when I’m sixty, I want to brag about my 20-something’s body

I have never been a very athletic person. You could argue that I swing dance regularly, but I would then argue that swing dancing very quickly becomes muscle memory over athleticism.* However, my attitude towards fitness, my habits, and my body are changing.

Running

When I was younger, I decided that running was just about the most absurd form of exercise anyone had ever imagined. After all – what are the main reasons we would need run?

  1. To get somewhere faster (because you’re running late). This is an easy fix: leave on time, and you won’t need to get there faster. Duh.
  2. Something is chasing you. For example, a bear. In this case, the adrenaline will be all you need. And anyway, if a bear is chasing you, everyone knows it’s better play dead than to run.
  3. You’re chasing something. If you need to chase it, it’s probably not worth having. (This applies to relationships, too.)

Still, for whatever irrational reason, I started running last year. It was a bit stop-and-go until this year, when I finally found a groove. In fact, I started enjoying my runs, which was almost a terrifying realization. Regardless, I’m excited about this new phase of fitness in my life.

A few statistics: when I started running regularly earlier this year, I was running no more than 1.25 miles at a pace of about 10mins/mi. Now I average 2+ miles per run, and I’m running somewhere between 9:20 and 9:30 min/mi.  I think my favorite part is watching all these leg muscles develop which I’ve never really noticed before…

Acro Yoga**

Last but not least, my favorite of my fitness endeavors over the last month! Let me tell you, this is one of the coolest and most exciting things I’ve ever done. I mean, have you seen it? It’s awesome.

I have done so many things I didn’t know myself capable of. I have more balance than I thought, and more strength and flexibility. I also have more courage than I ever imagined – because I can’t explain how terrifying it is to kick my feet over my head and attempt to do a simple head stand. And then doing it another 2-3 feet off the ground on top of someone’s feet? Six months ago, I never would have considered it – but here I am, learning to do headstands on the ground and shoulder stands in the air!

I really suggest that if you’re looking for something new to do, you find the Acro Yoga classes nearest you. It’s different, it’s fun, and it’s challenging. And did I mention how cool it looks?

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Who would have thought there were two circus-inclined children in the Westbrook family?

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My goal is to have one of those bodies that other people (including myself) envy. You know, they’re fit, they’re flexible, and they have an awesome tan. Well, I don’t care as much for the tan — but I love the idea of being fit and flexible. When I’m sixty, I want to brag about my twenty-something’s body to my children. And slowly but surely, I’m getting there — and that, my internet friends, is incredibly exciting.

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*I argue this because we don’t usually dance straight through the night (or even straight through an hour), and when we do, the DJ doesn’t regularly boost the speed up to 200+ and then pull it back as if we were dancing intervals. And if the music is too fast to dance comfortably? We slip into balboa. Or Charleston. Or we break for water. So while swing dancing can be athletic, you do not have to be athletic to swing dance.

** If you’re confused about what Acro Yoga is, you should visit www.acroyoga.com, and you should look at this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bMMlzQsQPk4#!) (be careful – you can get sucked into video watching). But don’t get scared! There’s a lot less moving through moves in beginning Acro Yoga; instead, we tend to find a pose, hold it, and then move (slowly) to the next pose. Eventually I’ll work my way up – but for now, I’m incredibly proud of the few things I’ve been able to manage!

what makes a good scene for beginning dancers?

There’s been a bit of discussion about how to create an inviting scene for beginner dancers – try reading these posts, by It’s the Way that You Do It and ad liminem.

Then, while in Philadelphia earlier this month, I had the opportunity to discuss my thoughts on the scene – everything from its size to its community feeling. In the process of having to actually have an opinion, it got me thinking: what makes a good scene for beginners?

My younger, excitable, happy beginner-self. Full of hopes and dreams, yet blissfully ignorant of the concept of “frame.” But hey — I was having fun!

When teaching new students right before the dance: if you read ad liminem, I quite agree with the author’s post on teaching new students before a dance.  In particular, I think that having fun should be the biggest emphasis of any beginner class – because if we’re not here to have fun, then why come out at all?

Within the basics, I think it is important to get the shape and the direction of the movement, but I don’t think it’s important to get all the technical details. Make sure they’re not inflicting pain, try to get them to understand triple steps, and then move on. After that, anything you can get beginners to learn is icing on the cake – and if they have fun, they’ll start taking beginner and intermediate series for lindy hop and east coast, where technique is much easier to emphasize.

Announcements of some sort: Beginners show up at dances for all different reasons – whether their friends dragged them out or they saw someone dancing in public. But have you ever thought about how hard it is to learn about everything which goes on in the dance scene? We’re used to it, but beginners aren’t.

I think simple announcements about other places to learn work really well right after a beginner’s lesson (for Atlanta, I like to talk about Down South Swing right after the lesson at Hot Jam). During the dance, it’s then easy to make the standard announcements about bigger events coming up. Presto: everyone knows everything.

Note: my pet peeve about announcements is unintelligible mumbling into a microphone. It encourages everyone to talk over you, and then no one gets the message. If this is an issue, then do something about it.

Create excitement about learning more: This is something I think Philly does extremely well. I heard more announcements about upcoming classes and workshops than I could count. And then, I think it helps that LaB has two simultaneous classes: one for the pure beginners, and one for the intermediate dancers. The more beginners learn, the more they want to learn; teaching technique becomes easier, and the students are happier as they come to understand the dance.

The more I think about this, the more I think that Atlanta could improve in this aspect. I see announcements about Down South Swing classes, and KSU has been putting on mini-workshops – but I don’t see a lot of beginners excited about these classes.

Host mini-workshops: There have been a couple attempts at this in Atlanta, I think – but they’ve all stuttered to a stop, one way or another. I think that very small, very localized workshops can create a feeling of accomplishment in beginners (where one learns a lot in a short period of time), with the added benefit of setting them up to attend larger workshops both locally and regionally.

I think the key is to keep it simple: use local instructors (there’s no need to bring someone from out of town for a small, local workshop), and keep the subject limited: “Charleston Crash-Course,” or “Starting to Swing Out.” Make it three to four hours on a Saturday, and make it super-affordable. Not everyone has the opportunity to attend a month-long series of classes – it’s hard to get the same day off every week of the month, especially when you’re beginning!

I don’t think these small workshops would make a lot of money (though if I’m wrong, it could just go back into the organization to fund more fantastic dances), but I do think they would generate excitement as a whole group of people suddenly learns to Charleston.

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I understand every scene is different – especially when it comes to how beginners are both recruited and taught. However, I do think that scenes specifically interested in growing their scene, or improving it in general for beginners, should think seriously about how they approach 1) education and 2) creating excitement.

And of course, when all else fails, you can always fall back on one tried and true manner of creating a welcoming scene for beginners: talk to them, and ask them to dance. Personally invite them to the monthly dance or upcoming exchange. And have fun, because it inspires the same in those around you.

I’d love to hear other thoughts and opinions on this — I’m sure there’s oodles of advice on how to recruit and keep new dancers. So let me know!

june goals

Run twice a week – I have already run three times this June, for a total of just under 5 miles. In addition to running twice a week, I would rather that the majority of my runs are closer to two miles than to one.

Deep-clean the apartment once a week – I am going to choose Sunday as the day of cleaning, which will help me stick to a schedule. My calendar for keeping track of these things will even be color-coded. Winning.

Minimize my time on the computer – I want to be able to check my email and then close my computer. I do not want to spend hours on Hulu and Netflix. I will not get caught up on facebook. The computer will be for email and for blogging and – I hope – very little else. There is too much going on in life to be tied to a little blue screen.

Reduce my spending at restaurants – this is the evolution of “Track my Spending,” which will continue for the rest of the year. Reducing my spending at restaurants might mean eating out less, and it might mean ordering smarter (no drinks, sharing with a friend if it’s a big meal), or getting a cute boy to regularly pay for my meal (any takers?). When a friend suggests lunch or dinner so we can hang out, I want to suggest walking in a park or going to the pool. More fun, and so much more affordable.

Dance Focus – Triple steps. I think about my triple steps all the time, but I know they’re off. I feel…slow. Like I can’t quite move as fast as I want. It’s time to fix that. I have an exercise to work on from Evita, and I’m going to add it before every run (it involves a lot of jumping) – that way, it will also count as a warm-up!

Read 20 mins/day, 5 days/wk. This goal will continue for the rest of the year. Expect it. This month, I want to finally finish The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (this one drags a bit), and I want to read Catch-22 (another one of those books I somehow missed in high school).

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That’s it for now. I feel like I have a lot on my plate right now, and I still have a tendency to slack off halfway through each month. Who wants to hold me accountable? I would welcome random phone calls at odd hours inquiring if I’ve finally cleaned up my bathroom, or if I’m on the computer wasting time.

may: two major goals have finished!

Two of the biggest goals I set for myself this year have finished.

1. No more Coke.

Wow. Five months. It wasn’t perfect — I still allowed myself a coke at Fellini’s every Monday after Hot Jam, and I caved on occasion. But for someone who used to drink 3-4 cokes a day, I find this change incredibly satisfying. And while I don’t plan on regretting any cokes in the future, I don’t plan on drinking them any more regularly, either. I am happy to be just a little bit healthier.

2. No buying clothes.

This was so much harder than it should have been — but it’s done. I celebrated at a consignment shop with a “new” pair of flare jeans (of which I’ve been daydreaming for about two months now) and a cute new floral dress. The two together cost under $30. And then I resisted buying clothing from H&M, despite the end to the challenge — my willpower is stronger, and my wallet is not lighter.

I did not buy this dress from H&M. But it was a close call — I mean, look at that color and cut. Or, you know, look at my clavicles.

Other challenges that I worked on this month:

3. Run twice a week.

I did not run twice a week (the last week was a little hectic), but I did run a total of 11.05 miles this month, where my fastest mile was 8:28 min/mil (don’t worry — that quick time was an abnormality! I average at 9:30 a mile). I also participated in a significant amount of AcroYoga this month, and I’ve started working out my core on a nightly basis. It’s time I knew the meaning of the word “fitness.”

I have already run 5 miles this month — so we’re off to a good start!

4. Drink 3 glasses of water a day.

This is hard to measure specifically because I move so much during the day. I tend to lose my water bottle when I carry it while shelving books (we’re two down this month), so I try to take advantage of the water fountains — but how do you measure a glass with your mouth? (That statement is dirtier than I expected it to be.) I need a better method for this. Or a job which allows me to put a glass on the desk next to me.

5. Keep Apartment Clean — one deep-clean day a week.

I succeeded 3/4 weeks in Map. My room is a wreck since I just got back from Philadelphia, but I plan on deep cleaning again this Saturday or Sunday. So I’d say there was moderate success here.

6. Update Blog 2x per week.

Well, I got five posts in, which means I succeeded two weeks out of four this month. I’ll work on this, but it’s not going to be a challenge for June.

7. Track Spending.

I rock at this. However, Toshl hasn’t been working the last week or so? I’m still recording all my expenses in a note, but I’m ready to have my handy-dandy one-eyed money monsters working again!

8. Twenty minutes of reading per day, at least five days per week.

I rock at this goal. Mostly, I love public transportation. This month I finished two particularly good books (among others), and I highly recommend them both. Look up Dreams of Joy by Lisa See if you’re looking for something deep and emotional (of course, you should read her first book of the series, Shanghai Girls, if you want it to make more sense). Look for Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton if you want something easy, action-packed, and cleanly written.

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Look out, June. I plan on kicking your ass. This is the halfway-mark, after all!!

things I love about Philly:

In no particular order, except 3 and 12 are my favorites:

1. The public transportation. I’ve been on my own about half the days, but it’s still been easy to get around. It’s amazing.

2. The grid system makes so much sense! I know it’s obvious, but it’s been stupidly helpful in getting myself around. Numbers go North-South, and trees go East-West. Piece of cake.

3. Speaking of the trees after which the E-W streets have been named: did you know that they are arranged in order of wood density (from highest to lowest, north to south)? It is the nerdiest, most entertaining fact…ever. And it makes Philly that much more awesome in my book.

4. Nooks and crannies — they’re every where! Little gardens, alleyways and parks. Little restaurants and art displays and backyards. It’s adorable, and I love finding them.

5. The murals across the backs of buildings are just stunning.

6. The architecture is also incredible — I love all the old buildings! And some of it is just so colorful!!

7. Rittenhop was a great little dance! It was small, friendly, and you could clearly see the public excitement it generated. And the weather was gorgeous!

8. Girl’s afternoon in Philly after Rittenhop: sexy-panty shopping, gellatto, and a fantastic consignment shop (new jeans!). Amazing.

9. I went to the first blues house party I’ve ever enjoyed (sorry Atlanta — never really enjoyed your house parties). Not a single person led a body roll — I think its just not part of the culture of dancing in Philly. I would go as far to say that this blues party actually made me remember why I used to love blues dancing. So thanks, Philly, for being awesome.

10. Reading Terminal Market was incredible — all the smells, sights, and tastes you could ever want. And it’s so delicious…

11. This:

“We’d love to see you naked, but…”

12. I have been hanging out with some amazing people — most notably Beth, Stuart, Albert, Truc-Lan, and Cari (name sister!). You guys all make me laugh. And of course, a special thanks to Beth for putting me up for the weekend and showing me awesome places, whenever I’ve been around.

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As soon as I get back to Atlanta and have some time, I’ll get up to date on my posts for this month (old goals, new goals, and money goals). This week has just been a fantastic break from reality — I didn’t know how much I neeeded it, honestly. So thank you, Philly, for giving me a little bit of sanity.