Posts Tagged ‘Passion’

In the last month and a half, I have fallen headlong in love….

with a new hobby.

Blues fusion dancing, to be specific.

I will give a practical definition of what that means to this beginner dancer (by which I mean, take my definition with a grain of salt). Blues fusion is a partner dance (mostly), but it is a lot more loose and less defined than any other partner dance I’ve tried. And you can incorporate styles and moves from many other partner dances, like the various types of swing, or tango, or salsa, or even waltz. Someone told me the fusion part means you dance mostly to modern music, but also not always.

I know, it’s all very indefinite and fluid. That’s probably part of the reason why I like it. (There’s also a lot of history behind it that I am not entirely clear on, which I suspect might elucidate it further.)

A good friend of mine started blues dancing sometime last year, and she told me about it, and I put it on my list of things I wanted to try sometime this year, because a.) I love dancing, b.) it was possible my ankle might actually survive the experience since it had been doing better, c.) trying new things (and new dances!) can be lots of fun, and d.) I love my friend. So at the beginning of February, when we were chatting on the phone, I told her I wanted to come. And she said great, come over to my house on Thursday and we can carpool.

Thus, a passion was born.

I knew right away, too. The room was crowded with strangers, and I had no idea what was going on, having never attempted blues fusion before (or even really having a clear idea of what it was). I was wearing jeans, which were too hot, and socks because I didn’t have appropriate dancing shoes, which meant I was in constant fear of my feet being stepped on. I forgot to bring a hair band. I told every person I danced with it was my first time blues dancing, in the hopes they’d be generous and forgive any massive blunders I might make. I tried to follow my partners, and sometimes I failed. By the end of the night, my calves were screaming and my ankle was basically okay.

And it was glorious. Completely rush-to-the-head, fill-the-heart-to-the-brim, this-is-exactly-where-I-want-to-be glory. When I say I fell in love, I’m not being facetious. I fell HARD. Even with the uncomfortable bits, the “I don’t know what’s going on” and the “so many strangers in one place while I’m feeling super vulnerable” and the “I’m making a lot of mistakes” bits.

So I went again, and this time I didn’t tell everyone I danced with that I didn’t know what I was doing, and I tried to relax. That was it, my one goal of the evening: to relax into this new activity and new space. It was hard. I loved it all the more for the challenge.

And then, dear reader, I ordered shoes.

Canvas dance sneakers (shown) and character shoes, to be precise.

Canvas dance sneakers (shown) and character shoes, to be precise.

I knew. I knew I was in love. I knew what I wanted. My wonderful trainer/body worker was on board. My ankle was, surprisingly enough, continuing to cooperate. “You’re very committed,” my friend said to me. And I laughed, because of course I’m committed. Commitment has never been a problem for me when I know what I want. “Is there a boooooy?” another friend wanted to know. I shook my head and laughed again.

Why, Amy? Why are you so passionate about blues fusion?

I love the dance. I love moving my body in time to the music, and I love working on controlling my body. I love getting stronger. I love the endorphins. I love pushing myself. I love losing myself in the motion and the rhythm and the focus.

I love the unspoken physical communication between me and my partner. I love watching, and listening, and feeling, and making art with other people. I love learning. I love getting dizzy.

I love to play. I love to experiment. I love to express myself and my moods through dance, whether grace or flirtation or exhilaration or absolute silliness.

I love (yes, I’m going to admit it) that I finally have someplace to wear all the adorable dresses that up until now have been hanging forlornly in my closet, unworn.

I love the community. I love how friendly people have been. I love sharing my joy in the experience with other people. I love the kindness of the leads who give me feedback and help me improve. I love the passion for dance that is on constant display.

Why have I fallen in love? Because blues fusion makes me feel one hundred percent ALIVE. And that, my friends, is something worth giving my heart.

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A few nights ago, I was eating by myself at a standard American restaurant on Broadway. Whenever I eat alone, I make it a point to bring reading material along to make the waiting go by faster (well, really, whenever I go anywhere I like to bring reading material along).

The waitress asked me what I was reading, and I told her, “It’s a memoir by Julia Child.”

She looked at me blankly. “Who’s that?”

“Oh, you know, Julia Child. She’s famous for bringing French cooking to the U.S.” No recognition. “You know that movie Julie and Julia?” Nope.

It left me wondering if I would have recognized Julia Child’s name before I saw the movie. I hope I would have, but I’m not completely sure. But I’m glad I know it now, because her memoir, My Life in France, written with her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme, is so very charming.

Photo by Kaleb Fulgham

The entire time of the hurricane—the lead-up, the storm itself, and the recovery—I was reading this memoir. The personality of Julia Child fairly oozes from the pages. She gushes away about France, about food, about cooking, and her passion is so obvious from her stories. She recounts so many meals she’s enjoyed in the past, course by course.

Her first meal in France, when she was in her mid-thirties, was what set her on the course to becoming a famous chef. I love this fact so much. Because we never know, do we? We never know when we’re going to have an experience, or meet a person, or learn something new, and have a passion ignited within us. It can happen anywhere and anytime; it’s not something that only happens when we are teenagers or freshly adult, it’s not something that has to be planned carefully, or even something that can be anticipated.

I love this idea, too, because it reminds me that all of life is one big adventure. A new subplot could spin off at any time, or a nice bit of character development could take place, or I could begin my grand romance with pumpkin spice chais. Knowing this makes me feel so lucky to be alive.

By the time I finished reading My Life in France, I’d become very fond of Julia Child. I love her personality, her energy, her courage, and her unwillingness to give up. I love how enthusiastic she was, punctuating the text with Yum! and Hooray! and What fun! I love how her passion for food and cooking helped her through the bad times. I love how she spent a lifetime involved in food and cooking and teaching.

And I love some of her philosophy. When she is leaving her country house in France for the last time, do you know what she remembers saying? “I’ve always felt that when I’m done with something I just walk away from it—fin!” She enjoyed what she had to the fullest while she had it, and then let go when it was over. This isn’t a strong point of my own, but I admire her a lot for thinking it, and more importantly, for living it.

All in all, I can’t imagine a better book for me to be reading in the middle of a hurricane.

What about you? What have you been reading lately?

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When I was in high school, I was very jealous of my classmates who already knew what they were going to do with their lives.

My father knew from childhood he wanted to be a scientist. He went straight from college to a PhD program in chemistry, and from there worked for a total of two or three companies. He worked at the same company for my entire childhood. My mother went straight from college to earning her teaching credential. She quit teaching when she became pregnant with my older sister.

I knew from age seven that I wanted to be a writer. In my clarity I was following in my dad’s footsteps, right? Only not so much. Imagine my alarm, at age ten or eleven, when I somehow began to think I wasn’t allowed to be a writer. Did my parents tell me this? I don’t remember. All I remember is that I knew I couldn’t be a writer because it wasn’t practical and I wouldn’t be able to earn money by doing it, and then I wouldn’t be able to afford the asthma medication I took daily. I was really upset until I soothed myself with the thought that I could always become a librarian.

From this point on, I didn’t feel like I knew what I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a lawyer or a doctor. I wasn’t so sure about being a classroom teacher. I didn’t want to be a scientist. All of the exciting-sounding jobs in books were, I discovered, also impractical. So I decided to become a musician.

I know. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I’m so grateful I thought it anyway.

Photo by M.G. Kafkas

There’s a common line of thinking: “Follow your passion.” I don’t think this is bad advice, but I think it’s incomplete. I would say, follow your passion, BUT:

  • It may be hard to figure out what your passion is. Not everyone is born knowing in their bones what they want to do. And if you grow up exposed to limited career and life options, you might need to go digging to even become aware of the possibilities.
  • You may not be able to make a living following your passion. But you may have to try it to discover whether this is true or not. And the results may surprise you.
  • You might be able to make a living, but you might also have to compromise on your lifestyle. Some people don’t want to do this. Either choice is completely valid.
  • You may be perfectly happy not feeling passionate about your career. This doesn’t mean you can’t follow your passion anyway. I knew a dental receptionist who went sky diving every weekend because that was her true passion. I know writers who get up early or stay up late to squeeze in writing time. I know musicians who participate in community theater or play in bands by night.
  • Some people have more than one passion. So if you follow one and it doesn’t work out, you might want to fish around in your brain and see if you can discover another one.

There is no one right way to follow our passions. There are an infinite number of ways, and our job is to figure out which way we will follow right now.

How do you follow your passion in your life?

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I have saved Passion for last not only because it is the most recent addition to my list of favorites, but also because it is a difficult musical to explain. It is a difficult musical, period. It challenges its audience to the extent that for some, it is an alienating experience. I know this firsthand because the first time I saw Passion was on DVD many years ago, and my husband hated it. It really pushed his buttons, he hated the characters, he didn’t care one way or another about the music. In fact, it’s the only musical I introduced to him to which I remember him having such a violently negative reaction. 

We went together to see a production of Passion during our recent trip to London – yes, my husband loves me – and it was seeing it live that made me realize what a masterwork it is. My husband didn’t hate it this time around either, although we did have a lively discussion afterwards. The thing with Passion is, it grows on you over time, over multiple listenings/viewings, and through your own life experiences. That first time I saw it, I don’t think I had the necessary insights to understand it in the same way that I understood it this past November. And if I see it again in five or ten years, I fully expect it to be a different experience yet again.

Stephen Sondheim is an amazing composer and an equally dazzling lyricist (in fact, he got his professional start as a lyricist), and those skills are clearly in display in this, one of his latest shows. The score is romantic and lush, the melodies much more memorable than in many of his shows, and the inclusion of martial drum rolls ties nicely into both the show’s themes and even some of its lyrics (“They Hear Drums”). The show features a chorus of male soldiers who comment on the action (and spread gossip), and some of the music overlaps on itself (two people singing at once, for example, but not in a traditional duet) in a way that is almost dream-like … or perhaps crazy (the craziness of romantic love or the craziness of solitude, loneliness, and disappointment, depending, and sometimes a bit of both).

The story centers around a love triangle of sorts. At the apex of the triangle is the Italian soldier Georgio, who is having a passionate love affair with the married Clara. When he is transferred to a provincial outpost (and one at which he is very miserable), they swear to continue their love affair through letters. At his new post, he meets his commanding officer’s sickly cousin Fosca, who is ill, obsessive, depressed, and manipulative. Do you see where the difficulty of this show starts to come in? Especially when I tell you that by the end, Georgio has fallen in love with Fosca and thinks his love affair with Clara meant nothing.

Here is where I see the brilliance in this show. However much we’d like to believe otherwise with our happily-ever-afters and our formula romances, love is messy. It’s unreasonable, it doesn’t play by predictable rules, and it comes at unexpected times and in unexpected forms. And love is shown in high relief as being messy in this show. Through the course of events, Fosca gradually learns how to love unconditionally instead of being trapped in the grasping, needy obsession that she begins with. Georgio as well learns what it means to love unselfishly and to love above all else. He asks Clara to run away with him, and she refuses; while she insists he holds her heart, she is held back by her motherly love for her child. She asks him to wait until her child is older, but ultimately he decides he no longer wants such a carefully arranged, rational relationship. What he wants instead is the no-hold’s-barred passion, both the beauty and the ugliness, that Fosca offers him.  So while this show is something of a tragedy, it’s a happy tragedy because the characters have gotten somewhere and they have learned a deep abiding truth, which perhaps matters more than continuing on indefinitely in their old, miserable ways.

The difficulty is that Fosca is so truly unpleasant and unsympathetic, particularly at the beginning of the show. It subverts our narrative expectations to have Georgio choose her over the beautiful and romantically appropriate Clara. Watching Fosca play her manipulative little games with Georgio fills us with aversion. Personally I believe this makes the ultimate transformation of the characters that much more powerful. And it takes me back to the main point of this essay, which is this: love is messy. And yet even out of a dysfunctional and terrible love can come something beautiful. Relentlessness can show itself as either obsession or an unconditional love that is without price.

The first meeting of Fosca and Georgio:


An example of the manipulation games of Fosca:


A short example of the Soldier’s Chorus:


The end of Georgio and Clara’s relationship:


Georgio revealing he loves Fosca:


And with this post, I finish my series on my favorite musicals. Hope you enjoyed!

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