’d never been able to take their classes before. . I particularly liked Peter’s tendency to call people out on their shit — “No, that was wrong.” Similarly, Peter & Naomi were incredibly flexible, and that was a huge bonus. For example, the first class was supposed to be about hitting the breaks; instead, we worked on swingouts, pulse, and connection — because honestly, that is what we needed if we were going to get anything done that weekend. To make it particularly worthwhile, both Peter and Naomi gave a 30-second private on swingouts with every single student — and in all honesty, those 30 seconds rocked my world, and I’m sure I’ll never dance the same again. Moreover, Peter and Naomi were easily able to navigate the 2:1 (and sometimes higher) follow-lead ratio so that I barely even noticed the imbalance other than to laugh.

Two of my favorite classes were the solo jazz classes — and they were done so well! Peter started us off on Thursday with a lesson on different solo jazz moves; while most people knew these moves, he really worked on refining the technique and the movements themselves. I loved the tap-based version of the Suzie Q’s, which make me feel so much more grounded and on beat. To follow up, Naomi gave a class on Sunday on how to improvise solo jazz. While I was initially intimidated by the subject of the class, Naomi made it easy and fun. I won’t give away the entire class, as you should really take it from her, but it ended with a game of “telephone” for dancing.

TELEPHONE. Best game ever! Let’s explain the rules.

  • All dancers face one direction in a single file line, so that the person who starts the game is looking at everyone else’s backs. The first person comes up with a single eight-count sequence which s/he will be able to remember later (or more, depending on skill level).
  • The first person taps the second on the shoulder and shows him / her the eight-count sequence. Dancer #2 can only see the sequence ONCE, and only gets a few (SHORT) moments to process it before repeating it to the next person in line.
  • Repeat until the end of the line. Once the last person has seen the sequence, s/he performs their interpretation of the sequence and compare it to the original.

A few words on some parts of the event I found particularly fantastic and / or unique:

  • It was casual, simple, and laid-back.
  • There was only one late night, and it only went until 2:30 am; this allowed me to practice but keep rested. For a larger event I would probably want one more late night, at least, but I think it was good for this particular workshop.
  • I enjoyed that the instructor list was incredibly limited, but also incredibly fantastic; this gave me a chance to really drill and practice the concepts that Peter and Naomi were pushing, rather than receiving different ideas of what to focus on from every different instructor (not conflicting, but different).
  • I also really enjoyed the small size of the workshop — for while I love huge events where you barely dance with the same person twice, I feel as if I was able to get so much more out of the individual attention and relatively quick pace of the classes.

The only thing that disappointed me about this workshop was the low local attendance. This was an incredibly unique and incredibly affordable workshop! The instruction was fantastic and the atmosphere was more than conducive to learning. And the focus was on intermediate dancers in Atlanta, who are the most vocal about their constant desire for more learning opportunities. So why where there more out-of-town dancers than local?

If anyone is interested, the Atlanta Jazz Dance Preservation Society is planning on hosting up to four workshops a year — and if you’re a member, the discount you receive on these workshops is incredible. For the High Society Meetup, the workshop was $65 for sponsors, no matter if you signed up when it was announced or at the door. Think about this for a moment: if you weren’t a sponsor, the workshop at the door was $90. But if you signed up to be a sponsor right there, the workshop was $65 + $25 = $90 (thus, exactly the same price), and you were also signing up for future discounts at Hotjam and the other three workshops being held this year.If you aren’t a sponsor yet, I really recommend jumping on the band wagon!

I am beyond excited and so inspired about the next workshop to be hosted by AJDPS! While I’m not sure how they’ll follow up after Peter and Naomi, who are fantastic in their own right, I really expect great things!

***

A side note of awesome: At the end of the workshop, I thanked Peter and Naomi for their teaching the workshop for the weekend. In the conversation with Peter, he told me I was a good student — and this is honestly one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Just wanted to share.

review: catching fire

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins — Book two in the Hunger Games trilogy

Book Jacket Summary:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Suzanne Collins continues the amazing story of Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire, the second novel of the phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy.

I was apprehensive at best, for two reasons. First, there were at least two major issues of contention that I had with The Hunger Games. Second, the person who had originally recommended the series in the first place mentioned growing to dislike Katniss in the second book. I must say, I don’t quite agree — but I do think that Collins failed to create a book to match her first. Granted, her first was fantastic — but I wanted an equally fantastic book to follow, and feel I was presented with one which was merely adequate.

First, Katniss’s growth as a character in the second book leaves something to be desired. Yes, she realizes whom she truly loves (I think?), and yes, she finally puts another person’s life ahead of her own. But at what point does she mature? Additionally, I dislike that she finally accepts her love for Gale, yet still wavers with her affection for Peeta while in the Hunger Games — and especially at the end of the book (I won’t ruin it for you, promise). I feel as if Collins is attempting to create some inner-turmoil of conflicting love interests, but it comes off as forced. I feel as if the first book addressed that issue well enough, and I was really hoping that Katniss would figure things out by the end of this one. Additionally, it quickly became apparent that Katniss is sometimes a strangely unreliable narrator, who interprets observations before we get to decide our own point of view, thereby often biasing our opinion one way or another; this is frustrating, but also somewhat realistic in that we are in first-person close narration, which means we get all our information from her.

I didn’t see any growth or development in other characters in the book. Peeta is still love-sick, selfless, and vaguely stupid; Haymitch is still drunk yet incredibly intelligent; and I still have no idea where Katniss’s mother and sister stand. The characters with the most growth, in reality, are the ones who appear for only the second book, and only briefly — Nuts and Volts, in particular, I am fond of; similarly, I appreciate Finnick, who ha made incredible sacrifices for the greater good.

The plot definitely thickens in the second book, but I’m not sure it’s well developed. Katniss is incredibly passive in the development of this plot, as many things happen at her instead of because of her actions. There are a few consequences of her actions which are significant — but most of those she is unaware of. Sometimes I feel that she is more an observer of the uprising than an instigator — that we see the uprising through her eyes, but that she has very little to do with her. We may as well be watching through the eyes of her sister, who would be watching her every move through the televised games.

The book does have its up points: the careful development of the mockingjay symbol; Katniss’s clear decision towards self-sacrifice; the quirky fellow victims of the games, who are considerably more developed and more likable than the participants of the games in the first book; even the fashion assistants are considerably more likable in the second book. I also like the direction that Haymitch’s character is going in, despite the fact that I see his character development as minimal at best.

Moreover, the plot of the second book is still riveting — while I see the second round of the Hunger Games as slightly contrived, I understand how it fits within the world of the books. And honestly, Collins has a skill at writing action scenes as they are happening — not through the eyes of an observer, but through the eyes of a participant, where the sounds and feel and smell are often the first things to register, rather than the action. She also sets up key points of the book fairly well — points which the reader can see and remember, such as the mockingjay on the watch or the hole in the forcefield, but which the protagonist must figure out for herself (however slowly she manages, at times).

I will say that the issues I had with the ending of the first book are moot. The unresolved tension with Cato? We pretty much forget about it. And the mutated game players? It is explained in an off-handed side note by Katniss — not really satisfying, but it at least gives closure.

***

I look forward to reading the third book (which I have, of course, already purchased). However, I do have a few expectations which are to be met if I am to continue liking Katniss. First, she must grow some balls — not some “well, because I had no other option” balls, but some actual desire to stand up and fight back against President Snow. Similarly, she must start acting as the head of the revolution, rather than being acted upon. And finally, she must figure out this whole Gale / Peeta thing — once and for all, and within the reasonable actions of her characterization (i.e., I can only imagine her character finally choosing Gale).

***

On my imaginary little bookshelf based on my feelings towards various different books, I would put this book somewhere on one of the bottom-middle shelves: because it was good enough to read and own a physical copy (if I find a cheap one — otherwise, it stays on my nook), but because I will probably never re-read it. While the first is worth re-reading once ever four or five years when bored, the second will only be worth re-reading if the third is at least as good as the first, making the reading of the second book necessary when re-reading the series. If that makes sense.

trouble with challenges

The good news: I succeeded at reading 30 minutes every day last week! The bad news? I did not run enough. End of story.

So here’s the deal. I’m failing challenges. Not every single one, but almost one in two lately. And that’s not cool. How do I change this? I think there are two issues right now:

1) A lack of will-power / motivation, or some combination of those three. I have no system, whether motivated by self-determination or reward, which is holding me accountable for completing challenges.

2) Sometimes, I believe I set my goals a little high. My inability to complete some challenges is definitely based on a lack of follow-through at some points — take the first reading challenge, for example; I should have been able to complete that, and was mostly thwarted by Netflix.

But other challenges? That’s my inability to judge how much I can actually accomplish in a week.

Take the running challenge that I ran last week, concurrent with the reading challenge. I failed. I only ran 3.3 miles of the seven I had been aiming for. However, last week, I didn’t run at all. In fact, I haven’t run a single mile for 3 months — and before that, I only ran about 2 miles a week. Jumping up to 7 miles per week was a stretch, end of story.

As such, I am going to instigate at least one new practice in regards to my challenges: I will try to consider more manageable goals. Goals that still push me to be better, but which will not discourage me from future challenges if I fail to achieve success.

This week, I hope to run at least two miles, and will try to push myself to running three (BETH, I’M LOOKING AT YOU). Not as a challenge, but because I want to.

In the mean time, I will attempt to figure out how to create a sense of encouragement and personal accountability — a reward, a consequence, or maybe both? Let me know if you have any ideas.

***

Running: 5/10. I did not completely almost 4 miles I was aiming for, but I recognize that I was aiming a little beyond my current means. Also, I taught a class on the Big Apple and took another class on the same dance…and considering how much energy can be exerted in said choreography, I think I made up for at least a little of the exercise!

Reading: 9/10. While I read excess amounts last week (probably upwards of 10 hours), it was largely due in part to purchasing a couple books on my nook which hold my attention better than the one I was reading due to excessive use of plot and a certain lack of literary depth. Granted, the Hunger Games is fantastic, but it is more pleasure reading than “literature.” Seeing as I am making no progress in The Power of One while I finish out Collins’ trilogy, I almost feel as if I cheated. Not quite, but it still means I took a point off my otherwise perfect score.

A review for Catching Fire is imminent. As is a review of “The High Society Meetup,” which was possibly the most perfect workshop I’ve ever taken.

practica: good feedback

Last Tuesday was the fourth Practica. And while it’s been going great, I’ve been looking for ways to improve so that I might eventually be able to achieve a setting where the collaborative effort to improve is the main focus of the meeting. Last week, I think we got a step closer.

MATERIAL WE WORKED ON

We started off with the second half of the Big Apple, which 5 – 6 people have been dedicated about learning (including myself — lots of research before every meeting!). We moved at a decent and steady pace with excess amounts of repetition to ensure that everyone was learning the choreography solidly. It was tough, but I think that most everyone really got it.

The second half, we worked on social dancing more. I asked if anyone had brought something they wanted to work on, and Matt started talking about his shoulder — how he’d been told a few weeks ago that it pops out on 3&4, and he doesn’t know how to fix it. So that started a round of advice for both guys and girls on how to keep frame intact, especially on the 3&4 and 7&8. For girls, it also meant some advice on how to know when to come in, and how to make that stretch last without killing the momentum by coming in too early.

Another person wanted to work on front-outs, and then one final person wanted to learn a kick variation he’d missed that we’d gone over in another practica.

The cool thing about this practica was that while I went and worked with one person, everyone else broke off into two or three little groups and worked on their own thing. And then we switched it up. It was a collaborative effort of learning. I was almost giddy by the end of the practice session!

FEEDBACK

After the Practica, a few of us went to Thinking Man’s and discussed what we learned, swing dance community gossip, and where the practica was headed in the future (not necessarily in that order).

First, I heard suggestions echoing my desire for the practica: collaborative learning. I learned that of those who are showing up, they really want to have a space where they can bring a youtube video or an idea of a move and try to work on it. The fact that others’ goals so closely reflect mine makes me incredibly excited, because it means that this practica has a real chance of not only surviving, but growing stronger.

I learned that there is little desire to keep learning any other famous choreographies (which I expected).  While the few people who have been showing up lately really want to learn the Big Apple (and a few more did who were not able to make it), the desire is more for working on social dancing.

Someone suggested learning solo jazz movement and how to piece things together and add your own stylings — and I agree! There is such a need for that in my own life. So someone suggested learning it through the Big Apple Call Line — just learn a few moves every week at the beginning of class, go through some call-outs as  warm up, and then move on. I think I am a fan of this idea, and there’s someone who is willing to lead the Call Line (which I am wary of, since I am unfamiliar with it), and it would be a good way to increase the unity of the group through a main group activity.

MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS

A lot of people have thanked me for starting this up — even those who haven’t been able to make it yet are incredibly excited about this practica. It’s also inspired GT to start a similar practica, though I’m unsure yet whether or not the public will be invited (I hope so! I would certainly show up when I could). I see it as a selfish thing — a way for me to learn how to teach, in essence — as well as something which holds me accountable. Because if I’m not accountable for practicing, I just won’t do it. So while I’m not sure why people are necessarily thanking me, I am really appreciative that they are supporting this effort. And I’m so excited for next week.

marcia

Today, while working at BR, I noticed a small girl reading while waiting on her parents to finish shopping. She was reading a pretty hefty book, and I smiled — clearly, she enjoyed reading (on the other hand, her brother was playing on the iPad). And then I noticed what, exactly, she was reading: The Hunger Games, but Suzanne Collins. Her name was Marcia, and she was the best part of my day.

So we immediately started up a conversation. I was initially concerned with her age (10) and the nature of the book (violent), but after a few minutes of talking it was clear that she was an avid reader and an intelligent, mature girl (especially for her age). And I was reminded that I frequently read books that were probably inappropriate for my age when I was younger, because I was exactly the same way. We talked about Katniss and Peeta, and even a little bit about the politics and violence, and we both agreed that we felt a vague need to improve our own basic survival skills.

I recommended Tamora Pierce to her, which was my favorite author when I was young — I still read Alanna and the First Adventure on a nearly yearly basis. I mentioned my reading contest with my dad, and as her dad is a similarly avid reader, I hope she can find a similar relationship with him. And I told her to start writing down all the books she reads, because that’s the best thing I’ve done since I started reading in the first place.

It was funny; Marcia and I were extremely happy to meet each other — she was all smiles to be having an intelligent conversation about a book with someone 12 years her senior, she made sure she knew my name when she walked away — but her parents seemed unconcerned with her clear love of books (and in fact, her mom seemed considerably more concerned with sunglasses and fashion). I’m sure they encourage her to read, but I hope they really understand what a fantastic thing it is to truly love reading. It’s the best gift I’ve ever received from my parents.

review: the hunger games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Book Jacket Summary:

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Two words: Hot Damn.

Meet Katniss: the heroine who has almost lost everything once already, and now faces the (almost definite) possibility of losing it all again. Also, the reason I stayed up until 3:07am this morning and woke up an hour and thirteen minutes after my alarm went off (I had to leave seven minutes later, in fact, to make it on time to work).

The first thing that comes to mind is how well the history of Panem is woven into the story. When I first heard of the books, I didn’t quite believe it would be that good. Really? It sounded like a strange mix of Survivor and Lord of the Flies. Gruesome reality TV show + the struggle of humanity in children. The only way this strange reality show could be accepted is if the world is believable, and it’s very easy for many authors to get bogged down in history before the action even begins — but then you’ve lost half your readers! However, Collins expertly weaves history into the story, making it seem like Katniss is merely ranting and raving about the injustices of history and the current ruling government, rather than simultaneously managing to explain the intricacies of how this strange gladiator-style battle of children has come about.

The second thing that comes to mind is how the character development for Katniss is fantastic. She is constantly torn between her head (which says to distrust anyone) and her heart (which clearly yearns to trust and help those she sees as fellow victims). She is also a survivor, but not just for herself — and that’s what makes her a strong protagonist, because she wants everyone to survive. Despite the impossibility of that outcome. And as the book develops, you completely understand her anxiety about the romance with Peeta — because honestly, life and death situations can cause intense feelings, especially when love is tied to survival.

Additionally, I actually really enjoy the character development for Haymitch, which I did not expect. However, I must admit, the character development for Peeta makes me anxious — I hope he gets at least a little more attention in the second book. And I think the rest of the characters have significant room to grow, but were not necessarily crucial to the story.

However, I must say, the past few hours have given me some space to develop criticism. Mostly, I’m not sure about the ending. In fact, this ending almost feels like a cop-out: for while the battle is in character with the Capitol’s history, it is not in character with the actual Hunger Games — the Hunger Games which thrive off the brutal head-to-head battle between two young adults. Though the final battle is intense and terrifying, I never feel as if the hatred between Katniss and Cato come to a head — because honestly, though they are the last two significant contenders, their final encounter does not address this tension. It is as if Collins was having trouble writing this scene, so she decided to approach the ending in another manner which eliminated the need for direct confrontation — or, rather, changed the nature of that confrontation in a way I’m not sure I accept.

This final battle also seems out of character with how the Capitol would want itself to appear — we know that the games are broadcast live and everyone is required to attend, especially as the games near the end. However, the final battle seems to reveal information that I would assume, from the rest of the book, that the Capitol would prefer to remain secret. It brings the Capitol’s inhumanity to  whole new level — an unacceptable level, even considering the history we have learned. But I worry that Collins will not address the Capitol’s reasoning behind the decision to construct the final battle this way — because while I see it as a new and vital piece of information in what I assume will be Katniss’s eventual plan to take down the totalitarian Capitol, I’m not sure Collins sees it as that.

There. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about…and if you haven’t, then you’re probably extremely confused.

The last thing that comes to mind is how much I want more, regardless of my discomfort with the ending of the Hunger Games. In fact, maybe even more so from the discomfort, because I want Collins to have a plan — for while I don’t think that the lack of resolution between Cato and Katniss can be fixed, I do think that if there is logic behind the ending, then this lack of resolution is justified.

I would recommend this to anyone and everyone who has any vague interest in listening good books. Seriously. It’s addictive.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I have never had a book make me cry in the first 50 pages. This one came close enough that I had to stop reading so that the tears that were welling up would subside and I could knock some sense into myself.
  • I should learn more survival skills.
  • I love how Collins weaves what must be plot development for book two into the story of the first book — and so effortlessly! It’s easy to tell that she’s at least planned out the majority of these books, and that she probably has a detailed outline around somewhere. Best of all, it also gives me hope that the logic behind the ending will soon be revealed…
  • The ending is a cliffhanger. If you’re going to buy the first book, you should just go ahead and fork out the money for the second one while you’re at the bookstore and save yourself the gas money.

***

Rather than give this book a vaguely arbitrary rating, I tried to imagine where I would put this book on my bookshelf, assuming I had it in a physical copy and not on my nook. Here’s how my bookshelve(s) are laid out: my boring chemistry and math textbooks are on the bottom, because who really needs to look at those (and they’re heavy). The next two or three shelves up tend to be books I don’t necessarily care for, as they were only mediocre at best; as such, these books are alphabetized (I still lend these out occasionally, so I want easy access). The two shelves approximately at eye level are my favorite book, almost all of which I have reread at least once, and tend to be organized haphazardly based on favoritism. The top shelf is usually reserved for books I have yet to read, as well as books I will probably re-read. (And of course, there are boxes in my closet for the books that are either for young children or were so bad that they should probably be recycled for the paper.)

This would go on the top-shelf for re-reading. End of story.

running updates

I know everyone here is super interested to see if I can manage this running challenge. At least, I’m super interested in it, so I’m going to give you a couple updates.

1) I found a fantastic android app for my phone called “Tracks.” It records the following:

  • A map of the area you just ran which can be uploaded to google maps
  • Distance run
  • Average speed
  • Fastest speed
  • Various additional statistics

I love it. Mostly because I was struggling to figure out how to find an outdoor location to run at which was approximately 1 mile and which could easily be doubled for a 2 mile run.

2) I found a beautiful park not even five minutes from my house in Avondale Estates. It isn’t very crowded, which is also a bonus, as I know the major Atlanta parks are easily flooded with runners, frisbee players, and various family activities which make me feel awkward. (I’m not very good at this running thing, and thus I would rather keep it relatively private.) Thanks to the new “Tracks” app, I found that this loop is almost exactly .5 miles, which makes it easy to run multiple times and get the desired number of miles.

Some “I LOVE BEING OUTSIDE” bonuses: it’s a BEAUTIFUL little park with a lake, a couple woody paths, and some great little wildlife — I saw two Red-Eared sliders chilling in the sun, some geese taking off, and best of all, I saw Mr. Mallard Duck escorting Mrs. Mallard Duck to a secluded luncheon.

And finally, it’s also in a really nice neighborhood, so I feel like I could run here at night without terrible fear of impending rape.

To see the two loops I ran (I recorded them separately), you can go here and here. I think the statistics are recorded in the summary. Thankfully, I was just able to change the way statistics are recoded to good ol’ miles and feet, so the next maps’ statistics will be considerably easier to follow.

Between the two loops, I ran just under a mile for a grand total of 9:13 mins, making for a 9:46 min mile. A serious drop from running an 8:30 mile at the end of last semester, but I haven’t been running in two months (shame on me), so I can accept it.

If I get out early enough from work, I’ll go for another run. While this is doubtful, I am hopeful…