This Is Why I Dance (And Why You Should Too)

So if you’ve been following my escapades for the last few years, you’ll remember that I started ballroom and latin dancing a little over 2 years ago. Outside of a few vacation breaks and a week off here or there, I’ve been dancing weekly and progressing at a pretty steady pace. What effectively started as a whim has turned into a passion that borders…obsessive? No…habitual? No. It’s a passion in and of itself.

For me, dance continues to be an extension of expression that I often find is lacking in my life, not even through voice. It’s a healthy mix of anger, joy and sadness that would be seen as “out of character” for me or unhealthy to express in social life. However, as many of us continue to pursue greater and more fulfilling challenges in our professional and personal lives, an emotional outlet is no longer an optional luxury. Dance (for me) is this sort of outlet and is certainly a core part of my life that keeps me emotionally balanced.

It’s more than that though. More recently, I’ve been working with my amateur partner and we were talking about things that makes us keep coming back. After going around in circules for a bit (as per my style in these kinds of conversation), it struck me. Dance is about focus and control and in more ways than one. Here’s what I mean.

On Focus

In our multi-faceted and ultra-engaged world, our attentions are often diverted in many directions, almost always at the same time. In our careers, we pride ourselves (and oftentimes boast in resumes) in our abilities to juggle many things at the same time. In our complex private lives, we have to manage the multi-dimensional relationships that make up the fabric of our social lives. When you throw in family, kids and social media, it becomes abundantly apparent that we’re overloading ourselves. While many of us would generally go home and turn on the TV to “unwind”, I find that this type of stimulation leaves me wanting and sluggish. Dance, or at least practicing dance, has provided me an outlet to focus. Work on one thing at a time. Is my toe turned out correctly? How’s my frame and posture? Wax-on. Wax-off. The zen of dancing comes not because it is simple, but because it is extraordinarily complex and that you need to focus on one thing at a time in order to improve.

This balance ties intimately with many of the emotional benefits I’ve previously espoused. Moreover and ironically, this level of focus has allowed me to improve on multi-tasking at work. I’ve found myself being able to jump from task to task with neither a loss in concentration, nor a need to refocus on the task at hand. It’s an unexpected side effect, but one I’m sure anyone working in a hectic workplace would find welcome.

On Control

If a person’s body is one’s castle, then wouldn’t it make sense to know how it works? Unfortunately, we still don’t come with an owner’s manual (and don’t ever be fooled into believing we’ll ever have one), so the best thing one can do is to test, explore and learn how it all works. While yoga and other forms of exercise are reasonable attempts at helping one do so, I’ve personally found that the practice of dance has allowed me to do this fully. The full-body precision necessary to dance (lead and follow) correctly is mind boggling, and even with only a small handful of years dancing, I’ve discovered things about my personal physiology that I didn’t know possible (but seems so obvious now). Even as a novice, I’ve also discovered things about others physiology that I didn’t know existed, but now allows me to guide others as if it were (partially) second nature. While I’m not even implying I’m good at this, I’ve found that even a small bit of precision and control goes a long way.

The ability to control my physical actions and posture has allowed me to excel outside of my dance life. I feel like I’m less clumsy (in the afternoon when I’m more awake) and I simply look more confident when I’m in front of crowds, even if there’s a 8.0 scale earthquake in my boots.

On Other Benefits

I was at a high school alumni association event not too long ago, and I’m reminded of pieces of that night, specifically on how young people can feel isolated in a city as large as Toronto. It’s not too long ago that I, myself, moved to this fair city and felt much the same way. Many of my friends at the time lived back in Waterloo (my alma mater) or out of town, and many still do. Without a strong circle of friends, I had to discover my own community, and I was fortunate enough to find dance.

I have nothing but the best things to say about the dance community. They are some of the friendliest and most open individuals I’ve met in my short (but not insignificant) life. After all, one spends most of the time mere inches face to face. You are either very friendly already, or you become friendly very quickly. Learning how to dance has allowed me to meet many interesting and intriguing individuals from all walks of life, and you don’t even have strings attached to feel emotionally committed to any one of them! It’s like speed dating on steroids, with no weird social stigma or awkwardness hanging over your head. Furthermore, by knowing how to dance, I know I can pick up and go to another city, and be accepted into a community where the common language is motion to music.

In our fast-paced, whirlwind lives that we lead, we often find little time to look after ourselves, forcing more and more individuals to eat improperly (eating only salad is just as bad as eating only meat, people!), with little regard to heart health, stamina and strength. Going to the gym and seeing a personal trainer will certainly do the trick, but who wants to run on a treadmill or just lift weights. It’s boring and my ADHD sensibilities kick in far too readily in my ripe old age. Dancing is already a full-body workout (cardio, strength and stamina all in one) and is different almost every time (either because of music, partner or the dance itself). Even when practicing routines, there’s always something new that the 5 year old in me stays engaged the entire time.

If my last thousand words didn’t sway you to dance, why not try this reason on for size. Not to sound overly nerdist, but doesn’t dancing appease every aspect of the role-playing gamer? It raises all your core stats – Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma and Willpower, just to name a few. There are real quests to improve yourself and the rewards (while not exactly in the form of arcane weapon or spell) are just as valuable. It also gets you out of the house and away from your actual roleplaying game and focus on playing the same kind of game in the real world. The stakes may probably not be as high, but they’re real nonetheless. These are the reasons I dance (as much as I do) and why I think you should give it a shot too. What are you waiting for?

And More about Cuba

Last time I left off about Cuba, I alluded to a catamaran trip and going to Havana. Let’s pick this up where I left off.

In case it wasn’t obvious, Cuba is a fairly respected nautical nation since it straddles both the Caribbean to the south and the Atlantic to the north. Therefore, it should come to no surprise that sailing and nautical activities are fairly common and should not be missed if you ever have the chance to go. While beach-combing is a fairly popular resort pastime (and who can blame them…the white sand beaches and the azure waters are simply breathtaking), there is plenty more to do. That’s why I took a quick catamaran tour off the coast of Varadero, with an accompanying reef snorkelling session. You can take a quick peek at my Flickr pool to get a sense of the majesty of the open seas. I met some fairly neat folks on the boat (one of whom commented on the awesomeness of my Mari Claro messenger bag). Needless to say, it was definitely a highlight of my trip, and a nautical excursion should be an integral part of any of my trips in the future.

Havana, in contrast, was just as wonderful of an excursion, but for very different reasons. If I didn’t allude to it in my last post about Cuba, Havana and Cuba has very much the same vibe as communist China of 20 years past. Lots of reconstruction, lots of old (but well maintained) architecture, and a lot of old buildings sorely in need of upkeep. Varadero is about 125km away from Havana, and it gave our bus tour guide a bit of time to discuss both ancient and recent history of Cuba and Havana. One of the most interesting tidbits of information is how much Castro (and the current regime) has tried to maintain the historical look and feel of its past. Old Havana maintains much of the colonial look and feel similar to that of Old Quebec City or the French Quarter in New Orleans. The streets are still paved with cobblestone and the buildings are still held up with the original massive oak beams from the settlement days. They government still tries to maintain the state of the buildings and renovates and reinforces them as needed. In fact, there are schools and institutes within the old city that trains youth to carry on this tradition. For buildings that are beyond repair, they tear down the structure and convert the land into public spaces and parks for all to enjoy. This way, according to our guide, the look and feel of the old city won’t be put out of balance. He was right about that.

New Havana lies in stark contrast. It’s quite modern with skyscrapers and high rises made with modern construction materials. It’s also in much greater need of repair, especially since a tsunami ripped our much of the coastline in (I believe) the early 90s. In many ways, Old and New Havana looks and feels very much the same as the French Quarter and the rest of New Orleans after Catrina hit.

There were a number of interesting highlights of New Havana. The Christopher Columbus Necropolis is, by far, the most interesting cultural landmark in the city. Taking up a very large portion of the city, it’s actually home to over 2 million graves – almost the same as the population of living Havana. It was here where I learned about the abundance of certain natural resources native to Cuba, specifically marble. Marble is used to adorn almost all the important graves, many of which aren’t so much graves, but rather reasonably sized bungalows made of stone. The amount of wealth that Cuba still controls can still be seen everywhere – in its national monuments like the Capitol building and National Opera, in its people and in its culture.

The real highlight of the Havana day trip, though, is the Tropicana Club. An outdoor cabaret  started at the end of the 30s, it’s still one of the top cabaret shows in the world. The 2-hour show continues to live and evolve, with a new number rotating in every month. It tries to capture and present the varied history of Cuba through dance – from its colonial and slave trading roots (i.e. tribal dance), to the present day (salsa, mambo, rumba, etc.). The show was quite reasonable (about $70) and is definitely worth the money. I’d write more about it, but words simply do not do the venue, the performers or the show real justice. It is something you just need to experience.

Looking back at the trip, I come to think of it as a fond place to visit – once every decade perhaps. The real Cuba is still something that isn’t as accessible to visitors, and I doubt many visitors will want to see it. However, the country that most tourists can see is certainly a gem that has no equal. The rich cultural history of the country is everywhere, instilled not just in the DNA of its people, but also in their lifestyle and their art. However, there’s still plenty of the world left to see, and a return visit to Cuba can wait.

What’s next for the year? Well, there’s this Miami trip that will prove to be a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll even head home this year…with a quick jaunt to Japan along the way. For now, though, more life, more dance, and more love for all my friends.

Two Communist Countries Down…

In my typical style of not telling people my life-plans, I decided to take a trip to Cuba in the last week of January [pictures are on Flickr, though there weren't many of them]. The goal of the trip was simple – get the hell out of dodge and just spend a week in a haze a la Fear and Loathing…without the drugs or any companions.

I simply love traveling alone. The freedom afforded from a schedule-less lifestyle is something that many of us living in Corporate Monkey-stan almost seem to forget but one that is immediately cherished when received. Being able to dictate when to wake up (earlier the better for me) and which sights to see or even getting lost on your own terms [see below] jives well with my control-freak mentality and going to Cuba reminded me why there are plenty of things to enjoy about the single life.

So…about Cuba… I didn’t realize how easy it was to get to Cuba, and how much the temperature changes in those handful of hours. It was a balmy 25 degrees Celsius when I landed and the highest it reached was a toasty 32. It definitely reminds me of communist China about 20 years ago. Very industrialized centers that’s always undergoing restoration and a breathtaking countryside that seems to go on for miles. Of course, the Chinese built and shipped tour busses helped. The country still holds on to many of the perceived memes that many North Americans hold about Cuba; American sedans built in the 50s (with the same shocks and suspensions from the 50s…much like many American cars built today), horse-drawn carriages, plantains, and salsa (the dance, not the dip). Cuba is also a very modern country at the same time. Imported Hyundais line the streets alongside the American Classics, modern speedboats and catamarans float on both sides of the island and very modern racing bicycles (self-powered, not the motorized ones) are ridden by Cubans dressed in the latest cycling gear. Cuba is certainly a country that seems to succeed in combining the best of both the traditional and modern societies that many North American cities strive to do and fail.

Staying in Varadero has both its benefits and disappointments. First and foremost, the Varadero peninsula is a 25km stretch of sandy beaches and resorts. It’s also the largest tourist area I’ve ever seen and plays up the “old” Cuba to the fullest extent. Cabs all look like they’ve ben time-locked from the 50s, but with the kind of paint jobs and flare that can only be found in that old arcade game Crazy Taxi. The entire purpose of the area is to cater to tourists, and in many ways, that’s ok. This is what tourists to Cuba want and the regime has delivered in spades.

This is also why I decided to rent a scooter and take it out of the city limits.

Let me start by saying that the scooter I rented wasn’t from the 50s (that would’ve been cool), but it wasn’t exactly modern either. Probably something from the 80s. It had a speedometer, an odometer and a fuel gauge on the steering bar. Only 2 of them worked, and I had doubts about the condition of the third. Needless to say, an out-of-city excursion just seems like a bad idea at this point, which was why I was so excited to leave the city limits and see the wide open farmlands and rustic roadside fruit and meat stands that covered the countryside. I wasn’t willing to be a complete doofus though, so I always kept a watchful eye to know when to turn back (yes, the fuel gauge was the only thing that worked). The trip out was quite straightforward and by the time I turned around to head back, I felt like I’ve seen some of the real Cuba as I passed through a handful of quiet villages and even a military training ground.

The trip back was a little more eventful. I must have missed a turn at some point since I found myself in a very busy village with schools and children running about playing soccer. I knew that something was wrong at that point, and it was at this moment that I decided to look down at my spasmodic fuel gauge. I had less than a quarter of a tank left, and I knew I wasn’t halfway back to the resort strip yet. With some broken spanish and a very friendly woman who was really good at putting two and two together (goofy looking Chinese boy on a rental scooter asking about Varadero should be used as a universal symbol of “not around here”), I managed to get back to the main highways to get me back to the resorts. I crossed the bridge leading back to the peninsula with my fuel gauge just touching the red “Danger Will Robinson” zone. By the time I got back to the gas station, it had just hit the bottom of the red. Consider myself lucky that I didn’t have to drag that scooter 20km back.

In spite of my unwillingness to have a planned itinerary, I did spend a day on a guided excursion to Havanna, as well as go on a catamaran snorkelling trip. Those stories, however, will have to wait for another time.

Thankful for Something Something

From a personal standpoint, holidays such as Thanksgiving have always confused me. After all, it is an arbitrary holiday that’s slotted in a more or less convenient spot to either placate the plebs, or encourage copious amounts of consumer spending. I have no problems with this as I enjoy both placation and consumer spending. What confuses me most about these holidays is the sentimentality that I, a person with the capacity for emotion as an engineer a cockroach a rusty nail, attach to these occasions.

Take this weekend, for example: Canadian Thanksgiving. For pretty much the rest of the year, I would usually take everything I have for granted – my stable career, the freedom granted to me by this country, the friends and family that I keep, the crazy hijinks I wind myself into, et cetera et cetera. Come the second Monday of every October, though, I turn into this puddle of goop that not merely reflects on what I have [and for which I am thankful], but also on the things I don’t have nor will ever have. [The latter, however, can wait for another post.]

I was speaking with a friend earlier this week, and the notion truly hit home. We’re both young urbanites with stable jobs, strong ties to family and friends, and rich personal lives. However, both of us also forgot how little others have as well. For the past few days, I’ve been trying to figure out why this was so.

A lot of it, in my mind, stems from how much we’ve de-emphasize personal and professional achievement. I deserve my monthly wage. There will always be others who can help me regardless of how much of a douche bag I am. Rather than I earned this through honesty and integrity. or I worked hard to keep my friends and earn their trust.

I look around me at work, and for the most part, I feel the latter is true. Most of my co-workers are honest folks who want to do their best and achieve more. We want to grow the business and hire more staff. However, whenever we try to hire new employees, we perpetually run into the issue of young college and university graduates who expect the world handed to them on a silver platter. How can we expect to effective train young people for a new growing industry when they come in with preconceived notions of their jobs and egos larger than enlarged prostates, without the experience and practical training to back up those claims. The ones we do end up hiring is hit or miss too. We’ve had some very good hires we’ve kept, and there are lots of folks that we’ve fired [and want to fire] who are simply deadweight. I often wonder how much longer our society can continue functioning in this manner, and how soon we’ll see an exodus of the talented and capable a la Atlas Shrugged.

Looking back on all of this, I’m having serious trouble finding something in our society to be truly thankful for.

No, wait. I have something.

- I’m thankful for the problems in our society because it forces us to create new and innovative solutions.
- I’m thankful for the lies because it allows me to appreciate the truth even more.
- I’m thankful for the lazy, incapable and incompetent people because it makes me cherish my friends who aren’t any of those even more. [It also gives me a job.]

I really have a way to make even the most pleasant topics sound depressing, don’t I? [Just because I'm in marketing doesn't mean I can't/won't spin things negatively.]

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. Gobble a few turkeys for me.

sammee

Hello You, It’s Been a While

Wow…it’s been over half a year since I last blogged here. Seems like the months have come and gone as fast as the planes that fly our skies.

A lot has happened since the beginning of the year, and I feel like I’m slowly continuing my upward spiral into insanity…of the good variety. Let me share some of them with you.

  • I picked up an iPad. It’s awesome and completely fits my mobile lifestyle more than a smartphone ever did. That said, I’ve also been sporting a Motorola Milestone, so I feel like I emit a personal EM field wherever I go.
  • I’ve also started blogging for iPadinCanada.ca. It’s been a lot of fun so far. Feel free to check out my posts there too.
  • I recently came back from Europe. A cruise trip that took me to Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Finland and Russia. I’ll try to post a follow-up to that soon.
  • I’m still continuing my voice lessons. In fact, I’ve got my lesson coming up in an hour or so.
  • Here’s something that no one’s suspected. I’ve started taking dance lessons. Of the Latin and Ballroom variety. I even competed back in May. I have to admit that it’s pretty addictive and is one of the highlights of my after-work life.

So there you have it. a quick life update in under 300 words. Just wanted to make sure you know I’m alive and well, and I haven’t lost any love for you, my little blog. It’s just, you know, I’ve been busy. A life and all, I guess.

ciao. for now.

Open Letter from Charlie Angus, MP

I received a mass distribution email from Charlie Angus, MP [NDP, Digital Affairs Critic] regarding the need for ACTA transparency and public consultation on the subject. If you haven’t heard much about ACTA, it’s an international treaty on copyright that is being negotiated in secret with little or no oversight into the issue. I encourage you all to read the email [below], as well as Michael Geist’s blog regarding the issue. I feel that this is a fundamentally important issue that each Canadian needs to know about.

Dear Friend of Fair Copyright,

Thank you very much for taking the time to make your voice heard on the fight for fair copyright in Canada. In addition to yours, I have received well over 25,000 emails, letters, Facebook messages, faxes and phone-calls from everyday Canadians who want their elected officials to heed the call for fair copyright legislation in Canada for users, creators and innovators – NOT just the U.S. music and film industry lobbies.

Make no mistake, your emails and letters have made a huge impact. Without the enormous groundswell of support for fair copyright, the Conservatives never would have undertaken the consultation process that they did. Will they listen to what they heard? That remains to be seen.

A factor that threatens the development of fair copyright in Canada is the ongoing Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty Agreement (ACTA) negotiations. These talks have been conducted under a heavy veil of secrecy that excludes citizen engagement, denies public or media oversight, and undermines domestic copyright laws like those currently being considered in many countries around the world, including Canada.

Please read on for more info, but I want to make sure you take this opportunity to add your voice to those opposed to the ACTA secrecy. If you’re on Facebook, please join this group and ask your contact list to do the same: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=288885939910&ref=ts#.

Documents that have leaked from the talks show that negotiators are hammering out a deal that would criminalize internet users. It would require ISPs to spy on individual internet use and shut down access to content based any potential allegation of infringement.

The most sinister of these is the “three strikes” proposal. It sets out that anyone who is accused – NOT convicted – of illegal downloading three times is summarily disconnected from the internet and prevented from obtaining another account.

Please join the chorus of voices calling for transparency and accountability on the ACTA negotiations, so that our government doesn’t negotiate away Canada’s ability to determine what fair domestic copyright laws should be.

Sincerely,

Charlie Angus, MP
Digital Affairs Critic, NDP

2010 Forecast

2010 is here, and apparently, it hails the beginning of a new decade. With it, the new year brings renewed hope and revitalized vigor to tackle the problems and challenges this year will present. It will be exciting times and I look forward to it.

Besides, these few nascent hours of 2010 are already tons better than most of the previous year.

Let me indulge myself and take a moment to make some forecasts, predictions and resolutions for this year. Maybe in another 365 days, I can come back and see how I fared.

Forecasts & Predictions

  • Against the Bank of Canada’s best wishes and efforts, the Canadian dollar will reach and surpass parity.
  • Despite that, manufacturing will continue to decline.
  • Canadian entertainment and media industry will be quite successful this year, but will probably go through a dramatic shift in production or distribution.
  • Facebook will continue its downward spiral through more “liberal” privacy policies. Nobody notices.
  • It will be an awesome year for mobile – new telcos, new hardware running Android, more ways to make money in the space (advertising, apps, sponsored usage, etc.), and new ways to compute mobilry (tablets, wearable computers).
  • Online advertising will keep growing (hurray!), but will bring in more competition who don’t know what they’re doing (boo), providing opportunities to teach and grow (ok?).
  • Canada will win a couple of medals at the Winter Olympics, though probably only a silver in Mens Hocket.

Resolutions

  • Make a real and substantial effort to go up to KW to visit.
  • Travel. A lot.
  • Regain a positive outlook on people and humanity
  • Continue to pursue professional designations and provide leadership in the workplace.
  • Let go of things a bit more. Understand I can only affect so much change, but do my best in what I can.

That’s probably a good place to start. 2010 will be a good year. I’ll make sure this will be the case.

Happy New Year, and have a great one.

scwl

2009: The Year The World Burned

It’s hard to think about this past year without drawing up feelings of pain, anger, tiredness, and sorrow. It’s been a rough year; rougher for some, granted, but this year has certainly hit me pretty hard. The only way for me to describe it is that my world simply burned. To a crisp. It’s an odd, but not overly negative feeling, and I’ll let you decide what I mean. I prepared a relatively lengthy post, but there’s no reason for me to post that here. It’s really meant for me, but I liked the title. So here it is.

Anyways, that’s all. Move along; nothing to see here.

Happy holidays, and happy new year.

My Phone Woes

Oh…woe is I.

Well, not really. My woes have long since passed and I have since continued on with my life. Afterall, there really is no time allotted in my life to dilly-dally with these trifles things.

Still, some of you remember my mild outburst on the venerable Visage Tome last week along the lines of “Screw You, Apple. Screw You.” I still stand by my [albeit] cryptic statement and I guess I should explain why.

About 2 and a half weeks ago, our lord and saviour Steve announced thr next coming in the evolution of mobile computing – namely iPhone OS 3.1. What a glorious day it was. The sun was shining, new iPods were announced and major changes were coming to the Apple world that would be the dawn of a new computing age. As an Apple loyalist, I patiently sat in line for my new firmware to be downloaded and installed. Little did I know that those would be my last days as a Machead.

The download and installation progressed as smoothly as Apple-y possible. Afterall, Apple hires highly trained monkeys for their UX team to ensure that any organism with opposable thumbs can operate any device or process designed. My real problem started later that night.

I use my iPhone as my pseudo-alarm clock, and I leave it plugged in to ensure a full charge. Afterall, why would you let any device go commando [so to speak] when you don’t have to? Lo and behold though, when I was rudely awakened [as if there were any other way to be awakened] the next morning, I was surprised to find that my phone was down to 25% charge. No worries, I thought, must be a faulty cable. It was dying anyway. I’ll just plug it into my laptop [a Macbook, by the way] and things will be fine. Problem solved, no?

Seeing as this blog post continues a bit longer, you can assume the problem was not solved. In fact, nary 4 hours into my work day, my iPhone died again. Another depletion of capacitance charge. Anger inflamed me. I decided to consult with the Oracle – Apple tech support.

After a calming talk with them and a reflash of the hardware, I was renewed and reinvigorated with hope. That lasted another 4 hours. I decided to consult with an even higher power; I made an appointment with The Genius Bar.

Several days [4 for those of you who can count] later, my appointment came. A half hour after I was slated to start, my name was called. Without going into details, my 5 minute appointment there lasted as follows:

Me: Hi, my iPhone’s battery life’s been shot since upgrading to firmware 3.1. I called your tech support line and I reflashed my firmware dedspite the huge inconvenience it caused me. The battery life is still shit. Can you help?

“Genius”: let me plug it into my oh-so-special Macbook with diagnostic software you can’t have and I’ll tell you how unworthy you are in the eyes of Steve.

…minutes pass…

“Genius”: Hmm, your battery is draining a bit faster than usual. Why don’t you take it back and let us know how it goes?

Me [internal]: Really? Didn’t I tell you it’s been shit for more than half a week? Would continuing to monitor the situation really improve performance? I think not.

Me: Thanks…

Me [internally]: …for nothing. Guess I’ll start using my G1.

And that’s what I’ve been doing since. With a larger battery pack [2300 mAh], the device runs all day with EDGE and Wifi, as well as GPS location services. I can listen to my music all day without any interruptions. The apps are still a bit flakey depending on how many background processes I run, but it’s tolerable. And I can still get my podcasts with Google Listen. The only thing I miss is my audiobooks [DRMed by Audible. Atlas Shrugged doesn't listen by itself you know...] Otherwise, it’s integrated itself very well into my workflow. I like it quite a bit and would encourage others to look into other, more powerful Android based devices.

For now, though, contentness and love, as I steamroll in Ottawa for dear Liz and Chris’ wedding.

Until next time,

sammee