Dork-o-Rama: The Random Thoughts of a Total Goofball

Embracing the Dork Side....Because Life is Too Short to Take Yourself Too Seriously

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ku'u pua melia...

Yes! She lives and breathes! She just never has time to blog anymore!

Kinda surprised I still remember the password here. Where the heck did the last year go? And what can I tell you about it? Umm...went to New York in the winter, Hawai'i in the fall with six of my hula sisters - one of whom had never been! - and both were fabulous trips, especially Hawai'i. So many special moments there.

And now, I find myself in the middle of the biggest challenge of my career. I can't elaborate in this space, of course, but suffice it to say the past few months have involved very long hours and very high stress. And it's not a surprise that hula continues to be my saving grace. (Yes, I'm going to talk about hula. Again.)

We've been learning a bunch of new things in class during the last few months, including an extraordinarily complex chant. It's a very special one, composed especially for our halau by a renowned poet/author/teacher/composer for the dance company's show this past fall. It's about San Francisco, and... well, I can't really explain it well. Click here - the hula that follows the chant always brings a tear to my eye, but that opening chant is just beautiful. It's also really, really hard to learn. So many words, such complex phrasing...

It's been a real gift to have something so complex to focus on outside of work. It's given me something engrossing to think about, even for just a few minutes here and there, amid all the chaos. It requires all of my brain power. And because our Kumu said he wanted us to know it before the year was out, I worked hard on it every chance I got. 

So one night in class, just before Christmas, he asked us if anyone had it memorized yet. I think I was the only one to raise my hand that night, though I know another hula sister had it down, too - she wasn't there, though. We then spent the next 20 minutes or so working on it together, and just before he had us resume dancing, he called me up to chant it by myself.

And my stomach immediately jumped into my throat. When I'd raised my hand in response to his query, I'd even joked to the hula brother next to me, "Watch, he'll make me prove it." It's hard enough to stand in front of dozens of people to chant by yourself, but even worse when you're asked to do it. Normally, we volunteer ourselves when we're ready. Or even if we're not ready, we volunteer ourselves to get it over with!

Luckily, I knew I had the words down, but I sometimes have trouble finding the right key in which to chant. Especially when my stomach is in my throat. So I launched into it, and even managed to look at my Kumu a few times while I was chanting - thank goodness he was smiling! I wasn't happy with the way my voice sounded - damned nerves - but I got all the words right. And my hula siblings responded with a huge round of cheering and applause when I was done. It was almost overwhelming. I had to drop my gaze to the floor and bite my lip to stop myself from bursting into tears.

They had no way to know this, but that was exactly what I needed that night, after another long day at work fighting the good fight, feeling like a failure in many ways because things hadn't been going as smoothly as I'd hoped. It's inevitable amid major changes that it takes awhile to iron everything out. You know how you spend many hours working your ass off and you reach a point where, no matter how much more you do, you can't fix everything? That's where I was. And being the first of my classmates to get through this complicated chant, getting that massive dose of aloha from everyone as a result... THAT was.... incredible. I felt like I'd finally done something right, something that mattered deeply to me, no less.

Hula is full of moments like this for me. 

When I was ten, my mom took my brother and me to Hawai'i for the first time. We visited several islands,  and saw many amazing sights. But one of the strongest memories for me was on Maui. We stayed for a night or two at the famed Hana Maui resort - it seemed like paradise to me. And the grounds were covered in plumerias.

Nope, not my picture, but a great shot of some plumerias. 

There were trees all over the place, and those gorgeous yellow flowers all over the ground. They perfumed everything, and I fell in love with that scent on that trip. I can't even describe it to you, but it's an intoxicating aroma that instantly makes me smile.

They come in other colors too. Preeeetty.

Since that first trip to Hawai'i, I've tried to get my hands on plumerias every chance I get. They're hard to come by on the mainland. They don't grow well here - we tried, when I was a teen - and if they do, they don't smell the same.  It's a treat when I find them. To me, for many, many years, they were Hawai'i.

This is what they look like when strung into a lei. I happen to have one right now, and I'm trying to soak up every bit of that scent before it fades.

A little while after I started studying hula, I watched a documentary about my Kumu's Kumu (he also happens to be a very famous Hawaiian musician) and at one point, while preparing his dancers for a competition, he mentioned that in our hula lineage, the plumeria is considered the flower of the hula dancer.

I nearly fell out of my seat. You mean the flower I've loved since my childhood is also the flower of the very thing that's changed my life, all these years later? Was I... supposed to get to this place? Is that why this whiter-than-white girl has fallen in love with hula and the Hawaiian culture?

I don't know. But it's why on a trip to Hawai'i in 2010, I came home with this fabulous souvenir:

(It's hard to get a great picture of your own ankle, by the way.)

So now, even if I get to a point where I can no longer dance, I will always be reminded of the amazing experiences I've had because of hula. I hope they never end.

Friday, January 28, 2011

True that...

Okay, I keep saying I need to get my butt over here to write something, but I've spent this entire month sick and super busy at work.

So go read this. Because it's something I keep meaning to address here, but couldn't have done it better!

And while you're there, stay for awhile. Lots of good reading at Blondie's place.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks...

This is one weird Thanksgiving. I'm home for the first time in years.

In the years since my mom moved to the midwest in the late 90's, I've spent every Thanksgiving with a dear friend in San Diego who's like the sister I never had, and her family has become my second family. It's become a cherished tradition, even when she forces me to get up in the middle of the night on Black Friday to go shopping (heh. it's actually very fun with this crew, and they put up with my whining about needing caffeine oh so desperately...).

But this year, my boss is out of the country on this holiday, and I can't really be out of driving range of work in case something big happens. I work in a 24/7 business, and big things can happen at any time. So I'm home.

I had planned to spend the day visiting with other dear friends in the area that I don't see nearly enough, but had to cancel out because I'm sick! That's almost an annual tradition, too, with me getting some nasty respiratory thing around Thanksgiving (one year it was PNEUMONIA) or Christmas. Last year, I made it through the entire holiday and cold & flu season without catching anything, which I credit to my regular use of a neti pot. But something got me this week, so here I am on Thanksgiving day on my couch, in pajamas, blowing my nose endlessly and OD'ing on Mucinex and Sudafed (for which I am thankful!).

But I'm not sitting here feeling sorry for myself. I mean, of course, I'd much rather be laughing and eating with friends than spending the day solo and sick, but I have SO much to be thankful for that I can't work up any self-pity.

I have my health (mostly!). I have a roof over my head and food on my table (including the gluten-free stuffing I'll be making for myself later). I have employment in my chosen profession. I live in a city I love, and get to visit places I love almost as much. I get to do a lot of very fun things in my spare time. But most important, I have amazing people in my life who put up with me and love me and restore my faith in humanity on a daily basis. I am consistently awed by my loved ones.

I'm very lucky, and very thankful. My cup runneth over. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sitting on a rainbow...

Meet my alter ego, Pat McGroin. (I have to give credit where it's due - a hula brother gave me my drag name, and it still makes me laugh.)

I did not have a heart attack on stage, which is an accomplishment in my book. There were moments during the tech rehearsal the night before the show, the first time I danced this for anyone else, that I thought I might die.. No, really. Two minutes and 12 seconds of sheer terror. I could see my hands shaking on certain moves, which nearly made me laugh.I haven't danced a solo anything since high school, and that was just in front of a class, not an audience! But the feedback (and cheers!) I got from my hula siblings was very positive, so I felt much better after the big unveiling. MUCH.

The group number, which was a comedy bit involving Lucy and Ethel trying to hula and sabotaging the actual hula dancers, did not go as well during the tech rehearsal, so we spent the rest of the evening reassessing our number and making necessary changes. I didn't expect that to be so challenging, and it turned out to be my part that needed the most revision, so I went to bed that night more stressed out about that than the solo!  Luckily, I awoke the next day with the idea we needed to make it work, but it also meant I had a lot of new work to do in the hours before the performance.... yikes.

During the show, I'm happy to say the solo went just fine, and again, my hula siblings gave a huge cheer when the curtain opened on me (and when I finished), which felt good. I needed their support, especially since non of my non-hula friends were able to come, and I really felt that support from the hula family. And while I did a good job of not really focusing on anyone in the audience - a technique that helps with the nerves - I couldn't help but spot where my Kumu was sitting... and then did my best not to look his way for the rest of the number! 

And no, I didn't win anything, but I didn't expect to*. Well, okay, part of me had a little fantasy about placing in the competition, but once I saw what my more senior (in experience, not age!) siblings were doing, I knew there wasn't a chance. The guys really had the advantage, as their costumes were far more elaborate, but I was so impressed by what some of the other women came up with. I'm so impressed by the talent and creativity in our halau. 

It was a huge relief when people started laughing during the group comedy bit - I was in a position on stage where I could really watch the audience reaction, and they seemed to enjoy what we were up to and laughed when they were supposed to. And we tied for third place, though the judges conferred and gave the prize to the other group (and I think they deserved it).

It was yet another tremendous experience in bonding, creative expression, and fun... despite the pre-show meltdowns over my solo (and there were several!). I'm proud that I managed to stretch way outside my comfort zone again, and especially pleased with the way the group worked together in the comedy bit - all eight of us had input, everyone was generous, no one tried to outshine anyone. It was an ideal situation for a group project.

Once again, I'm feeling incredibly fortunate to be having these experiences.

*Well, my class won the class competition, which was based on the scores of the soloists. One of my hula brothers from my class, who is a drag performer, won the solo competition, so that was the biggest factor in our win, but I guess the other soloist from my class and I must have done alright!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


We have a friendly little hula competition coming up in a few weeks, to benefit the class that's raising money for their cultural immersion trip to Hawai'i (it will be my class's turn in a few years)... and I cleverly managed to volunteer to do a solo without being fully aware of what it entailed.

Let me explain: the last time our halau did this, the soloists were chosen by their classmates - three per class - and they worked with our Kumu on a dance they'd already learned. And my class didn't take part, as we were still hula babies. This time around, it was up to us to volunteer if we wanted to do a solo, and to do it in drag. And the capper - the thing I didn't realize when I tentatively threw my hat in the ring (which was taken as a commitment!) - is that we have to choreograph our solos ourselves. We can't dance something we already know.

Oh. My. GOD. My mouth went dry when we learned this. I'd planned to do a funny (hopefully), hammy, butch-y version of a dance I know and love in a really 70's wig with sideburns - figured I had to do something outrageous to compete with any of my hot hula brothers in drag, y'know? I was not expecting this.

In my youth, I choreographed a fair number of dances, but with jazz and modern dance, my main concern was making the moves fit the music and the mood of the music. With hula, you're telling a story, and there's a vocabulary involved, and I was - am - unsure if my hula vocabulary is extensive enough to choreograph ANYTHING.

And to add to my stress, I had no idea what song I wanted to use. I knew I couldn't manage to pull off anything overly serious - I need to strive for sassy and fun so that my "performing" skills will carry me through the gaps in my choreographic abilities, not to mention the fact that a guy in drag is inherently more entertaining than a woman in drag. And I need a song that included at least some words that fit my hula vocabulary. I spent days listening to some of my favorite songs, trying to figure out whether any of them would work, especially songs that make me want to dance, period.

I also need to use something that has very little instrumental time. Again, with hula, you're telling a story. You need words. There is no hula without the poetry, though my Kumu is renowned for using pop and electronica music in his shows. I could never in a million years dream of coming close to accomplishing even a fraction of what he's done (I'm posting an example below to show you what I mean).

It finally hit me: go classic. Something from the Great American Songbook.

It's sassy. It's short. It's a song I adore. There's not much instrumental time. There are moves we've learned that work with some of the lyrics. I can come up with a simple, yet completely appropriate costume. Once I found the song, I finally felt confident that I would't completely embarrass myself on stage.

The only trouble is, I haven't had much time to work on it. I have little bits and pieces of it done, but there's much more to do. I don't have the costume together. And I'm also dancing in a comedic number with a group of my hula sisters in this competition, and that's been taking up a lot of what little spare time I've had the last few weeks.

It's safe to say I'm sufficiently freaked out about this, and am really thrilled to have a three-day weekend ahead, because I really need to get serious about my solo.

The good thing, as one of my hula sisters pointed out, is that if I screw up my own choreography on stage, I'll be the only one who knows it!

Deep, cleansing breaths...

And here's an example of what my Kumu does - this video's a great juxtaposition of ancient, traditional hula and his "hula mua," or evolving, style. (It was really windy at this performance....) The fact that it looks easy is a testament to the skills of the dancers. They're spectacular.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A little lesson in hula hubris?

So we had a little performance last weekend. It was a fundraiser for the elementary school that's home to our halau, and each class did a short program. At first, our Kumu had made it sound like it would be a pretty casual event, but he loves to put on a show, so as the date drew nearer, the production became a little more formal, and included our full costumes and accessories. And we - meaning the group of women with whom I did that special dance in the big show last October - were asked to reprise that dance. That was a surprise, and an honor.

But because we have a special (gorgeous) costume for that dance, it meant we were going to have to miss out on several other dances. This was a short show, and there wasn't enough time for lengthy costume changes. In fact, while we were on stage, our hula siblings all had to run back and change rapidly for the next number, which we then missed because we were changing. And I'll admit,I felt a little pissy about that at first. Two of the dances we were missing are among my favorites, and I love doing them.

I had to stop myself for a moment and remember that it was an honor to be asked to dance in the smaller group again. It meant we did well last October. And it meant I got to spend extra time with those amazing women once again. (A few members of the group weren't able to dance in the show this time, though, so we had to press on without them.)

But I think my initial pissyness had a pricetag. For our performance, I had to make a small lei to wrap around the bun I would have in my hair for this dance. Part of the reason we make our own accessories is because we are placing our "mana" in them as we create them - our power, our spirit. And I'm not exaggerating when I say I am really, REALLY bad at crafts, but I've made two larger head leis in a similar manner in the past year, so I know how to do it, and actually understand the process much better now. Those other leis actually came out well, and I was very proud of them.  But this time, I got about halfway through and had to start over because the flowers and greenery kept falling out. I kept breaking stems. I had trouble all the way through, so it took me a lot longer than I expected, but it looked pretty when it was finished. I was happy with the result, though now, in retrospect, I should perhaps have seen the trouble I had as a sign.*

And then it came time for us to dance. We had been having trouble with the chant that accompanies the dance - we have to harmonize, and we struggled with that in the weeks leading up to the performance, but as we practiced before the show, we seemed to have finally gotten into the groove. But once we got on stage, after our entrance chant (which was fine) we lost it. We didn't sound right. I kept struggling to try to adjust properly, but none of us could identify the problem or correct it. The dance seemed to be fine, but our chanting was not.**

Let me tell you, that was a silent run to the dressing room to change. What the audience (made up of friends, family, and members of other classes) heard while we were on stage was our hearts breaking. We were so disappointed with ourselves, especially since our performances in October seemed to go so well. I wanted to cry, but the show had to go on.

I think that was karma kicking me in the ass. Message received. Full humility restored. And just in time, because I've taken on another hula challenge...

* I've kept the other leis I've made on display, and they've held up surprisingly well. The flowers and greenery have already started falling out of this one!
**One of the women who helps to run the halau had kind words for us afterwards, saying if we'd sounded really terrible, Kumu would have started chanting to guide us. And she said we didn't let the trouble show in the dance itself, which was fine. I'm comforted by that, but am still terribly disappointed in myself.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Turn, turn, turn...

I am really noticing the passage of time these days.

At first, I thought it was just because we'd had such a rainy, chilly winter that when we had a taste of spring, it was really noticeable. (We've since been sent back to winter, and now I'm really confused....since it is now actually spring!) Plus, for the first time I can remember, I was actually in two big snowstorms this winter. I mean, most of the time, the change of the seasons in California isn't as obvious as it is in much of the country, but I've actually felt like I've had a real winter this year, so the change to spring is far more noticable.

No, that's not it. I feel old. I'm feeling the passage of time in my own body. I've been dealing with some hula-related hip pain since the beginning of the year, and it's not only annoying, it's depressing. What do you mean, I can't make my body do whatever I want it to, anytime I want it to, just because I'm in my 40's and overweight? That's not right!

The gray hairs on my head are more aggressive than ever. I'm noticing new and deeper wrinkles on my face. Two more of my friends' kids are about to graduate from high school. On my next birthday, I'll officially be closer to the next age ending in a zero than I am to the last one. I don't get Lady Gaga or Ke$sha.

And it's freaking me out a little. Time for a sportscar, botox and a much younger man?

(Also - on a completely unrelated subject, I completely forgot I'd enabled comment moderation and didn't realize there were a bunch of comments on the last two posts! Ooooops...! I've been guilty of blog neglect. Again.  Anyway, hi y'all!)