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The Love Hangover: Bring painkillers.

The full cast of the “Love Hangover”

Last night, I put performances in my 5th showcase with Dance Austin Studio to bed. After our showcase in November, I said I was coming for you, Love Hangover, and that’s exactly what happened.

In the fall, my life took a turn when my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. When I found out, we were in the thick of rehearsals and I remember just how difficult it was to retain choreography. But with lots of practice and support from fellow dancers, I did it.

This time around was similar. My dad passed away on February 3rd, and although it’s still very difficult for me to talk about publicly, I will say that my dance family has been incredibly supportive this month.

So many of my fellow dancers and instructors, and even the owner of the studio, reached out to me to offer their condolences and support. I got so many hugs before rehearsals, and even last night, dancers I don’t see often made sure I was okay to go on stage. I am so, so thankful for that.

Before my dad passed, I signed up to perform in two pieces at the showcase: broadway jazz and lyrical hip hop. The two pieces were some of the more difficult routines I’ve ever learned – continuing with my goal to keep pushing myself each time the opportunity arises.

I had to miss one rehearsal to attend my dad’s memorial, and even though I got total support and love from my choreographer/instructor, I returned ready to NAIL. THIS. I needed the distraction and I knew more than ever that it’s simply my time to live my life.

I’ve felt like my mind, heart, and all of myself had been taken over by my dad’s disease and all of the trappings that accompany a heartbroken family. Sure, I am grieving, and will continue to do so. But after six months of finding very little that brought me out of my funk, I was ready to just DO this, and do it with all I had.

So, I did. I spent hours reviewing videos from class, dancing in my kitchen, listening to the music in my car, getting help from other dancers, and scouring multiple Goodwills for the perfect costumes.

There were times I wondered if I’d made a giant mistake; if I’d picked pieces that were too difficult for me. But that’s the thing about growth – it’s not easy, sometimes it hurts, but you come out a better person because of it.

And you know what? I got to dance beside people that I’ve looked up to since showcase #1. I’m talking to you, Kim and Charlene. I will NEVER forget when I saw Kim perform a unique routine to a Backstreet Boys’ song – I immediately wondered, “Who is that girl?!” I wanted to know her, and I’m so glad I got to rehearse with her and perform on stage beside her.

Charlene is a beautiful dancer in class, on stage, wherever, and she has this amazing ability to put everything on stage no matter what she may be feeling on the inside. I know I am not alone when I say that my eyes are often drawn to her no matter how many people are performing.

There’s also Chase and Mendy – I saw you guys freaking ROCK the last lyrical hip hop performance, and I thought, “That’s it, I’m taking that class.” And I did – and then we were all in rehearsal together and I remain so inspired by both of you – you have a performance quality that is so amazing.

Naturally, what would our performance be without our choreographer and instructor, Caitlin? I’m so lucky to be able to take her classes and learn from her – technique, style, performance WOW – she’s got it all and she’s so approachable and funny to boot.

I have been thinking so much lately about dance, and how many times I’ve prepped for shows, performances, and competitions in my life. Over the last six months, various memories have bubbled to the surface and I remembered specific instances from being on my high school dance squad.

The summer before my junior year, we went to a UDA Dance Camp for the first time. It was at a state college, we got to stay in the dorms (so cool), and we were going to learn all sorts of new routines that we could perform during basketball season.

Little did we know that UDA Dance Camp was, like, a THING, and other squads were incredibly serious, technically great, and focused. All of the other teams showed up in matching workout gear for each day of camp, including hair bows and the like, and we… well we brought sleep boxers and loose t-shirts.

Our assistant coach, who accompanied us to camp, did not back down. She encouraged us to go, go do our best, we deserved the ribbons and routines just as much as anyone else. She recorded us in our various practices and when we went back to the dorms each night, she helped us drill the routines until we had them.

And we got first place ribbons – mismatched outfits and all. Because dance is universal – it doesn’t matter how much money you have, what you’re wearing, where you come from – it’s about a willingness to try.

That same year, our head coach unexpectedly passed away mid-season. To this day, I still can’t believe it happened, and I can’t really calculate how we got through it, other than to say that we had each other and we had dance. I still remember performing a dedication to her on that basketball court. It felt like our whole city was mourning with us.

At the end of last night’s show, Chi Chi – the owner of Dance Austin Studio – said she’d experienced loss in the last week, and it’s often in those times we realize how importance it is to just move the mental road block and live our lives, no matter what that means to you. Dance is healing.

That’s the truth! I’m so thankful I have a place to help me heal, a place to go when times are good, and when they’re bad. It wouldn’t be that way without the people there, and know that you all mean so much to me.

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Queso me crazy?

Queso Fundido from ‘What’s Gaby Cooking’!

I know I’ve written a few posts about my resolutions and goals for 2017, but there’s one tiny thing I haven’t mentioned: I kind of wanted to enter some sort of contest, particularly a cooking contest. I don’t really know what brought it on, although I’d be lying if I said the episode of “Real Girl’s Kitchen” where Haylee enters a Texas pie contest really had me curious.

Sure, I’ve entered in writing contests all the time (and happily lose them one-by-one), but I also love to cook, and I’m always saying that I’m getting tired of impressing MYSELF in the kitchen, right? What better way to see what you’re made of than by entering a contest?

A few weeks ago, I randomly came across a Tweet that was advertising a local food contest, with all of the money going toward charity. Sounded right up my ally, so I saved it for a later day.

Upon further inspection, this contest is the 7th annual “Quesoff”, allowing anyone to enter, and all of the proceeds and donations go to the Austin Food Bank. Umm, yes! If you remember, another one of my goals for 2017 was to “Just go for it”, so I did, without really considering it.

Yep, it’s official, Team Bitter Lemon is a contestant in the 7th Annual Quesoff, which takes place at the end of August.

…Which is probably a good thing, because… I’ve never made queso. That’s right, I entered a contest to make something I’ve never made. Awesome.

Of course, it doesn’t seem that competitive and it’s for a great cause, so it’s whatever, but you better believe I want my queso to be delicious. It should also be noted that I’ve entered my (so far non-existent) queso into the “Meaty” category, so it’s got to have meat.

While I do not consider myself a queso connoisseur, I already know that I’d like to make a white queso that features lean, shredded meat with a smoky flavor, possibly duck. I also want it to be nice and spicy (edible, of course).

I haven’t tried recipes as of yet, but I have recruited some local foodies to my team, and I’ve rounded up several folks to help me taste recipes as I jump into this cheese wave of summer. It’s gonna be a fun one, I can promise you that.

In general, we use the term “queso” to describe a delicious bowl of melty cheese, often enjoyed with nacho chips. But of course, queso refers to cheese; queso blanco is white cheese; queso fresco is fresh cheese.

There are so many different ways to make queso – with several cheeses, meat, beans, spices, tomatoes, chiles… the possibilities are endless!

While this endeavor doesn’t really go with my current diet, I’m going to have fun testing out new recipes for the contest. The Bitter Lemon will NOT be embarrassed showing up in Queso country with a first timer cheese dip! Let the cheesing begin…