Why I love dance

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Dancing has always been a huge part of my life. When I was around the age of 4, my Mum started learning how to belly dance and, after discovering her innate talent for it, began teaching small classes to the women in our neighbourhood. She enrolled me in ballet and I did a competition at the local Shedley theatre where I twirled about as a Christmas fairy and over-acted as I shook a present to see what was inside. In my mind it was the most glamorous thing imaginable. I didn’t realise I had lost the competition because a) I was only 4 or 5 years old and b) they gave me a Caramello Koala as a consolation prize, still my favourite treat to this day. I can still remember my first bellydance costume: a gold and cream baladi dress (kind of like a kaftan) with a coin belt that my Mum had lovingly crafted. I danced in it in front of her students and family in a small hall in Elizabeth. As I grew I continued to take classes and learn from my Mum, as well as begin teaching classes to the younger kids. It became a 20 year passion, leaving ballet in the dust with it’s tight buns, disapproving looks from other mothers and classical music that I found boring (I love watching ballet now – it was just never a good fit for me). The bellydance studio was a family affair with my sister, my Mum and myself dancing, performing and teaching classes and my Dad playing the Tabla (arabic drum). This is the first reason I love dancing: it is intrinsically linked to my family. I would go on to marry a dancer and build an extended family of dancers too.

In high school it seemed only natural that I would take dance as a subject. The dance style taught was loosely “contemporary”, often driven by the students’ tastes and interests. My particular class was a big fan of creating routines to Prodigy. While I loved the different movement opportunities these classes gave I was not particularly good at them. I could barely touch my toes and had rather a limited range of movement which meant I looked nothing like some of my classmates who could contort themselves this way and that. Still, I loved the classes and it was my favourite subject. My dance dreams came to a halt when I began to develop chronic back pain which was so debilitating I missed months of school and almost didn’t finish year 12. The pain became like an unwanted acquaintance constantly hanging around, and, oh yeah, stabbing me in the back with a handful of knives. It was not until many years later that I made the connection between the flare-up of this condition and the many daily hours spent cavorting on a hard, unforgiving floor without a proper warm up or cool down, and a lack of any kind of strengthening exercises. I don’t blame my teacher for this. I’m sure she tried, but I went to a public school with over 1000 students and a limited budget. Just getting students to attend class was a triumph. I still have chronic back pain today, although it is no longer debilitating and only flares up badly on occasion. I have learned how to be careful and take care of my body. This is the second reason I love dance: it has shown me both the strength and fragility of my body. When I treat it well I can do things I never imagined like flip upside down in the air, dance ridiculously fast and flail with abandon. I can shimmy like nobody’s business.

As I entered academic life at university I stopped dancing as much and did what most people my age were doing: drank beers at the Uni bar, dreamt and floundered with no real idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. The bellydance studio was winding down with my Mum on the edge of retirement and my sister and I moving on to other things. It was at this time that I discovered swing dancing through a bellydance friend and I went along to my first lesson. It was somewhat of a revelation: dancing with another person! I was immediately hooked and, I’m embarrassed to admit, was that annoying person who asked to stay for the next level class on my first night. It’s not because I thought I was good enough, it’s because I just wanted more. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself these days. Swing dancing has brought me joy and friendship and family. There is something completely magical about sharing 3 minutes with someone, dancing to some of the most amazing music in the world, and creating something that has never happened before. Every dance with every person to every song is unique. And this is the third reason why I love dance: it is magic made flesh, joy given form and stupid amounts of fun.

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The myth of the “pre-baby body”

Jack

Two weeks before having my son

After having my baby something I heard a lot of the time, apart from “is he sleeping?”, was “oh my god, you look great!” or “wow, I can’t believe you just had a baby!”. While it is nice to be told you look great, it felt like what the surprise in those comments was really saying was “I expected you to look not great.” That having a baby would ravage my body, that it would make me a lesser version of myself. It often came from other mothers who would then tell me how terrible they thought they looked after having babies.

Society is obsessed with this idea of a “pre-baby body”. A quick glance at any pregnancy or parenting magazine will tell you how important it is to lose the baby weight, how to gain “just enough weight” while pregnant, what super foods to eat, and how to feel sexy again (by losing weight). The celebrity gossip magazines almost always have a story about some star returning to their “pre-baby body” with a step-by-step guide on how you can do it too by exercising 6 hours a day and eating nothing but kale protein smoothies. But surprise! there is no returning to your “pre-baby body” – because you had a baby. Your body has changed in an irrevocable way. You grew an actual human inside you. Why is this something to be ashamed of? I am what society would call “lucky.” Without doing much of anything, my body, when in clothes, resembles mostly what it looked like before I fell pregnant. Take those clothes off though, and my breasts hang loose with stretch marks, my tummy is dark with lines and the incision scar from my emergency caesarean looks like a smile under a pouch of soft skin. My back aches more easily, I bear scratches on my chest and arms from baby newborn talons, and my feet are sore in anything that doesn’t have an insole. My eyes are dark from 6 months of sleep deprivation, my hair is in a perpetual state of mess and my face breaks out constantly from forgetting to eat or eating poorly.

Jack

Eye bags for days…

Other markers I bear of motherhood are strong arms from rocking and nursing, an ability to open almost anything one-handed, a clear voice from constantly singing lullabies, a soft and squishy body which my son loves to grab in great fistfuls and my cat loves to knead, bruised knees from rolling around playing games on the floor, and a heart filled with joy. Whilst I sometimes look wistfully at old photos of myself (being a burlesque performer I’m in the unique position of having many semi-naked photos of myself) I wouldn’t want to return to that body. I am grateful for my body with it’s many bumps and lumps. It’s like a constantly evolving map of my life: here is that scar when I fell off my bed as a kid, here are the lines from many laughs and smiles, here is the incision that my baby was born through.

Jack

Bath time is the best time

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good and healthy in your body, and maybe for some people that means losing some weight, or hitting the gym, or wearing makeup, or wearing suck-me-in undies. What is wrong is when we expect all these things of women, and especially when we expect mothers to “bounce back”  straight away. Bounce back to what? I think most mothers would never want to bounce back to their life without kids (although it is nice to visit every so often).

So, next time you see a new mother feel free to tell her she looks great because she’s a mother and not in spite of being a mother. And whatever you do, don’t ask her if the baby is sleeping at night.

Standing on the precipice

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It’s been about six months since I checked in, and that’s because I have been crazy busy with working on my solo show Adult-ish and several other projects during Adelaide Fringe. Then, immediately following the end of Fringe my husband and I moved house and we’re still spending time each spare moment setting it up, buying new furniture, and cursing the inordinate amount of Ikea packaging sitting under our garage. But the biggest distraction for me is the imminent arrival of our first kid, due in the middle of August.

If you’ve seen my show, you’ll know that I’ve always wanted to have a baby. I hit puberty and my body started sending out maternal urges! It’s taken quite a bit longer to get there than my younger self thought (I was sure I’d be married to a rich lawyer with three kids by now), but it has been the best journey. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way and with anyone other than my husband. I’m glad I’ve had a number of awesome experiences over the years that would have been difficult with a baby. That’s not to say I think my life will be over when I have a kid, but just that I really have no idea what life is going to be like. I’m trying to have as few expectations as possible because I’m sure that no matter what I predict it’s going to be completely different. Sure, I’ve tried to get a sense of what my new life will be like – I’ve read books, I’ve watched films and documentaries, and I’ve been listening to the entire back catalogue of The Longest Shortest Time (which I highly recommend, by the way), but all I can really picture right now is standing on the edge of a precipice. It’s foggy and I can’t see what’s on the ground below, but I know soon I’ll be leaping off the edge. It’s a terrifying image in many ways – I have so many new worries and fears, and my anxiety keeps surfacing in dreams about the baby coming too soon, not being a good Mum, and the good old I’ve lost something/I’m running late/I didn’t do the thing I was supposed to do dreams. But it’s also exhilarating. I truly am leaping into the unknown and the future is full of so many possibilities – about who I will be as a parent, who my child will be, how my marriage will change. I already feel so much love for this kid (even when he kicks me in the bladder) and I’m so excited to meet him and get to know him. Right now though I’m trying to enjoy the time when I still have two feet on the ground, before I take the jump into who-knows-what.

Check out my new website!

Hello everybody!

I have a brand new website dedicated to my performances and classes, and you can check it out here. It also has a blog attached to it, so that is where I will be blogging all about the professional stuff. Random bits of thought and nonsense will still remain over here as they arise. Like this:

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Chat soon!

xx

Adjustments and new things

Hello everyone,

I just saw that it has been two months since my last post. Woah! It’s kind of crazy how quickly time runs away. There’s been a fair amount going on in that time, but also – not a hell of a lot. It’s been one crazy adjustment from the busyness that was working at Peaches ‘n’ Gin. I’ve been spending a lot more time with my family, which has been wonderful. And I actually get to go to things I am invited to by friends! Excuse my excitement – it’s been about 4 years since I’ve really had time to do that a lot. I’m thrilled that they still want to invite me stuff and haven’t left me for dead. I won’t lie – there have been times where I’ve been feeling…not bored per se, maybe just antsy. So I’ve tried to fill that time with trying new things and revisiting old hobbies that fell along the wayside.

I recently signed up for a belly dance class, and while I have unfortunately missed 2 from having the flu, I have been really enjoying it. I hadn’t realised how much I had forgotten and it’s been so nice to wake my body up and say “Hey! Remember this?” I did feel a little anxiety going in because when I left the scene it seemed to me to be incredibly hostile, and if you went to one school you weren’t welcome at another and there was all this in-fighting going on. But the class is lovely and everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. I’ve even seen some faces from the old days!

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My wonderful husband Jarryd outdid himself and bought me an adorable vintage style, incredibly hipster bike for my birthday and I love it so much! I’ve been riding it everywhere and it’s so invigorating and uplifting to be outside. I live near the Torrens bike path so it’s a really nice ride almost anywhere. It’s incredible what moving about and being in the sunshine can do for you. It really pulled me out of a blue spot when I was feeling a bit lost.

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The one thing I love having time for again is reading. I used to be an avid reader (especially when I caught public transport a lot more) but over the last few years I haven’t read many new books and it has taken me ages to get through them. I’ve been enjoying the time I have and reading a lot more, as well as listening to audiobooks. Some great ones I have read recently include The Rosie Project by Graeme Simpson (I highly recommend the audiobook – the narration is great!), The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (heartbreakingly beautiful), Yes Please by Amy Poehler (again – the audiobook is hilarious as Poehler narrates it herself with a ton of special guests), and I’m currently re-reading one of my all-time favourites, The Gnole by Alan Aldridge. What are you guys reading at the moment? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

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What kinds of hobbies do you guys fill your time with?

Philosophising…

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Today I wrote a list of all the things I need to do this weekend:

  • The dreaded T-word……..TAX
  • Chuck out the gross food in the bottom of my fridge
  • Properly file away the 629 icons on my laptop desktop
  • Sort through a box of miscellaneous crap under my desk
  • Clean the hair out of my bath drain – makes me want to cut all my hair off again
  • Put all the DVDs back in their correct cases
  • Clear out the props from Adultish out of the back of my car….yep they’re still there.

Nothing in that list particularly inspires me. So here’s the list of things I want to do:

  • Play my ukulele
  • Flip through my fancy cookbooks whilst stuffing takeout in my face
  • Paint
  • Go to brunch and observe the local hipsters
  • Do something exciting and scary, like busking or an improv class
  • Dance
  • Pick out a quilting pattern – my Nanna is going to help me make my first one!
  • Kiss my husband and hug my friends

These are the things I NEED to do, because these are the things that make a life. I also need to add “write philosophical crap” to the list.