Dance



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I would typically call New Year’s Eve amateur night. Lots of fussing over just another night. One of the best parts of any New Year’s Eve worth its volume in champagne is the viewing of puegos pyrotechnicos. To wind down our ten days in Cabo San Lucas, I and my traveling partners hit Medano Beach around 11:30Pm to catch the fireworks and ring in the New Year.

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The all-inclusive resorts that front Medano Beach were roped off, having their own party with live music, fancy, lit-up dance floors, and folks with their dancing shoes on.

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We went a little more low key, opting instead of ooing and aahing between the two sets of fireworks going off, with the banda soundtrack in the background!

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The East Wall traverse gives way to a bowl

Any adult who spends time in Peter Pan-land will tell you: Even a bad day of play beats a great day at the office.

Hence a day in the Colorado Rockies that is fraught with 30mph winds, pelting ice pellets, icy patches, flat light, extreme terrain, anemia-induced dizziness and weird eye-floaties is better than closing the deal, grading papers, or overall wrappin-it-up at week’s end.  Let’s face it, with few exceptions, the best thing about work is time off from it. And I love my job(s).

So it was, on a random Thursday that I and my two partners in crime (one’s a nurse with an unorthodox schedule, the other is on what’s appropriately called funemployment) headed to A Basin, aka Arapahoe Basin, The Legend for a few hours of adult recess.

My two partners are not what I would call avid skiers. They stopped being avid years ago. Mr. Funemployment has put in over 30 days this year and I bet my nurse friend is in that same ballpark. These guys are warriors, not weekend warriors.

So it was with some trepidation that I headed up to the hills with the experts, somewhat leery of my recent cry day at Vail (not ready to write about that one yet) and somewhat wistfully remembering that magical day at Loveland where I boarded in my comfort zone all day and left the mountain with a rare sense of confidence. Being pushed is good, I agree, but some days ya gotta hang where you feel comfortable so you can practice the fundamentals, even when the pitch gets steep.

The day started with a three-day $138 A Basin spring pass. Rumors are A Basin will see the light of June, and April brings surprising powder dumps with its showers. Skies were grey, conditions were mostly icy with patches of powder, which were visible early morning but not afterwards. The flat light made navigating terrain difficult and seeing icy patches impossible. Flat light is a lot like April snow-showers: lot of surprises.

And the wind. The A Basin snow report predicted 25mph winds, but my virtual finger test called hogwash. By 11:30AM, winds were whipping through the Basin of A, sending icy snow pellets darting sideways and upward into my face. I hate icy, sideways hail.

By one o’clock, the anemia and hypoglycemia were winning, and the wind had turned just this side of ridiculous. So we raised the white flag halfway, caught some lunch at Black Mountain Lodge, and did our swan song turns for the day.

But not before hitting the East Wall. The East Wall at A Basin is hallowed in some circles, as it’s rated a double-black diamond. Now I can hang on blacks (as long as they’re mogu-l and tight-tree-free), but I don’t pretend to know or even care to know about double-blacks. The East Wall is hike-to territory, and the steep chutes, another 500-600 feet from the catwalk traverse, are what put the double in the black. We weren’t doing that, although we did see some folks hiking towards heaven.

The thing about the traverse along the East Wall is that it’s skinny, and I’m afraid of heights. So my clammy yet frozen hands are gingerly pushing me along the catwalk and these rocks, well, they jut out and make the margin of error of tumbling into the East Wall’s open bowl even greater. After charting a course and trying not to freak out by the “DANGER you will die” signs that greet you at the East Wall’s entrance, I dipped down into the bowl and realized:

The East Wall ain’t all that. The upper portion, sure. But I made it down alive, didn’t come near as close as I thought to any rock outcroppings or cliffs or any of that other nonsense. It was fun! There was this little funnel bit and a wide open bowl, with plenty of crust to turn in. I kept my speed up to the lift, and we turned around and did it again–minus the rock jutting out into the traverse.

And then the eye-floaties raised the white flag, all the way up, and we called it a day. For real.

 

Getting into the groove, coming out of the East Wall

All that's missing is a three-headed dog

Overprepping for a ride down some not double-black

Read about SheSpoke’s epic, six-hour road trip to hit Wolf Creek’s opening day in 2011 with three feet of powder!


I grew up a mile from Providence but hardly ever went there. (Too busy hanging out in parking lots in high school. Seriously.) When I did hit Rhode Island’s capital city, it was with the hip crowd in high school, who liked to haunt Thayer Street and pretend they went to Brown or RISD. For twenty years, the only place I knew how to get to in Providence was Thayer Street, and getting there was always a crapshoot.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m into the tail end of a month in my homestate, getting acquainted with old friends (attending my high school reunion this weekend), meeting new ones, enjoying the beach, and dining on fantastic cuisine. My athletic pursuits have been mostly confined to daily and nightly walks with my mother and a bit of surfing.

But the artistic experience has been amazing! I’ve met artists, musicians, poets, and glassblowers. Put twelve of these people in a room, add an accordian, bongo drums, a harmonica, and a human beat box, and you’ve got hours of (mostly) clean adult entertainment.

Two events are mostly worth mentioning:

Salsa Night at Black Repertory Theatre

This is a weekly, Wednesday night occurence and features Carlos DeLeon. Like most salsa nights, a class is offered before the main festivities. Their website tells you that the salsa class begins at 8 and the dancing starts at 9. This is slightly incorrect, as the night I was there the class didn’t end until almost 10. No problem, I waited around a little bit and had a beer. By 10:30 the dance floor was packed with salsa dancers. Fantastic, I thought. I’ll just get my little groove on in the corner over here and someone is bound to ask me to dance. I am wearing a new dress, after all.

Didn’t matter. Not a single soul asked me to dance. It could have been the glut of single females in the joint or it could have been that no one knew I could dance. So I asked someone to dance and I chose a self-styled expert, who put up with me for half a song, gave me a few words of condescending encouragement, and released me. I don’t think he realized what an asshole he was.

This happened to me in Mexico in March: I showed up to a salsa night, actually knew how to salsa, only to have every able dancer in the place ignore me.

Lesson learned If one must go to a salsa night by herself, it would behoove her to show up for the lesson beforehand so the guys in the class can see that she can dance and are less shy about asking her.

Still, I’m waiting until I return to Denver next week before braving another salsa class. I’ll drive through southern Utah by myself for ten days, but I will not go to another dance class by myself and pathetically hope someone asks me to dance. Can’t take the rejection.

SoundSession
Possibly the coolest thing to ever happen to Providence. Couldn’t happen to a nicer town in more need of an economic boost.

SoundSession was a weeklong music festival. It crossed all boundaries, genres, and venues. It doesn’t draw stadium acts, preferring Cape Verdean beats over national blues acts. I went to to two events that week: a three-act music extravanganza at Firehouse 13, culminating in the bluesy Chelsy Lau band, a fiery redhead who’s a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Janice Joplin. Her band does original songs and original covers, from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” to Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana.” The girl can rock.

The final night of SoundSession was a carnivale-style parade. I found myself dancing next to the requisite scantily-clad sequined dancers and behind a Caribbean steel drum band. We danced in the streets until 3AM, moving between musical acts that were 2-3 blocks apart along Westminster Street in Providence. My favorite band with the guitarist with the mohawk and the leader singer on maracas. Didn’t get the name. Best night of music I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in, and I’ve seen Radiohead at Red Rocks.

If you missed SoundSession this year, go next year. I only went to free events and was blown away. You will not be disappointed.


Mission (sort of) accomplished! Let’s recap the past ten days:

Day 1: Walking

Day 2: Tennis

Day 3: Golf and Yoga

Day 4: Rest the legs and apply Tiger Balm liberally

Day 5: Trail Running and Salsa Dancing

Day 6: More rest, more Tiger Balm

Day 7: More rest, more Tiger Balm

Day 8: More rest, more Tiger Balm

As of Day 8, I had six sports under my belt. Over the weekend my thighs (particularly my hamstrings) screamed for a rest. I postponed my mountain bike ride scheduled for Day 8 because of dehydration, which I am apparently very susceptible to. On Day 9, I set out again on my mission.

Day 9–Walking

Weary of wearing out the hamstrings, I opted for a walk around Sloan’s Lake, almost identical to last week’s walk. I cut the walk by about a mile and set out in the early evening hours. The mercury’s been reaching for a hundred these past few days and exercising in that kind of heat is just asking for trouble. I set out sans iPod but full of gusto. I passed families, dog-walkers, and brave cyclists on this very busy path on the western edge of Denver. When the crowding on the paved path got to be too much, I opted for the dirt trail that runs alongside it–easier on the knees and less crowded. Alpenglow was doing its thing just as I finished the walk and stretched out the hamstrings.

Day 10–Mountain Biking and Dancing

Mountain Biking

A few years ago I was on a crusade to get all my girlfriends mountain biking. Guys are fun to ride with, but they’re constantly playing king of the mountain. I wanted to hang out with my girls and get in shape. Jer was one of my willing victims. She’s a natural athlete and absolutely fearless. I watched her go over the handle bars on a particularly rocky section of Flat Pass in Moab only to get right back on her steed, a Gary Fisher Tassajara. I and the dudes nearby were astonished.

Times have changed, though. Jer and I are both hopelessly out of shape. We decided to ride an intermediate trail, Lair o’ the Bear, in Morrison, CO, just a stone’s throw from Red Rocks. As it was Wednesday morning, there were few others on the trail. Because of its shade and close proximity to Denver, this trail gets some heavy traffic, especially on the weekends. Today (a Wednesday) we met families, older walking groups, and a community group whose goal it is to get urban kids out on the trail.

Lair of the Bear is the closest intermediate mountain biking to Denver. Its heavy use has rendered the wide singletrack a little sandy, but it is awesome nonetheless. You climb climb climb for a couple of miles, crest, then enjoy a couple more miles of roller-coaster fun. The climbing is neither steep nor lengthy, and except for a few rock gardens and tight, rock-and-tree-ridden switchbacks, almost entirely rideable.

Sweat was stinging my eyes near the ride’s end, and we finished just as raindrops began to fall. Jer and I sported perma-grins at our unbelievable fun and accomplishment. Maybe we’re not not in shape after all.

Dancing

Let’s face it, we are creatures of habit. We go the same places, eat the same food, hang out with the same people. It’s safe. But on this particular Wednesday night, K and I decided to venture out to a new neighborhood, Cherry Creek of Denver.

Think the Marina District in San Francisco, Providence’s East Side, Atlanta’s Buckhead, or 90210. These are the chi chi parts of town where the cool kids hang out. We ditched our dive-bar inclinations and headed out to, ahem, Cherry Creek.

First stop–Elways, named after Denver’s prodigal son. On Wednesday Elway’s features a live band right there next to the Cherry Creek Mall, the most popular destination spot in Colorado. (Weird!) Tonight Angie Stevens and the Beautiful Wreck were belting out covers from Johhny Cash to the Dixie Chicks (whom I adore). Of the three hundred or so people getting their drink on, only a dozen were dancing. I never noticed before how insecure the vanilla race is about dancing, how cutting a rug is sooooo scary. The same thing happened a few days earlier at the Highland Street Fair–I, along with a few toddlers, was the only one dancing to a hard-rockin’ country cover band.

When I traveled to Costa Rica a few years ago I noticed that everyone dances, with or without a club. How jealous I was that this culture is not afraid to express its feelings through dance.

Elway’s closed up shop at 9PM (something about a noise ordinance or something), and we moved along to Plush at 3rd and Clayton. Like many eating and drinking establishments in this upscale Denver neighborhood, Plush occupies the basement. A lovely older gentlemen greets the ladies at the top of the stairs and escorts them to the club’s entrance. He’s also available to escort you back up the stairs and light your cigarette. A very nice touch.

Plush offers typical dance club fare: a small dance floor surrounded by big overstuffed couches. The music was a mix of bad eighties pop, rap, and a couple of salsa tunes mixed in. I bumped and grinded with the rest of the over-30 crowd and dragged a poor visiting stranger out for the salsa dance numbers. Oh, and I danced with the owner once. Very smartly dressed.

Grand total of nine sports in ten days with no injuries.  Good enough for me.


Day Five–Trail Running and Salsa

Trail Running
I woke up Friday morning with a desire to hike. Biking, not hiking, is usually my bag baby, but a short hike takes less time and less wear and tear on the body than a mountain bike ride. Plus, I needed to save some energy for my salsa class that evening.

I decided to hike at nearby Mt. Galbraith in Golden. Mt. Galbraith is part of the Jefferson County Open Space program, which has some of the best free parks in the nation. The mountain biking in JeffCo is superb and ridiculously close to Denver. Some of my favorites include: Matthew Winters, Dakota (aka Dinosaur) Ridge, Mt. Falcon (we usually ride it from the bottom), Three Sisters, Lair of the Bear, Apex, Deer Creek, and Pine Valley Ranch. For more information check out JeffCo’s website.

I like Mt. Galbraith because it’s short and steep. This trail is also hiker only, so I needn’t be on the lookout for rogue mountain bikers.

Funny. When I was mountain biking 3-5 times a week, I used to resent the hikers I had to share the trail with. They interrupted my rhythm and glared at me as I glided by; they got in the way while I was climbing or navigating technical sections; and since mountain bikers yield to all other trail users (hikers and equestrians), I often felt like they purposely took up the entire trail so I would have to dismount.

But when I suffered some nerve damage in my right arm a few years ago and was forced to forgo mountain biking for a few months, I became an avid trail runner. By avid I mean once a week. By trail running I mean hike up the mountain and run down it. I learned early on that hiking along with mountain bikers was no fun for anyone. But all us (hikers, bikers, and equestrians) have the same goal: enjoy the beautiful, sunny Colorado weather and get some recreating in. Yet kind, amiable folks turn into territorial monsters when forced to yield or share the trail, myself included.

So Mt. Galbraith it was, where within a mile and a half you ascend over 500ft along the Cedar Gulch trail. It’s a shame, I told myself, that this trail wasn’t open to mountain bikers because at just under a foot wide, the trail could make for some sweet singletrack.

The only problem with Mt. Galbraith (and other Open Space parks in the JeffCo system) is that it is entirely exposed, leaving few trees for shelter and shade. After hiking up the 1.3 miles to where Cedar Gulch meets both the Nightbird Gulch and Mt. Galbraith Loop (the only other two trails in the park), I decided to turn around and call it a day. When I turned around, I began trail running.

Trail running is much more enjoyable than running on pavement. Although the trail is off-camber and littered with rocks, the soft dirt is ultimately easier on the knees, shins, and other body parts. Plus, trail running is like a video game: navigate these rocks, hop over these tree trunks, turn this switchback. And trail running gets you down the mountain much faster than simply hiking. At the end of the day, I’d rather be mountain biking.

I was exhausted from my 2.6-mile jaunt, so I lay down for a little while.

~~~~~naptime~~~~~

Salsa Dancing
I’m no expert at Salsa Dancing, but I am a big fan. For the past six months I’ve been dancing at least twice a week. I dropped eighty bucks at Steve Madden for a pair of sweet dancing shoes that are fashionable yet comfortable, had a slick bottom and a skinny heel suitable to turning, and made of soft leather to hold my wide Flintstone feet. Voila! The Steve Madden Clasikal.

After a bit of research, my friend and I decided on the salsa night at Mi Casa. La Rumba is the most famous club in Denver, but on Fridays it does a techno thing and has been known to be pretty crowded. As this was my friend’s first foray into salsa dancing, we wanted something a little more chill.

For six bucks you get a one-hour intense lesson and a few hours of dancing. (Mi Casa does not have a liquor license so for $10 it’s all you can drink. We both went for water.) Our instructor’s name was A.J. Washington, and he wore an aerobic instructor’s headset with which he led the thirty of us (all ages but many from the under under 21 crowd, I was surprised to notice) through the basic salsa steps, turns, sliding, and moving diagonally with our partners. He had us switching partners every minute or so. We practiced with different partners, forcing us to focus on our footwork. I liked that.

After about an hour and a half, I noticed my partner in crime was missing. Getting the basic salsa steps down takes more than twenty minutes, and this class was suitable for beginners but not first-timers. I promised to go over the basics with her in my basement. I don’t own any salsa music but Comcast has a salsa and merengue music channel. I’ve been cleaning to it.

This Wednesday night I’m forging out alone to the Denver Turnverein for more salsa. Click here for more info about salsa dancing in Denver.

The next five days: more yoga, mountain biking, and bowling(?)


I lived in Denver for ten years and always dreamed about it, but I somehow never had the time or the guts.

But I moved to a small town in southern Colorado where’s there’s little to do except feed the horses, and I don’t have any horses.

So I took up salsa dancing. Finally.

I cannot dance. I can’t do the Macarena or the Hustle. An eight-year old just taught me (this week) the Electric Slide. I would constantly turn down men who asked me to dance down because I was embarrassed or scared for his toes.

I was tired of offending men and ascribing to Billy Idol’s mantra of Dancing with Myself. So last winter I found myself a partner and signed up for some Latin dance classes at the local college. It turned out to be a very well spent $160.

As a kid I took ballet and sat in on my sister’s tap and jazz classes. I did this until ballet turned to pointe, which I think meant dancing on your toes. I didn’t think my Fred Flintstone feet could handle the pressure so I bowed out. Fast forward 30 years.

Our instructor was a native Venezuelan, who probably played salsa while I was playing cowboys and Indians. Our first night we learned the merengue and its history. I like history because it explains things. We learned, accurately or not, that the merengue was a creation by Carribean slaves who wanted to dance but couldn’t lift their manacled feet. Hence the merengue was born. It’s a simple dance, with a one-two/left-right pattern. You can do all kinds of fancy turns in the merengue because the footwork is so simple. We spent half of our time learning the merengue.

Our next dance style was the bachata. I thought it was machata until I looked it up. Our dance instructor called the bachata a conversation between two people, and its footwork is fancier than the merengue: a one-two-three-four footwork pattern either out to the side or back and forth. The merengue had been easy, but turning and keeping the bachata’s footwork pattern while turning was my first hurdle. I went home and practiced until I got it.

In fact, my partner and I were practicing as often as we could: at bars, at friend’s houses, on the sidewalks. We were learning and having fun and were constantly patting ourselves on the backs for being the overachievers in the class.

Mariachi music drives me crazy (as does zydeco and too much bluegrass), but the music of this dance class was catchy and, yes, sexy. It makes you want to move your hips. Check out iTunes radio and click on the Latin station for a sample: merengue, bachata, and salsa.

A month into the class one of the female instructors in the class brought attention to my footwear. I’m a clog person and have been so for almost 20 years. My Flintstone feet fit easily into these wide-toed shoes. But without ankle straps, I was making dancing difficult for myself. I needed heel support. Serious about my endeavor to become a competent dancer, I went out and bought black pumps at WalMart–yes, I know, I hate WalMart too, but the nearest good shoe store was 75 miles away so cut me some slack.

At this point our instructor introduced the salsa to us. He would usually do this about an hour into the class when only the diehards were left. The salsa became my favorite because of its crispness. There are different variations but Mr. Caracas taught us the one-two-three pattern with one foot, followed by a slight pause (four) and a five-six-seven with the other foot. Salsa, unlike the other two dances, really requires that you listen and feel the music. You’ve got to listen for the cowbell (thank you, Mr. Walken) and step back when you do. Only the dedicated or talented stuck around to learn salsa. I was of the former.

In fact, I was itching to watch Dirty Dancing again because I’m pretty sure I was learning the same dances as Baby. I wanted to watch and listen as Patrick Swayze gave her directions on how to become a dancer in a few days’ time.

One night we took our class out on the road to a local spot. It was our first chance to perform without the confines of a class or learning a new move. When the salsa came on, our instructor brought me (as one of the dedicated ones) out to the dance floor. The cool thing about the salsa is that you can keep time by stomping your feet. Soon a crowd had gathered around us like a bad seventies show. He kept it simple, and I was able to follow. The crowd cheered at the song’s end.

I was euphoric. These people had no idea that four weeks ago I thought salsa was a condiment. I had done over 200 steps in a span of four minutes and hadn’t crushed anyone’s toes. I had arrived.

Now I’m an addict. I just moved back to Denver and am looking for a salsa night. My mother found one back in Rhode Island, where I’ll be for most of July.

Oh yeah, and my twentieth high school reunion is coming up. From tomboy toe-crusher to salsa queen. And it only took twenty years.